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Discussions in Digital Literacy

Posted by on Tuesday, August 22, 2017 in News.

As I have noted before, I initiated a discussion of digital literacy and the integration of this concept into Vanderbilt’s education model with an ad hoc committee established this spring. The committee has generated a great number of ideas—both curricular and non-curricular—about the ways to make digital literacy a natural part of undergraduate and graduate education, rather than something confined to individual classes or activities.  While I’m very pleased with the work the committee has done and I am eager to get back to that work this fall, this post is not about the committee’s work directly, it’s more of a comment on the process by which Vanderbilt embarks upon initiatives like this and the discussion sparked by faculty members within these conversations.  In both ways, I find myself impressed by the human dynamic in digital learning.

When I first talked to Provost Susan Wente about some of the committee’s ideas, she noted her initial support, and asked me to canvas a larger swath of the overall Vanderbilt faculty.  She suggested that I talk to the Director of Undergraduate Studies (or equivalent) for each department in all four undergraduate schools.  Provost Wente asked me to carefully listen to thoughts and concerns expressed by each faculty member.  Ideas were always better, she reminded me, when they came from, or were heavily shaped by, the faculty who are working with our students on a daily basis.  This is a wise commitment.  In fact, there was never a meeting with a faculty member in which I did not hear a new idea or find a different approach.   These conversations expanded upon the initial concept, making the initiative bolder and more encompassing.

If there was one clear message from the faculty beyond their overall desire to pursue digital literacy, it’s that the university needs to make both tools and support available to both faculty and students.  That is, I was impressed that the faculty were not only excited about our conversations surrounding of digital literacy, but also what would be needed to make the concept work.

I met with science professors who want to enhance their students’ abilities to communicate scientific ideas in more interesting ways, historians who want to incorporate GIS mapping into student work, and education faculty who want students to learn to present via podcasts. Meanwhile, none of the faculty stopped thinking past the point of delivery.   Each one thought through the implications of what it would take for their idea to be functional.  They want to make sure that students and faculty are given tools with which to work and the support to make it successful.

What I want to stress here is that there are some aspects of educational technology that are no different than any other decision made at Vanderbilt.  Provost Wente was wise to encourage a larger circle of input because, as is always the case, faculty working with students have a great deal of insight into how digital literacy can become a larger part of the Vanderbilt culture.  While we still have a great deal of work to do, of course, the work will be better because we remember to engage in discussion and input from an array of faculty constituents.