On January 12-13, we had the opportunity to meet with over 50 educators for a packed 36-hour schedule at the Winter Symposium on Digital Literacy in Higher Education held at the University of Rhode Island. Many agreed that the struggle to implement digital literacy at their institutions is real, and progress is slow. We also agreed that there is a feeling of being misunderstood and siloed in our practice. It was heartening to realize that our experiences are not isolated ones and there was a camaraderie in knowing that others struggle with similar issues.
Panel sessions allowed for focused conversation around important themes, such as The Digital Literacy Competencies of Faculty, Undergraduate and Graduate Students, Teaching and Learning with and about Digital Media, The Digital Identity of the College Professor / Higher Ed Professional, and Scholarly Networking and Digital Literacy. One of our takeaways from these discussions was a sense of openness – those of us who are implementing digital literacy in our classrooms must share our resources with each other. For example, many participants had websites where they shared their work and examples from course modules. This will be absolutely key to the digital literacy movement. We are grateful for materials, ideas, assignments and other resources colleagues working openly are willing to share with us (thank you Renee Hobbs, Howard Rheingold, Doug Belshaw, Center for Media Literacy, Sandra Markus, NAMLE and more) as we continue to develop our media and information literacy curricula. In turn, our work will also be open in the hope others might benefit from it.
Aside from open access, critical pedagogy is an area of importance for us in improving digital literacy education. We don’t implement technology and social media in the classroom without conversations relating to power relations, social justice and knowledge creation as they align with information/media production and dissemination. It is important to place digital literacy within this narrative, and within the context of students’ own lives and information needs, if it is going to be meaningful. Thanks to Emily Drabinski, Ian O’Byrne and Eamon Tewell for their inspirational work in this area.
Further conversations were had with off-site guests via a Virtually Connecting session. This was an opportunity for the on-site cohort to share their experiences with those off-site, and vice-versa. Coinciding with this session was a “Show Me” event where participants could briefly present their own work and how it intersects with digital literacy. We presented the reasoning behind our combined media and information literacy course, including why the collaboration is more powerful in terms of moving these related disciplines forward and supporting the progress of digital literacy as well.
The symposium concluded with informal, un-conference group discussions and reflections. We participated in the group that pursued a Digital Literacy Manifesto. One of the reasons for a manifesto is, as many at the event pointed out, we are tired of “pitching” digital literacy to administrators, colleagues and others who don’t understand or see the point of it. The group didn’t make much initial progress, but the conversation has continued and is still ongoing. The manifesto can’t be so vague as to be meaningless. We would love to hear your thoughts on the manifesto – what do you think should be included?
However, the intractability of disciplinary boundaries was also evident. Education, as a field, dominated. There were too few librarians. And even within media/communications, there were obvious differences in approaches and ideologies.
In the end, the symposium provided valuable understanding of how digital literacy is being approached across the US. For this movement to have an impact, silos must be broken down and we must work across disciplines. For example, we continue to strongly believe that those in the digital literacy field are missing an incredible opportunity to ally with librarians.
Please feel free to reach out to us if you’re interested in discussing this work further. Below are links to the symposium’s website, as well as Renee Hobbs’ own summary of events. We hope that this event becomes an annual one and that other disciplines and approaches can join this discussion. Cheers to the organizers of the symposium. Check out the hashtag #digiuri to see what other topics were discussed.
Spencer Brayton & Natasha Casey