Creating a digital literacy report: the survey piece, part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the survey we ran to support the NMC digital literacy report.  Now I’d like to add more details about the survey.  Most notable were people’s thoughts about the future of digital literacy.

After asking about various definitional questions, we turned to the topic of implementation.  In the previous post I listed some of those questions and shared responses.  We had more.

For instance, during what time of a student’s career were they likeliest to be taught digital literacy?  The first year is the overwhelming victor:


I wonder if this will change as more curriculum and learning migrates online, so it can be accessed and integrated throughout the learning timespan.

Our survey then turned to the future of digital literacy.  Answers were all text boxes, so I can’t share any lovely graphics this time, but will summarize and excerpt.

We led off with a big one: “Thinking of your institution, can you explore how digital literacy might change there over the next five years?”  The 198 responses were enormously diverse.  They touched on the balance between online and face-to-face teaching, the importance of digital literacy for jobs, the growing importance of digital production (as opposed to consumption), organizational changes (IT, library, academic deans), assessment methods, staffing, demographics, and expansion of digital literacy to new areas.  Curricular integration was a popular touchstone. Several political topics arose, including the digital divide and internationalizing education. Some respondents touched on specific technologies, either for DL delivery or as subject matter: mobile, cloud computing, social media, and Google Docs.  Other terms came up, like digital fluency and (a new one for me) digital dexterity.

We then framed the future in terms of previous questions, asking about what will come next for technical and social skills.

Technical skills: the one most in demand will be coding, according to respondents.  Close behind came media skills, including video, virtual reality, and augmented reality.  Data analysis and big data also loomed large.  In a tier below those giants came demand for social media, audio production and editing, media production in general, and Web authoring.

People also named (deep breath here): adaptive learning, animation, badges, blockchain, cloud computing,  content management, dark or deep Web, discussion forums, Domain of One’s Own, gaming, graphic design, GUI interfaces, hardware, identity, image editing, internet of things, learning management system, Maker spaces and making, mobile, office productivity tools, open education resources, operating systems, participatory culture, personal computing, preservation, privacy, robotics, security, simulations, smartboards, , 3d printing, user interface, videoconferencing, visualization, webinars.

Some of these responses are somewhat predictable, like VR and AR, given the huge wave of buzz and possible.  I was surprised by others, like 3d printing and robotics, which  had very few adherents. Nothing on AI or automation! Some seemed very present-oriented or even retro, like office tools and the LMS.  Some were at the blurry line between technical and social, and repeated in the next section (i.e., privacy and security).

Let me share some thought-provoking quotes from these answers:

the creation and sharing of virtual and augmented realities, a working knowledge of robotics, a greater emphasis on personal cyberinfrastructure, a greater awareness of computational thinking (i.e., algorithmic approaches to analysis and creation) as well as participatory culture (now almost ignored by higher ed).

The skills that are needed in five years will be very different from the skills that are needed today. I predict that most of the skills that are required for digital literacy today will be obsolete in five years.

Social skills: results were broad-ranging here as well.   Clearly in the lead were what one respondent referred to as “The soft skills [that] will be the same as today: creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, sequential thinking”: collaboration and relationships above all, followed closely by communication and critical thinking.  Nearly as popular as those were an interesting group: copyright (including Creative Commons awareness and information sharing); identity and self-presentation; personal adaptivity or flexibility; information literacy;  balancing offline and online lives; creativity; citizenship; problem solving.  Following that group was another mix, including empathy, ethics, social media practice, writing, and webinar and videoconferencing practice.

Out of the 183 responses there were mentions as well of the following topics (another deep breath needed here): abuse online, advocacy, analysis, applied learning, assessment (including anti-testing thinking), change management, co-learning, community, compassion, context, critical interaction with tech,  cross-cultural communication, cross-generation communication, curiosity, digital divide, digital storytelling, “discernment (epistemological, axiological)”, emotional intelligence, empowerment, entrepreneurship, etiquette and manners, evaluation, failure tolerance, grit or stick-to-it-iveness or motivation, humility, “Hyper-attention” (Katherine Hayles), information architecture, information overload coping, innovation,  interdisciplinary efforts and capabilities, interest, international communication, leadership, listening, logic, media literacy, metacognition, negotiation, open (access + resources), optimism, participation, personal learning environment (PLN), persuasion, playfulness, point of view, politics of digital world, portfolio management, presentation, prioritization, privacy, professionalism, project management, reading, remix, responsibility, responsible use of technologies, safety or security, selflessness,  sequential thinking, social awareness, , synthesis, systems thinking, think tanks, tool selection, visual literacy. 

Some excerpts to give you a sense of the discussion:

The same soft skills (I dislike that term, btw) we have always needed: curiosity, playfulness, deep interest, optimism.

Soft skills as a whole are being replaced by technical skills. I think a better balance needs to be established between the technical and soft skills.

As we focus so much on technology our brains are becoming rewired; in some ways to our detriment. Some emergent soft skills will be a trend toward past soft skills and the need for reacquiring those things that were of value but have been neglected.

With the explosion of platforms and tools we’ve experienced, making decisions about which to use, and to what ends, is difficult and increasingly important

What a fascinating set of responses!  Looked at one way it reminds me very much of the discussions going into a campus core curriculum revision, touching on virtues we see as especially needed.  Looked at from another angle, we can see echoes of the American election, with the emphases on empathy, communication, and information detection.  From another perspective, we can see a global culture still grappling with rapidly advancing technologies, as social mores and practices lag.

These represent a futuring vision, a kind of Delphi process (hey, nearly 200 people compared to Horizon’s 50 or so <g>) that distills expert knowledge.  Together they indicate a rapidly advancing technium, in Kevin Kelly’s term, where people and organizations are experimenting and learning how to thrive and learn.  The virtual and the physical seem increasingly intertwined and blurry, from the huge spike of interest in VR/AR and balancing offline/online worlds.  It’s a rich media world, with video and videoconferencing stacked on top of mixed reality.  It’s one where we still lack gatekeepers, and have to develop a toolkit including information literacy and critical thinking…. but a potentially threatening world, where we also have to grow our abilities to work together, to empathize, listen, and share.

What do you think?

To round things off, let me offer more quotes:

Not at my school. Many of our students are so far behind that I’m more focused on catching them up to a speed of what the NMC would likely consider remedial. However, as the Internet of Things and Big Data become ever more prevalent (and invasive), the issues surrounding those are of paramount concern. Not to mention ongoing concerns with issues like filter bubbles and personalization – see the work of Robert Epstein and Eli Pariser.

Our graduates need more practice with soft skills and multifaceted tasks. They don’t have the skills to cope with the amount of information they’ll encounter on the job.

Not sure that emerging is the appropriate qualifier – heretofore under-acknowledged is perhaps more appropriate – but the intentional decision-making involved in responsibly creating and sharing original content. We need to cultivate the penultimate act of creation: delineating the degree of copyright and/or openness of licensed re-use as essential to the act of sharing or making public one’s creations.

Yes! Meeting via voice and video at a distance. Being comfortable on camera and in any setting. Understanding how to manage lighting and noise… how to share files, use the white board, engage in chat, and on and on, mute/unmute. It’s a new literacy that so many people I work with just do not have a handle on. A specific soft skill related to this is how to host a real-time-at-a-distance (RTAAD) meeting… How to welcome people, make them feel comfortable, etc. How to present when your audience is not in the same room with you. Or, even better, when some people ARE in the room and others are not. Our soft skills have not evolved to remember that there are others “with us” but who are not “with us” and we need to speak to and include them… There is a lot to all of this and most people don’t have it down yet.

Responsible use of augmented reality applications; critical interaction with artificially intelligent agents (e.g. self-driving cars);

Efficiency in creation and willingness to identify training and maintain currency of skills level in line with what is required for creating learning materials that produce quality learning outcomes.

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4 Responses to Creating a digital literacy report: the survey piece, part 2

  1. Maha Bali says:

    I like these behind-the-scenes blogs more than the report itself (well, there’s a lot I don’t like about the report, but I actually mean these blogposts are useful).

  2. Pingback: Creating a digital literacy report: interviews and more research | Bryan Alexander

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