Digital Competence and New Literacies

Recently I was flipping through Flipboard  and reread William G. Covington, Jr.’s post highlighting a study that used neuroimaging to answer, “Is the brain stimulated the same way in Internet use as it is in reading?” (Small, et al., cited in Tracey, D. Storer, A. & Kazerounian, 2010). The conclusion of the study was, no. One of the findings showed that more experienced Internet users processed hypertext in a more complex manner and that less experienced users read online text as if it were print text. It appeared that experienced Internet users had the digital literacies necessary to comprehend the mutimodal texts that are often encountered when reading online.

This brought me back to conversations I’ve been having with some of my colleagues for the past year as I’ve worked on the development of the MA in Emerging Technologies, taught online classes, and participated in eportfolio development projects regarding the digital competencies our adult students bring to their online learning. Approaching this topic from a social perspective we see literacy as being a way students can communicate (read, write, listen, speak, view) in the world today. New literacies come out of the new media that we now use for almost every aspect of communication. But what about the competencies, or skills, people need to effectively communicate with new media? For those who did not grow up with instruction in these literacies, where do they acquire these skills? Adult learners go back to school to gain new knowledge and skills but the classes that often fit into their busy schedules are online. As an online instructor,  at some level I assume that the literacy skills my students have will transfer to their work in a digital medium. I assume that the skills they use to make meaning from print-based texts will automatically transfer to the reading and writing they are doing in their online classes. Based on the study cited by Covington, there is a a definite possibility that the students who do not have a strong level of digital competence are at a disadvantage in an online course regardless of the content of the course? If this is the case, what is my responsibility to my students if I ask them to read, write, and interact collaboratively online?

Is it my responsibility to teach the digital competencies that my students will need to effectively communicate using the tools I am asking them to use in my courses?

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