Digital Literacy

Today I read a blog on Inside Higher Ed questioning where digital literacy comes from and what most academics are doing to expand this literacy – a legitimate question in a world where more and more encounters with sources, materials, and other academics are happening online.

As an academic in this climate I am well aware of my online presence and am constantly seeking out new methods of communicating my findings via this medium, while also engaging with as many people as I can in my field. But this article left me thinking of an audience that I have not yet engaged with – my students.

Honestly I am not entirely sure where to begin. My Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and blog are accessible to all and so I assumed if any students were interested in seeking me out, they very well could. However, what I realized reading this blog was that I was placing all the onus on my students. In part this happened because I didn’t want to appear overbearing, demanding even more of their attention outside the classroom in ways other than the traditional paper writing/reading/homework role.

While I am a young academic, I am still their English instructor, and I didn’t want them to feel like I was intruding into the personal sphere. Most of my students are either first or second year students and social media for them is just that – social.

However, a few months ago I attended a professional development workshop where the presenter for a panel was a friend and colleague of mine in the math department. He outlined the positive feedback he has had after creating a Facebook page for his students and showed screen shots of conversations his students were having with each other and with him online that encouraged and created a learning environment that seemed to sustain itself well outside the classroom, and even beyond the semester boundaries.

Then another friend and colleague in the English department showed me how he interacts with his students on Twitter, using the network to inform his students of upcoming assignments, office hours, and extended opportunities to have conversations about the literature that transcended the requirements of classwork.

Obviously I was missing a great opportunity to engage my students on a whole different level. While I understand most of my students are not English majors, and my courses are general education requirements for obtaining a BA in various fields, I have on multiple occasions gotten very positive feedback on texts that were well outside their comfort level. They were inquisitive and wanted to know more about literature they will perhaps never again come across simply because they are going into a different field. For example, last semester after going over parts of the Canterbury Tales I brought in some digitized photos of the Ellesmere and almost a dozen students stayed after class because they wanted to see them.

So after reading the blog today on digital literacy I began questioning whether I do enough to promote it. Yes, I take my students to the library and show them how to properly research sources online, but could I be doing more? As I navigate the digital world of academia would it benefit or burden my students if I brought them along? Would the manuscript pictures I post on Twitter, that are often silly, open the door for conversation on the pieces, or make them roll their eyes at me?

I have been grappling with the idea of starting a Facebook page for my students next semester and the logistics involved in managing and maintaining it where it would be simultaneously instructive and entertaining. A forum for questions, debate, conversation in an easy going environment. Perhaps if literature breached their everyday lives they would be more open to it?

I think these are all valid questions, and I won’t have any answers until I start. And so begin my new inquiries into pedagogy. Suggestions are always welcome.

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