Digital Literacy at Emerson College

One of our Help Desk Technicians, Peter Paradise Michaels, wrote the following article for the Emerson College Sustainable Innovation Project:

Digital literacy is many things, but in higher education it’s often considered a measure of one’s computer skills and comfort level with existing and emerging technologies.

A discussion and analysis of technical literacy as it applies to our faculty is increasingly relevant as each new generation of students become more and more savvy, and communication, collaboration, and content delivery evolve as more and more reliant on rapidly changing technology. These issues have already been researched in general terms by various studies and reports for more than a decade, but I want to take this opportunity to provide some personal perspective gleaned from over 22 years in the computer industry, with 15 of those years in higher education markets.

Here are a few suggestions to improve technical literacy.

  • Don’t panic! Anxiety clouds rational thinking and obscures reasoned outcomes and sound problem solving.
  • Reboot your computer. Really.
  • If you have an error message on the screen that hasn’t disabled your computer, enter it into a search engine like Google. It’s likely that someone else has seen a similar issue and has posted some insights and solutions.
  • Check your cables and connections.
  • Use the Help menu in the application you are using to search for answers.
  • Look for patterns and cause and effect relationships. Is the issue the result of something you do or does it happen at random?
  • Ask yourself, when was the last time it worked? Has anything on the computer changed since it last worked?
  • Keep your devices up to date. Make sure to run all the system and program updates.
  • Learn how to confirm that you are connected to the Internet with either a wired or wireless connection.
  • Understand file sizes and how to interpret them.
  • Keep track of where to save files and use tools like folders and tags to keep them organized.
  • Choose a back-up strategy that is robust, fail safe, and easy to implement and maintain.
  • Learn the difference between memory and hard drive space, and why they are relevant.
  • Set up a VPN connection for remote access to work files.
  • Put a password management system in place.

If you approach digital literacy with these ideas as part of your basic skill set, you will see your productivity go up and your stress go down.

In my experience, a person’s comfort level with computers is more than just basic skills. It’s an attitude. It begins with patience and enthusiasm. One useful approach is to apply a non-mission critical project or hobby to an area of technology you’d like to become more familiar with. For example, it you are a runner and would like to become more competent with Microsoft Excel, consider using it to keep track of your workouts, mileage, race times, and progress. If you enjoy taking photographs, Adobe Photoshop is an amazing tool to help you edit them and create a portfolio. If you are a collector, learning Filemaker Pro can help you create a searchable catalogue.

It’s enthusiasm for these projects that help to drive you through the inevitable learning curves these programs present. The process of attaining the skill level to complete or maintain these projects will overlap into many other areas of digital literacy, so the journey will be much broader than learning one program or process.

Finally, use your resources! For example, the Emerson IT department provides regular workshops on basic skill acquisitions, many commonly used computer programs including Canvas, Banner, and even hardware training on things like mobile devices, printers, and wireless networks. We offer individual tutoring on most computer related topics.

In summary, the best way to enhance your digital literacy is to pursue it because you want to, not because you have to!

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