The Lede: Wise Digital Capabilities & Challenges for Teaching (summer reflections)
“Digital literacy” provokes yawns because it seems to be old news that everyone knows what it mean. (Does everyone really?) The Digital Capabilities framework from JISC offers a new way of thinking about the digital challenges implicit in teaching every subject in this university. How can our students (and faculty) thrive long-term in an evolving digital environment?
JISC is a UK non-profit that supports digital research, resources, and advising for higher education. Its updated digital capabilities framework refines previous thinking from 2010 and 2014 to support curricula, faculty and staff development, organizational consensus, and to signpost opportunities for scholars, practitioners, and planners.
Six digital capabilities are built upon the first: ICT or information & computer technology proficiency: confident selection, use, and adaptation of digital services and applications to achieve complex tasks. Think: Word, PowerPoint, Blackboard, WebAdvisor, and texting, but build upon that: a productive understanding of how digital technology is altering tasks and practices at work, home, and in public life. But this is barely a start.
On the basis of ICT proficiency and productivity, the second capability is critical use of information, data, and media: the abilities of find, organize, evaluate and curate a wide range of “incoming” (or “downloading”) digital data, information, and media. The third capability is creative digital production, problem-solving, and innovation: “out-going” (or “uploading”) evidence and practices to solve problems, answer questions, contribute scholarship, and develop new digital practices.
The fourth capability is digital participation: communication and collaboration. This is more than “uploading:” it emphasizes the ability to collaborate, work in groups and teams, and building digital networks and the intellectual and social interactions that utilize them. The fifth capability is closely related: digital development and learning: both the ability to learn and teach others in digitally-rich frameworks and contexts, including pro-active peer learning, assessment, and pedagogy.
The final and arguably most important capability is digital identity and well-being: managing personal health, safety, reputation, work-life balance, and identities in digital contexts. This is a challenge for both teachers and students: the long-term personal challenges of recent, short-term innovations.
These capabilities are implicit in teaching every subject in this university: this is not just “library skills” or even “information literacy skills,” but long-term capabilities to thrive and sustain productive work and life in a digital environment: a digital personal ecology. For librarians, many of these capabilities map to the habits, skills, and dispositions identified and advocated in the ACRL Information Literacy Framework (2016).
Many of these capabilities and concerns were implicit in the recent apprehension of the “Golden State Killer” (Joseph DeAngelo) using digital sleuthing through DNA matching, tracing genealogy, and collating information gleaned from many digital sources that did not exist when he was active 1974-1986. The legal questions only scratch the the six capabilities and management (or mis-management) of digital identities. The recent revelations of the extent and reach of digital personal information gleaned by Facebook, Google, and other surveillance corporations give one pause for thought.
This is the future for which we are preparing our students. These capabilities (for better or worse) combined with opportunities and threats from robotics and artificial intelligence (see the book reviews in this newsletter) will determine a great deal about their future well-being.
A Resource You Should Know About: Fact-Checking: Guiding Your Students
Fact-checking is based on the idea that the truth matters, that there is often some kind of verifiable reality “out there.” “A fact, it might be said, is a state of affairs that is the case, or obtains;” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, States of Affairs); “What is the case -- a fact -- is the existence of states of affairs.” (Wittengenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Proposition 2 .pdf) These days that "there are facts" implies a political statement, unfortunately.
What the facts are is subject-specific –and yet almost every teacher has to feel that some facts in her or his domain really matter. How do you teach your students to check their facts?
The most obvious area in need of fact-checking is media coverage of politics and politicians. Political commentary and fact-checking resources can be found linked on a library research guide. The Federal Digital System will soon (December 2018) be replaced by govinfo.gov –and in turn checked by GovTrack.us. GovTrack is a small, entirely independent project of Civic Impulse LLC, which accepts no direct contributions, but pledges through Patreon, and was a 2015 project on Kickstarter.
The University Library provides two particularly relevant help pages:
Navigating the Research Process has a very helpful page on internet sources, Are You A Fact-Checker? You can also download the infographic, Fact-Checking in Four Moves (.pdf). The page concludes a quick, five-question comprehension test. (Hat-tip to Daniel Fitzroy and Urszula Lechtenberg for these resources and links.)
Our colleagues at the UMass Amherst Libraries have published a thorough and helpful guide to fact-checking and fake news (Hat-tip to Lisa Di Valentino and Jim Kelly)
Book Reviews: If You Read Nothing Else About Higher Ed This Summer, Read These Book:
Robot Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by Joseph E. Aoun. MIT Press, 2018. 187 pages. (Copy on order for the Library)
Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change, by Leonard Mlodinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 2018. 272 pages. (Copy on order for the Library)
If you don't have time to read anything else, read these two books this summer.
These two books take divergent paths to similar conclusions: AI (artificial intelligence) and neuroscience pose creative and potentially troublesome challenges for higher education and wider society. Anxieties of downward social mobility caused by robotic automation already may be at the root of contemporary populist anger at those who are regarded as profiting from them (such as technological elites). The spectre of mass unemployment, media manipulation, and social control by neuroscientific means, looms large in the dystopian cliches of popular entertainment.
What are we doing to prepare our students for such futures? --and carry forward the historic commitments of higher education (and liberal arts education in particular) to reasoned discourse, respect for facts, and humility in disagreement, and modesty in the exercise of power?
Aoun, an Arabic linguist by background, and president of Northeastern University, expands upon the Academic Plan, Northeastern 2025. That plan offers a combination of literacies: technological, data, and human to ground critical thinking, systems thinking, entrepreneurship, and cultural agility. He advocates experiential learning to test, hone, and extend these literacies and dispositions with real problems in work places: not just any internship, but experiences closely tied with simultaneous intentional directed learning. The goal is not just creativity but an ability to exercise divergent thinking: “outside the box” options, ideas, and solutions depend upon successfully mapping disparate domains of knowledge. To respond to "robotics," he proposes "humanics."
Mlodinow, a theoretical physicist and screen-writer now outside of academia, synthesizes evolutionary psychology, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience on “neophilia,” the human proclivity for innovation and change, and the impact of education on how brains develop. Elastic thinking requires an ability to forestall “practical” judgment, challenge basic assumptions, shift problem sets and points of view, and the value of mindfulness and mild meditative techniques. The goal is to cultivate a kind of thinking beyond analyses, scripted behavior –towards the kind of thinking that machines cannot propose.
A university exists for greater goals than self-perpetuation. What are we doing to help our students transform their lives to participate graciously and creatively in a world of AI, robotics, and machine learning? Perhaps those fuzzy, narrative disciplines of languages, literatures, histories, religions, arts, and philosophies that aren’t “practical” might be better preparation than studies which prepare the student for her or his first job. A good first step might be to interrogate thoroughly the social, political, and cultural pressures on higher education to provide training and entertainment. The world to come is so much bigger, and much more interesting.
A Service You Should Know About: Library Resource Builder
--By Urszula Lechtenberg
Do you have digital "reserve readings" in your Blackboard course shells? The Library has an new application that can help you manage these more efficiently. The summer is a great time to learn how --librarians stand ready to help!
The library’s new QuickSearch tool provides a seamlessly integrated Blackboard tool called Library Resource Builder (Curriculum Builder). With this tool, instructors, TAs, and course builders can create reading lists of peer-reviewed articles or ebooks directly in Blackboard course shells.
This saves a lot of time because instructors do not have to download articles and the upload them into Blackboard, or try to find the appropriate links that may break in the future. The Resource Lists will remain available in future semesters and will not have to be re-created every time Blackboard is archived. (The Resource Lists can always be edited and revised.)
Library Resource Builder connects directly to the library’s databases. The simple search allows instructors to search by keyword, author name or title of the article or ebook. Each item in the results displays with a large “Add to Reading List” button, making it easy to add or delete items. You can divide readings into multiple folders, customize the sorting order, add special instructions, and copy lists across courses and within departments.
For more information about Library Resource Builder, contact Ula Lechtenberg (email@example.com), or 203-396-8287.
You can also see how to use Library Resource Builder in this video (1 minute 55 seconds). This is the first of three videos. You can find the next two on the Library's Vimeo page.