Many College Students Are Not Digitally Literate

Posted By Terri Williams on September 11, 2017 at 3:00 pm
Many College Students Are Not Digitally Literate

Millennials and Generation Z are subject to many generational assumptions. For example, it’s been suggested that such purchases as $19 avocados are the real reason millennials struggle financially.

At the New Media Consortium 2017 Summer Conference, another generational hypothesis was addressed, as many students revealed that they were not digitally savvy.

The problem

For example, one attendee admitted that she had no idea how to perform such basic Microsoft Word tasks as adding page numbers, or headers or footers, and as a result, during one semester, her teacher deducted five points from every essay that she submitted.

One of the teachers in attendance noted that young adults typically know how to navigate social media platforms, such as Facebook, but many lack basic skills beyond social media posts.

Almost one-fifth of U.S. households don’t have internet access, and these families are more likely to include first-generation college and low-income college students. A 2016 Pew Research Poll reveals that lower income households have lower levels of tech adoption, are less likely to use the internet as a source for learning, and are less likely to be confident in their digital tech skills.

The lack of digital skills is only one problem facing many freshmen. Only a third of students enter college with research skills, according to a recent Library Journal survey. This means, among other things, that they’re unable to establish a research topic and design objectives, evaluate the credibility of sources, and properly cite sources.

The New Media Consortium identifies digital literacy as “a familiarity with using basic digital tools such as office productivity software, image manipulation, cloud-based apps and content, and web content authoring tools.”

Also, results from the Consortium reveal that students need creative literacy, which would include such skills as editing videos, creating and editing audio, and animation basics, in addition to having some knowledge of programming and hardware, copyright laws, and digital citizenship.

Lack of access and instruction

Computer science skills are also increasing in importance, and a report reveals that many K-12 students lack access to computer science learning. Only 40% of U.S. middle and high school students report using computers every day at school, while 58% of students in grades 7 through 12 say their school offers dedicated computer science classes.

“While the millennial generation is often blanket-labeled as being digital natives, this is more often than not in the context of personal technologies and platforms like social media,” according to Frank Connolly of MindEdge. “We know this generation has a ‘Google it’ mentality, where millennials rely on the internet for all their information, as opposed to actually remembering facts and how to perform certain skills,” Connolly tells GoodCall®.

“This becomes problematic in a college or workplace environment when students do not have the appropriate skillset to use technology for academic and professional use,” Connolly says. There’s a tendency to assume that students – across the board – have technical acumen. “Instead, courses should be introduced at the start of a school year or for new hires in the workplace in order to level the playing field and develop a base knowledge of the necessary skills needed.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Sabina London, founder of STEM You Can!, an organization that hosts free training summer camps and after school programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for girls of all ages. “There should be more emphasis in schools to ensure students are receiving the required technology skills to succeed in college,” London tells GoodCall®.

“Since middle school, I was exposed to mandatory technology workshops where we learned the basics needed for papers and PowerPoint presentations.” She realizes that these early experiences made a difference in her life. “But unfortunately, not all middle schools have these programs or prioritize the need for these requirements,” London says. “Having the necessary technology skills would also ease the transition to college.”

So, what about students who were not able to learn the necessary skills before graduating high school?

“Taking online professional development and technology courses is one way to ensure students and new hires have a basic knowledge of the programs and platforms they should be utilizing,” Connolly says. “Professors and employers may find it most useful to supply an introductory course on the relevant technologies, and then include more professional development and advanced courses as the year goes on.”

Connolly believes that it’s important to be tech savvy, but warns this skill, by itself, is not enough.

“Successful students and employees need to develop a hybrid skillset that includes both hard, technical skills and soft skills, like the ability to think critically and creatively, and solve complex problems,” Connolly says. “This creates independent workers who present a multifaceted skillset, traits that are in high demand in today’s information economy.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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