APUS programs are designed so that students can demonstrate proficiency in several learning areas upon completing their academic course of study. These proficiencies include applied learning, intellectual skill, specialized knowledge, broad knowledge, civic learning, and digital information literacy. While a focus on each of the learning areas required of graduates at all degree levels is essential, this post is focused on digital literacy proficiency.
By focusing on digital literacy, APUS aims to set our students apart from other graduates seeking employment and/or career advancement by developing and enhancing our student’s ability to communicate precisely and creatively using tools to engage, interact, and create visually effective and professional artifacts. Creativity and competence in the selection and safe, ethical use of digital resources are essential skills in the workplace for all employees – now and for the future. In fact, digital skills are emerging as a key job skill for the future – a future that is already here.
Digital literacy has been identified as a critical skill for employees as rapid development of new digital technologies continues. Job postings found over the past year using the Burning Glass “Labor Insights” tool reveal that 18% of all occupations – or 4.5 million out of approximately 25 million total postings – list digital literacy as a required or desired skill. Job titles with digital literacy listed as a skill range from librarian, marketing manager, and registered nurse to instructional design assistant, electrical engineer, and radiologic technologist, among many others. Virginia, Washington, Maryland, Colorado, and Massachusetts, for example, register “much higher demand than average” for job postings citing digital literacy as a core skill. Clearly, digital literacy is a competency employers seek in job candidates.
Stating this competency as an institutional priority is only one step in making it so for students. For example, APUS leadership recently met with Adobe representatives to explore ways the university already partners with the company to make this competency a reality. More specifically, we explored ways we can better collaborate to advance student learning in this area by promoting and embedding Adobe Creative Cloud tools in our student learning strategies.
Adobe tools include applications for design, photography, video, and web for both the desktop and mobile devices, which help faculty instill, and students to develop, the critical thinking and collaboration skills students need to help them succeed in an increasingly competitive job market. It is essential from a learning outcomes perspective that such tools be used to demonstrate the competencies of the specific discipline or topic to which they are applied as well as the demonstrated proficiency in digital information literacy.
Embedding Creative Cloud in classes as assignments not only provides a creative learning opportunity for students and faculty, it helps enhance their workforce readiness. In a recent post, part of the Adobe Education Exchange, Tracy Trowbridge discusses the importance of preparing students for the rapidly changing world emphasizing the need to provide learning opportunities to enhance creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication – four “Cs” essential to success today and for the future. Our guidance to students is to utilize these tools and resources, become proficient in their use, develop a portfolio of artifacts of course assignments which are evidence of your competence, and use this portfolio in interviews.
As faculty, how do we embed usage of these tools in course assignments? And how do we encourage and teach students how to use these tools, while at the same time evaluating the content and learning that the tools are used to demonstrate? APUS faculty are encouraged to rethink and redesign assignments. Instead of assigning papers, quizzes, tests, and/or PowerPoint or Prezi presentations, using a creative tool as a resource for an assignment develops competency in the use of the tools, while adding creativity to the student experience.
Faculty also need to develop rubrics for grading these assignments to focus on how the tool was used to demonstrate content and the discipline learning objective competency, and not only on the effective use of the tool. This is a delicate balance. Creatively using these tools for assignments implies that faculty also need to become comfortable and competent in differentiating the types of tools available and their appropriate use, as well as in using the tools themselves.
As administrators, how do we support the implementation of resources from Adobe and other technology providers in our overall learning approaches to ensure students leave our campuses career- and job-ready from both a discipline and a practice perspective? How do we resource these tools? Do we just provide them to students and faculty? And how do we incentivize faculty for their professional and broad implementation?
Clearly, a university needs to articulate its strategy for adoption and implementation of a digital literacy strategy consistent with its learning and educational strategic priorities. Our approach includes strategies for university-wide learning, including appropriate strategic focus and allocation of specific tools and resources. For example, we provide access to these resources for students in classes where the faculty have already adopted the tools and use them in assignments. To explore the feasibility of faculty usage, we conducted a competition whereby faculty created assignments and rubrics and cash awards were provided to recognize outstanding faculty achievements.
Employers and strategic partners like Adobe can influence the development of educational programs by clearly articulating the competencies expected of graduates, providing feedback to campuses on the successes of graduates in the workplace, and providing recommendations for future program enhancement. Government and corporate employers, in turn, can make a difference in shaping higher education by emphasizing needed or desired digital literacy competencies in the workplace.