Schools Can Overestimate Their College students’ Tech Savvy. This Campus Has a Plan to Enhance Digital Literacy.


One scholar labors to jot down essays as a result of they battle with typing. One other scrambles to finish assignments on time as a result of they don’t know the campus has quick, designated Wi-Fi. One more grasps the course materials, however doesn’t know tips on how to take notes of their digital textbook.

These are just some situations that directors and college members at California State College at Northridge have discovered some college students face — a actuality test that’s informing new digital-literacy initiatives on the campus. In a spring survey of greater than 200 college students throughout grade ranges on what tech competencies wanted sharpening, 91 % listed primary laptop abilities.

Gaps in digital literacy — broadly outlined as the power to navigate and use expertise to its fullest lengthen — usually are not distinctive to Cal State at Northridge. Even earlier than tech turned inextricably woven into courses through the pandemic, a 2016 Educause report discovered that nationwide, almost 4 in 10 college students wished they’d been higher ready for institution-specific expertise, together with learning-management and course-registration methods.

Such gaps can have grave implications for scholar efficiency, mentioned Joyce Marie Brusasco, a lecturer on the campus. They’ll result in late assignments, a deflated sense of belonging and vanity, and “derailed” faculty targets.

But digital literacy is commonly an afterthought for faculties due to misconceptions round how a lot college students know in regards to the applied sciences faculties are adopting, mentioned Helen Heinrich, interim affiliate vice chairman of educational expertise at Cal State at Northridge.

“There may be this hole between the assumptions” establishments make — that social-media-savvy college students are inherently tech savvy — “and the realities from the scholar perspective,” she mentioned.

At Cal State at Northridge, the necessity for real-time intervention felt pressing. The college final spring piloted a “peer to see” academic mannequin, hiring a handful of scholar “digital ambassadors” to put up TikTok-like movies on Instagram on tips on how to entry tech-related assets on the campus. One video reveals a scholar ushering viewers with him throughout the campus to the bookstore, the place the college offers free iPads.

This mannequin was born from understanding that college students received’t essentially search out adults for help. In a 2017 Educause survey, simply one-quarter of scholars listed college help-desk companies as a prime useful resource they’d go to with tech troubles. However greater than half — 51 % — cited their mates.

“They be taught extra from one another than us, as a result of we’re the authority” figures, and there could also be a stigma towards asking for assist, mentioned Brusasco, a lecturer within the household and consumer-sciences division who co-ran the scholar surveys. “It’s not as intimidating when a peer is saying, ‘Let me present you.’”

Early Success

Heinrich’s group spent about $10,000 from an inner grant to rent a handful of scholars to create the Instagram posts. They recruited college students with a “sturdy” social-media presence, an innate curiosity in expertise, and some video-editing abilities.

Then, the workers compiled broader scholar enter: First from 80 college students within the fall of 2021, and once more from 212 college students this previous spring. (The surveys, to notice, have been “casual”; two college members, Brusasco and her colleague Autumn Fabricant, handed them out to college students of their programs for additional credit score.)

The responses weren’t all that shocking, each Brusasco and Fabricant acknowledged. Many who Brusasco learn, together with bother with changing information to the right format and importing assignments to the learning-management system Canvas, tracked carefully with what she’s noticed within the classroom.

Typically, “They’re taking their paperwork from their Google Docs on their app” on their cellphone “and attempting to add it to the LMS,” she mentioned. The formatting “will get all wonk-a-doodle.”

So are these movies getting by way of to college students? Whereas the undertaking continues to be in its nascent phases, Heinrich mentioned early information look promising.

In February, for instance, after posting a video on how and the place to take a look at free loaner gadgets on campus, Cal State at Northridge noticed a 196-percent enhance that month in iPad checkouts, a 25-percent enhance in laptop computer checkouts, and a 47-percent enhance in hotspot checkouts.

“With the outcomes that we’ve had … we’re satisfied that that is the best way to go,” Heinrich mentioned.

Fabricant, a former freshman-seminar lecturer who’s now the campus’s student-success and fairness coordinator, has seen the success of the peer-support mannequin in motion, too.

She recalled an occasion final college yr when a scholar answered a classmate’s query about whether or not they may spotlight and take notes on their digital textbook within the Canvas system.

“She pulled up her cellphone, was in a position to take a screencast of it,” and shared it with the entire class, Fabricant mentioned. “I used to be like, ‘That is superb.’”

Room to Develop

Whereas Heinrich mentioned it’s nonetheless “a bit early” to say scholar digital ambassadors are a everlasting fixture at CSU-Northridge — the work is just not “independent” and requires devoted workers assets to handle and supervise college students — the plan for now’s to proceed.

And there’s room to develop. A great chunk of the student-produced social-media posts so far have targeted on amplifying tech assets on the campus, just like the free iPads. The intention this summer time and fall semester is to run by way of extra of the subjects highlighted within the surveys, and to align posts with scheduled expertise modifications, akin to an internet site redesign and a brand new campus portal.

Brusasco’s want, she mentioned, is to enrich this bite-size content material with extra in-depth, student-led workshops on subjects like changing and importing information.

Madison Cabrera, a junior and a digital scholar ambassador, mentioned she’d prefer to see extra brainstorming round methods to increase the social-media posts’ attain — maybe by including platforms like Twitter and TikTok, the place she is aware of quite a lot of her friends spend time scrolling.

Relying on the put up, the variety of Instagram accounts reached has ranged from greater than 500 to just about 10,000. (It’s not clear what quantity of these accounts are college students at Cal State at Northridge.)

Cabrera may envision the peer-to-peer useful resource extending past expertise, too — like sharing the most effective locations for college students to check on campus.

“It’s good to speak about tech,” she mentioned. “It’s additionally good to speak about every little thing else that we’ve.”



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