I try to model the information literacy skills we think are important for students to acquire. I also heed Nina’s caution against fostering learned helplessness. Yet I’m seeing students who lack even the most rudimentary technological skills like knowing how to download a document file so that they can read it off-line. This puts me in a bind.
My first thought was to specify the fundamental digital knowledge and skills that students must possess to get through any of my courses:
- Regularly access your university email account and the online course management platform with your username and password.
- Download files to a device, with names and to locations that enable you to easily find them later.
- Save/save as/export files in required formats, with files appropriately named, to personal computing devices and the course management platform.
- Proofread your writing without using automated spell-check features.
- Back up work on external devices (USB drives) or cloud services like the course management platform, Google Drive, or DropBox.
- Set the preferences in your course management platform account so that you are notified of course updates in a timely fashion.
- Use the library’s website and databases to locate assigned readings.
- Contact the IT Help Desk, librarians, and other campus technology support services when you have questions about any of the above.
I could put that list on the first page of all my syllabi, but that essentially goes against what we at ALPS stand for. Reading a list once doesn’t change behavior, and my students don’t really read the verbiage on a syllabus anyway. The real reason for me to include such language in a syllabus (which is a perfectly valid one) is that it helps protect me when a student fails a course.
A better approach might be to format the list as a quiz at the beginning of the semester that is worth a tiny fraction of students’ final grades. The quiz questions could require some action by the student that demonstrates that he or she is actually able to perform the skill that is referenced by the question; for example, “download this one-page file, insert your name at the top, and then upload the new version as a pdf to this file folder.”
The above option assumes that students actually take such a quiz, and that they try to remedy any skill deficiencies that the quiz identifies. This may not happen. I re-instituted an open-book syllabus quiz in all my courses this semester and a few students chose not to complete it, while others scored badly. Given that I already see a loose correlation between students’ scores on the syllabus quiz and their overall course performance, a quiz on digital skills might provide additional support for my hypothesis that I can accurately predict any student’s final grade after only the first two weeks of a semester — but that’s a subject for another post.