Composition, Communication and Computational Thinking
Phil Ventimiglia, Chief Innovation Officer, Georgia State University
June 8, 2015
In my last blog post, I discussed how Georgia State University is exploring the future of education by not only rethinking how we teach but what we teach. As higher education evolves, we are doing more than just providing learning technologies for students to use; we are developing technology-driven classroom practices and bringing digital literacy into the curriculum.
I discussed how Dr. George Pullman is shaping his composition course to introduce students to writing blogs and creating web pages, in addition to more traditional concepts of writing, in order to help students more deeply explore the rhetoric of writing. I asked Dr. Pullman to explain what integrating Digital Literacy means for his course and how the goals of his class are driven by the changing educational landscape.
“In the 21st century, computational thinking will be as important for university graduates as critical thinking, writing, and public speaking have always been.”
– George Pullman, Associate Professor, Department of English
How will your course incorporate digital literacy?
My class in particular will be centered on learning how to design a digital identity, from picking a domain name to designing an interface to writing content on a regular basis. Students will learn how the web works and how to participate as informed, purposeful citizens in it.
The experience students will get will be hands-on, maker experiences, where they have to build digital tools to solve both analytical and communications problems.
How important is Digital Literacy for higher education?
In the 21st Century, computational thinking will be as important for university graduates as critical thinking, writing, and public speaking have always been. The purpose of the digital literacy initiative is to help Georgia State students become more digitally sophisticated, to teach them how to be digital producers and not just digital consumers, by exposing them to a wide range of computational ideas and practices in all their core classes. By computational thinking we mean everything from basic programming to web design and usability, familiarity with data structures, data visualization, and statistical modeling. We also want them to be thinking about big ideas like artificial intelligence, algorithmic decision making and “big data”.
What’s the biggest hurdle to integrating digital literacy in higher education?
Ensuring access to the tools, software and hardware, is of primary concern for Georgia State. Fortunately for everyone, the cost of hardware is going down. You can buy a Chromebook, for example, for 200 dollars. A lot of phones cost more. Software too is getting cheaper, at least in the sense that open source software is free, and a lot of great apps have free versions available.
Do you think students are ready for digital literacy?
A writer named Marc Prensky published an article in 2001 in which he coined the term digital natives. He was referring to the youth of the day growing up with ubiquitous access to the Internet and all things digital. The idea is that these people will be perfectly comfortable using technology and will in fact expect it everywhere.
If you ask Georgia State professors at random, I suspect you will hear that students are not all equally computer literate, that digital natives may be coming but they aren’t with us yet. So we need to help our current students get up to speed, while preparing faculty for the new kinds of learning and thinking and communicating that we expect to be arriving shortly. But at the same time, we all know that just because people use technology daily doesn’t mean they use it wisely or critically (in the sense of thoughtfully and deliberate). The digital literacy initiative will ensure Georgia State graduates are more than just consumers glued to gadgets.