“Mastery of Microsoft Office programs”
Look at the resume of almost any recent college graduate and you’re just about guaranteed to find something similar to the above listed. But ask most folks to create a “pivot table” in Excel, and chances are they’re going to go running to Google for help, says Educational Technology Services Manager Jennifer Spohrer.
“We think of today’s students as being so comfortable with technology, but the truth is that many of them haven’t used these tools in any sophisticated manner,” she says. “Then we have the sort of flip side of that: students who have done very sophisticated work such as complex data analysis, but who don’t really know how to talk about the skills they have with someone from outside of their field of study.”
Bryn Mawr’s “Digital Competencies” initiative aims to help address these and many other related twenty-first-century challenges, and to do so in ways tailored to liberal arts education and designed to support graduates’ confidence and capability in any context that relies on data and technology fluency.
While members of the Library & Information Technology Services (LITS) department will play key roles in the initiative, many offices and individuals on campus will be involved with making students aware of the opportunities and resources available to them.
“Our hope is that this is something students are going to be hearing about from their deans, LILAC staff, faculty – really anyone who is involved in helping them on their academic and career journeys,” says Chief Information Officer & Constance A. Jones Director of Libraries Gina Siesing, who stresses that this initiative is being developed in such a way as to not be just a new hoop for students to jump through.
“We don’t want people thinking of this as boxes on a checklist that need to get ticked off,” says Siesing. “This is about having students take time to assess the path they want to take and to ask what the digital skills and habits of mind are that they’re going to need to get where they want to go.”
Siesing and Spohrer have already created a Digital Competencies Framework, a map to help students identify the types of proficiencies they may need and gain through their major and minor field of study, course assignments, workshops and intensives, research and digital scholarship projects, internships, and student employment at Bryn Mawr.
Along with others working on the initiative, they are developing workshops and tools such as e-portfolios to help students reflect on and showcase their abilities and experiences. One of these tools is digital.brynmawr.edu, based on Reclaim Hosting’s A Domain of One’s Own, a platform through which students can set up their own web domain and install their own versions of common platforms like WordPress, Omeka or Wikispaces for digital projects.
“We spent a lot of time going over ideas for the framework with faculty, alums, and experts to develop the basic competencies, and we’re taking a similarly thoughtful approach to this next phase,” says Siesing. “For some students mastery of a specific tool might be valuable, but for many students the important thing is going to be in showing that they have the meta-cognition skills and comfort level in working with digital tools to be able to evaluate a problem and propose a solution in any situation.”
The Digital Competencies program is an outgrowth of the Digital Bryn Mawr Task Force, convened by the Board of Trustees (Fall 2011-Spring 2014), and the Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts program pioneered by President Kim Cassidy, and most recently supported by a Mellon Foundation grant for “Developing a Liberal Arts Curriculum for the Digital Age.” The Task Force recommendations included the importance of enabling digital fluency for students, faculty, and staff; continuing to develop appropriate uses of technology for the liberal arts context; and achieving these goals through iterative experimentation, assessment, and agile learning.