Digital Fluency at UMW – A History

Parts of this post come from the report Incorporating Digital Fluency at UMW.

When I accepted the job here at UMW, it was no small part because of the groundbreaking work that was and still is being done here in engaging students with the web. As an “early adopter” myself (learning to hand-code HTML in 1996, for example), I had long been interested in how we teach students about the web and digital technologies, how we integrate them into our pedagogies.

What I didn’t know was just how far back these conversations went at UMW. We’ve written on this blog about the history of Domain of One’s Own (Part 1 and Part 2), and Martha Burtis gave a great overview as well at Domains 17. As I began researching in order to chair last year’s Working Group on Advanced Digital Fluency, I realized just how deep these discussions went into the institutional history. In May 2008, an ad-hoc Provost’s Committee on Digital Initiatives put forward a report and series of recommendations on the future digital direction of UMW. In it, the Committee addressed the question: “Are we prepared to educate and challenge bright, creative, and ambitious students who will be coming to us, increasingly, having already experienced the power that technology has to transform their lives, extend their intellect, and connect them with like-minded learners?”

A lot has happened over those ten years. In fact, myriad initiatives, projects, and
programs came to be over the past decade at UMW that support or facilitate the acquisition of what we’re now calling advanced digital fluency skills: Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT), the Center for Teaching Excellence & Innovation (CTE&I), the Hurley Convergence Center (HCC), the Communications and Digital Studies major (and Digital Studies minor), History and American Studies, the Digital Archiving Lab, the Digital Knowledge Center (DKC), the ThinkLab, UMW Libraries, Domain of One’s Own, UMW Blogs, and the Digital Pedagogy Lab… And this is only a partial list. They remain, however, pieces that can and do support the development of advanced digital fluency skills, pieces however that can be better tied together into a curricular whole.

Given our history and our strength in this area, it is no surprise, then, that a concept such as advanced digital fluency should make its way into the most recent UMW Strategic Plan. Approved in February 2016, we at UMW were using the term digital fluency before it became a 2018 buzzword for education. In the more recent Strategic Vision (approved November 2017), Goal 3 reads:

UMW must prepare our students to live, work, and serve effectively in this Age of Accelerations, and we do so by intentionally fostering the ability in our students to consume and produce digital knowledge critically, ethically, and responsibly, as well as  to creatively adapt to emerging technology while developing the intellectual skills necessary to address the world’s biggest problems. The University is already a national leader in the digital liberal arts, in our humane integration of technology into our teaching, our learning, our engagement, and our lives. But more can be done. UMW will ensure that all students, regardless of major, will develop digital fluency during their time at the University, that our faculty and staff will model digitally enabled learning in and out of the classroom that goes well beyond current forms of online learning, that unique programs will provide the framework for other innovations in teaching and learning, and that our focus on the digital world complements our longstanding history of strong, genuine, human connections.

The first Action Item for this goal? “Develop a curriculum that promotes advanced digital fluency for all students while empowering students to use digital technologies as creators and scholars.” Our group is committed to helping the institution achieve that goal, and have created an Advisory Group for Digital Fluency, which will help guide these conversations going forward.

I have been trying to integrate digital fluency into my own teaching and practice throughout my career in the classroom. I look forward to helping UMW continue to lead the way in the Digital Liberal Arts.

Photo by Andrew Bertram on Unsplash