Creating tomorrow’s digital citizens

Digital Literacy students Matthew Klaassen and Amelia Mataceva. INSIDE UNISA
Digital Literacy students Matthew Klaassen and Amelia Mataceva.

A ‘Humans of New York’ style photojournalism essay showcasing UniSA College students is just one of the many projects that have come out of a new course designed to equip students with the digital literacy to thrive in an increasingly knowledge-based economy.

According to the new report The New Work Order by the Foundation for Young Australians, nearly 50 per cent of Australian workers will need to be savvy digital operators able to configure and use digital systems in their jobs within the next two-to-three years.

The increasing demand for digital skills is why UniSA lecturer Jennifer Stokes developed the innovative course ‘Digital Literacy: Screen, Web and New Media’ for UniSA College; a course Stokes believes is one of the only courses of its kind offered in a pathway to university program in Australia.

“Many students come to university today as competent digital citizens who use technology in most parts of their everyday lives,” she says.

“What this course aims to do is get students thinking about the technology they are using in a critical way. The students are then able to extend their knowledge of the technologies they are often already familiar with so that they can apply digital skills to an academic or workplace context.

“The course is also a real shift in how we traditionally teach; given the rapid growth of technology we have to acknowledge as academics that we can’t know everything. Students are often proficient producers of digital content so in this way it can create a two-way learning environment, where academics are learning along with their students.

“These elements – tapping into students’ existing ‘digital wisdom’ and creating a collaborative learning environment – meant that students in this course were often very passionate about what they were doing which resulted in what we call deeper learning.

“Selecting from a range of project types, Digital Literacy students demonstrated their grasp of threshold concepts, such as criticality, industry standards and creativity.

“They were highly motivated and are now able to apply what they have learned in different situations.”

A section of Amelia’s ‘Humans of New York’ style photojournalism essay. A section of Amelia’s ‘Humans of New York’ style photojournalism essay.

This was certainly the case for Diploma of Arts student Amelia Mataceva, who is the face behind the camera in the ‘Humans of New York’ style photojournalism essay.

She says she now looks at the world around her in a completely different way.

“The Digital Literacy course broke down my technology use so that I was able to understand how the various technologies I already used could lead to new things and open up new opportunities,” she says.

“While I was nervous about starting the course – I thought it was all going to be about web coding – it so much fun and so much more than web. We analysed movies, photos and other forms of new media and we learnt how presenting information in a certain way visually can completely change its meaning and how people perceive it.”

Fellow student, Matthew Klaassen, who is enrolled in Foundation Studies, agrees that the knowledge and skills acquired in the new course were valuable.

“We are currently living in the digital age so having digital literacy is very important. As technology becomes increasingly prevalent in our society, we now need to know how to use a variety of new technologies and systems, like Photoshop or undertaking data analysis,” he says.

Matthew created a website for a tattoo artist for his project, demonstrating the wide-range of new media products students learnt to produce in the Digital Literacy course which ran in the first semester this year.

Stokes says a key element of the course was harnessing the capabilities of UniSA’s digital teaching platforms, which are being enhanced as part of the University’s Digital Learning Strategy.

“Essay and exam-based learning are becoming increasingly less relevant for today’s student – we now need to use technology to keep students engaged,” she says.

“In the 21st century, students often thrive in an interactive, visual-based learning environment rather than a text-based one. In this course, for example, most lectures used an interactive system where students could use their iPhones or laptops to contribute to discussions and take part in short quizzes, all while the lecture was taking place.”

Stokes is also an active researcher in the area of student engagement and pedagogy in enabling programs. She has been invited to present internationally on how she uses innovative technology to enhance the student learning experience and improve digital literacy.