Digital Literacy: The New Educator Evaluation

A case for establishing digital literacy as a new standard for teaching evaluations and a benchmark for the modern higher-education professional.

The role of the teacher has always been to expand learning.

The predisposition of the teacher has been inclined to the search for knowledge and a natural curiosity to learn more. The requirements needed to apply for the position within higher education have always included knowledge, skill sets, and certifications. Educators, by definition, are employed to manage students and convey information clearly, using their position of authority to present new concepts and to affect positive learning outcomes in the classroom.

From learning new subjects to adopting new techniques, the requirement for this position grew to include a working knowledge of technology, an understanding of social media, and a proficiency in digital communication. With these, instructors can stay ahead of the curve and develop strategies and teaching techniques that resonate with a continuously evolving student body and campus culture. Without them, educators risk becoming irrelevant to the students and ineffective for the school to which they are employed.

Throughout our series, we consistently echo that EdTech (educational technology) is becoming relevant to all students, by both helping to deliver improved learning outcomes and by increasing students’ digital literacy. Numerous technologies are now used in educational institutions all around the country to deliver blended and personalized content, to reduce dropout rates, and to motivate students to learn, among other benefits, all of which are helping to improve learning outcomes.

A top-down approach to leadership in education technology…

We can observe an example of the changing requirements for today’s educators by evaluating a top-down approach to leadership in education technology, such as San Diego State University’s 2014-2015 Strategic Plan. This shows how continuous curiosity can be built into the campus culture. In priority area one of the document, Promote Student Success Across the University, the second part of the initiative states, “Second, we are attempting to identify pedagogical and technological improvements and innovations that will enhance academic success and progress to degree.”

The campus’ Strategic Plan Learning Analytics Working Group demonstrated that “providing information about appropriate academic behavior triggered by students’ poor academic habits (e.g., not attending class) reduced failing grades for Pell-eligible students in an Introductory Psychology course.” This year, new courses are being explored with more detailed triggers and more extensive interventions with the goal of significantly reducing failure rates.

A recent K-20 Survey by The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) shows secondary education smart-device users are now providing real value from the data collected while engaging with these tools. Current tech-based pedagogy usage rates show important uses among university-level adopters. Showcasing just how prevalent the changes for teaching requirements have become in the modern classroom, 80% report tracking of student performance, 70% report usages to improve instruction, 60% identify student instructional needs, and 50% attempt to personalize student learning.

From the professor: More devices, more possibilities, more questions…

I am part of the generation that grew up on TV and marvelled when a fourth network (FOX) was proposed – why did we need another? I also saw the birth of CNN, MTV, and HBO, and I watched technology evolve as the way we consumed media changed faster than we could understand.

I saw Pong turn into Atari, and I watched a PC turn into a Mac. AOL grew to become Social Media, and everyone above the age of 21 just tried to keep up. Pay phones dissolved, mobile phones evolved and all of it – everything – is now wrapped up in a smartphone to do anything we can imagine.

Simply owning the smartphone, however, is not enough. True digital literacy requires an understanding of the technology and the skills to operate, all while forming competencies and a critical reflection on how these skills and competencies can be best applied. The idea of social engagement and interaction – both during and outside of lectures – is also taking center stage. Increasingly, it’s not just about being able to connect – it’s about actually connecting and then giving that connection meaning and purpose.

As the roles and the desired outcomes evolve, we’re left with as many questions as answers. How do we get professors to participate in this process? How do we provide sustainable digital literacy support once they do engage? How do we demonstrate that digital literacy should be compulsory and expected rather than an “optional” strategy?

Most importantly: What does a successful approach to digital literacy look like, from all perspectives?

From the student: The changing of the no-tech tide…

Throughout my academic career, I have frequently found myself defending my early-adopter status while using technology as the mechanism for receiving and organizing information. After returning from the private sector and navigating my way through my undergraduate degree, I have found my mobile technology is becoming increasingly useful both inside and outside of lecture hours.

I see my digital literacy as an “enhancer” that supplements all of my other areas of intelligence. I have apps that help manage and expand my awareness on nearly every aspect of my life, including my education.

At almost 30 years of age, I have spent nearly half my life developing this skill, only to be told it has no place in the classroom when I arrived at my first two-year campus. After transferring to SDSU, I can recall a heated “EdTech policy” debate with a past professor who yelled, “I have been fighting against this crap my whole career!” Today, I think back and wonder why this individual’s perspective was placing us on opposite sides of some “battle” over the dos and don’ts of modern-day learning.

Fortunately, this trend is slowing, and more campuses and educators are becoming open to the idea of working with technology, rather than against it. The necessary due diligence coming from expanding literature and peer-reviewed publications on new tech-based pedagogy is opening up the classrooms to a new type of educator who will meet the demands of the new type of student.

As the requirements for teaching in the modern high-education classroom continue to change, I find the population most benefitting is the student body. By bridging the gap between professors and technology, these changes bring the three points – educators, technology, and students – closer, resulting in better learning outcomes for all.

Educators strive to expand learning, and what better way to accomplish this task than by utilizing the devices students are most prone to leverage for their benefit?

A prevailing approach…

Commonly, we hear about either top-down (administrative-led) or bottom-up (student-led) approaches to employing technology inside the classroom. Why not both? Never has each side of the podium had so much to offer each other – the professors with their expertise and training and the students with their firm grasp of the latest trends and technologies. By leveraging both, we can facilitate positive learning outcomes that have never been achieved before.

Some administrators are taking the lead by researching best practices, identifying solutions, and re-examining the standards required to teach in their schools. Students, meanwhile, impact the classroom by expanding how we communicate. Social media have always been lead by younger demographics and early technology adopters. Everyone else remains trying to catch up, but the shift is generational and will continue.

Bridging the two requires leadership, time, opportunities for peer-supported training, and the incentive to take a step in the EdTech direction to improve adoption, implementation and success. It also requires adequate bandwidth, infrastructure, and support. Administrators can do their part to create an environment for success by providing the infrastructure – literally and figuratively – to support the program, while students will continue to hold up their end of the deal simply by purposefully leveraging the devices they’re already using in class.

The benefits of incorporating a hybrid top-down and bottom-up approach become clearer with each success story shared. The professional requirements for teaching with technology in the higher-education classroom are still changing – and they will continue to do so as long as technology changes – but the desired outcome remains the same: expand the learning.

For professors: How has technology impacted the way you teach? What two examples – one positive and one negative – best represent your experiences with technology in the classroom?

For students: How are professors using technology on your campus? What works and what doesn’t? Have you experienced any triumphs, something that made you stop and say, “That was really cool” regarding a professor’s use of technology in the classroom?

Join the conversation and tell us what you’ve experienced.

All of us know more than one of us. As we conclude this blog series, our collective contributions will prove valuable in extending this learning. Share the article with a friend or colleague and see what they think, as well.

Follow authors Kevin Popovic and Ryan Vanshur as we continue to share our own experiences and insights. Please connect with us on LinkedIn to speak directly.

Download ebook: Creating Engagement in the Classroom


San Diego State University Lecturer Kevin Popović and SDSU student Ryan Vanshur combine their learnings about improving the classroom dynamic with their mutual experience and research, creating an insightful look into the strategies and technologies that influence today’s faculty and students.

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