What Is Digital Fluency & Why Does It Matter?: Some Initial Explorations

By Bob Cole, Exploratory Initiatives and Partnerships, DLINQ

Cross-posted from This Week in DLINQ: March 12-16, 2018.

On Tuesday, March 13, Amy Collier (Associate Provost for Digital Learning), Mike Roy (Dean of the Library), and Bob Cole (DLINQ Exploratory Initiatives & Partnerships) convened faculty and staff at the College and at the Institute via video conference to explore critical digital fluency. The Academic Roundtable/DLA Behind the Scenes event was co-sponsored by the Center for Teaching, Learning & Research (CTLR), the Digital Liberal Arts initiative (DLA), and the Office of Digital Learning & Inquiry (DLINQ).

Amy Collier kicked off the session by first problemetizing the web as a place that is highly networked and “platformed” via hyperlinks, syndicated content, and black-box algorithms. She emphasized that the web isn’t neutral. In fact, much of the web that we and our students experience through social networks and mainstream news sites is highly consolidated and centralized. With a critical lens we begin to understand that there are systemic biases hard-coded into the digital platforms we frequent which are driven by private commercial interests. Where we find examples of digital platforms serving as places of social connection and public dialog, we also find as many cases where the same platforms have enabled the intentional weaponization of information by bad actors.

Amy discussed her teaching—in which she brings students into contact with critical digital fluency through a variety of focused investigations of truth and trust in digital spaces inspired by Mike Caulfield’s work on digital polarization and web literacy for students as fact checkers. The framework for these investigations invites students to practice what Caulfield calls “the four moves” of verifying claims found online in news feeds and social networks. The trustworthiness of news stories, memes, videos, and websites can be further interrogated by introducing students to fact-checking sites like Snopes and web tools like reverse Google image search, whois.com, the fake news codex, and mysitewealth.com that help reveal metadata about information sources and creators. A result of these critical investigations is a heightened awareness of the structural issues that shape trust in our digital environments and how, without a critical disposition, we may be complicit in the spread of misinformation.

The session closed with small groups considering a variety of statements describing concepts like information literacy, digital fluency, and digital citizenship while making important connections with disciplinary studies of intercultural competence and cultural media literacy. Although the groups did not reach a consensus on a definition of critical digital fluency, DLINQ initiatives like “Information Environmentalism” led by Amy Collier and the forthcoming “Digital Fluencies” workshop series led by Michael J. Kramer and Leanne Galletly offer examples of emerging ways Middlebury is critically exploring the digital.

Request access to the google slides from the roundtable.