Technological literacy and training for students and faculty

The Bamboo workshop participants painted a very diverse picture of the level of technological expertise that can be reasonably expected from today's students and junior faculty. Both students and junior faculty are likely to be adept with the basic functionality of websites like Google and Facebook, but may not be "power users" of those tools, lacking familiarity with non-obvious tricks and shortcuts. While young scholars have read blogs and wikis, they may not have a deep understanding of how these platforms "work" (in a general sense, let alone specific details about how to use any given platform.) Workshop participants identified another type of young scholar who was more familiar with tools like blogs and wikis, but did not naturally think of applying those tools to research. A third type of young scholar came closer to the vision of the "digital native": students who come to college fluent in the use of a wide variety of tools for communicating and visualizing, analyzing and manipulating textual and non-textual media. Participants did note that younger students were more willing to learn to use new tools, regardless of their starting level of technological literacy, but this may be more a consequence of the difference in reward structures for undergrads compared to graduate students and faculty, rather than a difference in general adaptability. Junior faculty and graduate students have high expectations to meet for presenting and publishing their research, as well as teaching and service requirements to fulfill. Unless a new tool will have a direct positive impact on a scholar's ability to complete their work, they are unlikely to see it as worth learning.

It was clear to workshop participants that a majority of students and junior faculty are less familiar with technology than would be ideal, but there was no single approach to ameliorating the situation that applied equally well in all cases. SN-0036 described a course at Carleton College where students' culminating assignment was a video. The professor worked with academic support professionals to provide the students with a single class period of training in the use of high-end cameras and professional video editing software, as well as ongoing support as the students worked on their projects. While the class had a successful outcome, the professor identified a few areas of potential improvement. These included having additional training sessions and in-person support available during the evening and weekend hours when students are likely to be working on their project, locating the training whenever possible within departmentally-controlled spaces (rather than library or IT rooms) to send the message to students that technology is an integral part of the department, and encouraging faculty members to reach out to library and IT staff early on when developing courses that have a technology-training component.

Increasing the technological literacy of faculty comes with a different set of challenges. While a class assignment is sufficient reason for students to invest time in learning to use new tools and technology, faculty first need to understand how a tool will specifically help them do their job. The motivating factors behind faculty reluctance to learn new technology change over the course of one's career. Senior faculty who have spent their career successfully relying on one set of methodologies may not see any benefit to trying a new approach. While these scholars are more likely to reject advice on using technology coming from librarians, IT professionals, or junior faculty, peer outreach programs have been successful at motivating senior faculty to explore the tools their colleagues use.

A number of Bamboo workshop participants called for technology to be incorporated into core graduate education, in a variety of forms ranging from hands-on software training to teaching students how to think about structured data and develop an intuition for navigating virtual environments. Depending on the field, knowledge about specialized tools (such as GIS or visualization software) may be of tremendous benefit for graduate students. One participant suggested a library-run "boot camp" (Ex 6a, 1d-E) for incoming graduate students that would introduce them to the tools and resources available to them, including dynamic research portals relevant to their field. However, any sort of mandatory addition to graduate education requires departmental buy-in, and in many fields digital methodologies are considered a niche sub-interest rather than an approach integral to the future of the field.

Departmental undervaluation of digital methodologies is also problematic for junior faculty who are interested in increasing their technical fluency. Junior faculty do not have time to pursue work that their department will not recognize as valuable. Competitive grants that could provide junior faculty with technological training and course release time might be one way of dealing with concerns about recognition; even if a department does not value technological training for its own sake, the prestige of a faculty member being awarded a competitive grant is harder to overlook during the promotion and tenure process.

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