This paper explores the evolution of digital communication skills development in post-secondary educational institutions around the world. It considers how expectations of and opportunities for effective digital communicators extend well beyond the domain of graphic and visual artists, videographers, and web designers. Today, competencies that have traditionally been expected from art and design professionals are now expected from professionals working in such disciplines as journalism, education, and medicine.
The emergence of new post-secondary fields of study such as informatics, medical imaging, instructional design, and educational technology, featuring digital proficiencies as core components of discipline-specific epistemology, further extends the notion of what it means to be a proficient digital communicator.
The Evolution of Literacy
Today’s focus on building capacity for effectively communicating ideas and information extends beyond the traditional notion of literacy. Historically, literacy was defined as the ability to read and write. In the current era, a literate individual is one who has developed competencies that leverage reading and writing skills toward the goal of effective communication. In today’s world, a proficient communicator needs to be computer literate, visually literate, information literate, media literate, and digitally literate.
To be computer literate, one must know how to use a word-processing program, a spreadsheet program, a slide-presentation program, and how to perform the appropriate maintenance and security to ensure that his or her computer works properly. Visually literate individuals understand the nature of images and multimedia and comprehend how visual representations are created, produced manipulated, and shared.
Being information literate entails knowing how to find, analyze, and share accurate information coming from valid and authoritative sources. A media literate person has a deep understanding of the means by which communications are created and shared. This includes mass media, such as newspapers and online news sources; television; magazines; websites; and “long tail” interactive social media, including RSS, blogs, wikis, and micro-blogging applications for Twitter. The boundaries of digital literacy continues to morph and change as the digital world around us morphs and changes. The 2010 United States Department of Education’s National Technology Plan recently observed that our education system relies on core sets of standards-based concepts and competencies to form the basis of what all students should know and should be able to do. Whether the domain is English language arts, mathematics, sciences, social studies, history, art, or music, states should continue to consider the integration of 21st-century competencies and expertise, such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, multimedia communication, and technological competencies demonstrated by professionals in various
disciplines. (http://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/netp2010.pdf )
To help with the task of bounding expectations, some professional associations are providing guidelines to members that situate definitions and standards for practice under the purview of the association issuing the guidelines. For example, the International Society of Technology in Education’s (ISTE) National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS−S) gives K-12 teachers a framework for guiding skill development in elementary and secondary schools. NETS-S suggests that the digitally literate student knows how to use technologies in socially acceptable ways and has a healthy understanding concerning privacy and safety issues. The digitally literate student can also demonstrate creativity and innovation, create new knowledge collaboratively in a face-to-face environment and at a distance, think critically, and use technology effectively and productively in order to share the results of such efforts.