February 2003 Issue
By Tracey A. Stuckey-Mickell, College Reading & Learning Program, Northern Illinois University
College Level Literacy and Technology in the 21st Century
A growing number of college instructors are requiring students to engage in learning activities that involve advanced thinking skills and use of computer technology. Most new college students are somewhat computer literate and have a moderate amount of experience with most computer applications (e.g., MS Word, Internet Explorer, etc.), but when it comes to actively using email properly, searching the web efficiently and using reasonably advanced features of word-processing programs, spreadsheet programs and presentation programs; many students find themselves at a loss. These students are essentially unprepared for this type of activity and they struggle to keep up.
Few students come to college without having completed a research project or
paper, but most have only used the library sparingly and have little experience
with locating, reading, and evaluating electronic and web-based materials. Nor
have they much practice using online catalogues or scholarly journal search
engines. They are usually confused about what does and does not constitute
plagiarism when synthesizing information from sources and writing up their
research. In essence, most freshmen students are considerably academically
illiterate. Olson (1994) defined literacy as “the competence to exploit a
particular set of cultural resources… " (p. 43). The traditional view of
literacy seems to include only reading and writing as resources, but in today’s
high tech world, it takes much more than reading and writing to be “literate”
for the average citizen. For our college students, this narrow definition is
even less relevant.
In our society’s current state of overwhelming technological growth and exchange
of information, students must deal with increasing intellectual requirements.
Educators are beginning to see the need for broader definitions of literacy that
reflect the influence of new technologies (Reinking, 1998). Concepts such as
“multiliteracies” have found their way into the literature. As a teacher for the
past four years, I recognize the need for this shift in our concept of literacy
to guide our classroom and learning assistance practices. Definitions of
literacy should reflect the increased use of multimedia, graphics, digitized
texts, and the use of computers and the Internet to access and utilize,
critically analyze and evaluate sources. The widespread use and unregulated
nature of the World Wide Web also requires students to sift through vast
quantities of information and evaluate resources for credibility and usefulness.
In my opinion, our definition of literacy should include these functions as well
as the traditional functions of reading and writing printed text.
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