Digital Literacy and the Liberal Arts Curriculum

What should a 21st century college graduate know? What should she be able to do? Why?

“Today’s graduates will have jobs that haven’t even been invented yet” is a commonplace these days. So how do we educate our undergraduates for that yet-to-be-imagined future? If the ways that people live, communicate, work, eat, and travel continue to transform rapidly, then the best preparation would be the ability to “learn, unlearn, and relearn” as Alvin Toffler famously declared.

“What’s your major” we ask college students, as though their area of concentration is the key purpose of college.

Even in a liberal arts college context most incoming students are primarily focused on their majors, as are their parents and friends. Choosing a major feels like a jumping-off point for their path in life. Options narrow even as expertise increases. Each course in the college catalog accrues meaning in relationship to a teleological goal: graduation. A course, in this linear framework, is like a vehicle transporting the student in a direction–courses in the major advance the student toward the goal of no longer being a student, while the required, or general education, courses are like obstacles to be overcome and  elective courses are anything from tangential explorations to disorienting excursions.


Ven Diagram of Digital Capabilities for Information Technology proficiency
by Helen Beetham, Jisc digital capability codesign challenge blog


Flipping the Curriculum

What we need to do–somehow!-is flip the curriculum. Such flipping in no way undermines the centrality and importance of a major, but instead emphasizes that specialized knowledge, the expertise of the discipline, gains value as it relates to other specializations. In other words, it is the oft-dismissed “breadth” requirements that supply the framework that allows a graduate’s expertise in the major to become legible to the world.

This post is still under construction…but instead of saving it privately, I’m going to put it here to wait publicly until I can return to it and develop the ideas.

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