Digital Gardening: A new way to think about digital literacy

Digital Gardening: A new way to think about digital literacy

Most of us know the basics of gardening – tilling the soil, digging holes, adding plants, weeding, watering.  It’s a useful metaphor, however, for other subjects and ways of thinking, and IU has done just that.  Digital gardening is a method of instill digital literacy and digital competency in students, starting with their very first semester on campus.  On October 1, IU East librarians KT Lowe and Beth South participated in the Digital Gardener Summit, a day-long workshop addressing digital gardening and how it can be infused into a classroom curriculum.

(Image: A digital photo of real carrots, modified on a digital platform – basically, an encapsulation of the tools taught by digital gardening. Image source: Microsoft Stock Photo.)

Digital literacy incorporates a number of ideas related to understanding media.  Not only does it include fact-checking fake news, deepfake videos and memes, but also a greater understanding regarding how technology can be used to create tools and media that can promote good quality information or enhance understanding of difficult topics.  Two panel discussions at the Digital Gardening Summit covered both faculty members at all IU campuses who have integrated digital tools into their coursework to improve student outcomes and presentations by software and hardware designers that fit with academic needs.  Faculty and staff members across campus all have the ability to assist students in gaining digital fluency.

Melody Buckner

The keynote speaker, Melody Buckner, has been incorporating digital learning into her classes since the early 2010s.  Dr. Buckner currently serves as Senior Director of Digital Learning and Online Education at the University of Arizona, where she leads initiatives on campus and online environments to introduce digital tools in new learning spaces.  Her projects have included digital storytelling study abroad projects, which she began conducting in Spring 2011, research on the differences between traditional and digital storytelling and work on adding human elements to online learning. 

But what, exactly, is digital storytelling?  It is a way to place storytelling into the hands of everyone, not just artists or professionals.  Everyone has a story to tell, from the simple to the fantastic, and everyone should have access to both the means to tell stories and the ability to spread their stories far and wide.  Dr. Bruckner identified digital storytelling not only as an equalizing force for marginalized voices, but also as a way to teach students about fundamental media principles.  She separated digital learning into three different levels of mastery: Digital competency/proficiency – Knowing; Digital literacy – Understanding; and Digital fluency – Functioning.  By giving students the opportunity to practice with digital tools and allowing them to tell their own stories, their own digital literacy skills progress.  By the time they graduate from college, they could well be completely digitally fluent in a number of modalities, with the ability to both assess and create informational tools.

The natural follow-up to the Digital Gardener Summit is the Digital Gardener Initiative, a semester-long fellowship program targeted to faculty members who wish to gain more insight into adding digital tools to their classes as a way to better enhance the quality of information both coming to and produced by students.  The project is spearheaded by IUPUI and inspired by its Ideagarden, a makerspace-like area where students can use an array of tools to create both virtual and handheld objects.  This initiative will connect faculty members with new or unfamiliar technologies, including Adobe Creative Suite, and assist them in developing curriculum that can be implemented in Fall 2022.  Applications for faculty are due December 5, 2021. 

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