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In a guest column for Choice Reviews, Cathy N. Davidson explains why digital literacy, especially now, is crucial.

Learning how to learn is the single most important skill one can master for a rapidly changing world.


When I teach my undergraduate course on “Digital Literacies,” I begin with an exercise in “meta-cognition,” deep reflection about how we think. I start by distributing a technology that was cutting-edge in 1760 when Linnaeus invented it: index cards. He needed a tool to help him sort discrete bits of data to create his world-changing classification systems. Two centuries later, Melvil Dewey used these as the basis for his card catalog system, and the notch-edged versions were used in the 1960s and 1970s for relational data bases or “Knitting Needle Computers.” History, I tell my students, is one of the digital literacies.

Next, I pass around the revolutionary technology known as “pencils.” And I take out a timer. It’s analog. It even ticks. I’ve not yet introduced myself or passed around the syllabus, so the students are on edge. None of this is what my students expect from “Digital Literacies.”

When I set the timer for ninety seconds and ask my students, “Who invented the printing press?” they immediately get to work. After a lifetime of timed school tests, they are now in their comfort zone and need no instructions. In a matter of seconds, they’ve written out their answer and have set their pencils down and are looking at me, waiting for the next question.

We all know what name they’ve written on their cards.

I tell them if they believe their answer is correct, they can sign the card, hand it in, and they have earned an A for the course. They don’t have to come back again or do another assignment for “Digital Literacies.”

“But what if the answer is wrong?” a student invariably asks.

“Well, you fail, of course,” I say.

I like to leave a silence. Someone asks if there are other choices. “Sure, you can turn over the card. Do research using any devices you have with you, work in groups if you want. Make sure you have reputable sources and proper citations, of course. Ninety seconds.”

In the ten years I’ve been doing this, no student has ever handed in an index card for the easy A. Their first answer may be correct, but they know it can’t be right.


Read the full article here.

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Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

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