Away day thoughts: digital skills

Posted on June 22nd, 2015 by Bernie Russell

When we look at core digital skills, we tend to focus on the production modules, and on particular tools and technologies. Our procurement process, for example, is nearly all devoted to our production work.

Digital skills aren’t all to do with production, though. Our digital first approach should apply to our theory and context modules as well. We should look right  across our programs at the basics of how students use their computers, how they do their research, even how they use the internet. It wouldn’t do us any harm to look at our own practices while we’re at it.

Keyboard shortcuts
This is the obvious place to start—entry-level, literally digital first. Keyboard shortcuts are a much more efficient way to work within an application, or to work at the level of the operating system. I’d suggest we deliver a list of basic shortcuts for Windows and the Mac OS to level one students.

Too obvious? I’m not sure.

Ctrl-F is a case in point. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen students scrolling laboriously through a page of text looking for a particular phrase, rather than just hit Ctrl-F.

A quick, editable list wouldn’t hurt, and could help.

D1st toolkit
We have a session in the level three online module about assembling a digital toolkit. That’s too late. By then, students are using their default option for project management and sharing resources: Facebook, which isn’t really much use for either of those things.

They’re using pen drives for storing and moving files, and they have different files on different machines. And very few use browser extensions to save, share or clip pages.

Most use web mail, but a lot of them don’t bounce their university mail through.

Project management
There are lots of tools out there, but maybe not that many free ones. It’s possible to use WordPress, and I’m sure there are project management functions in our production and editorial apps. Google+ is fine (better than Facebook), and I’ve had teams stitch together a suite of tools (mostly around Skype).

One student introduced the team to an app called Trello, which is really useful (and free). And, of course, it may be that colleagues have their own approach to this. If so, we should be sharing these approaches so that (d1st) project management becomes part of all our modules.

Browser extensions
The students must put together a suite of browser extensions to curate and share web content. It doesn’t much matter what they are as long as they do the job.

I’d suggest as an absolute minimum that they should use a social bookmarking site to save and share material they find on the web. (I use diigo, but there are lots of others out there.) These are powerful research tools that allow users to tag and share content with colleagues or team members.

They might also want to look at extensions that will let them

  • share content over social media;
  • add things to their Amazon wish list;
  • capture screenshots of all or part of a web page
  • email web pages with one click (though this is also a core browser function anyway).

And they should be using different browsers so that they can see how they render web pages differently.

Cloud servers
All the students should be using some kind of cloud-based hosting service to store and share files. Again, it doesn’t matter which one – Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive (which is probably the best supported – you can run it on an Xbox). But they (and we …) have to get them used to storing and sharing content remotely. This would be useful for team projects and for research, especially dissertations.

(What about Blackboard? I’d say use it for official material, but that’s all.)

Back to basic
Of course, this is all very basic, and perhaps many of us and many of our students are already using these tools or similar. But if so, we should still articulate this and make it part of our work so that we can build a genuinely digital culture.

And we also should remember that it’s the end result that matters. We should be getting the students to try things, to experiment. Whatever will get the job done will do. The last thing we want is a shopping list of specific programs or tools. There’s already far too much of that approach in journalism and in the academy.

Of which more later …



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One Response to “Away day thoughts: digital skills”

  1. Roberto Gelado says:

    There was actually a good share of ideas in there, thanks for sharing. I have also been surprised more than once about the total lack of digital rudiments that some members of the allegedly digital generaition have. Maybe less assumptions and more “just in case” would do them -and us, ultimately- well.

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