Digital Fluency: It’s More Than Just the Tools

table covered with hundreds of simple hand tools

by James Hardin, College of Education

As someone who teaches others how to appropriately enhance instructional practices through the integration of technology, I am constantly on the lookout for tech-related experiences that will help improve my craft. When asked if I was interested in joining a group of fellow educators from UA in attending the Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL) summer institute earlier this year, I was excited. Attending DPL appeared to be a great opportunity to gather with a diverse group of educators from around the world who share an interest in exploring the roles and applications of technology in education. I freely admit to having a kid-in-the-candy-shop moment. DPL promised immersive experiences unlike anything I had experienced in other technology-related conferences.

There was a passionate focus on the digital pedagogy where educators are responsible to critically examine the digital tools they use. Throughout the week, I was forced to reflect on my personal teaching practices and how I conceptualize digital pedagogy. Gradually as the week progressed, my examination of these topics began to reshape and enhance my definition of digital pedagogy.

I explored digital literacies with sessions facilitated by Jade Davis. I focused on the need for institutions of higher education to help students develop their own digital literacy skills, with educators serving as models or mentors. This session focused on

  • Students’ digital presence
  • Critical engagement with digital platforms
  • Collaboration
  • Critical sense-making in today’s culture of information abundance
  • Exploration of tools for navigating our current information ecosystem

At times it is easy for me to lose sight of the broader goals for integrating technology in instructional design, which is to enhance the teaching and learning process. I’m sometimes distracted by the sheer variety of “fancy tools” available for today’s digital learning spaces. My mind immediately begins to think about how I can use all of those “cool tools.” If I am being honest, rarely, if ever, do I critically examine these tools. In those moments, my instructional designs fail my students in so many ways. In fact, many of the instructional technology conferences I attend seem to exacerbate the problem, with their technology showcases that focus solely on the tools.

Lee Skallerup-Bessette raised a related point on how digital pedagogy is about so much more than the tools or using technology to teach content. As educators, we should teach our students to become responsible consumers and participants in our digital ecosystem. We are responsible for helping our students gain digital fluency, which Skallerup-Bessette defines as “the ability to consume and produce digital knowledge critically, ethically, and responsibly, as well as creatively adapt to emerging technology.” To this end, she emphasized two points:

  1. It is essential that institutions of higher education generate learning outcomes that require digital fluency to be integrated into students’ overall educational experiences.
  2. The goal of teaching students to become digitally fluent is best achieved through comprehensive initiatives, rather than small add-on programs.

Now that I have had time since the conclusion of the DPL to reflect on my experiences, my biggest take away is a question: How do we discuss the significance of digital fluency and teach our students to become digitally fluent?


James Hardin is Clinical Assistant Professor, Technology Applications & Assessment Systems in the College of Education.