In higher education, the Internet is largely considered both tool and toolbox from which students and faculty access and utilize teaching, research and curricular materials with untrammeled ease. Whereas, prior to the Internet age, reading assignments and research were traditionally initiated at libraries, using card catalogs, books and periodicals, these efforts now begin with search engines or web pages, which are constantly changing and increasing. Information is downloaded or browsed rather than checked out or purchased. Students’ reading and writing skills are influenced — not always for the better — by the plethora of media available, much of which is created and populated by ordinary people, not experts and scholars.
The obvious upsides of this powerful media are many: greater availability of information and resources, increased sharing of information and ideas, and more collaboration than ever before. However, it is essential for students to be able to discern the credibility of sources, and they must learn the importance of personal ethics with regard to copyright protections, intellectual property rights and the perils of plagiarism.
Not surprisingly, students have become conversant in such media at an early age, often outstripping their “analog age” parents, professors and university administrators. In fact, more and more students arrive at college unaccustomed to a culture of learning that requires, for the most part, reading books and producing papers. They are accustomed to the many facets of electronic media and wish to express themselves via digital content such as video, websites and multimedia presentations.
What’s more, in the working world that awaits them, literacy in these new media is no longer merely desirable, it is expected. “When they graduate from universities and colleges and enter such fields as business, education, government, medicine, research, or the arts,” writes Joan Lippencott, associate executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, “they will continue to produce digital content, whether that content is text documents, podcasts, videos, multimedia presentations, data sets, simulations, games, or other new media. Employers often select new graduates for positions in the expectation that they will take on technology-intensive assignments related to the Web presence of the organization.”*
As higher education leaders, we are challenged to keep current with trends and developments in media and technology to be able to offer the programs and resources students and faculty have come to rely on and expect. Furthermore, as an institution committed to developing the highly valued critical thinking and communication skills so often associated with a liberal arts education, we also must recognize and incorporate the tools that are assuming ever-greater prominence in the 21st century without compromising our high standards for academic engagement and rigor.
This edition of The Scene explores various roles and expressions of media in the Willamette community.
M. Lee Pelton
* “Student Content Creators: Convergent Literacies,” Educause Review, November/December 2007, p.16 (http://connect.educause.edu/er)