How to teach digital literacy during the COVID pandemic

Virginia Tech librarians help students avoid video chat fatigue and evaluate information
Julia Feerrar
Julia Feerrar

College libraries, already a key provider of digital literacy and wellness, are finding new ways to offer guidance to students as online learning continues into the fall on most campuses.

Since the massive shift online in the spring, some students and faculty have experienced “video chat fatigue,” says Julia Feerrar, the head of digital literacy initiatives for University Libraries at Virginia Tech.

“It can take a physical toll,” Feerrar says. “It’s hard to make eye contact through a video chat, and we’re sitting more at those screens, not having to walk.”

This situation can also leave many craving the social connections that would naturally occur when campuses are open—even the short chats that follow when students and faculty “bump into each” while transitioning between classes and other activities.

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Librarians at Virginia Tech are working to replicate these interactions by hosting online book clubs and other virtual groups that encourage students to use the internet and social media more productively, Feerrar says.

“We teach workshops that help students evaluate the places where they spend time online and think about their goals in those places,” she says. “Weeding out some of those places can be really fulfilling.”

Students, and instructors, may also now have more space and time to experiment with digital platforms they may have been hesitant to try in the past.

“Digital tools that had a much higher barrier to entry previously are now something students can jump into and start talking about their experience in ways beyond writing another essay,”  she says.

In the fall semester, Feerrar and her team plan to join online classes, such as first-year writing programs, to share guidance in digital literacy and well-being.

To avoid overwhelming students and instructors with video chats and online meetings, her team is building online resources that can be accessed anytime, anywhere.

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A key lesson will be helping students evaluate the reliability of news and other information as the COVID outbreak continues, and the country navigates a presidential election and the social justice movement.

She uses a model call “SIFT” to guide students.

“We see so much online that’s out of context,” she says. “If something online makes you feel a strong emotion, investigate the source—go outside the source to see where the information is coming from and what you can find out about who created it, and then try to find other coverage.”

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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