The need for digital knowledge is more important than ever

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Photo: Lucia Thorne

Although we already live in a digital age, the pandemic made us even more reliant on technology than ever before.

We’ve all heard the short explanation for how computers work: ones and zeroes. There is electricity involved, algorithms, and some processing units that allow us to carry more technology in our backpacks than our grandparents saw in their entire lives. Most people don’t dive any deeper into technology, leaving the complicated tasks of programming and designing to those that wish to learn it. In high school, I tried asking my computing teacher for a more complete explanation on how computers work, and I left that conversation more confused than I entered it. 

Although Gen Z is well acquainted with technology, those who haven’t dedicated time to studying it are left in a gray area. Gen Z may know how to use technology, but not how it works, and certainly not how to solve modern problems with it. We are all well acquainted with the digital world, but we cannot take our digital literacy for granted. The skills we have gained from existing in a digital world do not equate to the skills needed to use this technology to our advantage. 

Although we already live in a digital age, the pandemic made us even more reliant on technology than ever before. Forbes writer Marco Annunziata wrote this past July, that “Universities that remain unable to provide the right skills at the right price will see students migrate away to other institutions and modes of learning.” 

The EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy even said that 90 percent of jobs will require digital skills after 2020. One of the outcomes of this pandemic will be a more digital world. Now that we have gotten used to relying on technology for most aspects of our lives, it is difficult to see us reverting to how we were before.

We are going to graduate into a digital world; so how can we make sure that we are ready for the skills it requires? 

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Emerson does a great job at developing industry-specific digital skills, providing courses that go in-depth on video editing, electronic publishing, and more. Most of the courses that develop digital literacy are focused on the relationship between the field of study and the use of technology, helping students prepare themselves for the digital aspects of their industry. Courses like  “Editing for Film and Video,” “Introduction to Electronic Publishing,” and “Advanced Audio Video Journalism” are some of the digital-focused classes available to students. 

These basic digital classes, however, are not enough. Although this practical focus is very much appreciated and necessary, many of us will still graduate without basic knowledge of some of the most valuable skills in the modern market, such as coding and web design. Digital literacy in college students has proven to improve academic performance and make graduates stand out in the job market.

As a liberal arts college, Emerson does not provide its students with comprehensive courses on STEM topics, such as programming or web design. If any of us wanted to study these topics in depth, we could have applied for a computer science or engineering degree somewhere else. Even though most of us will not need to be proficient in any of these topics to succeed, all of us will have to work in industries that rely on digitalization. A basic understanding of software development, programming, and computing can be incredibly useful skills when it comes to problem solving in the digital age. 

Although our college has a very comprehensive set of skill-building professional studies courses, these only cover practical knowledge of programs like Adobe and WordPress. In order to prepare ourselves for the current world, we need to not only be able to use these tools, but also understand how they work, and how we can build new solutions with them. 

Going through the Spring 2021 course catalogue, I was happy to see that there were some classes I could take as a WLP major that would allow me to develop some of these skills. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most majors. The Data Marketing and Analytics Masters program provides a thorough training in digital skills, but we shouldn’t have to study a whole other degree in order to gain these skills, if only at the base level. 

If we had access to develop these skills within the college—whether it were through introductory courses or a minor—we would be much more prepared for the digital world out there. We go into film editing without understanding how the software works, we manage online publications without knowing how to build a website, we work with social media without understanding what makes it tick. Emerson students are already leaders in their fields: how much more would we be able to accomplish if we could access all the resources the digital world has to offer?