Digital Literacy and Learning in the United States

Americans fall along a spectrum of preparedness when it comes to using tech tools to pursue learning online, and many are not eager or ready to take the plunge

For many years concerns about “digital divides” centered primarily on whether people had access to digital technologies. Now, those worried about these issues also focus on the degree to which people succeed or struggle when they use technology to try to navigate their environments, solve problems, and make decisions. A recent Pew Research Center report showed that adoption of technology for adult learning in both personal and job-related activities varies by people’s socio-economic status, their race and ethnicity, and their level of access to home broadband and smartphones. Another report showed that some users are unable to make the internet and mobile devices function adequately for key activities such as looking for jobs.

In this report, we use newly released Pew Research Center survey findings to address a related issue: digital readiness. The new analysis explores the attitudes and behaviors that underpin people’s preparedness and comfort in using digital tools for learning as we measured it in a survey about people’s activities for personal learning.

Specifically, we assess American adults according to five main factors: their confidence in using computers, their facility with getting new technology to work, their use of digital tools for learning, their ability to determine the trustworthiness of online information, and their familiarity with contemporary “education tech” terms. It is important to note that the findings here just cover people’s learning activities in digital spaces and do not address the full range of important things that people can do online or their “readiness” to perform them.

To better understand the way in which different groups of Americans line up when it comes to digital readiness, researchers used a statistical technique called cluster analysis that places people into groups based on similarities in their answers to key questions.

The analysis shows there are several distinct groups of Americans who fall along a spectrum of digital readiness from relatively more prepared to relatively hesitant. Those who tend to be hesitant about embracing technology in learning are below average on the measures of readiness, such as needing help with new electronic gadgets or having difficulty determining whether online information is trustworthy. Those whose profiles indicate a higher level of preparedness for using tech in learning are collectively above average on measures of digital readiness.

Relatively Hesitant – 52% of adults in three distinct groups. This overall cohort is made up of three different clusters of people who are less likely to use digital tools in their learning. This has to do, in part, with the fact that these groups have generally lower levels of involvement with personal learning activities. It is also tied to their professed lower level of digital skills and trust in the online environment.

  • A group of 14% of adults make up The Unprepared. This group has both low levels of digital skills and limited trust in online information. The Unprepared rank at the bottom of those who use the internet to pursue learning, and they are the least digitally ready of all the groups.
  • We call one small group Traditional Learners, and they make up of 5% of Americans. They are active learners, but use traditional means to pursue their interests. They are less likely to fully engage with digital tools, because they have concerns about the trustworthiness of online information.
  • A larger group, The Reluctant, make up 33% of all adults. They have higher levels of digital skills than The Unprepared, but very low levels of awareness of new “education tech” concepts and relatively lower levels of performing personal learning activities of any kind. This is correlated with their general lack of use of the internet in learning.

Relatively more prepared – 48% of adults in two distinct groups. This cohort is made up of two groups who are above average in their likeliness to use online tools for learning.

  • A group we call Cautious Clickers comprises 31% of adults. They have tech resources at their disposal, trust and confidence in using the internet, and the educational underpinnings to put digital resources to use for their learning pursuits. But they have not waded into e-learning to the extent the Digitally Ready have and are not as likely to have used the internet for some or all of their learning.
  • Finally, there are the Digitally Ready. They make up 17% of adults, and they are active learners and confident in their ability to use digital tools to pursue learning. They are aware of the latest “ed tech” tools and are, relative to others, more likely to use them in the course of their personal learning. The Digitally Ready, in other words, have high demand for learning and use a range of tools to pursue it – including, to an extent significantly greater than the rest of the population, digital outlets such as online courses or extensive online research.

There are several important qualifying notes to sound about this analysis. First, the research focuses on a particular activity – online learning. The findings are not necessarily projectable to people’s capacity (or lack of capacity) to perform health-related web searches, use mobile apps for civic activities, or use smartphones to apply for a job.

Second, while there are numerical descriptions of the groups, there is some fluidity in the boundaries of the groups. Unlike many other statistical techniques, cluster analysis does not require a single “correct” result. Instead, researchers run numerous versions of it (e.g., asking it to produce different numbers of clusters) and judge each result by how analytically practical and substantively meaningful it is. Fortunately, nearly every version produced had a great deal in common with the others, giving us confidence that the pattern of divisions were genuine and that the comparative shares of those who were relatively ready and not ready each constituted about half of Americans.

Third, it is important to note that the findings represent a snapshot of where adults are today in a fairly nascent stage of e-learning in society. The groupings reported here may well change in the coming years as people’s understanding of e-tools grows and as the creators of technology related to e-learning evolve it and attempt to make it more user friendly.

Even allowing for those caveats, the findings add additional context to insights about those who pursue personal learning activities. Although factors such as educational attainment or age might influence whether people use digital tools in learning, other things such as people’s digital skills and their trust in online information may also loom large. These “readiness” factors, separate and apart from demographic ones, are the focus in this report.

The results are also significant in light of Americans’ expressed interest in learning and personal growth. Most Americans said in the Center survey that they like to look for opportunities to grow as people: 58% said this applies to them “very well” and another 31% said it applies to them “somewhat well.” Additionally, as they age, many Americans say they hope to stay active and engaged with the world.

Digital Literacy and Learning in the United States | Pew Research Center.

Source: Digital Literacy and Learning in the United States | Pew Research Center

Video gamers discover protein’s shape

The Foldit puzzle-solving game, where groups compete online to fold the best protein. In a recent study, gamers beat scientists, college students and computer algorithms to see who could identify a particular protein’s shape. Image courtesy: Scott HorowitzThe Foldit puzzle-solving game, where groups compete online to fold the best protein. In a recent study, gamers beat scientists, college students and computer algorithms to see who could identify a particular protein’s shape. Image courtesy: Scott HorowitzANN ARBOR—Gamers playing the popular online puzzle game Foldit beat scientists, college students and computer algorithms in a contest to see who could identify a particular protein’s shape.

The study findings have implications for video game enthusiasts and classroom instruction, and showcase the positive impact citizen science can have on research.

“It shows that anybody with a 3-D mentality, including gamers, can do something that previously only scientists did, and in doing so they can help scientific progress,” said study co-author James Bardwell, University of Michigan professor in molecular, cellular and developmental biology.

Groups taking part in the competition to interpret biochemical data in order to discover the protein’s structure included: 469 video game players who played Foldit, two trained crystallographers, 61 U-M undergraduates who used a computer modeling program in class, and two separate computer algorithms.

Co-author Scott Horowitz, a postdoctoral fellow at U-M, said he plans to integrate Foldit into his class. He believes it will motivate students to learn about a very complicated subject because the game’s competitive and fun.

“I’ve seen how much players learn about proteins from playing this game,” Horowitz said. “We spend weeks and weeks trying to jam this into students’ brains and Foldit players learn it naturally because it’s fun.”

The students and professionals worked independently, reflecting the norm for scientists engaged in model building, while the winning video game players took a more collaborative approach. The gamers’ superior outcome suggests that collaboration is a big help in achieving the best results.

“We think this is a big deal because interpreting an electron-density map can be a labor-intensive, error-prone process—and we show that crowd-sourced Foldit players can do it as well as, or better than, professionally trained crystallographers,” said graduate student Brian Koepnick of the University of Washington Institute for Protein Design, who helped design the contest and analyze the results.

The study’s authors say the next step in the research is to incorporate the gamers’ tips and tricks into the software that scientists use when building these structures.

Every function of the body involves proteins and understanding how they work is an important scientific question. To that end, the study also found that analysis of the protein targeted by the competition uncovered a new family of proteins that appears to be involved in preventing plaque formation, which is implicated in diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This isn’t the first time U-M students have tackled the challenge of building protein structures. The competition was designed in part to see if U-M undergrads could build on a previous class assignment in which students played the game to improve upon an already published protein structure.

The study was led by U-M researchers in collaboration with the University of Washington, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and Northeastern University. The findings appear in Nature Communications.


More information:

Video gamers outdo scientists in contest to discover protein’s shape | University of Michigan News.

Source: Video gamers outdo scientists in contest to discover protein’s shape | University of Michigan News

EdSurge News Reports on CUNY Games Network

The following was published on Ed Surge News. Follow the link at the bottom of this reprint to find the original publication.

When four professors from the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) started collaborating on game-based learning (GBL) in developmental math and writing instruction in the mid-2000s, they had no idea what they were setting in motion. Today, more than 160 GBL researchers and practitioners contribute to the dynamic CUNY Games Network (CGN), housed within the City University of New York (CUNY), with its more than 540,000 students on 24 campuses.

The network links educators across disciplines who are interested in using games and other forms of interactive teaching to improve student success. And participants are showing that gameplay is serious business: data from BMCC classes suggests that when students have fun learning they appear to have more meaningful learning experiences.

Can a Classic Board Game Teach Writing Skills?

BMCC associate professors of English Joe Bisz and Carlos Fernandez stimulated the formation of CGN when they were awarded a 2007/08 CUNY faculty development grant to study how using the board game “Diplomacy” in sections of their remedial writing courses could possibly combat a lack of student motivation and critical thinking skills. They found the classic game of strategy and world domination particularly useful in teaching problem solving, and used it to help explain logical paragraph construction.

Around the same time, Kathleen Offenholley, associate professor of mathematics, and Francesco Crocco, formerly a BMCC associate professor of English and now associate director of Excelsior College’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), began collaborating with Bisz and Fernandez on their varied and similar research efforts in the field of GBL, and, in 2008/09, their combined efforts helped to launch CGN.

Active professionals within this network have put on numerous GBL workshops for interested CUNY faculty members and have developed both board and paper (e.g. card) games, as well as digital game-based learning (DGBL) teaching and learning environments, including a DGBL learning management system designed by Bisz and Crocco, called Levelfly. The CGN also has hosted three increasingly well-attended conferences, called the CUNY Games Festival.

Robert O. Duncan, associate professor of behavioral sciences at York College, joined the network early on and has taken on a leading role.

“The network is fantastic,” Duncan says. “I can only describe it as you throw a party and you think no one is going to come, but actually everybody comes.”

The Levelfly game-based learning platform includes a profile page that enables users to view and share information about themselves.

Connecting the Dots Between Enjoyment and Learning

As part of their research in the field, Crocco, Offenholley and Hernandez conducted a study on GBL and co-wrote “A Proof-of-Concept Study of Game-based Learning in Higher Education,” published in the August 2016 issue of the journal Simulation & Gaming. The study covered two BMCC semesters, from fall 2011 to spring 2012, and involved nine faculty members, 18 sections and 440 students enrolled in remedial, general education and major-specific game and non-game classes in English, math and science. The key finding:

Enjoyment correlated with improvements in deep learning in both the game and non-game classes. Games increased reported enjoyment levels, especially in subjects where students reported the greatest anxiety about learning, and this increase in enjoyment correlated positively with improvements in deep learning and higher-order thinking. These results may have particular impact on non-traditional students… While further investigation is necessary to assess the specific affordances and long-term effects of GBL in higher education, this study offers preliminary support for the claim that GBL can improve deep learning in this setting, by increasing enjoyment.

“I think for community colleges, there is a big appeal for games and learning because it helps to improve engagement, which is a problem at the community college level because of the amount of remediation that goes on there,” Crocco says.

Finding New Ways to Make Math Fun

The research from that study helped to land Offenholley, Crocco and another CGN member, BMCC professor of Computing Science Ching-Song Wei, a $875,794 National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education award in March 2015 through April 2018 called “A Simulation-Based Curriculum to Accelerate Math Remediation and Improve Degree Completion for STEM Majors.” The grant is expected to create three to five math games, the first of which is currently being piloted at BMCC with 20 Geographic Information Systems (GIS) majors enrolled in a required intermediate math class.

Project Sampson is one of several games under development by CGN members and sponsored by an NSF ATE grant. Players work on saving the world from disasters by manipulating linear equations.

“We targeted math skills for STEM majors who want to go into GIS because we found that there was a need to help them remediate,” Crocco says. “A lot of our STEM majors are unable to pass this required course, so we thought that we could intervene, accelerate them and get them into the GIS program.”

“It’s amazing what happens when you play games with students, especially if they are scared of math,” Offenholley adds. “All of a sudden their brains get freed up to actually be able to think where they could not think before because they were stuck in old ways of looking at math.”

As noted in a BMCC press release announcing the award, “the project aims to impact STEM education across the country by providing free, open-source gaming materials to secondary and post-secondary institutions through downloadable curricula, game software, video tutorials, and professional development materials for faculty and staff.”

Some Practical Advice

Finally, Bisz offers advice related to GBL adoption by faculty who are thinking about adding GBL to their courses but are hesitant to adopt it because of the time it takes to fully learn what’s needed to use it effectively in their courses.

“If you are going to give faculty a new tool, then give them some kind of very accessible way to test it out without having to become a master of it,” he says. “One of the greatest things we love about teaching other than the students is the creativity behind generating new curricula, but we often get so overwhelmed that we do not have the time to really sit down and create new curricula.”

Game On: How Four Community College Professors Spawned the CUNY Games Network | EdSurge News.

Source: Game On: How Four Community College Professors Spawned the CUNY Games Network | EdSurge News

Learning by design

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message
Skip to toolbar