A few blog entries ago, I shared a discussion that is taking place at the community college I work at regarding the technological literacy skills new and existing students bring to the classroom. I serve on a subcommittee called the TMC (Technology Management Committee), which addresses technological issues that impact teaching and learning as they relate to the academic environment within Oakland Community College. The TMC committee was asked to create a definition of technological competency and to describe the minimum competencies instructors believe are necessary for students to possess in order to be successful in the classroom. I was very skeptical about how our committee would respond to this charge, especially in light of our conversations in our ENG 516 class regarding the political, economic and social factors that go hand-in-hand with this type of conversation and the decisions that result.

The TMC committee agreed to survey instructors in an effort to obtain data that responds to the definitions and opinions shared by these individuals. The survey asked instructors to choose aspects of technology they consider as minimum competencies for their students based on the following options:

  • Hardware (“Able to turn on PC, use mouse, navigate and keyboard/typing skills”),
  • Software programming (“Able to use MS Word to complete coursework”),
  • Communication (“Able to send and receive e-mail, open and use attachments”),
  • Course management (“Able to use course management technology during course”),
  • File management (“Able to save work using a jump drive/flash key”), and
  • Other (described by respondents).

The survey asked instructors,“How important is technology competence in achieving student learning outcomes in the courses that you teach at OCC?” and they were asked to rate how strongly they agree with the statement:  “Oakland Community College should establish a minimum technology competency standard for entering students.”

The Institutional Research office conducted the survey and compiled the results linked in the document titled  Technology Competency Requirement Survey.

Last week, the TMC committee discussed the survey results and began asking the larger question of what to do with this information. My initial fear is that the college might use this information as a gatekeeping measure that makes it harder for students with low technological competencies to gain admission to the institution. The college already requires English assessment prior to enrollment and I have concerns about placing an additional assessment mechanism in the admission process.  Students who have lower technological competencies might be embarrassed or fearful of confronting this deficiency, and it might send them in the opposite direction and away their local community college. This goes against the mission of an open-door institution and certainly widens the digital divide.

On the other hand, faculty can use this information as an opportunity to create some innovative and powerful learning opportunities for students who lack the essential skills they identified as minimal technological competencies. Turf wars need to be set aside and student learning must remain the focus in order for this to occur. The college has a range of professionals who are capable of delivering beginning-level computer literacy instruction, and some departments have even volunteered to participate in this role.

The Technology Competency Requirement Survey is on its way to the college’s Academic Senate committee, where this question will continue to grow and debate will certainly ensue. I just hope the decisions that are made support the college’s mission and its commitment to keep student learning as a priority. Most importantly, I would like to see this as a beginning point that addresses the digital divide in community college students and brings awareness to the political, economic and social factors that are often buried with ignorance and blinded eyes.