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“Faculty training still does not acknowledge the fact that digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession. Despite the widespread agreement on the importance of digital media literacy, training in the supporting skills and techniques is rare in teacher education and non-existent in the preparation of faculty.”

This is the second in our series of blog posts looking at the annual Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition 2014, exploring the six big trends in technology for HE institutions in the short and long-term and the six challenges the sector faces in relation to these technologies.

Last week, our blog post ‘Growing Ubiquity of Social Media’ looked at one of the ‘key trends’ identified in the report as ‘driving changes in HE over the next one to two years’.

We could only agree with the report that professionals in the HE sector need to adapt quickly and make the most of the advantages of social networks, for engaging with their students, connecting with institutions around the globe and creating debate and forum space for views and study. Moreover, the openness of social networks doubles as a marketing tool for showcasing the universities expertise and credentials to the wider public.

But the report also highlights as one of the primary challenges facing the HE sector internationally as ‘low digital fluency of faculty’ – in other words, professionals in the sector not knowing enough/or not being trained in digital technologies, including social media.

We’ve written on a similar subject before (Bringing social media into the staffroom: the road to improving communications) and it’s interesting to see that the Horizon report points out one important aspect that we’ve talked about before – that of a change in mindset needed in professionals towards digital technologies.

The report says: “As lecturers and professors begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital media literacy skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm.

“This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.”

What the sector needs is not just training in the mechanics of social networks and digital technologies in general, but a step towards a mindset change amongst those that work in Higher Education.

The report cites lack of training as a main issue, but it goes further:

“A large  part of the challenge is based on insufficient professional development, which is the result of a number of issues that range from a  lack of funding, low administrative support, the paucity of formal digital literacy agendas, or ambiguity around the definition of digital fluency. Another facet of this challenge is     in the attitude shift required of  instructors; if they are reluctant to embrace new technologies and the promotion of digital literacy, students will  not see the importance of these competencies to succeed in the workforce.”

If lecturers and professionals in the Higher Education sector (or any sector of education for that matter) cannot see the importance of social media and digital technologies for their students and the institution (being more familiar with textbooks and computers at best) then basic training is pointless. A shift now needs to take place across all areas of HE policy and for the use of digital technologies to be built into the everyday working of an institution – from the obvious starting place of the marketing and communications department, through all the management areas and right down to individual subject departments.

You may find the following of interesting: The UK educational charity Jisc (experts on digital technologies for education) is running the Developing Digital Literacies Programme. There is plenty on their website and blog about the ongoing project, and there are advice guides and publications galore on the subject.

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