Fantastic & Free First Fridays: The Digital Skills Library

Happy New Year, friends! Just last night I was watching the CNN docuseries—The Nineties. I love these decades series....not only because they bring about a whole lot of nostalgia (and reminders of how old I am), but because they help connect the dots as to how the events that have happened in my lifetime have shaped the world today, all the while eliciting a slew of "Oh! I totally remember that!" and "Oh! I completely forgot about that!" moments. 

Last night's episode—Episode 6, The Information Age—was particularly fascinating. It took us through the Mac vs. Microsoft wars, the advent of Internet browsers, and the rise of major players such as eBay, Google, and Amazon at a time when we weren't entirely sure we even should be paying attention. ("I mean...that will never catch on!") 

Sprinkled within the episode were cutesie reminders of how completely unaware we were of what was going on and what was to come, like the famous Today Show clip with Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric—"Can you explain what Internet is?" (This montage is particularly interesting because of the clips toward the end where they start talking about their future concerns about the Internet.)

Well, I think it's safe to say we've gotten to the point where the question isn't "What is the Internet?" but rather "What isn't the Internet?" If there is one central theme I heard over and over again within adult education settings over the course of 2018, it was the need for more tools and resources to support digital skill development and digital literacy of adult learners and jobseekers. 

Our nation's digital skills gaps put millions of Americans at a severe disadvantage. With so many critical resources and services being moved heavily or even entirely online, those who are not equipped with the skills needed to successfully access and leverage technology to locate these resources and services will continue to fall behind. 

From critical job functions for most jobs (around 82% of middle-skill jobs, according to Burning Glass) to accessing unemployment benefits, from scheduling doctor appointments to communicating with your child's school, digital skills are essential to functioning effectively in today's world. Yet, according to international tests on adult competencies, around 6 in 10 US adults—about 118 million—perform at or below basic levels in problem solving with technology. 

Fortunately, there are a lot of organizations and initiatives focused on this ever-growing need. Community, state, and national organizations all are engaged in various efforts to help adults develop the digital skills that increasingly are critical for self-reliance and economic mobility. Given CrowdED Learning's mission as an organization is to find and promote the amazing work being done around the country by such initiatives, I'm proud to share this month's Fantastic & Free First Fridays Resource of the Month—the Digital Skills Library—an ongoing project hosted by CrowdED Learning.

Hey! We're Not Just the Land of Lincoln

Oh Netscape...we barely knew thee....
Since Illinois is known to many as "The Silicon Valley of the Midwest" (OK, maybe not, but...ummmmm...let's not forget that University of Illinois did bring you Netscape!!!), I'm happy to say this library was developed as a supporting project of the Illinois Digital Learning Lab. Starting in late 2017, 25 participating teachers across the state worked in cohorts, each tackling specific issues related to technology use in adult education classrooms such as access and student engagement. Working in sprints, educators were given funding to purchase technology, implement it in the classroom, and reflect on needs and outcomes for their students. Each cohort was supported by a subject matter expert to help guide them through the experimentation process.

What is the Digital Skills Library?

As part of our role in the lab, CrowdED Learning worked to develop a library of resources to support the development of digital skills. Modeled heavily after the great work done in Minnesota with The Digital Homeroom and focused particularly on the skills tested as part of the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment, we worked to develop thematic skills around which we could aggregate quality learning resources. 

The library has both a student side and a teacher side. The student side is organized into four topics—Computer Basics, Internet Basics, Email, and Word Processing. Within each topic, students can navigate by skill and see resources from a variety of sources that provide instruction related to that skill. Resources include text-based articles, videos, and e-modules.

The "Learn" section includes sets of resources organized by various skills. The "Practice" section includes activities to support keyboarding and mousing skills, interactive computer vocabulary activities, and skill games. 

Three particularly comprehensives sources have been used extensively across the skills covered within the library— (from the Goodwill Community Foundation), (from the Public Library Association, and the Basic Computer Skills MOOC (from WISC-Online, part of the Wisconsin Technical College System). Students are encouraged to explore resources by skill. However, if they find one particular resource more effective or engaging than the others, they can go directly to those sites to explore and build their skills independently. They also are provided resources to help practice keyboarding and mousing skills, as well as activities to help develop their computer vocabulary, a number of which are especially appropriate for ESL students. 

The teacher side provides a listing of comprehensive instructional resources that can be used to develop learners' digital skills, organized into resources that can be assigned directly to students, resources that are intended to be instructor-led, and resources that organize skill-based and "how-to" guides for common websites and applications. 

Additionally, there are resources to help instructors assess learner skill levels, including a link to the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment and a set of downloadable observation checklists and student self-assessments that were developed as part of the Illinois Digital Learning Lab. 

How do I use the library?

Well, as this is in fact part of an experiment, we encourage you first to explore and experiment yourself! As you do, you may notice the site in fact is not done. To be quite honest, we are transitioning the site from its original home to Google Sites, and we simply ran out of time! We will be adding the remaining content this weekend...we just couldn't bear the thought of missing our first, First Friday release of 2019. (And, in case you happened to notice.....we glazed right over having an F^4 Resource of the Month for December 2018! Super sorry!!!)

We decided to transition the library to Google Sites because Sites is a very simple website development platform and we wanted to make it easier for us to copy and share the site with any organization using or thinking about using Google Sites. So, if you like what you see, we are happy to create a copy for you to add to your own instance of Sites. This will give you the ability to modify as you see fit for your learners. 

Want to learn more? Come join the crowd!!!

That said, even when we DO finish transitioning our current content, we still won't quite be done. That's because the library can only be as good as the people who use it and contribute to it by making suggestions for improvements and enhancements. Given it's a new year and CrowdED Learning's focus this year is to have more people join the crowd, we figured this would be a great time to experiment with how to go about our mission of:

"...crowdsourcing our collective knowledge and help raise the impact of adult education and workforce development." 

What does this mean? It means WE WANT YOUR INPUT AND PARTICIPATION!!!! We envision a world where we can put forth tools and ideas such as the Digital Skills Library that provide opportunities for people to participate, share, and help grow things together that have real impact for adult education learners and instructors. 

For the Digital Skills Library, this includes developing supporting resources such as Quizlet vocabulary decks (here's one we created for Computer Basics), submitting relevant activities that apply digital skills such as creating résumés or budget spreadsheets, and developing video and PDF guides to help learners and instructors navigate the library and the associated sites promoted within. 

So, please join us on Thursday, January 17 for a webinar where we will provide an overview of the Digital Skills Library, what resources are included, how to use it, and how you can help us add more resources to make it a living, growing tool that helps us address the growing digital skills gap together. 

As I mentioned earlier in this post, lots of organizations and individuals are doing incredible work to help support our nation's adult learners by providing tools and resources to develop learners' digital skills. CrowdED Learning wants to do its part in this work by promoting, sharing, and organizing the best of these efforts to make them more widely available to people everywhere. I hope you'll consider joining us in some way to help make that happen. Even if that's not possible at this time, I hope you find the Digital Skills Library a useful resource for your learners, both now and in the future....until, well..."What is this block-chain thing anyway?"

Happy 2019 everyone! Can you believe the 2010's are almost history?!?!?!


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