The huge wave of internet in last few decades has led to the evolution of online based user experience, whether it’s about searching, marketing, shopping and learning. Much discussed topics in few of my previous articles have been MOOCs, video learning and other online modes that are extensively being used all over the world. All point towards the same finding i.e. increasing digital participation. This digital participation, digital literacy and the faster rate with which businesses and academic institutions are becoming a part of it, would be my focus in this article. Meanwhile, we would also explore the meanings and significance behind these terms.
The digital environment generated a number of opportunities to participate in a sophisticated and goal oriented social, civic and leisure activities when online. These kinds of participation entail affiliation with the online platforms like Facebook, or games; the activities where participants are able to develop new kinds of expression through fan-fiction writing, zines, mash-ups, collaboration, where learners are able to work with one another to complete tasks or develop skills and knowledge, like when using gaming, Wikipedia and other activities and where users shape the flow or distribution of media via forms like blogging and podcasting.
Educators might be concerned to think how well the digital environment boosts students’ participation. It is quite significant that participation is not tokenistic and that students are really empowered and has the agency to act through various meaningful channels. Efforts to promote participation in the growing digital environment also needs to beat the challenges that come in way such as unequal accessibility to skills, knowledge, experiences, and opportunities. These must be addressed and learners should understand that how media form the perceptions of the world and their surroundings. Digital participation is also increasing awareness regarding the ethical issues, for example, young people must be prepared and trained for the growing public roles being media makers in their community.
Online courses leading to enhanced digital participation
Online courses present the opportunity to shape a highly social learning environment that is characterized by the interactivity and participation for both learners and teachers. As per Keardley (2000), online learning has become a social activity like an individual one. However, the quantity and quality of interactivity can differ greatly from course to course.
Swan (2001) cited many authors and determines course design as a vital and important factor for standardizing the quality, quantity and kind of interactivity (learner interaction with teachers, content or peers) in a course. He pointed out the significance of the instructor ability in developing and handling interaction in online courses, especially when collaborative learning is the goal. However, it was also pointed out that most of the people possess little to zero training regarding successfully collaboration with others and that social milieu of the online activities are very different from in-persons interactions, therefore, requiring behaviors and skills.
Connecting digital literacy with digital participation
Digital literacy implies the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to apply new technology and media for creating and sharing meaningful information. It is concerned with functional skills of writing and reading digital texts, for instance, being able to read any website by searching through hyperlinks and web pages and writing by uploading digital images to a social networking site. Digital literacy also means the knowledge of how specific communication technologies influence the meanings they deliver, and the skill to evaluate and assess the knowledge available over the internet.
It has turned out to be a common place to state that children are getting engaging more than ever before with the digital media and technology, in forms like music editing, video games, animation, video sharing, social networking sites and other different kinds of online communication. Young children are thus often taken as better equipped than their elders to live and learn in digital age.
Technology is certainly creating both opportunities and challenges for the academic institutions and instructors as they look for applying it for engaging learners and help their learning. For instance, Geography instructors might now be thinking how GPS technologies and some interactive online mapping applications could be incorporated in their lessons. Similarly, science instructors might think how interactive visual simulations can enable new ways to understand scientific phenomenon.
Simultaneously, it is essential to assess the digital native’s idea in a more critical manner. The types of new media recognized and applied in the accounts of learning by digital natives are products of commercial scenario, generally designed for purposes other than education. Young learners might not be asking enough queries regarding the strong commercial strategies in the media that operate over them in more complicated ways.
The increasing emphasis of digital participation by governments can also be seen clearly. Take into an account the Digital Education Revolution (DER), which was an Australian Government funded educational reform program, and aimed to invest A$2.4 billion in:
- Providing laptops in all public high schools
- Deploying high speed broad band along with quality digital resources and tools in all Australian schools
- Increasing support for ICT proficiency for learners and teachers
- Developing research projects for supporting ICT use in learning
- Providing mechanics for assisting schools in ICT deployment
 Kearsley, G. (2000). Online education: Learning and teaching in cyberspace. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
 Swan, K. (2001). Virtual interaction: Design factors affecting students’ satisfaction and perceived learning in asynchronous online courses. Distance Education, 22(2), 306-331
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