Teaching and Reinforcing Essential Skills and Literacies Across the Curriculum

Getting Smart had a nice post last week on the importance of teaching data literacy to students across the curriculum. Here is how the author of the post sizes up the challenge.

The biggest challenges that companies are facing entering this Fourth Industrial Revolution is the fundamental lack of data literacy skills in the talent pool. The Data Literacy Index showed how leaders of large, global enterprises almost unanimously think that it is important for their employees to be data literate (which is perhaps unsurprising given it is associated with an additional 3-5% enterprise value) and two-thirds planning on increasing the number of data literate employees.

Yet, it seems that schools and universities are failing to ensure that students have the right data literacy skills to enter the workplace. Whilst today’s students have grown up in a digital world, have familiarity with smartphones and tablets, it doesn’t appear to be translating into confidence with data interrogation.

Of course, data literacy is just one of the competencies and literacies that our students need to develop to be successful in their professional lives. And, like data literacy, many of these competencies and literacies need to be taught across the curriculum rather than be isolated within specific subject verticals.

This is in line with the focus many in the STEM community have put on the development of T-shaped individuals

The T-professional, often illustrated as a large block T, integrates depth, defined in terms of disciplinary knowledge and the ability to understand how individuals with that knowledge function and interact to accomplish a desired outcome within or across a system(s), and breadth, defined as the professional abilities that allow someone with profound disciplinary knowledge to interact meaningfully with others who possess different disciplinary knowledge in order to affect an outcome that might not otherwise be possible.

Briefly, T-shaped people may have specialized knowledge and skills but they can also communicate, collaborate, and ideate effectively with others across departments and disciplines. In other words, they are able to think critically and communicate effectively in diverse organizations of any size.

Creating well-rounded graduates who are effective in their subject and can excel in other areas has long been a goal of education. The schools and institutions that are successful invariably have found a way to embed the teaching of specific competencies and literacies across the curriculum. So, while students may be learning computational skills in a math course, they are also working on projects designed intentionally to promote collaboration, presentation, and writing skills.

Naturally, the key words here are “curriculum,” and “intentional.” Whether it’s data literacy or ethical decision making, students will not master such competencies and literacies unless they can experience and learn how to apply them in many different contexts, beyond their specific subject of interest. this means introducing and elaborating on these literacies and competencies across many courses with specific intentionality.

At TEL, we have the advantage of owning the design portion of all our courses. We are also working with a limited set of courses. This means that we can actually think “across the curriculum.” We can design holistically and, over time, build an integrated and interconnected curriculum as opposed to siloed, individual courses.

We are currently defining a core set of competencies and literacies that must be integrated into every course in our catalog. These will be joined with other competencies and literacies that may be specific to a particular course or subject domain. These will be added to our learning outcomes for each course and assessed through our Evidence Assignments and Experiential Learning Modules.

As with any major design initiative, there will be challenges. We won’t likely get it “right” in the first iteration. That said, we will have a framework to evaluate and refine our efforts so that, with intention, we can ensure our students are acquiring essential competencies and literacies across the curriculum.

Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director

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