Beginning in the 2012-2013 academic year, UW-Madison undergraduate students will have the opportunity to earn a Certificate in Digital Studies. This new program expands on traditional educational practices by combining the efforts of more than fifteen departments and disciplines across campus.
The Digital Studies Program is part of former Chancellor Biddy Martin’s Madison Initiative for Undergraduates: a campus-wide effort, now in its second year, that aims to provide students the instruction and resources necessary to more fully prepare them for a variety of careers.
To help undergraduates learn more about this new offering, Digital Studies Director Robert Glenn Howard explains the program’s origins and its value to students in an increasingly digital world. He also comments on one of the most pervasive aspects of the digital world today—social media—and how it, too, is changing education.
How did the creation of a Digital Studies Program come about?
Howard: The Digital Studies Program emerged from a faculty seminar that I participated in back in 2010. We were concerned that students were coming to UW, where there is a huge amount of resources for digital stuff, but were having trouble finding it outside of really specific majors or programs. We wanted to make sure students from any background or major could find good courses that would help them think about and use digital media better in their daily professional and personal lives. We think the Digital Studies Certificate will do just that.
What is the value of having a Digital Studies Program at UW-Madison?
Howard: The value comes from the incredible speed at which communication technologies change all our daily lives. Students today can learn to use a specific piece of software, but what students really need is the ability to adapt to the changing digital media worlds they are going to live in for the rest of their lives. The simple fact is that students who use digital media better, and especially social media, are the students who are going to find better jobs, make better decisions, and be more engaged with their communities. While lots of faculty and courses work with the “digital,” they are spread out: Digital Studies helps students more easily locate some of those great resources they are going to need.
Social media is just one aspect of the digital world, but its presence is growing on the UW-Madison campus as various professors begin to integrate different social media channels, like Twitter and Facebook, into their curriculum. What practical skills do you see students learning through the integration of social media into the classroom?
Howard: How to communicate persuasively and appropriately in a variety of social media contexts: both personal and professional. They also engage all those typical skills we seek to hone: writing, public speaking, and critical thinking. Today we just do those things more and more in social media. And these very dynamic digital environments present new challenges, new twists on those key skills.
What kinds of problems does social media solve that a traditional classroom can’t?
Howard: Well, I am not sure I am ready to say a traditional classroom “can’t” solve any problem it’s presented with. The opportunities and environments made possible by digital media increase student contact time, reduce travel times. But really, it aids in collaboration by making new kinds of projects possible. Now, it may or may not be a “problem,” as you put it, but the real world demands these kinds of collaborations, so we need to help prepare UW students to be the very best at them.
If you could create your own ideal social media platform for educationalpurposes, what would it be?
Howard: Well, I am not so much of a technophile. I am a pragmatist, so whatever works works. And right now we just need to continue to ramp up our use of social media so our students are as well prepared in the digital age as they were in the age of print.
Visit http://digitalstudies.wisc.edu/ to learn more about the Digital Studies Certificate and the requirements for completion of the certificate.