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UMW gives credit to digital world


We live in a digital world and Brooke Parker, a University of Mary Washington senior, is a digital girl. 

Parker, 22, has a large online footprint.

She manages accounts on Twitter, Facebook, SoundCloud, YouTube, Flikr and Tumblr as well as her own personal blog and domain.

At UMW, she has created websites for classes and taken an innovative digital storytelling course affectionately called “ds106,” which she said made her more aware of her online persona.

“We’re changing the way we communicate,” she said. Digital literacy “is the next step of what we need to do as potential professionals.”

UMW approved last week a minor in digital studies, which offers a cross-curricular look into how digital tools can be used and what being online means culturally.

Jim Groom, director of UMW’s division of teaching and learning technologies, has been at the forefront of the Fredericksburg-based university’s digital movement.

He’s been named one of “12 tech innovators who are transforming campuses” by the Chronicle of Higher Education, for using free Web tools for course discussions and projects to better prepare students for jobs after college.

Groom calls the move toward a defined minor a natural step for the school.

“It grows upon years of work at UMW with students and faculty publishing online,” said his colleague Martha Burtis, special projects coordinator for the division of teaching and learning technologies.

He said the school has positioned itself as a leader in digital education.

Groom said their goal with digital studies is to create a minor that is as cross-curricular as possible to show that a digital education in applicable to all disciplines.

Burtis said that UMW’s peer institutions only offer master’s programs for an individualized type of digital study or an undergraduate degree that is centralized in one department such as computer science, art or English.

“UMW has taken a colossal step that other schools aren’t thinking about,” Groom said. This step came out of the school’s liberal arts values.

“Liberal arts students need to think critically,” he said. “They need to think about the digital sphere and identify as a digital citizen.”

It was also born out of their lack of resources.

The school has used free online tools to create its own online platform, UMW blogs.

Groom said the size of the school was also advantageous in developing a digital curriculum.

“Unlike Yale, Harvard, Stanford, we’re not on anyone’s radar. We have the freedom to fail and can innovate.”

Ds106 provides digital literacy that Groom calls invaluable to understanding how culture and language is changing.

“It’s philosophically deep that we are able to be playful and think about this. The way new media becomes an expression—how a lolcat [Internet cat photos with funny captions] is a way of expression.”

Groom calls ds106 “an open online community around digital storytelling.”

According to a UMW news release, the course has spawned more than 18,000 online posts and an assignment bank with nearly 300 contributions from which students choose work and collaborate, as well as an online radio and TV station where some of the work is broadcast.

Using UMW’s assignment bank, the course is now taught at other universities, and those students interact with UMW on assignments. People not attending college get involved as well and can contribute to the assignment bank and comment.

“Digital studies embodies what liberal arts needs to be thinking about in 2013,” Groom said. He explained that it is practical as well as cerebral.

Another class offered as part of the minor is digital history. Students create online historical resources in the course developed by Jeff McClurken, chairman of UMW’s history department.

One student, Rachel Icard, a senior, digitized political cartoons owned by the James Monroe Museum and made them available online.

She said the skills learned in that class helped her during an internship at Colonial Williamsburg, where they offer online exhibits.

“It’s interesting to work with the digital and historical components,” she said. “It’s not a pairing most people think about.”

McClurken said he is proud of how interdisciplinary the program is. Ten departments are participating in the minor and about 15 have been involved in discussions about it.

“As we move through the 21st century it is clear that people need to be able to consume, analyze and create digital information,” he said.

Another program launching next fall at UMW is “Domain of One’s Own.”

According to a release, the program provides domains and Web hosting for students and faculty.

“Domain of One’s Own” is a way for students to not only control their online image but to understand how they are perceived by others online. Groom said a deeper comprehension of the digital sphere yields an understanding of modern culture and those who use the Internet.

“The digital story is you, fragmented online,” Groom said.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976