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Tara Schultz as Case Study: The Digital Illiteracy of Digital Natives

The recent case of Tara Schultz complaining that four graphic novels assigned by her English professor were inappropriate because they included nudity, sex, violence, torture, and obscenities clearly demonstrates that digital natives are not necessarily digitally literate.  The issue of digital literacy is not directly related to the books to which Schultz objected, but to the fact that she does not seem to realize that her Twitter feed undermines her arguments against the novels or even that people could use her Twitter feed against her.  Furthermore, by going public with her complaints about Professor Ryan Bartlett, she makes herself a public figure whose digital footprint can now legally be used to criticize her.  Given some ill-advised posts, the criticism could be quite brutal. 

While I do not condone ridiculing a 20 year old college student, the possibility of ridicule—or worse—is a real possibility that too many digital natives do not consider.  Therefore, as professors, we cannot assume that our students appreciate the risks they are taking while establishing their digital footprints.  Therefore, we need to make it our job to help educate students about trolls and other risks they might encounter; especially if we are asking them to create an on-line presence through public writing.

In my “…we wouldn’t have taken the course” which was inspired by a comment made by Tara Schultz’s father, I pulled many examples from her Twitter feed that I suggested her father should have discussed with her.  I argued that “Mr. Schultz might have helped his daughter understand that people might not take her concerns seriously because her Twitter feed includes references to sex and violence, has an obscenity in a post, and recommends that her followers go to a website that includes images of nakedness.”  I also cited inconsistencies from the Twitter feed and Ms. Schultz’s advocacy to have four graphic novels banned.   Ms. Schultz’s father and the parents of other digital natives are not having discussions with their offspring concerning digital literacy.  Therefore, as concerned faculty members, we need to incorporate lessons on digital literacy into our courses.

Ms. Schultz’s Twitter feed remains accessible to anyone.  Even if she deletes it, I—and likely many others—already have screen captures of her comments.  Although I did not use her words to try to humiliate her, others have already been making comments about her character—or lack of character—based on her Twitter postings.

As professors, we have a responsibility to help our digital natives learn digital literacy skills so that they do not make the same mistakes as those made by Tara Schultz.  While I would hope that what might be youthful indiscretions do not follow Ms. Schultz as she continues with her education and tries to find employment in a competitive job market, I realize that her criticism of Professor Bartlett and her Twitter feed are never going away.  This realization is not shared by enough digital natives. 

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