Developing Digital Literacy Through MiddCreate

 
Last Monday I had the privilege of virtually joining Joe Antonioli’s ‘Innovation in Action: Design Thinking and Problem-Solving’ class at the Middlebury Vermont campus. His students have spent the semester designing innovative solutions to some of Middlebury’s academic technology challenges, including those associated with MiddCreate.
 

MiddCreate allows students, faculty, and staff to create domain spaces on the web where they can explore and connect their learning, experiment with digital tools, and create a digital identity that is owned and managed by them.

 
One of the biggest challenges of MiddCreate discovered by both the Middlebury student groups and our staff at the DLC is how to persuade the immensely busy people on our campuses to use the platform. Tackling the learning curve of an unfamiliar technology can be daunting and even off-putting without sufficient motivation, so the class came up with lots of great incentives to get people involved. Their ideas included a one-day hackathon, a study abroad blog contest, and a senior e-portfolio assignment.
 
However, upon thinking about this topic a little deeper, I was inspired to find other, more personally fulfilling and creative reasons to engage with MiddCreate besides simply using it to complete a one-off project, win a prize, or fulfill a class requirement. As a graduate assistant at the DLC, my job has primarily been focused on supporting and researching MiddCreate domains and apps to identify how they might best serve our learning community. In doing so, I’ve spent countless hours messing around in the cPanel’s files manager, applications, and setting up demo sites. Although a lot of that work was never brought to completion as a finalized project with something fancy to show for it, it unexpectedly became a very valuable learning experience.
 
http://mediasmarts.ca/digital-media-literacy-fundamentals/digital-literacy-fundamentals
Image from Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, http://mediasmarts.ca/digital-media-literacy-fundamentals/digital-literacy-fundamentals

MiddCreate can be a great way to develop your digital literacy, a vital skill that’s becoming more and more applicable and important for careers in all fields and in daily life. You can learn more about what digital literacy entails at the Media Smart website. Listed below are some ways that MiddCreate can be helpful in moving beyond simply accessing and using digital tools, toward understanding the underlying systems that power them and being able to harness that knowledge to apply for your own purposes.

 
Become a Risk-taker
Exploring MiddCreate familiarized me with the structures that make websites and applications work, providing a space to practice manipulating them without any serious consequences or deadlines. When you have your own domain, you can attempt things you wouldn’t be able to if you were working on an actual client or learning partner’s website. I could take risks and push the boundaries of what I was capable of, at times with varying degrees of success. As someone who generally loves to plan and prepare for all contingencies, it was tough to jump into that at the beginning, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you become with experimentation. Having the freedom to make mistakes, break things, and do whatever comes to mind can be very empowering, but it also takes courage to make the leap into the unknown.
 
The DIY Spirit
When things in my domain did break, I had to teach myself how to fix them, which was an exercise in patience and problem-solving. It sometimes forced me to backtrack and think about all the steps I’d taken to get to that point, reinforcing the importance of keeping a good record of my work. It encourages systematic questioning, self-monitoring and self-correction. These are all extremely valuable habits that can raise the quality of your work and transfer well to almost any academic or professional setting.
 
The openness and flexibility of MiddCreate lets you pursue multiple paths of interest across a number of apps or try several to see which would work the best for a particular purpose. There’s also value in being able to play around with it on and off whenever you feel like it, instead of being bound to a project timeline. If you think of it as a “brain training” exercise, digital “tinkering” can be a great way to hone critical thinking skills and become better at seeing patterns that will lead to creative solutions. 
 
Skill Building
There are plenty of free online courses and tutorials that will teach you all about PHP, Javascript, mySQL databases, and other web design topics. But for those of us who need active experimentation or concrete experience to learn, passively watching a lesson or completing basic knowledge-check activities won’t make the information stick in our heads. MiddCreate is a sandbox that lets you break out of that mold and test these skills in a fully functional environment. This helps you understand the connections between the code, the organization of the files that contain it, and how those files interact with databases to make an application properly function just how you want it to. MiddCreate also lets you try almost 200 different types of applications for content management, survey building, project management, customer relationship management, and more. Of course, there are variations in how applications look and function, but often many are fundamentally similar enough that experience with one is transferable to others. Once you build confidence with these structures and skills you could add them to your resume and use them in future jobs.

Additional Resources

 
If you’d like help getting started in MiddCreate, feel free to drop by the DLC Learning Lab or make an appointment with a DLC staff member.