Home 9 Full Text Articles 9 Optimizing Library Services — Embracing OER and Enhancing Digital Skills for the 21st Century:  Using Applied Digital Skills as a Powerful Teaching and Learning Tool

Optimizing Library Services — Embracing OER and Enhancing Digital Skills for the 21st Century:  Using Applied Digital Skills as a Powerful Teaching and Learning Tool

by | May 9, 2022 | 0 comments


By Ms. Danielle Colbert-Lewis  (Head of Research and Instructional Services, James E. Shepard Memorial Library, North Carolina Central University, USA)  and Ms. Jamillah Scott-Branch  (Assistant Director of Library Services, James E. Shepard Memorial Library, North Carolina Central University, USA) 

Column Editors:  Ms. Brittany Haynes  (Assistant Director of e-Collections, IGI Global) and Ms. Cheyenne Heckermann  (Marketer, IGI Global) 

Against the Grain V34#2

Column Editors’ Note:  Recognizing the continued growing interest and benefits of the Open Access movement with the current challenges libraries face, Danielle Colbert-Lewis, Head of Research and Instructional Services, and Jamillah Scott-Branch, Assistant Director of Library Services at North Carolina Central University, write about Open Educational Resources and the importance of digital skills.  As an Open Educational Resource, IGI Global’s Open Access (OA) research can be fully integrated into your system from the IGI Global OA Collection.  Visit www.igi-global.com/e-resources/e-collections/open-access-collection/ to learn more about this collection. — CH & BH

In the workplace, digital skills and digital literacy are in high demand.  The skills in demand are “content and knowledge-related skills with integrated digital components” (van Laar, et al. 2019 p. 93).  At the university and college levels, students are expected to gain knowledge and create content.  Employers want highly skilled graduates who are capable of creating knowledge, “meaning that they produce and distribute ideas and information rather than goods and services” (van Laar, et al. 2019 p. 98; Kefela, 2010).  To succeed in the workplace and at school, students need to acquire digital skills and digital literacy: informational, communicational, collaborational, critical thinking, creative, and problem-solving digital skills (van Laar, et al., 2019, p. 93-94).  The aforementioned skills relate to using online information and communication, digital management, online tools, and online content creation.  (van Laar et al. 2019) state that “people use information communication technologies (ICTs) to access and disseminate information, and exchange experiences with experts and learning communities, and to generate and refine their ideas” (p.93).  Furthermore, the UNESCO Digital Literacy Global Framework (DLGF) states a “[d]igital literacy is the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship.  It includes various competencies referred to as computer literacy, ICT literacy, information literacy, and media literacy” (UNESCO, 2018, p.6). 

The university or college library offers students, faculty, and staff (university community) access to the latest technology, including hardware, software, and databases.  University librarians can also assist students with digital skills and digital literacy.  One way libraries and librarians assist their communities is through Open Educational Resources.  Open Educational Resources (OER) are important for libraries to add to their suite of resources.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines Open Educational Resources (OER)  as “teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium — digital or otherwise — that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions” (UNESCO, 2020).  OER resources are gaining more traction in libraries.  Creative Commons licensing are the hallmarks of OERs that allow you to engage in the 5R’s:  Reuse: “the right to make your own,” Retain: “the right to use the content in a wide range of ways,” Revise: “the right to adapt, modify or alter the content itself,” Remix: “the right to combine the original or revised content with other materials to create something new,” and Redistribute: “the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others” (Wiley, n.d). 

Low-cost or no-cost solutions are becoming available and imperative due to the rising cost of tuition, books, and supplies.  The College Board reported in the Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021 report that the estimated cost for books and supplies in students’ budget is $1,240 for four-year institutions, and for public two-year institutions, it is $1,450 (CollegeBoard, 2021, p. 11).  To tackle these issues, libraries and educators present alternatives to the traditional avenues for books.  These alternatives include websites with no cost (free) OER textbooks and course materials available for adoption, such as Openstax, OER Commons, Open Textbook Library, and Merlot.  There are also universities and state initiatives involved in alternative textbook programs:  Open Education North Carolina, UCLA’s Affordable Course Materials Initiative, NC State University Libraries Alt-Textbook Project, Affordable Learning Georgia, and others. 

Due to the multitude of OER resources and websites, publishers and research database vendors are engaged in “being able to find and utilize the OERs” (EBSCO, n.d.).  Vendors such as EBSCOhost created a platform called EBSCO Faculty Select that enables OER resources to be more discoverable.  The platform mentioned above and others like it may have costs associated with them.  Also, Pearson, a company known for its educational content, assessment, teaching tools, and custom content, has a platform called Pearson+.  Pearson+ allows users to “read, listen, create flashcards, add notes and highlights-all in one place” for a monthly fee for a low-cost way to access textbooks (Pearson, 2022).  Additionally, IGI Global’s growing Open Access collection provides free resources to students and faculty alike.  This can be done on IGI Global’s platform, which does not require logging in to access this free content and can be fully integrated into libraries’ discovery layer side by side with paid content.  These are just a few vendors and publishers that are making eBook textbook access easier and for a low cost. 

A no-cost option, Applied Digital Skills allow students to engage with OERs and create new work as they learn new skills.  This student-centered interaction with OERs is linked closely to open pedagogy and open educational practices.  Open pedagogy “makes use of … abundant, open content (such as open educational resources, videos, podcasts), but also places an emphasis on the network and the learner’s connections within it” (Weller, 2013, 10).  With its project-based learning modules, Applied Digital Skills helps students make connections as they use the tool and create projects.

Open Educational Resources such as no-cost textbooks (Openstax, OER Commons) and Google for Education Applied Digital Skills can be added to the library’s multitude of resources to engage librarians in open educational practices.  The Open Educational Quality Initiative (OPAL, 2011; Wiley & Hilton, 2018) defines open educational practices as “a set of activities around instructional design and implementation of events and processes intended to support learning… [including] “the creation, use, and repurposing of Open Educational Resources (OER) and their adaptation to the contextual setting.  They are documented in a portable format and made openly available” (p.13).  Open educational platforms such as Google for Education Applied Digital Skills allow students to gain valuable 21-century skills when they create projects, learn digital literacy skills, and share them using the Google platform (i.e., Docs, Drive, Jamboard, Slides) with their professors, peers, and beyond.  Projects are based on what students learn in class or need to learn in the workforce to succeed.

Applied Digital Skills

The Google for Education Applied Digital Skills platform is a cloud-based digital literacy solution that offers users a free video-based curriculum that can be used to teach and learn digital skills.  The curriculum is licensed under the Creative Commons International License.  Under this license, users can copy and redistribute materials in any medium or format, and they can adapt, remix, transform, and build upon available materials.  The American Library Association’s Digital Literacy Task Force defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”  The Applied Digital Skills platform offers a growing collection of lessons tailored to four different audience types.  Learning material can be filtered for late elementary, middle school, high school, as well as adult learners.  Users can also sort lessons based on a specific digital tool, topic, or use the search box to find materials based on keyword searches.  Listed in Tables 1 and 2 are a wide selection of topics and tools that can be explored.  Basic implementation of Applied Digital Skills involves logging into the Google web platform with a Gmail account and selecting a target audience, digital tool, or topic of interest.  There are four main ways to access this software: as a teacher, as a student, as a learner, or as a parent or guardian.  Upon logging in, users can see their progress, and teachers and parents can create classes and track each student’s progress.  However, users can also browse the curriculum without logging in by browsing the available lessons. 

Table 1 Applied Digital Skill Topics Areas

Table 2 Digital Tools Available on Applied Digital Skills 

The Applied Digital Skills Curriculum emphasizes twenty-first century learning through the Four Cs.  According to Setiawan, et al., (2021) “the 4Cs stands for critical thinking;  creativity;  collaboration;  and communication.  Increasingly, these four skills are emerging as the competencies that differentiate students who are prepared for the more complex life and work situations of the 21st century from those who are not (Partnership for 21st Century, 2009).

This digital learning and teaching tool is a project-based curriculum designed to help teachers incorporate the four Cs into their courses by providing students the opportunity to build upon their repertoire of practical digital skills knowledge.  In order to give teachers, librarians, parents, etc., the ability to use lessons in the classroom or for virtual learning, this platform provides a Get Started Guide with step-by-step instructions.  Additionally, there are fully developed lesson plans that teachers can modify, as well as learning objectives and learning outcomes, sample rubrics to help evaluate and assess student work, a help center that addresses frequently asked questions, and a Guardian Guide to assist parents or guardians with navigating assignments.  The platform offers transcripts for every video and the option to speed up or slow down the video according to preference. 

Using Applied Digital Skills at the College Level 

The James E. Shepard Memorial Library at North Carolina Central University has led several OER initiatives over the past few years.  We are currently focusing our OER work on the campus-wide promotion of Google for Education Applied Digital Skills.  Our library was the recipient of the 2020 Virtual Learning and Enhancement Mini-grant awarded by the American Library Association and Google.  This grant provided library staff with training on using the Applied Digital Skills curriculum and funding to develop a program based on the curriculum.  Our librarians centered their programing effort on integrating the Applied Digital Skills curriculum within First-Year Seminar courses.  These courses are designed to assist first-year learners and transfer students with developing skills that will contribute to their academic success and personal wellbeing.  The incorporation of the Applied Digital Skills curriculum further enhanced student knowledge in the area of digital literacy skills and digital skills development.  Some of the lessons included career and college readiness, how to prepare for a group project, study skills, and organizational practices.  Furthermore, the library created a professional development course using Applied Digital Skills as a method of virtual professional development for library staff during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The course created focused on upskilling library staff in video conferencing using Google Meet, planning effective meetings, and connecting and collaborating from anywhere with digital tools.  The self-paced professional development method was well received by library staff members, and Applied Digital Skills has been used frequently for building digital skills.  Currently, our librarians are promoting Applied Digital Skills among faculty members as an alternative tool to assess student learning.  Faculty members can use the Applied Digital Skills curriculum to develop students’ digital skills and enable them to create dynamic assignments, such as animated videos, websites, maps, and more.  With Applied Digital Skills, students can practice life skills and gain digital skills, which are in high demand in the 21st-century workplace.

In summary, open educational resources are evolving.  Educators and students have access to digital materials and software to assist in the development of academic and career-ready skills.  Publishers and research database vendors such as IGI Global are providing ways to access the content at a low cost.  The need for open education resources and digital skills development is essential for 21st-century learning and career advancement.  Efforts to build digital skills are critical in the academic and workplace ecosystems.  The availability of free or affordable textbooks and software supports equitable access to competitive skills.


American Library Association.  (2019, June 18).  Digital literacy.  Welcome to ALA’s Literacy Clearinghouse.  https://literacy.ala.org/digital-literacy/

Cornell University.  (2009).  What is digital literacy?  Retrieved from http://digitalliteracy.cornell.edu/welcome/dpl0000.html 

EBSCO.  (n.d.).  The history and future of open educational resources in academic libraries | EBSCOpost.  EBSCO Information Services, Inc.  Retrieved from www.ebsco.com.  https://www.ebsco.com/blogs/ebscopost/history-and-future-open-educational-resources-academic-libraries

van Laar, E., van Deursen, A. J., van Dijk, J. A., & de Haan, J.  (2019).  Determinants of 21st-century digital skills: A large-scale survey among working professionals.  Computers in Human Behavior, 100, 93-104.

Google for Education’s Applied Digital Skills.  (2022).  Digital teaching tools.  Teach & Learn Practical Digital Skills – Applied Digital Skills.  https://applieddigitalskills.withgoogle.com/en/teach

Kefela, G. T.  (2010).  Knowledge-based economy and society has become a vital commodity to countries.  International NGO Journal, 5(7), 160-166.

Open Educational Quality Initiative.  (2011).  Beyond OER: Shifting the focus to open educational practices.  The 2011 OPAL Report.  Retrieved from http://duepublico.uni-duisburg-essen.de/servlets/DerivateServlet/Derivate-25907/OPALReport2011_Beyond_OER.pdf

Partnership for 21st Century.  (2009).  P21 framework definitions: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.  Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED519462.pdf

Setiawan, A. W., Aridarma, A., & Setiabekti, R. T.  (2021, May).  Comparison of Instructor and Professionals Assessment in Project-Based Learning.  In 2021 IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems (ISCAS) (pp. 1-4).  IEEE.

UNESCO (2018).  A global framework of reference on digital literacy skills for indicator 4.4. 2.  UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

UNESCO (2020).  Open educational resources (OER).  https://en.unesco.org/themes/building-knowledge-societies/oer

Weller, M.  (2013).  The battle for open – a perspective.  Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2013(3), Art. 15.  doi:  http://doi.org/10.5334/2013-15

Wiley, D.  (n.d.).  Defining the “open” in open content and open educational resources.  http://opencontent.org/definition/

Wiley, D., & Hilton III, J. L.  (2018).  Defining OER-enabled pedagogy.  International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(4).

Recommended Readings

Avila, Sandra,et al.  “The Tele-Reference Model: Adopting Virtual Tools to Enhance Reference Services During COVID-19 and Beyond.”  Technological Advancements in Library Service Innovation, edited by Manika Lamba, IGI Global, 2022, pp. 1-22.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-8942-7.ch001

El Shaban, Abir and Reima Abobaker, editors.  Policies, Practices, and Protocols for the Implementation of Technology Into Language Learning.  IGI Global, 2022.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-8267-1

Jain, Priti,et al., editors.  Open Access Implications for Sustainable Social, Political, and Economic Development.  IGI Global, 2021.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-5018-2

Koutras, Nikos.  Building Equitable Access to Knowledge Through Open Access Repositories.  IGI Global, 2020.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-1131-2

Mills, Michael and Donna Wake, editors.  Empowering Learners With Mobile Open-Access Learning Initiatives.  IGI Global, 2017.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-2122-8

Railean, Elena.  Metasystems Learning Design of Open Textbooks: Emerging Research and Opportunities.  IGI Global, 2019.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-5305-2

Scott, Christine and Nadia Jaramillo Cherrez.  “Supporting Language Learning With OERs and Open-Authoring Tools.”  Policies, Practices, and Protocols for the Implementation of Technology Into Language Learning, edited by Abir El Shaban and Reima Abobaker, IGI Global, 2022, pp. 186-198.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-8267-1.ch010

Smith, Lourdes H. and Vassiliki I. Zygouris-Coe.  “Theoretical and Practical Concerns Regarding Digital Texts in Literacy Instruction.”  Handbook of Research on Integrating Digital Technology With Literacy Pedagogies, edited by Pamela M. Sullivan, et al., IGI Global, 2020, pp. 72-96.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-0246-4.ch004

Stevenson, Carolyn N., editor.  Enhancing Higher Education Accessibility Through Open Education and Prior Learning.  IGI Global, 2021.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-7571-0

Zhou, Molly Y., editor.  Open Educational Resources (OER) Pedagogy and Practices.  IGI Global, 2020.  https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-1200-5  

Column Editors’ End Note:  If you are interested in learning how you can support your faculty in OA publishing efforts and IGI Global’s Transformative Acquire & Open Initiative, visit www.igi-global.com/e-resources/read-publish/ to learn how to collaborate on receiving OA funding through Publish & Read or Read & Publish models.  For questions or assistance on fully integrating IGI Global’s Open Access Collection or other collections into your system, contact [email protected].


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Share This