University of Minnesota
Office of Human Resources

Teaching 21st Century Literacies

Karen Williams, director of Academic Programs, University Libraries

Overview of the Project

Are our students prepared to live and work as digital citizens in the Knowledge Age? Are our students prepared to be lifelong learners? There is a set of skills that cross disciplines and departments on campus, often referred to as 21st century literacies. It includes:

  • Information literacy (ability to find, evaluate, organize and use information to inform and solve problems)
  • Media literacy (ability to question, analyze, interpret, evaluate, and create media messages)
  • Visual literacy (ability to understand and produce visual messages)
  • Digital literacy (ability to use digital technology, communications tools or networks to locate, evaluate use and create information)
  • Statistical literacy (ability to analyze and understand data to produce meaningful information)

These skills are vital to academic and professional success. They help students adapt and thrive in the changing landscape of information, media, and technology on the road of lifelong learning. They need to be taught and reinforced throughout a student’s life at the University both within and outside of the classroom. It is often assumed that today’s students as “digital natives” learn these skills before they arrive at the University or by osmosis within academic programs.

The development of these skills is in line with the University’s goal to “recruit, educate, challenge and graduate outstanding students to become highly motivated lifelong learners, leaders and global citizens,” from the report Transforming the U for the 21st Century from 2007. Twenty-first century literacies are implicit in the Undergraduate Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) and Student Development Outcomes (SDOs).

The University Libraries have made some inroads to integrate these literacies including student learning outcomes in First Year Writing, with tools such as the Assignment Calculator and in integration in programs with similar accreditation standards. Within the Libraries, there is also a group called the Information Literacy Collaborative which works to support the integration of information literacy into the curriculum.

As an organization with expertise in 21st century literacies, the University Libraries are in a position to support faculty and staff in teaching these competencies, but in the past our role has been underutilized. This project will identify successful models of integration and recommend strategies for the University Libraries to support faculty and staff in the teaching of 21st century literacies and the SLO/SDOs in a various programs and activities on campus. We are seeking a more systematic way to support faculty and staff in teaching and students in learning 21st century literacies.

The PEL project will help us to define our campus-wide role on these issues. The Libraries are just one partner in this endeavor. As such it will be useful to explore overlap with other units on campus such as the Digital Media Center, Center for Writing, Center for Teaching and Learning, and specific schools, departments, etc. We are also interested in strategies to break down potential silos in the teaching of 21st century literacies.

Project Goals

Strategic questions for the team to investigate:

  1. What are the best strategies for engaging more staff/faculty in the teaching of 21st century skills in their work with students?
  2. What type of training is required for staff/faculty seeking to incorporate 21st century literacies in their work with students?
  3. What information will help guide staff/faculty in teaching 21st century literacies and in taking advantage of supporting units, such as the University Libraries, in the teaching and assessment 21st century literacies?


  1. A common vocabulary to facilitate interdisciplinary communication on these literacies
  2. A model of successful integration and measures of success in teaching a cross-disciplinary skill set
  3. Strategies and recommendations for the University Libraries to improve the teaching and assessment of these literacies both within and outside of the classroom
  4. Informational materials aimed at faculty/staff on the importance of these literacies to student success and the role of the Libraries in supporting the development of these skills

Project Team

Team Members

Holly Bunn
Human Resources Professional
School of Dentistry
Mentor: Shari Peterson

Justin Christy
Communications Coordinator
Weisman Art Museum
Mentor: Jay Bell

Jeremy Jenkins
Chief Administrative Officeer
Office of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology
Mentor: Linc Kallsen

Jason Marchiafava
Conference and Event Services
Mentor: Jeff Ogden

Amy Porter
Program Administrator
Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change
Mentor: Karen Himle