BlogMax QuinnLesson #1: Developing Digital Competence

Lesson #1: Developing Digital Competence

Chickering and Reisser (1993) tell us that there are three ways that students begin to develop competence in college: intellectual competence, physical and manual skills, and interpersonal competence. The academic skills and knowledge that are specific to a student’s targeted area(s) of study and general educational interests make up components of their intellectual competence. With social media being proven to provide an increase in student engagement (Junco, 2012), the ability to be able to use, navigate and engage with their network via social media should also be considered part ofdeveloping intellectual competence.

It’s no secret that as educators we want college students to develop “self-confidence, persistence, leadership [skills], empathy, social responsibility … understanding of cultural and intellectual differences ... critical thinking, reflective judgment, and the ability to process and use new information and to communicate it well, the ability to reason objectively and to draw objective conclusions from data, the ability to evaluate new ideas, arguments and claims critically, and the ability to become more objective about beliefs, attitudes and values” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, pp. 54-55). What might be more challenging to realize is that all of these life experiences and skill sets are now being revealed on the Internet via student created profiles and networked accounts. For example, Google, along with many other companies, allow users to take advantage of utilizing a single sign-on feature to “sign-up” for dozens, if not hundreds, of linked applications, accounts and websites. This means, not only does Google have access to all of this information, the newly connected App or website has the potential to access your Google account and all the information associated with it.

Often, consumers may take for granted the ease of access to technology and social media without considering the risks, such as giving up the user’s privacy and unlimited access to personal information.

The way students use social media and gain skills from it is an interesting concept for future research. The development of skill competence relates to cultural, aesthetic, or intellectual attitudes and values that promote a students’ ability to communicate virtually and orally, in writing and the ability to take an active approach in effectively reasoning; whether in-depth, creatively, abstractly and objectively. Online, students are examining complex ways of engaging with myriads of content and subject matter (Chickering & Reisser, 1993).

Physical and manual skills are also associated with developing competence. Students may seek to develop competence in video gaming, varsity athletics or intramural sports, visual or performing arts, and health and wellness efforts. As these may be amongst some of the most obvious involvement opportunities students may gain skills and competence from (Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Renn & Reason, 2013), social media competence should also be considered as part of the development of manual skill competencies, just as it should be considered a critical component of developing intellectual competence. Students are taught how to use computers and gain various levels of proficiency in effectively utilizing online search engines, software systems and library databases, but that is only the tip of the digital identity iceberg. Therefore, the importance in updating and translating Chickering’s Seven Vectors into 21st Century Virtual Vectors can hopefully be seen through this blog series, as we explore this playbook on Developing Digital Competence.

Many students are well versed in the various ways to engage on social media by the time they enter college. It can be assumed that today’s 21st college students have had several years of experience using social media. The ways in which a student expresses their happiness via social media, as well as the ways in which they may express their frustrations, especially in our current politically charged climate, are good examples of the kind of awareness students should have regarding the impact of what they choose to share on the World Wide Web.

Digital Identity Coaches can help students gain the kind of social media competence that is vital to their success, while at college, and within the workplace, and therefore, it is important that both students and student affairs professionals build upon their competencies surrounding social media and digital identity development.

Similar to collegiate athletic participation, social media may also produce “positive net impact[s] on the development of interpersonal and leadership skills during college” (Chickering and Reisser, 1993, p. 64). Interpersonal competence is connected to leadership, relationship building and the varied types of media students select to communicate and engage with during college (Renn & Reason, 2013). Students gain interpersonal competence through acquiring “an array of discrete skills such as listening, asking questions, self-disclosing, giving feedback, and participating in dialogues that bring insight and enjoyment. It also involves broader abilities to work smoothly with a group, to facilitate others’ communication, to add to the overall direction of a conversation rather than go off on tangents and to be sensitive and empathic with others” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 72). Social media provide students with a venue to express all of these interpersonal communications; it impacts leadership development and helps to build, establish and maintain relationships and networks between students and their networks.

How A Digital Identity Coach Can Help!

A Digital Identity Coach can help students to develop “new frames of reference that integrate more points of view and … [help make] sense out of [their] observations and experiences” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 45). Social media continues to provide the integration of many points of view, and can facilitate the expressions and reflections of a students’ observations and experiences, broadcasted out into the World Wide Web. Most college students have been aware of the benefits and consequences of social media since Facebook debuted in 2004. Thus, students may move through this vector quite rapidly, as we know many of them are already experienced, social media-savvy students. However, “digital identity is about much more than just worrying about its effects on future employment or conduct violations. Students with a fluent grasp of social media can accelerate their learning, develop meaningful connections with peers, and grow their professional network” (Stoller, 2013). A Digital Identity Coach can engage students where they are, help them to further develop social media pluralism and be proactive in the ways they market their competence on the Internet. Traveling through this vector, students will begin to think critically about the ways they discover and maintain their own self-discipline, express their creativity, explore athletic and leisurely activities, and communicate (Chickering & Reisser, 1993).

College students obtain interpersonal competence through “complex subskills [that allow them to] ... make appropriate choices about (1) timing - when to make comments or suggestions, and when to listen; (2) then medium of communication - verbal, nonverbal, or in writing; (3) the content - information, questions, feelings, values; (4) the target of communication - which individual or group to select and how to structure the message(s); and (5) how to be intentional in using communication skills to ‘maximize the attainment of goals that are congruent with their own and others’ feelings, actions, and interpretations and to be bale to recognize when they are not congruent’ (p. 16).” (Breen, Donlon, and Whitaker, 1977 in Chickering and Reisser, 1993, p. 75).

Knowing this, it is imperative to challenge students to align their goals with their values and skills, to empower them to foster positive self-assurance and self-care practices, as well as for us as educators to model appropriate management of our emotions, both in-person and online.

To connect with a coach, you are encouraged to visit and explore how you and your students can navigate these seven virtual vectors, while striving to lead a digital life that is genuine and congruent. Stay tuned for our next post where we will dive into Lesson #2 of our Coaching Playbook: Managing Online Emotions.


Chickering, A. W., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Junco, R. (2012, May 6). Improving Student Engagement and Learning Using Social Media. In Scribd. Retrieved from

Renn, K. A., & Reason, R. D. (2013). College students in the United States: Characteristics, experiences and outcomes (p. 147). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Stoller, E. (2013, February 11). Digital Identity, Social Media, Privacy, Balance, and Being Radical. In Eric Stoller's Blog. Retrieved from

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