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Teaching and Learning in a Digital World: Digital Literacies for Disciplinary Learning

By Jill Castek and Mike Manderino
 | Jul 26, 2019

collaborative-pl-2Over the course of a two-year period, we have been discussing digital and disciplinary learning with our colleagues in schools and universities. These discussions suggest that teaching and learning with digital technologies require us to think differently about classroom organization. They also introduce synergistic practices centered around teaching literacies in ways that cut across disciplinary boundaries.

We argue that in a digital world where learning traverses digital/print, in- and out-of-school, face-to-face and virtual communication, disciplinary literacies that rely solely on print resources are no longer sufficient to fully convey complex and multilayered meanings. In this blog post, we briefly sum up three key ideas gleaned from our conversations.  

Digital resources enrich disciplinary thinking and collaboration

It is becoming increasingly clear that the digital world is a collaborative world. Meaning making is also a collaborative, networked activity that involves many individuals with different kinds of expertise. Discussion is often part of this process and includes both face-to-face and virtual, the latter often mediated through a shared, networked collaborative space such as This shared annotation space provides an online forum to hold discussions, read socially, organize a collection of reading materials and research archives, and take personal notes. and other similar digital tools provide a collaborative context for synthesizing ideas drawn from multiple resources and a means for discussing them with other learners. Such digital exchanges of ideas mirror the forums disciplinary experts use to exchange ideas, track the evolution of their thinking, and post ideas for critique and discussion with other disciplinarians. Incorporating flexible digital forums into classroom instruction invites multiple perspectives and encourages the examination of ideas from different points of view. Flexibility, multiple perspectives, and examining different points of view are mindsets that are vital in disciplinary learning and also in the digital world. 

Digital collaborations promote opportunities for curation

We recognize that teachers have limited time to keep pace with the infinite possibilities of digital literacies for disciplinary learning. We advocate for collaborative curation of digital resources that converge with disciplinary practices. Twitter chats, Google Docs and sites, and Tes Teach with Blendspace are great places for teachers to connect, curate, and share resources for digital literacies for disciplinary learning. Students can also use these forums to share, so they become tools for developing disciplinary communication and deepening disciplinary inquiry.   

Collaborative professional learning experiences enhance engagement

We advocate for professional learning that makes space for teachers, along with their colleagues, to design, iterate, and test learning tasks within and across disciplines. If teachers are to build students’ disciplinary knowledge, then they themselves must develop their own means of digital and disciplinary engagement. Teachers rarely get opportunities to build, tinker, and create their own disciplinary inquiry. Making time for such activities supports their development, instructional planning, and implementation as they guide their students through similar processes. We encourage collaborative professional learning, which can span online and offline forums.

These networks create spaces for teachers to engage in their own learning while sharing with the texts and tools used by students and to develop the digital and disciplinary knowledge with and alongside their students. One exemplary program for collaborative professional learning is the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. This multi-dimensional learning opportunity scaffolds collaborative, project-based inquiry using a variety of digital texts, tools, and technologies that support challenging and engaging learning opportunities. 

Jill Castek is an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Arizona. Find her on Twitter @jillcastek.

Mike Manderino is the Director Of Curriculum And Instruction at Leyden High School District 212.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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