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Six Ways to Plan for Digital Literacies Learning

By Michelle Schira Hagerman
 | Jul 28, 2017

Digital Literacies LearningSummer is the time when teachers recharge and set priorities for the next school year. As a teacher educator and digital literacies researcher, I’ve been using my “downtime” this week to synthesize a set of recommendations, grounded in evidence, that seem most important to share with the inservice teachers, graduate students, and teacher candidates I'll be working with during the 2017–2018 academic year.

I hope this list helps you to set priorities and reflect on what you can do to support digital literacies learning in your classroom this year.

  • Use definitions of (digital) literacies to guide pedagogical design: There are many definitions of digital literacies to guide instructional practice (see definitions by Lankshear & Knobel, Spires, Bartlett, Garry and Quick, and the British Columbia Ministry of Education for three helpful examples) and in this TILE-SIG blog, authors have written about conceptalizations of digital literacies many times (see recent posts by Maha Bali, Ian O’Byrne, Paul Morsink for examples). For me, ILA’s recent definition of literacy is a helpful instructional touchstone. If literacy is “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context,” then instructional planning should include activities that teach skills (e.g., identifying relevant information in a range of texts or critically evaluating trustworthiness on the search engine results page), social practices (e.g., using hashtags in social media messaging) and communications mediums (e.g., blogging and podcasting) with digital technologies.
  • Plan for online: Online inquiry projects driven by students’ own questions about a topic are ideally suited to scaffolding development of many digital literacies skills, strategies, and dispositions through iterative cycles of information seeking, evaluation, synthesis and creation, research shows. Importantly, much of the preparation for successful online inquiry happens before students touch the keyboard. Students need time to develop researchable questions, to generate lists of helpful search engine keywords that they predict will return relevant, reliable results, and to discuss how the questions and their communicative purposes will inform their choices during online research. Preparing students to stay focused on their inquiry and communicative goals can frame their online inquiry, equipping them to quickly skim and scan for information that is most likely to meet their needs. 
  • Integrate making: According to research, when students learn to design and create digital and physical products (e.g., 3D designs for printing or laser cutting or e-textile projects) they develop new understandings of how digital systems work and begin to see themselves as powerful digital creators. For ideas and resources on how to integrate digital making into your curriculum, check out resources from Agency by Design, Make Magazine and those developed by range of research labs and nonprofit organizations dedicated to coding, making, and digital innovation in classrooms.
  • Integrate video production: Work by many scholars including Suzanne Miller, Jason Ranker, and Diane Watt shows that video production can be a powerful instructional tool to empower youth and encourage creativity. When students produce videos about themselves, or about an issue that is relevant to their lives, they (re)write their own stories, show the world who they are, what they believe, and what they can do. 
  • Plan for multiple projects on multiple topics for multiple audiences and purposes over time: A single project is never enough. Don’t assume that students’ out-of-school social networking and Internet use activities necessarily develop the complex literacies skills that students need to use, create and communicate via digital texts in any context. To see evidence of students’ growth in digital literacies skills and practices, you will need to create a range of opportunities for students to use digital information, create digital texts and to participate in a range of digital literacies contexts over time. This year, your students could create screencasts in which they describe a problem-solving process, create multimodal posters on a topic of curricular relevance, collaborate to develop and maintain a resource-filled classroom hashtag on a social networking site, design infographics, create a computer program using Scratch, or produce a website or a vlog. 
  • Encourage an evaluative stance: Evidence from offline and online reading research suggests that students who understand knowledge as a human construction, who know that information serves ideological or economic interests, and understand how messages are constructed to influence, persuade, or further an ideological position are better equipped to question the trustworthiness of a text and to hold information as contingent as they seek out other evidence. Recent work by the Stanford History Education group suggests that even students attending elite colleges may not be able to detect fake news. Plan for activities that emphasize evaluation to prepare students to question authorship and the interests driving information this year.

Michelle HagermanMichelle Schira Hagerman is an assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada where she also directs the Canadian Institute for Digital Literacies Learning

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


Leave a comment
  1. Michelle Hagerman | Aug 17, 2017

    Hi Nadia,

    Thanks so much for your comment and for your essential point about finding platforms and tools that align with students' skills at any age. Given the diverse experiences of all learners in our classrooms, there are no hard and fast "guidelines" for the tools that work for kids at particular grade-levels. Teachers are best equipped to assess which tools work for their students on a given day -- but your suggestion of .ppt or google slides as a good fit for your students is surely helpful to others. If kiddos can start out just creating a couple of slides with some text and an image -- that is a GREAT way to help them build multimodal composition skills :) Hope you have a terrific school year with your students!

  2. Nadia | Aug 14, 2017

    Hi Michelle,

    I am a public school teacher and my experiences are predominately at the elementary level. 

    Digital literacy is becoming the norm in my school and district.  There is a push to use platforms such as Google Drive, Edmodo, and NearPod as ways of communicating with learners and creating interactive activities.  

    I have used some ideas you shared for student collaborations, with modifications to better suit the elementary population I work with.  Common digital learning activities I have use include student created PowerPoints as ways of being accountable for content learned in English Language Arts.  

    I have found that students are much more engaged when they identify a format for learning in the digital age that is age appropriate.

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