What's Your Why? Motivations for Teaching Digital Literacy and How to Implement Instruction with the Personal Digital Inquiry Model...(Or How I spent My summer vacation)

What is Digital Literacy?

"The Dialectic of Empowerment and Protection" (Hobbs, Coiro)

I attended the Summer Institute for Digital Literacy without really knowing what Digital Literacy was. Ideally, I thought one aspect of it had something to do with helping students use critical thinking to navigate tides of information and misinformation on the web in order to find the elusive truth and save democracy from itself. (!) And I was interested in that. I also wanted (needed) to learn what digital tools were being used in the classroom to more creatively engage students. But I don't think I fully understood how those two agendas would come together or how I would implement them in 'my work' (which is a term I am also trying to define).

I found some clarity in what Renee Hobbs and Julie Coiro call the 'dialectic of empowerment and protection." In "Design Features Of A Professional Development Program In Digital Literacy" in the Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, they describe the dialectic thus, "Most people have a complex mix of attitudes, including concerns about how digital media and technology introduce a variety of risks and potential harms to individuals or society, while also holding more positive beliefs about the value of digital media for learning purposes."

Teaching Tolerance also recognizes the dialectic. On their website in an article called, "Learning the Landscapes of Digital Literacy," they say, "Digital literacy is more than the ability to identify misinformation or avoid bad guys online; it means being able to participate meaningfully in online communities, interpret the changing digital landscape, and unlock the power of the internet for good. Digital literacy, in the modern United States, is fundamental to civic literacy." In an article in Ed Week, Liana Heitin quotes Renee Hobbs who defines "digital authorship as a form of social power."

When using technology in the classroom or anywhere, educators and parents are implicitly aware, whether they have the language for it or not, of finding this tricky balance between empowering students with tools of technology and protecting students from technology addiction, cyberbullying, privacy concerns and false information. But while the impulse to protect students is virtuous and valid, trying to shield them too much from the culture in which they operate, may be doing them a disservice. I'm reminded of when my nut-and-egg-allergic daughter started pre-school at age three. I thought the school might ban nuts to protect her from exposure to allergens, but the wise, senior educator in charge asked, "Why would I do that? How is she going to navigate the real world if she doesn't gain the tools to advocate for and protect herself?" Indeed. So while the protection impulse needs to inform our decisions about exposure to technology, it may be valuable to turn the dialectic on its head. By empowering students with tools for self assessment and critical analysis, we can teach them to protect themselves, and hopefully harness their digital instincts to change the conversation for good.

Surprisingly, (to me anyway) an article published in Pediatrics agrees. In "Developing digital and media literacies in children and adolescents," the authors suggest the answer to balancing the dialectic may be to use technology against itself. They claim, "developing digital and media literacies is one of the most viable intervention strategies to minimize media’s negative consequences and maximize its positive influences on beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. An extensive meta-analytic review found that these interventions counteract effects related to risky and antisocial behaviors, including violence and aggression, alcohol and tobacco use, body image issues, eating disorders, and commercialism. 11 In other studies, researchers showed that interventions increased civic responsibility and democratic participation.‍"

Wonder question: If empowering students with digital tools and digital literacies is in fact protecting them from the ills of the same technologies is digital literacy resolving the dialectic? In other words, maybe, the dialectic is not the definition of digital literacy, but digital literacy is the answer to the dialectic? (Is this deep or totally obvious?) I don't know, but thinking about these two aims of digital literacy, empowering and protecting, helped to inform my understanding of the discipline.

Renee Hobbs, Summer Institute of Digital Literacy 2019, Providence, RI

Personal Motivations for Teaching Digital Literacy?

In navigating the dialectic, adults can fall into different categories based on how their motivations and experiences inform where they land on the empowerment/protect spectrum. In "Design Features Of A Professional Development Program In Digital Literacy," Hobbs and Coiro show how they use the dialectic to help educators understand their digital literacy educator identities. I, for example, am a Trendsetting, Activist who loves to harness kids' interest in popular culture in order engage them in projects and eventually take civic and social action. I'm dreaming up programs for the maker space like, Stranger Things Week (eighties science camp), Slime Week, and Storm Area Fifty-One Week. I'm also dreaming up hashtag campaigns and thinking about ways kids can use social media for good by studying campaigns like Black Lives Matter and March For Our Lives. While not my main motivation, I would need to garner the skills of the "Watchdog" to decide whether we would make our campaign public and describe to students and parents the risks of posting online in the current climate.

Are you Blue or Gold?

whoops I don't know where I got this graphic

What's your Digital Literacy Identity?

How and Why to Teach Digital Literacy with the Personal Digital Inquiry Model

Engagement = Sense of Belonging and Creating a Cultlure of Inquiry

So now that we know what Digital Literacy is, how do we implement it? According to Maha Bahli in "Knowing the Difference Between Digital Skills and Digital Literacies, and Teaching Both," "Teaching digital literacy does not mean teaching digital skills in a vacuum, but doing so in an authentic context that makes sense to students."

Julie Coiro agrees. To that end, she has aligned the teaching of Digital Literacy with the goals of Inquiry Based Learning and has developed a framework called Personal Digital Inquiry. She explains that if students pursue topics meaningful to them, they will become more emotionally engaged in learning. In her moving (to me) plea in the video below, she shows how student engagement has continually been dropping off because students don't feel a sense of belonging in their school communities and that this sense of belonging indicator is a direct predictor of success on standardized tests and other assessments.. She says that this had been predicted years ago. For years we've been trying to move "beyond industrial model of universal schooling toward efforts focused more on lifelong learning." She thinks that Personal Digital Inquiry could nudge us toward a method of lifelong learning if we begin to change the culture of our classrooms in order to build in opportunities for student inquiry, meaningful problem solving, and choice.

The process of Personal Digital Inquiry is guided by the teacher. Hence the word Personal in the title. Students are guided by a caring person at different stages in the process as they use technology (or not) to acquire, build, express, and reflect on..knowledge.

The first step in using the PDI model is to riff off of students own personal wonderings to design instruction. Students are offered a space to wonder and connect their own interests to real life issues. This stage is called Wonder and Discover. Students then Collaborate and Discuss their research into their personal inquiries. They are then prompted to create a product that can inform their communities or even better, build awareness or make positive change. Reflection on their creations is crucial in that it helps them examine their process and their identities as learners. In communicating their work to authentic audiences in meaningful ways, students take ownership of their work and ideas, which therefore fosters that sense of belonging and authentic student engagement.


Julie Coiro, Summer Institute of Digital Literacy, 2019, Providence, RI.

In the "lesson plans"? below, I attempt to apply the methods of Personal Digitial Inquiry in the development of a short Digital Literacy Curriculum that could be administered during my school's Advisory/Social Emotional Learning Units....

Sample Lesson Plans for Teaching Digital Literacy at BB&N

Using the Framework of the School Motto: Honor, Scholarship, and Kindness





  • Wonder Discover:
  • Inquiry Question: While digital tools are amazing at helping us realize our ideas and goals, what are the downsides of using them too much? How much is Too Much? Can overuse of digital devices be viewed as disrespectful? To whom? (include everyone and all situations) Why? How? Brainstorm together a list the ways that overuse of technology can be disrespectful to others and yourself.
  • Collaborate and Discuss:
  • On June 20, 2019, the internet was abuzz about a study that claimed that teens' overuse of cellphones caused them to grow bone spurs (or "horns"!) in their necks. Read through a couple of the articles from the link. Do you think the study is accurate? Why or Why not? What evidence do you have to prove or debunk the claim? Then discuss why you think people are apt to believe such a claim.
  • Use this Google Doc to enter and take inventory of your screen time as a group. Estimate how many hours you spend on: Gaming, Television, YouTube, Social Media, Texting, E-mail per day. Is this too much? What could you be doing instead?
  • Watch this video to find out why it's so difficult to stop using your phone. (Hint: there are no stopping points baked in to the apps we use. What's a stopping point?)


  • Create and Take action.
  • Break into Groups of Two
  • Take a look at this infographic created in 2015 by Common Sense Media. Do you think it's accurate? Do you think kids are defaulting to too much screen time?
  • Change the Conversation: What are the ways you can help honor yourselves, your friends and your communities by finding balance online? Can you suggest stopping points? For example: Can putting your phone down improve your health, your grades, your happiness? Can staying more focused in class help the teacher build a stronger community? Can you suggest ways for families to connect face to face and make some guidelines about screen time? What about friendships? How can you be a better friend if you put down your phone? Can you suggest using screen time in more constructive ways like creating media rather than consuming it?
  • Pick your favorite suggestion from the above discussion. Do a little research on positive ways to balance the screen time issue of your choice. Compile your research in a google doc.


  • 7th Grade: Use Ease.ly or PictoChart to create an infographic like the one from Common Sense Media with positive facts and advice about how to find balance between online and offline activities. Include at least one link to an online source you used.
  • 8th grade: Use Hashtag Activism to create a hashtag campaign around your Finding Screen Balance Issue. Use Adobe Spark to create three Social Media Posts that will change the conversation about screen time.


  • Gallery Walk
  • Analyze and Reflect
  • Take this survey

How Can I Use Critical Thinking Skills (Scholarship ) to Dissect the Epidemic of False Information and Take Action Against It in My Community

Digital Literacy Competencies

  • Wonder and Discover:
  • Inquiry Question How can Sharing False information from the internet affect the real world? How, as good scholars, can we find good sources of information? Why are we all susceptible to sharing false information?
  • Can you do some research to discover some instances where sharing false information had serious consequences on a real life event? Take this story for example. Are there others like it? Maybe this? Can you think of a time when sharing of false information impacted your own life? Have you ever shared false information yourself?
  • Take a look at this Infographic from the Resource Centre on Media Freedom in Europe. Did you know there were so many different categories of "Misleading News?" How many categories of Misleading News have you experienced? Can you find links to examples of at least 3 different types? Can you identify their creators and the creator's purpose? Copy the links to a google doc and label each link with an icon that describes what kind of misleading news it is.


  • Collaborate and Discuss
  • Break into teams of two
  • Watch This Video Did it answer some of the Inquiry questions above? Turn to a partner and together, define and discuss the terms "Confirmation Bias", "Influencers", "Filter Bubbles". How do they work together to perpetuate the Epidemic of False Information?
  • Look at this infographic How to Spot Fake News. Is this a complete menu for spotting misinformation? What else can you do? What tools can you use? (factcheck.org/AllSides) Do some research and compile, in a google doc, your favorite strategies for evaluating sources on the internet. Save your research for next meeting.


  • Create and Take Action
  • Seventh Grade: Become an Influencer for good! Use your research, and with your partner, create your own infographic using easel.ly or Pictochart. Your Graphic should be snappy and speak to your peers about the dangers of sharing false information and/or how to evaluate information before you share it. It could also encourage people to break free from their confirmation bias and filter bubbles by checking news from other countries and perspectives.
  • Eighth Grade: Become an Influencer for good! Create a hashtag social media campaign about spotting fake news or how to thoroughly evaluate sources before you share.


  • Analyze and Reflect with survey ?
  • Gallery Walk

How Can I Encourage Others To Be Kind Online

  • Wonder and Discover
  • Why do you think people can be cruel online? Listen to this. Is this you? Is this Kindness? It's definitely not unkind. What's the harm if any about behaving this way online. Is there a better way to be? What would the better way look like? Would it look like this? What's the difference?

tktktktktk (ran out of time)

Works Cited

Coiro, J., Castek, J. and Quinn, D. J.Coiro, Julie, Jill Castek, and David J. Quinn. 2016. "Personal Inquiry And Online Research". The Reading Teacher 69 (5): 483-492. Wiley. doi:10.1002/trtr.1450.

Heitin, L. (2016, November 8). What is Digital Literacy? Ed Week.

Hobbs, Renee, and Julie Coiro. 2018. "Design Features Of A Professional Development Program In Digital Literacy". Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 62 (4): 401-409. Wiley. doi:10.1002/jaal.907.

Julie keynote "Julie Keynote". 2019. Swivl Cloud. Accessed August 9 2019. https://cloud.swivl.com/v/d3a0dfc5a1cf6

Knowing the Difference Between Digital Skills and Digital Literacies, and Teaching Both" Knowing The Difference Between Digital Skills And Digital Literacies, And Teaching Both ". 2019. Literacyworldwide.Org. Accessed August 9 2019. https://literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2016/02/03/knowing-the-difference-between-digital-skills-and-digital-literacies-and-teaching-both.

Learning the Landscape of Digital Literacy. (2017). Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved 19 July 2019, from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/publications/learning-the-landscape-of-digital-literacy

Literacy, 2.Literacy, 2019. 2019. "2019 Summer Institute In Digital Literacy". Sites.Google.Com. Accessed August 9 2019. https://sites.google.com/view/sidl2019/home?authuser=0.

Renee’s Keynote (7-15-19)"Renee’S Keynote (7-15-19)". 2019. Swivl Cloud. Accessed August 9 2019. https://cloud.swivl.com/v/c8b396d7d0921b87eb9509eb8bbdbe74.

Teaching and Learning in a Post-Truth World - Educational Leadership" Teaching And Learning In A Post-Truth World - Educational Leadership ". 2019. Ascd.Org. Accessed August 9 2019. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/nov17/vol75/num03/Teaching_and_Learning_in_a_Post-Truth_World.aspx.

Turner, K. H., Jolls, T., Hagerman, M. S., O’Byrne, W., Hicks, T., Eisenstock, B., & Pytash, K. E. (2017). Developing digital and media literacies in children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 140(Supplement 2), S122-S126.

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