Digital Citizen Advocate Most Recent Post

Broader Conversations: Supporting Collaboration and Communication Beyond Your Class


Like the newest iPhone or model car, emerging apps in digital education are the shiny new toys constantly updating and difficult to keep up with. The EdTech market in particular continues to balloon evolving into a multi-billion dollar industry. Neil Selwyn, a social scientist who has written about digital technology and education for the last 25 years, points out that EdTech continues to be future-focused and fails to critically examine the present; EdTech scholars need not reinvent the wheel (Selwyn & Jandrić , 2020). As Selwyn claims, “the levels of venture capital investment are off-the-scale in comparison to other areas of education… [with] Covid-19 prompting the resurgence of a lot of dominant tech-fulled ‘corporate education reform’” (Selwyn & Jandric, 2020). My post is not intended to discourage educators from utilizing technology to increase the capacity of learning in their classroom. Instead, I think it would be useful for myself and others to take pause and act on Selwyn’s advice to critically examine the present rather than relying on the hype of future EdTech.

My research began with considering Selwyn’s and Peter Jandrić conversation about postdigital living during Covid-19. Selwyn ends his conversation with Jandrić with a hopeful imagination that the current pandemic crisis would produce “more communal, collective forms of digital engagement” (Selwyn & Jandrić , 2020). Inspired by this, I looked into online learning communities and the impact of student-student relationships had on engagement and achievement. My research focused on strategies to develop multicultural learning utilizing technology that included case studies published in educational journals. Additionally, it was important for me to consider some of the current challenges our students are currently experiencing in remote or hybrid learning environments. My own school district recently went 1:1 machines for students 6-12 however, many families report that their students continue to experience access issues. There is a tremendous struggle around access to synchronous learning times when adults and students are online at the same time; not to mention the physical space needed to focus along with a myriad of other considerations.  

ISTE Standard and Objective I aim to address:

  • ISTE 7a: Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities. 
  • Course objective 4. Model and promote diversity, cultural understanding, and global awareness by using digital-age communication and collaboration tools to interact locally and globally with students, peers, parents, and the larger community.


  1. How can technology be leveraged to broaden students’ cultural understandings, global awareness, and inspire civic engagement?  
  2. What are some equity considerations for this kind of work? 


My research took me to pedagogical strategies that had long predated this pandemic. To address issues and learning around social justice, civic engagement, and multicultural learning, we need to provide and scaffold authentic opportunities for our students to have healthy discourse while being mindful of the technological challenges that many of our students face. E-Pals, the digital equivalent to pen-pals, and co-classroom project based learning can be effective in engaging students around authentic learning opportunities through social interaction. This interaction can be powerful at any scale whether it’s  occurring between schools within the same district or schools in different nations. An added benefit of E-Pals is that it offers great flexibility of access for our students. These digital interactions are not bound to particular time-slots and students have more freedom on when and how much they would like to interact. Consider the following digital tools and strategies to maximize the learning potential of these interactions:

Make learning authentic and relevant: 

Set parameters to challenge your students to engage in learning activities that tackle current real-world problems or issues. If possible, support students in identifying these topics themselves and choosing which one interests them the most. If collaboration is happening locally, consider political or social issues shared in both communities. By sharing their experiences and considering the experiences of others, we are supporting our students’ development of empathy and perspective. This can be powerful both on a local and global scale. 

Utilize digital tools to develop a flexible and safe learning community:

As much as possible, use your district monitored and supported tools already available. Collaborate with your district’s legal and technical support teams well in advance to secure proper permissions. Include families in these learning communities by intentionally designing assignments that require their input or participation. Consider too that students may choose to communicate with each other outside of district approved technology. It is important that you make families aware of this before their student opting in/out. When partnering with another teacher and class, sharing the same digital tools is a big advantage to consider. These are a few digital tools to consider using:

  • School Email – great for flexible and secure asynchronous communication. You may need to communicate with your school/district to adjust permissions
  • Flipgrid – great for both co-classroom projects or E-pals; this is a secure tool that can bring these relationships to life! Students can record and share their thinking and learning with peers. This is a more accessible, flexible, and reliable platform than say your school/districts communication platform. If you have a family who has opted their student out of this work, this is a great tool you can use to still foster an opportunity to hear others’ perspectives.
  • Communication platforms (Zoom, Teams, Skype) – Microsoft markets Skype in the Classroom to help connect educators all over the world with each other to partner their classrooms on projects. You school’s preferred communication platform can be used by both students and teachers to connect during synchronous or asynchronous times, but be conscious of technical challenges.  
  • ePals Global Community – an educational online community where you can find and partner with global classrooms. There are language translation tools built-in as well as opportunity for teachers to have direct oversight of the student-student communication. 

Incorporate cooperative and collective learning opportunities:

Design learning assignments that center collaboration between student pairs. Intentionally create space for students to share their individual input as well as reflect upon their partner’s ideas. Thinking routines and protocols can help scaffold this cooperation. When students are engaged in heterogenous and cooperative learning interactions, learning is more meaningful and authentic contributing to higher social and collaborative activity. It is equally important to deprivatize this learning so that it is shared with the rest of the classes. Students may have direct communication with one student, but they also need the opportunity to expand their readership to the entire class to broaden their global perspectives.This provides accountability and acts as a safeguard for students to access cooperative and collective learning if there are challenges with their E-pals.  

Provide scaffolding:

It is critical to support students in building relationships with the peers they are communicating with before critical examinations of their topics begin. Conversations should be genuine and authentic where students have some choice over what to communicate to their peers. Scaffolds are needed to ensure that communication is productive towards a collective or cooperative goal. Set clear expectations and model effective communication in different mediums (video calls, online discussions, email, etc.). By modeling communication with the other teacher, you are modeling transparency and effective communication. Building a healthy relationship will allow for richer dialogue and engagement from the students. Be sure to communicate regularly with your co-teacher to prepare contingencies for potential challenges that may arise. 

Lean on culturally responsive talking structures, protocols, and thinking routines to guide respectful and rich thinking and communication. Communication will most likely occur when you’re not around, so providing this scaffolding will help make the interactions among students more productive. If you have read any of my previous blog posts, I will continue to recommend the work of Zarretta Hammond, Project Zero, Making Thinking Visible but other resources like EduProtocols by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo and The Digital Learning Playbook by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie provide examples and ideas for how to scaffold these interactions. 

Publicize student learning 

A staple of PBL, authentic audiences to share student learning will increase engagement. Allow for some student choice in how students want to demonstrate their learning. Student work can be shared within their own learning community, but it can be much more meaningful if learning is tied to authentic issues with appropriate audiences. Consider local organizations, institutions, politicians, businesses, etc. There will be much more meaningful engagement if there is a purpose for the learning and interaction. 



Neil Selwyn and Peter Jandrić, “Postdigital Living in the Age of Covid-19: Unsettling What We See as Possible,” Postdigital Science and Education (2020).

Fridell, M., & Lovelace, T. (2008). Create a digital world: Five steps to engage students in multicultural learning. The International Journal of Learning, 15(1). 

Lui, Ping (2002). Developing an e-pal partnership a school-based international activity. Childhood Education, 79(2), 81-87. 

Digital Citizen Advocate Most Recent Post

Using Thinking Dispositions and Routines to Nurture Media Literacy


It’s October and I am really feeling spooky culture right now. As cringe-worthy as that was for me to type, it’s true. Around this time of the year I always watch one of my favorite zombie movies ever, Shaun of the Dead, and it had me reminiscing on my own faux zombie experience. In my 1st year of teaching, a colleague of mine attempted to deter me from trying to navigate the halls of our building during passing periods. He explained in jest that if I went out there that I may never come back. I couldn’t tell if this was some form of harmless joking with the rookie. There was already so much anxiety and chaos for me as a 1st year teacher that I had no choice but to fall willingly off his cliffhanger. I bite – “why shouldn’t I leave?” His response – “You may fall victim to the phone zombies. The cursed stampede of teenagers who wander aimlessly through the halls staring at their phones while, unbeknownst to you or them, you find yourself either trapped in a corner or boxed into traffic unable to take the off-ramp for the bathroom.” I’m the type of learner who must get burned before learning that fire is hot, so I naively explored the halls during passing time only to be preyed upon by the phone zombies. This experience illustrates how easy it is for our students, and adults too, to engage with online media almost mindlessly like a zombie. Consumption and sharing online media without critical examination can lead to consequences like being mislead or sharing misinformation. This rapid consumption of online media highlights the need to equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate online media critically and responsibly. 

My colleague, whom I have great respect for and who has had an extensive teaching career, has seen firsthand the drastic growth in consumption and use of online media over time. I, like these students, am a Digital Native who grew during this change in our environment speaking the digital languages of computers, video games, and the internet. My colleague, on the other hand, would be considered a Digital Immigrant (a highly skilled and “fit” one at that) – someone who was not born into the digital world, but has adopted most aspects of new technology (Prensky, 2001). These terms and distinguishing characteristics were made famous by Marc Prensky, an American author and speaker on education, in 2001.  

Today, our students’ engagement with online media is more connected and networked than ever before and beginning at much younger ages. Kids 5-8 spend roughly 3 hours on digital media whereas tweens 8-12 spend on average 6 and teens 13-18 increase to about 9 hours a day (Rideout, 2017). Prensky also argues that the terms Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants are becoming less relevant. As the 21st century rolls along, we all will have greater access to instant and ongoing collections of information at their fingertips. There is now a greater need to support digital wisdom (Prensky, 2013).  According to Prensky, “digital wisdom is a two-fold concept, referring both to wisdom arising from the use of digital technology to access cognitive power beyond our usual capacity and to wisdom in the use of technology to enhance our innate capabilities” (Prensky, 2013, p. 202). It is important to note that Prensky recognizes that there is still a need for people to define, discuss, compare, and evaluate, but digital wisdom uses technology to increase quality and sophistication in how we do so. Another way to consider digital wisdom is when we use both our minds and digital tools to enhance our analysis to inform decision making and understanding (Prensky, 2013).

This combination of critical thinking and utilization of technology really stuck with me as I contemplated ISTE Coaching standard 7c – Support educators and students to critically examine the sources of online media and identify underlying assumptions. I then arrived at a digital education problem with 2 related questions:


  • The tone, context, and content of online media can mislead, intimidate, or dissuade


  1. What does digital wisdom look like when educators and students examine sources of online media?
  2. How can practicing thinking dispositions and routines support educators and students’ discernment of online media?


Our world today is fast-paced filled with instant gratification and access to information. Because of this, it is easy to fall into the trap of action without thought. A student can easily search for a news article or website that includes a buzzword for their search, but pay little attention to the source information or underlying assumptions. To combat this, Educators should provide opportunity for students to discern online media for 4 dimensions of critical evaluation:

  1. Relevance – information’s level of importance to a particular reading purpose or explicitly stated need for that information
  2. Accuracy – the extent to which information contains factual and updated details that can be verified by consulting alternative and/or primary sources
  3. Bias/Perspective – the position or slant toward which an author shapes information
  4. Reliability – the information’s level of trustworthiness based on information about the author and the publishing body

(Coiro, 2017). 

But how do we as educators know if what we are teaching to students stick? Practice builds permanence. Educators can help their students practice these dimensions of critical evaluation through thinking dispositions. Dispositions can be defined as tendencies that guide thinking and behavior and shape how we use our knowledge and skills. Dispositions can help students slow down and develop sensitivity to recognize the nuance and dilemmas that are products of engaging with online media. Dispositions help teach habits of mind that encourage students to think critically and reflectively around digital citizenship. Project Zero, an initiative from Harvard’s Graduate of Education, has developed a framework of thinking routines that can help students practice dispositions and communicate their thinking in visible ways. These routines are designed to be short, memorable, and flexible across age and disciplines.

Students are challenged to reflect, explore perspectives, further investigate facts/credibility, and envision possible impacts. Not only do these dispositions incorporate the 4 dimensions of critical evaluation, their website categorizes these routines by subject and by disposition, idea, or competence. Here are just a few of many thinking routines to choose from:

(Project Zero) 

As coaches and educators, we want to utilize thinking dispositions and routines to shape a culture of digital citizenship.  The goal should not just be to introduce to students how to critically examine their sources and identify underlying assumptions, but to empower them to independently choose the right thinking tools to practice and apply to a range of sources and mediums (Ritchart,  Church, & Morrison, 2011). By doing so, we are supporting students’ development of becoming digitally wise and providing the antidote for digital zombies.

Final thought:

Digital wisdom can and must be taught, but it does not exclude digital immigrants. I would consider my colleague a very digitally wise person who carefully and critically utilizes technology to enhance thinking and understanding.  One key takeaway here for instructional coaching purposes is that teaching digital wisdom should approach all audiences in education from student, to family, to instructor. Coaches should challenge instructors to model and participate with their students’ evaluation of online media and underlying assumptions. Coaches should help instructors think about a continuum of learning for examining online media that models evaluation, provides opportunity for inquiry, and challenges students to transfer and apply thinking routines/dispositions to other interests relevant to their own lives. This process may not happen within a single school year or class, but it should be considered when administration or leadership teams design continuous learning goals.  In addition, push instructors to foster opportunities for empowering students to engage their learning with families. The benefit here is two-fold – students will continue to practice permanence of thinking routines useful for evaluating sources and increase the knowledge and capacity for families to support their students’ learning. 

Enrichment resources:

More research-based information about media use by tweens and teens can be found here

NY times – Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning about Fake News

Online Inquiry Tool – A digital scaffold to weigh evidence to support and refute claims


Coiro, J. (2017, August 29). Teaching Adolescents How to Evaluate the Quality of Online Information 

Harvard Graduate School of Education. Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox. Project Zero.

Marc Prensky, “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom,” in From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin, 2013), 201-15 

Prensky, M. (2001, October). Digital natives, digital immigrants: A new way to look at ourselves and our kids.,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf 

Rideout, V., & Robb, M. (2018). Social media,social life: Teens reveal their experiences. diasociallife_fullreport-final-release_2_lowres.pdf  

Ritchart, R.,  Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible. Jossey-Bass.