Digital Citizen Advocate Knowledge Constructor Learning Designer

InstaEdu: Instagram for Teaching and Learning


When I scroll through my professional social media accounts, I see wonderful examples of creative and engaging lessons that utilize a social media platform. I have often wondered how educators utilize social media with their classes given the concerns over privacy, security, and transparency. For these reasons I kept my engagement with social media separate from my work with students in the classroom. I never used social media for teaching and learning, but various social media platforms were central to the lives of many of my students. Social trends became a common talking point in class and many of my students used social media to obtain information and also express themselves creatively. As educators, we must understand the significance of social media and its influence with students. Teens are using social media more than ever before, and in 2018, roughly 70% of students reported they use social media more than once a day. That’s an increase from 34% reported back in 2012 (Knutson, 2018). When contemplating ISTE Educator standards for Citizen and Facilitator, I feel that social media must be part of that conversation. Specifically, I’d like to focus on Instagram. Created in 2010, Instagram is a photo and video sharing social networking service. It is the second most widely used social media platform in the United States and fifth most used in the world, but the platform has received only limited attention from educational research (Carpenter et al., 2020). Largely due to how it presents information visually, Instagram distinguishes itself from other social media that are more text-focused. This visual appeal has led to both students and educators to leverage the tool to communicate knowledge and ideas in very engaging ways.

My Questions:

How can educators leverage Instagram to facilitate learning to support student achievement while modeling and mentoring students with managing digital identities? 
What are some best practices for teachers to minimize risk and privacy issues who would like to use Instagram for educational purposes with their students?

ISTE Educator Standards:

3: Educators inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world.

6: Educators facilitate learning with technology to support student achievement of the ISTE Standards for Students.


According to a study conducted by Common Sense Education in 2018, most teens ages 13-17 are checking social media every hour and with over 50% saying that social media is very to somewhat important in their lives (Knutson, 2018). This reinforces what most already know: social media is a significant corner stone in contemporary culture especially for young people. These are powerful platforms of information however, the data also shows that very little of this time for tweens and teens are spent focused on creation rather than consumption (Higgin, 2017). We must not social media from school given how prevalent it is in the lives of our students. To support our students in becoming digital citizens, we as educators must provide opportunities for students to use social media for creation and to build a learning community while modeling responsible engagement and management of digital identities. 

Do’s and Don’ts of using Instagram with students:

Common Sense Education offers a review of Instagram’s privacy concerns and tips for teachers on protecting student privacy. This is helpful in presenting some of the barriers and considerations of using any social media tool as well. Overall, Instagram scores a 57% warning rating because of possible safety and privacy concerns. Instagram collects a broad range of personal identifiable information. Some of this information, like access to a user’s contacts and facebook friends, can be blocked. Although Instagram’s terms state they will not rent or sell user’s information without consent, they still may share non-personal information with third-party organizations and advertising partners. It’s possible Instagram may use information from a user’s mobile device to be used by Instagram or a third party affiliate to track and target content. An additional concern that is common for most social networking platforms is the interaction among users. Instagram does have a compliance policy that governs what users can post and say, but this still could be deemed inappropriate for the age group of students you teach. Users can choose to make their content private, but this also does not allow for their own posted content to be more widely shared and searchable. There is also space for private messaging (direct messaging) that is problematic in an educational setting. Parallel to using other popular social platforms, using Instagram responsibly requires awareness, dispositional thinking, and sound judgment (Common Sense Privacy Evaluation for Instagram). 

The reality is that most teens already have accounts on this platform (or ones with similar risks) and are engaging with it outside of an educational context. Using a platform like Instagram in your classroom can not only be a great opportunity for students to express themselves and practice key communication skills, but it can also support students’ digital citizenship skills that can be transferred to their personal uses with social platforms. It is also crucial to note that using Instagram for educational purposes qualifies it to be reviewed as an educational record under FERPA. The following are a list of best practice “Do’s and Don’ts” for teachers to use Instagram safely and transparently with students for educational purposes:


  • Review your district’s social media guidelines.
  • Communicate with your administration, families, and students how you will leverage Instagram in your class. Explain clear parameters to all stakeholders. 
  • Create an account strictly for professional use. Share your account information with your administration so that there are multiple adults overseeing the account.
  • Use parental consent/op-out forms
  • Instruct students to create a separate, private-account strictly for educational purposes that is also not tied to any identifying information, like email. 
  • Instruct students to never share personal identifiable information in their posts. Links to their posts can be shared through your school’s LMS so that you know who created which post.
  • Use and teach basic photo-editing tools to remove sensitive information should there be a need.
  • Take inventory and possibly remove any visible student/class information in your classroom. 
  • Be mindful of how your posts could commercialize your classroom.
  • Closely review any picture/caption before posting. Model this skill for your students.
  • Turn off location services.
  • Consult with your district’s legal time to be mindful of FERPA related information. 
  • Teach healthy digital habits and anti-distraction techniques to support students healthy digital habits.


  • Start using Instagram without consent/opt-out forms
  • Share students’ faces or names without parental consent. It would be best to never share them at all. 
  • Make any grades, assessment, or any part of students educational/PI record public (FERPA)
  • Forget that handwriting is personally identifiable information (FERPA)
  • Communicate with students through private messaging on Instagram. Share any communication initiated by a student with your administration. Sharing your classroom professional account with your admin helps make the use of this platform transparent. 

There are other potential barriers that need to be considered before using Instagram in your classroom such as:

  • Access/ADA compliance is a major barrier educators need to be aware of when considering apps like Instagram.
  • Distraction from ads and browsing. 
  • Spam followers or suspicious accounts. You may consider encouraging your students’ professional accounts to be private to limit this (they would need to approve your follow request for you to view their posts). 
  • the algorithm of some social media networks could also provide unwanted links. 
  • Potential publicizing of content where accounts outside of the classroom could interact with student accounts. Private accounts would help combat this. 
  • Lack of institutional support. Be sure to develop and communicate clear parameters to your administration as well as highlighting the benefits of using Instagram. 

(Higgin, 2017)

Using Instagram to facilitate learning with technology to support student achievement:

Students increasingly want their instructors to use social media as a learning tool while students are also reporting an increase in use of social media as a learning tool (Coffin & Fournier, 2015). When students use social media for educational purposes, they build connections with educators and peers that fosters a supportive learning community (Coffin & Fournier, 2015). Instagram, for example, has shown to “enable students to create a cooperative, collaborative and sharing atmosphere, supporting the formal classroom setting in addition to sharing class materials” (Erarslan, 2019). This same study supports the increase in students’ interaction time outside of the classroom and that students regard Instagram as a motivating tool fostering learning (Erarslan, 2019). So how can educators utilize a social platform like Instagram to create meaningful learning experiences, promote creative expression, and communicate learning effectively? Here are just a few examples to inspire you:

Instagram Portfolios: One way to leverage application is to consider a student’s professional Instagram account as a portfolio of learning. Throughout a unit of study or course term, students can use Instagram to convey their ideas and demonstrate competency-based learning. Students can create visual slides to communicate their learning while the caption of the post can provide additional context about the topic, assignment, or pose thoughtful questions related to their content to facilitate discourse in their comment sections. The limits for the number of photo slides and character length in the caption challenges students to convey their information concisely rather than a more long-winded medium like a formally written essay. Tips like these teach students how to curate their posts to attract more traffic and engage their audience; a useful skill applicable for branding and marketing. Educators can also use current trends for styles of posts to provide a scaffold for students to work off of similar to an essay outline. For example, “so you want to talk about…” has been a popular scaffold for instagram posts concerning a wide range of issues. Modeling different types of instagram posts teach students particular professional skills for the growing job market for social media managers.

Teaching literacy: Social media writing does not match standard classroom English norms, but they do follow patterns of language development. Instagram posts, and social media writing in general, is a great medium for teaching tone, conventions, and varying levels of formality. Just as we code-switch our language for different audiences we’re speaking to, Instagram can be used with other digital mediums to teach students code-switching their online language to fit the various audiences they aim to engage. Activities like Flip the Switch and lessons designed to analyze punctuation’s impact on tone can help students translate their knowledge of social media writing to the classroom and vice versa (King, 2017). 

Instapoetry: Instapoetry is starting to carve out space for itself as its very own genre. Taking advantage of the visual elements of the Instagram platform, Instapoets contain short, free verse poems that are often paired with symbolic sketches or shared on images. Themes, colors, and images are the visual art considerations that enhance the poetry. Instapoetry can be interdisciplinary and empower students to express themselves creatively. Classes can study Instagram poets for common themes to help inform their own instapoetry (Gray, 2019). 

Re-creation: Explore moments in history by challenging your students to imitate photographs or paintings.Consider a particular theme to drive student research and give students choice on which photo or artwork they’d like to investigate. Their posts can provide additional context about the photo or art.

Photojournalists: Students can attend and document a particular event. They strategically select pictures for their post that convey a particular tone for how they want to present their story. They can supplement their pictures with short video interviews and even write an article about the event that they can link to from their post.

Persona Posts: Students can take on the perspective of a particular individual or group to create a post from their point of view.


Instagram can serve as a powerful tool to foster students’ creative expression to communicate their ideas as well as build skills useful for the potential workforce they will enter. To do so appropriately requires educators to be transparent with all stakeholders, set clear parameters for the use of Instagram, and consult their institution’s policies. In addition to its varied uses for teaching and learning, what I did not explore in this module is how popular Instagram has become for educators’ professional use. Similar to a previous post I wrote about Twitter, educators are engaging with Instagram in similar ways for professional learning, networking, and identity construction  (Carpenter et al., 2020). Instagram (and Twitter) can be employed to acquire and share knowledge as much as it can provide emotional support and develop community to combat isolation (Carpenter et al., 2020). While there are a growing number of studies examining educators personal and professional use of social media, there are less that explore Instagram use by students as a required part of coursework for secondary levels of education. I suspect that this will increase as Instagram use among young people continues to rise at a rapid pace and educators use of the platform for teaching and learning grows in response. State level and district policy makers will need to rethink how they can support these popular tools while protecting the safety and privacy of the students they serve. 


Carpenter, J. P., Morrison, S. A., Craft, M., & Lee, M. (2020, November). How and why are educators using Instagram? Teaching and teacher education.

Coffin, T., & Fournier, J. (2015). Social Media in the Classroom: Opportunities, Challenges & Recommendations. University of Washington Information Technology.

Common Sense Privacy Evaluation for Instagram. The Common Sense Privacy Program. (n.d.).

Erarslan, A. (2019). Instagram as an Education Platform for EFL Learners. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 18(3), 54–69. 

Gray, K. (2019, July 8). Using Instagram to Teach Poetry. Edutopia.

Higgin, T. (2017, March). Protecting Student Privacy on Social Media: Do’s and Don’ts for Teachers. Common Sense Education.

King, M. (2017, July 21). Social Media Posts as Exemplars. Edutopia.

Knutson, J. (2019, September). What New Research on Teens and Social Media Means for Teachers. Common Sense Education.

Digital Citizen Advocate Most Recent Post

The Screen Time Fallacy


“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” “Observe due measure; moderation is best in all things.”

From the ancient Greeks to Oscar Wilde, this proverbial principle is timeless and endlessly applicable. However, in the case of screen time moderation, how we measure our engagement with screen technology may be more important than moderating our time.

In 2018, the Pew Research Center gathered technology experts, scholars and health specialists to consider how the rapid changes in digital life will impact peoples’ well-being. The largest percentage of respondents believe that our future digital life will be more helpful than harmful. Most believed changes in technology will improve the well-being and opportunity for people, but not without caution. Many experts also cited health, social, and security concerns (Anderson & Rainie, 2018). Like any medication, there’s always potential side effects. Screen time moderation could be considered the medicine in this metaphor, but the side effects of this issue have been overstated, as many experts are now shifting the narrative away from this oversimplified practice to a much more nuanced understanding.

In examining our current digital lives as it stands today, the current pandemic has intensified the debate around screen time particularly as it relates to education. Schools in remote or hybrid learning environments place a tremendous amount of stress on staff and student screen time. On average, teens spend 9 hours of screen time a day (Rideout, 2015). In Seattle, where I live and work, some families have been critical of the school district’s official schedule for remote learning and the amount of screen time it burdens students with. Some families devoutly subscribed to the screen time ‘shot clock’, limiting their student’s exposure to screens and encouraging “in-person interaction, time outdoors, and tactile activities” (Resmovits, 2020). These are necessary activities characteristic of a healthy lifestyle, but the early research and assumptions around screen time limits is outdated. A much more nuanced understanding of screen time has emerged, and as a result, a broader conversation around healthy digital habits and equity. 

Families who are more affluent and privileged typically have multiple devices at home with an ease of online access and greater access to resources and opportunity to create more in-person enrichment for their student. Students furthest from educational justice are less likely to have ease of online access and additional devices. If a student only has access to a mobile device at home, “they are less likely to go online to pursue an interest or engage in a creative endeavor” (Holland, 2019). Technology can provide multiple representations of content, accessibility, and opportunity for student-driven learning. When taken away, students of color can especially feel alienated and discouraged from learning because, for some, technology is viewed as an essential resource of utmost value (Resmovits, 2020). Thus, arguments for less screen time in school creates greater inequity. Health experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) have refocused their message around screen time. According to the APA, reasonable screen time limits should be considered, but it is much more important for families to develop healthy habits “such as sleep schedules and holding difficult conversations without interruption of scrolling through social media” (Resmovits, 2020).

This is where the understanding of screen time is shifting: healthy digital habits that focus on the quality of the experience and not necessarily the time. This lends itself to the question of where institutions and their educators fit in all of this. Students will access technology through a variety of mediums and for a variety of purposes. Technology use occurs both at school, at home, and every place in-between. We also know that access to technology is not equal, and how/when students experience technology is impacted by socioeconomics.  

My Question:

  • How can schools teach and support healthy digital habits that engages all stakeholders (educators, parents, students) especially as it concerns screen time? 

ISTE Standard for Coaches: 

  • 7b: Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology.


Educational institutions need to support the shift in thinking away from screen time ‘shot clocks’ to empowering students, families, and educators in thinking dispositionally about the different ways of being, interacting, creating, and learning through screen-based technologies. 

Design considerations:

Technology use is interdisciplinary, and therefore the teaching of healthy digital habits should connect to every class and subject matter. Administrators can lean on committees and building leadership teams to plan curriculum and embed digital habits into their school’s mission and/or guiding foundational beliefs. Cultivate opportunities for students to learn and reflect upon the consequences of healthy and unhealthy digital lives. 

It is critical to consider context when engaging with screens. Not all screen time is created equal and varies by how it is used, the content that is engaged, and its fostering of relationships. Like a fitness journal, a digital habits journal could provide students a space to reflect upon how they are engaging with technology, connect it with their learning, and the effect that it is having on their health and wellness. This could also prove to be a valuable tool for discussions in 504/IEP meetings, parent-teacher conferences, and in building a culture of positive digital habits. There should be careful considerations for how students can share in their learning of healthy digital habits while protecting their choice and privacy for what they share. 

In addition, it is critical for staff to model and share in their own learning and struggles with how they engage in technology. This can also be powerful in building rapport and classroom community. Staff should also consider how they are asking students to engage with technology for school. I admit that this can be very challenging as each student engages with technology differently and has different digital habits. Predicting/planning for time may not be possible or worth it. Instead, educators need to consider if their lesson/assignment provides opportunity for students to engage with technology in ways that centers their interests and supports 21st century skills. As best as possible, limit rote and passive consumption of technology without personal purpose. There’s certainly still a place for designing learning opportunities that don’t require a screen, and there should be intention around cultivating that, but it may be better worth the effort to consider the context for how your students are engaging online for academics. 

Engage families:

It is imperative to invite families into this learning, but the purpose should not focus on telling parents what’s right from wrong. Any parent will tell you that telling someone how to parent their own kids isn’t going to be received too well. Instead, educators should manufacture opportunities that engage families into participating alongside their student(s) as they learn and reflect upon their digital habits and screen use. Encourage families to participate alongside with students as they reflect upon the how, where, and why they are using screen media. The goal here is spark conversation around screen technology use and how it is impacting personal and social health. Again, the point isn’t for educators to tell parents what is quality use, but to encourage them to move past the screen time fallacy and engage with their student(s) to think critically about their engagement with screen media to foster healthy digital habits (Blum-Ross & Livingstone, 2017). 


Anderson, J., & Rainie, L. (2018). The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech.  

Blum-Ross, A., & Livingstone, S. (2017). Screen Time for Kids: Getting the Balance Right.  

Holland, B. (2019). Changing the Discussion: From Screen Time to Digital Equity. 

Resmovits, J. (2020). Seattle-area parents want rules about screen time, but experts say off-screen interactions matter more.  

Rideout, V. (2015). The Common Sense census: Media use by tweens and teens. Retrieved from Common Sense Media website: port.pdf 

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. 

Digital Citizen Advocate Most Recent Post

Constructing Ourselves Online

What does scuba diving, The Office, Ready Player One, and the infosphere have to do with online identity construction?


Last week I went scuba diving in the beautiful salt waters of the Northwest known as Puget Sound. The purpose of the diving was to earn my dry suit certification. See, a dry suit is wonderful for diving in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest as opposed to the more familiar wet suit frequently used in tropical waters. Dry suits employ waterproof zippers (originally created by NASA) and seals at the neck and wrists to keep you dry. The suit traps air, and since air has a much lower heat capacity than water, the bubble of air trapped inside your dry suit acts as an insulator to keep you completely dry and cozy for a longer period of time as you dive deep into the cold, salty water of the Sound. Wet suits, on the other hand, are made of neoprene foam. This allows for water to seep into every nook and cranny of the suit where it gets trapped inside forming a liquid layer all around your body that allows the neoprene foam to insulate you, though the water does transfer heat away from your body.

Wet Suit Thermodynamics

Neil de Grasse Tyson might criticize my oversimplification of the thermodynamic science that describes the process of heat loss while diving, but I find it to be a great analogy to describe the technological revolution we have been experiencing since the mid-20th century.

Since the 1950s, we have been living in a global information society transformed by information and communications technology. Like the water that bypasses the neoprene and fills the gaps inside of the wet suit, we have been experiencing a similar process with information as it has seeped into our suit creating a new infosphere. It has transformed our understanding of reality and of ourselves while reshaping our environment. No longer is there a metaphorical dry suit that blocks the waters of online and offline. We now navigate the waters of our world with a wet suit where information acts like water. This interconnected informational environment, or infosphere, has seeped and blurred the lines in which we consider life online and offline. Luciano Floridi, a professor of philosophy and ethics of information at the University of Oxford, explains that we are currently experiencing a fourth revolution of science. “We are modifying our everyday perspective on the ultimate nature of reality, that is, our metaphysics, from a materialist one, in which physical objects and processes play a key role, to an informational one” (Floridi, 2010, p. 24).  This new experience and perspective of reality is modifying the ways in which we construct our identity. In order to reach some level of individualism, we self-brand and re-appropriate ourselves on various online platforms like blogs, social media pages, YouTube channels, and online multiplayer games that allow us to present ourselves uniquely to some degree (Floridi, 2010, p. 26). Consider the science-fiction novel Ready Player One that was published just a year after Floridi’s work in 2011. The main character experiences conflicts around identity and relationships with his avatar on a world-wide virtual reality game. His avatar online is unique and self-designed, and in some ways, completely different from his physical persona. In addition, the choices he makes impact both his avatar online in the game and in the physical world that are extremely interconnected in this dystopian setting. I’d love to hear Floridi’s thoughts about the novel because of how closely it depicts the experience and processes of the fourth revolution that we see today. 


Both Floridi claims and the example of Ready Player One boil to the surface the need for parents and educators to help students explore their identity and express themselves responsibly. Kids often develop their identities with access to digital media and they have a desire as learners to create and connect “on their own terms, with their own interests, and by their own design” (Tucker et al., 2017, p. 10). Consuming content, choosing avatars, sharing personal pictures and/or videos, and live streaming are just a few ways our students explore their identities and create a digital footprint of their online activities. In each of these ways, students construct a core identity, but they also develop digital personas for different mediums and audiences that will change alongside their identity overtime (De Kerckhove & Miranda de Almeida, 2013). Young people and adults manage the pressures of the infosphere by creating multiple accounts to manage their identity expressions to different audiences.

An example of the array of identity expressions are my own multiple Twitter accounts. One account is for my academic-professional self linked with the work I publish for this blog. The other is my personal-self account that includes a timeline and network of much broader interests. I carefully curate the content I share and engage with for both accounts considering the audiences who see it, though the data for both are most certainly linked and trace back to a representation of my core identity. If you’re a big Office fan like me, think back to how important Dwight’s Second Life avatar was to him and how he represented himself. Dwight expressed himself almost exactly how he does to his office colleagues except that he also lives out his fantasy of flying. Dwight’s Second Life Clip

These expressions and mediums come with implications we must help students consider. For example,“some teens can feel pressure to conform to idealized societal norms when they present themselves online” (James et al., 2019). The pressure to get likes or to appease the opinions of others can be damaging and isn’t an authentic expression of one’s self. In addition, our digital footprints influence strategies and actions that use collected data to influence settings and user experiences that often reduce our identities into categories that hinder our ability to self-management our identity. Controlled and constructed identities from data collection fails to recognize our multiplicity and impacts the ways we can engage online (De Kerckhove & Miranda de Almeida, 2013). That controlled data can also have long-term consequences affecting a student’s opportunity in the future. Inappropriate engagement with digital media when your young can be stored and resurfaced to be held against you even though you made a youthful mistake. There are plenty of examples of this in the college admissions and hiring process. Even Sir Francis Bacon’s ideas on the Idols of the Market Place still ring true if applied to our own discourse in online markets of digital media. “Speech is the means of association… but words are applied according to common understanding… Indeed, words plainly do violence to the understanding and throw everything into confusion” (Bacon, 1620). We must be careful and considerate for how our online selves engage and are presented to a wide range of audiences as it can lead to great controversy. In short, it is important for students to understand the consequences of their consumption and engagement in the informational space which can be both positive and negative. 


Considering these implications from the perspective of a digital educator, I wondered: How do we, as educators and institutions, help students to responsibly express themselves and explore their identity as digital citizens? 

ISTE Standard for Coaches:

Conveniently, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has created a framework of standards for educational leaders to consider when coaching teachers and students. Standard 7, Digital Citizen Advocate, presents considerations and strategies related to identity construction. The intention is for coaches to model digital citizenship and support educators and students in recognizing the responsibilities and opportunities inherent in living in a digital world. Not only do these standards help us support and prepare students through their identity exploration with technology, they also help model for educators and students how to responsibly engage with technology in the digital world which is very much part of the contemporary classroom learning environment. Two substandards in particular, 7b and 7d, directly address the heart of my inquiry: 

7b: Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology.

This standard focuses on creating values for inclusive online interactions. This is important because students express themselves through digital media and engage with a wider audience. That engagement online with others also impacts how they view themselves and the world around them. It is important for them to consider different perspectives and experiences of others. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy balance of their technology is also extremely important for healthy identity development. Too much screen time can cause a plethora of physical and social-emotional issues. 

7d: Empower educators, leaders and students to make informed decisions to protect their personal data and curate the digital profile they intend to reflect

Your digital profile is how you represent yourself in online based activities. This can have both short-term and long-term consequences. Our identity evolves over time and our digital footprint may not accurately represent who we are or want to be. This standard focuses on footprint awareness and understanding how our information is collected and shared. 

An offered solution with accompanying resources:

In considering the implications and consequences of constructing online identity and personas, it is imperative that as educators we shift and present views of technology away from focusing on tools and practices within technological systems. Instead, we must provide students the space to examine their online selves and interaction with technology as part of a larger information ecology which is a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a local environment. Students need opportunity to “critically engage with technology and media in a manner that notices their presence and effects” to better develop themselves appropriately and productively as digital citizens (Campbell & Garner, 2016). The focus is then on the relationships between entities within a technological system and the human activities that are served by technology. Issues that deal with people, relationships, social justice, and sustainability presents technology with language of environmental concern and awareness that challenge students to consider their role in a larger digital ecosystem (Campbell & Garner, 2016).

After conducting research to learn more about my question, I discovered two resources that I find extremely valuable in addressing my question and the related ISTE standards of 7b and 7d. The first is a widely popular website known as Common Sense Education that is dedicated to research, insights, and curriculum for K-12 digital citizenship. I love this website because it offers both families and educators resources for teaching and learning digital citizenship. They also have lessons organized by the subtopics of digital citizenship and grade level. These lessons feature activities that invite students to consider personal, moral and ethical issues associated with online identities. Common Sense Education also uses the Rings of Responsibility framework that promotes consideration of our personal well-being alongside broader moral, ethical, and civic considerations. This directly supports building awareness about our roles within the informational ecological system. Students also consider the benefits and risks of sharing and explore how their digital expressions affect their sense of self and relationships (James et al., 2019). Considering the Triple E Framework for measuring the degree to which the technology is helping students meet the learning goals:

  • Extend Learning:
      • Many of the lessons include a family component and/or an inquiry option for students to discuss their learning with families and/or conduct their own research
      • The lesson topics and resources are directly applicable to their everyday life experiences and offer agency in how they demonstrate or engage with their learning
      • The lessons are organized in in a progressive sequential order that is appropriate for each grade level. 
  • Enhance Learning: 
      • The resource challenges students to think critically and deeply about the implications of their technology use 
      • The resource follows a handful of research backed scaffolds to increase the capacity of student learning including 5 Core Dispositions and thinking routines
      • Common Sense Media offers a variety of authentic activities that provide flexibility for how students demonstrate their learning
  • Engage Learning:
    • Lessons are focused on 1 particular topic of digital citizenship that is framed into a question
    • Lessons allow for personalization and choice 
    • In most, but not all lessons, there is an inquiry piece of Digital Dilemmas considered to promote active social learning and engagement with their peers.

In addition to Common Sense Education, I feel it is important to couple their rich frameworks and pedagogical strategies with culturally responsive teaching methods in order to build student agency, voice, and understanding a diversity of perspectives. Classrooms, whether they be remote, hybrid, or full-time in-person learning, need to be designed around conversations that are culturally responsive and resemble ways students engage in discourse outside of school or at home. Providing a variety of social and academic talk structures assists in promoting more effective sociocultural natures of learning that builds community and student agency. When students can narrate their lives, share their experience, and process their thinking through discourse, they can better define the people they see themselves becoming (Hammond, 2015). The talk and task structures identified in Zaretta Hammonds book, Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain, should be applied to our digital learning environments to support responsible and respectful online interactions with their peers. These strategies can help build empathy and encourage students to engage with digital media in a positive manner. They also pair really well with secondary lessons offered by Common Sense Education that incorporate dispositions that guide thinking and behavior. Just another resource that helps us shift our thinking about our role within a informational ecological system. This book is available as an e-book copy for your digital convenience. 

You can learn more about Zaretta Hammond’s work through the following video as well: 

Research and insights into Common Sense Education can be found here and the lessons for digital citizenship can be found here


Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner, “Theology of Technology 101,” Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in a Digital Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2016), 19-37

De Kerckhove, D., & Miranda de Almeida, C. (2013). What is a digital persona?, Technoetic Arts, 11(1). 

James, C., Weinstein, E., & Mendoza, K. (2019). Teaching digital citizens in today’s world: Research and insights behind the Common Sense K–12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.

Lenhart, A. (2015). Teens, technology and friendships.

Tucker, C., Wycoff, T., & Green, J.  (2017). Blended learning in action: A practical guide toward sustainable change. Corwin.

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ISTE Coaching Standards

Here you can find blog posts focused on specific ISTE Coaching Standards.