Applications of Digital Literacy is a course that I helped create for the Inquiry Hub. It is one of two courses principal Stephen Whiffin and I decided to develop as local board approved courses*, the other course is Foundations of Inquiry. Stephen humourously calls these ‘mandatory electives’ since we decided that these would be requisite courses for anyone coming to the Inquiry Hub. The idea is that we do not expect students to come to the school pre-loaded with these skills, but we want every student to have these skills if they attend the school.

By developing Digital Literacy 10 as a local board approved course, it can be taught in any high school in our district. While developing the course, Staff Development Coordinator Jill Reid and I joked that we were designing a course that should be redundant in 5 years. We discussed how the skills and outcomes learned in this course should be integrated across the curriculum and across grades similar to how research skills are now.

I’ve been (slowly) teaching this course, which I call Digital Media, or DM101, during my one-day-a-week teaching load at the Inquiry Hub. I’m on the cusp of redesigning my delivery based on the use of badges and will share that soon. This isn’t be ready to share yet, but I’m excited about the interface that one of our students is designing to empower students to award themselves badges and display them, (linked to evidence that they demonstrated the required skills or outcomes).

Here is the course. Please feel free to offer suggestions and ideas.


Applications of Digital Literacy

Course Synopsis:

In this course students will be required to demonstrate the ability to efficiently and effectively navigate the digital technologies required to accomplish specific goals and tasks. Primarily, the goal of digital literacy is that individuals are able to select the correct digital tool at the right time for the right purpose behaving ethically, responsibly and always protecting the personal security and privacy of themselves and others. There are 4 areas of study: Social Networking, Personal Learning Environments and Networks, and Principles of Digital Presentation and, Principles of Inquiry.


In 2012 it is imperative for citizens to be digitally literate in order to be successful contributors to their community and society. As existing and new digital technologies have become integrated into daily lives for social purposes, learning purposes, and community purposes, digital literacy is a requirement for full self-expression and participation in society. Digital literacy is defined as the ability to create, comprehend, edit, and utilize digital technologies presented through multiple formats to satisfy an intended purpose.

The course is taught through an inquiry stance requiring critical thinking, ethical decision making and reflective learning – What am I wanting to inquire in to and ..? Is it ethical/am I behaving ethically? Is it effective? Does it matter? To me? To others? Why? How do I know? Does it positively contribute to the community? What difference will my work make or do I hope to make?

The expectation is that the units of this course will not be taught in a linear fashion but outcomes will be integrated throughout learning activities in this course or integrated within other courses and once mastered, are expected to be applied across learning environments/contexts and curricular areas – integration and relevant application are paramount. It is of particular importance that the ethical uses of information – copyright, privacy, plagiarism and digital citizenship are at the forefront throughout the teaching of this course.

Principles of Social Networking:

Unit 1:   In this unit students will analyse and evaluate their current digital footprint and continue to develop a digital footprint that is appropriate to the students’ developmental age and stage by effectively using a variety of social networking tools to accomplish specific purposes. Social networking literacy involves the use of networking tools for the purpose of developing a community and within communities to then connect, inquire, share and collaborate.

Students will be able to…

  • Use a variety of social networking tools for their intended purposes
  • Analyze a task, need or goal and determine whether social networking is required/advantageous
  • Demonstrate skills essential for safety and security in the digital world; protection of passwords, personal privacy, privacy of others etc.
  • Analyze and evaluate their digital footprint and continue to develop it at a level that is appropriate to their current developmental stage
  • Demonstrate transliterate competency – using language appropriate to the audience and/or tool – i.e. abbreviations for texting, one paragraph format for email etc.
  • Express personal views and perspectives of themselves and as an online author
  • Participate in online discussions in a value-added manner – reinforcing not repeating, constructive and thoughtful criticism and feedback, offering new information and alternate perspectives
  • Analyze, evaluate, and synthesize/filter for the purpose of curating information from various sources to develop a personal “infosumption” profile

Personal Learning Environments and Networks

Unit 2:   In this unit students will demonstrate the ability to learn in the digital environment by using tools to search and research, develop and follow inquiries and investigations and, organize, synthesize and reflect in a manner suited to a variety of tasks. Student will build personal networks of learning, for the purpose of sharing, collaborating and contributing to the learning of themselves and others. Learning effectively in the digital environment requires students to generate and share original thinking and perspective development via the social construction of knowledge and understanding as reflected through a dynamic portfolio.

Students will be able to:

  • Compare and evaluate a variety of digital learning tools for their intended purpose and as they reflect personal learning preferences and purposes  – i.e. process, create, investigate, organize, evaluate, curate, synthesize, collaborate, dialogue and discourse, etc.
  • Analyze, evaluate and select the appropriate learning tool to maximize effectiveness and efficiency of accomplishing a learning process
  • Organize, evaluate, analyse and synthesize learning via a digital curating tool – such as a digital portfolio
  • Use the available learning management system to maximize the goals and purposes of a variety of  learning tasks and processes
  • Create products that demonstrate types of online collaboration (coordination, cooperation, co-planning, co-implementation, co-creation, and co-evaluation) using online collaborative tools
  • Identify their personal digital learning profile/persona  – as it reflects personal learning styles and preferences
  • Adapt an inquiry plan to own learning style
  •  Articulate and evaluate the effectiveness of their preferred tools for learning, collaborating, sharing, networking  in relation to a learning goal

Principles of Digital Presentation

Unit 3: In this unit students will learn the principles of effective design as related to communicating effectively through all modalities appropriate to the task and the audience in the digital environment. A key component of this unit is protecting and respecting the intellectual property rights of themselves and others.

Students will be able to…

  • Express the views and perspectives of others by demonstrating respect for intellectual property by understanding copyright and plagiarism
  • Express personal views and perspectives of themselves as an author and contributor
  • Create and express digital content via storytelling
  • Demonstrate the understanding that the impact of design has on visual presentation

Principles of Digital Inquiry

Unit 4:   In this unit students will work in the digital environment through the points of inquiry as articulated in the BCTLA Framework for Information Literacy and the 21st Century Learner.

Students will be able to…

  • Analyze, evaluate and select the appropriate digital tools for a particular stage of inquiry
  • Demonstrate overtly the innate human drive to being an inquiry learner – connect/wonder, investigate, construct, express and reflect
  • Effectively utilize a research process when investigating an inquiry
  • Independently and strategically manage/control inquiry skills toward a particular goal or purpose
  • Evaluate the authenticity and reliability of information
  • Seek out and engage with mentors and experts


I’ll share the instructional and assessment components of the course in future posts.

My biggest challenges so far have been a lack of continuity with only being at the school once a week, and also that the program is very new and we’ve thrown a lot at our students who are experiencing school in a very different way than they ever have. So, I’ve been overly cautious about adding more to what they are already doing, and I haven’t really been around enough to meaningfully integrate what they have already been doing into what needs to be done for the course. As students develop a bigger digital footprint, this will become easier.

I’m really keen to have others contribute and think that I’ll be looking for mentors for my students soon. If you were teaching this course, what would you add to it? What would you take away? What are some essential resources you would use? Any other ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


*In British Columbia, Canada, local curriculum is known as BAA or Board/Authority Authorized courses.

17 comments on “Applications of Digital Literacy

  1. Hey David,

    This is an excellent course. I am definitely going to borrow from it if that is OK with you?

    What I would add is to make a section, in the digital presentation, for the students to learn some “hard” digital skills like coding, video, audio, etc. Those skills are just so marketable and mesh quite nicely with Unit 3.

    As an entrepreneur, I lean towards students actually making something that is of “real” value. I am not saying that every inquiry must go this route, but the more students start to take the inquiry process and build value for others that has potential revenue, the quicker they will succeed in one heckuva a tough economy.

    I believe students are going to need to be entrepreneurs just to get a job in the near future and proving to organizations that one is capable of making things that produce revenue is a sure way to pique the interest of an employer. Especially straight out of school, kids are going to need a serious advantage now.

    Otherwise, I think it is an incredible course, one that I would be delighted to teach and be a part of. Thank you for all your hard work on updating education and providing a framework for success.

    Keep rocking it!

    1. Jake,
      Go right ahead and use anything you like. My one request is that if (or rather when) you change and improve upon the course… please share back! 🙂

      Students at the Inquiry Hub are starting to think of how their inquiries can have ‘real’ impact. I guess I could be thinking along those lines for this course too… and I am, in that I’m hoping they will create assignments that others can use… but perhaps I should be thinking ‘bigger’. I’m just worried about adding too much to already busy plates and already developed inquiries that students have created themselves. Still, I really like the entrepreneural spirit you suggest!

      1. Thanks David,

        Of course, when/if I get the chance to try some of the things you have laid out, I will definitely give you feedback so we can all move forward as fast as possible.

        Thank you again for all the work you do!

  2. Well done! We’re looking at developing something like this to begin at the middle level, in conjunction with our iPad implementation. I’ll continue to check in and see how this progresses.

  3. Dave, I totally support and think that a ‘course’ like this is something that is necessary for all learners. I particularly like the idea of having students examine their own digital footprint as a starting point. At the Inquiry Hub you are fortunate to have a non-traditional learning environment and I can imagine this makes it easier to integrate the components of this course.

    While I see the need to and would like to shift away from the block by block timetable format that exists in most high schools to a more integrated, cross-curricular approach where students work in cohorts, see fewer teachers and have the chance to build community, I know that many schools are still a ways away from doing so on any large scale. Within the current reality of high school timetables the way I would envision the implementation of a course like this is by creating some cohorts of students, encouraging teachers to collaborate on the design of integrated learning challenges, there by creating the time and opportunity to integrate appropriate aspects of digital literacy. I don’t think the course would be as effective as a stand alone course.

    The other challenge I see, which isn’t a criticism of the course at all, is that many/most teachers do not have the experience or comfort working in these areas. Safe to say, we all have a lot of learning and leading to do in the area of digital literacy. It’s a direction we’re clearly headed in in this world and something we no longer can shy away from in our schools.

    Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading more about your journey with this course!


    1. Aaron,
      Although I’ve designed this as a Grade 10 course, I think it can transfer down to Middle/Junior very well and there is much more freedom at that level to integrate courses.
      For high schools, I’ll describe one, of hopefully many, possibilities: Alternate day blocks where 4 courses and teachers are teaming up and giving their cohort of students perhaps 2 different learning environments (am and pm for example) with 2 teaming teacher each. So, perhaps on one day students have more traditional Math and exploration classes, but on the other day, the Science and Tech Ed teacher collaborate and have students working together in the Tech Ed room and an adjacent room, and in the afternoon the Socials and English teacher are teaming up. It would be even more powerful if on the ‘off’ day, these 4 teachers all had the same prep. This is just as one idea, I’m sure there are others.
      As for the other challenge… I’m still working with my own comfort level teaching some of this stuff. I’m sure others would struggle too. I’d hope we could find some experienced teachers who could add to resources available as we move forward.
      Thanks for the comment,

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