Lessons from the Six Facets of Understanding and Backward Design Process

For the past ten weeks, my cohort and I have been exploring techniques to get more out of the classes we teach.  I have been personally exploring teaching methods that truly achieve student understanding. Interestingly, authors of the book, Understanding by Design, argue that our interpretation of the word “understanding” is narrow and doesn’t encompass the word’s full translation.  In my field of higher education, academic application of “understanding” typically means the “ability to explain”. Students who can explain demonstrate their understanding through academic performance such as achieving high test scores or through products such as essays, where they explain how things work, what they imply, and how the concepts are connected, (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).  While this skill is important, we shouldn’t rely solely on explanation to demonstrate whether or not students are understanding, as we could potentially deemphasize the other meanings that hold an equal value, (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). In fact, there are six facets of understanding which are highlighted in figure 1.1 below.

Infographic of Understanding by Design's six facets of understanding.
Figure 1.1 The Six Facets of Understanding from Understanding by Design.

One of the best practices for accomplishing student understanding (in one or multiple facets) is to lesson plan using the “backward design” approach. In this approach, educators are encouraged to look at their objectives, identify what they want students to learn and accomplish, then design a lesson plan that achieves those goals.  This lesson planning begins by first reviewing and refining objectives and/or learning outcomes. By establishing the lesson plan objectives early on, it ensures that the ultimate mission of the class is clearly defined. In other words, the objectives help set the destination of the lesson.  This step is followed by developing how these objectives/outcomes will be evaluated, setting the road map  for the learning journey.  Lastly, the actual plan with the learning activities is designed ensuring that the objectives are appropriately met, this will where the journey begins.  Figure 1.2 explores the backward design process from Understanding by Design more in-depth.

Figure describing the backward design process.
Figure 1.2 Understanding by Design’s Backward Design Process.

Implementing Backward Design

In our case, it wasn’t enough to understand what backward design is through explanation alone, our cohort was challenged to interpret and apply this design method.  We were given the option of designing a new lesson that we would use in the future, or choose an existing lesson to improve. I chose to focus on a unit from a project-based class I teach, whose main focus is mastering scientific writing while also developing research skills.  The ultimate assessment item of this unit is a final draft of the “Introduction” and “Methodology” sections of the research paper. This assessment focuses on appropriately and expertly incoportating components necessary to set the purpose and procedure of the research project.

Lesson Background. Before reaching this assessment, there are several steps that the students must accomplish.  By the time they turn in the final intro and methods draft, the students have already picked their research food (the topic of the research project and paper), created their hypothesis(es), designed their experiment, and are conducting several experiments a week. In order to successfully craft their experiment, they should have prepared a good annotated bibliography, which is the basis for the introductory section of the paper.  

In this introductory section, students develop a mini literature review exploring the properties and potential outcomes of their foods. Students understand that they are showcasing the work and results of other researchers, what literature is missing, and how their experiment contributes to the body of literature. The final paragraph introduces their experiment along with their hypothesis(es).

The methodology section of the paper is a brief, yet descriptive, mention of the procedure for producing the research food, its variations (typically students choose 2 variations), and other relevant how-to details of their experiment. The idea behind these few paragraphs is that anyone should be able to pick up their paper and clearly understand how to reproduce their experiment.

The Challenge. Historically, students struggle with the concept of a “final” draft, submitting for formal evaluation something that resembles a paper closer to a first rough draft. Students are then disappointed by their low assessment scores.

From the professor’s perspective, this assignment is frustrating to grade and disappointing to see the low quality effort from students. Despite the fact that students take an entire class dedicated to research writing prior to this class, it is evident that they have not mastered it.  In particular, they struggle with the content of these two sections. The two most common comments made in their writing is that some sections have far too much “fluff” or unnecessary explanation while other sections are too vague or lack clarity. They have a hard time writing concisely but descriptively.

From the student’s perspective (based on course evaluations and face-to-face feedback) the assignment is hard, they need more instruction on the writing process, and they have a misunderstanding of what the term “final draft” means. Students always comment that the writing portion is the most frustrating component of the course.

Students are not motivated to practice writing skills on their own though they are encouraged to write several drafts prior to the final draft due date. To help understand what content should be included, students  examine examples of scientific writing by identifying the necessary components of the intro and methods sections. Students become very good at identifying these pieces yet still struggle to apply them to their own work. This is likely because most students wait to write their first rough draft the night before the final draft is due, are not familiar with the proper draft writing process, or underestimate the difficulty of scientific writing and do not seek outside assistance. 

Revising the lesson. In an effort to resolve frustration from both the professor’s and student perspectives, my mission is to find simple, actionable solutions to address the issues present above. I would like to see students moving away from frustration to feeling challenged and having the intrinsic motivation to practice becoming great scientific writers.  One possible solution is making this draft process more collaborative. Since students become very good at identifying necessary components in the works of others, by providing more peer and instructor formative feedback, any clarity issues and missing content would be identified earlier. Students would also be encouraged to review their own work more frequently using the RISE model, addressing the issue of last-minute drafts.

By incorporating more collaboration, this provides an opportunity to focus on building digital citizenship.  In particular, I wish to address the ISTE student standard of digital citizenship that “develops safe, legal, and ethical behavior” when using technology by allowing students to write their drafts using a Google Doc collaboration, (ISTE, 2017).  Another way to implement this standard is through the curation process leading to the annotated bibliography using the web app, Diigo.  A second aspect of the digital citizenship standard I wish to address is “responsibly using and sharing intellectual property”, (ISTE, 2017).  Students will encounter this at various aspects of the class as they will rely heavily off of the works of others.

By working backwards to design a solution, I realized that all of the challenges faced by students in writing the final draft was actually pretty easy to overcome once I had all of the right tools and techniques.  My solution did involve significant re-arranging of existing helpful class topics, removal of unhelpful topics, and implementation of topics that previous students had identified as missing. Figure 1.3 summarizes the unit lesson planning with the new topics highlighted in bolded, yellow font.

Chart depicting a summary of the intro and methods unit learning and teaching activities.
Figure 1.3. Summary of the Intro and Methods Unit Learning and Teaching Activities.

As depicted by Figure 1.3 above, the concept of digital citizenship is introduced through an online literature curation process in which the students collect, organize, and annotate relevant research articles.   This new assignment is a spin-off of an existing assessment, annotated bibliography, that allows students not only to cultivate new skills, but provide a helpful tool to better capture information from the articles they read. Students are still required to submit an annotated bibliography but the artifact has been changed to include self-reflection.

The biggest change in this unit is the introduction of the three-step formative feedback process using the RISE model where students undergo peer, self, and instructor feedback.  Through this new process, it will help students write multiple drafts prior to the submission of the final draft. Sharing their work and thoughts are made simpler through the use of Google Docs.  This new collaboration effort allows students to work together and share their expertise to gain a better understanding of the draft writing process.

Final Thoughts on the Backward Design Process.

Wiggins and McTighe admit that is it difficult to follow this design process step by step without fighting the desire to skip to the next step or write one area with another in mind, (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).  This was the case for me. The objectives and the evaluation criteria were clear as they were based off of accredited standards and those featured elements of scientific writing. The challenge existed in the preparation steps necessary to help students achieve those objectives. However, the most illuminating moment was the emphasis on the evaluation process.  By taking a closer look at my unit planning and through considerable reflection, I had realized that there were missing components that were not setting up my students to achieve the desired outcomes. It was like I had the the destination in mind, I knew the road I needed to take but I forgot which vehicle was going to get me there most efficiently.  Though I did fight the urge to jump straight into lesson planning, the backward design process helped remind me of what was important for this unit and better equipped me to  address the existing problems that I was previously unsure how to solve.

What I’ve also learned to appreciate is that as an educator, you are never quite done with this process.  One benefit that I had as I was revising my unit planning was the previous feedback I received from my students.  If they hadn’t voiced their frustrations in a constructive way, I wouldn’t have been able to address these issues so specifically. I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, but rather just fix the small area that was not working. Thanks to their feedback, my design process was streamlined and poignant. As I gear up to implement these changes in the upcoming quarters, I look forward to the improved successes of my students while also being cognisant of the fact that I will, at some point, need to revisit the backward design process and make small yet significant changes again.


International Society for Technology in Education, (2017).  The ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Building Computational Thinking through a Gamified Classroom

Who says playing video games doesn’t teach you anything?  Playing and creating games could actually help students develop another 21st century skill, computational thinking (CT).  Computational thinking is  a form of problem solving that takes large, complex problems, breaks them down into smaller problems, and uses technology to help derive solution. In deriving solutions, students engage in a systematic form of problem solving that involves four steps: 1) “decomposition” where a complex problem is broken down into smaller, more manageable problems, 2) “pattern recognition” or making predictions by finding similarities and differences between the broken down components, 3) “abstraction” developing general principles for the patterns that emerge, and  4) “algorithm design”, creating step-by-step instructions to solve not only this problem but other similar problems in the future, (Google School, 2016). By engaging in computational thinking, “students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions, (ISTE, 2017).  In other words, the key to successfully following this process is that students develop their own models rather than simply applied existing models, (Google School, 2016).

Figure 1.1 Components of Computational Thinking
Figure 1.1 Components of Computational Thinking

In researching ways to apply computational thinking in the classroom, I ran across scholarly articles discussing the gamified classroom. I have always been intrigued with this concept, from my own experience students are so much more engaged during class time when the required content is converted into a game.  During these game sessions, my role changes from the the person delivering the content, to the person delivering the game (i.e. asking the questions).  The students are responsible for providing the content by providing solutions to the posed questions, thereby evoking problem-solving skills and in some cases, critical thinking skills. This idea-thread then led me to think “what are some ways that a “gamified” classroom can help develop computational thinking?”

To help answer my question, I came across two articles that pinpointed models in game-design to build computational thinking:

Article 1: Yang & Chang, 2013. Empowering students through digital game authorship: Enhancing concentration, critical thinking, and academic achievement.

Yang and Chang explore how students can increase their motivation for learning when they are allowed to design their own game given a specific topic.  During the game design process there is significant problem-solving that occurs because of the interaction and the immediate feedback the process entails.  In addition, students gain high order thinking such as building creativity, and critical thinking. The authors mention three game building software that does not require extensive coding skills: RPG Maker, Game Maker, and Scratch. During their study, the researchers investigated the effects of game design process on seventh grade biology students that were using either Flash animation (digital flash cards)  or RPG Maker.  The investigated effects included concentration, critical thinking, and academic performance. Their result demonstrated that the group using the RPG maker had significant improvements on critical thinking and academic performance, while no significant difference was noted on concentration for both groups.

Article 2: Kazimoglu, et. al., 2012.  A serious game for developing computational thinking and learning introductory computer programming.

Kazimoglu et. al. begin their inquiry by providing a few definitions.  It is important to understand the terminology they use, mainly defining any game used for educational purposes as a “serious” game.  They acknowledge that several definitions of computational thinking exist so they create their own definition that require the following elements: 1) conditional logic (true vs. false conditions); 2) building algorithms (step-by-step instructions); 3) debugging (resolving issues with the instructions); 4) simulation (modeling); and 5) distributed computation (social sharing). The authors are challenged to create a non-threatening introduction to programming unit to combat common student perception that programming is “difficult.” Kazimoglu et. al. believe that when students are allowed to engage in game design, they are motivated to learn which provokes problem solving. They take this approach to their introduction programming class where they challenge students through a series of exercises using the Robocode platform. At the end of the study, all students successfully completed the exercise, engaging in problem-solving skills.

Conclusions. Interestingly, both of these articles struggle to exactly define “computational thinking” and both mention that specific research investigating the extent to which games can develop CT is lacking.  However, what both can agree on is that CT is best developed when students are the game designers.  In order to do this, both studies involved elements of programming instruction to help students successfully build their games.

While these articles offer models into successfully implementing computational thinking through game design and creation, it was a little disheartening to discover that programming instruction was a necessary component. My inclination was to think how can these processes be implemented and/or adapted in other classroom scenarios particularly when programming instruction may or may not be feasible.  Interestingly, not all researchers agree that programming need be involved in successful CT implementation. Voogt et. al. argue that although most research on CT involves programming, because CT is a thinking skill,  it does not require programming in order to be successfully implemented, (Voogt et. al., 2015). In fact, in a literature review conducted by Voogt demonstrated that students do not automatically transfer CT skills to a non-programming context when instruction focused on programming alone. The strongest indicator of CT mastery was actually heavily dependant on instructional practices that focuses on application, (Voogt et. al., 2015).

The lack of a standard definition of computational thinking also needs to be addressed. The two articles above and the Voogt researchers agree that discrepancies exist among current definitions of computational thinking.  To avoid confusion regarding the role of programming and other such technologies, computational thinking can be simply defined as a way of processing information and tasks to solve complex problems, (Voogt et. al., 2015).  It is a way to look at similarities and relationships between a problem and follow a systematic process to reaching a solution.  Figure 1.2 summarizes this simplified process.

Figure 1.2 Simplified Computational Thinking Components
Figure 1.2 Simplified Computational Thinking Components

According to this new context, it is not necessary to program games in order for students to build computational thinking.  Allowing students to participate in systematic artifact creation will do the trick.  Some examples of artifact creation without the use of programing include: remixing music, generating animations, developing websites, and writing programs.  The main idea of this artifact creation process is that students follow procedures that can be applied to similar problems. Figure 1.3 highlights this artifact creation process.

Figure 1.3 Artifact Creation Process for Computational Thinking
Figure 1.3 Artifact Creation Process for Computational Thinking

How can this artifact creation process be used in creating gamified classroom?  To help me explore this issue, one of my colleagues suggested allowing students to develop and design their own board game. While the solution seems low-tech, others agree with this strategy.  Michele Haiken, an educational leadership for ISTE, writes about adapting “old school” games for the classroom to help develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, (Haiken, 2017).  Students can even create an online “quest,” scavenger hunt, or create a “boss event” to problem-solve computationally, (Haiken, 2017).  For more tech-y solutions, existing platforms and/or games such as GradeCraft and 3DGameLab can be used to  apply computational thinking in a gamified classroom, (Kolb, 2015). Regardless of the method used, low-tech board games or high-tech game creation through programming, allowing students to participate in the artifact creation process helps to build computational skills that they can then apply to other complex problems to create their own models.


Google School, (2016). What is computational thinking? [Youtube Video]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJKzkVZcozc&feature=youtu.be.

Haiken, M., (2017).  5 ways to gamify your classroom. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/explore/articledetail?articleid=884.

International Society for Technology in Education, (2017).  The ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students.

Kazimoglu, C., et. al., (2012). A serious game for developing computational thinking and learning introductory computer programming. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 47, 1991-1999.

Kolb, L., (2015). Epic fail or win? Gamifying learning in my classroom. Retrived from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/epic-fail-win-gamifying-learning-liz-kolb.

Voogt J, et. al., (2015). Computational thinking in compulsory education: Toward an agenda for research and practice. Education and Technologies, 20(4), 715-728.

Yang, Y. C., & Chang, C. (2013). Empowering students through digital game authorship: Enhancing concentration, critical thinking, and academic achievement. Computers & Education, 68(c), 334–344.

Innovation Through Using Problem-Based Learning

Whenever I think of the word “innovation,” I am reminded of the bear, honey, and powerline story. If you are not familiar with this story, I’ll offer a brief synopsis here, though there are other detailed versions available.

Employees of a powerline company met to brainstorm the issue of snow and ice accumulation on power lines which would down the lines in winter months. Despite formal, morning-long brainstorming, the session yielded little results. Frustrated, the team decided to take a short break. While on break, a few of the team members began to talk over coffee where one team member reminisced about how he got chased by a bear while out servicing the lines. After a good laugh, other team members jokingly suggested that they get bears to remove the snow/ice by placing honey pots on top of the powerlines. Continuing the joke, one team member suggested that they use helicopters to place the pots.  This idea was put to rest as another team member mentioned that the vibrations from the helicopters would scare the bears. Suddenly they realized they had a great solution on their hands, the company could use helicopters to remove the snow/ice through the force and vibrations caused by the helicopter blades. Because of this impromptu brainstorming session, using helicopters to remove snow and ice from powerlines is a common practice today.

diagram of a bear, honey, and a helicopter facilitating innovation.
Figure 1.1 A bear, honey, and a helicopter for innovation.

I like this story because it dispels the misconception that to be innovative you must create something new, like a product or a service.  Instead, innovation can be a way to problem solve. Much like the process that unfolded in the bear story, students should be encouraged to problem solve in creative ways.  By offering students opportunity to seek, identify, and apply information, they are building cognitive flexibility, a 21st century skill, (Kuo et. al., 2014). Cognitive flexibility encourages the development of creativity needed for innovation, a concept that involves the ISTE innovative designer standard where “students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions,” (ISTE, 2017).

So then, how do you get students to begin thinking less about the “correct answer” and more “bears, honey, and helicopters” for innovation? This can be particularly difficult when students historically have been offered a “right” and “wrong” depiction of problems. Students can be “eased” into creativity through scaffolding using the systematic thinking concept of the creative problem solving model, (Kuo et. al., 2014). A summary of the model can be found in figure 1.2 below.  

Diagram of the Creative Problem Solving Model
Figure 1.2 The Creative Problem Solving Model

The creative problem solving model transitions students between understanding a problem, generating ideas about the problem, and finding solutions to that problem, (Kuo et. al., 2014).  The students evolve their thinking from identification to more complex thinking, ultimately evoking creativity and innovation.

While the creative problem solving model can be used to build cognition through various problem-solving steps, problem-based learning (PBL) can help format the classroom to help achieve self-directed learning. An instructor can start with any question-type from the creative problem solving model and allow students to work through that question with PBL.  The general process for designing a problem-based classroom is demonstrated in figure 1.3 below.  

Diagram depicting the Problem-Based Learning Process
Figure 1.3 The Problem-Based Learning Process

According to the National Academies Press, a PBL activity focuses on student-centered learning where the instructor is a facilitator or guide and the students work together to gather information, then generate ideas to solve the problem. The problem itself becomes the tool to obtain knowledge and develop problem solving skills, (National Academies Press, 2011).  PBL is not without its faults, in using PBL, students have slightly lower content knowledge than in the traditional classroom and students in a group may not share the same level of cognition, (National Academies Press, 2011).  Despite this, students engaging in PBL have a higher retention of content than in traditional classrooms, are better able to apply their knowledge, and have a deeper understanding of the content, (National Academies Press, 2011).

Putting the Theory into Practice: The Investigation

Several of the classes that I teach are content-based/coverage-based classes. These classes are designed to be foundational, meant to prepare students for higher level or more in-depth, application-based classes later on. As I was thinking about problem-based learning, I started wondering: “how can we fully expect students to become problem-solvers and apply content in more advanced classes when all they are expected to do is identify a concept in these foundational classes”?  Students really don’t understand the importance of a particular topic because the idea of application and innovation isn’t introduced until they are in another class.  To help give these coverage-based classes more meaning to the students now, I am considering applying more PBL-based activities to directly replace coverage-based activities. My investigation leads me develop the two guiding questions below that will help me gather ideas on how to solve this problem. I realize that I am essentially engaging in my own PBL.

Question 1: What are some examples of problem-based, or “idea-finding” class activities that better support student learning in coverage-based classes?  One resource that addresses this question is from the National Academies Press who published a summary of two workshops conducted in 2011 on “Promising Practices in Undergraduate Science.” The selected chapter (Chapter 4) summarizes the benefits of problem-based learning and describes 3-methods that show promise in content-heavy classrooms. Additionally the chapter provides templates or guiding principles for problem based activities, case-scenarios, and complex problems that are clear, concise, and general enough that they can be applied to various assignments or learning activities.  However, this chapter does not address specific examples to use as a model.  Despite this, the chapter is supportive in building theory and gathering initial ideas for PBL in the classroom. Another resource that may help address this question comes from the The Creative Classroom Project.  The project is a website created by the Eramus project led by university lecturers in Estonia specializing in digitally-enhanced learning scenarios.  The website/blog provides not only offers theory-based ideas but actual examples of the various methods that use PBL.  The professors call the various PBL methods “learning scenarios” and base their work off of a “trialogical learning design.” Though most of the examples are for primary and secondary education, the formatting  is helpful in brainstorming similar scenarios for higher education.

Question 2: How/can ICT be used to enhance learning in those above examples? To be honest, I was not sure I would find very many examples on how to apply technology in PBL.  I was quite mistaken.  Depending on the goal or scope of the learning activity, a multitude of tech apps and websites can be applied to the various PBL methods. Here are just a few examples of tech resources that can be used with PBL:

  • LePlanner lesson plan templates from the Creative Classroom Project. This resource provides several examples of specific tech such as padlet, pearltree, and mindmiester, that can be used to enhance classroom activities. The templates also provide lesson plans (via LePlanner software) which includes description of objectives, class activities that meets the objectives, and even includes timelines for each activity.
  • Digital storytelling corresponds with the case-studies (case scenario) PBL method. According to the National Academies Press chapter, one of the justifications for using case studies is that it is a form of storytelling.  Storytelling helps students learn by integrating knowledge, reflecting on ideas, and later articulating them while considering various perspectives, (National Academie Press, 2011).  Digital storytelling is a way to introduce technology as a problem-solving tool and helps students express their various perspectives. This digital storytelling resource offers background information about digital storytelling, the seven elements of storytelling, and resources (tech solutions) can be explored. I had never considered using blogs, pinterest, and other such social media resources for the purposes of digital storytelling.

The Next Steps.

This investigation has been a great first step in generating ideas for implementing more PBL activities into my content-intensive courses. There seems to be an endless world of possibilities for  integrating technology to develop creative solutions and innovation in the classroom. What I find interesting is that my findings mirrors that of the bear, honey, and helicopter story.  I discovered that coming up with a solution to my questions doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel, but rather considers ideas/products that already exist and using them in creative ways.  For example, I would have never considered using the Pinterest app or even Google Docs as a creative solution to digital storytelling.  Nor would I have considered that developing good problem-solving skills for students simply involves asking the right questions.

My process doesn’t end here. If I choose to implement PBL, the next steps will involve the six-step process highlighted in this article to successfully design, implement, and evaluate problem-based learning.  I need to carefully consider the major objectives of my course(s) and the amount of time needed for this process.  As suggested by the National Academies Press, successfully implementing any of the PBL methods takes time which may not always be a luxury in coverage-based classes. Before moving forward, I need to understand that I would not be able implement PBL with every topic but must carefully select activities that would help solidify the major objectives of the course.

My colleagues and professors have also suggested using alternative models such as the  human-centered design or Kathleen McClaskey’s Continuum of Choice (see figure 1.4 below).

Diagram of the Continuum of Choice.
Figure 1.4 McClaskey’s Continuum of Choice. (Continuum of Choice TM by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.)

I would need to investigate which design model best fits with specific course needs as well as brainstorm what questions need to be asked in order for problem-solving to be effective. Perhaps the answer to these questions will be course-specific and may require the use different models for different activities to further promote cognitive flexibility.


International Society for Technology in Education, (2017).  The ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students.

Kuo, F.-R., Chen, N.-S., & Hwang, G.-J. (2014). A creative thinking approach to enhancing the web-based problem solving performance of university students. Computers & Education, 72(c), 220–230.

National Academies Press. (2011). Chapter 4: Scenario-, problem-, and case-based teaching and learning. In National Academies Press, Promising practices in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: Summary of two workshops.(pp. 26-34.) Washington, DC. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17226/13099.

Pata, K. (2016). Problem-based learning in task-based and inquiry-based scenarios. [Blog] Retrieved from: https://creativeclassroomproject.wordpress.com/creative-classroom-collection/problem-based-learning/

Effective Tech Tools in Content Curation for Research

The search for technology solutions that build 21st century skills to empower students continues with the concepts of “knowledge construction” and “content curation”. The ISTE standards for students defines knowledge construction by the ability of students to, “…critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others”, (ISTE, 2017). This means that students use effective search strategies to investigate meaningful resources linked to their learning, critically analyze information, create a collection of artifacts demonstrating connections/conclusions, and explore real world issues, developing “theories and ideas in pursuit of solutions,” (ISTE, 2017).  Unlike any other time in history, students today face an enormous challenge of receiving, processing, and using countless bytes of content per day.  Understanding how to decipher useful vs. unuseful, relevant vs. irrelevant, credible vs. not credible information is an incredibly important 21st century skill.  Some are even saying that “content curator” and “knowledge constructor” will be job titles of the near future, (Briggs, 2016).  

Knowledge construction is a facet of the sociocultural theory using a social context for learning where students develop a better understanding of content through collaboration. Students work together to gather information and develop solutions to real-world problems, effectively forcing students to move past their existing knowledge of the world, (Shukor, 2014). Using real-world problems peaks students’ interest of assignments and allows them to put their own spin on a probable solution. This problem-based model allows educators to promote learning through activities that acknowledge what students already know, consider what students need to know to create a solution, and cultivate ideas to solve the problem, (Edutopia, 2016).  To successfully run a problem-based classroom, the focus must shift from evaluation of final products (i.e. correct answers on a worksheet) to evaluation of the process in which the answers were produced and the content that the students cultivated.  Because of this, the final product or assignment is more variable from group to group based on the results of the collaborative process, but should reflect knowledge attainment, (Edutopia,2016).  Shifting focus to a problem-based learning model has benefits beyond the content that students construct through their group work. Students are exposed to more skills such as planning, monitoring, synthesizing, organizing, and evaluating, (Shukor, 2014 & Briggs, 2016). While content curation may not be the main focus of an assignment, understanding how to arrange information in a purposeful way builds information fluency.  According to education leader Saga Briggs, content curation is defined as placing purpose and intention on information that should then be shared (perhaps via social bookmarking), used towards the creation of an artifact or final product, and the content curator should provide their own contribution to the body of work, i.e. provide something of value to their target audience, (Briggs, 2016).  

Developing information fluency, or clearly communicating purpose of information, is a key 21st century skill for students. One problem that students face with information fluency is with current student search strategies. Students miss out on the critical analysis portion in information selection, (O’Connor & Sharkey, 2013). It is difficult, or even impossible, to communicate purpose of information without first critically analyzing the information for relevance.  Figure 1.1 summarizes O’Connor & Sharkey’s depiction of the current state of student search strategies.

Diagram Summary of O'Connor & Sharkey's Current State of Student Search Strategies.
Figure 1.1 O’Connor & Sharkey’s Current State of Student Search Strategies

 This search strategy depicts a vicious cycle. The educator’s ultimate goal is to get students to conduct higher level investigation (i.e. critical analysis), but most students never move past the “grazing” or the background search.  This problem is further exacerbated by educators who do not provide feedback (see my previous post on formative feedback). Therefore, there is a need to teach students how to interpret, synthesize, and construct new concepts through effective search strategies, (O’Connor & Sharkey, 2013).

Putting the Theory into Practice: The Content Curation Investigation.

When challenged to develop a personalized question addressing information fluency, my nutrition research class resurfaced. These researchers-in-training need to develop content curation skills as an essential part of conducting research.  One assignment in that course reminded me of the O’Connor & Sharkley conundrum.  Students are required to conduct a literature search through the university’s library on a topic related to a food or ingredient they wish to experiment on.  From this literature search, students create an annotated bibliography whose goal is to gather information on what work has already been done with a particular food or ingredient, understand the key concepts and/or patterns that emerge from that body of work, and help students refine their own work by analyzing and concluding what is still left to investigate.  Historically, students “graze” through this assignment, missing that critical analysis piece.  Although students do receive feedback, it is summative and not formative. Keeping all of these current issues in mind, my question began to unfold:

“What simple tech tool can effectively be used to help students better annotate and organize scientific literature when conducting a literature search?”

Resource Search. When investigating possible annotation tools to help students better curate and organize information from scientific literature, three main criteria came to mind. The tool must: 1) offer annotation features; 2) allow for organization of literature and/or annotations; 3) allow for collaboration and sharing. Annotation is the skill of focus for the assignment.  Being able to cultivate useful information via annotation from scientific works will allow students to create connections through the practice of active reading. The goal of annotation in this sense means that students are reading to not only review what information already exists, but also analyze that existing information to infer what may be missing (i.e. literature gaps), and connect their work to the existing literature.  A tool that aids in organization will also help fulfill the ISTE standard for students on knowledge curation by thinking about the literature as categories to better extract information from each resource, thereby helping to also develop their information fluency.  How students classify their information will help them organize their ideas and later their final artifacts.  Lastly, the ability to collaborate and share their annotation/organization is important to receive formative feedback.

My investigation began with a google search using “social bookmarking for education” and “web annotation tools for education” as keywords. Several articles from edtech sources listing the top favorites were reviewed, resulting in over thirty different types of tools and apps.  To narrow this selection, I applied the three criteria above which produced five possible options.  A summary of each option is provided in table 1.1 below.  

Table Comparing 5 Social Bookmarking Websites
Table 1.1 Social Bookmarking Website Comparison

Resource Comparison. From this investigation, Diigo, Mendeley, and Scrible fulfill the three criteria above without interface issues, currency issues, and are still available.  Crocodoc is no longer available (R.I.P. Crocodoc), and A.nnotate’s user interface looks dated and does not offer all of the added features found on the other three websites. In fact, when searching for reviews of A.nnotate, the latest one I could find dates back to 2008.  Comments in that review article suggest using Google Docs or even Microsoft Word as an alternative to A.nnotate.

Diigo offers a library that supports multi-source uploads including pdfs, images, screenshots, and URLs into their library (see Figure 2.1 below).

Diigo Library Screenshot
Figure 2.1 Diigo Library Screenshot

The highlight feature of this app is the ability to organize and categorize resources using tags. These tags can be easily searched for quick access to a specific category or categories. The user then has the option to annotate the resource which can be shared with a group that the user creates (the assumption is that group members also have Diigo)  or through a link the user shares. Other features and benefits are explored here.  Diigo is a free service, or rather at sign up, the user must choose a package, the most basic is free. The free version allows up to 500 cloud bookmarks and 100 webpage and pdf highlights. The downside, the free version doesn’t not allow for collaborative annotation.

My initial impression of Mendeley is that it is very research-focused. Upon further investigation, my impression was correct as the website is a partner with Elsevier, a parent company to many peer-review journals. In the profile creation process, the user is asked to fill out a short survey on intended use and level of use (i.e. undergraduate v.s. graduate research).  Like Diigo, the library allows for uploading pdfs, or articles directly from the web. The library can be organized into folders, but does not allow for tagging.  See figure 2.2 below.

Screenshot of Mendeley Library
Figure 2.2 Mendeley Library Screenshot

The annotation feature offers highlighting and sticky notes (comments).  Articles can be shared via emailable link for individuals who do not have a Mendeley account or the user may elect to create a group to share documents to peers with accounts.  An interesting feature of Mendeley is the desktop version of the website that saves permanent article copies to the user’s desktop to allow for offline work.

Scrible seems to be a fairly new website. While the purpose of this site is to allow for social bookmarking and web annotation just like Diigo and Mendeley, it also has a classroom feature. Educators can upload resources that all students can access. Scrible can also be incorporated into an existing Google Classroom. Students can appreciate a seamless integration with Google Docs and as an added bonus, the site will automatically create citations and bibliographies.  Figure 2.3 shows the Scrible library.

Screenshot of Scrible Library
Figure 2.3 Scrible Library Screenshot

The downside of this website is that while the classroom, the google doc integration, and the citation features are free for K-12 classroom use, it is not free for higher education use. Higher ed users are given a 30-day free trial and then the program converts to the basic plan which offers the exact same features as Diigo.

Conclusion. Diigo and Mendeley are easy to use, offer sharing features, and connect to social media for collaboration though neither support collaborative annotation in the free versions. In addition to the features mentioned above, Scrible does allow collaborative annotation in the basic package. Diigo seems to be optimized for websites and web articles while Mendeley is optimized for research articles, with Scrible somewhere in-between.

Since all three websites offer the same desired features, all three score highly on the Triple E rubric: 5 points on engagement in the learning, 6 points on enhancement of learning goals, and 5 points on extending the learning goals. Therefore all three would fulfill the assignment goals. In order to pick one appropriate for this assignment, I would need to consider the students. Mendeley, designed specifically for research articles, is not only a good fit for the assignment, but students could  continue to use this website should they go to graduate school. Diigo is focused on web articles and could be used by students in their other classes or other aspects of their professional lives. Scrible, having more of a focus on education, may not be equally as useful outside of the classroom.

The Next Steps.

Though any of the three websites would be suitable for the annotation assignment, I do not teach this section alone. I’ve enlisted the help of the university librarian who co-teaches literature search skills for this course. She was quite enthusiastic at the thought of web-tool integration with this assignment and we will be adding another criteria addressing seamless integration with our library website and resources to make our final decision.  


Briggs, S. (2016, July 27). Teaching content curation and 20 resources to help you do it [Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/content-curation-20-resources/

Edutopia. (2016, November 1). Solving real-world problems through problem-based learning. Edutopia. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/practice/solving-real-world-issues-through-problem-based-learning

International Society for Technology in Education, (2017).  The ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students.

O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013). Establishing twenty-first-century information fluency. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 53(1), 33–39.

Shukor, N. A., Tasir, Z., Van der Meijden, H., & Harun, J. (2014). Exploring students’ knowledge construction strategies in computer-supported collaborative learning discussions using sequential analysis. Educational Technology & Society, 17(4), 216-228.

Incorporating Feedback Loops to Develop An Empowered Student

Being a successful professor means preparing students to be successful. Delivering knowledge-centered classes on a particular topic is no longer the primary task of professors. Gone are the days of the large lecture halls, professor front and center, exhibiting knowledge for students to somehow absorb.  Scholars are now calling for students and professors to engage in a new learning paradigm that provokes the development of specific skills for the 21st century.  This paradigm includes teaching five major career skills that are highly sought after by employers today.  Mastering these five essential skills means that students: 1) thrive on change by being receptive to feedback, 2) are able to get things done independently and without direction, 3) are open-minded, understand their own biases, and appreciate differences in others, 4) know how to prioritize tasks, and are good at influencing behavior of others, 5) facilitate activities and relationships within an organization, (Kivunja, 2014).  This is not an easy feat as skills need time and practice to be cultivated. The first ISTE standard for students calls for the empowered learner as a mechanism to help build 21st century skills.  The empowered learner is one that, “…leverages technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competence in their learning goals,” (ISTE, 2017). An empowered student is one that is at the forefront of their learning by thinking beyond the lecture and is autonomous because they have intrinsic motivation, (Stefanou et. al., 2004).  

Figure 1.1 Empowered Student Flowchart

So if students need to develop self-determination and become autonomous in order to thrive in the current workforce, are we, as educators, doing our part in preparing them to do so?  This question can only be answered positively if we adopt a student-centered approach to teaching.  The authors of the book, Understanding by Design, challenge educators to consider the backward design approach. In this design approach, the educator starts their plan with the desired results, determines which indicators are appropriate for measuring the outcomes of their results, then plans the experiences and/or instruction required to achieve these outcomes, (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).  When students are informed of the desired results and are allowed to take part in the creation process, that’s when self-determination and autonomy develops, (Stefanou et. al, 2004).

It is also important to remember that students are still developing these skills so simply stating the purpose or goal of an assignment and leaving them to their own devices will not help them develop autonomy.  Coupled with the student-centered approach, formative feedback must be included to help guide and remind students of the big-picture results.  Formative assessment when conducted as a feedback loop helps to “enhance performance and achievement,” (Wiggins, 2012).  Essentially, this means that students are given consistent, on-going, and immediate feedback as a way to encourage continual practice of skills.  Formative feedback is not evaluated formally (i.e. no grades are assigned to the feedback) and does not offer extensive evaluation, advice, nor it is purely praise.  Instead, formative feedback offers the student a “gauge of their efforts to reach a goal”, (Wiggins, 2012).  In order to provide good feedback, the assessor must first observe, then comment or ask questions on those observations, (Wiggins, 2012). Figure 1.2 summarizes Wiggin’s strategy on formative feedback.

Figure 1.2

Putting the Theory Into Practice: The Investigation.

In our digital education leadership program, we were asked to create a question(s) related to the classes we teach and investigate a resource(s) that would aid in addressing the first ISTE standard for students.  I teach a nutrition research class whose main purpose is to develop not only students’ research skills but also build autonomy as researchers. Students must  investigate a food-related issue, then design and implement an experiment, later report their findings through a final research paper. This class explores the research process including hypothesis creation, experiment -building and -testing, and scientific writing.  The current challenge is to allow enough freedom for autonomy to develop while providing  direction to ensure correct research protocol is established.  

I began my brainstorming process for a student-centered approach to the issue by first identifying the important design outcomes. I started with a goal: Allow students to take their research project into their own hands while working toward a common goal and using the research protocol. Though students will be developing autonomy and need to be self-driven, they will also need appropriate feedback in order to gauge their work at critical points in the quarter. With this goal in mind, two main questions developed: 1) What feedback timeline would be most effective to design a researcher-centered approach to teaching nutrition research classes? and 2) What computer driven-tools would effectively provide timely and ongoing feedback?  The findings of my investigation and potential resources are explored below.

Question 1: What feedback timeline would be most effective to design a researcher-centered approach to teaching nutrition research classes? Upon further investigation, this question can’t be answered directly. Each assessment will vary in scope and length, therefore a prescribed timeline is not feasible. However, according to education leaders Hicks and Wiggins, they both agree that formative feedback is the best approach using the student-centered or researcher-centered approach.  As a reminder, formative feedback is not formally assessed but rather allows the student/researcher an opportunity to take a step back to evaluate and reflect upon their own work in relation to their research goals. The timing of feedback should be immediate, ongoing, and consistent,(Hicks 2014, Wiggins 2012).  Feedback should follow a specific format which does not make judgements nor evaluates the work.  Hicks references the RISE model (see figure 1.3) to format formative feedback in a meaningful way, which is why I’ve chosen the model as the resource of choice for this question.

Figure 1.3

The RISE model can be used for self-assessment, peer-review, or evaluator review in formative feedback.  The process begins by assessing the degree to which the current work meets the goals/objectives of the assignment.  The subsequent steps allow for specific, tangible, and actionable suggestions to the author for improvements on their current version and future version of the work. The benefit of using this model is that as the feedback advances towards higher steps, it also involves higher level of thinking. RISE allows the user to get at the heart of student-centered learning by allowing students to evaluate and create works. I have not used this model in action but my predictions for any drawbacks may involve peer-feedback where students skip a level or provide judgements without fully understanding the model itself.  These concerns could be combated with scaffolding and more detailed instruction on the feedback process.

Question 2: What computer-driven tools would effectively provide timely and ongoing feedback? For an assessment item such as a research paper, using a collaboration tool such as G suite or the Google Doc Collaboration feature in CANVAS is ideal.  Google Docs are available to anyone that holds a gmail sign-in, along with several other features of the G suite including: to-do lists, calendar, google hangout, and gchat, just to name a few.  The Google Doc collaboration feature in CANVAS allows students to access a google doc on one google drive (usually belonging to the instructor).  The owner of the google drive would then have access to all of the collaboration pages for the class. The use of these collaboration tools is appealing because the docs are easily accessible by students, the professor, or individual providing the feedback.  Formative feedback is simple to provide using the “comment” feature. Google Docs also track changes throughout the life of the document and provides comment notifications in gmail. Using Google Docs would also help address issues related to equality of work among team members (i.e. members doing their fair share of the collaboration). To further my justification of this technology, it would help me improve my current assignment by achieving M and R from the SAMR model.  Google Doc collaboration also scores roughly a 14 on the Triple E rubric (according to my assessment of intended use).

The only downside related to the collaboration tool feature in CANVAS. The feature is not intuitive and somewhat difficult for students to access. It is also not well integrated with Google Docs, for example, simply placing students into groups on CANVAS and assigning these groups to a Google Doc collaboration does not automatically give students access to their group’s Google Doc in the drive.  The instructor has to manually give permission to each student. The collaboration feature also does not link instantly to the gradebook or back to CANVAS where other course materials/resources would be kept.

The Next Steps.

The RISE model and Google Doc tool were well received by my colleagues when evaluating them as resources that resolve my two questions on formative feedback. Not surprisingly, others also shared similar concerns with using Google Doc as a collaboration feature in CANVAS. Since Google Docs can be used independently of CANVAS, this is not a big issue particularly since formative feedback is not associated with a formal grade therefore an association with CANVAS materials or gradebook is not necessary.

Interestingly, most of their feedback on these two resources related to implementation, namely what assessment tools would/could be used to implement the RISE model and would/could Google Apps for Education help facilitate this assessment function? My initial reaction on creating an assessment tool to implement the RISE model was to create “guiding questions” students would answer as part of their feedback comments.  By answering the questions fully, the students would effectively go through the entire model without skipping steps. I have yet to investigate other Google Apps for Education for feedback features.  Though I do not have complete answers to these great questions, I do have the beginning of of my next investigation: Feedback Implementation.


Hicks, T. (2014, October 14). Make it count: Providing feedback as formative assessment. Edutopia. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/providing-feedback-as-formative-assessment-troy-hicks

International Society for Technology in Education, (2017).  The ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students.

(Kivunja, C. (2014). Teaching students to learn and to work well with 21st century skills: Unpacking the career and life skills domain of the new learning paradigm. International Journal of Higher Education, 4(1), p1. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1060566.pdf

Stefanou, Candice R., Perencevich, Kathleen C., DiCintio, Matthew, & Turner, Julianne C. (2004). Supporting Autonomy in the Classroom: Ways Teachers Encourage Student Decision Making and Ownership. Educational Psychologist, 39(2), 97-110.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wiggins, G. (2012, September). 7 keys to effective feedback. Education Leadership. 70 (1).

Wray, E. (2018). RISE Model. Retrieved from: http://www.emilywray.com/rise-model.

Digital Readiness: Departmental Views on Addressing Digital Citizenship

What does a “typical” college student look like? Besides the stereotypical images of a caffeine-fueled, student loan-laded, twenty-something, most people would say that the college student today is very tech savvy.  While it is commonplace to see students carry around a laptop, constantly checking their cell phones, and always connected to social media, do they know how to use technology well? An article written by educational leaders Mike Ribble and Teresa Miller, introduces the concept of digital citizenship, arguing that while being tech savvy is important, being a good digital citizen should also include respect of self and others, education and connection with others, and, protecting self and others, (Ribble & Miller, 2013).  In order to achieve this, they identified nine elements central to digital citizenship as summarized in Table 1.1 below.

Table 1.1

Ribble-Miller’s Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship

Category 1:

Respect Self and Others

·       Digital Etiquette- courtesy and appropriate online actions.

·       Digital Access –similar opportunities for all students.

·       Digital Law- basic laws, and consequences, apply online.

Category 2:

Educations and Connection with Others

·       Digital Communication- avoiding online miscommunication.

·       Digital Literacy- technology know-how.

·       Digital Commerce- safe online purchases.

Category 3:

Protect Self and Others

·       Digital Rights and Responsibility- rules must be followed or rights are revoked.

·       Digital Security- protection of personal information.

·       Digital Health and Welfare- balanced online- offline life.

As Ribble & Miller demonstrate above, to use technology well requires much more than just know-how, also known as, digital literacy.  Digital citizenship is a broad, complex topic that spans a variety of different issues.  Questions on how students should develop digital citizenship and who should teach it, has sparked discussion in the digital education world. While responsibility should fall on many fronts, such as society, family, and peers, educational institutions also hold a responsibility to teach moral and ethical values to their students. The challenge remains, as Ribble & Miller put it:  “How are educational leaders to prepare their students for a digital future when they do not yet fully understand these technologies?” (Ribble & Miller, 2013).

The nine elements of digital citizenship offer a guide to educational institutions on how to better prepare their students.  As a higher education professor, my take on digital citizenship is that educational leaders need to look at technology use and requirements through various perspectives such as from faculty, administrators, and the industry. Though I have a somewhat good understanding of how faculty view technology in the classroom, I was curious to know how do administrators feel about technology and what do specific industries provide as resources for technology in their field?  In preparing for this project, I identified two administrative leaders who could best provide answers to my questions.  Since I teach dietetics, I also sought to understand how the dietetic profession viewed digital citizenship and/or if the profession could provide some best practices as a curriculum guide.

Digital Readiness Interview.

My objective was to first understand what students already do well in terms of digital citizenship and how well educators were prepared to teach the missing elements.  This objective was completed through an interview with two of the departmental leaders at a private university.

The Procedure. The interview consisted of ten questions pertaining to the nine elements of digital citizenship, with exception to digital commerce.  Digital commerce was not addressed in this interview as it was not department-specific. Questions were arranged by the digital citizenship categories (see Table 1.1).  Questions from category one consisted of one question per element addressing digital access, digital law, and digital etiquette.  Category two consisted of one digital communication question, and three digital literacy questions.  Questions addressing category three consisted of one question per element regarding health and welfare, and digital security. Five additional questions were asked addressing digital citizenship in dietetics education.

The interview questions along with detailed instructions were emailed out to the two department leaders about two days prior to their scheduled interview to allow time for reflection.  During the scheduled interview, the two leaders were asked to respond to the questions through their observations between faculty and students.  The response data was collected and compiled for interpretation, coding any similarities and themes among the responses.

The Interview Findings.  The findings of the digital readiness interview positively showed that students demonstrated competency in, or the department was able to provide ample resources for the following digital citizenship elements: digital etiquette, digital access, digital law, digital communication, and digital literacy.  Though these were positive results, small improvements were identified in the areas of digital communication, etiquette, and literacy. For example, a strength identified in digital literacy was providing instruction in industry-specific software, but minor additions could be added to enrich professional social media skills to help better establish a positive online presence.  Students also demonstrated good digital etiquette by communicating with their professors in a professional manner but tended to email their professors with questions that could be easily answered through resources readily available through their class syllabus or through the department website. The other elements of digital citizenship were identified as either addressed by the department but to a limited extent, or not addressed.  These elements included: digital rights and responsibilities, digital security, and digital health and welfare.  Though these elements are addressed by the university through available student resources, improvements on the departmental level can help reinforce these elements. Of these elements, digital security, was identified as an immediate need and steps were taken to help develop awareness and professional development after the interview. The interview findings identified as strengths and areas of improvement are shown in the infographic below.

For the dietetics specific questions, it was determined that the current code of ethics could be used to address digital citizenship concerns.  Since the practice of dietetics relies heavily on this code, adhering to the code would help guide good digital citizenship.  The specific principles that align with digital citizenship are summarized in the infographic below.

Reflection and Conclusions.

The main issue regarding digital readiness, in my opinion, is that educators, including professors, feel like digital immigrants, meaning that they did not grow up with technology and do not feel comfortable with technology.  They may be slow adopters as new technology develops, putting a critical eye into the utility and purpose of each new technology.  Professors may feel a little behind as their students, demonstrating characteristics of digital natives, understand and adopt technology quickly as they have been using technology their whole lives, (Floridi, 2010).  Despite whether someone self-identifies as a digital native or immigrant, it still does not necessarily equate to knowledge of good technology use.  Therefore, the role of the educator in teaching digital citizenship, is to prepare college students for the professional challenges in technology that lie after leaving the safe and secure environment of the university.  This is why teaching digital citizenship is very important.  We need to teach students these skills while allowing them to practice in an environment that is easy to recover from an error.

The results from the department interview showed a commitment to building good digital citizens.  The areas identified for improvement didn’t seem to come as a surprise but rather an acknowledgement that more guidance and support was needed in order to successfully enrich the department programs with the nine elements of digital citizenship.  Given the positive attitude and the open-mindness of the department, all of the elements can be easily incorporated following the JISC recommendations including adapting digital citizenship into existing learning outcomes, (JISC, 2015).  After the interviews, each department leader and I spent a little bit of time brainstorming ideas and were able to successfully identify several minor adjustments to current curriculum, including assignments and course design elements to better improve social media literacy for professional use, digital communication, digital health and welfare, and digital security. As it turns out, the timing was also critical, given that the department was in the midst of evaluating current curriculum, the brainstorm helped to look at what being taught in a new light. In order for the department to fulfill all of its digital citizenship needs, it will need to seek some outside help and set-aside time for professional development.  This is an effort that will require time and significant effort but no more than what is already needed in order to ensure that the students are able to be competitive in their respective industries by graduation.

In terms of digital readiness, what professors need to realize is that the critical thinking and evaluation skills that makes them “slow-adapters” to technology is not a bad thing.  As in the case of the department, the curriculum-wheel does not need to be reinvented, but instead what is needed is a good revamp of the traditional elements of curriculum with a technology-focused twist.  As explored in the post-interview discussions, not all new tech is good tech.  Not every technology will provide optimal functionality and purpose as the current model/version.  Educational institutions have a lot to offer to students.  The key is to forget about digital natives and digital immigrants and all work towards becoming good digital citizens.


Floridi, L. (2010).  “The Information Revolution,” Information—A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3-18.

JISC. (2015). Developing students’ digital literacy. Retrieved from https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-students-digital-literacy.

Ribble, M. & Miller, T.N. (2013).  “Educational Leadership in an Online World: Connecting Students to Technology Responsibly, Safely, and Ethically,” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17:1, 137-45.

Digital Education Leadership Mission Statement

Teaching how to use technology well is important to me. I believe all students, educators, and professionals have the right to a safe, productive, collaborative, and equitable technology experience regardless of whichever mode of technology they choose to use. Technology offers a multitude of opportunities, however not all opportunities prove beneficial nor promote digital well-being in the long run. The digital world is ever-changing, which is why I will promote good digital practices on how to use technology well to ensure the continual positive experiences and interactions online.

My position as a digital education leader offers distinct perspectives as I’ve transitioned from an industry professional as a dietitian focusing on nutrition education, to higher education as a professor of dietetics.  As a dietitian, I follow a code of ethics that ensures safe, professional, and ethical practice. A good dietitian provides quality care that is evidence-based, well-communicated, is confidential, and is someone who understands their professional boundaries well.  As a dietetic professor, this role is magnified as I am charged not only to model this code of ethics but also to teach and assess student’s outcomes based on these ethics.  As technology is further reaching into the professional world, and health information online is becoming commonplace, it is imperative to include technology into the ethics discussion.  Therefore, it is my mission as a dietitian, dietetic educator, and digital education leader to prepare students, faculty, and others in the profession in mastering digital citizenship by providing guidance and modeling safe, ethical, equitable use of technology while promoting cultural awareness through education technology.

Guiding Principles

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) provides a framework for digital education leadership, outlining a set of guidelines ideal for the development and implementation of digital citizenship.  According to ISTE, the role of digital leaders is to “…inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world,” (ISTE, 2017).  Digital citizenship can be accomplished in three major ways: 1) implementing strategies and equipping technology best practices for equitable use, 2) promoting healthy, legal, ethical, and safe use of technology, and 3) using communication and collaboration tools to interact with the community at large, facilitating cultural diversity and global awareness, (ISTE, 2016). To the best of my ability, it is my intention to mirror these practices as they are applied to the dietetics world. I’ve designed the following three guiding principles using the digital citizenship guidelines as performance indicators of my mission.

Guiding Principle # 1: Use technology best practices to provide open-source educational tools that allows for broader nutrition information access and outreach.  This guiding principle is compliant with the ISTE 5a principle regarding equitable access to digital tools and resources.  Access to technology is crucial to educational development and in reaching audiences that wouldn’t normally have access to such educational resources (Jones & Bridges, 2016).  Open-source materials such as courseware, textbooks, and other educational materials is a way to increase access to good-quality nutrition instruction and information for students regardless of type of device used or external access to an educational institution.  Use of open-source resources benefits all as it helps lessen health misinformation and increases awareness of the dietetic profession as a source of credible information.

As an example, in the dietetic world, social media has been used as a model to bridge the equity divide in nutrition education.  Projects such as Oregon State University’s Food Hero uses three major social media platforms to not only share healthy recipes and public health resources but also provides a means to interact with users.  According to the authors Tobey and Manore, this interaction is crucial to the success of their program as it helps increase engagement and maintains positive outcomes of the program, (Tobey & Manore, 2014).  Gathering from their program’s success, Tobey & Manore outline some best practices that can help standardize nutrition education technology tool implementation. Their best practices are summarized in Table 1.1 below. Tobey and Manore’s best practices offer a strategic plan to increase access to nutrition education while maintaining the values and goals of their mission. While they chose to use social media, their best practices can be modified and applied to other open-source materials. By creating, sharing, and using open-source materials using technology best practices, I can help do my part in maximizing equitable access to good-quality nutrition information for all.

Table 1.1

Toby & Manore’s Nutrition Education and Social Media Use Best Practices

Conduct a needs assessment Review of relevant research, and conduct focus groups with target audience to establish needs and vision of social media project.


Select appropriate social media outlet Evaluate social media platforms that will effectively reach target audience, allow for desired information dissemination and contains desired functionality.
Create a posting plan Frequent posting is important to maintain relationship with followers. Posts should be “timely, pleasant, and meaningful.” Content should be engaging.
Integrate a social media team Create a team that follows the program’s goals and vision to contribute content and interact with each other through the platform.
Regularly track your analytics Tracking analytics gathers data that helps stakeholders understand follower demographics, gain insights on how to best relate with the demographic, and to keep the program relevant.

Guiding Principle #2: Apply and promote the dietetics code of ethics in teaching and modeling safe, healthy, legal, ethical uses of digital information.  This guiding principle is in compliance with ISTE 5b regarding ethical issues and digital citizenship.  As mentioned earlier, dietitians must uphold the code of ethics for the profession. Integration of technology into healthcare has called for practice guidelines regarding behavior and practice online. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the professional organization representing registered dietitians, have issued ethical guidelines in an effort to help dietitians maintain a positive digital presence without compromising the credibility of the profession.  These guidelines were created to avoid issues of online privacy violation, unprofessional conduct, and loss of credibility.

Currently, AND promotes digital citizenship by suggesting that dietitians maintain an offline and online balance.  Some of the recommendations include considerations for the time of day that the practitioner is choosing to post on social media and to consider the owner of the social media post particularly when posting on behalf of an organization, (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2013).

Legally-speaking, dietitians must uphold patient confidentiality under the HIPAA law.  This means that dietitians may not share any identifiable information without patient’s consent nor may they use self-published information.  Any confidential information found on an e-chart and accessed by a mobile browser must be configured for encryption prior to access via mobile phone to avoid privacy breech, (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2013).  Additionally, digital literacy and communication is essential.  Online presence must be positively maintained as any post a dietitian makes can be legally reprimanded for threat of defamation or endorsement, (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012).

The blurring lines between professional and personal entities on social media risks ethical breach as any unprofessionalism may reflect poorly on entire profession. The current dietetic code of ethics ensures e-professionalism.  The applicable principles are outlined and summarized in Table 2.1 below. AND’s guidelines for digital citizenship mainly endorses good use of social media and safe access to confidential information, however this code can imply good technology use in other modes digital information as well. By using the current code of ethics as a guide, teaching and modeling digital citizenship to dietetic students adds value to their future profession regardless of the mode in which they will one day practice and communicate professionally.

Table 2.1

Dietetic Code of Ethics: Application for Digital Ethics

❏     Principle 2: high standards of professional practice

❏     Principle 6: not participating in false or misleading practices or communications

❏     Principle 10: practitioner protects all confidential information and/or provides full disclosure about any limitations in protecting confidential information.

❏     Principle 14: professional accountability in increasing professional knowledge and skills to apply them to practice.

❏     Principle 15: Aware of potential conflict of interest.

Guiding Principle #3: Enhance student involvement and collaboration in nutrition education through education technology.  This guiding principle is in compliance with ISTE 5c.  Using technology well also means providing opportunities for technology engagement and collaboration with others.  Doing so helps to engage diversity, enriching students’ experience overall.  In his paper on digital diversity, Robbin Chapman states that when students are allowed to become curators of content by creating artifacts using modes such as blogs, journals, and social media platforms, they are exposed to various perspectives, (Chapman, 2016).  For the nutrition educator, AND recommends understanding the target audience and socializing content in order to allow students and patients to better engage the content, (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2016).  In order to fully capture the idea of digital diversity through Chapman’s and AND’s definitions, simply allowing students to engage with the content is not enough.  Students need to contribute to the content by basis of investigating and presenting their own information, while respecting ownership of the sources they access. There are strict guidelines for dietetics curriculum, therefore allowing students to become curators of content while maintaining curriculum standards can be accomplished as long as the information students access and share through technology come from evidence-based studies, practices, and content, (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2013). By allowing students the freedom to curate their own solutions while given guidance on using and locating evidence-based information, they will gain a broader perspective of the digital diversity and learn how to collaborate respectfully online.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2012). Legal risks of social media: What dietetics practitioners   needs to know. JAND, 112,: 1718- 1723.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2013). The impact of social media on business and ethical practices in dietetics. JAND. 113: 1539-1543.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2016). Practice paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Social media and the dietetics practitioner: Opportunities, challenges, and best practices. JAND. 116: 1825-1835.

ISTE. (2011). Iste coaching standards. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/docs/pdfs/20-14_ISTE_Standards-C_PDF.pdf.

ISTE. (2017, December). ISTE standards for educators. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators.

Marshall Jones and Rebecca Bridges, “Equity, Access, and the Digital Divide in Learning Technologies: Historical Antecedents, Current Issues, and Future Trends,” in The Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology, 327-47

Robbin Chapman “Diversity and Inclusion in the Learning Enterprise: Implications for Learning Technologies,” in The Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology, ed. Nicholas John Rushby and Daniel W. Surry (Malden, Mass.: Wiley Blackwell, 2016), 287-300.

Tobey, L. N., & Manore, M. M. (2014). Social media and nutrition education: The food hero experience. J. Nutr Ed Behav. 46: 128-133.