Digital Literacy & Digital Citizenship: By Design

Dear Teachers,

This week’s topic for that grad program I keep writing about is “Creating Significant Learning Plans,” and I’m back in at least somewhat familiar territory. My district has been using Wiggins & McTighe’s Understanding by Design (2005) model of curriculum design for several years, so this week’s assignment to use UbD to plan a course was not a completely foreign topic to me. One part of UbD that was new information, was the “WHERETO” acronym, as that one hasn’t made an appearance – or at least an appearance that I’ve paid attention to – in the documents we use in-house. As a means of outlining a learning plan, “WHERETO” is a pretty useful mnemonic, as it reminds the user to keep the “where are you going” part in mind as you’re planning learning experiences. WHERETO stands for:

W – Where the unit is going and What to expect
H – Hook the students and Hold their interest
E – Equip students, help them Experience the key ideas and Explore the issues
R – Opportunities to Rethink and Revise their understanding
E – Allow students to Evaluate their work
T – Be Tailored to the different needs, interests, and abilities of learners
O – Be Organized to maximize initial and sustained engagement and effective learning


For those of you unfamiliar with Understanding by Design, it is a “backwards design” model, much like Fink’s 3-column table model I described in last week’s post, where the planning is done by thinking of the end goals that a person wants to accomplish. “Begin with the end in mind” is the key to effective lesson design, so UbD  always starts with identifying the desired results.


In Fink’s model, I looked at the learning goals that would help achieve the big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) of the course. Each learning goal – foundational, application, integration, etc. – serves as a building block to reach that ultimate BHAG. My goal is the same this week (whether or not I call it a BHAG): it’s that “Learners will be equipped with tools to improve their own digital literacy and digital citizenship, and will create authentic opportunities for their students to develop positive online habits.” Established goals that support the overall course purpose are selected ISTE Standards. There are several things about UbD that I prefer to Fink’s, and perhaps it’s just because I’m so much more familiar with UbD, but I do like the fact that the established goals or standards make it clear that the purpose is seen as beneficial by more entities than just whoever is writing up the plan. When I use ISTE Standards as the established goals, that seems to lend some credibility to why I’m even writing the plan in the first place.

I like Fink’s model for its simplicity; its style is something my very linear brain appreciates. However, I like UbD for its emphasis on Essential Questions; those questions keep the focus on inquiry as opposed to just giving students factual information. I also like UbD for the emphasis on transfer tasks, so that we don’t get focused on just facts or “stuff.” Transfer goals help students to independently apply their learning in other situations, rather than just regurgitating information that matters only to one set of circumstances.

I actually love having had the opportunity to think through a course that will address my twin favorite topics of digital literacy and digital citizenship, and I’m very hopeful that I can work with our wonderful new Professional Learning Department to implement the course. Both Fink’s and UbD have given me some great ideas for structure for the course. Getting this course set up on a platform for teachers to utilize and make meaningful connections to their own goals (T-TESS and otherwise) will be my next goal – and the rumor is, one of my next grad school courses will help me do just that!

For today, the Understanding by Design plan for my course looks like this:

Course Title: Understanding and Teaching Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship

Course Goal: Learners will be equipped with tools to improve their own digital literacy and digital citizenship and will create authentic opportunities for their students to develop positive online habits.


Stage 1 – Desired Results

Established goals

ISTE Teacher Standards

3. Model digital age work and learning: Teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society.

a. Demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations

d. Model and facilitate effective use of current and emerging digital tools to locate, analyze, evaluate, and use information resources to support research and learning


4. Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility: Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.

a. Advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology, including respect for copyright, intellectual property, and the appropriate documentation of sources

c. Promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information


Students will understand that…

Digital literacy is a form of literacy that is as important to today’s students as traditional literacies.

“Digital literacy” involves many principles, including but not limited to technology skills

Digital citizenship is a component of a person’s overall citizenship

Digital citizenship involves more than just “not cyberbullying”


Essential Questions

What does it mean to be “digitally literate”?

Why is it important to understand and to teach digital citizenship?

How are digital literacy and digital citizenship related?

How are digital literacy and digital citizenship best taught?

How are empathy and digital citizenship related?

Students will know…

The reasons why digital citizenship and digital literacy are crucial components of a student’s digital-age education

The best ways to incorporate digital literacy and digital citizenship education into their curricula


Students will be able to…

Identify areas in their curriculum where they can naturally address digital literacy and digital citizenship.

Embed digital citizenship and digital literacy skills in what they are teaching already

Create their own positive digital profile

Guide their students in creating positive digital profiles

Stage 2 – Assessment Evidence

Performance tasks

Students will:

Explain how they will use specific places in their curriculum content to explicitly address digital literacy or digital citizenship

Develop areas where their own students can “do” digital citizenship by practicing positive contributions to online discussions, creating a positive online presence, using social media for an authentic cause, or other means of contributing something positive to the digital landscape

Demonstrate their own competency in digital literacy and digital citizenship by using Twitter, Facebook, or other social media tool to communicate what they are learning


Other evidence

Students will:

Reflect on their own digital literacy and digital citizenship, and make plans for improvement where needed

Reflect on the impact to their students of embedding digital literacy and digital citizenship instruction in what they are already doing in their classrooms


Stage 3 – Learning Plan

Learning Activities:

  1. Ask learners to reflect on specific instances/consequences of their own and others’ good and poor digital citizenship/literacy to hook students into considering the importance of good digital habits H

  2. Introduce the Essential Questions and explain the performance tasks W

  3. Learners read and discuss relevant articles, blog posts, and studies about digital literacy and digital citizenship. Learners reflect on their reading through blog posts or other social media E

  4. Learners will research and review different approaches to teaching digital literacy & digital citizenship (i.e. signing pledges; fear-based programs; only certain subject areas should “own” digital citizenship; listening to a guest speaker or attending an assembly; hosting “digital citizenship week,” effectiveness of one-shot lessons; various packaged curricula) E R

  5. Learners will evaluate the pluses and minuses of each of the above ways of teaching digital citizenship E R E-2

  6. Learners will identify places in their curriculum that would be natural opportunities for their students to learn about digital literacy and digital citizenship R T O

  7. Learners will reflect on how empathy is a key component of digital citizenship. E R T

  8. Learners will post final reflections about where digital literacy and digital citizenship can be seamlessly embedded into the learning that is already taking place in their classrooms, and their personal goals for including digital citizenship and digital literacy instruction in their curriculum E-2 T O


Hope you’re all having a lovely weekend and are thinking as hard about digital literacy and digital citizenship as I am. 😉




Fink, L.D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design, 2nd ed. ASCD


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