Digital Literacy Good Teaching

Expanding Digital Literacy with Collaborative Inquiry

digital literacy
Written by Miguel Guhlin

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma present students with a collaborative inquiry and digital literacy learning opportunity that should be taken advantage of.

Given the impact hurricanes like Harvey and Irma have had this year, it is easy to see a connection between digital literacy and gaining a deeper insight into those affected. Across Texas and Florida, people mobilized via app-based tools to coordinate rescue efforts. In this blog entry, we will explore how digital literacy and saving lives came together on small screens. Hurricanes can serve as real-life opportunities to foster collaborative inquiry learning activities. These inquiry activities may serve to enhance students’ digital literacy.

Culture Change via Collaborative Inquiry

“Collaborative inquiry learning aims at bringing about a culture in which students in groups are motivated to engage in self-regulated learning activities supported by the teacher,” say Jun and Pow citing Bell, Urhahne, Schanze, and Ploetzner (2010). For teachers, establishing a culture of collaborative inquiry is dependent upon the following principles, which I have combined for brevity from the original:

  1. Enable collaborative curation of topic-relevant information and data
  2. Develop inquiry questions through collaborative dialogue
  3. Develop a plan together to find or solve question
  4. Share multimedia results of collaborative inquiry

These principles can be used to as ways to embed the four branches Jun and Pow discuss in their research. Those four branches of digital literacy include:

  1. The ability to collect, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize multimedia and digital text
  2. The ability to create multimedia artifacts
  3. The ability to carry out online communication
  4. The awareness, attitude, and ability to use digital technology (including digital tools, facilities, and resources) appropriately (legally, ethically, safely, and responsibly).

Let’s take a look at what this might look like.


digital literacy

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, students and teachers may find themselves looking for a way ahead. Let’s quickly imagine this path forward using the CIL guiding principles with an eye to enhancing digital literacy.

The ability to collect, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize multimedia and text can find expression in collaborative inquiry learning. For example, relying on real life pictures and data, students can collaborate to develop an essential question such as, “What are the environmental and cultural effects of a hurricane?” They can then explore it in more detail with a variety of guiding questions, including:

  • What are the characteristics of a hurricane?
  • How are people affected by a hurricane?
  • How are animals and pets affected by a hurricane?
  • What is the impact of a hurricane on the environment?

Students could choose to create multimedia artifacts that make sense of the hurricane’s impact in their own environments. Communication tools like Zello and Voxer can provide insights into rescue efforts. They can also facilitate synchronous conversations with those affected. For example, discussion of how people were affected by hurricane flooding could lead to discussion of solutions like AquaDam and its actual usage in Texas. This can also be organized through the use of a hyperdoc.

Exploring the impact of a hurricane on the environment might result in a study of the Florida Everglades and Hurricane Irma’s impact on that ecology. Dialogue regarding the appropriate use of technology (e.g. capturing images of people in tough situations) can also result in benefits. Once students have created content, they can easily place it online.

Extending Collaborative Inquiry Learning for Digital Literacy

Ready to extend collaborative inquiry learning opportunities? Rather than rely on just paper and pencil for regurgitated facts, engage students. Encourage them to build their own emergency communication plan with current technologies. Have them formulate their own responses in collaborative groups, partnering with people who have experienced hurricanes to gain deeper insight and relevance. For more ideas on developing inquiry-based learning activities, be sure to read these TCEA Project-Based Learning (PBL) blog entries.


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About the author

Miguel Guhlin

Director of Professional Development at TCEA
A former director of technology, Miguel brings a unique perspective to TCEA’s professional development team. He specializes in Microsoft’s educational products and has extensive instructional technology experience. A prolific writer, Miguel blogs at Around the Corner and for TCEA’s TechNotes Blog. Miguel earned both his Master’s degree in Bicultural/Bilingual Studies with an ESL Concentration and his B.A. at University of Texas, San Antonio.

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