Fostering Digital Literacy Through Passion-Based Learning

ISACS 2011 Annual Conference

Presentation Slides

Session Goals

  • Identify key elements of Digital Literacy
  • Recognize the importance of passion in learning
  • Empower students to identify their passion
  • Design learning experiences that identify and leverage passion to foster Digital Literacy
  • Enable students to share their passion with the world

What is Digital Literacy?

The term "Digital Literacy" has emerged as commonplace in today's society but with rich and varied definitions:
  • The ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information. 1
  • The ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers. 2
  • A person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment... Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments. 3

However one choose to articulate its meaning, there is no question that students (and adults) need to be digitally literacy to function in the 21st century. This short video, "The New Media Literacies," provides a brief yet informative overview of the concept:

Video Source: Jenkins, Henry. “The New Media Literacies.” Video. 11 Nov. 2008. YouTube. 14 Oct. 2011.

Jenkins' defines participatory culture, which lies at the hear of digital literacy, as "a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support
for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices.A participatory culture is also
one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have
created). 4

As Jenkins notes, "Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement.The new literacies almost all involve social skills
developed through collaboration and networking.These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

The new skills include:

Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms."5

The Digital Literacy course upon which this presentation is based focused primarily on the skills of collective intelligence, judgement, and networking.

1. Digital Strategy Glossary of Key Terms accessed August 21, 2008.
2. Paul Gilster, Digital Literacy, New York: Wiley and Computer Publishing, 1997, p.1.
3. Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan: Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century;
4-5. Jenkins, Henry, Puroshotma, Ravi, Clinton, Katherine, Weigel, Margaret, & Robison, Alice J. (2005). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, available at

The Importance of Passion in Learning

What is Passion?

Robert J. Vallerand, Professor of Psychology at Universitedu Quebec a Montreal defines passion as “a strong inclination toward an activity that people like, find important, and in which they invest time and energy.” 6

My definition: "Passion is motivation in action."

Motivation Problem?

Consider this clip from the 1999 film Office Space. What parallels do you see between Peter's approach to his job and students' approach to learning? 7


Passion Matters

In The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken Robinson describes the element as the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. This level of fulfillment is impossible to achieve unless students are provided opportunities to explore and share their passion. 8

Robert Marzano, in What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action, identifies three major factors that influence learning. While administrators may tend to focus on school-level factors, and professional development is often geared toward teacher-level factors, the student-levels factors, which include motivation, cannot be overlooked. 9

School-Level Factors:
  • A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum
  • Challenging Goals and Effective Feedback
  • Parent and Community Involvement
  • Safe and Orderly Environment
  • Collegiality and Professionalism

Teacher-Level Factors:
  • Instructional Strategies
  • Classroom Management
  • Classroom Curriculum Design

Student-Level Factors:
  • Home Environment
  • Learning Intelligence and Background Knowledge

Motivation --> Learning

What Motivates Students?

As our understanding of the brain, cognition, and metacognition has increased over the past decade, so too has our understanding of what motivates students.

"Students respond positively to tasks that they perceive as challenging but “do-able” and that have relevance (value) to them. Also, creative tasks, which provide the student a degree of freedom in their resolution (e.g., creating artworks that use design principles and functions to solve specific visual art problems embodied in the standards; composing a musical composition) can be a source of personal pride and intrinsic motivation.

To maximize motivation, then, teachers should develop tasks that are authentic, appropriately challenging, relevant, and creative." 10


6. Vallerand, R. et al (2003). Les passions de l’aˆ me: on obsessive and harmonious passion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(56), 756-767. Retrieved from
7. Motivation Problems Scene from Office Space Movie (1999) | MOVIECLIPS. Dir. Mike Judge. Perf. Ron Livingston. MOVIECLIPS: Movie Trailers, Previews, Clips of Old, New & Upcoming Films. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.
8. Robinson, Ken, and Lou Aronica. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. New York: Viking, 2009. Print.
9. Marzano, Robert J. What Works in Schools Translating Research into Action. Alexandria: AssnSupervn & CurrDev, 2003. Print.

Learning Experiences that Identify and Leverage Passion

Understanding by Design

Because the Digital Literacy course only met 11 times over the course of a semester, it was vitally important to maintain a clear focus when designing the curriculum. To that end, the Understanding by Design (UbD) model was used to frame the essential course components.

Stages of Backwards Design
  1. Identify desired results.
  2. Determine acceptable evidence.
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction.

Establish Curricular Priorities
  • Worth being familiar with
  • Important to know and do
  • Enduring understanding

Over the course of the trimester, students will work toward answering two essential questions:
  1. How does your passion affect and reflect who you are as a person and learner?
  2. How does technology affect and reflect who you are as a person and learner?

To answer these important questions, they must come to understand that
  1. learning can be informal, social, and networked.
  2. information serves as the basis for understanding our world.
  3. content creators have rights; content consumers have responsibilities.

By the end of the course, they will be able to:
  1. identify their personal interests/passion(s).
  2. communicate and collaborate in an online environment.
  3. locate, evaluate, utilize, and cite information.
  4. identify their personal expression style.
  5. create and share a product that answers the essential questions.

For more detailed information on UbD, visit these links:

Digital Literacy Course Outline

This topical outline contains links to more detailed information for each of the lessons in this short course.

Lesson: Discovering Your Passion

Much has been written about Passion and Passion-Based Learning, but drawing on the work of John Seely Brown, Konrad Glogowski, Will Richardsonand others, I’ve come to understand P-BL as an experience that empowers students to Discover and Consume, Communicate and Connect, and Create and Produce based on their deep-seated interests. The first phase, Discover and Consume, can seem overwhelming for a 7th grader; adolescence is a tumultuous time. In an effort to foster introspection, students completed the Interest-A-Lyzer.

Developed by University of Connecticut professor Joseph S. Renzulli, the Interest-A-Lyzer is a questionnaire devised to help students examine and focus their interests. Students are asked to imagine themselves in a series of real and hypothetical situations, and then relate how they would react.

Lesson: Networking

One of the outcomes for this course was for students to understand that learning can be informal, social, and networked. According to Pew Internet, 65% of teens 12-17 use online social networks as of February 2008, up from 58% in 2007 and 55% in 2006, and this upward trend is likely to continue. To help students experience the academic aspects of networking firsthand, I created the Digital Literacy Learning Network (DLLN). Powered by Schoology, the DLLN is a private community that provides (1) a space for student resources and learning activities and (2) an interface for exploring social networking.

The first step in learning to network is to create a profile and establish an online presence. Schoology provides a safe, “walled garden” approach to networking. Students can view their classmates’ profiles and begin making social connections based on mutual interests. Such an activity also provides an ideal opportunity for teaching/addressing responsible online behavior.

Creating and managing a student-centric network may seem a formidable task and will require the support of your academic leadership. The results, however, are well worth the effort. This recent article from Forbes discusses the advantages of creating a private social network:

Digital Literacy Research Project

The resource project for the course was based on each student's passion (content) and utilized these four important concepts (skills):
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Effective Search Strategies
  • Website Evaluation
  • Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons

To organize the project (and keep the students on tract), a Project Wikiwas created with a separate page for each student. The History, Discussion, and Notify Me tabs made it easy to monitor and comment on student work. The Affinity Groups within the Digital Literacy Learning Network were shared spaces for students with similar interests to meet and support each other.

The use of groups within the Learning Network shifted the role of content-area expert away from the teacher and onto the students. This type of social and academic interaction is what Henry Jenkins describes as "participatory culture". For more information on this important topic, read Jenkin's Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.

Lesson: Expression Styles

In addition to letting the students base their research topic on their passion, I wanted them to be able to choose the form of their final product. Because this is Digital Literacy, they needed to use some form of technology with the stipulation that PowerPoint was off limits. To help them identify a suitable approach, I employed the concept of expression styles. Unlike learning styles, which focus on how students acquire and process information, expression styles reflect the types of products students prefer to create to demonstrate their understanding. The My Way…An Expression Style Instrument, developed by Karen Kettle, Joseph Renzulli, and Mary Rizza, identifies 10 broad categories of products/forms of expression:
  • Written
  • Oral
  • Artistic
  • Computer
  • Audio/Visual
  • Commercial
  • Service
  • Dramatization
  • Manipulative
  • Musical

Because the My Way…An Expression Style Instrument was developed more than a decade ago, the majority of the student products suggested by the authors reflect an absence of technology (as further evidenced by the inclusion of “computer” as an expression style). In an effort to update their approach, I identified several technology resources for each of the ten categories on the Project Wiki. Students were not limited to my suggestions but did need to select a tool they could learn/use with minimal teacher support.

Written Expression:
  • Blogs A blog is a type of website with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.
  • Publisher Create, personalize, and share a range of professional-quality publications.
  • Myebook Online book creator that lets you design, publish, and share your work.
  • ReadWriteThink Printing Press Create a brochure, booklet, or newspaper online.
  • Wikispaces: Wikis are simple web pages that groups, friends, and families can edit together.

Oral Expression:
  • Audioboo Allows you to record and upload audio for your friends, family or the rest of the world to hear.
  • Audacity: Free, fully-functional multi-track audio editor.
  • Photostory 3: Create a slide show of images with narration.
  • Podomatic Tool for creating and hosting audio podcasts.
  • VoiceThread Share and discuss your images, documents, and videos.

Artistic Expression:
  • ArtRage Draw and paint using your stylus as a brush.
  • Comic Life Software for creating comics and graphic novels.
  • DoInk Create and share Flash-style animations.
  • Kerpoof Make animated pictures and movies.
  • Pencil Create traditional hand-drawn animation (cartoon) using both bitmap and vector graphics
  • Storybird Storybirds are short, visual stories that you make to share.
  • ToonDoo Online comic strip creator.

Computer Expression:
  • Alice Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create animations.
  • Atmosphir Create 3D platform games that display in your browser.
  • Google Earth Design custom Google Earth tours that include rich media.
  • Scratch Create and share interactive stories, games, music and art.

Audio/Visual Expression:
  • Adobe Premiere: Video editing software; also consider Windows Movie Maker.
  • Animoto Create unique video pieces from your photos, video clips and music.
  • Glogster Interactive posters made from images, text, music and video.
  • Manyeyes Data visualization tool.
  • Prezi Create zooming presentations live and on the web.
  • VoiceThread Share and discuss your images, documents, and videos.

Commercial Expression:
  • 3D Box Shot: Turn 2D artwork into a 3D box for your product. (N.B. Free to try, $10 to buy)
  • BizKids: Provides you an opportunity to open a business, have some fun, and make some cash!
  • Ponoko: Ponoko is an online marketplace for everyone to click to make real things.
  • SmartStocks: provides a live stock game using real stock quotes.
  • Weebly: Create a free website and blog without technical knowledge.

Service Expression:
  • Blogs A blog is a type of website with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.
  • raises awareness about important causes and empowers people to take action.
  • Social Actions: Connecting people and organizations to niche “communities of action”
  • Wallwisher: An online notice board maker that can include text, images, and video.

Dramatization Expression:
  • Adobe Premiere: Video editing software; also consider Windows Movie Maker.
  • Celtx: Celtx helps you produce all types of media – film, video, documentary, theatre, and however else you choose to tell your story.
  • GoAnimate: On GoAnimate you can make your own animated characters,direct your own cartoons and watch others’ creations.
  • Xtranormal: Make text to speech movies with 3D characters.

Manipulative Expression:
  • Gogofrog: Create and share a 3D website.
  • Google Earth Design custom Google Earth tours that include rich media.
  • Google Sketchup: You can use Sketchup to create, modify, and share 3D models.
  • Zooburst: A digital storytelling tool that is designed to let anyone easily create their own customized 3D pop-up book

Musical Expression:
  • Aviary Roc: Create music and beats completely from scratch and right in a web browser.
  • ccMixter: Listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want.
  • GarageBand: Compose music on your Mac.
  • Mixcraft Multi-track recording studio with free trial.
  • TrakAxPC: Create music and video mixes on your PC.

An editable Google version of this document is available here and visitors are encouraged to add their suggestions to the growing list.

Final Project Requirements

The students' research projects culminated in a final product that was shared with their advisory. Although they had a great deal of flexibility, the final project had to meet these guidelines:
  • Reflect your preferred expression style (e.g. if Written Expression is your preference, your final product should take a written form) and have been created (at least in part) by technology (e.g. no dioramas).
  • Address/answer (directly or indirectly) all five driving questions
    • What is your passion?
    • Why is it more than a mere interest for you?
    • What would other people need to know about your passion in order to understand it?
    • Which aspects of it are the most important to share?
    • How does your passion affect and reflect you as a person and as a learner?
  • Be uploaded/embedded/linked/displayed on your personal Digital Literacy wiki page and include a description of the project (i.e. what the project is all about).

Final Project Assessment

All final projects, regardless of topic or form, were presented in advisory and graded using a common rubric. Providing a rubric helps ensure that (1) students clearly understand the requirements/expectations and (2) all topics/products are valued equally.

Sharing Their Passion: Final Projects

Expression Style: Artistic
Passion: Animation
Technology Tool: Pencil

Expression Style: Audio/Visual
Passion: Dance
Technology Tool: Prezi

Expression Style: Computer
Passion: Video Game Design
Technology Tool: Sploder
external image sploder_game_gif.gif

Expression Style: Musical
Passion: Tennis
Technology Tool:Mixcraft

Expression Style: Written
Passion: Creative Writing
Technology Tool: Myebook

external image myebook2.gif