Digital Tools for 21st Century Content Area Classrooms

A group of us trying the "Getting to the Heart of the Matter" activity.

This is a Guest Post from class members of Language Acquisition and Literacy Education in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts, who are all content area pre-service teachers in math, social studies, music, Chinese language, and sociology at New York University.

This week we discussed the characteristics of communicating in the digital age and how shifts in online communication impact teaching and learning, as well as what it means to knowledge creation and sharing in our content areas.

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Class member, and tweet-extraordinaire, @DGalpert, over-viewed the changes of online communication in this way:

Past Web 1.0 — Information on the Internet was organized as a repository.

  • People conducted searches for this information and downloaded or copied and pasted existing information.

Current Web 2.0 — Information is produced in interactive ways that results in constantly reformed information.

  • People compose and share information in small chunks (not just large chunks like a web page)
  • Interacting with people internationally is possible
  • More non-spoken, visual and multi-modal idea composition and communication
  • New variations of standard English based on differing limitations and affordances of social media
  • New roles for people to play (followers, Facebook friends, etc.) and relationships with others

Possible Web 3.0 — Curation of the constant new knowledge via socially-organized and algorithmic means

  • We’ll just have to see!

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Although most of us are new to using many of the social media venues available, especially in the classroom setting, we can see possibilities for how several social media venues can promote learning, including: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Google+ Hangouts with Extras, Blogs, Diigo, Wikis,, we can see these benefits across our content areas for teaching and learning: 1) Online digital communication can be used to have conversations distantly, asynchronously and with access to experts. There is an authentic audience of known and unknown players who will respond in authentic ways. 2) Students may be more comfortable commenting or participating through the Internet, because other people feel more like peers. The distance can allow those who feel pressure speaking in class to participate.

Here are some of the digital tools we have used in our own learning:

A screenshot of our page is a website that enables people to collect articles and media on topics and share them for others to see and reference. We particularly like the newspaper-type display of the resources that other bookmarking tools do not have. Students can submit articles they find interesting and relevant to the classroom topic and it allows students to explore different viewpoints. Teachers can also curate a list of resources that students can use for inquiry projects. Here is a link to our class site:


There are many ways in which Twitter is beneficial both inside and outside of the classroom. Twitter allows the conversation to continue even after class has concluded. It allows conversations to occur outside of the classroom by collecting all of the different thoughts, comments, and questions by using hashtags as backchannels. Inside the classroom, Twitter allows multiple students to voice their opinions. It also allows the less vocal students to participate. Twitter is also a great place to share resources, interesting articles, websites, and videos.

Classes can create Wikis to create content collaboratively, post class information, facilitate homework help, share content related topics. Wikis can be public or private and they can be accessed when needed outside of the classroom.

The group of us collaborating on this blog post

Google Docs
We created this post as a GoogleDoc, which is an online word processor (you can also create spreadsheets, drawings or presentations). Students are collaborators for each document, on which each can synchronously edit, comment, and post comments.  We can see GoogleDocs being used for peer review, collaborating on one document outside the classroom, ways students and teachers can provide comments or feedback.

Social Networks are already set up to connect people and their ideas via text, photos and links. We can use those same means to facilitate learning. Students can create groups for specific classes or different interests. In these groups, students can share knowledge, ask questions, discuss topics, share common angst about an assignment through status updates, try out role plays using profiles to discuss content from various perspectives.

We’d love to hear of the many other ways you’ve used digital tools for specific content areas in the comment section.

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Obviously each of these venues has disadvantages and challenges that need to be addressed. Here are some we discussed (with links to articles on our

  • Many have talked about the distracting nature of Web 2.0 (e.g. Louder Libraries or Values not Just Facts)
  • Some of us also feel disconnected from others and ideas when composing and communicating through digital means. Discussed in the slideshow: Deep Learning in the Age of Distraction
  • Social media includes personal profiles, and not all students will want to have digital profiles in particular networks.
  • In addition, we are were new to these tools when introduced to us in our undergraduate studies. We can’t assume students have similar technological access and experience. See: The App Gap
  • Because knowledge creation and sharing has become more democratized, so has the relationship between knowledge, teachers and students. These changes can mean a diminishing need for the traditional teacher, and an increased need for teachers to learn new roles for facilitating learning.
  • There is a huge disconnect between academic online assignment and typical discourses of online communication.

What issues do you see in using digital tools in the classroom?

5 thoughts on “Digital Tools for 21st Century Content Area Classrooms

  1. This post ask some really great questions about using digital tools in the classroom. Our classroom could be greatly enriched with all the capabilities technology has to offer. However, there were some really great questions asked about how new technologies might changed our essential work-craft , and the ways in which we think, teach, author, and publish. Another good question is does it have implications for individual writing processes. In my opinion it does, however, this doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. It is just going to be different and we will naturally adapt as it becomes more integrated in our classrooms. I am finding that technology in my classroom has been very engaging for my students. We use it in a variety of way from research papers, phonic games, vocabulary, reading, etc… One of my student’s favorite things to do is to use Animoto to design movies with their vocabulary word. Can’t beat that for engagement! I believe technology is coming to every classroom and we are going to see some fantastic outcomes!.

  2. I feel this blog addresses numerous important points. I especially like how they included that student’s who normally do not participate because of peer pressure would through digital media, as the peer pressure was alleviated since their peers are not present.

    1. This article was very interesting to me. I am new to all these social media venues. I taught back in the 1990’s where we didn’t even use an ELMO. I have never even heard of Tumblr or Scoop It (but of course my teenager has). Now there are so many digital tools out their for our students to use. I think it’s a good thing. It can promote learning. I never thought about peer pressure and how students might feel more comfortable participating through the Internet, but I also agree how kids can feel disconnected when digital tools as well. I know my sophomore does at times. Either way, I guess I need to keep up with all this new technology if I am going back to the classroom.

      1. I, too, have been driven to “keep up” due to my role as a teacher. I wasn’t on Facebook until an old student of mine was trying to send me photos and told me she was shocked that I was so behind the times. The same thing happened with Twitter. Since then, I have decided to try out whatever platforms I see or hear about at least once…and then I keep them if they help me do something that I couldn’t do otherwise.

        We are in an age in which you can’t know every platform. However, we can’t help but be influenced by the communication and composition that is occurring across them. Having a sense of how knowledge is created, composed, disseminated (in other words, the literacy practices that are emerging) is critical, and having facility in participating yourself is incredibly valuable.

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