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Guest-Led Discussion on Integrating Digital Literacy with Kathy Harris

Welcome, Kathy Harris!

This week we are privileged to have Kathy Harris, assistant professor at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, with us to lead a discussion on ways to effectively integrate digital literacy into ESL/ESOL instruction. Dr. Harris was the lead developer of the ESL Pro resources on integrating digital literacy. This week she will be sharing information about these resources and highlighting the numerous practical instructional strategies featured in the ESL Pro materials.

As always, we look forward to members' questions and comments on this important topic.

Kathy Harris' Bio:

Kathy Harris teaches teacher education courses and conducts research on learning and teaching in the Department of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University, where she is a member of the Literacy, Language, and Technology Research group. As part of the research team working to support the development of digital literacy in vulnerable populations, she collaborated in the development of learning materials to help low-skilled adults access and use their eHealth portal. Kathy also co-authored an extensive set of learning plans for literacy tutors, many of whom work with adults in library-based programs. 

Kathy is especially interested in helping adult educators learn how to integrate digital literacy into their instruction and served as a subject matter expert in the creation of materials for teachers as part of LINCS ESL Pro project. She also teaches digital literacy and English as a second language to adult learners with limited or interrupted formal education. Kathy received her PhD in linguistics from Northwestern University.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


Kathy Harris's picture

Hello colleagues,

I am looking forward to our discussion this week! I am very interested in the ways that digital literacy is part of literacy for our adult English language learners, and the ways that we can support them as they develop digital literacy skills. 

To start off our discussion, here are two questions that I often ask:  1.  What do you have to do in your own life that is digital?  2. What do your students need to do that is digital?

My best to you,


Susan Gaer's picture

Just about everything we do these days is digital. When you go to the grocery store the cashier uses a digital machine to check out your groceries. When you Uber or take a taxi the driver uses a phone to check you in and out. I am even using digital resources for my workouts these days. I have a Fitbit which is hooked up to a digital trainer which gauge is my exercise based on activities that have done during the day or my last workout with them. I think this might take over personal training in the near future. I also use digital resources for all my lesson planning, fro my communications within my family, and friends
and most of my communications through work.

Kathy Harris's picture

Hi Susan,

I agree that digital tasks are everywhere in our lives! These days I'm increasingly needing to use digital skills in collaboration--in planning presentations, creating shared documents, and having meetings in virtual spaces like video conferences.  I know that our students who are going into work and school settings need these same collaboration skills. 

Apps like Uber or Lyft and VRBO or airbnb have really changed the landscape of travel too!

Happy Monday,



David J. Rosen's picture

This weekend I found myself at a parking meter without any quarters. A sticker on the meter suggested downloading the ParkBoston app, so I did. Within a few minutes I had downloaded it, indicated where I was parked, put in my charge card numbers, and was legally "Parked". I also noticed that it was easy to find out at any time how many minutes I had left, and to put more money down to avoid a parking ticket! Now that's a sensible app that addresses an everyday problem with a convenient solution, as long as your smartphone is charged -- and with you! When I am not driving, a common sense practical public transportation app tells me when the next bus or subway train or trolley will arrive. And as Susan mentioned, there are convenient car hailing apps. All of these make it less necessary -- in urban areas at least -- for private cars. Then, once we don't need private cars at all, we may see the return or revitalization of the urban department store -- the original vertical shopping mall.

I wonder if adult English language learners are using transportation apps like these. Anyone know?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Integrating Technology CoP



Kathy_Tracey's picture

While I am certainly a believer in technology integration in the classroom, it is no longer a tool for convenience. I have an aging mother that I am a primary care provider. I communicate with her doctors via email. I can log into her medical account from the hospital and review her latest medical tests and doctor notes. I can track her prescriptions and know when I need to have them refilled. All aspects of her medical care is now managed through the use of technology. 

My children are both college students - and technology awareness is a requirement. It is no longer an option - but registering for classes is online, communicating with instructors, accessing grades, requesting transcripts, and even completing research happens through technology. 

While I have a kindle and read often, have a smart phone and enjoy social networking apps like snapchat, instagram, facebook, and twitter - these are more than an enjoyment -they are connections to resources and information. 

What do I do that's digital? I manage my life. :-) and our ESL students deserve the same access and ability to integrate meaningful technology in their lives. 

Kathy Tracey

Kathy Harris's picture

Hi Kathy,

I agree!  We need to have digital skills to manage our lives, and so do our students.

Thanks for your post. 


rwessel51's picture

Two days ago, I closed on my 88-year-old mother’s second home in Florida. My mother lives 1200 miles away in New York and I, 800 miles away in Virginia. Because it’s impossible to repaint electronically, I had to physically go down there to prepare it for sale, but after it was ready to put on the market, I was able to do almost everything electronically.

Before I went down last month to list it, I did a few Google searches to find several realtors to contact after I completed a few small odds and ends. When someone made an unsolicited offer the day before I planned to contact a realtor, I was able to use my smartphone to find the sales price of a comparable house down the street that sold a few weeks ago. With that information, the buyer and I agreed on a price that was fair to both of us.

I had to meet with my mother’s lawyer to get a contract for the buyer and me to sign, except for one thing, that I’ll mention next, it would have been possible for me to return home and handle the rest of the process electronically from 800 miles away.

When my parents sold my grandmother’s house in NY many years ago, they were vacationing in Florida and gave their lawyer a power of attorney, He diverted the funds for his own purposes and almost lost it. Even though my parents had used the current, Florida attorney for many years, I located the Florida bar association website and checked to make sure there were no complaints or disciplinary actions against him. Even though he was in good standing, I wanted to be there physically for the closing, to make sure there were no problems. 

Except for sending my power of attorney and my father’s death certificate to the lawyer via registered mail, all communication with the lawyer, the buyer, and my sister in NY (with whom my mother now lives) were then done through e-mail, Facebook messenger, and SMS messages on PCs, smartphones, and tablets. To make sure the lawyer had the proper routing information for the proceeds, I signed into my mother’s online banking account and copied and pasted (to avoid typos) the information into an e-mail to the lawyer. Finally, an hour after the closing, on my drive home, I stopped at a rest stop, logged into my mother’s bank account, and verified that the proceeds had been wired into her account.

After the closing, I decided how far I would drive that afternoon and used my smartphone to compare motel prices and book a room.

The digital skills needed for this and many other things are minimal: sending e-mails and SMS’s, text messaging, copying and pasting, and doing Google searches. The important thing is knowing what you need to do, which often has nothing to do with technology. All of this could have been done non-digitally, but the technology makes the process much faster and much simpler. As Kathy Tracey said above, “What do I do that's digital? I manage my life. :-) and our ESL students deserve the same access and ability to integrate meaningful technology in their lives.”

Kathy Harris's picture

Wow, what a story!  And a great illustration of digital literacy (and not just digital skills). 

Thanks so much for posting.


David J. Rosen's picture

Hello Kathy,

I am delighted that you can be with us this week in the LINCS English Language Acquisition, Professional Development, and Integrating Technology communities to discuss ESL Pro and, in particular, Module Two on Integrating Technology into ESL/ESOL instruction.  I am glad to see that Susan Gaer has already responded to your questions, and hope we hear from others as well.

Today and tomorrow we can focus on the Issue Brief, Wednesday on the Online Module,  and Thursday and Friday on the Practice-oriented Resource.

Throughout the week I hope we have many comments and questions from participants in all three communities.

I would like to begin with two questions for you that might help those who are not yet familiar with ESL Pro.

  1. Can you briefly describe the ESL Pro project’s purpose, primary intended audience(s), and the parts of the three sections, including “Integrating Digital Literacy into English Language Instruction”?
  2. What are some different ways that ESL/ESOL/ELL teachers have already been using it?


David J. Rosen

Moderator, Integrating Technology CoP

Kathy Harris's picture

Hi David,
It is great to be here!  

I am happy to describe the ESL Pro project.

The goal of the 3-year project was to create high-quality, flexible resources for those individuals, programs, and states who work with adult English language learners. The ESL Pro project created resources in three suites:

  • Meeting the Language Needs of Today’s English Language Learners
  • Integrating Digital Literacy into English Language Instruction
  • Preparing English Learners for Work and Career Pathways

You can access all of the materials from this website:

Each suite contains:
1.  An Issue Brief
2.  An online Professional Development module with 4 units
3.  A Companion Learning Resource, a kind of digital magazine for teachers

This is a wonderful collection of resources! Thoughout the week I will be talking about all three of the resources in the Integrating Digital Literacy into English Language Instruction suite.

In my next post I will describe some of the ways that people have been using the digital literacy resources.

Happy Monday,

Kathy Harris's picture

There are a variety of ways that people have been using the Issue Brief on digital literacy.  

Teachers have found it to be a general introduction to the issue of digital literacy.  Some teachers have sent the Issue Brief to their administrators, saying that it is important background to help administrators support teachers in their efforts to integrate digital literacy into their classes and programs.  There is a section in the Issue Brief (and in the online PD module too) specifically for administrators.

In a blended course, we used the Issue Brief to explore key online resources.  We divided into groups and each group reviewed one of the additional resources and posted their review in our online discussion. The review included a description of the resource and ways it could be used to support learning in classes.  The task provided practice in digital skills for the teachers too. Each group used a Google doc to collaboratively create the review, and then there was a lively online discussion around each resource.

In an in-person professional development setting the Issue Brief can be used in a jigsaw activity.

The Issue Brief also provides a big-picture overview before a deeper dive into the subject in the online PD module.  

Here is a link to the Issue Brief on digital literacy:

How do you like to use Issue Brief-type materials in your own learning or with your colleagues?


David J. Rosen's picture

Hi Kathy,

I have three more questions about the Issue Brief:

3. Are there other ways that you would like to see teachers use it?

4. Why was it important to include administrators as a primary audience?

5. What are some of the supports that you think administrators need to provide for teachers to effectively integrate digital literacy into English language instruction?

and a question about the definition that ESL Pro uses for digital literacy,

6. Where does the digital literacy definition come from, and why did you choose that definition?

I hope others, both ESL/ESOL/ELL teachers and administrators, have questions for you too!

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Integrating Technology CoP

Kathy Harris's picture

Hi David and Everybody,

As always, you ask good questions!

In almost all of the ESL Pro materials we included information for administrators because teachers do not work in a vacuum, but instead we all work in contexts that influence us. Having digital literacy in our classes and programs is new for many, including administrators. We are slowly discovering the supports that are important so that teachers can integrate digital literacy into classes and programs.

Supports include those related to technology, and those related to pedagogy.  

On the pedagogy side, administrators need to support the professional development and time that it takes to for teachers to work together to develop materials to integrate digital literacy across the curriculum.  Teachers will really struggle if they don't have a supportive administration.

On the technology side, administrators have to plan to maintain and continue to expand access to the Internet.  This can be done in a variety of ways, including:

  • providing devices that are available to classes,
  • computer labs,
  • robust wifi networks, or
  • some combination.

Ideally, administrators have a technology plan so that strategic decisions can be made over time with plans for continuing upgrades as technologies change.

Happy Tuesday,

Kathy Harris's picture

The definition of digital literacy that we used in the ESL Pro materials is the definition from the WIOA legislation, which comes from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. It goes like this:  

     The skills associated with using technology to enable users to find, evaluate, organize, create, and communicate information*

We used that definition because it is the definition that is relevant to states and programs.  That definition also provides a good base to start from when thinking about digital literacy in the classroom.  

I like to think that the definition has 3 parts:
1.  Basic digital literacy skills such as: using a touchpad, keyboard, or mouse; opening, saving and closing documents; adding attachments to emails; using tabbed browsing, etc.
2.  Creating and communicating information online
3.  Finding, evaluating, and organizing information found online

As a matter of fact, these are the topics of first 3 units in the online PD module :-)

Happy Wednesday!

*You can find the factsheet on Integrating Technology in WIOA here:


Deborah Kennedy's picture

Hi, Kathy and all,

This Issue Brief provides a really useful overview, particularly with its emphasis on developing learners' ability to evaluate information that they find online. As the brief points out, online resources are much more complex than print materials in the different ways they use text: not just headlines and content text, but also site navigation, links to related material (and click bait), and so on, and adult learners often need guidance on distinguishing these from one another. Some interesting research in recent years has looked at the user experience of adults with low levels of English literacy, focusing in particular on eye tracking. Angela Colter and Kathryn Summers at the University of Baltimore found major differences between the eye tracking patterns of users with low literacy and those of users with higher literacy (see their article "Low Literacy Users," chapter 13 in Bergstrom & Schall, Eye Tracking in User Experience Design [Elsevier, 2014]). I think it's important for teachers to be aware of these differences, which are much like the differences we see in print literacy, but exacerbated by the complexity of web design.


Kathy Harris's picture

Hi Deborah,

Thank you for your comment and the reference!  You make a very good point about literacy and online reading, it seems clear that the two are related.  As teachers, it is good to be aware that our literacy students will learn to read and to read online in ways that may differ from students who already have some literacy skills.  I have also found that learners with interrupted formal education and low levels of literacy do well (albeit slowly) when introduced to digital devices.  The less-linear, image-based format may be the reason, but I am not sure.   In the ESL Pro online module there is some information about ways to include digital literacy with adults with low levels of literacy.

Thank you to your reference to the article.  I look forward to reading it.

:-) Kathy

PS to all:  Consider attending the 13th annual LESLLA Symposium in Portland from Aug 10-12th.  LESLLA is an international organization of researchers and teachers who work with adult with limited or interrupted formal education and low literacy skills.  

Kathy_Tracey's picture

In my role with distance learning, I often hear teachers printing the DL content so the student can have a more traditional reading experience. This defeats the very nature of technology based instruction. I find many of my teachers are more comfortable printing out information rather than saving files or bookmarking pages online. Moving students into a technology rich environment where they can develop strategies to manage information requires teachers who also embrace reading online.  



Kathy Harris's picture

Hi Kathy,

Thanks so much for the post.  I also find that our own digital skills are part of the picture when it comes to integrating digital literacy into our classes and programs.  The way that I think about it is that digital literacy skills are on a continuum, and that we are all on the continuum somewhere and no one is at the most skilled end.  This is because technology is always changing, requiring new skills or adaptations to old skills.  If we embrace the idea that we are all learners with technology, it cuts down a bit of the self-expectation that we, as teachers, have to be experts in technology. 

I too, prefer to read on paper, especially deep reading where I need to think, highlight, and take notes. It helps me to use my hands while I'm doing that type of reading.  But I also need to have the skills to read online.  I think that there is room for both types of reading in our classes, especially if we think about the various purposes for reading and the related strategies. 

Thank you for bringing up the topics!  They are really important, and fun to talk about :-)


MBautista's picture

Hi Kathy, first - I agree with you totally.  For your setting, that is part of the whole point, going beyond technology just being a substitute for print...  

However there can be situations, especially for those of us with a lack of technology, that I would see printing as reasonable.  It won't be as good as, but often it is as good as it gets...


David J. Rosen's picture

Kathy (Harris),

Thanks for your great replies to all our questions. Today is the last day of this discussion, but I hope you will remain a member of the Integrating Technology group and that you might be able to answer questions that people have as they use the ESL Pro module on Integrating Technology into ESL Instruction. I imagine that you would also like to hear from teachers and administrators who start to use -- or who have been using -- ESL Pro materials.

My discussion questions today are about the third part of the module, the Practice-oriented Resource.

  1. What kinds of tools or resources does this contain? Just print? Images? Audio files? Videos? Web pages? Lesson plans? Others?
  2. What are some different ways that teachers are encouraged to use this?
  3. Could you choose one of the vignettes included here, and walk us through how it might be used?
  4. Could you describe the Resource Index?


David J. Rosen, Moderator

Integrating Technology CoP

Kathy Harris's picture

Hi David and all,

I will continue in the Integrating Technology group and I'd love to answer questions about the things that we've been talking about this week.  For now, let me answer your questions about the ESL Pro practice-oriented resource.

The third resource in the LINCS ESL Pro suite of resources on Integrating Digital into English Language Instruction is called the Companion Learning Resource, or more fondly, the digital magazine. It was written by the fabulous Rob Jenkins. You can link directly to it here:

It is a wonderful resource that is written specifically for teachers. It is jam-packed full of all of the things that David mentions in his question: Images, lesson plans, audio files (voices from the field), links to videos, teacher questions and answers, and much more.

One of my favorite things in the digital magazine is that the practical examples are contextualized in classroom scenarios where there is a program, a teacher, and students.  That makes it easier for me to imagine what the activities look like in the classroom.  For example, there is a lesson plan, and then the same lesson plan that has been infused with digital activities.  There is one of these for a low-intermediate ESL class and another for an advanced ESL class.

The digital magazine contains a section specifically for multilevel classes and differentiated instruction as well as a section on evaluating learner outcomes, including a sample rubric. Teachers often have a lot of questions about these topics, so these sections are particularly useful!

The digital magazine makes good use of the digital format too.  You can read the digital magazine from cover to cover, as if it were a print magazine.  You can also read it by jumping to the section you are interested in and then reading deeply by following up on all of the linked resources.  You can also go straight to the Resource Index, which contains links to all of the websites referenced. 

This is such a great resource!  I think that it makes a great focus for a book group of colleagues, or a Facebook discussion group.  Of course, there is almost no limit to the ways that it can be used.

Have a great weekend everyone!

David J. Rosen's picture

Kathy, Susan, and everyone else participating in this discussion,

Everyione, if you have questions for Kathy Harris about integrating technology in ESL instruction, please ask them today. Time's a-flying and Kathy will only be with us through Friday.

While we wait for others to join in, I have some more questions for you Kathy:

  1. One of the ways that digital literacy may rapidly change inolves using smart phones for health-related purposes. Are there ways that this is changing already that may be affecting or soon will affect ESL/ESOL learners?
  2. You advocate strongly for a contextualized approach to teaching language and digital literacy skills. You wrote: For adult ELLs, effective activities are ones that teach basic computer skills alongside language instruction and integrate basic digital skills into the overall topic or theme of an adult ELL course (Littlejohn, Beetham, & McGill, 2012). As research with gaming has demonstrated, digital skills can be learned through hands-on discovery processes while in pursuit of a meaningful goal instead of in isolation (Gee, 2003). Student-centered instructional approaches seek to engage students actively in their learning in ways that are meaningful to their lives and their goals (Peyton, Moore, & Young, 2010).” and “Thematic units, problem-based learning, project-based learning, and other student-centered approaches to adult English language acquisition provide content into which authentic digital tasks can be integrated. For example, a problem-based unit on issues with a landlord can include obtaining and reading important information about tenants’ rights. The unit would include the vocabulary, grammar, and reading strategies needed for all of the activities, including digital ones. Supporting information may be available in a variety of languages for ELLs. For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development resource Filing Your Housing Discrimination Complaint Online offers guidance on filing a housing discrimination complaint online in seven languages. In completing this task, ELLs can complete learning activities that are specific to their needs, as determined by assessments like the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment. Appropriate activities such as those in the Saint Paul Public Library Northstar Learning Guide can be assigned to individual students to build the skills needed for the unit (Vanek, 2014). In the example of filing a housing discrimination complaint, the digital literacy skills involved might include basic word processing, creating and retrieving a word-processed document, copying text from the document into an online form, including one’s e-mail address with other contact information, and submitting the online form” (Integrating Digital Literacy Into English Language Instruction: Issue Brief, page 4)

Given that in many programs basic digital literacy is taught in a computer lab as a de-contextualized computer skills course, how do you think programs should go about changing their present model to be more like what you advocate and describe?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Integrating Technology CoP


Kathy Harris's picture

I think that digital literacy is always changing and will continue to change, as that is the nature of technology and innovation.  We all have to be constantly learning to do new things and do familiar things in new ways.  Technology requires us all, teachers and students alike, to be lifelong learners, for sure!  

The need for digital literacy for health-related purposes is already with us.  People who can’t access health information online or use their patient portal to check test results, order prescription refills or message their doctor will soon be at a disadvantage.

In our ESOL classes and programs it is important to include digital tasks that mirror real-life digital tasks, like filling out forms, finding information online, and sending messages.  I advocate doing digital tasks that are device-independent, like Google forms, searches, sending email or messages, etc. These can all be done on smart phones, other mobile devices, or computers.  Modern digital skills are needed to manage our lives, regardless of the specific device.  Of course, each type of device has its own advantages and disadvantages.

A question for everyone:  What digital activities do you do with your students?  What device do you use for the activity?

Happy Wednesday!


Susan Finn Miller's picture

Hi Kathy, You asked about activities and tools that teachers use in class. There are many activities that can include technology, and now with Google programs, many tools are accessible to anyone with internet access. I've had high beginning level learners create presentations and record an audio narration using presentation software. Intermediate level students have used digital storytelling tools to create personal stories and stories of historical figures. We've also used digital storytelling tools for poetry recitation projects. The advanced students in my class right now are creating resumes and uploading them to the class website on Google. Our next project is for these advanced students to create a survey, collect data and use Google sheets to create graphs and analyze the data, which they will then present to the class. I'm not an expert with spreadsheets, but a couple of the students in the clas are, so they will help to provide support to their peers.

I provide students with feedback on their Google documents using the "comment" feature, but I want to engage them in providing peer to peer feedback the same way.

We also use Google for students to register for classes and to collect student satisfaction survey data from students at all levels in our program. 

We are lucky to have both laptops and tablets in our program. However, one thing I've noticed in the last couple of years is that even though there might be a computer or a tablet available, some students prefer using their phones. It's all about comfort!

I'm looking forward to hearing how others are integrating digital literacy in the classroom.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

esprins's picture

Regarding digital storytelling, please see these resources from Goodling Institute: 

-practitioner's guide on digital storytelling in adult ed & family literacy:

-article on DST:

-2015 NCFL presentation on DST:



Kathy Harris's picture

Hi Esther,

Great resources!  Thanks so much for sharing them.

Kathy Harris's picture

Hi David and all,

There are lots of reasons that I advocate for a contextualized approach to teaching language and digital literacy.  

For one thing, I am first and foremost a linguist and language teacher.  I think research is clear that things are learned best in context, where it is easier to match up new information and skills with what is already known, making it easier to learn the new stuff.  

Also, there are so many things that we all need to do to manage our lives that are digital (as Kathy Tracey said so well in her post earlier this week). Like many adult learners, adult ESOL students have things that they need to be able to do—like communicate with the children’s teachers by email or message, fill out a job application, do banking tasks online, search for new housing, make a presentation at work or school, etc.  Each of these things have thematic language (vocabulary, grammar, etc) that accompany them.  In other words, these digital tasks occur in a real context.

Probably the biggest reason is that digital literacy is part of modern literacy.  As language teachers we help our students learn to read and write in English.  Well, that includes digital contexts these days (and I’m old enough to remember when it wasn’t that way!).  In our teacher preparation programs, we learn to structure learning activities that move our students closer and closer to using English the way that it is used in the world outside of our classrooms.  In the 21st century, that means using digital tools like smartphones, tablets, and computers for reading and writing tasks as well as ATMs, parking meters (as David mentioned earlier this week), and so on.

I think that there is room in programs for computer classes, for sure.  I think that computer classes do great things!  But I don’t think that adult ESOL classes have the luxury of excluding digital literacy from the class, because it is part of how English literacy works these days.  So I advocate for having both wherever possible.  

A question for us all:  In your perfect world, in your program, where would the digital devices be?

Deborah Kennedy's picture

Kathy and all,

You're so right that "digital literacy is part of modern literacy"! I think we really need to make a concreted effort as a field to move beyond the idea that digital literacy is only about using desktop computers in computer classes. For many of our adult learners, the most accessible/available computer is a smartphone, so digital literacy means understanding how to use apps effectively (in addition to navigating websites). At TESOL and COABE and other conferences recently, I've been delighted at the number of presentations on creative ways of using devices in task-based classroom activities (and frustrated that I can't be in multiple places at once to hear them all!).

Kathy Harris's picture

Hi Deborah and all,

I have also had the experience of many great presentations at conferences that are related to effective ways to use devices in our classes!  Teachers around the country are finding creative ways to bring digital literacy into literacy instruction.  I just love our profession!

A question that I ask myself when I see a new and exciting idea for the classroom is, "what real-world task does this prepare my students to do?"   If it doesn't resemble a real-world task that my students need to do, then I put it lower on my priority list, even though it might be a fun and interesting thing to do.  This reflects my focus on digital literacy.  

I would love to hear how others decide which new and interesting thing to bring in to your class!

Thanks so much for your post.


Dorothy Taylor's picture

I teach ESL students in a computer lab & in a traditional classes. I encourage students to use their mobile devices in both, and they do. In fact, I had thought that our school might be able to do away with our computer lab classes. However, what I've discovered is that, since many students now have mobile devices, especially phones, as their only "computers," they lack skills in using desktop computer functions, such as the mouse or the keyboard. Yet these are still skills they find they need in the "real world," for example at kiosks to fill out job applications. So, while others are jumping on the mobile device bandwagon, and I'm right there with them, I also find myself once again teaching mouse and keyboarding skills because that's what my students need, too.

Dorothy Taylor


Kathy Harris's picture

Hi Dorothy and all,

You make great points! I agree that it is important to use the devices that students are comfortable with.  I also agree that we need to help students learn how to use computers as well. For me this is also an issue of equity.  Having access to the internet only through a smartphone is related to poverty.  There is an interesting recent Pew study that discusses this, which I will link below.  The article mentions the homework problem, which many of us have seen in our classes.  This is the problem that students (K-12 in the PEW research, but we see it with adult learners too) with only internet access through their smartphone (often the smartphone is their only device), are having to do their homework on their smartphones.  It is like writing a paper with one hand tied behind your back.  In our classes we want to support our students to develop the skills to do the things that they want to do--without one hand tied behind their back.  OK, I'll get off of my soapbox now :-)

Thanks so much for your post Dorothy.

Happy Friday!

Digital divide persists even as lower-income Americans make gains in tech adoption

Kathy_Tracey's picture

Hi Kathy and friends,

I couldn't agree more with the comment that technology is best learned in context. I'd like to draw your attention to a blog post about the difference between digital skills and digital literacies. The author, Maha Bali, states that "Digital literacies are not solely about technical proficiency but about the issues, norms, and habits of mind surrounding technologies used for a particular purpose." 

Beyond teaching digital skills, the ESL Pro Suite provides the resources to build digital literacy. Our students need access to these types of tools to help make sense and navigate the world of technology. 



Kathy Harris's picture

Hi Kathy and all,

Very well said!  Thanks so much for pointing out the blog.  I'm going to go and read it right now.

Thanks for your post,


Dr. Robin's picture

This is a very interesting topic!  I enjoyed the blog immensely and hope others read it too. Perhaps some can chime in with ideas about how some of Ms. Bali's suggestions can best be included in ESL classes where the English proficiency is not very high.   She makes many important points about knowing what you are doing, why and for and with whom when using digital platforms.    One context in which I have begun to use digital sources a lot is citizenship-- I have found some interesting and useful sites for those preparing for the interview, both on the computer and on phone apps.   There is  a much higher motivation to practice and review using a phone rather than the boring citizenship book.....!

Robin  Lovrien  

Susan Finn Miller's picture

Thanks, Kathy Tracy, for linking us to this important article, which reflects the foundational principles that Kathy Harris has been sharing with us. The distinction between digital literacy vs skills is at the heart of the issues we are discussing. Maha Bali links to another short blog by W. Ian O'Byrne, "Perspectives of Digital Literacies, which outlines the "8 essential elements of digital literacy that lead to positive action" -- drawn from Doug Belshaw's (author of the great quote at the end of Kathy Tracy's post) doctoral thesis. Each of the elements begins with the letter "C".

What do members think should be on this list? Go!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

David J. Rosen's picture

More questionsn for you, Kathy, this time about the LINCS ESL Pro Online Professional Development module:

  1. Tell us about the four units that are part of the LINCS ESL Pro Online module.
  2. Tell us more about the ESL/ESOL/ELA teachers this module is designed for. Beginning teachers? Advanced teachers? If both how does this meet their needs? Do teachers need to be sophisticated in using online learning technology? How does the module accommodate people who are looking to better understand the research in this area?
  3. Can teachers get certificates or CEUs for completing this professional development module?
  4. Does the module address just computer digital literacy skills or does it include portable digital devices?
  5. How can teachers or administrators use this module? On their own? In classes or peer learning circles?



David J. Rosen, Moderator

Integrating Technology CoP

Kathy Harris's picture

Thanks so much for the great questions!

There are 4 units in the online module, which I've described below.  There is a very brief introduction and then unit 1 is first.  After unit 1, the units can be done in any order.  Each takes about 2-3 hours and has a certificate of completion available upon completion.

Unit 1:  Digital Literacy in our lives
Unit 2:  Information and Communication Technologies for Language Learning
Unit 3:  Digital Information Literacy
Unit 4:  Solving Problems in Technology-Rich Environments

Unit 1:  Digital Literacy in our lives
Unit 1 talks about the basics of digital literacy that are needed for modern life.  There is a section for administrators and a secton for teachers.  The activities ask teachers or administrators  to think about their own digital skills as a starting point.  The third section of the unit introduces a contextualization/integration approach using a curriculum on Health Literacy and the digital activities that could be integrated into each lesson using forms and email as examples.  My goal with the unit was for teachers to see that they could add one type of activity into all of their lessons rather than having to create many different new activities.

Unit 2:  Information and Communication Technologies for Language Learning
Unit 2 focuses on how to create and communicate information online and how to use those skills for language learning.  It is organized into sections on listening, speaking, reading, writing, and vocabulary.  There are lots of examples of ways to use the internet in ESOL classes in each of the skill areas.  Language teachers will see lots of things that are consistent with their language teaching approaches.  

Unit 3:  Digital Information Literacy
Unit 3 focuses on how to teach students how to search the internet, analyze search results, evaluate search results, and read the information critically.  It references some great online resources, many of which can be used with students, like and

Unit 4:  Solving Problems in Technology-Rich Environments
Unit 4 is designed for teachers who may have already begun to integrate digital literacy tasks in their classes but who want to take it further.  The unit describes how problem solving is part of daily life, and how technology is often involved in those problems.  The unit talks about the steps in teaching problem solving when the problems are embedded in technology-rich environments, including ways in which those problem-solving activities can be integrated into instruction for English languages learners.

Who are the modules designed for?
The modules are designed to be flexible, with information for new teachers as well as information for experienced teachers.  They are designed with "tech tips" for teachers who have limited experience with technology, as well as screencasts that demonstrate how to do things step-by-step. 

Computers and portable digital devices?
The units cover computers, tablets, smart phones and devices like that. We didn't include activities that are specific to feature phones. 

I'll talk about a variety of ways to use the module in my next post.

Happy Thursday!

Kathy Harris's picture

Teachers or administrators can use the module units in a variety of ways.

The module units “live” in the LINCS Learning Portal at  They are designed for self-access.  Any individual can work through the material on her/his own.  Throughout the units there are questions to think about and activities to do.

Work with local colleagues
It can be very productive and rewarding to work with colleagues.  Colleagues working together is a very powerful source of learning.  Colleagues can go through a unit on their own, and then meet (in person or virtually) to discuss the unit.  The questions to think about and activities in the unit are designed so that they can be the focus of a discussion.  The activities relate to how the information can be used in classes.  Working together, colleagues can create activities and lessons to use in their classes and then, in a follow up meeting, discuss how it went and what adaptations to make based on the experience.  The group might contain both teachers and administrators, just teachers, or just administrators.  Having time and space for discussion is powerful in any of these configurations.

Blended professional development
One of my favorite ways to use the module is to work with a group of teachers to combine meeting in-person with working together online.  I have had the privilege of working with several groups of teachers who don’t work in the same location but who share similar contexts.  We start our group with a face-to-face meeting to get to know each other, start to experiment with new digital technologies ourselves, and set expectations for ourselves.  The rest of our time together is virtual. We discuss each of the units online, with a focus on how the information can be used on our classes, and we have video conferences for face-to-face (virtual) discussion.  One of our activities is to make a digital story.  I’ll link mine here, so you can see an example.  This activity serves to build community as we get to know each other, build our skill in learning a new technology (for some), and illustrate an activity that can be built into ESOL classes. The blend of in-person and digital allows for teachers to talk with each other over time even though they don’t work in the same location.  I enjoy this type of PD and I think that the participants do too.  

Professional developers can use the module as the basis of professional development for any group of teachers and administrators who are interested in ways to integrate digital literacy into their programs and classes.

What are some ways that you might want to use the module?

Happy Friday!

David J. Rosen's picture

Hi Kathy (Harris),

I looked at your digital story. I can see many ways teachers can use digital stories in addition to the way you use them in teacher training. ESL teachers could make their digital stories that they could show their students at the beginning of each new class. They could explain that during the course of the class term, students will also be making digital stories to share with their classmates, and possibly family and friends. This would offer great English language learning opportunities, a chance to use a "cool tool" to meet several instructional objectives, e.g. pronunciation, vocabulary development, using technology to communicate, and if they decide to share their video on the Internet, learning about the opportunities -- and risks -- involved in doing so.

Do you have cool tools to recommend for ESL/ESOL teachers who want to make -- and help their students to make their stories? There is a LINCS Integrating Technology Micro-Group, Evaluating Online Tools and Resources that, right now, is adding tools to their list to try out with students and to evaluate. Do you know of any online story-making tools that you could suggest? I wonder if there are easy-to-use story making tools for smartphones that you would recommend. I learned from our Integrating Technology colleague, Alison Ascher Webber, that she used a smartphone video app not only to interview people at the OTAN Technology and Distance Learning Symposium in California this year, but also in just a couple of hours, to edit the video -- all on her smartphone. I wouldn't necessarily expect all teachers or students to be interested in editing video, but a smartphone-based video -- and editing -- tool is Way Cool!  smiley

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Integrating Technology CoP



Deborah Kennedy's picture

Good morning, all,

I just wanted to point out an interesting article by Candace Roberts in a recent Hechinger Report: "The four ways we can train teachers to use technology that hasn't been invented yet."

It seems to me that the techniques she describes are relevant to developing our learners' digital competence, too.


Kathy Harris's picture

Hi Deborah and all,

Thank you for sharing the article "The four ways we can train teachers to use technology that hasn't been invented yet."  After reading your post I read the article and really enjoyed it.  I especially appreciate the focus on instruction, as opposed to the technology itself.  I think that Roberts does a nice job in the article.  Although she doesn't address it specifically, I think that she points to one of the problems that comes up when talking about technology and teaching. I call it the "cool tools" problem.  It is really easy to focus on a cool new tool and then find ways to use it.  But I don't think that approach helps teachers or students.  Instead, we need to focus on our objectives in the classroom and our students' needs, which Roberts does in her article.  Then we can ask ourselves, what tools make this work better?  In unit 2 of the module I tried to organize resources around an instructional focus to address just this problem.

Since I get excited when I learn about a new cool tool, and immediately think about all of the ways that I can use it, I too am part of the cool tools problem.  It is hard to avoid!

For all:  Just for fun, what "cool tool" are you interested in at the moment? I'm having fun exploring Canva for making infographics :-)


David J. Rosen's picture


I want to thank Kathy Harris for spending the week to help us understand the great resources offered by the ESL Pro section on Integrating Technology in ESL Instruction. If you still have questions or comments, Kathy will be staying on in the Integrating Technology CoP, and she will be glad to try to hear and respond to them. Please let her know if you use the Integrating Technology section of ESL Pro and, if so, what your experience is with it. For example, what did you find particularly insightful or helpful? Were there tools that you decided to try and, if so, what did you and your students find? Did they help you to achieve your instructional objectives?

Although this part is over, the LINCS discussion of ESL Pro continues, with two more ESL Pro expert professional developers and researchers:

Betsy Parrish, professor at Hamline University and developer of the ESL Pro resources on increasing rigor, will lead us in a week-long discussion starting Monday, May 1, 2017 in these groups:

College and Career Standards

English Language Acquisition

Heide Spruck Wrigley, internationally renowned leader, researcher and professional development expert in adult ESL, and lead developer of the ESL Pro resources on contextualizing instruction to support English learners onto career pathways, will lead us in a week-long discussion starting Monday, May 8, 2017 in these groups:
Thanks, too, to Susan Finn-Miller, the Moderator of the LINCS English Language Acquisition group, for organizing and hosting this series of ESL Pro discussions.
David J. Rosen, Moderator
Integrating Technology CoP
Susan Finn Miller's picture

I want to express our thanks to Kathy Harris for sharing her expertise with us during last week's discussion. We are taking away a great deal of helpful information about how to integrate digital literacy into our instruction. Kathy emphasized the difference between using technology for technology's sake and engaging learners in activities that can be applied authentically in their daily lives. This lens can inform our decisions about when and how to bring technology into our classrooms.

As Kathy pointed out last week, our goal is to support learners to not only learn to use various digital tools, but also to use technology to "find, evaluate, and organize information" as well as to "create and communicate."

We have been inspired and challenged! Thank you, Kathy Harris!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition