Brief Background

The Professor Garfield Digital Literacy project grew from research suggesting that K-5 educators lack the resources they need to effectively teach digital literacy. Additionally, few resources exist that provide educators with a clear definition of digital literacy, help them understand how to integrate digital literacy in their classrooms, and allow them to effectively and easily build digital literacy lesson plans for their students. A 2015 survey¹ found that although 90% of teachers say technology integration is important to student success, 60% feel unprepared to use technology in their classes. Additionally, 37% of teachers report not knowing how to effectively use technology in their classrooms, and 70% say they don’t have technology support or enough resources.

To address these concerns, the Professor Garfield Curriculum teaches eight components of digital literacy: functional skills, creativity in digital environments, critical thinking using technology, understanding the role of tech in society, collaboration in digital spaces, finding and selecting information online, online communication, and e-safety.

Previous Development

Previously, a team of graduate students engaged in research and development for the digital literacy curriculum currently hosted on the Professor Garfield Digital Literacy website. To develop the format and content for digital literacy curriculum, the original team worked with K-5 educators at Burris Laboratory School, three Chicago Public Schools, and more than 40 elementary education and pre-service teachers at Ball State University. In 2018, the original team launched the free and open source curriculum featuring instructional videos that define the components of digital literacy and an intro to digital literacy experience that provides simple activities for the start of the school year. The curriculum also includes five digital literacy activities, each designed to address one or more of these components in a cross-curricular grade appropriate, standards-based format. Standards-based lesson plans for each digital literacy exercise include downloadable handouts and customizable PowerPoint presentations, as well as 25 engaging video tutorials designed to teach kids about digital literacy. The teacher dashboard allows users to review, select, customize assignments, track student progress, provide feedback, and assign grades and digital literacy badges.

A number of studies have been conducted by Ball State researchers to measure efficacy of the first iteration of the Professor Garfield website and digital literacy curriculum. To date, four research projects have been presented at prominent international conferences.

Additionally, in October 2020, the Professor Garfield project was a finalist for the International e-Learning Excellence Award hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. The competition had 47 initial submissions and 39 competitors were invited to submit full case histories. After the evaluation of these case histories by a panel of judges, 15 were named as finalists.

Current Development

Professor Garfield presents a unique opportunity to support educators in their digital literacy instructional efforts. Thus, we are continuing to improve the Professor Garfield website and content based on valuable feedback received from digital literacy experience and educators across the U.S. Likewise, to further expand these efforts, we are developing a new professional learning institute through which educators can learn how to use digital literacy frameworks across the K-5 curriculum. The institute will be developed collaboratively, with contributions from the following Ball State groups:

  • Dr. Jennifer Palilonis, Director of the Center for Emerging Media Design & Development, College of Communication, Information, and Media
  • Dr. Kate Shively, Assistant Professor of Elementary Education, Teachers College
  • Graduate students from the Center for Emerging Media Design & Development
  • Undergraduate Marketing, Public Relations, and Elementary Education students

This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Discovery Foundation, a women’s collaborative philanthropic group created to support and fund innovative projects and programs at Ball State University that impact students and benefit local, national, and international communities.

After the curriculum and format for the institute are developed, Muncie Community School teachers will be invited to participate. This instruction will begin with how to implement digital literacy instruction in K-5 classrooms. Then, teachers will have the unique opportunity to immediately apply what they have learned by developing new digital literacy modules for the Professor Garfield Digital Literacy website. Ball State students will collaborate with them to design and develop  the media and interactive content needed to bring their digital lessons and activities to life. After participating in the institute, Muncie Community School Teachers will also be provided with the necessary tools and materials to help support their colleagues and schools to implement digital literacy curricula. We will also follow their progress, as well as provide ongoing support and conduct research that explores the efficacy of this approach to digital literacy teaching and learning. These results will then inform a larger national audience about best practices in digital literacy instruction in elementary education. 

¹See Survey Finds Majority of Teachers Do Not Feel Prepared to Use Technology Classrooms, for more details.