Digital Teaching Skills

Introduction and rationale

What follows is a draft / attempt at digesting and synthesizing all the calls for “21st Century” teaching skills into one list – a list that reflects the best practice of “Web-enhanced” educators. These people use technology as a means to promote intrinsic motivation and a disposition toward critical thinking, they are not obsessed with “teaching” the how-to’s of software applications.

My goal in developing this checklist is to outline a continuum of skills for all teachers. In other words, level 1 is where all teachers can and should be. Levels 2 and 3 identify ways these skills can be developed. Teachers, like students, are at different places in learning continua and we all like to see what the next challenge is when we’ve reached a level of comfort in our current abilities. Hence the pyramid (citation and apologies to the FDA).

The checklist is not definitive – on the contrary, I attempted to identify “the least someone needs to know” in order to enjoy success at integrating technology. There are a million other great things to do and explore, but the 21st Century isn’t getting any younger… Finally, this is why I’ve opted for the current terminology of “Contemporary” teaching skills. There’s nothing Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon about this stuff – video, animation, podcasts, blogging, Thinking Routines and personalized learning are just the paper and pencils of today.

So… Could you please, either send me an email, forward a comment or have at this page with Diigo. My main interests in feedback are twofold: 1) Is anything you see as a “core” skill left off – something people can’t succeed without knowing, and 2) Is there an area that can just as well be left off?

Before getting into the list below, I’ve revised things a little into a set of skills more focused on promoting Real, Rich and Relevant learning around Look to Learn Activities, ClassPortals and WebQuests.  Take a look at this handout.

Foundational Skills

The following skills are assumed to help educators follow-through on their professional duties related to communicating electronically; making course documents available to students and parents; and accessing current resources.

Using Email to facilitate learning


Use distribution lists to send messages to a group

Attach files appropriately to email messages


Create distribution lists for class groups

Use “cc” (carbon copy) and “Bcc” (Blind carbon copy) when desired

Creating and posting key course documents online


Create word processed course documents that include: Inserted images, headers or footers and automatic page numbers


Edit a word processed document by: using find and replace, checking word counts, inserting page breaks, accessing the spellcheck and thesaurus functions

Upload Word documents to a departmental or course page / blog

Use presentations (Powerpoint) to display course outlines, images or instructions


Use tables and styles to enhance the formatting of a document

Maintain a list of core course documents throughout the year

Upload presentations, videos or animations for student use

Technical skills for finding rich resources


Access a departmental set of RSS feeds (Pageflakes)

Have a means of bookmarking useful sites (Delicious, Clipmarks)

Subscribe to podcasts via iTunes

Participate with colleagues in sharing resources


Set up your own collection of RSS feeds

Explore other bookmarking approaches (Diigo, Clipmarks)

Use iTunes to find quality video podcasts

Join an email list, group or network where resources are shared


Use multiple pages of RSS feds for different themes or topics

Apply a variety of bookmarking approaches as useful

Access & edit podcasts to use in class (QuickTime Pro)

Contribute resources you find to local and online colleagues

Technical Skills for adding posts to a blog / wiki / intranet page


Input text (WYSIWYG editor)

Add links to a Web site

Use categories / tags

Add an image


Add a document for students to download

Embed a video


Add a podcast file

Embed a Google Map, Dipity Timeline, etc.

Pedagogy & Online Resources

The following skills enable educators to engage students in more authentic learning tasks. This is achieved by creating a public forum for student expressions; building critical thinking into the culture of classroom routines; and using rich resources to augment core course content.

Using the online presence to promote student engagement


Create opportunities for students to post sincere comments

Encourage students to share interesting resources with the group


Use comments and student posts as bridges to course learning

Enable students to contribute insights related to course topics.

Pedagogical skills for Looking Tasks


Use “Real, Rich and Relevant” stimulus prompts

Schedule Thinking Routines into weekly timetable

Use “Comments” or offline approach to make thinking “visible”


Use the Looking Tasks to follow core themes over time

Encourage students to specialise in one of the core themes

Juxtapose other stimulus prompts ito challenge thinking


Link students’ thematic interests to course tasks and projects

Facilitate opportunities for students to extend or enrich their learning

Using software to support Critical Thinking


Model use of mind-mapping software to represent topics

Ask students to regularly create their own maps

Experiment with a variety of mind mapping strategies

Explore cognitive scaffolding tools to prompt higher performance


Analyse class maps as tools for discussion

Have students reflect on how they use maps

Find 2 — 3 mapping approaches that best suit the students developmental needs

Find several cognitive scaffolds to use with students

Pedagogical Skills for using Real, Rich and Relevant resources


Highlight relationships between current resources and course content

Use a thematic focus related to subject matter

Critique the resources with students to refine understandings


Actively track themes that enliven content with current events

Use prompts to engage cross-disciplinary thinking in students

Enlist students to select resources for Looking Tasks

Exploring Web tools to facilitate access to rich resources


Integrate access to resources with the learning space (Pageflakes?)

Develop a routine for looking at new resources


Revise and add to the resources so as to “feed” the learning space

Empower students to explore resources and to contribute insights and comments

Student Learning: Knowledge-building and Making Meaning

The following skills empower student ownership of learning through progressive and developing integration of course goals with students’ personal understanding and sophistication.

Supporting student use of a Personal Learning Environment


Prompt students to use personal learning spaces for course-related reflections and insights

Contribute as a member of the Personal Learning Environment (PLE)


Integrate relevant tasks with student publication of responses to the PLE

Publish model responses from a position as mentor


Use the PLE as an evolving portfolio of student work

Interact with cross-curricular colleagues as fellow participants in personal learning


Act as a mentor to students and colleagues in an area that particularly interests you. This may or may not be in topics related to the courses you teach, but rather models joy in lifelong learning.

Facilitating student “Knowledge-Building”


Highlight core / essential questions of concern to the course

Track and revisit core themes by using “tags”


Encourage students to identify and pursue variations on the core questions that hold personal meaning for them

Engage students in reflection on how core themes inter-relate in order to develop conceptual understandings

Use the facilities of PLE and/or a ClassPortal to enlist students in “crowdsourcing” — accumulation of information collected through group contributions. Wikis and social bookmarks are two examples.


Create opportunities for students to synthesise their learning through projects that call for a creative, problem-solving or innovative response.

Digital Citizenship

The following experiences highlight the skills challenged by the evolving digital culture. Rather than “teach” specific responses, the experiences are intended to invoke critical thinking, reflection and, when required, informed action.

Participating in the Digital World: posting images


View a current example that illustrates possible consequences of posting personal details on the Internet and write a brief reflection (examples: Video – “Everyone Knows Your Name,” article — “Babes in the Woods,” by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic)

Find an image from the Internet to use in course materials. Look for copyright notices and abide by the owner’s statement. Consider perusing the SmartCopying Web site for the latest fact sheets:


Use periodic examples from the news related to public posting of personal details to develop your own guidelines. Share these with students as an example of how one informed person makes choices. Compare your lists to one such as:

Support your own and students’ Intellectual Property (IP) in regard to publishing work on publicly accessible Web pages.

Participating in the Digital World: contributing content


Choose at least one work that you are willing to publish to the Web and do so. This may be in any format: visual, written, video, audio, presentation, etc. The forum may be a wiki, professional journal, educators’ social network, iTunes, etc.


Participate in any dialogue that may emerge from publishing your work. If there is none, add your own comments to the work of others not connected to the school.


Explore several online communities and join one. Choose to post content that you feel advances the knowledge base of the group.


Consider taking an active role in an online community. This could be to maintain a blog, monitor a topic in Wikipedia, produce a series of podcasts, upload a channel of videos to YouTube, etc.

Create a ClassPortal where you and students “Serve the Net” by contributing resources, maintaining a directory of links, or posting podcasts, essays, videos, etc. on a subject of passionate interest.

Professional Learning

Choose an area to focus on in terms of professional practise as identified by MCEETYA:

  • communication and collaboration
  • motivation and learner expectations
  • interactivity
  • knowledge creation and management
  • critical, creative and reflective thinking
  • local and global networks
  • problem solving
  • personalisation
  • negotiation and risk-taking
  • assessment.

You may also want to explore the literature in the following fields:

  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Thinking Dispositions
  • Professional learning communities
  • Brain-based learning
  • Authentic Assessment
  • Knowledge-building
  • Change management
  • Habits of Mind

Professional Learning: Curriculum


Use the Curriculum Mapping software to revise a previously taught unit

Describe the relationship between a related Concept, Skill & Assessment


Either share a Mapped unit with a colleague or develop one together

Compare your Mapped unit with a concurrent unit from another faculty

Professional Learning: Emerging Technologies


Review a new personal device & suggest how it could aid student learning

Explore a new Web application and use it yourself for a lesson

Attend a “New Tech” session and comment on the new technology

Partner with a colleague to brainstorm ways a new technology could extend or enrich student learning


Review the same device & suggest how it might distract from learning

Allow a group of students to use the Web application & debrief with them

Partner with a colleague to offer a new technology to extend or enrich learning for a group of your students

Professional Learning: Research and Professional Practise


Join a professional learning community and follow posts for several weeks

Join an online chat, webinar or presentation as an observer

Choose one aspect of the learning framework to research


Participate in a professional learning community and contribute posts

Participate in an online chat, webinar or presentation

Join in action research to gather data related to your interest


Become an active member in a local learning community

Lead an online chat, webinar, presentation or create a tutorial

Act as a lead investigator in research

15 thoughts on “Digital Teaching Skills”

  1. Tom, I like what I’m seeing here, particularly the sections on pedagogical strategies and professional learning. I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around the tiers you’ve set up (if that’s what the numbers/levels mean) and wonder if there should be a more consistent framework, where the continua are represented in each subgroup by 1 through 4? I think the visual is important too, and also think the tiers should be visualized with a 4 point scale. I wonder though about using a pyramid, as it seems to indicate that while there may be few teachers on the top tier, it suggests that few teachers will attain that top tier. The graphic might send a different message if it looked as though, as time goes on, that there is an expectation that teachers will gradually evolve through the tiers as they move through the checklists. I am VERY interested in what you’ve set up here and would be thrilled to continue to dialogue about it. Feel free to contact me through email or on Twitter ( @fisher1000 ). This is important work you’re doing!

  2. The ultimate 21st century skill which I think relates to everything you have listed is a tolerance for glitches and willingness to troubleshoot. When something does not work as planned the most successful teachers who use technology flow right with it. They know and accept that technology can be that way and move seamlessly to plan B. Teachers who cannot do that are very frustrated OR give up and do not try new things until they are perfected and simple.


  3. Hi Tom,

    After looking through the list I was thinking that digital storytelling, while yes a creative project, seems to be left out. Our lives are full of stories to tell or to create. And the visual aspect of digital storytelling (machinima) adds another layer of creativity and blending and sequencing, etc.

    I also don’t see anything addressing virtual worlds or MUVEs, which is suppose to be the future of education, government operations and business productivity. I spend a lot of time in Second Life. And the ability to create, collaborate, participate, problem-solve, role-play in this immersive learning space is incredible.

    Frank Stonehouse Lupo
    Mexico English Teachers’ Alliance (META)

  4. Hi Janice,

    Excellent suggestion. It speaks to a more nimble approach to teaching as well, doesn’t it? Rather than detail every step as in an “instructional” model, people at ease with the content and rich resources might see it as a more lively experience. Would you and others agree or disagree? Then it begs the question, doesn’t it: do these teachers adopt technologies at least partly because they are already predisposed to teachable moments and individualized learning?

    Thanks again,

    Tom —

  5. Hi Adam and Frank,

    Great suggestions. I wonder what others think about digital story telling. I certainly see that as one great use of podcasts / videos. As for the work Henrico County has done – terrific. I’m most excited by the “Communication and Collaborate” heading as I see it empowering students the most. Personally, I think the “approaching” and “target” levels – for the most part – are worthy expectations for a professional teaching staff circa 2009.

    Others opinions?

    Thanks, Tom

  6. Hi All,

    I just came across this page which has a useful graphic:

    One thing I like to be careful of is not letting the paradigm tail wag the pedagogical dog. Meaning do we pick problem-based learning first, then state a rationale or do we look at the needs and then hypothesize solutions for those needs? I’m old enough to have seen education caught by some paradigms like Multicuturalism and direct instruction that were used as answers to unclearly defined problems. I’m not a big supporter of doing things because they are new and different.

    I’m not saying that this is what’s happening in the above link, but a word of caution to us all.

    Cheers, Tom

  7. Tom,
    I’ve studied your checklist and think that it is very good. I know you haven’t included every single thing that a teacher can do on with Web 2.0; however, since new applications are added almost daily, it would be impossible to touch on each. Digital storytelling is an important skill, but you have embed a video under technical skills for adding content to a blog, wikki,or Internet page. That would cover posting the video to the web, and Tier 3 under facilitating student knowledge building would cover digital storytelling as students synthesize their learning through projects.

    Great job! You never cease to amaze me with the thoroughness of your work. Web and Flow was a wonderful WebQuest builder. I still think WebQuests have a place in the classroom even with all the Web 2.0 tools out there.


  8. Hi:
    I am planning a new course for our School of Education teacher candidates with the title, ‘Information Literacy.’ I would very much like to use your website as a resource and reference for the course.

  9. Tom, This is great. I have spent a lot of time making ICT Skills checklists for Primary students and staff. They have been put off by the detail the number of items. Your categories relate to the purposes we use ICT for rather than a software based list of skills. This for me is the key to getting the message across to staff.

  10. I like how you itemized and organized the tutorials and how to deal with the students in teaching digital technology in the classroom into sections in your blog. It makes it easy for a teacher to go directly to the section he/she has in question. Thanks!


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