Digital and Data Literacy: Two Essential Skills for Educators to Teach our Students in 2021 and Beyond

By: Matt Rhoads, Ed.D

Dr. Matt Rhoads is a Tech and Instructional Leader and Innovator with hands in Adult Ed, K-12, and Higher Education. He is the author of several books and is the host of Navigating Education – The Podcast.

As we move into 2021, we have seen K-12 education get turned upside down throughout 2020. The use of educational technology (edtech) has taken hold across K-12 education like never before in the history of education, which means educators must be able to adapt to the the ever-changing tools and how to integrate instructional strategies with the tools within classroom settings. Beyond this notion of being able to utilize various edtech tools and integrate them with instructional strategies to amplify learning, we must also take into account the use of massive amounts of data that are collected as a result of their use to our advantage. Therefore, as we move into the 2020’s, two essential skills K-12 educators must learn, practice, master, and teach to our students as innovation continues at an ever-increasing rate is both digital and data literacy. These two foundational skills will be needed to navigate K-12 classrooms in the present and well into the future as they will be some of the pillars of learning moving forward.

Luckily, many K-12 teachers are teaching these skills at ever-increasing rates. However, as we discuss throughout this article, we believe both digital and data literacy need to be implemented as a cornerstone of our curriculum we teach our students in addition to increasing our skills as educators to teach these concepts and skills to our students. As we move through this article, we will focus on defining digital and data literacy, outlining why it is imperative to teach these skills to our students, mechanisms for delivering these skills and content to our students, and provide lesson plans and resources we can utilize and build into our curriculum and daily lesson plans.

What is Digital and Data Literacy?

First, let us begin by defining each of these terms. Digital literacy is defined as the “ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills” (American Library Association, 2020). Data literacy is the ability to collect, transform, evaluate/analyze, and communicate the results to others (Guler, 2019). Both definitions of each of these terms are interconnected. Any digital interface we interact with to create, evaluate, and select content produces data that can be collected, transformed, evaluated, and communicated to others. Therefore, when thinking about digital and data literacy, try to visualize them together as they interact together seamlessly and concurrently. Below, we see each of the digital and data literacy competencies broken down to see all of their components.

Why do Schools and Teachers Need to Teach Digital and Data Literacy

As our world continues to change, more and more of what we do will be done digitally. As a result, there are major ramifications for our students and the future of our society. There are consequences of how we interact with others as well as content. We have seen a rise in disinformation in the form of news stories synthesized with data to create civil unrest that has threatened democratic institutions. Therefore, as with reading, writing, and mathematic literacy we provide our students within our K-12 education systems, digital and data literacy must be included. Without building important digital and data literacy skills, we are taking a major risk with our future as we will be neglecting educating a populace who does not have foundational digital and data literacy to distinguish between real and fake content found online.

We must invest in infusing pedagogy into teaching digital and data literacy skills. Within current professional development programs and university teacher preparation programs, digital and data literacy must be taught together in tandem. New curriculum also must include digital and data literacy components. An example of digital literacy can take place while teaching students how to read and write. We must teach them how to annotate on paper and digital source. In addition, we must teach them how to curate content by teaching the over time what makes content credible versus not credible. Also, we must teach students how to use their writing to create social media posts, infographs, digital portfolios, and stories on platforms like Instagram and Tiktok. For data literacy, within a math or social science curriculum, we can teach our students to collect data, organize, transform, and communicate that data. Students can create their own data to be collected in a lesson and the end goal of the lesson is to create data visualizations of the classes data.

Ultimately, these are just a few examples of how we can integrate these skills across the curriculum. This can be done gradually as more capacity is built by educators to teach these skills. The expectation is for gradual change, which puts our focus on intertwining these digital and data literacy with reading, writing, and math from kindergarten and onwards throughout a students educational journey. By the time students graduate from high school school, they will be able to navigate all forms of media, select content to view, create content, understand the notion of digital and data privacy, transform data to make decisions, report disinformation, and be aware of our digital footprints.

Instructional Delivery of Digital and Data Literacy

Let’s talk about delivery of teaching our students digital and data literacy skills. Then, we will discuss a few instructional applications and lessons of digital and data literacy teachers can utilize. First, there are a number of instructional delivery mechanisms teachers can use to help students learn these skills in modern day classrooms. Microlearning, social learning, adaptive learning, virtual/augmented reality, and cloud-based learning management systems synthesized together strategically and pragmatically, which will allow teachers to teach these skills within online and blended learning classrooms.

Microlearning: Focus on chunking learning into small short bursts that are bit-sized in nature. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, and Instagram are great examples of how this can take place.

Social Learning: Focus on providing a collaborative newsfeeds, RSS feeds, videos, and podcasts for students.

Adaptive Learning: Software programs based on a students ability level to help them learn how to navigate interactive interfaces, solving problems through a modular setup, and providing a scaffolded approach to frontload content or create opportunities to practice specific skills.

Virtual/Augmented Reality: Provide opportunities for students to navigate real-world digital and data literacy skill building experiences. Phet simulations are some of the easiest virtual/augmented reality experiences we can deploy.

Cloud-Based Learning Management Systems: Students must understand how to navigate and utilize a cloud-based platform to communicate with others, submit evidence of learning, and curate content.

Overall, each of these mechanisms for instructional delivery can be intertwined to deliver instruction to students in any classroom setting and at any time. The lesson plans and ideas discussed within the next section can be utilized with the tools outlined above to deliver instruction on digital and data literacy to students.

Lesson Plans for Digital and Data Literacy

Now, lets focus on providing a number of lessons on digital and data literacy. Outlined below are several resources to help you begin planning lessons intertwining digital and data literacy skills within the broader scope of your curriculum.

The Basics of Digital Citizenship by Nearpod: Nearpod provides a five day digital literacy unit, which focuses on the elements of digital citizenship, navigating tech applications and the internet, boosting keyboard skills, balancing media literacy, and coding and problem solving.

Digital Literacy/Citizenship Curriculum by Common Sense Education: Common Sense Education provides a series of lesson plans on digital literacy for grades K-12. Each grades lesson focuses on different topics ranging from navigating clickbait to the health effects of screen time. This is an all encompassing curriculum that is the tip of the iceberg to teach these important digital literacy concepts to our students.

Lessons for Teaching Data Literacy by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis: Within eight lessons, data literacy is taught intertwined with economics and mathematic concepts. Included within these lessons are interactive data visualizations and graphics to help students see the data in action and how it impacts our daily lives as citizens and consumers participating in our global economy. Each of these lessons can be adopted, transformed, and implemented using a wide variety of tools.

Module Planning for Data Literacy by Tuva: Tuva’s teacher’s guide to create a unit on data literacy includes how to structure four modules relating to foundational data literacy concepts.


Digital and data literacy are essential skills we must incorporate into our daily lessons and curriculum as our students navigate digital interfaces and content that produce data. Even more important, provide our students with frameworks that help them curate content they see within digital spaces online like social media. Ultimately, digital and data literacy is needed to be an active and responsible citizen within our current world. As discussed earlier, we will be taking a major risk if digital and data literacy are not a cornerstone of our curriculum and taught within teacher professional development and preparation programs moving forward.

The underlining goal here and future posts is to provide a sense of urgency as well as provide resources to help build and deliver lessons on digital and data literacy. Ultimately, the end goal is to create a curriculum both teachers and school leaders can learn to navigate our digital world and use the massive amounts of data we are collecting to inform and drive our decisions. As we begin the year 2021, let’s focus on integrating elements of digital and data literacy into our curriculum and daily lessons. Our students will benefit greatly as we will be giving our students life long skills to help them navigate and adapt to the ever-changing world and technology we use in our work and play.

Additional Resources on Digital and Data Literacy

For more information on implementing data literacy curriculum and building the data literacy of teachers within K-12 schools and classrooms, check out

For more information on implementing digital literacy curriculum and building the digital literacy of teachers within K-12 schools and classrooms, check out

Published by Matthew Rhoads, Ed.D.

Innovator, EdTech Trainer and Leader, University Lecturer & Teacher Candidate Supervisor, Consultant, Author, and Podcaster

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