Sneakers squeak against the gymnasium floor and the aroma of chicken nugget day fills the halls. Lockers slam closed, backpacks rustle about, and number two pencils scratch across loose leaf paper. These are the traditional sights and sounds for Floyd County Schools, but this year things are different. 

While some students are still learning by attending school in a hybrid in-person and virtual format, the rest are learning only virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The University Libraries at Virginia Tech was there to help.  

Floyd County Schools in collaboration with the University Libraries; the Science Museum of Western Virginia; and two Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT) divisions, the Center for Research in SEAD (Science, Engineering, Arts, and Design) Education and the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI), received an Advancing Computer Science Education in Virginia Schools grant from Virginia’s General Assembly. This grant supports the implementation of Virginia’s Computer Science Standards of Learning into instruction with an emphasis on integrating computer science instruction and opportunities with a particular focus on underrepresented students. Most importantly, it will provide in-depth professional development in digital literacy that will help teachers be more effective at integrating computer science into subjects like English. 

This project is a result of intentional outreach and engagement with Virginia Tech’s Center for Educational Networks and Impacts’ (CENI) K-12 liaisons. The grant team includes faculty and educators from University Libraries, CENI, and Floyd County Schools. 

The team set out to offer professional development opportunities for Floyd County teachers and librarians. Its goal was to support teachers in integrating computer science standards by building their digital literacy knowledge and skills through discussions in digital citizenship and making use of open educational resources. 

Originally, the team also planned to offer student field trips to introduce eighth-graders to hands-on media creation and digital citizenship concepts, like online presence, audio production, and fact-checking information. The team also planned in-person conferences for the teachers with follow-up events. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, team members quickly created an online summer course for teachers that focused on basic concepts in digital literacy as well as topics to support inclusive virtual teaching. This course helped Floyd County educators feel better prepared to participate in conversations with students around digital literacy. The team plans to work with the teachers and librarians to identify ways this information connects to their computer science standards. 

“I got involved with this project because of my experience with digital literacy education,” said Julia Feerrar, University Libraries head of digital literacy initiatives. “Many of the topics in Virginia’s Computer Science Standards of Learning, such as cybersecurity, privacy, and the social impacts of technology connect directly to digital literacy. A lot of my day-to-day work involves teaching digital literacy lessons as well as collaborating with other instructors. I was excited to bring these experiences to working with local teachers.”

The course is for teachers focused on concepts and decision making for online learning. The course was divided into three modules: Introduction to Digital Literacy and Online Identity; Best Practices for Digital Teaching; and Developing and Sharing Open Educational Resources. Throughout these modules, teachers learned about online presence, privacy, security, multifactor authentication, secure browsing, accessibility, student identity, inclusive teaching practices, and open educational resources. Teachers also learned how to use online tools like Canvas, which they are now employing for their own virtual teaching, and the #GoOpenVirginia platform, which is a place for teachers to share and adapt lessons. Many teachers had little to no experience with these platforms before the course, and this experience helped participants better understand how students would move through these virtual spaces.

“Throughout my time in higher education, I’ve been really interested in ways that I can help educators of all types better meet students’ needs, whether that be through providing them high-quality resources through Odyssey, our open learning objects repository, or through guest lectures and workshops,” said Kayla McNabb, University Libraries’ head of instructional content and design. “This project allowed me to take digital literacy content that I’ve developed in collaboration with University Libraries colleagues and share it with audiences we’ve never reached before.”

Integrating digital literacy lessons across the curriculum and fostering students’ skills in these areas are challenging for teachers. This collaboration helps K-12 teachers and library faculty alike. “It is really exciting to be able to connect with other educators, to share what we’ve learned, and to learn from their experiences as well,” said Feerrar. 

This program is a way for the University Libraries to connect with and serve our region. “Working in the University Libraries gives us the opportunity to bridge the academic library with public libraries and helps us see how the two are so connected,” said McNabb. “Digital literacy and basic computer science skills are so integral to students’ success, whether we are talking about sixth-graders in Floyd County or sophomores at Virginia Tech.” 

Craig Arthur, University Libraries’ head of community engagement, is integral to the student-engagement piece of the project. Arthur, who is highly experienced in teaching media literacy to K-12 students, says that his passion is working to engage the University Libraries with the broader community. “This grant is evidence that the University Libraries is shifting our focus,” said Arthur. “As a result of years of intentional collaboration and guidance from our campus and community partners, especially VT Engage, the University Libraries is offering more programming for those in the community that we have underserved.”

Although the project’s plans took a different direction due to the pandemic, the team will continue to explore options to not only help teachers but also work with students on topics relating to their computer science standards in engaging ways. The team would love to share these resources and teaching tools with other educators, departments, schools, and school districts who might be interested in having their teachers and librarians work through this content for virtual learning.  

For more information about these resources, email Julia Feerrar or Kayla McNabb. 

—Written by Elise Monsour Puckett