Design Studio & Project-Based Inquiry

(adapted from Spires et al., 2009)
"Only the curious will learn and only the resolute will overcome the obstacles to learning. The quest quotient has always excited me more than the intelligence quotient." -- Eugene S. Wilson


The philosophy of the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy (as well as the New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute) is based on the time-honored approach of “learning by doing.” As Wilson implies, inquiry is the path to education. Through a project-based inquiry process, your team will create an innovative instructional plan to be used in the classroom that incorporates interdisciplinary content and digital literacies prompted by emerging technologies. With an emphasis on collaboration and design, you will explore several emerging technologies in the context of relevant and interesting content, and then critically consider their potential for enhancing instruction. In addition, you will choose specific examples of technology to incorporate into a dynamic instructional plan aimed at teaching specific content.

The aim of the project-based inquiry approach is to provide the opportunity for you to engage in what Newman, Bryck, and Nagaoka (2001) describe as authentic intellectual work. They describe the distinctive characteristics of authentic intellectual work as the “construction of knowledge through disciplined inquiry in order to produce products that have value beyond school” (p. 14). Through a focus on authentic intellectual work, we aim to engage you in learning opportunities that connect to your world. Likewise, elements of project-based inquiry possess what John Dewey referred to as productive inquiry, which is "that aspect of any activity where we are deliberately (although not always consciously) seeking what we need in order to do what we want to do” (Cook and Brown, 2005, p. 62). Our aims are to engage you in intellectual work that has depth, duration, and complexity, and to challenge and motivate you toward knowledge creation that relates to your educational context.

Authentic intellectual work also requires that learners make use of a range of literacy skills as they interpret, analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and otherwise work with materials and information.
Authentic intellectual work involves:

  • Construction of knowledge: learning through analysis, evaluation, and other active high-level tasks.
  • Disciplined inquiry: in-depth learning on focused topics.
  • Value beyond the inquiry activity: the production of usable knowledge that has “personal, aesthetic, or social” significance outside of school or professional development.

Your work in this authentic intellectual inquiry will also be framed by our emerging Digital Literacy Curriculum (DLC) Framework. Ultimately, these transactions should result in creative and innovative uses of technology. Engaging with this framework does not just mean that you are thinking about the consequences of using a technology or trying to determine the procedural steps that might be involved in the process. Instead, the DLC Framework should open the door to new uses of technology that are situated in real-world and meaningful contexts. As educators, we want technology to enhance and enrich our instructional ideas. Such work will be a primary focus in your inquiry.

Description of the Inquiry Process & Resulting Products of Learning

Your inquiry work will be driven by questions that you generate given your intellectual interests and professional experiences in conjunction with a focus on digital literacies. Working in teams during the week of the Institute, you will collaborate to generate a motivating question and complete an inquiry project. Your inquiry may be content or pedagogy focused or some combination of the two. For example, your team might be interested in language concepts and the potential that off-the-shelf video has for teaching language-related content. The inquiry process could involve exploring the potential remixing video has for teaching content. More specifically, your work might involve remixing or mashing up existing historical video to communicate how to use alliteration. An inquiry question related to this topic might be: "How can students use historical video to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of language concepts?"

To facilitate the inquiry process, we will take a Design Studio approach represented in the diagram below.

PBI Framework.png

Developing a question: What questions do you and your partner have that might serve as the focus for your inquiry? What shared interests and / or motivating discontents do you and your partner have about some aspect of the content and curriculum you teach? How might you frame your ideas into a compelling question that would communicate your intent to others?

With a question in place, your team will continue through the steps of the inquiry process outlined in our diagram above and examine technology tools, content, and pedagogical strategies related to your topic. Your primary goal is to create two products of learning that you will share on Friday in the Design Studio Showcase. The **Products of Learning** include:
  • A Pre-Production Plan. The production plan identifies the genre or type of message you will create and briefly describes the key message content. You also describe the specific target audience and purpose of the message (informative, entertaining, persuasive). What techniques will be used to attract and hold audience attention? What values will be communicated through image, language and sound? Create a document that helps the reader visualize the project before you create it. Post this plan to your wiki page.
  • An innovative instructional plan. Your plan should use the Digital Literacy Curriculum Framework to describe the context of your learning environment, the learning objectives for your unit/lesson, the materials and resources to be used, the timetable, an outline of key teaching points, the role of the media/technology project in the overall unit/lesson and your assessment plan. You can use the template provided and post this plan to your wiki page.
  • Two sophisticated technology products. One product should represent something digital you would use to facilitate and enhance the teaching of the instructional plan. A second product should provide an example of what students might create during the lesson to represent their content learning. This project should be developed at a level of sophistication and complexity reflective of your own knowledge and skills rather than attempting to represent student work. You can use the guidelines provided and post each product to your wiki page.
  • Post-Production Reflection. Once your instructional plan and technology products are finished and posted to the wiki page, you will create a short video that includes an oral reflection and debriefing process where you describe the creative process, what you learned about yourself, and how you will implement this project in working with your own students. This should also be posted to your wiki page.

Inquiry Process Benchmarks

Use the Inquiry Process Benchmarks to help your team stay focused on the process and the products of learning that you will share on Friday in the Design Studio Showcase. Be sure to complete the Sunday night activities to make the best use of your time on Monday.


Cook, S. & Brown, J.S. (2005). Bridging epistemologies: The generational knowledge between organizational knowledge and organizational knowing. In S.E. Little & T. Ray, (Eds.). Managing knowledge: An essential reader (2nd ed.). (pp.51-84). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Dewey, J. (1927). The public and its problems. Athens, OH: Shallow Press.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.

Newman, F., Bryk, A. & Nagaoka, J. (2001). Authentic intellectual work and standardized tests: Conflict or coexistence? Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Spires, H., Hervey, L., & Watson, T. (2013). Scaffolding the TPACK framework with literacy teachers: New literacies, new minds. In S. Kajder's and C.A. Young (Eds.). Research on English language arts and technology. Greenwich, CN: Information Age Press.

Spires, H., Hervey, L., Morris, G., & Stelpflug, C. (2012). Energizing project-based inquiry: Middle grade students read, write, and create videos. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(6), 483-493. doi:

Spires, H., Lee, J., Young, C., Leu, D., Coiro, J., & Castek, J. (2009). New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University. Retrieved from