Innovative Teaching: Erin Counihan

Erin M. Counihan, Coordinator of Secondary Education and Lecturer in Education at Washington College is the 2022 recipient of the Cromwell Award for Innovation in Teaching.

We congratulate Prof. Counihan and thank her for sharing these insights on….

Teaching New Literacy and Multiple Media

As I begin the process of preparing for a new semester, I always look to research and implement what is currently innovative – and researched and deemed effective – in both content and in pedagogy for a diversity of learners.  In teaching courses in literacy and language, I have noticed that students continue to need support in two areas: 1) using new media to learn and 2) considering the broad range of diversities of students and using that knowledge to be stewards for culturally relevant learning (and teaching).

A benefit of teaching in the Department of Education is that my students, mostly future educators, appreciate transparency and are willing to provide feedback when I explicitly teach how and why I choose materials and activities. This has allowed me to practice what I ask of them, get immediate responses about efficacy and engagement, and create assignments and activities that are beneficial and successful for all my students.

Even before our semesters of online learning, I worked with Instructional Technologist Raven Bishop to teach the students in EDU 307 (Literacy in the Content Area) how to consume and produce using new media. Gathering information in the 21st century is not solely a text-based endeavor, so I created a website to start a conversation about how to read static and 3-dimensional images, videos, and other interactive media. My students now take in information from traditional print materials, infographics, videos, and a variety of internet-based sources; they then use their new literacy skills to show their mastery of content by creating virtual, multi-media stories and interactive websites, using introductory coding skills, and improving their problem solving and troubleshooting skills to create a polished final product (see screenshots of student work below). With support from Nancy Cross, the Director of Educational Technology, I asked students in EDU 315 (Traditional and Modern Grammar) to craft a final multi-media statement about a contemporary language or linguistic topic or controversy. Students formulated written statements based on others we had read in class and then designed a supplemental text in their choice of medium / media, considering what would be most effective to support their argument. In both courses, grades have demonstrated students’ enhanced ability to communicate using multiple media, while student feedback reflects positive engagement in their connection to the “real world.”

Many classes in Education’s major (Human Development) and minors (Secondary Education Studies and Museum, Field, and Community Education) stress creating culturally responsive learning spaces, considering diverse voices, and being mindful of equity and inclusion. As part of creating my own culturally responsive learning space, I make deliberate choices in my texts, lessons, and resources, representing diverse voices (across a wide range of media). A benefit of using new media texts is that they, being more contemporary than many of our traditional texts, are frequently updated and allow for the inclusion of voices that have traditionally been underrepresented. Using new literacy and multiple media also by definition involves an element of choice, so I often give my students choices as to the texts they use to prepare for class; they read based on their preference, their ability, their interest, or their connection to the author. Because I am working to create successful and mindful future educators, I must put into practice what I ask of them. I can’t just teach them how to do something, or ask them to do it in an assignment, but I must model and do it myself. I can’t just add a diverse text or two, but I must truly show the pedagogical – and overall – importance of each resource that I choose.

What is means to “teach” is so fluid and changes so constantly that it’s important for educators to be life-long learners, to be innovative, and to collect data and feedback on all aspects of what we do in the classroom. Data and feedback can then be used to inform – and improve – instruction, can help us find those two things on which to focus to create a better and move effective educational experience for all our students.

Screen shot of Emily H’s website introduction, EDU 307, highlighting her use of new media

Screenshot of Noah S’s Literacy Resource Guide, EDU 307, highlighting her use of new media and her understanding of the importance of diverse voices

Resources students have used to consume text include the following:

  • Nearpod, an online platform that allows educators to create interactive lessons using original slides presentations or pre-made videos, games, and activities
  • shared texts through OneDrive or Google, including documents, slides, and spreadsheets
  • a WebQuest, an interactive website (see the sample one used in EDU 307)
  • images, infographics, videos, blogs, and written text

Resources students have used to produce text include the following:

  • PowerPoint / Word, Google slides / docs, OneDrive (individual and shared documents)
  • CoSpaces, an online platform on which students use basic coding skills to create virtual- or augmented-reality worlds
  • to create original websites
  • Canvas discussion boards
  • Nearpod
  • Padlet, an online bulletin board which allows students to post and organize thoughts anonymously or by name (see image below)

Further reading on using new media in the classroom:

Bishop, R. and Counihan, E. (2018). Beyond the Page: New Literacies in the Twenty-First Century. Voices from the Middle, 25(4), 39-44.

Karkar Esperat, Tala Michelle PhD and Loftis, Taelor Miller (2021). Using New Literacies to Foster Student Motivation.” Literacy Practice and Research: 46(1), Article 5. DOI: 10.25148/lpr.009339

Metros, S. (2008). The educator’s role in preparing visually literate learners. Theory Into Practice, 47(2), 102–109. doi:10.1080/00405840801992264

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). (2013, Feb.). The NCTE definition of 21st century literacies. Retrieved from

NC State University William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. (2022). New Literacies Collaborative.

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