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Digital Privacy Lesson Plans: Home

Big Data Illustration with arrows connecting lots of different platforms and media typesAbout These Lesson Plans

These lesson plans, designed by librarians from the NY6 Information Literacy Blended Learning group, aim to provide faculty, staff, and instructors ways to address a variety of digital privacy topics that may be impacting them and their students. The primary learning goal of many of these is to bring awareness to students, to have them start thinking more about their own digital privacy and what that means to them.

You are welcome to use and adapt any of these lesson plans to help promote digital literacy in your classroom.

Big Data Image by KamiPhuc (2013) / Flickr Creative Commons



Topic: Digital Privacy and Your Daily Routine

Created by Lindsay Bush, Schaffer Library, Union College 

Lesson length: 45 minutes


Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will become aware of the concept of digital privacy and how much digital information they gave away daily.
  • “Students will be able to make informed choices regarding their online actions in full awareness of issues related to privacy and the commodification of personal information.” (ACRL Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education)


Class Discussion:

Have the students look over and review this example morning routine.* 

At each point in the routine, brainstorm as a class what information is being recorded, what privacy they are giving up, and, if it’s unclear, what they might need to look at to figure it out. Have a student record this brainstorm on the board.

  • The Wake Up: How is your Alexa account protected? Alexa knows your location somehow.
  • The Morning Run: You have an account with the Map My Walk app. What is the privacy policy on this? Your daily running route is logged daily and stored. You have a Pandora account and you’ve trained it to know your favorite songs and so can anyone else that gets access to it.
  • The Commute: The GPS on your phone can store a history of all the places that you visited. Over time this information can build into routines.
  • The View: What information is transferred over from your phone’s camera to Instagram. Is your location information stored and transferred? Did you tag someone?
  • The Coffee: Your purchase is recorded as a transaction by the college? Where is the information stored, for how long, and is it secure?
  • The Library: What information is stored? Your name, your ID number, the time that you entered the library and again for how long and is it secure?


Group Activity:

Brainstorming: Have students as a group do a quick brainstorm of their mornings and record them on a Jamboard using post-it notes. It does not need to be structured like a timeline.


Research: Split the class into groups and assign each group to do some light research on one digital footprint question. You can either have previously located short reads on a selection of topics, or co-teach this session with someone who is well versed in digital privacy.


  • Can you set your phone to not keep the location data on your photos?
  • What are the pros and cons of turning this setting on or off?
  • What is Alexa’s privacy policy? Is it worth using Alexa?

Each group discusses what they found.


*You can make your own sample morning routine for your students in Knight Lab's Timeline.





Topic: Your Digital Footprint

Created by Lynne Kvinnesland, Colgate University Libraries

Lesson length: 45 minutes


Learning Outcomes:

  • Raise student awareness of their digital/information footprint
  • Consider pros/cons of uses of big data
  • Provide steps students can take to increase their digital security/privacy


Group Reading and Discussion

Break the class up into small groups, each group reads and discusses one of the following articles together.

Small group discussion prompts (use whiteboards, paper pads or online options like a Jamboard or Padlet)

  1. Identify 3 main points in your article and record on the white pad/padlet/etc.
  2. Your response: Record thoughts, concerns, or questions you have on the white pad/padlet/etc.

Gallery Walk: In their small groups, students go around the room and read what their classmates have recorded on their respective group white pads.


In-Class Discussion:

  • What tensions exist with regard to personal data? (e.g., personalized services vs. personal privacy, company profits vs. ownership of personal data, easy communication with friends/family vs. lack of privacy)
  • How important is privacy to you?
  • Should we own our own data?


Additional Individual Reading:

What can you do?


Session Assessment (For faculty/staff use)

  • Collect/take picture of group notepad pages
  • Student Reflection (paper survey, Google form, etc.): How concerned are you about data privacy? What would you like to learn more about?




Topic: What Does Privacy Mean to You?

Created by Paul Doty, St. Lawrence University Libraries

Lesson length: 20 minutes


In Class Reading*

In an essay titled “The Right To Privacy” published in 1890 Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis laid the foundation for a concept of privacy that has come to be known as control over information about oneself. This is the legal basis for defining privacy. Read the introduction to Privacy (the first 5 paragraphs) from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to learn about the variety of ways privacy has been defined and discussed.

*To add interactivity to this portion of the lesson, have students use an annotation tool like to annotate the document as they read it.  You can also print out the short reading. Break students into small groups of 2-3 and have them read together and discuss the reading amongst themselves before the larger class discussion.



  • Does that legal definition from Warren and Brandeis still work?
  • Are there other things that should be considered when thinking about privacy? 



Do some searches for privacy in a search engine and see what comes up.

  • Are there other definitions or ideas listed that make more sense to you?





Topic: Privacy Policy Critique

Created by Johanna MacKay, Lucy Scribner Library, Skidmore College

Lesson length: 20 minutes


In Class Reading

Your data is always being collected and used by private companies.  Those collection practices are outlined in their privacy policies, but how easy are they actually to understand? Read the following opinion piece from NY Times.



  • Do you ever read or skim the "Terms of Service" agreement when you create an account or download an app?
  • What are your first impressions of the article?  Were you surprised by anything?
  • What website or app do you use the most? Have you ever checked the privacy policy and settings of that website/app?
  • What do you think are the main takeaways from the article about protecting your digital privacy? 




Topic: Social Media and Well-Being

Created by Paul Doty, St. Lawrence University Libraries

In-Class lesson length: 25 minutes

Includes reading before the session and an activity after.


Pre-Class Reading

There are consequences to spending a lot of time online.  One way to understand the implications of social media is to think about how, and for what purpose, you engage with social media.

These are five very recent articles from a growing literature about mental health issues and excessive social media use. Select one of the articles to read and then answer these three questions: 

  • What problem does the author(s) identify?
  • What argument do the author(s) make based on their research?
  • What, in the article, surprised you?



*You could assign only one of these articles for the reading if you want students to all read the same material.


In- Class Discussion

Have students discuss the different articles they read, explaining their answers to the three questions.


After- Class Activity

Conduct your own research—give up social media for three days.  Sometime within those three days, go on a walk for at least half an hour, without taking your earbuds along.  Walk only with your thoughts.  After you’ve gone for your walk, think back on the article you read and compare your experience with what the authors found in their research. 



Topic: Social Media and Well-Being (Version 2)

Created by Paul Doty, St. Lawrence University Libraries, Adapted by Johanna MacKay, Skidmore College

In-Class Lesson length: 30 minutes

Includes reading before the session and an activity after.


Version 2 Changes

In this adapted version of this lesson plan, students will also learn about the different parts of an empirical research article, critically analyzing the study. 


Pre-Class Reading

There are consequences to spending a lot of time online.  One way to understand the implications of social media is to think about how, and for what purpose, you engage with social media.

Read this recent article that looked at social media usage and mental health in undergraduate students. 

Hunt, Melissa G., Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson, and Jordyn Young. "No more FOMO:
     Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression." Journal of Social and
     Clinical Psychology
 37, no. 10 (2018): 751-768.

As you read the article, answer the following questions: 

  • What problem(s) do the authors identify?
  • The Literature Review is the first several pages of this article before the authors explain their methods.  What type of information did the authors include in their Literature Review?  What's the purpose of this Literature Review for the reader?
  • Looking at the authors' methods, what's one thing that you would do to improve on their study?
  • What argument do the authors make based on their research?
  • The authors discuss some of the limitations of their study. Were there other limitations you thought about as you read the article?
  • What, in the article, surprised you?


In- Class Discussion

Have students go through the questions they answered while reading the article.  Then discuss the following questions:

  • Did you find that your own usage of social media overlapped with anything discussed in the article?
  • The article tested users only using Social Media for 30 minutes a day. Do you think that's feasible/reasonable, why or why not?
  • Did you have any main takeaways after finishing the article


After- Class Activity

Conduct your own informal research!  Limit your social media usage to 30 minutes a day for one week.  At the end of the week, write a short 1-2 page essay on how you felt limiting your social media intake? Was it harder or easier than expected?  Did you have any positive or negative effects from the exercise?  Did you learn anything new about how you are connected to social media?




Topic: Exploring Digital Privacy Tools

Created by Paul Doty, ST. Lawrence University Libraries

Lesson length: 20 minutes


In Class Viewing

There are many tools that you can try to reduce how much you're tracked online. Some require more commitment than others. In this video, librarian Paul Doty from St. Lawrence University introduces three of these tools.


In-Class Activity & Discussion

You can try one or all of these tools to see how they help protect some of your privacy online. Explore all three tools in class.  You don't have to download Privacy Badger or Tor, but you can visit their websites to learn more about them and what they do.

  • What are the pros/cons of using each of these tools?




Topic: Search Engine Influence

Created by Johanna MacKay, Lucy Scribner Library, Skidmore College

Lesson length: 45 minutes


In Class Viewing

Your data including your search history is collected by companies like Google and used for a myriad of purposes including influencing your search engine results.  Watch this short video to learn the basics of how a search engine like Google works to index the web, retrieve, and rank results.


In Class Reading

There are hundreds of data points that are used by search algorithms to list and rank results including your own digital footpath.  Read this report from the Search Engine Duck, Duck, Go about how search history and other data points can create a "filter bubble" especially when searching controversial topics.



  • Can you think of ways that Google may be influencing what you click?
  • What are the positives/negatives of having a filtered search?
  • Duck, Duck, Go is a competitor with Google. Does that influence how you interpret their results?



Duck, Duck, Go is a search engine that does not collect your data or browsing history, so its search algorithms are not influenced by those data points.  Try searching Duck, Duck, Go for a variety of topics including more neutral as well as more controversial ones (gun control, abortion, vaccines, etc.) and then compare the results you get from doing those same searches in Google. 

  • How do the rankings vary between the search engines?  Are there major differences or just slight differences between the order of websites?
  • What are the pro/cons of using a search engine like Duck, Duck, Go versus using a search engine like Google?
  • Even if you continue to use Google for most or all of your web searches, is there anything you might consider the next time you search a research topic?


Further Reading and Watching

If this topic sparked interest, you can watch this Ted Talk with Eli Pariser who coined the term "filter bubble". You can also read this article from the Wall Street Journal investigating the many factors that affect Google rankings. 




Topic: Evaluating Sources with Lateral Reading

Created by Johanna MacKay, Lucy Scribner Library, Skidmore College

Lesson length: 45 minutes


In Class Activity & Discussion

Do a couple of Google searches on any topic and look at the websites that show up on the results page. 

  • What criteria do you use to decide whether this source is providing credible information?

On a Jamboard or whiteboard, write down the different criteria that students use for evaluation and their process for evaluating sources.


In Class Viewing

There have been many methods put forth on how to evaluate sources from the internet like websites, videos, podcasts, and more. One of the most recent techniques is called Lateral Reading, and it’s designed to mimic how a Fact Checker would evaluate a source by investigating the author and its claims.



You’re doing research on essential oils, trying to find information on whether they provide health benefits. Do a Google search on this topic.  Choose one of the first 5 websites in your results list. 

Using lateral reading, investigate this web source, opening up new tabs in your browser to learn more about the author/sponsor and their claims.



Have a couple of volunteers talk about the website they chose and what information they discovered about that website through lateral reading.

  • Was there anything surprising about the web source you investigated?
  • In the end, would they use this web source for their research?
  • Would there be a better, more reliable source that you could find with the same information?
  • How effective was the technique of lateral reading? How does it compare to the criteria students presented at the beginning of class? Is there something you’d do differently?




Topic: Password Checkup

Created by Johanna MacKay, Lucy Scribner Library, Skidmore College

Lesson length: 15 minutes

One of the most important ways to protect your digital privacy is to use strong passwords to protect your accounts. Let’s think about your current passwords and look to see if you should make some changes to make them stronger.


Personal Reflection

Think about some of the passwords you use every day for accessing your social media, email, banking, and streaming accounts. Analyze those passwords with the following questions:

  • How long are your passwords? Are they more than 10 or 12 characters long, or less?
  • Do your passwords contain words that are personal to you like a nickname, birthday month, street name, family or pet name, etc.?
  • Do you include characters and numbers in your passwords?


Now think about your password habits:

  • Do you have 2 factor authentication (2fa) set for accounts that give you that option?
  • Do you use the same password for multiple accounts?
  • Do you share your passwords (especially those for streaming accounts) with family and friends?
  • How do you store your passwords? Do you use a password management system, or write them down on a physical piece of paper?


In-Class Reading

Read the following article from Consumer Reports about creating strong passwords.


Follow-Up, In-Class Discussion

  • Upon personal reflection, how strong were your password habits?  What things are you doing well?  Was there something you needed to change?
  • What were the main tips in the article to increase password safety?
  • Did anything from the article surprise you?
  • Does anyone else have tips they know about to help protect passwords?