We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.
7th Annual Summer Institute in Digital Literacy
KINGSTON, RI — May 3, 2019– For the seventh year in a row, the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy will strive to educate participants on how literacy is changing as a result of emerging media and technologies. The catch, though, is that in order to learn digital literacy, participants must first learn the importance of human interaction and collaboration. The intensive six day, 42 hour-long summer professional development program will be held from July 14 through 19, in Providence. Graduate students may take the course as part of the Graduate Certificate in Digital Literacy, a 12-credit blended learning program offered by the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies. Learn more about and register for the summer institute.
Co-run by URI Professors Renee Hobbs and Julie Coiro, the Institute will be extremely informative for educators in K-12 and higher education, librarians, digital media makers and those interested in strengthening their leadership skills. However, the Institute uses an “everyone learns from everyone” approach to emphasize the importance of professionals in different fields sharing their expertise. “We focus on quality learning and relationship building first, and then how to think about ways that technology can foster these elements,” said Coiro. “People want to feel like they belong and matter first. Then with access to a computer and the internet, they start to see the power of networking with more people across different communities. Ultimately, people begin to see how digital texts and tools can deepen learning and promote agency in a lot of different contexts.”
Hobbs and Coiro promote project-based inquiry while using digital texts, tools and technologies to consider the implications of the cultural and technological shift for teaching and learning. According to Coiro, “Part of digital literacy is about reading and writing strategies. Both in and out of educational settings, people encounter digital elements that can complicate reading and learning with others. How do you navigate and negotiate digital texts and all of the different tools we have access to now? How do you actually learn when and how to put the computer or social media away and balance that with real human beings interacting with each other? These are the things we seek to answer at the Institute. Then throughout the year participants stay in touch with our From PD To Practice blog and regular webinars hosted by URI’s Media Education Lab. The Institute is broken up into three tiers. Tier 1 is inquiry-based, and is designed for first-time participants. Coiro and Hobbs emphasize that each Tier 1 participant should come to the Institute with an issue or concept they would like to investigate more fully. Once at the Institute, there is a strong emphasis on building personal connections with the other participants, and trading knowledge and expertise. Participants are even paired for the duration of the institute, something that many shy away from at first, but ultimately find to be rewarding. Finally, participants use technology and other tools to create a project focused on the issue or concept they had in mind, and are given an opportunity at the end of the week to showcase their projects with the whole group. Tier 2 participants focus largely on building leadership and collaboration skills while learning how to inspire others interested in digital literacy. Only participants who have completed Tier 1 can enroll in Tier 2. For the first time this year there will be a Tier 3, designed for individuals who have completed Tiers 1 and 2, but are eager to return. These participants will have the opportunity to completely build their own learning space and self-direct ways of documenting their accomplishments and challenges, and sharing their progress with others.
One of the biggest questions participants are asked to reflect on during the week is what digital literacy means to them. As for Coiro? “I’m the reading person. A lot of work I do involves online reading comprehension, using the internet to pose important questions, and learning how to understand challenging issues from multiple perspectives. I’m interested in how teachers and students learn how to negotiate and come to consensus in groups or across digital texts that represent different perspectives on an issue. For me, part of reading and thinking in today’s digital world is linked to the ability to synthesize diverse perspectives and creatively use different kinds of media to share what you’ve learned with others.” By educating their participants about how to be digitally literate and providing them with the technological tools they need, the goal is that participants are then able to return home and create real change in their own communities.
Though this goal seems lofty, the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy touts that 85 percent of its previous participants have rated the institute as the best professional development workshop they have attended. According to its website, “It’s like summer camp for grownups. Complete strangers collaborate to inquire, analyze, curate, learn and create media together, developing meaningful friendships and collaborative partnerships.” The institute also has a diverse fan base, as every year participants fly in from at least six different countries.
Next year, in an effort to branch out, the institute will move to Chicago, Illinois. Hobbs and Coiro have built a partnership with faculty at National Louis University, which has a very strong reading department, is heavily engaged with the Chicago public education system, as well as issues of social justice and equity. By relocating to Chicago, Hobbs and Coiro hope to make the institute more accessible to people throughout the country and beyond, and gain a more diverse array of attendees and voices. Coiro noted, “We’re really hoping to broaden the kinds of people that we bring in so we can broaden what people think about digital literacy. We also hope to broaden our thinking about graduate coursework and the benefits of building collaborative partnerships across universities.” In the future, Hobbs and Coiro hope to appeal more to undergraduate pre-service teachers pursuing degrees in education.
Currently, most of their participants are educators who are established in their careers, as they tend to have more time for professional development-style workshops and see firsthand the challenges of integrating technology into their work with diverse learners. Hobbs is internationally recognized for her work as a teacher, researcher, activist and media maker with a passion for digital and media literacy. She is a professor of Communication Studies in the Harrington School of Communication and Media at URI. Coiro is internationally recognized for her expertise on inquiry in digital literacy and online reading comprehension and what it looks like in practice with different kinds of learners. She is an associate professor of reading education in the School of Education at URI.
--written by Lauren Poirier, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations and English major