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URI professor leads digital literacy program

July 22, 2013

Digital literacy program the first of its kind in RI

PROVIDENCE – Fifty educators, media professionals and graduate students participated in the state’s first Summer Institute in Digital Literacy this week, which focused on how literacy is changing as a result of emerging media and technologies.

University of Rhode Island professor, Renee Hobbs, who is also the founding director of the Harrington School of Communications and Media at URI, brought the program to the Ocean State for the first time since the institute began in the early 1990s.
Some 20 years ago, Hobbs created the first national teacher education program in media literacy, the Harvard Institute on Media Education, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“Over the last 20 years, we’ve been deeply involved in professional development of kindergarten through grade 12 teachers with university partnership,” Hobbs said.
She said this most recent institute, held at URI’s College of Continuing Education in Providence, is unique because of the partnership and involvement of Julie Coiro, an assistant professor of reading at URI’s Graduate School of Education.
“She is one of the leading experts in online reading comprehension,” Hobbs said. “We’re bringing literacy to educators, college faculty, librarians, media professionals … it really is a very interesting diverse group of people who have assembled for this program.”
The program began Sunday, July 14 and concludes today.
The six-day institute involved lectures, seminars and conversations about how to analyze digital media and technology and how to create using new software tools, Hobbs said.
For example, she said participants learned how to make an infographic in a session on Wednesday using an online tool “in like 10 minutes.”
“That really helps educators help students learn to critically analyze information,” Hobbs said.
She said participants explored a wide range of multimedia tools including cameras and shooting video and Storify and social media.
“Every day there are so many choices, so many different tools and resources and text being shared, no one of us can see everything,” Hobbs said. ‘We’re having a lot of fun.”
Hobbs described the experience as a combination of lectures, production, media making and “deep conversation.”
“Because we think it’s really important to address issues around the complexities of life in digital culture,” she said.
She said the participants discuss “hot topics” like using iPads and applications in schools to promote learning. They’ve even discussed using Google Hangouts to connect students around the world or even in different towns in the state, like in Providence and Westerly.
Hobbs believes using such a tool will promote “intercultural understanding.”
“Even in Rhode Island it’s a small state, and we don’t necessarily encounter people who are different from us in terms of cultural background,” she said.
At the institute however, different backgrounds were well represented with the 50 participants hailing from three countries, 15 states and a host of different professions.
On Wednesday Hobbs said the participants were already requesting for another institute to be held next year.
“We didn’t think so when we started the week,” Hobbs said of the possibility of holding another institute in Providence next year. But participants have approached her and said they want to come back next year.
“We feel like we’ve tapped into something here, it’s a unique model,” she said.
Hobbs said the word “institute” implies a “deep dive” and deep discussions they have had.
“It’s not ‘ed-tech,’” she said. “It’s a much richer, deeper conversation about the nature of literacy and expanding the concept of reading and writing to account for all the ways we communicate.”
For more information on the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, visit

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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