URI professors’ mission to make every U.S. student digitally literate

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URI Feinstein Providence Campus to host digital summer institute for educators July 14 through 19

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 8, 2013 –Two University of Rhode Island professors are working to help every student in the United States develop the new digital and media literacy skills they need for the knowledge economy and the many technology-intensive jobs that demand excellent communication skills.

To further that mission, Professors Renee Hobbs and Julie Coiro have organized the first Summer Institute in Digital Literacy for more than 50 kindergarten though grade 12 teachers, media professionals, youth media advocates and researchers. The program will run from July 14 through 19 at the URI Feinstein Providence Campus.

The institute is designed to help educators explore how to meet students’ literacy and learning needs by using digital texts, tools and technologies together with innovative instructional strategies that motivate and engage students’ critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills.

“We’re expanding the concept of literacy to address the world that our students are living in now,” said Renee Hobbs, professor and founding director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media, a new school at URI that brings together programs in journalism, film/media, public relations, writing and rhetoric, communication studies and library and information studies. She and her colleague, Julie Coiro, an associate professor of education at URI and a leading expert on online reading comprehension, are co-directing the Summer Institute, along with national experts Professor Hiller Spires of North Carolina State University, Rhys Daunic of the MediaSpot, a New York City media literacy program, and Michelle Schira-Hagerman of Michigan State University.

“Today, students need to be able to find, gather, use and share information using the Internet, and they need to analyze and evaluate the messages they encounter,” said Coiro. “They need to compose and create using language, images, sound and multimedia. We’re preparing teachers who can advance students’ reading and writing skills in all of the many forms that they now encounter—through tweets, YouTube videos, blogs and much more.”

According to Hobbs, digital literacy is growing in importance because educators, government leaders and members of the business community are recognizing the relevance of these skills to future citizens and workers. Participants have enrolled in the Summer Institute from across the country and around the world, including educators from Canada, Italy, Japan and Israel.

But the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy is definitely not just another educational technology conference, notes Coiro. Instead, the program examines the opportunities and the challenges of living and working with new digital media tools and their utility in the context of kindergarten through grade 12 education and higher education.

For this reason, Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, is the keynote speaker for the program. He will speak Tuesday, July 16 from 12:45 to 1:45 p.m. in the Paff Auditorium.

Rushkoff explores media, culture, economics, and politics. His previous best-selling books on media and popular culture include Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, a follow-up to his Frontline documentary, Digital Nation, and Life Inc.

URI Harrington School Director Hobbs will address the institute Wednesday, July 17 from 8:45 to 9:30 a.m. in the Paff Auditorium.

Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist will participate in a panel discussion about digital literacy and education reform Thursday, July 18, from 9 to 10:30 a.m.

“There’s real momentum for digital literacy within the education community and in other education-related sectors, including higher education,” Hobbs said.

In 2012, Hobbs served as the Digital Literacy Fellow for the American Library Association and her white paper, Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action was published by the Aspen Institute and sponsored by the Knight Foundation Commission on the Information Needs of Citizens in a Democracy. Recently the U.S. Department of Commerce created DigitalLiteracy.gov as a portal to help all Americans gain the digital literacy skills they need for school, the workplace and citizenship.

“Teachers will finish the week-long program inspired by a clear vision of how to activate students’ skills as authors and audiences, ready for full participation in society,” said Coiro.

By learning for themselves how digital tools promote critical analysis, creativity and self-expression, teachers advance in their own careers as reflective practitioners and professionals.

“The diverse knowledge community that comes together for the Summer Institute enables us to engage — as researchers, learners and teachers – in preparing students for the world outside the classroom,” said Hobbs.

Online registration for the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy is open until July 12 at http://mediaeducationlab.com/summer-institute-digital-literacy.