Renee Hobbs is a professor and founding director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island.
Considered one of the country’s leading authorities on media literacy education, Hobbs talked to Providence Business News about the school’s first Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, which runs from July 14 to 19 at the URI Feinstein Providence Campus.
PBN: What do you think are the basic digital literacy skills every student should have?
Here is a list of the “Essential competencies of digital and media literacy”
Access: Finding and using media and technology tools skillfully and sharing appropriate and relevant information with others.
Analyze & Evaluate: Comprehending messages and using critical thinking to analyze message quality, veracity, credibility, and point of view, while considering potential effects of consequences of messages.
Create: composing or generating content using creativity and confidence in self-expression, with awareness of purpose, audience and composition techniques.
Reflect: Applying social responsibility and ethical principles to one’s own identity and lived experience, communication behavior and conduct.
Act: Working individually and collaboratively to share knowledge and solve problems in the family, the workplace and the community, and participating as a member of a community at local, regional national and international levels.
Digital and media literacy are not only about “tech skills” but about the habits of mind needed to use digital media and technology for lifelong learning.
PBN: Some of the teachers you’re instructing have students as young as kindergarten level. Why do you think it’s important to start so young?
HOBBS: Kids are using digital media during the preschool years. For children growing up today, popular culture, digital media and technology are tightly woven together. Kids are watching YouTube videos, playing videogames and watching TV – and reading books. In fact, they are ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ texts in a wide range of forms. But although children may participate in these practices from their earliest years, their teachers may be largely unaware of them. That means they are missing out on opportunities to connect the classroom to the culture, making education relevant and engaging in ways that promote intellectual curiosity. My new book, “Discovering Media Literacy: Digital Media and Popular Culture in Elementary School,” explores how to introduce these key skills among children ages 5 - 11.
PBN: What sparked the idea for the digital literacy program?
HOBBS: When I came to Rhode Island to lead the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island, I had already been familiar with the work of Dr. Julie Coiro. She is one of the nation’s leading authorities on online reading comprehension - and we all can see for ourselves how reading from a screen is different from reading from a page. Julie’s amazing - the International Reading Association awarded Julie its Top Researcher Under 40 Award. We are both aware of the great synergy that exists between her work in online reading comprehension and my work in digital and media literacy. So we decided to test the waters this summer and see if anyone might want to spend a week with us, learning new skills and gaining knowledge to take back to the classroom, the library or the workplace.
In fact, more than 60 people have signed up – so we’re thrilled about that and look forward to making new allies in our mission to bring digital literacy to every American student before they graduate from high school.
PBN: What’s your five-year goal for this program?
HOBBS: The Summer Institute in Digital Literacy will be a “rite of passage” for every educational leader who wants to lead their school district into the 21st century. It will be known as a place where college faculty, K-12 educators, media professionals, and those in library and informal learning environments can learn from each other and establish collaborations that lead to innovative new approaches to teaching and learning with and about digital media. As a result of our efforts, the University of Rhode Island will be known nationally and internationally for its excellence in digital literacy education.
PBN: What general advice do you have for teachers who want to introduce more technology into their teaching practices?
HOBBS: Don’t be overwhelmed by all the many choices. Pick one technology and play around with it. This summer, for example, I am exploring the use of Twitter as a research tool, discovering how I can search using keywords to find content and experts who can help me. One teachers discover for themselves the pleasure and power of learning with digital media, they can design creative ways for students to engage in this kind of learning, too.