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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Casey


*This blog post was first published on the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy website. Thanks to Amanda Murphy, Michelle Ciccone, Kara Clayton and Stephanie Branson for the opportunity to reflect on my Summer Institute experience.

An announcement for the 2018 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy recently popped up on my Twitter feed. If you’re wondering what it might do for your teaching and learning, read on.

I had some very specific goals prior (the result of writing a funding proposal) to making the trip from the midwest to Rhode Island in 2015:

  1. Effectively incorporate hands-on assignments into my undergraduate media and information literacy class

  2. Figure out ways to ditch the much maligned media literacy textbook I had used for several years

  3. Find a little comradery, as I was frustrated by a lack of understanding about media and information literacy by colleagues and administrators (even though said administrators funded the trip!)

  4. Satisfy my inner media literacy fan girl (yes, there is such a thing) by learning from Renee Hobbs

Those last two were not included in the official funding proposal.

The first goal was the most practical. Having come from a media studies/cultural studies background, I wanted to find some ways to merge that foundation with interactive, innovative and collaborative pedagogical strategies. It was clear to me that students loved learning about media (and even media theory) but I struggled to move away from the very traditional ways (lectures, seminars, etc.) I had been taught as an undergrad. And it was equally clear that not all my students loved my lectures and seminars, despite being hilariously entertaining and informative.

At the same time, I didn’t just want to incorporate technology for the sake of introducing some shiny new toy into the classroom, or even worse, be branded a “gee-whizzer” (admittedly, one of my all-time favorite Hobbsian phrases – Renee, not Thomas, that is). At the Institute, I had a few firsts, most of which serve to underscore my not-exactly-early-adopter status. I learned how to use Twitter to crowdsource ideas and follow researchers in the field, make a screencast, took my first crack at building a website and contributed to a wiki. Three years on, I can’t imagine my media and information literacy class without Twitter or utilizing screencasts for various media analysis projects (#co233bc). I even got around to building my own website. I am much less of a technophobe, thanks in part to the Institute.

My second goal dovetailed into the third as media literacy syllabi, experiences and ideas were generously exchanged among the other college profs and librarians in attendance (remarkably, one colleague gave me access to her carefully curated stash of resources on Evernote). As a result, the textbook in my media and information literacy class was ditched and students rejoiced.

More concerning though was the fact that I already took a lot of flak from colleagues and administrators for teaching about popular culture (old academic hierarchies die hard), what reactions would I get by incorporating social media and other perceived frivolous ‘technologies’? It is truly unfortunate that sometimes these approaches are viewed as “teaching lite” (to use Alison James and Stephen Brookfield’s memorable phrase from “Engaging Imagination”). The Institute provided some solace (not to mention clever retorts) in knowing that others encountered this stereotype in their teaching with and about media.

Other highlights included the people I met, late night chocolate martinis (shout out to Darnell and Angela) and did I mention Howard Rheingold? He gave an inspiring keynote and I was introduced to “NetSmart”, a work way ahead of its time.

Ultimately, the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy gave me the tools, resources, confidence and more importantly, the support network, to begin to create my ideal media and information literacy classroom culture – one that is cooperative, participatory, creative, messy, and challenging. And as much as students loved my old lectures, although they may not know it, I am certain they too are thankful for the Institute’s influence.

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