In my life as a learner, I have always followed my bliss. I had understood the educational power of flow, that magical state of being, so elegantly described by the psychologist Mike Csikszentmihalyi. Flow can occur when you’re immersed in any personally meaningful activity, where all sense of time seems to wash away. Most of the important decisions I have made in my life relate to my need for increasing levels of novelty and complexity in order to maintain flow as a state of perpetual learning.
I experience flow in solo activities when I’m deep in silent conversation with ideas and authors or paying homage to the sublime beauty of the natural world. As a young girl, I discovered flow while devouring books at the public library and in the joyful pleasures of performing musical theater and choral singing. But nothing compares to the flow experience of collaborative activities where everybody learns from everybody. For the past six days, it was the 2016 URI Summer Institute in Digital Literacy that enabled me to truly take joy in learning.
Participants developed digital inquiry projects to explore questions they generated working with a partner, on topics ranging from art history, literature, environmental science, literacy, film and media studies, information literacy and more. In the Tier 2 Leadership Track, participants developed change management plans for implementing digital literacy into their work. We had 21 faculty and team leaders working together to support the learning of 159 elementary and secondary teachers, librarians, college and university faculty, researchers and media professionals.
Each day brought a perfect mix of learning through hands-on, minds-on experiences. Thanks to marvelous support from Julie Coiro, Kara Clayton, Charlie Coiro, Diana McMasters and Yonty Friesem, during the week I got time step away from the job of co-directing the program to attend sessions, create media and participate in meaningful dialogue that expanded my own thinking. I even generated a bunch of great ideas to bring back to my own graduate students this fall!
Learning from keynote speakers like Chris Lehmann and amazing faculty and team leaders including Julie Coiro, Rhys Daunic, Troy Hicks, Kristin Hokanson, Erica DeVoe and Maria Ranieri was a treat. But it was the talented participants of the program whose ideas and insights most entranced me. There was Helen Faber, Academic Director of the Cathedral School Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, whose profound insights on the digital divide and the power of storytelling brought me to tears. Daniel Tucker and Chuck Morgan shared with me their thinking about exploring the genres of hoaxes, pranks and scams to address issues of ethics and social responsibility in media with high school and community college students. Among the most poignant moments of the program were to be found in the Visualizing Leadership activity where participants described to each other a sense of their emerging identity as a leader in digital literacy.
And then there was Sara Radtke of the Clayville Elementary School in Warwick RI whose marvelous project, presented during the Gallery Walk with her partner, included an exploration of why leaves change color, where they plan to have Grade 1 students create a digital “Leaf Journal” by having children write, take photos of trees, and create audio recordings of what they observe about trees throughout the academic year.
In ten years, I may get the pleasure of teaching Sara’s students— those future college students who, thanks the growing number of K-12 educators who are incorporating digital literacy and inquiry learning into the curriculum, will come to the university with the knowledge, skills and habits of mind needed for success in a digital age.
We college faculty have much to learn from those who have a deep understanding of the power of inquiry learning as it activates intellectual curiosity and promotes independent lifelong learners. Digital and media literacy pedagogies, when applied to higher education, can enable students to experience flow in every college and university course. But such work may challenge some of the norms, expectations and routines of academic disciplines. Such work may challenge us, as university faculty and researchers, to practice what we preach when it comes to our own teaching. Through collaborative and interdisciplinary K-20 learning experiences like the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, we recognize that not only are our students a work-in-progress when it comes to digital and media literacy competencies, but so are we all.
Yes, we are all a work in progress. I am grateful for all of the learning I was able to do with so many fantastic people this week. I was reminded to give myself and my students permission to play, because that is where creativity begins.