A Fresh Outlook on Teaching Media (and Hosting Conferences)

Written by

Lydia Sellers

Professor Renee Hobbs has dedicated more than thirty years to media literacy education through teaching, researching, writing books, and creating supportive communities for educators.

One of those communities is the Media Education Lab, which equips educators—K-12 teachers, college faculty, school administrators, librarians, and more—to teach students how to access, critically evaluate, and create media on their own. Many countries, including the US, need this skill to bridge political and cultural polarization gaps.

Renee's work felt even more meaningful in 2020 as she saw an "increased awareness about how our online community is inevitably tied to a political project . . . through education we want to create a more just and a more secure and a more fair society. Media literacy has a lot to say about using current events, using popular culture, using what's going on in the world as a tool to promote learning and dialogue and collaboration and problem-solving."

After hosting the University of Rhode Island's Summer Institute in Digital Literacy in-person for eight years, Renee moved the program online with Pathwright in 2020. She discovered a few unexpected positive side effects . . .

1. Increased Participant Diversity

Participant diversity increased because hotel and travel expenses were no longer barriers. Four teachers from a Navajo reservation and educators from Brazil, Romania, and other underserved communities joined online. Renee reflected, "Our online community grew more diverse and deeply collaborative and intensified our feelings of connection across time and space."

2. Empowered Older Participants

Moving the Summer Institute online created a natural and low-barrier way to build technology skills for older participants, like Jane. Before the Summer Institute, Jane didn't know what a web browser was. But Renee created a staffed Zoom room called "The Lounge" that was available for support all day every day of that week to make sure anyone could get help when they needed it. Not many used it, but Jane did. She asked for help fourteen times in six days. She finished the program and signed up for the more advanced follow-up program for summer 2021.

Renee said, "[Jane] obviously increased her confidence and her perception that she could be a learner online, and the fact that she signed up again to get a deeper dive... it just means the world to me. It means that everybody can benefit from the robust journey that online learning affords, and I don't want to leave anybody behind on this journey."

3. Increased Participation Overall

Media Education Lab saw a spike in overall participation in their events throughout the year, some of which may have been correlated with the successful online Summer Institute. In 2020 alone, 10,248 people joined their Zoom meetings.

"My thinking about online learning has changed. In a way, I felt very prepared for the pivot because I was already teaching online. But I realized that we had to help our educators — the people we serve — think deeper about realtime and anytime learning (synchronous vs asynchronous) . . . Teachers always guide and connect and help students create, but the form that the guiding, the connecting, and the creating takes might be different now in online learning," said Renee. "Christian Shockley [Head of Ed Labs at Pathwright] was really a big influence in our thinking about the affordances of anytime learning and how to make anytime learning just as curiosity inducing, just as engaging... And for most of the people we worked with that was the big 'ah-ha!'"

Tips for Hosting a Conference Online

Hey there! It's Christian from Ed Labs here jumping in. I hope you enjoyed this article on one of my very favorite Ed Lab Partners, Renee Hobbs. To round things out, I'd like to share a few tips to help you run your own conference online using Pathwright.

  1. First off, get yourself in the mindset. Whether it's a simple or complex conference, the Path is going to act as a basecamp for your attendees. It'll be the place they join and come back to for those right-on-time nudges to the right events. So that means...
  2. You should rely a lot on scheduled, custom reminders. Think of it as uploading your hosting personality even before the conference begins. Want to know another cool thing about using a robust schedule? Your conference attendees can export it to their personal calendar.
  3. Now to the structure of your conference. If your presenters don't have a lot of extra material to share pre or post session, your path design can stay relatively simple (think a step or lesson for each session). But if you have lots of speakers and you want your attendees to have fun, interactive lessons before or after a session (which I highly recommend!), you'll want to use Collections. With Collections, you can give each speaker their own path to customize, then bundle them all together for your conference attendees.

Alrighty, I'll leave my tips there for now. If you'd like to meet with me to design your own conference on Pathwright, feel free to schedule an Ed Lab session. Remember, Ed Labs is focused on educational design (not typical support questions). For those kinds of more technically focused questions, the talented Pathwright guidance team is available at hello@pathwright.com.

In 2021, Renee published a new book on propaganda, Mind Over Media, and an online companion course that models the learning activities in her book. Renee hopes this course will help educators engage with students in analyzing current events, propaganda, and disinformation. Learn more about Renee Hobbs, her 2021 book, and her good work at the Media Education Lab.

Join the online education conversation with us on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, or Instagram. We'd love to hear from you! To share feedback or a topic suggestion for the Pathwright blog, please email me at lydia@pathwright.com.

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