Episode 079: Dr. Renee Hobbs and Dr. Beth Rabbitt at the Blended Learning Conference

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A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to moderate the campfire session at the Highlander Institute’s Blended Learning Conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Two of the special guests that we had were Dr. Renee Hobbs from the University of Rhode Island and Dr. Beth Rabbitt who is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. This episode is an MP3 that I compressed from the Google Hangout on Air that we did. We had a lively discussion about digital literacy, blended learning, and empowering both teachers and students to create a culture of learning.

Guest Bio:

Renee HobbsRenee Hobbs is an internationally-recognized authority on media literacy education. Through community and global service and as a researcher, teacher, advocate and media professional, she has worked to advance the quality of digital and media literacy education in the United States and around the world. She is the Founder and Director of the Media Education Lab, whose mission is to improve the quality of media literacy education through research and community service.

Dr. Hobbs is a Professor of Communication Studies at the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island. From January 2012 to June 2014, she served as Founding Director of the School, helping create a distinctive identity, mission and vision for the new school, which includes programs in Journalism, Film/Media, Communication Studies, Public Relations, Writing & Rhetoric and a graduate program in Library and Information Studies. She also served as Interim Director of the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies in 2013, leading that department through a major curriculum renewal process. She worked collaboratively with URI colleagues in the School of Education to create a Graduate Certificate in Digital Literacy and has a joint appointment in the URI School of Education, supervising PhD students enrolled in that program.

Renee Hobbs received an Ed.D in Human Development from Harvard University, an M.A. in Communication from the University of Michigan, and a B.A. with a double major in English Literature and Film/Video Studies from the University of Michigan.

Beth RabbittBeth Rabbitt is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. Beth has a decade of experience in education entrepreneurship, human capital, consulting, and finance. Her work at TLA focuses on human capital and helping districts build staff effectiveness to ensure blended learning transformation efforts are successful.

Beth was most recently the Director of Human Capital and Innovation at Touchstone Education, a blended learning charter management organization.  Prior to that, she worked for several years as an Associate Partner at the NewSchools Venture Fund, where she identified, supported, and helped to launch and scale innovative education ventures. She has also worked as a Summer Associate with Education Resource Strategies and a founding Doctoral Fellow at the Harvard Innovation Lab.  Beth serves as an advisor to several education organizations and is a Trustee of Scholar Academies. She earned B.A. from Dartmouth College and a Doctorate in Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) from Harvard University.

Show Notes:

(04:04) To Renee: Talking about your experience in digital learning and media literacy, why is it that digital literacy matter so much to you? And how do you see it in relation to blended learning?

(06:45) Why do I care so much about this work? Because I’m afraid of what happens when learning gets detached from the vitality and authenticity of being genuinely curious.

(07:54) You mentioned something about disconnect, between what happens outside the classroom and inside the classroom. Is there a root cause, you think for that disconnect in the classroom, why they’re not engaged in those curiosities?

(09:12) To Beth: Why does blended learning matter so much to you? And how do think it has the opportunity to transform the state of education?

(09:26) My work is driven by a deep held conviction that our institutions of learning are not really well suited for individual learners.

(15:59) One of the things that I think interesting that you touched on…Technology has taken a lot of industries and put them on their heads. And I think of publishing a lot because typically, if you’re an author, or you had something to say, you’re beholden to that publisher, whether or not they say that your idea is worth publishing or not, whereas now, you can decide  yourself whether that content is worth publishing or not…

My next question is going to be the challenges and system changes with blended learning, but that’s one piece of it. The other piece is the empowerment of teachers to be entrepreneurs themselves.

(17:56) What do you think are the challenges and system changes that’s showing now that’s seeing real efficacy in blending learning? What do you think the challenges are? Is it systemic, is it leadership, cultural?

(20:23) How do you build a school culture that involves all of the stakeholders, not just one of the groups, to feel like people are trusted enough to actually try these things out? … How do you create a whole environment so there’s individual change, there’s group change? Where everybody feels safe to experiment and to keep learning and it’s part of the culture to keep learning?

(24:26) You asked me in the very beginning, what distinctions do I see between digital learning and blended learning… I believe I have a selective and incomplete understanding of blended learning… I wonder if blended learning is like a phase, or a stepping stone… Is blended learning a means to an end or is it an end in itself?

(32:20) There’s not a lot of room for us to fail fast because there’s somebody always coming around saying, ‘Well, what about the test scores?’

(42:03) That echoes back to my worst-case fear about what blended learning could be, which is, let’s push certain apps, certain tools on teachers, instead of thinking about how can we address the problem you described using low cost or free tools.

(43:40) If assessment is that important, then we teachers have to own it. It has to be our job and we have to take responsibility for it. And we have to ask for that to happen.

(46:58) The other thing that’s presented here is also rethinking how teachers get to work with each other.

(52:35) It starts with all the things that you talked about blended learning. It’s taking risks, it’s collaborating, it’s empowering, and for me it’s differentiating at its best, for students, for teachers.

Campfire Session at the Highlander Institute’s Blended Learning Conference in Providence, Rhode Island

Links:

Blended Learning Conference: http://www.blendedlearningconference.com/

Highlander Institue: thttp://www.highlanderinstitute.org/

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