Center for Digital Literacy Marks 10th Anniversary

By: Diane Stirling
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  Dr. Ruth Small, founding director of the Center for Digital Literacy.

The Center for Digital Literacy (CDL) at the School of Information Studies (iSchool) is celebrating its tenth anniversary next week, and the occasion signifies a bit of a transition as well as many milestone moments in academic research achievements. 

On May 1, posters will be displayed on the first floor of Hinds Hall, reflecting the work that has taken place through the years and that of current CDL students.

The anniversary also marks a slight adjustment in operations. Ruth V. Small, Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor and Director of the LIS Program - School Media Specialization at the iSchool, who founded and has directed the Center’s on-campus operations for the past decade, is moving to Arizona after the end of this semester. She will continue to direct the center virtually, making the transition to “distributed faculty,” and using a variety of information technologies to continue “business as usual,” returning to campus regularly to meet with graduate assistants and faculty collaborators.

Faculty member Dr. Marilyn Arnone, Research Associate Professor and Professor of Practice, will continue as a Center co-director, working virtually from North Carolina and maintaining her long-standing collaboration with Dr. Small on a variety of projects, as well as her own projects. Assistant Professor of Practice Barbara Stripling will assume new duties as on-campus co-director.

“It’s a true iCenter,” Dr. Small noted. “Marilyn and I have worked closely together for 20 years, regardless of the fact we have lived in two different states for most of that time, and now we look forward to adding Barb, as well as other faculty, to our team. We’re a living example of what we’re teaching our students about virtual collaboration and teams. “

The CDL began as an interdisciplinary, collaborative research and development center to explore the need for and acquisition of multiple literacies, to develop tools to foster those literacies in a variety of contexts, and to assess the consequences of having or not having such literacies on children, youth, and adults. Its advisory board continues to be interdisciplinary, including faculty from Newhouse and the School of Education, as well as the iSchool. CDL has brought in close to $6 million in external funding and has fully or partially supported more than 70 graduate students from throughout the University in that time.

“It’s just been a great experience to lead this center and work with the students – every one of them that has worked here is just amazing. It’s a good thing, and I’m going to miss being here physically every day. We’ve moved almost every student who works with us into funded positions – and that’s been terrific tor them, terrific for us, and terrific for the school,” Dr. Small remarked.

Standout work of the past 10 years includes S.O.S.for Information Literacy, a web-based multimedia resource for educators to enhance the teaching of information literacy skills to students in K-16. Another longstanding effort has been made possible through three sequential rounds of Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant funding. Project ENABLE (Expanding Non-Discriminatory Access By Librarians Everywhere), a collaboration with the Burton Blatt Institute, provides train-the-trainer programs for school, public, and academic librarians to help them deliver effective services to students with disabilities.

A National Science Foundation-funded initiative involving 35 faculty from Syracuse University and other universities around the country, plus 40 representatives of leading national organizations, was “Dr. Ruth’s” favorite project, she recalled. “It was the best two years of my professional experience. We had a catalyst grant to develop a Science of Learning Center proposal. We were looking at how to motivate and stimulate young children’s curiosity for and interest in learning STEM content. We had the top people in the country in motivation, technology, and child development, and they all agreed it was the best project they had ever worked on. It was like a love fest!” That effort has continued in other forms with some of those associates, including two subsequent projects with motivation expert Dr. Edward Deci of the University of Rochester, according to Small.

Project E*LIT (Enriching Literacy through Information Technology), is another standout, because of the involvement of local schools and nationally known children’s authors. For six years, the program connected librarians, teachers, and students in technology projects based on the authors’ works. “It was meaningful, because we were able to engage the local educational community. The kids got very excited, teachers and librarians were collaborating, and it was a real win-win for everybody,” Dr. Small said.

In addition to directing dozens of research and evaluation projects at the iSchool and for noted organizations, Dr. Small has evaluated a wide range of educational programs, from the Department of Library Science at the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil) to the Connecting Schools and Libraries Project of the Dewitt Wallace-Readers Digest Fund. She also has led a number of management training programs for national organizations.  Her current projects focus on Project ENABLE training; research on how and why children become and remain innovative; and the development of an automated Web site evaluation tool for educators and students.

Small summed up the past 10 years with this look to the future. “CDL has really made a name for itself in the school library community, particularly with the hundreds of librarians nationwide who have participated in our projects. We have been very blessed by IMLS; they really like what we do and they’ve supported us since Day One.” Dr. Small added, “I am confident that the work we’ve started will continue well into the future, and that both faculty and students will continue to be excited by the kinds of projects we do at CDL.