Digital Media Literacy

According to the National Association for Media Literacy Education Media Literacy is:

Within North America, media literacy is seen to consist of a series of communication competencies, including the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms, including print and non-print messages.

Media literacy empowers people to be both critical thinkers and creative producers of an increasingly wide range of messages using image, language, and sound. It is the skillful application of literacy skills to media and technology messages.

Media Literacy has evolved in the last 20 years and is now even more important for educatomedia-literacyrs to understand and embed into their curriculum and lessons. Books, magazines, TV, movies have now expanded to the digital world and is now available 24/7 making the media that we are exposed to pervasive  and extensive. A recent Common Sense Census found that teens spend an average of 9 hours with entertainment media use a day. With that amount of exposure it is imperative that we know how this media attempts to manipulate our thoughts and beliefs. We need to be able to ‘…access, analyze, evaluate,…’ this media. And more importantly we need our children, who are growing up with this exposure, to be able to analyze and evaluate it.

What makes this even more difficult is that much of the media manipulation is even harder to see within the digital infrastructure. The media has become more than just consuming, but also interactive. This interaction creates  a psychological rewards system that feeds more interaction. Companies and organizations have created ways where their consumers become part of the system; sharing, liking, tweeting, retweeting, all the while getting fed ‘rewards’ that then sell more goods or ideas. This system also fuels more media and screen time.

How do we combat this manipulation? We need to give our students practice with various media and guide them through the analysis of them. This can take various formats, but there are a lot of resources available to help. Here’s my suggestions:

  • Start out with static images and train them to really look and think about them. VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) starts with three very simple questions: What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?
  • Introduce media literacy concepts: (These taken from the Center for Media Literacy.)
    • All media messages are ‘constructed’.
    • Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
    • Different people experience the same media message differently.
    • Media have embedded values and points of view.
    • Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.
  • Continue looking at media following this continuum: visual literacy–advertisements–moving images (recommended by Frank W. Baker, author of Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom)
  • Remember to embed all media, including digital media through apps that students are exposed to. In many of these apps advertisements are disguised as ‘rewards’.
  • Once you have done some explicit instruction on media literacy you can embed discussions into all units. The more exposure the better!

Not only does media literacy fit into life skills that all our students need to know, but also the art of persuasion that can be linked to persuasive reading genres and writing types. It can be embedded in all content areas as well, since there are a plethora of examples of media that addresses (and attempts to manipulate) all areas of knowledge. It really comes down to teaching our students to be critical consumers of the information presented to them.

Need more information:

Media Literacy Clearinghouse (Frank Baker)
Project Look Sharp
Center for Media Literacy
Media Literacy Now
8th Grade ELA Media Literacy Class/Resources


The Common Sense Census: Media use by Tweens and Teens

mediacensusheaderimage768x202Common Sense Media just released their newest comprehensive study: The Common Sense Census: Media use by Tweens and Teens. I’ve included the infographic of main findings below, but it definitely is worth reading the full report. I have gone into classrooms to teach digital citizenship lessons for the last couple of years and have seen how students have evolved. Combined with what I have learned from our own students this report gives a comprehensive view of our students’ life and the media they are exposing themselves to.

Some important take aways of this census:

This study allows us to see the whole ‘media’ picture.

It focuses on teen and tween media diets, which includes all media, not just screens. It actually shows that ‘Despite the variety of new media activities available to them, watching TV and listening to music dominate young people’s media diets.’ (Key finding #4) It also identifies the challenge we now have with identifying media use or screentime:

With the explosion of devices and forms of content in today’s media landscape, it is increasingly challenging to measure the time youth spend and the things they do with media and technology. Media devices are portable, ubiquitous, and integrated as essential tools in young people’s lives, and what counts as “media use” or even “screen time” is harder to define. It is no longer simple to define what “TV” or even “reading” is. And measuring how much time is spent on a particular activity is not straightforward either, since many media are used in short bursts throughout the day, while others may be on in the background all the time. (The Common Sense Census: Media use by Tweens and Teens, 2015 p.5)

As consumers of media, especially digital media, we know the way we use, view and consume it varies greatly. For example, currently I’m sitting in my home office. The TV is on while I write this post. I am using my smartphone to read and text with family and friends. I also have 13 windows opened in my Chrome browser. Facebook, twitter, Google communities are just a few of the social media sites I’m monitoring at the moment. During the last 4 hours I’ve paused while reading the full report, and writing this post, to play Free Rice, as well as an online civilization game. Multi-tasking with a variety of media is more the norm then the exception for everyone, not just our teens.

Individuals are unique, and our teens and tweens are no different.

To help categorize this uniqueness, this report puts the respondents into profiles dependent on their answers. These profiles include light users, readers, mobile gamers, heavy viewers, video gamers and social networkers.

It isn’t just about the amount of time, but the purpose for their media use: reading, watching, playing, listening, communicating, and creating.

This is very interesting because we would hope that our students aren’t just consuming media, but are rather using the power of digital media to become the creators.  The new semantic web gives us the power to become the creators. Unfortunately this study finds that only 3% of teen and tween media use is creation. Passive consumption, communication and interactive consumption are what our teens are devoting their time to.

For educators this has huge ramifications. I believe what this tells educators is that it is up to us to model and support students in seeing the power of using digital media to produce and create, not just consume.

Parents and teachers are talking to children about online safety and use… but I wonder if they are missing the most important lesson.

This study addresses conversations that are happening between parents and their children. 86-87% of parents are talking to their children about ‘staying safe online’. They are also talking to them about being responsible and respectful online (85-86%). This is a great finding, but it isn’t enough. If on average our teens are spending 5 hours and 55 minutes every day with media, 4 hours 36 minutes with screen media then we need to be educating them on digital literacy and the invisible connections and manipulation that exists in this media. It isn’t enough any more to be educating our youth on digital ‘stranger danger’. Invisible connections and digital consumerism uses unique marketing and propaganda to sell ideas, stereotypes and products. It is so much a part of our lives that we don’t even recognize the manipulation that is being directed by the ‘man behind the curtain’ of the digital world. As educators I think this is where we should be spending our time with our youth. The Frontline documentary Generation Like is a great way to learn about some of this manipulation and its affect on us.



Common Sense Census