Nearly three out of five states say they have defined what it means for students to be “media literate” and have implemented media-literacy standards, according to a recent survey–a result suggesting that states are beginning to address the importance of preparing students for an information-rich society, but they still have more work to do.

Called “The Changing Media Landscape: Ensuring Students’ Safety and Success in School and in the Future Workplace,” the survey was developed “to get a snapshot of how states are assisting schools to prepare today’s students to be ready for life, work, and citizenship in our increasingly digital world,” said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

SETDA developed and administered the survey in partnership with Cable in the Classroom (CIC), the cable industry’s education foundation. The two groups issued the results, along with a media-literacy tool-kit that SETDA created to help promote “a systemic approach for [teaching] information and media literacy within our schools.”

According to SETDA and CIC, media literacy means knowing how to access, understand, analyze, evaluate, and create media messages on television, the internet, and other outlets. It also means “knowing how to use these and other technologies safely, productively, and ethically.”

For Doug Levin, senior director of education policy for CIC, which has been advocating for media-literacy education for more than 15 years, media literacy also means reevaluating definitions to fit 21st-century needs: “There are a host of new, exciting educational applications on the horizon, from virtual worlds like Second Life to educational games and online simulations, … that require a rethinking of what it means to be literate.”

The survey requested that states specify their guidelines for media literacy, and it asked them to rank their needs and areas of interest regarding media-literacy issues. According to SETDA, 38 states and the District of Columbia responded.

Of these respondents, 23 states (or 59 percent) said they define media or information literacy and have established standards for teaching media literacy. States that require statewide assessments of media-literacy skills include Hawaii, Michigan, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Six states report having no plans to create media-literacy standards, according to the survey. (It does not name these states, and the survey’s sponsors did not supply this information before press time.)

Twenty-nine states said they have safety policies and/or guidelines to protect children from online predators, to protect personal information online, to prevent cyber bullying or hacking, and to counter copyright violations.

Only 21 states, however, said they have policies for teaching students how to access information online and how to determine the reliability, validity, and appropriateness of content.

The survey asked states to rank their needs and areas of interest regarding media literacy on a scale of one to five, and 27 of the 39 respondents said safety is their strongest area of interest. Security and ethics also rank high, with 23 states reporting these as areas of extreme interest.

In conjunction with its survey results, SETDA released a toolkit called “The Changing Media Landscape: Promoting a Systemic Approach to ICT and Media Fluency.” The toolkit consists of a “National Perspective” introduction, which frames the importance of media literacy; a definition matrix that distinguishes between terms such as “digital literacy” and “technology literacy”; compilations of resources for teaching about internet safety and media literacy; and advice for building support for these concepts among stakeholders.

According to Sara Hall, deputy director for SETDA, the toolkit tries to “define the important pieces of literacy that are necessary to develop a successful workforce.” It also aims to “urge states and … educators to create cohesive, comprehensive plans … to arrive at the goal of media fluency.”

Bill Romond, educational technology coordinator for the Vermont Department of Education, says he thinks SETDA’s tool-kit is a good idea. Vermont requires its schools to submit a local technology plan every two years, and Romond says this year the state will require schools to address media literacy specifically in their plans. For that to happen, though, Romond believes schools will need more staff awareness, clearer definitions of what is meant by media literacy, and more resources for those already teaching media-literacy skills. He thinks SETDA’s new toolkit will become “a valuable resource, because it covers the range of [those] needs.”

Another toolkit proponent is Jayne Moore, director of instructional technology and school library media for the Maryland Department of Education. Maryland, which has two sets of curriculum standards that address media and technology literacy, imbeds both sets into all curricular areas, because “both should be a shared responsibility of all educators in all content areas,” according to Moore.

Moore says Maryland’s newly revised State Technology Plan has strategies to address both technology and media literacy, and the state is putting together its own toolkit to support standards and indicators. “SETDA’s toolkit will be a very critical part of our toolkit,” she says–and it makes sense that resources should be shared, “instead of each district doing its own development [or] reinventing the wheel.”


SETDA Toolkits

Cable in the Classroom