Ten steps for better media literacy skills

Media literacy skills are used for more than just research papers.

As policy makers work to increase the number of U.S. households with broadband access, many are realizing it’s not enough for people to be able to access information online and through various media outlets; they also need the ability to analyze the information they find for accuracy and credibility—a 21st-century skill not every child or adult possesses.

A new white paper, “Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action,” by Renee Hobbs, founder of Temple University’s Media Education Lab, now gives policy makers and education leaders a detailed plan to boost media literacy skills in their communities.

“Existing paradigms in technology education must be shifted towards a focus on critical thinking and communication skills and away from ‘gee-whiz’ gaping over new technology tools,” Hobbs said. “An effective community education movement needs a shared vision. This report offers recommendations that involve many stakeholders, each participating in a way that supports the whole community.”

The need for action arises from other recent reports, such as a 2006 survey by Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which found that 75 percent of internet searchers “do not pay heed to the quality of information they find, and 25 percent reported becoming frustrated, confused, or overwhelmed by what they find.”

Another report, released in 2009 by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, assessed media literacy in communities and created 15 recommendations to better meet communities’ information needs.

After the release of the Knight Commission report, titled “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age,” the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation partnered to explore ways to implement its recommendations.

The Aspen Institute commissioned a series of white papers to help transform these recommendations into action—and Hobbs’ media literacy report is one such white paper (others include universal broadband, civic engagement, online hubs, and more).

According to Hobbs, knowing how to search for, analyze, and interpret information is a skill that will be used for more than just writing a good research paper: People use media literacy skills for applying for jobs online, getting relevant health information, and sifting through online educational opportunities, for example.

People also need media literacy skills to read or watch the news, write a letter to an editor, comment on an online news story, share ideas online, take an opinion poll, search for information on topics, or take community action.

Perhaps most importantly, media literacy skills are crucial in understanding and maintaining online safety, said Hobbs.

“We must consider the balance between protection and empowerment and respond seriously to the genuine risks associated with media and digital technology,” she explained.

Hobbs’ 10 recommendations for better media literacy skills

Support community-level digital and media literacy initiatives.

1. Map existing community resources and offer small grants to promote community partnerships to integrate digital and media literacy competencies into existing programs.

Meris Stansbury

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