This article explores the relationship between digital and media literacy (DML) and digital citizenship. It situates digital and media literacy within the larger field of media literacy and explores how democratic communication and critical pedagogy inform the James L. Knight School of Communication’s citywide DML initiative in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Between 2008 and 2009, the Knight Commission met to evaluate the information needs of communities and recommend guidelines to help meet those needs.1 The commission made several recommendations related to communications infrastructure. They recommend that communities “maximize the availability of relevant and credible information to all Americans and their communities,” and help people engage with that information.2 In 2010, the Aspen Institute published Renee Hobbs Digital and Media Literacy: a Plan of Action, a white paper based on the Knight Commission’s recommendations.3 In it, she outlines various ways to create digital and media literacy opportunities throughout communities. According to Hobbs, digital and media literacy refers to the ability to access and share information online; analyze and evaluate media messages; create media messages in a variety of forms; self reflect on online conduct; and solve problems in the community.4 The Knight Commission and Hobbs’ frame digital and media literacy as it relates to citizenship. They argue that people with these skills are able to successfully participate in the modern world. This is part of a larger, broad spectrum of research about the digital divide and civic engagement.5 It examines who has access to new information technology, who does not, and what that means in contemporary society. It also examines to what extent technology enhances civic engagement. This work often highlights how people’s access to broadband technology creates more civically engaged and democratic communities.6 In other words, people who have access to—and know how to use—online and mobile media technology are at a far greater advantage in life than those who do not.
Digital and media literacy is part of a loner and larger discussion related to literacy studies, information literacy, digital literacy, media education, media literacy, and media literacy education.7 These similar terms do not compete with one another. They complement one another. Information literacy, often under the purview of the American Library Association, is commonly associated with research skills. Digital literacy is commonly understood as the ability to use computers. Literacy studies examines impact of print literacy on society and culture. By extension, new literacy studies examine those impacts in electronic environments.8 Media education refers to “the process of teaching and learning about media; media literacy is the outcome.”9 Media literacy is a skillset associated with the ability to access, analyze, and share media messages across various platforms.10 Media literacy education, on the other had, focuses on how to teach media literacy. Digital and media literacy (DML), therefore, focuses to how to teach digital and media literacy.
Over the last thirty years, media literacy education has been primarily developed for individuals and students. According to Rogow,
students learn to use relevant questions to evaluate and analyze media messages and to reflect on the media they create. They routinely ask questions of all media, not just media with which they disagree. They effectively engage in respectful discussion and remain open to changing their minds as they take in new information and hear others’ perspectives.11
Yet, what might this model look like if applied to digital and media literacy education? How might it apply (not only to students in the classroom but) to community members throughout a city at large?12 What might a model of citywide digital and media literacy education look like? How might DML-related content be constructed in such a way that it serves an entire city, not just a single student, classroom, or school? This is the challenge for the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte.13
Digital Citizenship, Digital Charlotte: Origins
In 2011, as part of a $5.75 million grant, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation endowed the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte. John S. and James L. Knight were newspapermen. They created Knight Newspapers (which later became the Knight-Ridder company). They owned eleven newspapers throughout the country, including The Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, North Carolina. Today, the Knight Foundation funds projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational changes in communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. The foundation has a strong emphasis on education and community service. One of the their key beliefs is “that well informed communities are essential to a healthy democracy.”14 The James L. Knight School of Communication shares this belief. As part of the grant objective, the Knight School is engaging in community partnerships throughout the city. These partnerships include business and technology entrepreneurs. They also include community organizations and non-profit organizations such as the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, the Charlotte Observer, Imaginon, Discovery Place, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts, and the Urban League among others. The Knight School will coordinate this large-scale digital and media literacy collaboration to establish a connected learning laboratory with the goal of improving citywide DML. To accomplish this, the school has a number of initiatives inside and outside the university.
Inside the university, several faculty members teach with the university’s core Modern Citizenship course each year. The course, which all traditional undergraduates take in their first year, explores what it means to be a citizen in contemporary society. Last year, inspired by Hobbs’ report, the school developed digital citizenship curriculum within that course. It helps student understand digital and media literacy as a path toward citizenship because modern citizenship is digital citizenship. To be a digital citizen, individuals need to be able to act – or AACCT. Here, the faculty re-worked Hobbs’ definition of digital and media literacy into the citizenship-specific acronym AACCT, which refers to the ability to
- Access, evaluate, and share information online
- Analyze media messages in a variety of forms
- Create content using “new-to-you” digital tools
- Critically and ethically reflect on your online practices and behavior
- Take action as a digital citizen to solve problems in your community
Each element builds toward the “take action” component of digital and media literacy. Once individuals acquire these skills, they are able to take action to solve problems in their communities as digital citizens.15. Within the course, students develop video tutorials like “how to create a Skype account,” and “how to upload a resume.” Then, they go into the community and teach people how to access and use these tutorials. Throughout the year, students help community members learn new digital skills at workshops on campus and throughout the city of Charlotte.16
These video tutorials are part of the Knight School’s Digital Charlotte website (www.digitalcharlotte.com), which launches in 2013—an umbrella site designed to connect and amplify DML-related content and outreach throughout Charlotte.17 Digital Charlotte connects organizations and leaders to each other, to the school, and to the wider Charlotte community as a way to amplify DML efforts across the city. The video tutorials will contain Charlotte-specific content to highlight Digital Charlotte’s connection and commitment to the local community. So, as users learn “new-to-you” digital tools, their understanding of how to apply this knowledge will be rooted within a local community framework.18 This local emphasis will help educate and connect users to the local media ecosystem. In addition, the site will include feedback features so that users can tell the school what they want to learn, how they use the site, and how to improve it based on users’ needs. In this way, the site not only serves the people of Charlotte but also reflects them.19
Digital Citizenship, Digital Charlotte: Developments and Strategic Partnerships
The Knight School’s Best Minds conference informed much of its work related to the Digital Charlotte project.20 During the past two years, conference participants worked and re-worked a series of ideas that are now some of school’s guiding principles to improve citywide digital and media literacy in Charlotte. The three guiding principles that drive much of the work in the Knight School of Communication are to scaffold initiatives over time, engage in collaborative and reciprocal community partnerships, and build continuous improvement into every community initiative. These principles form the foundation of the school’s strategic partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system.21 This relates to the Knight Commission’s recommendation to “fund and support public libraries and other community institutions as centers of digital and media training, especially for adults.”22 Public libraries and community centers play a critical role in local communities. They provide patrons access to digital technology and DML training outside the home.23 The Knight school is working directly with the libraries to determine their digital and media literacy needs in order to custom build DML-specific tutorials for them.24 These tutorials will live on the Digital Charlotte website for staff and patrons to use as needed. Users can go to the site and self-select which topics or tutorials best suite their needs. Library staff and patrons can also use the site to suggest tutorial topics for future development.25 The school will also host yearly workshops to train the library staff and volunteers on the Digital Charlotte website and tutorials. This will provide library staff with a personalized tour of the website to help them better assist their patrons successfully navigate the Digital Charlotte site. As the school moves forward to create a connected, citywide learning laboratory, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is key strategic partnership. It helps the school broaden its audiences across the city, will lead to new DML content for the website, and provide feedback—all the while focused on the overall mission to help community members increase their digital and media literacy.
It is, of course, important to consider individuals’ motivation for acquiring digital and media literacy. Their immediate needs may range from learning job training skills, communicating with friends and family via email or social media, or creating an online petition against a proposed city ordinance. Technology is not the sole answer to any problem. It can, however, help connect community members to people, ideas, and resources and magnify their efforts toward solving those problems. If the end goal is the same (to help individuals engage in their community), does it matter how people get there? Does it matter if they start with the technology and move toward a civic engagement project? Does it matter if they start with a civic engagement project and learn the technology to help them organize or promote it? No. Today, digital and media literacy and civic engagement are not distinct fields with only one entry point for community participants. They are, instead, merging fields where each one informs the other.26 This is not an “either/or” problem. It is as an “and/with” opportunity. The Digital Charlotte project is at the center of these merging fields. It is an attempt to bring community members and organizations together (in a citywide initiative) to help them connect their digital and media literacy needs to civic engagement and their civic engagement needs to digital and media literacy.
Thumbnail image of digital literacy workshop by Jennifer Hull.
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Carreiro, Alexis. “Digital Workshops in Charlotte Help Improve Media Literacy” Knight Blog. April 18, 2012 (11:30 a.m.). Accessed September 7, 2012. http://www.knightfoundation.org/blogs/knightblog/2012/4/18/digital-workshops-in-Charlotte-help-improve-media-literacy/
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- The Knight Commissions is a collaboration between the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation commission compriseded of a panel of seventeen media, policy, and community leader.↵
- The Knight Commission, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age (Washington: The Aspen Institute, 2009), xi.↵
- These specific recommendations are to “integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state, and local education officials; fund and support public libraries and other community institutions as centers of digital and media literacy training, especially for adults; engage young people in developing the digital information and communication capacities of local communities.” Renee Hobbs, Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action (Washington DC: The Aspen Institute, 2010), 16.↵
- Hobbs, Digital and Media Literacy, vii.↵
- Mitchell. F. Rice, “The Digital Divide and Race in the United States,” Politics, Administration, and Change 36 (2001): 20-31; Jan van Dijk and Ken Hacker, “The Digital Divide as a Complex and Dynamic Phenomenon,” The Information Society 19, no. 4 (2003): 315-326; Roberta G. Lentz and Michael D. Oden, “Digital Divide or Digital Opportunity in the Mississippi Delta Region of the U.S.,” Telecommunications Policy 25, no. 5 (2001): 291–313. Karen Mossberger, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Ramona S. McNeal, Digital Citizenship: The Internet, Society and Participation (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008); Joanne Caddy, “Focusing on Citizens,” in J. State of the eUnion: Government 2.0 and Onwards, ed. John Gotze and Christine B. Pederson (2009), 207-216, http://21gov.net/wp-content/uploads/e-book.pdf; Matt Leighninger, “Citizenship and Governance in a Wild, Wired World How Should Citizens and Public Managers Use Online Tools to Improve Democracy?,” National Civic Review 100, no. 2 (2011): 20-29; Lance W. Bennett, “Young Citizens and Civic Learning: Two Paradigms of Digital Citizenship in the Digital Age,” Citizenship Studies 13, no. 2 (2009): 105-120.↵
- Eszter Hargittai and Gina Walejko, “The Participation Divide: Content Creation and Sharing in the Digital Age,” Information, Communication and Society 11, no. 2 (2008): 239–256; Joseph Kahne, Lee Nam-Jin, and Jessica Timpany Feezeel, “Digital Media Literacy Education and Online Civic and Political Participation,” International Journal of Communication 6 (2012): 1-24; Pippa Norris, Digital Divide: Civic Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet in Democratic Societies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Howard Rheingold, “Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement,” in Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth, ed. W. Lance Bennett, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008): 97–118.↵
- For an excellent summary of the early stages of the field, see Renee Hobbs, “Seven Great Debates of the Media Literacy Movement,” Journal of Communication 48, no. 1 (1998): 16-32.↵
- For a great review of the field, see Kathy Ann Mills, “A Review of the ‘Digital Turn’ in the New Literacy Studies,” Review of Educational Research 80, no. 2 (2010): 246-271.↵
- David Buckingham, Media Education: Literacy, Learning, and Contemporary Culture (Cambridge: Polity Press. 2003), 4.↵
- Patricia Aufderheide and Charles M. Firestone, Media Literacy: A Report of the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1993).↵
- Faith Rogow, “Ask, Don’t Tell: Pedagogy for Media Literacy Education in the Next Decade,” Journal of Media Literacy Education 3, no. 1 (2011): 18.↵
- Again, the distinction here is that digital and media literacy refers to the knowledge and skills associated with DML, whereas digital and media literacy education refers to the practice of teaching those knowledge and skills.↵
- Author is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte and creator of the Digital Citizenship program. To assess the baseline level of digital and media literacy throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg county, the school partnered with a marketing and research firm in Charlotte. Together, they recently launched a large-scale telephone survey. The survey is available in both English and Spanish, and residents may participate via their landline or cell phones. Dean Eric Freedman developed the survey inspired, in part, by the Pew Internet and American Life project. (See Pew Internet and American Life Project, “Project History,” About Us, http://www.pewinternet.org/About-Us/Project-History.aspx) The questions reveal residents’ access to technology, time spent, and general use. In the meantime, the school is conducting a number of citywide projects and working with local businesses and non-profit organizations in an attempt to help improve those numbers across time.↵
- Knight Foundation, “History,” About the Foundation, accessed Nov. 26, 2012, http://www.knightfoundation.org/about/history/.↵
- For example, within the course, students are asked the following: What does it mean to be a digital citizen? What digital skills do you need to participate as a modern citizen in contemporary society? What community resources are available to people who possess those skills? How are people disadvantaged if they do not have access to digital technology? How are people disadvantaged if they do not have digital and media literacy? What are your rights and responsibilities as a digital citizen?↵
- For more information about these workshops, see Alexis Carreiro, “Digital Workshops in Charlotte Help Improve Media Literacy,” Knight Blog, April 18, 2012 (11:30 a.m.), accessed Sept. 7, 2012, http://www.knightfoundation.org/blogs/knightblog/2012/4/18/digital-workshops-in-Charlotte-help-improve-media-literacy/.↵
- Recently, the school hosted a community leaders workshop with some of our community partners. At the workshop, participants shared how and where they (and their constituents) navigate the local media ecosystem, what digital and media literacy training they offer in the community, and what new DML tutorials would most benefit their constituents.↵
- For example, a Twitter tutorial may provide information on how to “follow” and tweet the Charlotte mayor. It might also include information on how to follow a Charlotte-specific hashtag such as #CLT to stay informed about current events. A Facebook tutorial may include information on how to create a fundraising page to support Charlotte’s Project Lift initiative or Crisis Assistance Ministries.↵
- The school will also use the website to track users engagement with the digital tutorials (and quizzes) as a way to measure their digital and media literacy acquisition.↵
- This annual three-day conference is designed to bring together a handful of professors, researchers, community practitioners, media activists, and non-profit professionals to discuss best practices in the merging fields of digital and media literacy and civic engagement.↵
- The Knight School could potentially partner with any number of community organizations but does not have the bandwidth (in terms of faculty, staff, or students) to support endless partnerships. Therefore, the school developed a list of criteria an organization must meet in order to be considered a strategic partner. (1) Partnerships connect the school to its intended audience. (2) Partnerships lead to the production of new content for the school’s online educational platform. (3) Partnerships lead to civic engagement projects beyond the educational platform, in the public sphere. (4) Partnerships lead to feature stories about the community, hosted on Digital Charlotte, producing visible evidence of digital and media literacy efforts. (5) High value partnerships provide actionable feedback, are responsive, and show sustained engagement with digital and media literacy initiatives.↵
- Knight Commission, xvii.↵
- Davies et al., “Community Technology Centers as Catalysts for Community Change,” January 2003, http://www.pps.org/pdf/CTCs.pdf; Institute of Museum and Library Services, “Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills,” accessed Nov. 27, 2012, http://www.imls.gov/about/21st_century_skills_home.aspx; Knight Commission, 25; Hobbs, Digital and Media Literacy, 22.↵
- This includes the needs of their library staff, volunteers, and patrons.↵
- Digital Charlotte (digitalcharlotte.org) launches in early 2013 with a select number of tutorials. Based on feedback from the libraries and other key community partners, the Knight School will develop and roll out new tutorials as needed.↵
- Alfonso Gutiérrez and Kathleen Tyner, “Media Education, Media Literacy, and Digital Competence,” Comunicar: Scientific Journal of Media Education, accessed Nov. 26, 2012, http://www.revistacomunicar.com/pdf/preprint/38/En-03-PRE-13396.pdf; Bennett, “Young Citizens and Civic Learning”; Kahne, Lee, and Feezeel; Henry Jenkins, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Chicago: The MacArthur Foundation, 2007); Paul Mihailidis, “New Civic Voice and the Emerging Media Literacy Landscape,” Journal of Media Literacy Education 3, no. 1 (2011): 4-5.↵