What is digital media literacy and why is it important?


Photo by Stuart Miles -Free Digital Photos

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A recent article in the NZ Herald got me pondering (http://bit.ly/Xjoq5R) and subsequently posting these musings to my Facebook page : 

As part of an Initial Teacher Education programme, should we be providing teachers with the skills and know-how to (a) be confident and competent in working with digital media and resources themselves, in order to (b) be confident and competent to facilitate learning for their students, using a range of digital media? 

Computing and digital technology up until recent times has been seen as a specialised skill, and hasn’t really fallen into the essential skills that teachers need to have…..but is this changing?  To be more accurate, the change is already happening so maybe the question for those of us unfamiliar with digital technology and digital media literacy is “how much time do we have to upskill before we are left behind?”  Should we all be on a mission to further develop our digital technology and digital media skills to be in a position to better meet the needs of our ‘digital-age’ students and learners?

I found some clearer guidelines and information on the Australian Governments Communications and Media Authority website (http://www.acma.gov.au) that you may find useful:

Promoting media literacy is a key to ensure that we are equipped with tools to make informed choices about media and communications services and to enable people to participate effectively in the digital economy.

What is digital media literacy?

Digital media literacy is often understood as the ability to access, understand and participate or create content using digital media.

Developments in digital technology have had significant effects on the way individuals interact with communications and media services. An increasingly wide range of sources of information, ways of doing business, services (including government services) and entertainment are now commonly made available and accessed online and/or through digital media.

Why digital media literacy?

The field of media literacy research is well established and takes in different forms of literacy including:

  • classic literacy (reading-writing-understanding),
  • audiovisual literacy (related to mass media such as film and television), and
  • digital literacy (which relates to the technical skills required by modern digital technologies).

In the last decade, in both academic and policy discourses, the concept of media literacy has broadened from its traditional focus on print and audiovisual media to encompass the internet and other convergent media.

The ACMA is particularly interested in the increasing role of digital media and technology in social, public and private lives. This informs the focus of the ACMA’s media literacy research on issues relating to digital media.

Why is digital media literacy important?

The ability to confidently use, participate in and understand digital media and services is becoming an important prerequisite to effective participation in the digital economy and society more generally.

We all need to have at least basic digital media literacy skills because:

  • the development of our country’s digital economy will be constrained if its citizens are limited in their ability to participate because they lack adequate skills or confidence
  • those unable to participate will be excluded from the benefits that will increasingly flow from digital media as they become more integrated into everyday social, cultural and economic life
  • those who are not digitally literate, or who have low levels of digital literacy, will be less likely to have the confidence, knowledge and understanding needed to participate in a safe, secure and informed manner in the digital media and communications environments they enter.

A digitally literate person should be able to:

  • understand the nature of different types of digital services and the content they provide
  • have basic capacity and competence to get connected, to operate and access various digital technologies and services
  • participate confidently in the services provided by digital technologies
  • exercise informed choices in online and digital media and communications environments
  • have an adequate level of knowledge and skills to be able to protect themselves and their families from unwanted, inappropriate or unsafe content.

‘With an increasingly complex array of services and technologies, people need to be confident and skilled in navigating an expanding range and choice of content while at the same time understanding how they might protect themselves and their families from exposure to harmful or inappropriate material. They need to know how to manage security and privacy risks online and be able to make informed decisions between various platforms and competing service providers.’ Chris Chapman, ACMA Digital Media Literacy Research Forum September 2008

Examples illustrating digital media literacy in action

Access to basic services

Increasingly, a range of services are being made available online, including banking and government services. In some instances companies may replace face-to-face transactions with online services. The ability to effectively access these online services requires a level of digital media literacy which spans:

  • Basic access: the ability to access broadband internet by a straightforward connection to the necessary device and technology
  • Understanding: users require a level of understanding about the risks associated with undertaking certain activities online. This means, for example, knowledge about how banks will communicate online with customers (never via email), the importance of maintaining regular security updates and virus checks, and the legitimacy of security certificates when passing on credit card details via the internet.

Researching information

The 2008 Norton Online Living Report found that 96% of online children in Australia find their information for school projects on the internet. Increasingly older Australians are also turning to the internet to research products, companies and other information needed to make daily decisions in life.

But how do people select the most appropriate sources? Should they use information from, say, a blog, Facebook comments, an online newspaper, a refereed academic paper, wikipedia, or some other source? Making effective use of the internet to research a subject requires a degree of digital media literacy that enables the user to correctly interpret the range and quality of information available online.

Social media

For many young people belonging to an online social network shapes the nature of peer relations not only online but also in other contexts too. A growing body of research suggests there are a number of positive benefits associated with the rise in online social networks, which include greater opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and more self expression, including participation in new creative forms through blogs, video-production, video or picture manipulation.

Some scholars suggest that the ability to embrace participatory cultures has become a new form of ‘hidden curriculum’ which is starting to shape who will succeed and who will be left behind as people enter school and move out into the workplace.

However, the ACMA research indicates that almost 50 per cent of Australians don’t know where to find information about protecting personal information when using social media. Effective participation in social media activities depends not only on knowing how to access and use broadband services and social networking websites, but also understanding when and where it is appropriate to divulge personal information online. 

What digital media literacy challenges and triumphs have you experienced with regards to professional teaching practice?  What changes need to be implemented?  Would love to hear your views and thoughts on this topic.

Gaynor Clarke

Reach. Teach. Lead.

Reach Education Ltd

Email me at gaynor@reached.co.nz

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