Conclusion: Imagining the Future
Conclusion: Imagining the Future
A global movement for digital and media literacy education is developing all over the world (Frau-Meigs & Torrent, 2009). For example, in the European Union, media literacy has been identified as a priority for the 21st century. Media literacy encompasses all media, including television and film, radio and recorded music, print media, the Internet and all other new digital communication technologies. It is a fundamental competence not only for the young generation but for people of all ages, for parents, teachers and media professionals. This issue is seen as so critical to the development of European social and cultural development that by 2011, all the countries of the European Union will have developed preliminary metrics to measure the levels of media literacy among their citizens.
Here in the United States, we are finally beginning to move beyond the “gee whiz” phase that’s been keeping us drooling over the just-beyond-the-horizon transformative potential of the Internet, hungry for the latest game, gadget or online widget to change our lives.
It is now time for Americans to pay equal attention to the human competencies and skills that people use when becoming effective authors, audiences and active participants in the digital age.
Many educators have been wary of the well-publicized hype about the unsubstantiated benefits of digital media in education because of their own real-life experience spending six hours a day with children and teens whose lives are more or less infused with cell phones, iPods and laptops. They know that simply using digital media tools is no educational panacea. A recent study of students in grades 5–8 showed that those from disadvantaged families got lower math and reading scores once the Internet arrived in the home. Analyzing the test scores of over 150,000 students in North Carolina, Duke University researchers compared children’s reading and math scores before and after they acquired a home computer and compared those scores to those of kids who never acquired a home computer (Vigdor & Ladd, 2010). The test scores of low-income kids who got computers at home declined more than children who did not get computers. For middle-school students, social networking, YouTube videos and online games can be a potent distraction from homework and other activities.
Even young people themselves are recognizing some limitations of life online. Some are concerned that screen interaction will replace face-to-face social relationships and others wonder if online civic acts are merely “token activism,” creating an illusion of civic engagement while actually distancing people from their causes. “Such nuanced stances reveal that teens and adults are engaged in thoughtful consideration of the civic potentials of online life” (Global Kids, The Good Play Project and Common Sense Media, 2009, p. 17).
Generation after generation, we keep having to discover the obvious: technology itself is no savior. Cell phones, video games, social networking, electronic whiteboards and the Internet will not automatically improve education, any more than radio or television did. Although children and young people are using digital media, they are not necessarily becoming either smarter or more digitally literate. Novel forms of digital technologies may actually widen the achievement gap by offering potent time-consuming distractions that interfere with homework and other activities. We must not confuse just owning technology, playing video games, or using online social networks with having the habits of mind, knowledge, skills and competencies needed to be successful in the 21st century. As the Duke University study showed, computers at home are used primarily as an entertainment device unless an active, learning-oriented approach is cultivated.
Fortunately, it is possible to imagine that, in the next few years, our appreciation of the delicate balance of protection and empowerment will lead us to better manage our “constantly connected” lives. When digital and media literacy become a fundamental part of contemporary education both in and out of schools, we will achieve these results:
- Parents will pay attention to why and how screen media is used by their children and teens at home and balance on-screen activities with other forms of play and learning to both protect and empower children and youth.
- People of all ages will internalize the practice of asking critical questions about the author, purpose and point of view of every sort of message—whether it be from political campaigns, pharmaceutical advertisements, reports and surveys issued by think-tanks, websites, breaking news, email, blogs, or the opinions of politicians, pundits and celebrities.
- Teachers will use engaging instructional methods to explore the complex role of news and current events in society, making connections to literature, science, health and history, building bridges between the classroom and the living room that support a lifetime of learning.
- People of all ages will be responsible and civil in their communication behaviors, treating others with respect and appreciating the need for social norms of behavior that create a sense of personal accountability for one’s online and offline actions.
- As a fundamental part of instruction, students will compose and create authentic messages for real audiences, using digital tools, images, language, sound and interactivity to develop knowledge and skills and discover the power of being an effective communicator.
- People from all walks of life will be able to achieve their goals in finding, sharing and using information to solve problems, developing the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, communicate and share ideas and information, participating in meaningful social action in their neighborhoods, communities, nation and the world.
In the process, teamwork, collaboration, reflection, ethics and social responsibility will flourish. Teachers will not have to complain about a generation of young people who lack the ability to identify appropriate keywords for an online search activity, those who are not aware of which American city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and those who cannot identify the author of a web page.
Media professionals in news and journalism, digital media, advertising, and cable and broadcast television are beginning to recognize that everybody wins when consumers are more active, engaged, intentional and strategic about their media use habits. When people have high expectations for the quality of news and entertainment, there will be more opportunity to produce quality products. By working together to build coalitions and partnerships, we must support digital and media literacy as a community education movement for all people in the United States.