Renee Hobbs, national expert on digital and media literacy who leads the Media Education Lab founded at Temple University, this month took the helm of the new Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island. The Media Education Lab also moves to URI. Hobbs is the author of the Knight Commission-inspired white paper, Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action.
As the Harrington School’s founding director, Hobbs says her goal is to create “a school of national distinction” that emphasizes digital and media literacy, a global perspective on media and communication, and innovative teaching and learning. The school brings together previously separate programs in communication, journalism, public relations, and film/media with writing and rhetoric and library and information studies.
The Providence Journal published an op-ed by Hobbs the day before she formally assumed her new position, (“Folks need help with information overload,” December 31, 2011 print edition, B7; searchable in ProJo’s eEdition Back Issues). The article raises several key issues relative to digital media and education that suggest the need to think differently, and more broadly, about the interplay of technical, analytical and social skills that are at the core of digital literacy. Citing the findings of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, Hobbs makes a strong case for prioritizing investments in community-based programs and educational curricula that teach the digital and media literacy skills required to thrive in the digital age.
“The Internet is quickly becoming the critical gateway for accessing jobs, education, healthcare, government services and civic participation, yet a disturbing number of Americans lack broadband access or the basic skills in how to use it,” noted Hobbs. “But digital literacy is not as simple as giving people access to a broadband hookup. As the nonpartisan Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy found, digital literacy is actually a constellation of life skills that are necessary for full participation in our media-saturated, information-rich society.”
What are these life skills that are encompassed by digital literacy? They include the abilities to access, analyze and evaluate, create, reflect and act. In her ProJo op-ed, Hobbs lists the following capabilities:
- the ability to analyze messages in a variety of forms, including identification of the author, purpose and point of view of the message;
- the ability to evaluate the quality and credibility of content in a message (e.g., distinguishing between “a marketing ploy for nutritional supplements and solid information based on scientific evidence” or quality content and junk journalism);
- the knowledge of and ability to use powerful search strategies;
- the development of multimedia creation skills;
- the ability to use the Internet to connect with others with shared interests;the ability to reflect on one’s own online conduct and one’s online social responsibilities;
- the ability to use the power of communication as a tool for advocacy;
- an understanding of copyright;
- the ability to apply social responsibility and ethical principles to communication behavior;
- the ability to work collaboratively to solve problems in the civic sphere, which will require many of the other capabilities listed above.
Hobbs envisions a “community education movement” that is embraced by all stakeholders in the community:
What is needed now is a clear and compelling vision of the specific types of instructional practices that can best support the development of these new competencies among all Americans. We need programs to help bring these new forms of learning to educators at all levels. We all have skin in the game when it comes to the vitality of our communities, which is why digital and media literacy needs to be a community education movement, embraced by all stakeholders.
To learn more about the essential competencies of digital and media literacy, and steps that communities can take to strengthen digital citizenship and make digital and media education part of mainstream education in the United States, see Hobbs’ white paper, Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action, published by The Aspen Institute Communication and Society Program.