THE COMMISSION RECOMMENDS:
Integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements of education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state, and local education officials.
Successful participation in the digital information ecology entails two kinds of literacy, or skill sets. One is typically called “digital literacy,” learning how to work the information and communication technologies of our networked age and understanding the social, cultural, and ethical issues surrounding those technologies. The second is “media literacy,” the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create the information products that media disseminate.
Although virtually every school in the United States is connected to the Internet, many local communities have not integrated either digital or media literacy into their K–12 curricula. The Internet is offered primarily as a research tool, and students’ encounters with the Internet are framed by issues of reliability and censorship. The situation is often little better at the college level and for adult education generally. There may be more chances to learn the tools, but only rare opportunities to explore their use and implications more deeply. In many communities, informal adult-education opportunities to develop digital and media literacies are often wildly oversubscribed, if they exist at all.
The future of American democracy demands that we educate our citizens better, starting at an early age:
With an ever-increasing range of media messages in so many forms, students need to understand the process by which authors convey meaning about socially constructed experience. The use of digital media and popular-culture texts not only stimulates young people’s engagement, motivation, and interest in learning but enables them to build a richer, more nuanced understanding of how texts of all kinds work within a culture.53
It may be tempting for teachers and administrators who are themselves uncomfortable with new media to view digital and media competencies as “addons” to basic learning in “reading, writing and, arithmetic.” These competencies are, however, new forms of foundational learning.
The consequences of neglecting this challenge can be dire. Students who are deeply immersed in the world of online communication outside of school may find classrooms that marginalize new technologies both tedious and irrelevant. For students who lack online access at home, schooling that fails to provide digital and media skills threatens to leave them at a profound social, economic, and cultural disadvantage.
The federal government should launch a national initiative to assess the quality of digital and media literacy programs in the nation’s schools. This should include efforts made in institutions of higher education to prepare future teachers for the new literacies. The survey should determine what schools are teaching their students and measure the needs for both equipment and teacher training. It is also critical to evaluate the learning opportunities available to Americans who have already graduated high school and to promote best practices for education at all levels to help Americans strengthen their digital literacy. Only a combination of national leadership and state and local initiative can successfully produce the reforms needed.