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Quick-Guide to

Media Literacy


CyberWise Quick-Guide to Media Literacy _________________________________________________________________________________________________

What is Media Literacy?

Hopefully you just watched the CyberWise Guide to Media Literacy! If so, then you know that technology has transformed the media landscape, and therefore the definition of media literacy has expanded. So while reading and writing remain essential literacy skills, the ability to interpret and tell stories across all mediums is a prerequisite to being truly media literate in the 21st century. Media Literacy Circa 8000 BC

Photo: Baloo’s Cartoon Blog,


Two Excellent Sources for a Definition of Media Literacy:

The Center for Media Literacy (CML) defines Media Literacy as: "…a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy."

The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) provides these 6 Core Principles for media literacy education. Media literacy education…

1. Requires active inquiry and critical thinking about the messages we receive and create. 2. Expands the concept of literacy to include all forms of media. 3. Builds and reinforces skills for learners of all ages…. that necessitate integrated, interactive, and repeated practice.

4. Develops informed, reflective and engaged participants essential for a democratic society. 5. Recognizes that media are a part of culture and function as agents of socialization. 6. Affirms that people use their individual skills, beliefs, and experiences to construct their own meanings from media messages.


So here’s the bottom line… technology is changing everything about the way we read and write. In order to be effective communicators in this digital world young people must be equipped with new skills and competencies. So what are these skills? Read on…

The New Media Literacies The white paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Jenkins et al., 2006) identifies the “new media literacies” that empower young people to engage confidently in today’s participatory culture. According to USC/Annenberg’s Project New Media Literacies website (see below), “(t)he New Media Literacies constitute the core cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in our new media landscape. We call them "literacies," but they change the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to one of community involvement. They build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom. If these New Media Literacies are learned - and they can be learned without computers in the classroom - they can form the building blocks for students' participation in new media”. Descriptions of each these skills (on the following pages) have been excerpted directly from:


Play: the capacity to experiment with one's surroundings as a form of problem-solving. Having a strong sense of play can be helpful when you pick up a new piece of technology that you've never used before, when you're trying to write an essay and your outline isn't functioning as you'd hoped, and when you're designing anything at all, from a dress to a web page to a concert's program.

Performance: the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery. Being able to move fluidly and effectively between roles can help you when you're exploring online communities, when you're trying to decide what actions are ethical, and when you're shuffling between home, work and school.

Simulation: the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes. Being able to interpret, manipulate and create simulations can help you understand innumerable complex systems, like ecologies and computer networks - and make you better at playing video games!

Appropriation: the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content. Being able to remix media content (and knowing when doing so is appropriate) can help you understand literary works, music, and art; it can also help lead you to a deeper understanding of copyright and cultural clashes.


Multitasking: the ability to scan one's environment and shift focus as needed to salient details. Being a good multitasker is required in our new media landscape - and that includes learning when it isn't good to multitask.

Distributed Cognition: the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities. That can mean something as simple as using a ruler or calculator, or something as complex as efficiently using Wikipedia on your iPhone to access information on the fly.

Collective Intelligence: the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal. This ability is key to open source projects. Being able to pool knowledge with others can allow us to solve challenges far more complex than the individual mind can process.

Judgment: the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources. If you're worried about your students using Wikipedia at inappropriate times and taking everything they read on the internet as gospel truth, you're worried that they aren't exercising good judgment. But judgment also includes knowing when sources are appropriate for your use: for instance, sometimes Wikipedia might be the appropriate resource to use.


Transmedia Navigation: the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple media. Anyone who needs to do research needs a good understanding of transmedia navigation - how to follow threads through video, still photography, written work, music, online sources etc.

Networking: the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information. Writing something isn't enough without the ability to circulate it to the communities where it will matter.

Negotiation: the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms. We now need to know how to live in multiple communities - from the hyperlocal to the global and from those composed of people like us to those consisting of people very different from us.

Visualization: the ability to translate information into visual models and understand the information visual models are communicating. VIsualization has become a key way we cope with large data sets and make sense of the complexity of our environment.

Photos: Sidewalk Flying on, OCAL on


Media Literacy in Our Schools Following are two excellent resources that help educators and parents understand the importance of integrating media literacy into our schools. In a landmark report (Informing Communities), the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy recommends that digital and media literacy be viewed as a critical element in all levels of education, and with institutions such as libraries in local communities. Professor Renee Hobbs, founder of the Media Education Lab at Temple University, has outlined specific steps that policymakers, educators, and community advocates can take in Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action. According to Hobbs, “to fulfill the promise of digital citizenship, Americans must acquire multimedia communication skills and know how to use these skills to engage in the civic life of their communities.� (Download PDF or Read online) In the new book, The Teacher’s Guide to Media Literacy: Critical Thinking in a Multimedia World, authors Cyndy Scheibe and Faith Rogow, both experts in the field of media literacy education, provide a road map for understanding and implementing media literacy in the 21st-century classroom. This book includes dozens of activity ideas, self-reflection exercises, voices from the field, a glossary of terms, and seven annotated, original, classroom-tested lesson plans that illustrate different approaches to media literacy.


Additional Media Literacy Resources Media Literacy Week Cable in the Classroom Media Awareness Network National Writing Project Powerful Voices for Kids Project Look Sharp Project Literacy Among Youth Adobe Youth Voices Global Kids PBS Teachers: Digital Media Literacy ITVS Educators: Community Classroom The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) enhances growth in media literacy education in the United States by organizing and providing national leadership, advocacy, networking, and information exchange. Together, NAMLE members weave a diverse network of people and organizations committed to advancing media literacy education as a new vision of literacy for the 21st century. Join today at


What Next? At CyberWise we believe an essential first step to becoming media literate in the 21st Century is “digital citizenship.� Be sure to check out the next video in this series to learn why.

Please see the CyberWise Guide to Digital Citizenship


For more information or to download other “CyberWise Guides�, please visit: or visit us on Twitter

@becyberwise and be sure to check out and subscribe to our free publications: The CyberWise Daily A daily paper full of trends and topics related to media literacy, digital citizenship, education and the responsible integration of technology into the classroom delivered to your email every day The CyberWise Newsletter A bi-weekly newsletter that guides you to the key trends and topics covered on TM