The most fundamental digital media literacy topic is learning to “read” the media. Resources in this category teach students how media are made: how different media and genres tell stories and communicate meaning, such as camera angles and editing in film, panel composition and transitions in comics, as well as the affordances and defaults of different networked media.
Media shape how we see reality — whether it’s made by professional creators or by our friends and family. This category looks at how media represent reality and how different audiences respond to those representations, covering topics such as stereotyping, how our views of the world and ourselves are shaped by media, how advertising messages manipulate us, and how we represent ourselves on social media.
Finding and Verifying
Search and authentication rank first among the digital literacy skills students want to learn, according to our Young Canadians in a Wireless World research, and it’s easy to see why: the same things that make the internet such a valuable source of information can just as easily become pitfalls. Students need to learn to effectively search for the information they need for personal and educational purposes, and then evaluate, authenticate and critique the sources and information they use for school or personal reasons. It’s important to note, however, that while the networked and easily shareable nature of digital media have made it essential to verify the information we see online, this does not replace more in-depth analysis of what is included or left in by a source, or how things like word choice, image or prominence influence our understanding of media content. In our age of information overload, however, our attention is limited and valuable, and we can’t afford to waste it on sources that aren’t up to basic standards of reliability or operating in good faith. Instead, our first step is to use basic verification skills (such as those covered in MediaSmarts’ Break the Fake program) to quickly determine if a source or claim is even worth our attention; only if it passes that first test is it worth bringing the more sophisticated media literacy skills to bear.
Ethics and Empathy
One of the key features of digital media is their interactivity. All of the most popular websites among Canadian youth have some interactive element, which are used to communicate with others – our friends, our families, and people we’ve only ever known online. We have an ethical responsibility to treat those people with kindness and respect, and to do that we need to recognize empathy traps – features of digital communication that that may prevent us from feeling empathy towards others in online interactions, such as the absence of things like body language, tone of voice and facial expression. The flip side of this is that we also have to learn to manage our own emotions when we’re communicating online: in the same way that digital media can keep us from feeling empathy, interacting with people through screens can also make it hard for us to recognize how we’re feeling. Both of these factors can contribute to forms of online conflict such as cyberbullying.
Privacy and Security
Another aspect of digital media is that we are nearly all producers as well as consumers, even if that production only takes the form of status updates or Instagram photos. Because of this we need to take steps to actively manage our privacy online, deciding both what to share and with whom to share it – while keeping in mind that it’s never entirely possible to control who will see content that we post. Our research shows that young Canadians are actively engaged in managing their online privacy and want to learn how to do so more effectively.
Media health topics include analyzing media messages about health, diet, and sexuality; managing screen use and balancing their online and offline lives; online identity issues, accessing and evaluating information about physical and mental health as well as healthy sexuality and relationships, and dealing with representations of gender, diversity, and body image.
Research has repeatedly shown that children are heavily advertised to online; moreover, children’s online spaces are themselves often highly commercialized, with youth being encouraged to spend money in order to access the best content. Young people are also frequently exposed to branding, in everything from advergames to social profiles for beer brands and corporate mascots. But we also have power as consumers, and learning how to exercise that power is a big part of Consumer Awareness. Students also learn using regulatory or self-regulatory bodies and codes, communicating with media makers or industry bodies, and talking back through their own media making.
Digital media provide unique opportunities for youth to become involved, to speak out, and to effect change both online and offline. As we develop our definitions of digital literacy and digital citizenship, it’s important to remember that citizenship brings with it not just responsibilities but rights as well. Helping youth to understand those rights – as consumers, as members of a community, as citizens and as human beings – is central to empowering them to take full advantage of digital media. Students also learn about using regulatory or self-regulatory bodies and codes, communicating with media makers or industry bodies, and talking back through their own media making and social activism.
Making and Remixing
Making and Remixing topics enable students to make media and use existing content for their own purposes in ways that respect legal and ethical considerations and to use digital platforms to collaborate with others.