In our digital age and “post-truth” era, media literacy — the expansion of the definition and skills of literacy to include the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and communicate messages in all forms of media — is taking on a sense of urgency, and RI is among the states trying to lead the way in ensuring that our students are media literate.
There has never been a more important time to advance media literacy in public education. When students get to explore connections between the content areas at school and the media and popular culture they value, education becomes immediately more relevant and engaging.
Last year, a group of local educators and media literacy advocates worked with the national advocacy organization Media Literacy Now to lobby state legislators and offer public testimony about the ways that media literacy education addresses issues like fake news, distrust and polarization, student safety and well-being, and engagement in learning.
In July 2017, Governor Raimondo signed into law the bill stating that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) “shall consider, in consultation with national or statewide organizations focused on media literacy, incorporating media literacy into the basic education program regulations.” As soon as that step was accomplished, the advocacy group, expanded and repurposed as Media Literacy Now – Rhode Island, got right to work. After a year of collaboration, research and outreach to educators, students, parents and school superintendents about how implementation could best be achieved, the group released their report, Media Literacy: Recommendations to RIDE at a meeting at RIDE in late August. The report offers a vision of how the Department of Education can help educators use instructional practices of media literacy to better prepare students for life, college and careers in an increasingly media-saturated society.
At the meeting on August 28, the first day of school for many RI students, Westerly superintendent Mark Garceau noted that the concept of literacy is expanding and that learners need to ask “how” and “why” questions to be prepared for a lifetime of learning. Daniela Fairchild, director of education at the Rhode Island Office of Innovation, who represented the governor’s office and the Department of Education, noted that “the recommendations of the media literacy report are well-aligned with existing priorities of the Rhode Island Department of Education.” Donna DiMichele of the Rhode Island Office of Library Information Services added that “Rhode Island school and public librarians are well-poised to advance media literacy through existing initiatives that could be further developed.”
The report offers four recommendations including 1) increasing the variety and quantity of professional development opportunities in media literacy for K-12 faculty and staff, 2) making more efficient use of existing curriculum resources in media literacy education across the grade levels, 3) creating K-12 curriculum that utilizes one-to-one technologies and expanded and extended learning beyond the school day and school walls, and incorporating meaningful community service projects that put media literacy skills and competencies into practice and 4) developing a better understanding of media literacy among school leaders to apply the concepts to issues like school climate and student well-being and safety.
Rhode Island has a head start in the professional development area, with six years of the annual week-long Summer Institute in Digital Literacy and other resources for educators available from the Media Education Lab at URI, and more than 600 librarians and educators who attended workshops through the Media Smart Libraries initiative. Rhode Island is also hosting this year’s Northeast Regional Media Literacy Conference at the URI Providence campus on Saturday, November 10.
You can read the full report to RIDE, learn more about media literacy, and sign up to show your support for this effort on the Media Literacy Now – Rhode Island website: medialiteracyri.com