Networks & Accessibility*

We recently had the opportunity to meet (via Zoom) Thomas Mackey and Trudi Jacobson to discuss their influential metaliteracy concept. We wanted to understand how this idea differs from our approach to critical media and information literacy. Trudi and Tom were incredibly open about their work, the evolution of the metaliteracy concept, as well as the various critiques of it. Moreover, their willingness to take the time to discuss the topic with two people they’d never met speaks volumes about how they view and approach collaboration in higher education.


To us, this exemplifies the idea of educators working openly to support each other in their teaching and research (whether that work is in the same area or across disciplines). Our research and teaching was at a point where we had to understand metaliteracy better to move forward. Of course, we’d already read their published works but learned much more about the evolution of their research during that hour-long conversation.

Below, are some main ideas from our conversation with Tom and Trudi:

  • There is some misunderstanding about the metaliteracy concept – it is not a combination of literacies but an overarching idea for higher education
  • Metaliteracy was conceived as an overarching literacy, and it was hoped that it would serve as a unifying term
  • As their work has evolved, the overarching concept is less important and theories of metacognition are more critical

Collaboration is an overused word (and does anyone actually to think of themselves as uncollaborative) but what does that actually look like in practice? Over the last few years, we have moved from traditional and often entrenched proprietary ideas of “my” work. After all isn’t this how “we” make names for ourselves, achieve promotions, books deals, etc.

But after collaborating in the classroom, and in writing, and then working with others in both of our fields, it is obvious that ideas will evolve, be implemented faster and be far more interesting if more are involved. It’s great to be able to work in such similar areas, employing multiple literacies from a critical perspective.

Too often academia is petty and competitive. You read the works of someone but then meet them in person, and there is a disconnect. Mackey and Jacobson have renewed our faith in what it means to work openly and connect with people (and their work) who we might not have otherwise had the opportunity to talk with. They understood our work, approach and perspective, and encouraged us to continue our research, despite commonalities, critiques or differences.

So, thanks again Trudi and Tom.

Natasha & Spencer

P.S. As always, thanks to Ian O’Byrne for his continued, great work, pushing the importance of working open in higher ed.

*Credit to Ian O’Byrne for this title and idea:


National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) Conference Reflection

The biennial NAMLE conference was held last month in Chicago. As this was our first NAMLE conference (#NAMLE2017), we were excited, and relieved, to see so many media literacy “camps” (come on now, we all know they exist) represented, as well as many different kinds of audiences (activists, students, university professors, k-12 teachers, librarians, etc.) present.

Check out the full conference program here-


              View from Roosevelt University, site of NAMLE 2017

Although there are some real and substantial differences in approaches to media and information literacy among these various traditions and groups, there are obviously also enough similarities to encourage such diverse participation. This bodes well for the future.


Picture3       Picture2


Slides (two images above) from Jeff Share’s NAMLE presentation ‘Critical Media Literacy & Environmental Justice’ – his work, along with that of Doug Kellner, has influenced our own

Pre-conference activities included a well-attended second meeting of the North American subchapter of the Global Alliance for Partners in Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL). This may be the only organization to explicitly promote media AND information literacy. As our research and teaching makes a case for bringing these two worlds together, you can see why GAPMIL is of particular interest to us. Happily, there were more librarians at this meeting than the first one in Canada last year (maybe because the American Library Association conference was also in town), but predictably questions resurfaced regarding the term ‘media and information literacy’.

If you are still unsure about the similarities and overlap between these two areas, we suggest reading work by Marcus Leaning.

His research was one of the main catalysts for our own collaborative media and information literacy writing and teaching. In 2014 Leaning published a chapter on the topic in the anthology “Media Literacy Education in Action: Theoretical and Pedagogical Perspectives”

and just this year published new work on the topic, “Media and Information Literacy: An Integrated Approach for the 21st Century”.

Also, check out the UNESCO media and information literacy curriculum published in 2011.

Sonia Livingstone, Renee Hobbs, and Hans Schmidt have all called for an alliance between media and information literacy too.

In addition to the above, our collaborative research and teaching lead to incorporating work by several key writers in the library and information science world including Emily Drabinski, Eamon Tewell and James Elmborg See March 15 and June 23 ‘No Silos’ blog posts for more on this.

But back to the GAPMIL pre-conference event . . . there was recognition by some media literacy educators about the value of librarians and as noted, several librarians were in attendance. In addition, four working groups were formed:

  1. Advocacy
  2. Outreach
  3. Research
  4. Communication & Organizational Development.

Chairs of each group will also serve on the GAPMIL steering committee. And although forming a new subchapter of any organization is usually messy and often challenging, we are hopeful for the future of this group. We collected a list of Twitter handles from interested participants – thanks to Ian O’Byrne who Skyped in with that great suggestion – email Natasha if you want a copy. There is also a GAPMIL Facebook group if you want to be involved or just stay apprised of latest developments. Ian and Troy Hicks did a stellar job keeping meeting notes – you can read them here

Relatedly, the Center for Media Literacy’s 2017 media literacy week will focus on what libraries and librarians are doing in support of media literacy education.


We believe more interdisciplinary work should be encouraged by NAMLE and other organizations (in LIS, communications and other fields). It would be great to see this as a theme for future conferences.

We learned much more than there is room to discuss here at the NAMLE conference, including many ideas for the third iteration of our media and information literacy class – check out our curated class hashtag #co233bc to see some of these ideas and resources. We plan on revising our syllabus in the next couple of weeks and will post on this site. If you are interested in seeing detailed lesson plans, don’t hesitate to reach out, always happy to share.

Finally, it wasn’t all work. What’s a trip to Chicago without a visit to Second City? It’s even funnier when Spencer Brayton and Neil Anderson get called out by the comedians . . . too bad that didn’t make it to Twitter.


Spencer, Karen, Neil, Natasha and Marieli at Second City


Spencer & Natasha

Adventures with a Communications Prof!

In the last two months, Natasha and I were lucky enough to present at two conferences: the 16th Annual Information Literacy Summit presented by DePaul University Library at Moraine Valley Community College Library (Illinois), and the Canadian Association for Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL) at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

The Summit is a well-established venue for attracting some high profile keynote speakers. Last year we were inspired by Emily Drabinski’s (coordinator of Library Instruction at LIU Brooklyn) powerful “critical pedagogy in a time of compliance” speech and were confident it would be difficult act to follow. However, Wendy Holliday (head of teaching, learning, and research services, Cline Library, Northern Arizona University) did not disappoint, and gave an equally inspiring presentation entitled “boundaries and sovereignties: placing students at the center of information literacy”. Check out her references below!


Do you facilitate the transformative space between teacher and student is a question (and a call to action) that has stayed with us since the keynote a month ago. Watch both of their presentations as well as other Summit keynote speakers on YouTube and check out the hashtag #ILSummit to see what else was discussed. We hope to return next year.

CAPAL was an amazing experience, because it is organized as part of a larger conference – the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences – which lasted over a week and featured more than 70 professional organizations (of which CAPAL was just one). More than 8,000 people attended this year’s Congress in Toronto – learn more about it here. Seeing Cornel West give a powerful presentation (even in the overflow room) was a highlight.


CAPAL is a relatively new organization (incorporated in 2013) and featured many librarians working in the ‘critical’ LIS wing. We use a lot of Eamon Tewell’s work in our research and teaching, and were excited to see him present. We also finally met another duo co-teaching across disciplines @LornaERourke and Pascal Lupien teach media and information literacy from a political science perspective. They gave an amazing presentation on their collaborative efforts and we hope to work with them in the future.

Shout out to the crew at Ryerson University Library & Archives (@ryersonlibrary) including Ann Ludbrook (who is doing amazing open access work – check out @RyersonOER), and Fangmin Wang and Namir Ahmed who gave us a tour of their Digital Media Experience Lab. These photos don’t do it justice.


Last highlight from Toronto was visiting Marshall McLuhan’s old classroom – thanks for the tour Neil Anderson (@mediasee)!


Abstracts, papers and slides from past conferences are available here. This site should be updated soon with work from the 2017 conference (including our powerpoint). Check out that hashtag too #CAPAL17

There was a common disconnect between keynotes and presentations at both of these conferences – the keynotes were typically far more ‘critical’ (a take we appreciate) than some of the presentations. In a few instances, presentations didn’t include any critical elements or were exactly the types of topics and themes directly critiqued by the keynote. What does this mean? We welcome your responses to this question.

It was also interesting for Natasha to be one of a few non librarian faculty members at both of these conferences. She overheard a lot of “bloody faculty” type remarks and couldn’t really blame them. From her perspective, many faculty only view librarians as ‘information finders’ or other ‘skills-only’ types, rather than scholars with knowledge to share. Librarians dominated both conferences, so it was an interesting experience for Natasha as a communications faculty to be in that environment twice.

Scholars (on both sides – media and information literacy) have to be prepared to ‘cross-over’ into each other’s worlds. Despite seemingly few doing this, we are more determined than ever to offer a model of a combined critical media and information literacy pedagogy. We hope to have further opportunities to discuss these ideas and concepts next week in Chicago during NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education) and ALA (American Library Association) conferences. We’ll share our observations with you then.

Thanks for reading!

Spencer & Natasha

In Defense of Media & Information Literacy: A Mini-Manifesto?


(Memorial to first silo built in America – Spring Grove, IL – courtesy of D. Ambrose)

Although many (including UNESCO, Sonia Livingstone, Marcus Leaning, and Renee Hobbs) have called for collaboration between media literacy (often located in media and communications, as well as education, programs) and information literacy (library and information science), the two areas remain remarkably siloed.

Marcus Leaning noted, “ . . . the experience of being a user of information resources and a consumer of media is so similar that the two cannot be separated” and characterized the common siloed approach as “pedagogically wasteful”.

It is no surprise that we agree with this characterization.


There are commonalities in widely accepted definitions of media literacy and information literacy. For example, in the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education”, information literacy is defined as a “. . . set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning”.

Similarly, Sonia Livingstone stated, “ . . . as media and information technologies converge and pose new problems and challenges for citizens in their everyday understanding of those technologies, two particular traditions are converging. One, broadly, we could call media literacy, the other comes from information literacy, and people here may be more or less familiar with those different traditions. But of course, as technologies converge, skills converge as well, and so we need a convergent notion of literacy”.

UNESCO noted, “Media literacy (ML) and information literacy (IL) are part of one another. They have differences and similarities, but they overlap in many areas. Together, they include all the skills, knowledge and abilities that we think of when we think of library literacy, news literacy, digital literacy, computer literacy, Internet literacy, freedom of expression and freedom of information literacy, television literacy, advertising literacy, cinema literacy, and games literacy”.


This is not to sweep important pedagogical and philosophical differences aside, and there are plenty depending on what field you are working in (media studies versus education is an obvious one) or approach you adopt (skills based versus cultural studies influenced traditions).

But those interested in a critical media perspective (including work by Jeff Share, Doug Kellner, and Julie Frechette) could form important interdisciplinary alliances with many working in the critical information literacy field including Emily Drabinski and Eamon Tewell. Trying to figure out what kinds of projects you can do in the classroom that reflect this perspective? Maybe include some materials from The Global Critical Media Literacy Project’s educator’s resource guide.

For another approach, try resources available from the National Association for Media Literacy Educators (NAMLE), the Center for Media Literacy, ACRL Framework for Information Literacy Sandbox or UNESCO’s curriculum (available in several languages).


The ALA (American Library Association) annual conference, the NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education) conference and the recently formed North American Sub-Chapter of the Global Alliance for Partnerships on Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL) are scheduled to meet in Chicago at the end of June 2017. Is there an opportunity for all interested parties to connect?

Are UNESCO’s GAPMIL sub-chapters working with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA) Libraries, Development, and the UN 2030 Agenda project? And vice-versa?

It’s time to start the conversation. And time to take the alliance seriously.


Media literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, and news literacy have all received unprecedented mainstream media attention since the US presidential election – check out Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of NAMLE, on CNN. But these terms are also in danger of becoming buzzwords and some catch all solution to the problem of “fake news”.

We should work together to capitalize on this unprecedented opportunity and collaborate: librarians teaching media literacy/news literacy, educators supporting and emphasizing the need for information literacy at all levels.

Earlier this year at the Winter Symposium: Digital Literacy & Higher Education, many noted often feeling isolated or marginalized. Participants commented with consistent exasperation on the difficulties of getting colleagues and administrators to understand the importance of media and information literacy.

We should feel empowered to teach media or (though we prefer ‘and’) information literacy at our institutions. It’s time to reach out and form alliances between educators. Why not collaborate to end the isolation and make the movement more powerful?

Looking forward to your feedback and suggestions.
Natasha & Spencer

A Different Approach

As conferences and other professional development opportunities usually do, we return to our institutions inspired to do things differently. In addition to teaching media and information literacy, I have also been teaching an introductory college success course over the last three years. The skills-based instruction with pre-defined lesson plans provided is not my typical approach to teaching. Although the course was already developed when I was first asked to teach a section, that didn’t mean content delivery would be easy.

With little background in this area, I forged ahead the first two years mixing my background in critical media and information literacy in delivering this content to make the course more than the pre-defined shell it originated as. More recently, I found that my colleagues teaching sections of this course were also flexible to tailoring course content to where their students were at. This is no surprise and what we as educators do. For me though, I found an opening to insert critical digital literacy pedagogy, still fresh in my mind from discussions at the URI Winter Symposium. Instead of me telling students how to develop their skills in these areas, I also started to and will continue to ask them how they do these things and what advice they would give others- not what they have been told to be like and do. Together, we created an online environment where we curate these ideas and operate openly in sharing with other students.

Aside from discussing content as it relates to the campus and work environments, we also focus on the digital environment, which will become increasingly important in their academic and professional lives. We read from Mozilla’s Internet Health Report and discuss how diverse perspectives help us communicate and understand the perspectives of others, as well as how filter bubbles can limit our learning and understanding of our peers. Is it more work to add a digital element to this learning? No. I’m working differently, teaching the same concepts, only in a different way that will be more beneficial to the class and have them leave with a tool that they curated together and can share with others, including prospective employers or graduate school applications in the future.

This is a new approach for me and the class. Looking forward to sharing ideas (and learning from suggestions) as I move through the rest of this semester.



Rhode Island Reflections

On January 12-13, we had the opportunity to meet with over 50 educators for a packed 36-hour schedule at the Winter Symposium on Digital Literacy in Higher Education held at the University of Rhode Island. Many agreed that the struggle to implement digital literacy at their institutions is real, and progress is slow. We also agreed that there is a feeling of being misunderstood and siloed in our practice. It was heartening to realize that our experiences are not isolated ones and there was a camaraderie in knowing that others struggle with similar issues.

Panel sessions allowed for focused conversation around important themes, such as The Digital Literacy Competencies of Faculty, Undergraduate and Graduate Students, Teaching and Learning with and about Digital Media, The Digital Identity of the College Professor / Higher Ed Professional, and Scholarly Networking and Digital Literacy. One of our takeaways from these discussions was a sense of openness – those of us who are implementing digital literacy in our classrooms must share our resources with each other. For example, many participants had websites where they shared their work and examples from course modules. This will be absolutely key to the digital literacy movement. We are grateful for materials, ideas, assignments and other resources colleagues working openly are willing to share with us (thank you Renee Hobbs, Howard Rheingold, Doug Belshaw, Center for Media Literacy, Sandra Markus, NAMLE and more) as we continue to develop our media and information literacy curricula. In turn, our work will also be open in the hope others might benefit from it.

Aside from open access, critical pedagogy is an area of importance for us in improving digital literacy education. We don’t implement technology and social media in the classroom without conversations relating to power relations, social justice and knowledge creation as they align with information/media production and dissemination. It is important to place digital literacy within this narrative, and within the context of students’ own lives and information needs, if it is going to be meaningful. Thanks to Emily Drabinski, Ian O’Byrne and Eamon Tewell for their inspirational work in this area.

Further conversations were had with off-site guests via a Virtually Connecting session. This was an opportunity for the on-site cohort to share their experiences with those off-site, and vice-versa. Coinciding with this session was a “Show Me” event where participants could briefly present their own work and how it intersects with digital literacy. We presented the reasoning behind our combined media and information literacy course, including why the collaboration is more powerful in terms of moving these related disciplines forward and supporting the progress of digital literacy as well.

The symposium concluded with informal, un-conference group discussions and reflections. We participated in the group that pursued a Digital Literacy Manifesto. One of the reasons for a manifesto is, as many at the event pointed out, we are tired of “pitching” digital literacy to administrators, colleagues and others who don’t understand or see the point of it. The group didn’t make much initial progress, but the conversation has continued and is still ongoing. The manifesto can’t be so vague as to be meaningless. We would love to hear your thoughts on the manifesto – what do you think should be included?

However, the intractability of disciplinary boundaries was also evident. Education, as a field, dominated.  There were too few librarians. And even within media/communications, there were obvious differences in approaches and ideologies.

In the end, the symposium provided valuable understanding of how digital literacy is being approached across the US. For this movement to have an impact, silos must be broken down and we must work across disciplines. For example, we continue to strongly believe that those in the digital literacy field are missing an incredible opportunity to ally with librarians.

Please feel free to reach out to us if you’re interested in discussing this work further. Below are links to the symposium’s website, as well as Renee Hobbs’ own summary of events. We hope that this event becomes an annual one and that other disciplines and approaches can join this discussion.  Cheers to the organizers of the symposium. Check out the hashtag #digiuri to see what other topics were discussed.


Spencer Brayton & Natasha Casey

URI Winter Symposium on Digital Literacy in Higher Education


I’ll be heading out later this week to participate in the symposium held at the University of Rhode Island. I am excited to meet the other participants and discuss how we can move digital literacy forward in higher education.

Thanks to all involved in coordinating and organizing this event:

Renee Hobbs (URI), Julie Coiro (URI), Sandra Marcus (Fashion Institute of Technology), Maria Ranieri (University of Florence, Italy), Carolyn Fortuna (URI), and Mia Zamora (Kean University)

When I return, I will share what I’ve learned in another post! In the meantime, please check out the symposium’s website and associate links:

If you are a Twitter user, you can keep up to date by following the symposium hashtag #DIGIURI

Have a good week!


Media and Information Literacy


I’ve finally established a site where I can share my thoughts on the importance of bringing together the fields of media and information literacy. Over the past three years, I’ve been working with my colleague (Natasha Casey, Professor of Communications) in this area, both teaching and researching. Most recently, we presented at the Media Education Summit in Rome (November 4-5, 2016). Our presentation was titled “Critical Media and Information Literacy: Implementing a Post Secondary Model” (see below for additional research/presentations).

Our class hashtag is #CO233BC – students have a lot to say about the importance of media and information literacy here. Check out the Center for Media Literacy project “Commit 2 MediaLit” – our class was featured here as well.

Please feel free to contact me via email ( with any questions. I look forward to sharing more information.


Additional Work:

Invited to participate in the Winter Symposium on Digital Literacy in Higher Education. The program is co-sponsored by the Media Education Lab, the University of Rhode Island College of Education and Professional Studies, and the Rhode Island State Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner. University of Rhode Island, Providence, RI, January 12-13, 2017.

“Critical Media and Information Literacy: Implementing a Post-Secondary Model.” Media Education Summit, Rome, Italy, November 4, 2016.

“How Media Literacy Can Save Civilization!” Co-facilitated this panel discussion as part of National Media Literacy Week. Sponsored by the National Association for Media Literacy Education. Blackburn College, Carlinville, IL, November 1, 2016.

Gateway Library Instruction Conference. Invited panel moderator for peer assisted learning presentations. Webster University, St. Louis, MO, October 18, 2016.

“The Case for Alliance: Critical Media and Information Literacy.” 15th Annual Information Literacy Summit, Moraine Valley Community College, Palos, Hills, IL, April 2016.

“Integrating Peer Research Service into Research Analysis in the Social Sciences.” American Political Science Association 2016 Teaching and Learning Conference, Portland, OR, February 13, 2016.

“Media and Information Literacy: What is it and why should you care about it?” College and Community Luncheon, Blackburn College, November 18, 2015.

“The Case for Alliance: Media and Information Literacy.” Gateway Media Literacy Partners: Media Literacy Week Academic Symposium, Webster University, St. Louis, MO, November 7, 2015.

“Media and Information Literacy.” Gateway Media Literacy Partners: Media Literacy Week Partner Showcase, St. Louis, MO, November 4, 2015.