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.