Learning the news: Media literacy part of good education

Media literacy is as essential to a well-rounded education, and all degrees should require some exposure to media literacy education, writes Roger Plothow.

Over the next few months the new College of Eastern Idaho has a rare opportunity to essentially build a community college from scratch.

It’s a limited window – at some point a direction will have been taken and a certain amount of momentum will develop. President Rick Aman clearly understands this as he works with community and state leaders to determine what CEI will look like.

Here’s some input from the cheap seats – CEI will do its students and the community a great service by incorporating media literacy into its curriculum as part of an overall effort to teach the kinds of critical thinking skills essential to being an active and informed citizen.

This could take any of a number of shapes. It seems sensible that any liberal arts program should include a course in media literacy. But it doesn’t have to stop there. If you believe, as I do, that media literacy is as essential to a well-rounded education as basic skills in language, math and science, all degrees should require some exposure to media literacy education.

As is almost always true when it comes to technology, technical advances have moved far faster than our ability to understand how to use them. The pace of technology innovation is only quickening, far outstripping our ability to understand and use it appropriately.

There are resources available to help this happen. I’ve mentioned the National Association of Media Literacy Education before, and I’ll probably mention it again. NAMLE came out of separate efforts that coalesced in 1998 as the Partnership for Media Education.

Among other things, NAMLE believes that “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication is interdisciplinary by nature.” In other words, developing the skills to thrive in a media-saturated environment can and should be done in all academic disciplines.

There are other resources available to CEI’s curriculum writers. The Center for Media Literacy has developed an outcome-based approach to integrating media literacy into almost any curriculum. The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University has developed an online course for “making sense of the news.” And there’s the News Literacy Project, founded by a former Los Angeles Times reporter.

Some states have developed specific media literacy tools. Maryland, for example, partnered with the Media Education Lab and the Discovery Channel to create a comprehensive media literacy program for primary and secondary schools.

In short, organizations and learning institutions are increasingly aware that media literacy is a fundamental skill for anyone desiring to understand what can be a bewildering milieu of mile-a-second information confronting us from all directions. What better role could there be for a community college than to provide the tools required to deal with that?

Roger Plothow is editor and publisher of the Post Register. This is part of a year-long weekly series on media literacy.