Title: Doctoral student, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California
Graduate researcher, Project New Media Literacies at the Participatory Culture and Learning Lab
Organization: Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California
What do you do?
I am a fourth year PhD student in Communication at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. This position gives me the opportunity to work on many projects with diverse collaborators, including international non-governmental organizations, domestic non-profits, for-profit companies, public schools, the federal government, and, of course, academic colleagues within my department, across the university, and beyond! My goal is to support children’s healthy development. To achieve that goal, I’m creating curriculum that fosters youths’ mastery of “primary skills,” leverages multimedia, and encourages participatory learning.
The “primary skills” consist of social and emotional learning core competencies (SELs) and the new media literacies (NMLs). They are primary because they establish the capacities we need in order to make our way in the world. Grounding in self-management, social negotiation, and critical thinking sets the stage for healthy growth and unfettered learning. It ensures our ability to care for ourselves sensitively, work with others productively, and use resources efficiently. In our digitally-integrated, socially-connected world of constant change, such skills are incredibly important. They help us remain agile and ready to learn.
Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy
With diverse partners – 1) Project New Media Literacies & RFK Community Schools/Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and 2) Dakar, Senegal-based African Network for Health Education – I’m developing and evaluating two separate yet similar projects. Both projects are multi-faceted, media-rich, participatory approaches to enrich learning. These projects offer programming directed at two audiences: youths and educators. Youth programs occur after-school; use a participatory learning approach; support youths’ production of multimedia for community education; and introduce youths to the primary skills. Educator programs model participatory learning; explore the primary skills; and support community building. These projects believe that if educators adopt skills-based, participatory learning practices, youths will benefit from richer educational experiences. The overarching objective is to help youths become better equipped to problem-solve, particularly by growing their communicative capacities. Such an outcome has meaningful implications for youths’ present and future management of intrapersonal, interpersonal, educational, professional, civic, and health-related affairs.
Of course, the projects in Los Angeles and Dakar also significantly differ. It goes without saying that the cultures in which they are embedded are very different. Each project also has its own set of goals. Whereas the Los Angeles project hopes to advance participatory learning as a mode of education, the Dakar project seeks to improve public health (especially HIV/AIDS) by encouraging youths’ production of multimedia, public health messages.
I’ll just briefly mention a few side projects, all of which relate to media literacy. I’m also: co-facilitating a multidisciplinary working group of scholars/designers interested in “serious games,” or games that seek to educate players and inspire action around educational subjects, health topics, social issues, etc; consulting with the “Nation’s Report Card” to develop a challenge-based pilot assessment of 8th graders’ technology and engineering literacy; and co-teaching a month-long workshop in India for 5- to 9-year-olds that nurtures the primary skills within the context of exploring toy design, ancient art, and the science of flight.
Why is media literacy important to you?
Such a great question. Where do I begin? Well, there’s traditional media literacy and new media literacies (NMLs); both are extremely important.
Let’s start off with a few definitions. Media literacy is most commonly defined as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.” The Center for Media Literacy (2002-2011) elaborates, “Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”
Jenkins and colleagues (2006) defined NMLs as “a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape” (p. 6). The 12 NML skills are: play; performance; simulation; appropriation; multitasking; distributed cognition; collective intelligence; judgment; transmedia navigation; networking; negotiation; and visualization. While NMLs have become increasingly vital due to the demands of new technology, NMLs are neither new nor technology-dependent. To my mind, NMLs are tools for problem-solving. New media pose “problems” – How do you figure out a new gadget or interface? How do you work with dissimilar collaborators? How do you interpret data? NMLs offer the tools to solve those problems, tools such as play, negotiation, and visualization, respectively.
Both media literacy and NMLs allow us to engage with society. They help us to observe astutely, think critically, communicate effectively, and produce creatively. What could be more important than that? The alternative is unacceptable – not being able to see what’s around us, or appreciate its implications, or get our message across, or engage in art or innovation? That’s bleak – that’s dystopia! Media literacy and NMLs both set us free and set us up to become better thinkers, better doers, better friends, and better citizens.
What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
I’m excited about the proliferation of social media and mobile devices because it can help us to share our stories and engage more frequently and/or richly with loved ones, acquaintances, and people we’ve never met. But that isn’t necessarily a given – how we use technology is up to us. Whether these resources enhance or diminish the diversity of circulated stories, or the quality of interpersonal relationships, has yet to be determined. The challenge of keeping this in mind, and of striving to optimize the potential of media and technology, I also find exciting. We’ve got important work to do!
Why did you become a NAMLE member – what benefits do you see to membership and how will it support your work?
I joined NAMLE back in 2003 because I wanted to explore the implications of growing up in a media-saturated society. I wondered, What happens to kids when most of the stories they hear and toys they play with come from commercial entities with their own agendas? I know that the TV, movies, and books I inhaled as a kid had a profound effect on me. I’m “fine,” I figured, but the fare was different back in my day. What about the preschoolers I was teaching? How, if at all, did their media shape their play, their worldviews, the people they would become? And what should we do about it?
Attending the conference in Baltimore gave me the peer group I longed for, the folks with whom I could explore those questions and from whom I could learn. It meaningfully informed my subsequent MA… and actually, participating in the 2007 St. Louis conference inspired me to apply for a PhD! I can really blame all of this higher education jazz on NAMLE… This community of thoughtful individuals generates productive conversations and helps members to stay abreast of what’s happening on the ground with various constituencies – kids, parents, teachers, producers, marketers, scholars. These benefits should not be underestimated and both have and will continue to support my work.
 (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2010)
 (Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel & Robinson, 2006)
 Explore Locally, Excel Digitally in Los Angeles, Sunukaddu in Dakar
 Summer Sandbox and PLAYing Outside the Box in Los Angeles, Sunukaddu Training in Dakar
 (Aspen Institute, 1992)
 (when it was called NMEC)
 (totally debatable!)
Category: M-Passioned Members