Enhancing Digital and Media Literacy – an interim conclusion

Picture by Dimeli4ac http://dimeli.eu/

Digital and Media Literacy (DML) is gaining more and more importance as one of the main competencies in our society. Organizations, political stakeholders and schools have recognized both the potential of digital and media literacy as well as the threats if DML is not implemented in curricula. However, while there is widespread agreement on the enormous potential, the implementation of DML in the classroom is still at its starting point. This article will present an interim conclusion of the state of DML implementation in European school curricula.

The widespread influence of Information and Communication Technology in the 21st century has greatly transformed the way knowledge is produced, used and shared. The genuine learning experience and education in general have been enhanced by the dominant tools of the internet and computers so that digital media literacy – the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media – has been recognized as a key competence that people should possess today. In today’s society, a wide range of communication competencies are needed to be effective, and possessing digital and media literacy includes the ability to access media, analyze, compose, reflect, and take action in the world. Given participation as the "fundamental, performative element of citizenship”, the digital society faces new challenges in dealing with citizenship itself by simplifying practices through new media, but also by endangering them (Kenner/Lange 2018).

Germany’s educational system is one in which schooling is controlled by the 16 states rather than the federal government, and experts argue that this might become an obstacle for implementing a new, comprehensive digital teaching program. Ultimately, the German government announced plans for a major investment in digital education. The initiative, dubbed ‘Digital Pact’, sees the federal government invest €5 billion in technology for primary schools and enforcing the corresponding educational concepts, the training of teachers and common technical standards.

However, the focus lies on the development of hard skills, so more on the technical skills, rather than on the critical thinking aspect, and the provision of technical instruments, the implementation process omits the reflection of digital contents spread through various channels on the internet and in social media.

Concerning the growing issue of fake news and false content it is reported ‘that fake news are widely spread across the EU’ with 83% of respondents saying that fake news represent a danger to democracy. Lazer et al. (2018) define fake news as fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent. Fake news is characterized by overlaps of the news media with other information disorders, such as misinformation (that is false or misleading information) and disinformation (false information that is created to deceive people) (ibid.). Herby, populistic political agendas, could be moved to the foreground and impact political views, since: “Facts are weakened in three different, equally powerful ways – political, symbolic, and digital. […]. Facts are weakened by both the rise of populism and the conditions that make possible the populist turn. […]. One way of countering populism is through citizenship – contestatory, solidary, digital, and creative.” (Krasteva 2017)

The strengthening of active citizenship through activities not only in classrooms but also in social media is strongly recommended as an antidote against the abuse of digital media in terms of fake news, but it has only played a minor role in educational policies until now. Germany’s reliance on tradition and consistency might be a drawback in the fast-paced innovation landscape when considering the broader debate over the extent of technology that should become part of children’s education. Such hesitancy about bringing technology into the classroom will lead to a generation ill-equipped to face modern challenges and a future in which Germany is outmaneuvered by countries who have invested in the digital education of the young generation. Hence, new strategies of teaching digital and media literacy need to be developed including the following:

  • Equipping students and teachers with a set of digital and media skills
  • Building a network of external support for teachers
  • Raising awareness for the possible abuse of media for political propaganda
  • Enhancing digital and media literacy in schools. Herby, media literacy describes the ability to critically consume media and digital literacy is understood as the ability to actively participle and engage in digital media in a safe, wise and ethical manner.

Other European countries face similar problems. Through social media platforms, acting as global players the exchange of information worldwide increased – and so did the misuse of facts. School students and children are often not aware of these mechanisms and new technological ways of manipulating information on the internet. In the framework of the Erasmus+ program of the European Commission funded project “DIMELI4AC: Digital and Media Literacy for Active Citizenship” a study in the three European countries Greece, Cyprus and Germany was conducted in which secondary school students, their teachers as well as their parents participated in a survey study on the topic of digital and media literacy. The study was designed with a dual purpose in mind: analyzing the respondents’ level of knowledge and interest in the topic of digital media literacy as well as collecting targeted information on their needs that would feed into the upcoming phases of project implementation.

The overall findings showed that even though the interest in topics of digital and media literacy as well as the proper use of digital information and tools in order to strengthen DML is very high on an international level, schools and teachers are not very well equipped with accurate tools and knowledge in order to create suitable learning conditions (Consortium of DIMELI4AC 2019). Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen digital and media education in schools.

Two European projects that face those issues by offering material and guidelines for both students and teachers are – the above mentioned project – “DIMELI4AC – Digital and Media Literacy for active Citizenship” and “DETECT – Enhancing Digital Citizenship” funded by the Erasmus+ program of the EC and coordinated by Leibniz University Hannover. More details can be found on the project’s websites.


About the Authors:

Arne Schrader is currently working as a research associate at the Institut für Didaktik der Demokratie, Leibniz University Hanover. After finishing his Master of Education with the subjects German studies, history and civic education, he is now coordinating several transnational projects in the field of civic education funded by the European Commission in the Erasmus+-program as well as Europe-For-Citizens.

Elizaveta Firsova is a research associate at the Institut für Didaktik der Demokratie, Leibniz University Hanover. After her graduation, she worked for "PROOF: Media for Social Justice", on curricula in the field of social justice. Currently,  she is a project coordinator for transnational project funded by the European Commission in the Erasmus+- program as well as the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).