Overview of the Course

This course examines the intersection of education and participatory culture, literacy and technology change, the knowledge gap, informal learning and knowledge communities, emerging social skills and cultural competencies across the lifespan.

The concept of literacy is undergoing a transformation as a result of changes in media, technology, education and society. It’s always been a slippery concept, actually. Five hundred years ago, it meant the ability to sign one’s name to a printed document. Reading comprehension became a component of literacy when printed books flourished during the Enlightenment. During the 20th century, writing composition and literary analysis gained prominence under the literacy umbrella.

To be literate today, one needs to be both a skilled reader and a competent writer, able to use a variety of technology tools (the Internet, word processing, graphic design software, digital camera, editing) in different social contexts (including for work, leisure and citizenship activities). You need the ability to access, analyze and compose messages using symbol systems (language, image, music, sound) across different modes (informational, narrative and persuasive) and genres (memos, flyers, social media networks, email, web pages, etc). And because literacy is a form of social action, it involves actively navigating a set of power relationships as a member of a discourse community (as a family member, a music fan, part of a team, etc).

In this course we’ll look closely at the key concepts, assumptions and operating principles of some new media literacies, including visual literacy, information literacy, media literacy, critical literacy, and digital literacy. We’ll consider whether new media literacies exacerbate or ameliorate the digital divide, contributing to knowledge gaps and socio-economic and structural inequalities in the education system.


About Renee Hobbs

Renee Hobbs is a Professor at the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island, where she directs the Media Education Lab.
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