Digital and Media Literacy – A Conversation with Mary Beth Hertz

This past week our EC & I 832 class was joined by guest speaker Mary Beth Hertz . The author and current technology coordinator at SLA Beeber spoke with us on the topic of Digital and Media Literacy, which happens to be the topic of her new book: Digital and Media Literacy in the Age of the Internet.

I was excited to learn that her school had taken an approach where barriers in regards to access to technology are subverted through providing every student with access to a personal device for their duration of high school.

According to Mary, her book was written because of her position teaching “Intro to Technology” to ninth grade students who have just had the technology placed in their hands. Within her course she covers topics that will prove necessary to support students who will have the access to technology for the next four years of their academic lives. This includes everything from Digital Literacy (how to understand and utilize the technology), Digital Citizenship, to Media Literacy (Investigation of who owns a domain or web page, how their device connects to larger networks).

Her take on educating students, including taking some deep dives into how the internet works, as well as what that means for the privacy and security of both educators and students – was fascinating to me. It interested me specifically, because I am in a somewhat similar position as part of the Connected Educator Program with Regina Catholic Schools (if you are unfamiliar with the program you can read more about Dean’s experience here – thanks Dean!). While, in an ideal world the device my students use would continue to follow them after they left my classroom (as it does at Mary Beth’s School) I know that is not currently possible. Therefore I feel a real urgency in my need to educate both myself and my students on what real Digital and Media Literacy means while I have the opportunity to do so, as my students interact with internet based technology on a daily basis inn my educational environment. As Mary Beth pointed out in our discussion, part of being “literate” growing up right now is understanding the implications behind different technological mediums, even as she says if you don’t fully understand the functionality of it.

In reflection I have two main takeaways from our conversation:

Retrieved from Common Sense Media, 2019

To be perfectly honest before EC&I 832 I would have not drawn a line between Media Literacy, which according to this very helpful article is a critical engagement with Mass media, and Digital Literacy, which again according to Common Sense Media is personal, technological and intellectual skills for living in a digital society. I understand now that the work I have been doing falls more along the skills of Digital Literacy. For example, in my classroom I discuss and practice online safety, healthy online relationships and the capabilities of online collaboration regularly in the process of familiarizing the students with their personal devices.

What I do not do however is spend time on topics such as constructing a students Visual Literacy, that is to say how to make sense of the messages they receive via images. As Mary Beth pointed out this is such an important skill as students are living in an age where the digital divide has taken on a new meaning and both children and adults alike are facing the highest ever degree of exposure to media messaging.

Since the intersections of these two types of literacy have become intertwined I am beginning to see the need for a more balanced approach in my educational practice.

We shouldn’t be teaching kids to be afraid of social media, or that technology is bad for them. We should treat these tools like any influence in their life and help them manage the responsibilities connected to these tools effectively and ethically. 

Mary Beth Hertz, 2019

Finally, my last takeaway from my time listening to Mary Beth share was her mentioning of an article titled Forget “digital natives.” Here’s how kids are really using the Internet. Which, for transparency sake is an opinion piece that is based on some very interesting research regarding students and their tech use. Specifically the writer argues (and I do not disagree) that the “era of the digital native is over, and instead a child’s parents have the most profound effect on the type of tech user a student may be, falling into one of three categories.

  • Digital Orphans – “Digital orphans have grown up with a great deal of tech access — but very little guidance. They’ve been raised by parents who’ve given them near-unlimited access to technology, yet their mothers and fathers have had few conversations with them about what they’re learning, seeing and experiencing and why it matters.”
  • Digital Exiles – “Digital exiles are at the opposite extreme — they’ve been raised with minimal technology. Their parents’ goal has been to limit their children’s access in order to delay their entry into the digital world until their teens … Many exiles will throw themselves into their online lives with a vengeance, and they may struggle with finding a balanced approach to technology.”
  • Digital Heirs – “Digital heirs have impressive tech skills, thanks largely to their parents and teachers. Their adult mentors have encouraged and directed their tech education, enrolling them in classes and having conversations with them about being a responsible Internet user.”

Alexandra Samuel (2017).

As educators it is obvious that our goal is to guide children to becoming the “Digital Heir” as that group is described as fully participatory digital citizens with media literate skills. However my final takeaway from the class was a musing on how we as teachers can facilitate this, when this is not necessarily an agreed upon stance for those who work with and alongside us in education. I am very envious of Mary Beth’s position and school’s approach to Educational Technology as simply “Education” but I cannot help to wonder how far off that is for me. What can I do to validate the need for real, in depth Digital and Media literacy education in elementary schools right now?

Until next time, please share your thoughts below!