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Media Literacy Week: An Expert's Advocacy Guide

“We define media literacy as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act, using all forms of communication. In simpler terms, it’s an expanded definition of literacy. What does it mean to be an author and a consumer in today’s world?”

Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE)

In 2022, it is estimated that each internet user spends 147 minutes, or just over two hours, consuming social media every day. However, when you look at all digital media, including work communication, emails, streaming movies, video games, and news, that number jumps to 470 minutes, nearly eight hours a day. With such vast amounts of media consumption daily, it is essential to understand what messages are being communicated, by whom, and to what end.

“We define media literacy as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act, using all forms of communication. In simpler terms, it’s an expanded definition of literacy. What does it mean to be an author and a consumer in today’s world?” says Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, the executive director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE).

Media literacy, just like reading and math, is a skill that must be taught and cultivated. While this used to be reserved for the college level and above, media literacy has been trickling down through the grade levels: “The way that we think about media literacy education is, in an ideal scenario, integrated throughout schooling and isn’t like a separate class. This can be taught and integrated into math, science, social studies, technology, and English. Media literacy is a set of skills that needs to be taught throughout education from the earliest ages,” says Ciulla Lipkin.

October 24-28, 2022 is set aside as Media Literacy Week to help draw attention to the importance of learning and utilizing this skill set. “I wish that we, as a country, recognize that media literacy skills are an essential tool to thriving in the world today. I wish that that was not something we had to fight for,” says Ciulla Lipkin. “I also wish people truly understood that media literacy is not just fact-checking. Media literacy is a much deeper understanding of media messages and the media ecosystem.”

Learn more about media literacy with the guide below, including advice on getting started in this career and top online education options in media literacy.

Meet The Expert: Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, MFA

Michelle Ciulla Lipkin

Michelle Ciulla Lipkin is the executive director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). In her role at NAMLE, she has helped the organization become the preeminent media literacy education association in the country.

Ciulla Lipkin launched the first-ever Media Literacy Week in the U.S., now in its seventh year; developed strategic partnerships with companies such as Thomson Reuters, Facebook, Twitter, and Nickelodeon; and restructured the governance and membership of NAMLE. In 2020, she was the recipient of the Global Media and Information Literacy Award by UNESCO. Her bachelor’s and master’s of fine arts are both from New York University.

The Importance of Media Literacy Week

Media Literacy Week in the U.S., celebrated from October 24-28, 2022, is sponsored by NAMLE: “When we launched media literacy week in 2015, it was inspired by our Canadian neighbors who had already been doing it. People in our community were asking NAMLE to lead the charge for a U.S. one. In the first year, we had over 117 partners, half of whom were people and organizations we had never heard of. So clearly, media literacy went much farther than we realized,” remembers Ciulla Lipkin. “That’s when we started to shift things for the organization and started to think of media literacy as a movement more than an organization. Media literacy week is like the keynote event for that effort.”

For Ciulla Lipkin, this week is all about raising awareness and visibility: “It allows us to showcase much of the work that the media literacy community does,” she says.

Media literacy is vital for many reasons. It teaches people to get involved with the media, think critically about it, and open space for public discourse about difficult topics. People who are media literate typically have a flexible mindset when encountering information that differs from their previous knowledge or belief system.

Careers in Media Literacy

Media literacy is an emerging and evolving field. “Up until 2016, media literacy was really something that showed up in academic or education conferences, and now it’s coming up in cultural conversations,” says Ciulla Lipkin. As this field continues to grow, there will be more careers professionals can pursue. Here are three careers available now:

Become a Teacher

“You can bring media literacy and be a media literacy educator within a traditional teacher educator space,” encourages Ciulla Lipkin. There are specific media educator jobs available, but anyone passionate about media literacy can become a teacher and integrate it into the everyday curriculum.

Media literacy can be taught to all ages, from educating preschoolers on how to pinpoint an unreliable narrator in a story to teaching high schoolers how to spot misinformation. Most teachers complete a master’s of education in their chosen specialty and must be licensed by their state’s board of education.

Become a Librarian

One of the primary places to establish a media literary career is in a library: “There’s a lot of media literacy happening in the library space. Whether that’s school librarians, public librarians, or youth librarians, they are often the media literacy leader in their school or institution”, says Ciulla Lipkin.

To become a librarian, students must earn at least a bachelor’s degree in library science or a related field. Librarians who want to work in schools must obtain a license from their state’s board of education. Please note that to become a certified librarian, a master’s degree is typically required.

Become a Community Specialist

Grassroots groups across the country are popping up across the country with the goal of educating the public about media literacy. “There is a shocking growing number of community organizations doing media literacy. They go into schools and do camps or after-school programs with kids teaching them media literacy. There’s a lot of positions within that community space: non-profit, community-based organizations and community centers are doing a lot of work,” says Ciulla Lipkin. Community specialists work within these organizations as educators, performers, administrative support, or event planners.

Online Media Literacy Training Programs

Here are three online options for those wanting to work in media literacy.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers an online bachelor’s of arts in digital media literacy. In this program, students will learn how digital media works and how it impacts daily life. They will also learn to identify misinformation, create digital content, and be an expert communicator.

Required courses for this program include media research methods, digital media literacy, misinformation society, and digital media and freedom of expression. Faculty in this program also teach in the prestigious Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Students will learn from world-class media scholars and award-winning professional journalists.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $700 per credit

Western Washington University – Woodring College of Education

Teachers who wish to expand their knowledge and skills can complete an online media and digital literacy certificate at Western Washington University Woodring College of Education. This 16-credit course is offered through distance learning so busy educators and teachers can complete it on their own schedule.

Students will learn how to implement new media literacy practices in their schools or communities. Skills taught apply to all ages and content areas. Credits earned for this certificate can be applied towards a master’s in language and literacy should a student wish to pursue additional education.

  • Location: Bellingham, WA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Tuition: $814 per credit

University of Florida – College of Education

The online master’s of arts in education with a focus on English language arts at the University of Florida College of Education offers a specialization in media literacy education. In this specialization, students will investigate how to use popular media culture and internet text to encourage literacy growth in their students.

This specialization is also available to those earning a degree in curriculum and instruction. In addition to the required classes for the master’s of arts in education, students will be required to complete courses in teaching multiliteracies, media literacy on the internet, and teaching digital storytelling.

  • Location: Gainesville, FL
  • Duration: One-and-a-half to two years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $30,134 per year

Advice and Resources for Starting a Career in Media Literacy

Getting started in a media and information literacy career begins with learning as much about it as possible. “Join NAMLE,” urges Ciulla Lipkin. “We are a free membership organization, and we curate materials, resources, and job opportunities. We send out newsletters twice a month that are just chock full of resources. This is a great way to start to see what kind of organizations are out there, what kind of work is being done, and what kind of research exists.”

Here is a list of organizations that are making a difference in media literacy and can help you get started in this field:

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.