Where did you get that bright and shiny digital literacy?

Recent policy papers call for the support of community digital literacy providers, including community-based organizations, but there is little appreciation for the variety and richness of these organizations’ work. The Aspen Institute and Knight Foundation’s “Digital Literacy: A Plan of Action” admits there is “little awareness of programs and services in digital and media literacy education,” and recommends the mapping of community digital and media literacy resources. A framework for digital and media literacy training [pdf] having been established, the next question is, who is providing this kind of training anyway?

Having administered a national service corps for ten years, the Transmission Project has a unique perspective on the field of public media, and alongside the Center for Media Engagement, it is already mapping public media organizations, many of which serve as media and digital literacy providers in their communities. From this vantage point, we can see that the organizations delivering media and digital literacy training may not be seen as literacy organizations first and foremost, and many explicitly literacy-oriented institutions in fact address a variety of needs.

At Latinitas in El Paso, TX, digital literacy is being taught to Latina girls and young women through activities that promote cultural pride. These activities range from arts-and-crafts projects to digital picture-taking to creative journalism; they are primarily aimed at fostering a sense of identity and self-worth and inspiring discussion around issues like immigration, which youth learn about from various news sources. However, as Latinitas youth participate in program activities, they also engage with a variety of technologies that allow them to share their own perspectives in multiple ways. Latinitas’ website hosts two youth-published magazines. Youth create audio recordings and tie them to what they have written in relevant ways. Participants use Flip cameras to record and download digital video they take themselves. Latinitas serves the functions of media and digital literacy by creating critically thinking, civically engaged consumers and creators of media as it addresses the unique concerns of young Latina women.

Based in Albuquerque, NM, the Media Literacy Project runs similar youth programs, such as its Digital Justice for Us campaign, in which inner-city youth video-record their interviews with peers from rural areas with poor broadband infrastructure. However, youth media programming has not always been a primary focus of MLP; story sharing and media making have only recently become priorities. Traditionally, MLP has cultivated media literacy through teaching participants how to analyze and deconstruct manipulative media messages, especially advertisements. MLP has always gotten participants to take responsibility for and play a more active role in the media, but only in recent years has the organization provided community members the tools as well as the skills to share their perspectives and recruited their help to assure that the entire community maintains its right to a public voice.

Media Literacy Project’s new approach can be attributed to the fact that as comprehensive digital and media literacy has come to connote the use of new technologies, the MLP has had to extend its work to securing fair access to and affordability of those technologies if it is to continue to provide a useful service to its community. The necessary extension of Media Literacy Project’s work into a new realm reveals another blind spot of the current literature. Studies rightly assert that media literacy calls for not only effective use of new technologies, but also comprehension of the “social, cultural and ethical issues that go along with the use of these technologies.” More often than not, though, the same studies provide only vague notions of the far-reaching work such a comprehension would ultimately demand. For many organizations that serve marginalized populations, this means showing community members the social and economic opportunities that technology represents and then mobilizing communities for the purposes of securing access and affordability.

As definitions of literacy expand to accommodate new technologies, the work of organizations necessarily expands to address the social issues that attend those technologies. The Transmission Project supports these organizations because the multifaceted nature of their work – their ability to serve communities as they adapt to changing times – makes them prime recipients of capacity building and maximizes the impact that the addition of a Digital Arts Service Corps member makes.

Special Thanks

Christie McAuley, Community Education Coordinator, Media Literacy Project
MLP receives funding from the New Mexico Department of Health’s Tobacco Use Prevention & Control Program (TUPAC) to provide health education and tobacco prevention programs around media. Christie oversees the administration of this and similar media education programs.

Leticia Miranda, Digital Arts Service Corps Member
Community Outreach Coordinator, Media Literacy Project
Leticia directed and produced a counter-ad to Verizon’s Rule the Air campaign. The video was aired this past November 16 at a Future of the Internet Townhall with FCC Commissionaer Michael Copps, hosted by the Media Literacy Project, Center for Media Justice, and Free Press.

Candelario Vazquez, Digital Arts Service Corps Member
Media Justice Organizer, Media Literacy Project
Cande organized the Digital Justice 4 Us youth program.

Marisol Guzaman, Digital Arts Service Corps Member
Program Development Coordinator, Latinitas
Marisol creates volunteer training manuals and develops and refines a collection of over 100 lessons and activities for clubs and afterschool programs.

The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, Digital and Media Literacy:
A Plan of Action, Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, November 2010.

Transmission Project's Approach to Digital Literacy.pdf43.01 KB
happyTools_web.jpg61.25 KB

CTEP another example of service in support of digital literacy

TECHdotMIN published an article about the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. CTEP was a result of organizing efforts by Digital Arts Service Corps members, and has received further capacity building support from our Corps.

While CTEP’s model focuses more on direct service (e.g. teaching) than capacity building (e.g. writing curriculum), like the Digital Arts Service Corps, they recognize that digital literacy needs go far beyond just getting computers into the hands of community members:

“In the 21st Century, access to technology is a crucial social justice and literacy issue,” says Aaron Mendelson, second year CTEP member serving as the News and New Media Training Assistant at KFAI Radio. CTEP arose from discussions in 2001 and 2002 about the technology needs of local organization and the communities which Americorps wanted to serve. The assumption could easily be made that the communities and organizations were lacking computers, but in reality, donated computers always seemed to be the easiest to procure.

Although hardware is essential, it is also the part of a technology center that donors are most likely to fund; what was lacking were the people to design, develop and lead programming around digital literacy.

Like the Digital Arts Service Corps, CTEP is a sometimes overlooked model for digital literacy development:

The work of CTEP received national attention when, in March of this year, the FCC unveiled its National Broadband Plan to Congress. One of the plans major goals is to ensure every American has the opportunity to become digitally literate. The FCC’s key recommendation to achieve this goal is to launch a National Digital Literacy Corps, which would “organize and training youth and adults to teach digital literacy skills and enable private sector programs addressed at breaking adoption barriers.” It is a great approach, and one that was crafted by the founders of CTEP over six years ago.

Why is technology missing from CNCS's strategic plan?

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps, is readying its strategic goals for 2011-2015 [PDF]. Conspicuously absent from its goals or plan is nearly any mention of technology or media. Their proposed priorities are:

  • Economic Opportunity
  • Education
  • Environmental Stewardship
  • Disaster Services
  • Healthy Futures
  • Veterans & Military Families

Of course, technology and media can play an important role within each of these 5 priorities, but past experience has shown CNCS reluctant to explore solutions without an explicit mandate, despite a strategy to “Identify and invest in innovative local solutions, as well as the infrastructure that supports them.”

Explicitly acknowledging public media and technology infrastructure as a necessity in support of these priorities would enable many critical and impactful projects to receive support from CNCS; support for which they might otherwise be determined ineligible.

Where technology is mentioned is within CNCS’s strategic goal to fortify management and internal operations:

CNCS is committed to setting and sustaining the highest standards of stewardship. Thus building upon our current infrastructure, we will strengthen and stabilize our IT systems, grantmaking and grant management processes, human capital and transparency efforts so that CNCS is optimally positioned to enable grantees and service participants to succeed.

A focus on building IT capacity internally would be valuable, for example CNCS’s 2010 annual report recently announced “First high-speed internet access for 35 of the 52 field offices”.

Listening sessions with CNCS stakeholders [PDF] over the proposed 5-year strategic goals have identified the opportunity a focus on technology can offer for CNCS:

Challenges: Participants cited challenges related to access to opportunities, as well as at-risk populations in need of skills development and job readiness.

Opportunities: […] Additional opportunities exist to engage potential job providers and skill developers as CNCS partners and to advocate for the growing role of technology in employment and education.

Whether this stakeholder feedback will be integrated into CNCS’s strategic plan at an actionable level remains to be seen.

One place for optimism in the strategy brief is the strategy to “Embed service-based approaches with federal peers and partners that align with CNCS priorities.”

This strategy leverages CNCS’ national leadership role and potential to catalyze efforts that feature service-based solutions to pressing needs. For example, given our priorities in education, health, economic opportunity, the environment, military families and veterans and disaster services we will seek, and create where necessary, opportunities to partner and collaborate with other federal agencies and organizations. Specifically, we will prioritize those opportunities where national service combined with the capabilities and resources of our partners’ yields stronger, sustainable and scalable results.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan recommends just such a partnership between CNCS and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—Recommendation 9.3—in the creation of a Digital Literacy Corps. Time will tell whether CNCS or NTIA will have the capacity to develop such a large-scale partnership.

Despite the opportunity for federal-level partnership, much of CNCS’s resources are aimed at generating local non-profit partnerships. Without a specific focus on technology or media in CNCS’s strategic goals many innovative technology and media projects—and the individuals and communities they support—will not benefit from CNCS’s capacity-building service model.

The Confessions of a Community Radio Junky

Digital Arts Service Corps member Meaghan Lasala has been receiving a lot of great press on her work for community radio station WERU in East Orland, Maine. Meaghan was tasked with expanding the outreach of WERU into the Bangor Area and she has been making great progress during the first 4 months of her service year.

You can read about her work in the local paper ‘Salt Air’ in our resources page here, or listen to the radio show she has working to produce as part of our outreach strategy here.

meaghanPic.png952.69 KB

Technology, Social Innovation, and Civic Participation: What's the Next Step?

December 1, 2010
The New America Foundation 1899 L St. NW, Suite 400 Washington, D.C. 20036

Disaster, fraud and crime reporting sites provide information to civic authorities. AmberAlert has more than 7 million users who help with information on child abductions, and SERVE.GOV enables citizens to volunteer for national parks, museums and other institutions. These are just a few examples of digital tools – from social networking applications, to microblogging (e.g. Twitter), to recommendation sites like Ushahidi – that represent the new frontier of technology-mediated social participation. Whether dealing with a natural disaster, expanding health care coverage, or campaigning to make a forest a national landmark, governments and private citizens alike have found digital tools to be an effective means of reaching the masses.

But there are also clear challenges when using technology in this realm, including limited scale and potential privacy violations. Please join us as we build on two recent National Science Foundation workshops to discuss the advantages and pitfalls of social innovation and civic participation in this brave new technology-mediated world.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010
3:30 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.

The New America Foundation
1899 L St. NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036

National Symposium on Community Scale Broadband Infrastructure

December 7, 2010
Capitol Hill’s Longworth Building, room #1302, Washington, DC

The Center for Social Inclusion (CSI) and the Center for Technology Innovation and Community Engagement (CTICE) invite you to participate in a National Symposium on Community Scale Broadband Infrastructure. We hope you’ll be able to join us for “Advancing Community Broadband: Transforming Community Economics through Broadband Technologies”, which will take place on Tuesday, December 7, 2010 in Washington, D.C. at Capitol Hill’s Longworth Building; room #1302. The meeting will take place from 12-4 p.m., and a light lunch will be served.

About the event:

Advancing Community Broadband: Transforming Community Economics Through Broadband

This symposium will convene of an interdisciplinary group of nationally recognized scholars, practitioners and policy advocates to discuss strategies for re-envisioning the frames driving our national policy discourses on broadband. Our aim is to create a more inclusive conversation that takes us beyond the focus on adoption and access to thinking more critically about the role that Internet Communications Technologies (ICTs) such as broadband must have in securing a more equitable and sustainable development across communities and regions. In particular our emphasis is on the role that community scale infrastructures can have in recentering often marginalized communities from being siloed as the last mile/last inch of infrastructure roll out. Our goal is to shift frame through connectivity strateties that can empower comunities to become sites of “first mile” build up through community scale models. Research has shown that community scale infrastructure is more cost effective to build out and lowers the cost of sustaining connectivity at the community level.

The symposium will be organized into two moderated panel discussions designed to 1.) establish the framing around community scale infrastructure and 2.) present innovative modes and ideas being put in practice by scholars and community practitioners at various scales across the country. The term, “Community Scale Broadband” implies two meanings that we will highlight throughout the symposium; 1.) models of broadband infrastructure deployment and internet service provision that are locally owned either by cooperative, municipality or small business owner; affordable and accountable to those who utilize it; and 2.) that communities be empowered to make creative choices on how broadband infrastructure deployment and service provision can best serve their social and economic development needs.

Symposium Agenda

Opening Luncheon Introduction - 1145am- 130pm
Maya Wiley - Center for Social Inclusion - Introduction
Speakers: Melissa Bradley - CEO Tides Foundation;

130 - 230pm Panel I – Framing the discussion on Community Scale Broadband

1. Bruce Lincoln – Center for Technology Innovation and Community Engagement, Columbia University
2. Jabari Simama - Dekalb County Community Development Group
3. Sascha Meinrath – New America Foundation Open Technology Initiative
4. Nolan Bowie – Harvard Kennedy School
5. Cecilia Garcia - Benton Foundation

230 - 330pm Panel II – Community Scale Broadband Models and Strategy

1. Craig Settles - Successful
2. Todd Wolfson – Media Mobilizing Project
3. Plinio Ayala – Per Schola
4. Jacquie Jones - National Black Programming Consortium
5. Joanne Hovis – NATOA Community Broadband Committee

330 - 400pm Closing

The Digital Arts Service Corps is evolving Public Access TV

Colin Rhinesmith recently published an article on PBS’s Mediashift: “How Public Access TV Evolved into Community Media Centers”. Three of the five examples given are initiatives supported by our Digital Arts Service Corps: Grand Rapids Community Media Center, Access Humboldt, and the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC):

Around the country, community media centers are launching exciting new collaborations with local organizations, neighborhood activists, schools, and media outlets to create online, hyperlocal citizen journalism sites. These projects are re-imagining how Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) access TV stations – which are funded through regional negotiations with companies like Comcast – can serve their communities’ information needs in the digital age.

These innovators are using digital and cable access technology to generate civic awareness and create diverse local media – a function that’s increasingly crucial as traditional journalism institutions face their greatest challenges to sustainability.

These centers provide much more than public access to cable television, having fully embraced computer-based production and broadband technology to augment their media training programs. As a result, innovative experiments in community news production are replacing the tired old “Wayne’s World” stereotype of public access. This article spotlights five examples of how PEG access organizations are using funds tied to cable television as the bearing wall to support experiments in inclusive community news production.

Closing the technology gap in education

Yesterday the Department of Education released their National Education Technology Plan (NETP), an 18-month project that details how to better integrate technology and media into a cradle-to-college system. Just like the FCC’s Broadband Plan, HHS’s Health IT Plan, or DOE’s Smartgrid Proposals (to name a few), this plan recognizes the need for broader digital literacy and a strengthened media infrastructure across communities—not just within the education (or telecommunications, or health, or energy) sector:

The technology that enables connected teaching is available now, but not all the conditions necessary to leverage it are. Many of our existing educators do not have the same understanding of and ease with using technology that is part of the daily lives of professionals in other sectors and with this generation of students. The same can be said of many of the education leaders and policymakers in schools, districts, and states and of the higher education institutions that prepare new educators for the field.

This gap in technology understanding influences program and curriculum development, funding and purchase decisions about educational and information technology in schools, and preservice and in-service professional learning. Too often, this gap prevents technology from being used in ways that would improve instructional practices and learning outcomes.

Still, we must introduce connected teaching into our education system rapidly, and for that we must rely on the organizations that support educators in their profession—schools and districts, colleges of education, professional learning providers, librarians and media specialists, and professional organizations.

Access Humboldt grows another ring

From Eureka, California’s Times-Standard:

This year, Access Humboldt’s award-winning broadband media initiative, called Digital Redwoods, will grow another ring. Just like our inspiring forests, the region’s community media continue expanding local roots and canopy networks to build a stronger community of anchor institutions – government agencies and community service districts, schools, health care, libraries, public safety, culture, arts, media and other community based organizations all helping to create healthy sustainable communities.


To expand local information capacity, Access Humboldt will coordinate a series of collaborative digital media initiatives to provide hundreds of least-served Humboldt County youth and their teachers with professional development in fields including live video production and editing, graphic and web design, animation, audio and radio storytelling, and documentary filmmaking.

Digital Redwoods’ next generation literacy efforts will help to kick-start Humboldt County’s information economy, providing a steady stream of trained workers with skills to develop our region’s broadband media industries.

This project is supported by Digital Arts Service Corps member Sam Kaplan, who contributed to this article.

Times Standard - Access Humboldt.pdf112.15 KB

Making Best Practices Adequate

The Transmission Project has long made the argument that it is a lack of resources and capacity that prevent organizations from successfully adopting best practices, not ignorance of those practices. Our focus on honest practice recognizes the need to take a broader focus on an organization’s capacity and environmental context.

From Adapt and Adopt: An Experiment in Making Best Practices Adequate in an Organization [PDF], by Nelly Burrin, Gil Regev and Alain Wegmann:

So called best practices promise many advantages to organizations that adopt them. Reusing these practices, however, requires their adaptation to the specific context of each organization. This adaptation means that for a specific organization, the practices cannot be best. They can, at the most, be good or widely used, but not best.

…that term “Best Practices” is an oversell. It essentially hides the need to adapt any practice to the context of a specific organization. Organizations would do well to not get blinded by the marketing promise of best practices and remember that much work is needed before they can be used.

“a best practice framework is really an exercise in organizational and cultural change. Failing to realize that can be a recipe for disaster”

Transmission Project