Educating for Social and Media Literacy
Beverly Vaillancourt, M.Ed, Educator
In 2012, the Pew Research Center studied Internet use by teens and adults. The project results indicate that “fully 95 percent of all teens ages 12 – 17 are now online.”1 As part of the same study, the Pew Research Center also concluded that “Facebook is a major center for teenage social interactions, both with the positives of friendship and support and the drama of negatives and social expectations.”2 Clearly, social literacy skills are an integral part of the lives of high school students. Understanding how to nurture positive communication and collaborate in online environments are fast becoming a critical skillset for teens and adults.
Social literacy is tightly bound with media literacy, defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in both print and not print venues. Without a doubt, today’s students live in digital worlds that include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many other online social media sites, sites that certainly enhance the definitions of “community” and “friend.”
Findings from the Pew Internet study underscore the power of digital media in the lives of teens: 1
- 94% of teens have Facebook accounts
- 91% post photos of themselves
- 82% post about their personal preferences for books, music, and movies
- 75% of all teens text
- 62% percent post about their personal relationships
- 46% of app users turned off location tracking features on their phones because of privacy concerns
- 29% exchange messages daily on social networking sites
Social media sites, however, are not the only place teens are connecting online. Video games play a major role in online communication. A national study of teen game play by the Pew Research Center gleaned the following data:
“Fully 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games. Younger teen boys are the most likely to play games, followed by younger girls and older boys. Older girls are the least “enthusiastic” players of video games, though more than half of them play. Some 65% of daily gamers are male; 35% are female…
For most teens, gaming is a social activity and a major component of their overall social experience. Teens play games in a variety of ways, including with others in person, with others online, and by themselves. Although most teens play games by themselves at least occasionally, just one-quarter (24%) of teens only play games alone, and the remaining three-quarters of teens play games with others at least some of the time.
- 65% of game-playing teens play with other people who are in the room with them.
- 27% play games with people who they connect with through the internet.
- 82% play games alone, although 71% of this group also plays with others.
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of teens who play games report seeing or hearing “people being mean and overly aggressive while playing,” and 49% report seeing or hearing “people being hateful, racist, or sexist” while playing. However, among these teens, nearly three-quarters report that another player responded by asking the aggressor to stop at least some of the time. Furthermore, 85% of teens who report seeing these behaviors also report seeing other players being generous or helpful while playing.” 3
Video games can be a powerful tool for helping individuals learn how to communicate in highly engaging environments and, importantly, to discern among communications that hold positive or negative messages. Video games tie the visual experience to the human experience to produce critical outcomes that impact the game, but also impact the individual as a gamer. Failure becomes opportunity for advancement with iteration and perseverance. Optimism abounds with success gained through newly acquired skills. Collaboration and opportunities for leadership are absolutes in any video game environment. These lifelong skills, seen as ideal student attributes by classroom teachers, clearly are sharpened by playing video games.
To say the least, social and media literacy skills have become as integral to individuals participating in online video game environments as when interacting on social media sites.
Today everyone who logs onto the Internet is an entrepreneur of some sort because our digital environments serve to promote civic, political, and social justice ideas. The Internet invents as it promotes thought. The study of game design fosters the Four Cs” of 21st century skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. With game design, students evaluate media tools used by others to communicate, and importantly evaluate tools used to promote ideas. In essence, through the study of game design, students learn to discern the social implications of how media is used to communicate and invent.
The interest driven quality inherent in the study of game design has far reaching educational benefits. Schools that employ both a study of games and game design, coupled with use of video games for content delivery and assessment of knowledge, bring together the best of what highly engaging social literacy and media literacy experiences have to offer students. These skills will remain essential as students as they move into adult lives where highly dynamic digital communications drive both personal and job-related decisions.
With vast qualities of information at one’s fingertips, perhaps social and media literacy will prove to be the most critical skills students must gain in high school, and with that drive a dynamic paradigm shift in high school curriculums and learning spaces. Schools must adjust, and quickly, to the dynamics and demands of the social and political impacts of the digital world. It just makes sense that the study of games and game design becomes central to that all-important paradigm shift.