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UCLA Ed & IS Creates New Undergraduate Minor in Information and Media Literacy

By Joanie Harmon

Joint program will capitalize on faculty expertise across the Departments of Education and Information Studies; prepare students for innovative careers and graduate work.

Applications are now being accepted for a new joint undergraduate minor in Information and Media Literacy, a new program taught by faculty from across both departments of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.

The UCLA Department of Information Studies and the Department of Education are uniquely positioned to offer this joint minor in Information and Media Literacy, given the emphasis in UCLA IS on high profile critical research related to digital systems, ethics and equity, and other information phenomena and UCLA Education’s focus on transformational pedagogy and research. The minor builds upon existing courses in information and media literacy, especially those that emphasize the digital format, that are currently offered at graduate and undergraduate levels in both departments, as well as recent courses related directly to information and media literacy and data ethics.  

“We think this is essential,” says Anne Gilliland, professor of information studies and chair of the committee that oversees the implementation of the new minor. “Every single person should develop and exercise these skills throughout their educational journey, because the knowledge needed is constantly evolving. There are more and more topics, and they change over time. 

“In our digital society, media literacy and information literacy have converged,” she says. “We are simultaneously creators and consumers of information in a dizzying array of forms, and are often not fully aware of the motivations, workings and biases of their technological underpinnings. For our own empowerment, and to support the health of a democratic society, we must engage critically with every aspect not only of finding information, but also evaluating it, using and reusing it, and repurposing it and creating something new.”

Among the considerations guiding the creation of the new minor were the need for an academic program that prepares students in the critical evaluation and use of media and information, especially in the digital environment; a response to legislative and educational concerns about increasing information and media literacy at all levels of education and instruction; enhancing the career prospects of UCLA undergraduates who seek positions in media, information and data-related workplaces; introducing undergraduates to the potential of graduate studies in information and education studies as well as associated research and professional careers; and forming a unique and uniquely relevant partnership between fields associated with education and information.

Kathy Carbone (’17, Ph.D.) is a lecturer in the UCLA Department of Information Studies. She says that at the core of her education at UCLA IS was, “being able to see, question, and understand the nexus between information and power—to recognize the flows of power, critically examine them, and find ways to rectify imbalances. It could be whose stories are and are not in libraries, archives, and museums, whose voices are loudest and whose voices have been marginalized, disenfranchised, or omitted, and working towards turning this around.”

Critical media literacy (CML) has been a key component in the UCLA Teacher Education Program, with a course on CML taught by UCLA lecturer Jeff Share, which is based on research and theory from cultural studies and critical pedagogy, and which examines the relationships between information and power. In their 2019 book, “The Critical Literacy Media Guide: Engaging Media and Transforming Education,” Share and his UCLA colleague Professor Emeritus Douglas Kellner provide a theoretical framework and practical applications for educators and teacher education programs to transform education by putting critical media literacy into action in classrooms with students from kindergarten to university. 

“Since society has become so much more mediated and technology has entered almost all aspects of our lives, it is no longer enough to just teach students how to read and write letters on a page,” says Share. “Today’s students need the literacy skills that include images, sounds, multimedia, social media, and all forms of communication. This new undergraduate minor aims to broaden our understandings about the digital age and help students learn to critically read, like Paulo Freire suggests, ‘the word and the world.’”

Carbone, who teaches an introductory course in the Information and Media Literacy minor program, reflects on a recent class meeting that revealed the great need for this type of education.

“We were talking very simply about searching for information,” says Carbone. “If they have a problem to solve, where do they first go, and where do they go after the first try? Most of them first go to Google, and a good number of students, recognize that, ‘Okay, not everything on Google is a reliable source of information.’ They kind of have gotten that before, but not [fully realized] the extent of misinformation, disinformation, or websites trying to sell them something—whether an idea, ideology, or product. What are the critical thinking skills we need to evaluate a source of information? That is something we are exploring in the class: how to be critical consumers, as well as producers of information.”

The UCLA Department of Information Studies brings to the minor the expertise of globally recognized scholars in a myriad of areas including digital content moderation, algorithmic bias, data management, community-based archives, Indigenous information systems and practices, and the use of primary sources in research and teaching. This level of IS faculty expertise is strengthened by research centers within the department, including the Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, the Center for Information as Evidence, the Center for Knowledge Infrastructures, and the Community Archives Lab and the Digital Cultures Lab. The UCLA IS department has also offered General Education courses for many years in relevant areas such as Information and Power, Digital Cultures and Societies, and Internet and Society, as well as graduate courses in Information Literacy. 

Professor Gilliland observes that, “Until recently, we thought about information literacy very much in the context of equipping students to be successful researchers. But this digital information world blasts at them from every corner and in every part of their lives, academic and personal. They have to be sentient, ethical creators of information, as well as searchers and consumers of information.

“They have to understand what it means to play each of those roles in relation to digital content and media - and not to be cynical - but to understand that these channels and content are being used to manipulate others,” Gilliland notes. “Social media is a good example of this - of how we overtly or subliminally use our digital information channels of choice to assert a particular image of ourselves or sometimes even to make ourselves superior in some way to somebody else. Many of the questions raised by information and media literacy education actually sit at the heart of bigger societal challenges and personal issues. This is [our] piece of those Gordian knots that we are trying to cut through or at least, unravel.” 

For more information on the Undergraduate Minor in Information and Media Literacy, visit this link.