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UCLA Ed&IS Minor in Information and Media Literacy Provides Critical Tools for the Digital Age

Partnership between the UCLA Departments of Education and Information Studies enhances students’ understanding of information and media for all undergrads across campus.

The UCLA School of Education and Information Studies is currently accepting applications for the undergraduate minor in Information and Media Literacy (IML). Launched in 2022, the program is open to UCLA undergraduates from all disciplines across campus, and provides a focused and critical introduction to information and media literacies. Core courses and electives taught by faculty from both SEIS departments provide students with a better understanding of the processes, dynamics, environmental impact, and societal implications of the production, dissemination and use of information and media, and will help them to develop skills as critical creators and consumers.

Anne Gilliland, UCLA professor of information studies, chaired the committee that led the implementation of the new minor. 

“Preparing library and information studies students to implement information literacy programs in their professional work has long been a cornerstone of the graduate MLIS program in information studies.,” she says. “The new minor recognizes that today all individuals, and not just information professionals, need to be critically aware and fluent consumers of the diverse information streams, technologies and media that permeate their daily lives. 

“The new minor seeks to prepare undergraduate students to manage information overload, discern the validity and biases of information and media content that is targeted at the public through an ever-increasing diversity of channels and platforms, and make informed and ethical choices as they not only use but also create and disseminate information and media content,” says Professor Gilliland. “Beyond these fundamental skills, the minor prepares students for positions in the workforce that increasingly seek state-of-the art approaches that can be applied in these areas.”

Among the considerations guiding the creation of the IML minor were the need to prepare students in critical evaluation and the use of media and information, especially in the digital environment. This is reflected in core courses taught by UCLA Information Studies faculty, such as “Internet and Society,” “Data and Ethics in Society,” and “Information & Power.” UCLA Education faculty further explore media and information’s impact on teaching and learning in courses such as “Race, Class, and Education Inequality in the U.S.,” “Pedagogies of Global Citizenship Education,” and “Comparative Educational Policies and Practices.” 

Critical media literacy has been a key component in the UCLA Teacher Education Program, with a course taught by UCLA lecturer Jeff Share, who co-authored the 2019 book, “The Critical Literacy Media Guide: Engaging Media and Transforming Education,” with UCLA Professor Emeritus Douglas Kellner. Share says that the IML partnership between the SEIS departments, “… provides a wonderful practicality to the ideas we are looking at in K-12 schools, higher education, and all the different areas where education and information embrace literacy.” 

“So much of what we do is deeply connected to the theoretical understandings from information studies, cultural studies, and education,” notes Share. “We add to the theory with explorations of practical implications for learning and teaching. We discuss what tools students are using to communicate and critically question how media, information, and technology are shaping society and influencing us in ways we seldom consider. Part of what we try to do is make all types of literacy (information literacy, media literacy, digital literacy, algorithmic literacy), more relevant, more current, and more critical. And so, to me, combining education with information studies is a perfect fit.”

A new course, “Environmental Justice through the Lens of Media and Education,” is also part of the joint minor. Share, whose research currently centers on media’s role in environmental justice in education, says that this course affords a look, “… through the lens of representation and technology to see how our communication and information tools and systems impact our understandings, relationships, and actions with the natural world.”

“Environmental justice is a very important piece,” he says. “A lot of people don’t think of it as education or as information studies, but what we do is tie in both, in terms of how education and information shape the policies, laws, attitudes, beliefs, and practices for how we relate to the natural world, and what we need to do to confront the climate crisis.”

Closely tied in with the concerns addressed by the IML program is the Social Media and the Spread of Hate (SMaSH) project funded by the UCLA-wide Initiative to Study Hate (ISH) that was launched in 2022. SMaSH brings together academic researchers from information studies and education with the Organization for Social Media Safety (OFSMS). Established in 2019, OFSMS is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting social media safety, with a specific focus on addressing hate speech and cyberbullying among students. 

SMaSH is studying the perceptions of hate speech on social media among students in grades 5-12 in schools across the United States. The study aims to examine students’ self- reported exposure to such speech and its personal and educational impact in order to develop strategies to counter hate speech and cyberbullying targeting students on social media. 

Arif Amlani, director of new initiatives at SEIS, underscores the minor program’s ability to give all UCLA students the tools to assess online information for its credibility, as well as its potential to harm.  As a member of a SEIS research team working on the SMaSH project, he says that looking forward, the IML program will examine the dangers of social media. 

“One of the major issues today is this notion of living in an information bubble,” says Amlani. “This phenomenon is directly connected to certain algorithms that are put in place such that they feed you information and perspectives that you are already leaning towards or biased towards. This leads to a vicious cycle in terms of your belief systems where your current beliefs are continuously being reinforced. There is now a consciousness about harms on the internet, like addiction to social media, social harms like harassment and bullying, psychological effects like loneliness, isolation, and anorexia, perpetuated by images and misinformation on social media.

“We think that the minor is timely [and] responds to some very contemporary issues of great concern to us all, and of concern to very young students as well,” he says. “We know that students are getting introduced to social media earlier and earlier. Parents are under pressure to provide cell phones to children when they are very young, and all of that exacerbates some of the issues we are seeing… from the 3rd, 4th grade onward.”

“We are seeing middle and high school students across the U.S. reporting that they are spending eight, ten, 12 hours and more a day on their cell phones and particularly on various social media platforms,” says Professor Gilliland. “A frighteningly large proportion of these students also report being exposed on social media to hate speech targeted at themselves or someone they knew. Furthermore, students are telling us that the ways in which those platforms are designed, actually encourage [their] use by young people to disseminate hate speech.” 

With additional funding received for this academic year from UCLA’s ISH, SMaSH will be extending its study to include undergraduates.

“We hope through this further study to be able to understand better how students’ experiences and behaviors with social media evolve across developmental stages, increasing independence from parental and school oversight, and more years of exposure to social media and other digital media channels,” says Gilliland. “The insights we develop will be especially helpful as we continue to design curriculum for the IML minor.”

The versatility of the IML Minor enhances the career prospects of UCLA undergraduates who seek positions not only in education and information fields, but in media, information, and data-related workplaces. The program also introduces undergraduates to the potential of graduate studies in information and education studies and associated research and professional careers.

“Because information and the media through which it is presented and disseminated permeate all aspects of societal life and activities, its presence and characteristics have a tendency to become transparent, or taken for granted,” says Professor Gilliland. “Critical awareness is, however, essential. The new minor makes overt the roles and nature of information and media in ways that develop and enhance students’ scholarly and citizenship skills. It is, therefore, highly relevant to all students, regardless of their academic programs or personal backgrounds.”

“This minor brings so much depth to many different aspects of information: archiving, surveillance, popular culture, and all types of communication that are extremely pertinent today, especially as we maneuver within a global attention economy,” Share says. “Our social media, news media, and entertainment are all built around an economic model based on capturing our personal data and selling it to others so that they can then more strategically target their marketing at us. The more data they can collect, the better they can be at predicting what we’ll do. The better they can predict our behavior, the more likely they’re able to push us to do what they want us to do.

“The other side of this brave new world is that there are new tools and technologies that we can be using and creating to serve our own purposes, for the betterment of society,” says Share. “It’s about thinking critically and also creating, not just analyzing and deconstructing. We can be producing, building, and creating different stories to change the dominant narrative and transform society to be more socially just and environmentally sustainable.” 

The deadline to apply to the IML Minor program for the Winter Quarter 2024 is October 13 at 5 p.m., PST.

Visit this link to apply and for more information about the Information and Media Literacy Minor.