The Media and the Literacies: Half Decade of Selected Developments

The Media and the Literacies: Half Decade of Selected Developments1


Already in 2006, Renee Hobbs observed that the existence and widespread use of digital forms of expression and communication led to the appearance of terms such as media literacy, critical literacy, information literacy, etc. The concepts, covered by these terms are being studied by a variety many different scholars, who are looking at them through a variety of theoretical and disciplinary lenses (Hobbs, 2006).

Taking the proliferation of concepts in this realm, this paper provides a selective, non-exhaustive survey of developments in the literature of varied literacies for the period between 2012 and 2016. The issues, addressed will be grouped around developments in media literacy, the relationship of media literacy and information literacy, the views on information literacy, overarching literacies, and other literacy perspectives. As a rule, arguments will be arranged by selected topics, applying chronological approach only when the subjects dictate it.

New views on media literacy

As Livingstone et al. (2013) stated, the lack of media literacy is on its way to become as problematic as traditional print illiteracy, because media-literate individuals, who live within a media literate society and understand the complex nature of that media environment, are clearly desirable. Furthermore, we can speak about the emergence of a new concept, social media literacy, because in the social media environment, the tasks of decoding, evaluating and creating communication encompass different forms of representation and social interaction (Livingstone, 2014). As Pfaff-Rüdiger and Riesmeyer (2016) noted it, the acquisition and mediation of media literacy are social processes themselves. They define how do young users perceive social norms about media usage, risks and opportunities and put these norms into practice. Under these circumstances, acquiring media literacy knowledge about the modes of getting access, analysing, evaluating and creating media messages is much easier than to using this knowledge.

The nature of social media literacy is not yet fully understood. For instance, Livingstone (2014) has found that there are parallels between the development of social media literacy and research on television and other literacies in the ways of deciding on trust and accuracy of the contents. Despite substantial changes, television viewing has not necessarily decreased, but has diversified and expanded to the web. The case of watching television shows that the legacies of an earlier era of media literacy education live on into the present, thus we must be aware that Media Literacy 2.0 does not supplant Media Literacy 1.0. They live rather side by side, even if they transform each other’s arguments (Hoechsmann & Poyntz, 2012). It seems to be better to treat new media as a relational concept, which is not a general attribute of media as such, but related to how people perceive and imagine it (Natale, 2016). In other words, the distinction between old and new media can be questioned, even though contrasting them acquired a strong and stable position in our imagination and it defines to a certain extent how media enters into the public sphere. We should not forget that appreciating the role of the social media did not remain without contradictions. For instance, we may promote the idea that digital natives possess innate skills in using new media and that the use of digital technology promotes student-centred, creative learning and democratisation. However, this will not necessarily make media literacy education redundant (Buckingham, 2013).

Still, the pervasiveness of mobile communication, i.e. the extensive use of smartphones and tablet computers allows carrying our entertainment with us. Therefore, they have become the primary sources for engagement with mass media. As a consequence, we are „connected” to an information landscape, which is more abundant than ever before. In this environment, media messages are influenced by the participants and – vice versa– the medium controls the participants. This requires media literacy education to be reframed by fostering a more reflexive engagement with media that gives attention to the fluid and flowing nature of participation (De Abreu & Mihailidis, 2013). Media literacy education also should be designed to shape prosumers, whose characteristics are manifold by being producers of new messages and reviewers of the content that they receive. They observe the production and emission processes and monitor the impact of messages. They should be content selectors, as well as identifiers of stereotypes and bad practices. Prosumers are also manipulators of the technological tools available, who boost communication and organise resources (Ruiz, Ramírez-García and Rodrígues-Rosell, 2014).

From among the varied subsets of media literacy, news literacy has received considerable attention. News can be set apart from media generally, because it plays much more important role in democracy, as the gap between representation and reality especially characterises news media messages (Ashley, Maksl & Craft, 2013). News media literacy’s essence is applying the core concepts of media literacy directly to the news. It focuses on „how comprehension, evaluation, analysis and production of news can help enable better teaching and learning strategies for more empowered, tolerant, aware and active participants in 21st century civic democracy.” (Mihailidis, 2012: 4). According to Frechette (2016), teaching news literacy is destined to address issues of enhancing the quality, access and diversity of news from local-to-global sources by leveraging networked technology and infrastructures. News literacy itself must draw from multiple frameworks, and requires the pedagogical skills, necessary for imparting new digital skills and digital citizenship. News media literacy can have a different mission, as well, when it „refers to the knowledge and motivations needed to identify and engage with journalism” (Maksl, Ashley & Craft, 2015: 29). Today, citizen participation and crowdsourcing are important shaping forces. Particular developments, such as professional journalists gathering information from a large number of citizens provoke change. Citizen journalism is also emerging. It can be defined as “the ability of people, using digital media, to interact with and reshape news and content by providing their own information, comment or perspective” (Grizzle, 2011: 122).

All these and similar development create new requirements for the qualifications of several professionals, including journalists, by setting specific requirements for conceptual, processual and attitudinal competencies. These competencies include the ability to filter out relevant data and information, interpreting and making it understandable, contextualising it, generating added value by generating new content, using different media and in different formats (Gertrudis-Casado, Gértrudix-Barrio, & Álvarez-García, 2016). It is not difficult to see that these ideas are akin to the thinking represented by various literacies. The theory of curation as an active literacy practice, outlined by Potter (2012) seems to offer a productive discursive formation for media literacy education. Historically, curation denoted collecting, organizing (sorting, selecting for presentation) and preserving material or objects, usually within physical spaces, mostly public ones, such as museums or art galleries. Today, curation is increasingly in the hands of individuals, who organise their daily information and communication activities in their private lives, or – at least – beyond these public spaces (Mihailidis, 2016).

The relationship between media literacy and information literacy

In 2015, an analysis of 685 articles and books, related to different types and particular conceptions of literacy revealed that media literacy also appeared with a considerably high frequency, though the most frequently mentioned concept was information literacy (Stordy, 2015). While media literacy and information literacy are separate entities, i.e. neither is a subset of the other, they share the common goal of developing cultivating our ability to access, understand, use, and create messages. Media literacy has a broader scope than information literacy, and it is more closely related to communication, health-related issues, leisure and culture. Information literacy is large field with a clear, but narrow focus on library and information science and technology. This affiliation produces a large quantity of papers. These assertions come from a bibliometric study, where the Web of Science database has been queried for the period from 1956 to 2012. This study demonstrated that the differences between the academic origin, scope and social concern of these two fields account for the diversity of authors, their university affiliations and the venues of publication. The most popular subject area, covered by the information literacy articles was library and information science at 54.2% and the two closely related areas were computer science (16.8%), and education (11.1%). In the case of media literacy, the differences in distribution were smaller, as education (and educational research) had the highest share with 25.7%, followed by communication (19.1%) and psychology (11.6%) (Lee & So, 2014). Meanwhile, the gradual absorption of information literacy by the educational disciplines seems to be a possible scenario for the future (Bawden, 2015).

While information literacy is also tied to practical problems of librarianship, it is worth of noting that media literacy also has connections to libraries. De Abreu and Mihailidis (2013) state that confusing issues, such as information sharing, the legal background of using information, or the preponderance of Google have shaped the demand for new kinds of literacies and also influenced the work of libraries, both challenging their traditional mission and helping them to form places, where the increased number of users could spend their time by engaging with new technologies.

As Bogel (2013) pointed it out, school libraries, often physically situated at the centre of a school community, provide a formative environment, where media literacy can be effectively integrated into the daily life and learning of K–12 students. The library mirrors public spaces beyond the school building walls, offers the experience of shared public access and serves a “playground” for practicing citizenship skills. School libraries and librarians are in a unique position to foster critical thinking and civic engagement, because they have been for a long time the advocates for information and related literacies. There is undeniable convergence between media literacy and information literacy that has been institutionalised by developing the concept and pedagogical approach of media and information literacy (MIL). The impact of the movement behind MIL is already perceivable, even if it does not have a long historical perspective (De Abreu & Mihailidis, 2013).

The possible rationale for the integration of media and information literacy were outlined by Leaning (2013), who stated that both fields are widely recognised as important aspects of general education and in a number of instances have been identified as integral to furthering the wider political projects of democratic citizenship and the enhancement of civil society. Their differing aims may be integrated into a common educational practice for three key reasons. First, media education and information literacy education are both adopting a participatory approach. Second, the experience of being a user of information resources and a consumer of media cannot be separated, at least in the perception of their users. Therefore, it seems inappropriate to separate these two forms of education. Third, treating the two practices as separate is wasting time and effort, while combining them might result in considerable benefits. Important MIL abilities incorporate understanding and assessing content, format, institutions and audiences of media and information. A media and information literate person has to accept the responsibilities of an active citizen, who will know how to communicate properly and how to engage in the ethical use of media information. The critical outcome of MIL programmes is comprehension of all kinds of content, including text and data (ACRL, 2013).

As Wilson (2012) underlined it, the objective of MIL is also to broaden civic participation in the media by empowering users to make informed judgments about media and information sources. MIL recognises that both professional and amateur producers have their own priorities and beliefs that can shape media messages and information. MIL competencies enable individuals not only to access, organise and evaluate information and media messages, but to produce them, taking into consideration that each medium or information source creates meaning differently. The need for critical information literacy, which offers an alternative lens, is underlined by (Jacobs, 2014). As technology-focused IL conceptualisations are rather narrow (Bawden, 2014), critical information literacy prompts us to “get beyond surface descriptions of information to ask more fundamental question about global flows of information” (Elmborg, 2012: 86). Špiranec, Banek Zorica and Kos (2016) outlined the way that information literacy has gone „from observation to participation, from documents to communities” (249). Partially sharing these views, new guidance in information literacy instruction is provided by the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (ACRL, 2015). By introducing threshold concepts more widely into information literacy and offering flexible options for implementation, the Framework moved away from being prescriptive via standards, learning outcomes and enumerating skills (Hess, 2015).

The Framework also provides a new definition of information literacy that emphasises dynamism, flexibility, individual growth and community learning by describing information literacy as a “set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning” (ACRL, 2015). Despite the existing vast body of literature on information literacy, relatively few studies identify how the concept is usually understood in its relationship to formal and informal learning, even though views on learning can vary. This issue has been raised by Pilerot (2016), who suggested three, reflexive levels of understanding. The first level is based on the fact that – as a rule – information literacy labels a field of activities that relate to professional practice, research or policy-making. On the empirical level, it is used to denote activities, related to information seeking and information-use. While this level is more distinctive than the first one, it is hazardous in the sense that it may take a normative dimension that results in prescribing something that should be described instead. On the third – partially missing – level, the concept is applied as a tool for analysing or theorizing on it.

This kind of directing attention to the importance of theoretical thinking has not been unknown to media literacy. For instance, Potter (2013) asserted that the literature of media literacy displays a considerable amount of creativity in providing definitions, but without determining, which definitions are most useful or which interventions can be most successful. Therefore, he called for stronger conceptualization, where definitions have to deal with both skills and knowledge, applicable to all media and cultures. He also expressed the need for carefully designed applied studies, the findings of which should be subjected to meta-analyses and translated into practical guidelines.

Other literacy perspectives

From among various other perspectives, digital literacy play a distinguished role. It can be defined as, „the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills” (ALA, 2012: 1). In addition to this, Lee (2013) underlined that besides highlighting the importance of reading with meaning, digital literacy evolves parallel with the advances of internet technologies. Julien (2014) stated that the concept of digital literacy continues to be understood in the broad context of literacies, i.e. it is culturally situated and based on the ability of making meaning within particular social conditions. She underlined that meaning-making competency in Western urban settings differs markedly from the meaning-making in countries, where access to networked communications is limited. In the former environment, social communication practices via digital means are now commonplace, thus require digital literacy, which, from a pragmatic point of view, is the set of skills, knowledge and attitudes required to access digital information effectively, efficiently and ethically. This quality of digital literacy shows its potential to converge with social media literacy.

Metaliteracy, by being a self-referential and comprehensive framework, informs the foundations for media literacy, digital literacy and other literacies and fosters both critical thinking and participation via social media. It is built on a metacognitive perspective, i.e. encouraging learners to reflect continuously on their own thinking and intends to enable expanding competencies for adapting to the ongoing changes in emerging technologies (Jacobson & Mackey, 2013). If we look at a different segment of literacies, reconfigurations in research cultures and scholarly communication can influence first of all information literacy, because the research workflow is based on competencies associated with finding, evaluating and using information. Vice versa, research practices themselves may change, when affected by IL. Research 2.0 (Science 2.0, or eScience) is an indicator of such a reconfiguration. It influences research in the sciences, social sciences and the humanities by making use of the internet’s power that enables different new forms of networking, encourages openness and provides the possibility to access and manipulate massive amounts of data. This environment requires new approaches towards information literacy (Koltay, Špiranec & Z. Karvalics, 2015).

The same reconfigurations led to the appearance of data literacy that is required in treating all kinds of research data, public and business data. While sharing a number of features with several other literacies, data literacy is especially closely connected to information literacy. It is built on the principle of being critical towards data and it can be defined as a specific skill set and knowledge base, which empowers individuals to transform data into information and into actionable knowledge by enabling them to access, interpret, critically assess, manage and ethically use data (Koltay, 2015). Ridsdale et al. (2015) described an utterly complex matrix of related competences, where the most distinguished role is played by the evaluation of data quality. Data literacy education targets not only potential researchers, such as graduate and doctoral students, but different kinds of faculty (teaching staff members) and researchers, as well as information professionals, who can be involved in data literacy education (Koltay, 2015).


The main directions and goal-settings in the literacies, described in this paper remained relatively stable in the last half decade. On the other hand, change is palpable, thus the present information environment has motivated the appearance of new concepts and approaches or strengthened the existing ones, such as social media literacy, media and information literacy, critical information literacy and data literacy.

We can only agree with Bawden (2014), who underlined that we cannot stop looking for new forms and concepts of literacies, because behind the proliferation of concepts in this area there is a genuinely complex and changing set of issues and contexts. We should follow his advice to look at concepts on different levels of specificity and abstraction by taking an analogy from business studies, where difference is made between a general “purpose” or “mission” and somewhat more specific “vision” of how the purpose is accomplished and the specific “objectives” which make the vision realizable. Doing this could be an intriguing subject of future investigations.

Ilustracja: Ewa Rozkosz, Information Literacy, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Title: The Media and the Literacies: Half Decade of Selected Developments

Summary: There is a perceptible need for overviews that broadly address media literacy, information literacy and related literacies for the last half decade, which was characterised by the emergence of several novel approaches and new concepts that answer the challenges caused by the pervasive presence and profound effect of information technology, especially social media. Therefore, this paper, which is a non-exhaustive (selective) review of the developments in the field, covers the period 2012 and 2016. The topics investigated include media literacy, information literacy and several other literacies in general, as well as social media literacy, news literacy and issues, related to prosumerism, in particular. The relationship between media literacy and information literacy is also examined, adding that the convergence between them resulted in the appearance of media and information literacy. The effects of the new framework for information literacy education in higher education, the theory of curation as an active literacy practice, and the influence of data literacy are examined. Digital literacy and metaliteracy are also characterised.

Keywords: literacies, digital literacy, information literacy, media literacy, overarching literacies, media and information literacy (MIL), metaliteracy, data literacy.


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  1. This research has been supported by the EFOP-3.6.1-16-2016-00001 project “Complex Development of Research Capacities and Services at Eszterházy Károly University”.

dr hab. Tibor Koltay

College Professor and Director of the Institute of Learning Technologies at Eszterházy Károly University in Jászberény, Hungary. He is also Principal Investigator of an information literacy research team that focuses on K12 students.

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About dr hab. Tibor Koltay

College Professor and Director of the Institute of Learning Technologies at Eszterházy Károly University in Jászberény, Hungary. He is also Principal Investigator of an information literacy research team that focuses on K12 students.

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