Social media and digital technologies have revolutionized the way people interact and share information. These same technologies are transforming education in dramatic ways and many scholars have proposed ideas to integrate digital competencies into education at all levels.
This paper focuses on the concept of New Media Literacies and Participatory Culture as identified by Henry Jenkins and utilizes a newly developed assessment instrument to measure the self-reported media literacy levels of social work students and educators. The main objective is to replicate the validity and reliability of this instrument and to assess the level of digital participation of respondents. It is important to understand that New Media literacies build upon the traditional notion of literacy skills, or those skills used to search for information, critically evaluate the information, make appropriate decisions, and otherwise expand knowledge. New media literacies skills also include social skills and cultural competencies individuals can use to interact with large and diverse communities. New media literacies can aid in understanding how to conduct oneself in the online environment and how to use newly developed skills. Henry Jenkins offers a fuller explanation of Participatory Culture in the video below.
Much of the literature in social work education centers on the need for increasing digital competencies related to technology. What’s missing in the discussion is the point of participatory culture and how individuals are learning as they play and experiment with their surroundings, or how interacting with technologies can expand mental capacities through the skill of distributed cognition. These are just some of the skills Jenkins identifies and that many people are developing in the participatory culture we are experiencing today. Because students and educators now find themselves in a digitally mediated society it is critical to understand how to leverage digital technologies to expand knowledge and enhance digital competencies for professional practice. A common misunderstanding of technology is the focus on what the tools do and do not allow. The conversation on digital technology and learning needs to focus on the participatory aspects of the new digital culture and how increasing knowledge around new media literacies can address the challenges we face as educators and the challenge of students entering the social work profession.
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Jimmy A. Young