Rhode Island “Back-to-School” Survey on Media Literacy

Primary Investigator: Dr. Renee Hobbs, Professor of Communication Studies (pictured at left)

On October 25, just in time for National Media Literacy Week, a SSIREP Public Policy Lab team led by Dr. Renee Hobbs released a Back-to-School Report Card describing the current state of media literacy education throughout the Rhode Island school system. The report has been featured in the Boston Globe alongside an interview with Dr. Hobbs.

As disinformation increasingly challenges democracy and public health, the civic importance of media literacy has been widely discussed. But to Dr. Hobbs, a professor at URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media and the founder and director of the Media Education Lab, the subject has a deeper significance.

“It may sound a little radical, but ultimately media literacy is literacy,” Hobbs said. “And if that’s the case, we have to pay attention to it as a core competency of education and not just a Band-Aid you pull off once or twice a semester.”

The Report Card is the result of an extensive survey of school administrators, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders across the state. Research was conducted in partnership with Media Literacy Now Rhode Island and the Media Education Lab.

Dr. Hobbs’ team of Public Policy Lab student fellows included Tessa Mediano, an M.A. student in Library and Information Sciences, and Jenny Sullivan, who will be receiving her B.A. in History. For both students, this was their first experience as part of a research project.

“It’s exciting and challenging getting involved in a field you didn’t know too much about before, and getting to see all the work that other scholars have done,” said Mediano. “I definitely learned a lot.”

“I’ve always had an interest in this subject,” said Sullivan, “but being able to actually participate in a project that had the goal of making a constructive contribution has been really beneficial to me. It’s the kind of thing I always thought I’d do in the future. Doing this research has raised a lot of new questions for me that I’d like to dive into more–whether through research or through advocacy.”

In order to conduct the survey, the researchers compiled a list of sixteen instructional practices which can be readily integrated into general education curricula across all levels and subject areas.

“That was our biggest challenge,” said Hobbs. “The team had a big reading list. But once we’d gotten on the same page we could ask, ‘Were these instructional practices happening?’ or ‘What were the reasons why they weren’t happening?’”

“These are things that everyone needs to be able to do regardless of your political party or your religious beliefs or what your viewpoints are,” Mediano said.

Said Sullivan, “With the growing role that digital media plays, it would be–for lack of a better word, silly–not to include it in anybody’s education at this point, if the point of education is to prepare people for the future.”

The report will provide a baseline for subsequent surveys to measure the progress made by Rhode Island schools toward integrating media literacy practices. The list of practices compiled by the researchers, the first of its kind, could also serve as a template for other states to assess the scope of their media literacy programming.

“If every Rhode Island child–in elementary school, middle school, high school–can gain the opportunity to engage in these learning practices we identify… their critical thinking, their creativity, their confidence, and their capacity to use the power of communication as citizens in a democracy, all of these things would be greatly improved,” Dr. Hobbs said.

“The best way to make change is to take an honest look and ask ourselves, ‘Here’s what we’ve found. What are we going to do about it?’” Sullivan said. “As the next generation, students deserve that.”