1. What are you doing towards Digital Inclusion in Charlotte?
For the last five years, I’ve been involved in a number of projects to support digital and media literacy in Charlotte. I created a Digital Citizenship program that took first-year students throughout Charlotte to help residents learn new computer and digital skills. The Knight School partnered with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library to host these workshops since it has the infrastructure to support community initiatives like this.
I’ve also done a number of workshops (in my classes) with senior citizens throughout Charlotte. This includes face-to-face meetings for students to learn about the history of media and technology over the last seventy years from people who actually lived through those major developments – and it includes working with our Knight Scholars to develop a mobile toolkit on Digital Charlotte. The goal of the toolkit (a series of tutorials – both printed and video) is to help senior citizens learn mobile technology. Senior citizens are a vulnerable population, and it’s critical they stay connected and aren’t left behind in the digital age.
My classes (undergraduate and graduate) often include sections devoted to digital inclusion, as well. It’s important to me that my students get out into the city of Charlotte and talk to real people about the issues that affect them so that students understand the world around them—and see themselves as part of the solution.
I’m currently involved in a research project with a colleague (Dr. Brandon Brooks) and an undergraduate student (Jayme Keefer). We’re using Charlotte as a case study and examining the relationship between the digital divide and economic mobility. Dr. Brooks and I are presenting our findings at the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference later this year. We’ve also partnered with Google to support the educational outreach component of their fiber rollout throughout Charlotte.
Lastly, I also edit a peer-reviewed journal out of the Knight School called the Journal of Digital and Media Literacy. JoDML presents a variety of perspectives on the intersection between digital and media literacy, technology, culture, and civic engagement. Our content is descriptive and prescriptive in regards to how scholars, activists, consumers, practitioners, and educators engage with all aspects of digital and media literacy throughout the communities in which they work, live, and serve. For more information or to read the latest issue, please visit www.jodml.org.
2. Why are you working towards Digital Inclusion in Charlotte?
Digital and media literacy has always been a passion of mine. In the early 2000’s, I produced and co-edited a short documentary called Generation Digital which later inspired masters’ thesis. It focused on a group of low-income, minority students in an after-school, video production program in Austin, Texas. The local media often reported on the students (and the neighborhood where the school was situated) when something bad happened—like a robbery or a violent attack. But, the local media didn’t showcase the community in other, more positive and diverse ways. In this way, local media often marginalizes minority populations. So Generation Digital (and my master’s thesis) is a video about those kids and the role of “voice” in secondary school education. According to the students, being media producers (and not simply consumers) gave them voice. It was a tool to express themselves and tell their own stories; but it was also a weapon because it enabled them to defend themselves against a negative media representations of them and their community. This to me was critical back in the early 2000’s –and perhaps even more so now. So helping students and community members access and critically analyze the media (in all of its digital forms, in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc.) and learn how to share, produce, and disseminate their own stories is incredibly important for me. These are critical 21st-century skills.
3. What does a digitally connected community look like to you?
This is a great question. It’s a community where everyone is connected with high-speed, low-cost Internet access and no one is left behind. It is a place where schools, local government, businesses, non-profits, neighborhoods, community leaders, and families partner and commit to leveraging online technology and tools to improve the community for the greater good. To accomplish this, connection is critical—but connection without education isn’t productive. So, education should be at the heart of any digitally connected community. It is a community in which everyone receives digital and media literacy education and training. Everyone would learn how to access, critically interpret and evaluate online information. This would include the ability to ethically reflect on others (and their own) online behavior and commit to treating one another online with respect even (and especially) when they don’t always agree. They would also learn to create and disseminate their own stories in various media (print, podcasts, videos, maps, etc.) across multiple platforms. Finally, people would use these skills and work together to solve and improve the community—and world—in which they live.