In the greater Charlotte area, the uneven distribution of basic digital and media literacy skills has created geographic pockets of disenfranchisement that have had a ripple effect across the city, hindering true democratic participation in the civic process. People lack the tools to evaluate the quality of media information they encounter, share information, create unique content across a variety of media forms and take action as engaged digital citizens. People are being left behind, and the impact is being felt in our public schools, in the work force and in our communities.
The digital divide is a global problem that requires local solutions, and local coalitions committed to testing out ideas to respond to the real needs of communities in their lived context.
At the Knight School of Communication, we've started the hard work of mending the gap, through a series of neighborhood workshops aimed at providing citizens with the concepts and tools they need to strengthen their information networks and build healthier communities. We started hosting these dialogues in fall 2013 on the Queens campus, and have been amazed at the power of these conversations. We have put a diverse cross-section of Charlotte neighborhood residents in conversation with each other, and they have been speaking passionately and openly about their common struggles and their successes.
"We are leveraging our students as digital citizen trainers, with the city as their classroom."
- Dr. Eric Freedman
Our goal is to empower individuals and groups to help each other, and we are leveraging our students as digital citizen trainers with the city as their classroom. It is our expectation over the long term that basic skill acquisition will lead to ongoing forms of community engagement, and that we will see those with the greatest competencies paying it forward to help those who are still struggling to find their footing. Three of our most vibrant partners have been the City of Charlotte Neighborhood and Business Services, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and Charlotte Mecklenburg Libraries. Queens is quickly becoming a model for understanding how a university can shape its local media ecosystem.
However, education and dialogue aren't enough; we also need to know how well technology is distributed across our neighborhoods, and identify any lingering boundaries to entry.
The Digital Media Literacy Index, the first tool of its kind, was created at the Knight School of Communication. The index provides a measure of digital media literacy competency across the city, but also by ZIP code, ethnicity, age, income and education levels. It reveals areas of need and areas of greatest opportunity in our efforts to bridge the digital divide. It can be adapted to score any group, from a local neighborhood organization to the entire state; and it tells us where and how to begin our work.
Helping people learn to drive on the information superhighway and access public information is, we believe, just as important to their success in life as being able to drive a regular car or access public transportation.