By Pamela Pereyra, MLN New Mexico Chapter Leader
New Mexico has been hit hard from a lack of access resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. It just happened that Media Savvy Citizens (MSC) was conducting a pilot program with thirty school districts across New Mexico through a teacher training program to get media literacy into middle school classrooms when schools were initially impacted by COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. The pilot resulted from Media Literacy Now’s 2019’s legislative efforts.
During the challenging time of a stay-at-home order, MSC observed how the lack of access was prominent in New Mexico due to its rural character and the low socio-economic status of many rural New Mexicans. It showed up sometimes specific to entire districts and other times subgroups within districts showcasing how access is linked to privilege and, in turn, equity – or the lack thereof.
Media literacy is defined by the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication.” Access is “how, when, where, and how often people have access to the tools, technology, and digital skills necessary to thrive,” says NAMLE through the Media Literacy Week Website. Access provides the opportunity to find information and resources; consciously choose for purpose, relevancy, credibility and more; and purposefully use technology and sources to communicate, interact and participate in society. Without access to media literacy information and knowledge, students cannot sharpen the skills needed to analyze, evaluate, create and act with various digital communication tools.
During COVID-19 schooling, at the most basic level, MSC observed that students living in rural settings lacked access to modern communications, such as computers, internet and stable cell phone connection. These students lived in remote areas far away from the schools that previously provided them with access to modern communication. There was one school district with WiFi hotspots on school buses, available through a grant, that would drive to a designated location to provide the connection needed to communicate and learn. It was a good temporary solution to the internet problem. In some cases, while students had access to the internet, the home lacked the means for enough devices or bandwidth to meet the needs of everyone in the home to be online.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, districts with more resources that had access to modern communication and had already moved to digital classrooms, were working on higher-order critical thinking and creative media-making projects. These students had the privilege of access to devices and digital media literacy information, lessons, and/or projects to provide students a venue to create messages and tell their stories, and use new media tools — that is, computerized tools — for learning and communication.
It is our hope that there is a focus at the federal and state level to minimize the digital divide by providing the infrastructure and resources needed for students to become digital students, when needed, with access to participate in learning relevant to this century.