Social Media and other digital technologies are becoming so ubiquitous in our society as people everywhere seem to have smartphones, tablets, or some type of web-enabled device. This constant contact with the Internet and seemingly endless connectivity has many asking if this is good or bad. Social workers have also taken notice as our profession has been impacted by many technological innovations over the last several decades. However, with the pervasive expansion of recent digital media and the challenges associated with it, some argue that social workers should simply un-plug, or opt for a just say no policy in regards to social media. The same challenges in exist in social work education and although there are some great educators using technology to positively impact the profession, questions remain as to how to move forward.
I have been looking into one of these issues for the last several years. The literature uses the term Information Communication Technology Literacy, but I like to use the term from Media Studies scholar Henry Jenkins New Media Literacies. Dr. Jenkins has been writing about participatory culture for the last twenty years and has discovered what he calls the New Media Literacies, 12 essential skills that individuals need to be successful in our culture today. The main point about New Media Literacy is for consumers of digital media to think critically about what it is they are consuming. I have written more about the New Media Literacies, Participatory Culture, and Social work on my blog at
I think that New Media Literacies help us as social workers to further understand the place of social media in our lives. The framework of New Media Literacy can help social work educators to use digital media in a way that builds the knowledge of our students and empowers them to use these tools in more positive ways. There are many challenges related to digital media, and I do not wish to minimize those challenges, in stead I am working to help further develop the original idea of Information Communication Technology Literacy by moving it from some archaic idea that lacks a clear definition to a set of actual skills that can be utilized in and out of the classroom.
The way I operationalize this is to use the New Media Literacies framework and a survey developed by Iona Literat, one of Henry Jenkin’s doctoral students at the University of Southern California. I have taken the survey, which provides the user with a New Media Literacy score, and adapted it for use within social work education. I plan to compare the New Media Literacy scores of social work students with that of social work educators to demonstrate the need for increasing our digital media literacy. I invite you to take the survey, which can be found on my blog and also to leave any comments or questions you may have.
Photo Credit: http://www.american.edu/soc/film/degrees/digital-certificate-description.cfm