Let’s get digital
The world is being transformed by new types of digital media at such a fast pace that not everyone can keep up. To make sure we all have the tools to safely and creatively ride this wave, Flemish minister for media Ingrid Lieten founded Mediawijs.be – the Flemish Knowledge Centre for Media Literacy – in collaboration with ICT research institute iMinds.
Mediawijs is targeting young and old to tap into all of Flanders’ digital media potential
This year, Mediawijs.be is launching a broad knowledge platform and three pilot projects. It will streamline the influence of media on contemporary society from its base at the offices of the iMinds Digital Society in Brussels, by encouraging co-operation between stakeholders from government, civil society, the media and the research sector.
During regular meetings, these partners will discuss the best ways to improve the population’s media skills, include all layers of society in the digital evolution and create a safe media environment. The official launch takes place on 27 March, and the website will launch later in June.
With how quickly it all seems to change, why should everyone be up to date with digital developments? “The impact of this evolution differs fundamentally from earlier innovations, such as TV,” explains professor Leo Van Audenhove of the Free University of Brussels (VUB), the director of Mediawijs.be. “It’s hard to function in our society without digital media. Not only will it hinder your professional and social activities, it will even make daily life difficult.”
Fighting the digital divide
“You are distinctly disadvantaged,” says Van Audenhove, “if you can’t search for practical information on the internet, send and read emails or draw money from a cash machine. This impact will only grow; the care sector, for example, will increasingly rely on digital applications.”
The knowledge centre is made up of a consortium of 12 partners, with an annual budget of €450,000 for the coming two years. Responsible for the relations with the media and ICT industry is Annet Daems of research centre Smit, while Laure Van Hoecke of socio-cultural organisation Linc strengthens the communications with the public and outside organisations. Smit stands for Studies on Media, Information and Telecommunication and Linc for Lezen, INformatie en Communicatie or Reading, Information and Communication.
Linc will hold a digital week full of multimedia activities in April, and it united the fragmented Flemish media landscape in 2005 with the Vlaams Steunpunt Nieuwe Geletterdheid, or the Flemish Centre for New Literacy, which will now function as a lobby organisation. “Thankfully, the government is now broadening our concepts, while also using our expertise,” says Van Hoecke, who is network co-ordinator at Mediawijs. be.
To make the current knowledge, methods and good practices accessible to professionals and the public, Mediawijs.be is preparing an online platform that will be operational from June. This year, the centre is also planning three pilot projects for various target groups. “These subsidised initiatives are meant to inspire people to start up similar projects themselves in the future,” explains Van Audenhove.
For professionals working with young people, the non-profit Maks leads the development of a media-literacy toolkit that contains creative methods and best practices. Maks experiments with digital and graphic media to improve the interaction between residents and organisations in the multicultural Kuregem quarter of Brussels.
To improve both the area’s reputation and the population’s self-image, Maks uses methods such as digital storytelling. “They let young people from different backgrounds tell their stories to the camera,” explains Annet Daems, Mediawijs.be’s knowledge and media co-ordinator. “They get to know each other’s culture and provide a nuanced image to the outside world.”
A second project will help young media professionals in the creative process and inform them about judicial matters in relation to copyright. The Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT at the University of Leuven will work hand in hand with the Flemish REC Radio Centre to produce short movies and accessible tutorials that teach them these essential skills.
The last pilot project focuses on the opportunities and dangers of communication in social media, gaming and advertising. The primary goal at the moment is setting up an educational programme around advertising both for youngsters in schools and for the advertising industry.
“With product placement in TV series and sponsored stories on Facebook, it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish the commercial purpose,” says Daems. “Adults often don’t realise it, so young people definitely have problems with it. We also want to explain our judicial and ethical concerns to the advertisers.” In charge of this assignment are Antwerp University’s Media and ICT in Organisations and Society (Mios) research group and Limburg’s Provincial and Catholic university colleges.
Next year, the centre will launch a call for projects dealing with topical media literacy issues such as cyber-bullying, “sexting”, privacy settings and online safety.
Possible target groups are spread over all layers of society, according to Van Audenhove. “Many may think immediately of people living in poverty or the elderly,” he says, “but I often notice how some of my students – who should be the experienced ‘digital natives’ – have trouble with searching information on the internet and working with new media.”
@work and @play
One of the partners in the Flemish Knowledge Centre for Media Literacy network is the new non-profit organisation Mediaraven. Mediaraven was created last month from a merger between two organisations: Jeugdwerknet and JAVI.tv. The team of 14, based in an office near Ghent’s main train station, helps about 200 volunteers all over Flanders to introduce digital media applications to young people and youth workers.
“We want to show them the positive possibilities that digital media has to offer,” says co-ordinator Andy Demeulenaere. “We feel that so much emphasis is put on the dangers, people become too afraid to explore the various opportunities.”
He uses Facebook as an example: “Almost every young person has an account, but only a small minority take the step to post, for instance, a video. We want to support them to manage this social media more creatively, instead of remaining passive.”
Mediaraven organises activities such as media workshops and camps for students of all ages. “For children up to nine years old, we focus on making sure they enjoy themselves instead of confronting them with problems,” explains Demeulenaere. “Such fun experiences are essential for a positive attitude towards digital media at a later age.” Activities include creating digital comics, playing music like a DJ on a computer and working on basic video material.
For older children, in the first year of secondary education, Mediaraven will soon offer I@School, in co-operation with REC Radio Centre and supported by the government of Flanders. Teachers and students in Ghent, Roeselare and Leuven will participate in workshops that teach young people to be media-literate when producing and spreading information. The workshops focus on video, radio, blogging and social media. Youngsters learn to handle tablet computers and mobile applications.
Mediaraven also encourages young people to make video reports, around the city of Ghent for instance, and offers facilities where they can experiment with the material. “Many of our participants have gone on to become journalists, but journalistic training is not our main purpose,” says Demeulenaere. “What matters to us is the process of getting to know the benefits of new media.”
With the social organisation Lejo, also from Ghent, Mediaraven has set up the Lejonline project to reach disadvantaged youth and the social workers who support them. The youth workers and young people have to organise a game, assignment, workshop or event revolving around new media. They can work with photos, videos, music, online applications and smartphones.
“These youth generally have access to media features, but lack the knowledge of how to use them inventively,” says Demeulenaere. “And youth workers often don’t have the expertise to broaden the young people’s vision of media. We help them bridge this digital divide.” With partners such as Linc, Mediaraven also provides media training to employees in the socio-cultural sector, like librarians and teachers.
Notwithstanding its positive approach, Mediaraven doesn’t lose sight of the online risks. In 2015, the organisation will launch a campaign to battle cyber-bullying with a year full of activities and events focusing on the issue. To improve their academic background on the subject, Mediaraven is working with the Antwerp research centre Mios. They are complementary partners: “While we possess the digital knowledge they lack, they have more expertise on how to react to cyber-bullying situations and on preventative action,” explains Demeulenaere. “Hopefully, the new knowledge centre can initiate many more similar collaborations.”