Educators in Lebanon are leading a movement to empower citizens in the Arab region with digital media literacy skills, the technical and critical thinking skills needed to live and work in increasingly media- and information-rich societies.
In a promotional video for the 2015 Media and Digital Literacy Academy of Beirut, bright billboards and signage imagery flash across the screen, as a woman’s voice comments, “Media is such a huge part of our lives. It is around us all the time.”
“Yet we really learn very little about it”, adds Dr. May Farah of the American University of Beirut media studies program. That is a fact that the new Media and Digital Literacy Academy of Beirut aims to change.
“Digital and media education is a method of training participants to become critical consumers and producers of media. It is an essential tool to survive in the digital and information age and globalization,” said Academy director Lubna Maaliki.
Parents are well aware of the importance of teaching their children media literacy, which focuses on being engaged consumers of media. Digital literacy adds the concept of knowing how to participate in digital media in wise, safe and ethical ways. These skills empower people to be active citizens who can participate in national and global dialogues and to be critical thinkers who understand that media is not a reflection of reality but is constructed from a certain point of view.
“Digital media literacy has become a staple of education all around the world, except in the Arab region,” said Dr. Jad Melki, Academy chairperson. Melki is the director of AUB’s media studies program. “We hope to bridge this gap, particularly since media literacy is very important to help solve many of the social and cultural problems we face in the region.”
Inspired by the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, Dr. Melki decided to bring digital media literacy education to the Arab region. MDLAB launched in 2013 with a three-week intensive training course for university faculty members and graduate students from across the region. The plan is to train educators in the hope that they will spread knowledge.
In its first two years, more than 100 university faculty members and students were trained at MDLAB. In addition, two universities, Rafik Hariri University in Lebanon and Damascus University in Syria, joined AUB in offering courses in digital media literacy.
MDLAB 2015 hosted 47 faculty member and student participants from 18 different universities from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Iran, Oman, UAE and Lebanon, and three school teachers from International College Lebanon.
The summer academy, while the keystone of the effort, is not the end of the story. MDLAB works year-round to develop media and digital literacy curricula, case studies and multimedia as tools for educators. It is a hub for educators throughout the region to share syllabi, lesson plans and ideas to enhance digital media literacy education.