Dan Gillmor

My new online digital media literacy course: an outline

I’ve created a new course for the Arizona State University’s online program, on digital media literacy. It’s a follow-up to an earlier course that focuses on media “consumption” (a word I dislike in this context even though it’s so widely used); I urge students to be active users of media rather than mere consumers.

This course, based in part on my last book, Mediactive, focuses on media creation, and its natural extension, given the digital tools we’re now using: collaboration. Among the requirements will be registering a domain name; contributing to Wikipedia, blogging, and more.

Unlike standard university courses, the online program runs for 7 weeks at a time. Here’s an outline of what we’ll be doing this spring — and if you see something I should add, please let me know:


Introduction to the course; some media history and basic concepts of media literacy from the consumption side. Also, why everyone should be a creator of media, not just a consumer; and why almost everyone actually is a creator when we think about it.


Who controls the media; why you need a digital home base.

Your ability to be a media creator increasingly depends on other people’s decisions, but also on your own. It’s essential to understand how centralized operations like Facebook and Twitter, plus a host of laws and regulations (and other factors), affect this. We’ll explore the issue of control. We’ll also look at why you should create your own online presence, owned entirely by you.


Principles – and tactics – for creating media with integrity: Thoroughness, Accuracy, Fairness, Independence, Transparency. I want to encourage everyone to take a long, hard look at these principles and why they matter. Then we’ll look at the tools, some of which you’re already using and others that will probably be new to you. The goal is to help you create media in a way that will engage others and help ensure that they trust what you create. We’ll look at principles and tactics/tools for media creation; registering an Internet domain; using content management systems; and more.


Collaboration. Online media creators are using tools that are inherently collaborative. So we’re turning not just from consumers into creators, but also into collaborators. We do it unconsciously on Facebook, and deliberately on Wikipedia. We’ll explore the new world of collaboration.


Copyright and its impact on media creators. Copyright, a key element of the control topic we raised in Week 2, was designed to encourage creative activities, but has morphed into a system that is primarily used to control how we can view and use content. We’ll look at the overall system and how it applies to media creators – especially in the context of “fair use” – and learn about alternatives to traditional copyright, including the Creative Commons license. We’ll also look at ways to avoid problems when using other people’s content in our own work.

WEEK 6: April 21-26

Ethics and law. It’s essential that we create media in ethical ways, as we discussed earlier. But it’s also vital to understand the nuances of online creation and conversation from a variety of ethical standpoints. One is the longevity of information; what we say and do today can haunt us years from now, and even if we don’t post it ourselves someone else may do it for us. Do we need new norms? Meanwhile, media creators need to understand the various ways they can get into trouble with their online discourse, apart from the copyright thicket. Defamation is real, and it’s dangerous. And the law is sometimes used to stifle legitimate speech.

WEEK 7: April 28-May 2

Security and safety; a look ahead. Being online means taking risks, as recent news stories about government surveillance and corporate hacking have revealed. How do we protect ourselves? How do we protect the people we work with? We’ll look at the risks and some of the tools that we need to deploy.