Empowering Communities with Media Literacy

The Critical Role of Young Children

by Vitor Tomé (Author) Belinha S. De Abreu (Author)
©2023 Textbook XVI, 228 Pages
Series: Minding the Media, Volume 19


This book details the project "Digital Citizenship Education for Democratic Participation" involving approximately 400 pre-school and primary school children, their families, teachers, and community members in a Lisbon locality. The research presented aims to answer the following question: To what extent can a local (and replicable) digital media literacy program empower preschool and primary-school-aged children to become active and effective citizens in the digital era? Through this book, the authors share the steps taken during the project, including the main difficulties faced and the solutions found to overcome them as well as the project’s sustainability.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1 Introduction
  • Chapter 2 Empowering Digital Citizens
  • Chapter 3 Want a Community Project? Dive in the Context First!
  • Chapter 4 Preparing Teachers to Work with the Greater Community
  • Chapter 5 The Community in Action – From Printed School Newspaper to Video News Services
  • Chapter 6 A Never Ending Project
  • Chapter 7 Lessons Learned and Moving Forward
  • Appendix A: Workshop Sheet of the “Digital Citizenship Academy” Project
  • Appendix B: STEAM/Media Literacy Workshop – structure of the final report
  • Appendix C: Workshop evaluation form for preschool children_A
  • Appendix D: Workshop evaluation form for preschool children_B
  • Appendix E: Workshop evaluation form to be filled out by primary school children
  • Appendix F: Workshop evaluation form to be filled out by teachers
  • Appendix G: Initial questionnaire for parents
  • Appendix H: Initial questionnaire for teachers
  • Index
  • Series Index

←viii | ix→


I was delighted to be invited to write the foreword to this book. I have been aware of the innovative research that Vitor Tomé, his colleague Belinha De Abreu and his collaborators have been undertaking for some years and am pleased that the outcomes of this exciting project are now being shared in these pages. It is my view that the ‘Digital Citizenship Academy’ project offers a number of important insights into how schooling can be transformed in the 21st century, insights which are outlined below.

Firstly, the project offers a vision of how schools can engage with the challenges posed by the fourth industrial revolution, in which new skills and knowledge will be needed as technology transforms every aspect of our lives. When children in classrooms today leave school to join the employment market in the years ahead, jobs will be very different in many cases due to advances in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, nanotechnology, and so on. Preparation for a world of work and leisure in which technology is integrated into the fabric of everyday life requires a focus on transferable skills that will enable people to be digitally literate, flexible, innovative, creative and able to work across inter-disciplinary and inter-sector teams. These skills are particularly critical, as future generations will need them in order to meet the global challenges that lie ahead in areas such as environmental change, mass immigration, food security, and so on. The emphasis in the ‘Digital Citizenship Academy’ project on science, technology, engineering and mathematics ←ix | x→(STEM) is, therefore, vital in this context. However, this approach does not ignore the significant role that the arts and humanities play in ensuring citizens have rich and fruitful cultural lives. In this book, you will find wonderful examples of how children in the project developed digital literacy and STEM knowledge and skills through engagement with the arts, such as the creation of an orchestra in which children played instruments they had made in order to interpret Mozart’s ‘Turkish March’ piano sonata. This, alongside many other examples, demonstrates the power of offering a curriculum in which interdisciplinary learning is facilitated through making.

Secondly, the ‘Digital Citizenship Academy’ project offers an example of research collaboration in action. Academics, teachers, parents, children and wider community members were all actively engaged in the project, each having an important part to play. The participatory approach of the research project was designed to ensure that even very young children could play an important part in the quest for knowledge about learning in the digital age. The co-production of knowledge in such collaborative research projects ensures that the insights gained can inform everyday community practices in meaningful ways.

Thirdly, the project provides a clear example of how professional learning for teachers can be designed in a manner that emphasizes iterative, collaborative learning over time. Having networked communities of professionals who are given the time and opportunity to take risks and reflect on processes and outcomes can lead to lasting changes in practice. Such an approach also respects the agency of teachers, placing them in the driving seat of transformations in schooling rather than being the passive recipients of ready-formed curricula and pedagogy.

In 2020, the world faced a major challenge with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the ‘Digital Citizenship Academy’ project team managed to continue their collaboration throughout the lockdowns, demonstrating their impressive commitment to this community-based action research project. It is clear that this work is unstoppable. Just like a snowball growing larger and larger as it rolls down a mountainside, I have no doubt that this project will continue to grow and flourish in the years ahead. For now, I am sure that you, as I did, will enjoy reading about its progress to date in these pages.

Professor Jackie Marsh
University of Sheffield, UK

←x | xi→


Who are you in the digital space? Who are we? What are students using for technology and how do they engage with digital environments? Do they know how to analyze information or practice citizenship online? These are a few questions which inspirited the work you are about to read.

Distinguishing the digital work from the real world is important and needed for people to function in our society, but they are both intertwined. One cannot speak of Digital Citizenship without thinking about what it is to be a citizen. Understanding how these ideas work together is in many ways what led us to this work in Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy. Here are some worldwide statistics about children, youth, and teens and their consideration of media environments:

  • Young adults (18–34) today are more distrusting of the media than older adults and report less trust in media than adults their age 20 years ago (Fioroni, 2021).
  • More than half of children have a social media profile by the age of 13; and by the age of 15, almost all have one. WhatsApp, which has gained popularity among teenagers, is used by 62% of 12- to 15-year- olds, Facebook (69%), Snapchat (68%) and Instagram (66%) (Ofcom, 2020).
  • A 2016 report claims that 80% of middle schoolers couldn’t tell the difference between a native ad and editorial content (p. 10) and 93% of college ←xi | xii→students didn’t realize that they were reading information put out by industry PR (p. 5) (Stanford History Group, 2016).

In a graduate class, a first-grade teacher commented that she felt that her little ones were too small to think about online Digital Citizenship. However, the reality is that her students are already in those spaces, and in their everyday lives are learning how to be real-world citizens by when they are taught to say “please,” “thank you,” “may I,” etc. In fact, beyond that we look at citizenship when we see how students interact with each other and we correct their behavior or teach them societal cues. As researchers in the UK stated, “the rise in Internet use by children and young people has called into question the impact that it has both on their development and on their ability to act on character virtues, including, in particular, their honesty and compassion” (Harrison and Polizzi, 2021).

This initial teaching and guidance translates well when students are online, with the only significant difference being they are facing a computer screen. We are often reminding our students, as they get older and become teenagers, that they are that there are real people on the other side of that screen. There are feelings, sentiments, hurts, worries, and much more that go on with the person who is on the receiving end of messages that are transmitted by the digital display. They, people, are real. The screen acts as a barrier in effect, holding back the reality of what is going on. This lesson is the hardest to teach. Research and other data can talk about effects and so forth, but it is in the everyday practical application that change can be most valuable. Whether it is a parent who is correcting their child, a teacher who is fostering digital competency, or an everyday individual who takes on the role of being an upstander versus a bystander, we all participate in the creation of a digital citizen. In the online world this tenet seems to be more easily forgotten.

In the 1960s, a Canadian academic, Marshall McLuhan, wrote in his book Understanding Media that “the medium is the message.” McLuhan had predicted that technology and media were growing at a rapid pace and that schools needed to adapt techniques for students to learn and process the information they were receiving, by, at that time, only television and radio. Fast forward to 2021 and beyond, and technology is the main staple of people’s information diet. As we look at our classrooms, libraries, and other places where our students can be found, there is an obvious pattern of students plugged in and educators trying to get their curriculum out to students in various modalities. There is a digital disconnect that is real and one that completely separates belief from practice.

Parents worry about how and where their children might be exploited online, Students want to know why their favorite tools are constantly being monitored, ←xii | xiii→taken away from them, or limited--- and not by just a little, but by extreme amounts. They question why education is not keeping up with their own technology preferences. They ask why they are not allowed to become digital leaders online, as if they are being prevented from stepping up and stepping into that realm of possibility. They are often right on this point. They want to know why teachers and administrators aren’t seeing the possibilities of how they can lead with technology and do better. In fairness to all, it is because educators have seen much more of the opposite, but it is also because students are still learning what it looks like to be a good citizen offline –never mind online. This point brings me back to where we started.

In the mix, we have had a pandemic that has shown us the capacity to which our lives can continue through interactive apps and programs, in spite of restrictions put in place to keep us distanced. We have lived by these restrictions for over two years, and in doing so, we have begun to see the strain of being “on” all the time. The screens are tiring and have also changed how we engage both online and offline. Many educators say that we may be teaching how to actually have social norms while our students have lost their essence behind a screen and a mask. This point is still unfolding and, without a doubt, will be researched and discussed much more in the future.

In the meantime, we are left with what we know and what has been exposed by the media relative to digital tools. Of significance, we have been confronted with Facebook’s own abhorrent relationship with teens and young adults released through leaked documents that digital tools are damaging to those students who are most susceptible and most vulnerable. Consider what Frances Haugen’s, the Facebook whistleblower, in testimony at the Senate hearing in October of 2021 stated regarding Facebook when she said,

“I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy. These problems are solvable. A safer, free-speech respecting, more enjoyable social media is possible. But there is one thing that I hope everyone takes away from these disclosures, it is that Facebook can change, but is clearly not going to do so on its own” (Hao, 2021).

Our social media is a part of our social stratosphere and it is also a part of discourse as a community engaged in civil society online as well as offline.


XVI, 228
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (November)
digital citizenship community-based action research projects media education teacher preparation in-service teacher training school journalism STEM and Arts Vitor Tomé Belinha S. De Abreu Empowering Communities with Media Literacy The Critical Role of Young Children Media literacy
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. XVI, 228 pp., 34 b/w ill., 23 tables.

Biographical notes

Vitor Tomé (Author) Belinha S. De Abreu (Author)

Vitor Tomé holds a PhD in media education (University of Lisbon) and a 6-year post-doctorate in communication sciences (UAlgarve-Faro, CLEMI-Paris and Catholic University of Milan). He is an expert of the Council of Europe and of the European Commission, a lecturer (Autonoma University of Lisbon), an invited researcher (ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon), a teacher trainer (Directorate-General of Education), and a freelance journalist (CP1524-A) who is involved in several international projects such as IBERIFIER – Iberian Media Research and Fact-checking. Belinha S. De Abreu, PhD is a global media literacy educator who received her doctorate from the University of Connecticut. She is the founder of the International Media Literacy Research Symposium and the World Media Literacy Forum. She serves as the president of the International Council for Media Literacy (IC4ML). She is the author of Teaching Media Literacy (2019) and Mobile Learning through Digital Media Literacy (Peter Lang, 2017) among other publications. De Abreu is the recipient of the 2021 National Media literacy Education Research Award.


Title: Empowering Communities with Media Literacy