Media Literacy

Content

When we refer to media, or multimedia, we are talking about a wide variety of texts that might be print, digital, or popular culture texts.  Generally, educators have taken three philosophical approaches to the teaching of media texts:  protection, pleasure and preparation.  Videos have long been used by teachers to support the study of plays or novels, for example.  Traditionally, they have been used as a “treat” for students after the novel or play study has finished.  Those who feel that media are inherently “bad” for children argue that students need to be protected from the media.  Various media have been blamed for violence in society.  Some people suggested that the 1999 Columbine shooters, for example, were influenced by Marilyn Manson song lyrics.  Others argue that we at least need to prepare our students to be critical viewers and producers of media.

Learning how to analyze the media is an important skill that helps students to understand the culture in which they live. Like all texts, media texts are carefully created constructions that represent someone’s (the creator’s) version or version(s) of reality.  And like print texts, media texts are interpreted by the individuals who “read” or view them and we know that each individual comes to the text with different experiences, backgrounds, cultures, etc.  Media texts are also produced to make money and to promote a specific viewpoint, message or agenda.   To function in the 21st century, students must be able to look deeper into media texts and identify, question and challenge the assumptions that exist within the texts.

We live in a visual culture and we are constantly bombarded with images.  It is becoming increasingly important to be able to sort out the information that comes at us so quickly.  It is also important to view students as producers, and not just as consumers, of media.  Through the creation of their own media texts, students can gain an understanding of how images, styles, and ideas are marketed and sold to consumers.  Students can create their own music videos, documentaries, web pages, magazines, T-shirt slogans, and advertising jingles as a way of learning about media and our culture. 

Critical Media Literacy

The pedagogies of media literacy are multi-layered.  Media culture is, in itself, a form of pedagogy because it influences its audiences and transmits values. Our globally-connected world is more and more dependent on technology and media is omnipresent. Learning how to analyze the media is an important skill that helps its audiences both students and adults, understand the culture in which they live. Like all texts, media texts are carefully created constructions that represent someone’s (the creator’s) version or version(s) of reality.  Like print texts, media texts are interpreted by the individuals who “read” or view them. Media texts are also produced to make money and to promote a specific viewpoint, message or agenda.   To function in the 21st century, audiences of media must be able to look deeper into media texts and identify, question and challenge the assumptions that exist within the texts.

At the second layer, the teacher workforce is both an audience of modern media and the pedagogues who must rapidly assist and empower students to evaluate media content and media techniques. Due to the rapidity of media proliferation, the current teacher workforce has had insufficient time to build and share critical media literacy teaching materials.  With the increasing use of computers in schools, teachers need new competencies to help students analyze media.  Teachers need both a new curriculum (critical media literacy) and a new pedagogy (using media and technology to teach critical media literacy.  A critical media literacy approach moves beyond analyzing the impact of media on its audience, to deconstructing and challenging the assumptions that underlie the media text.  Critical literacy involves an analysis and critique of the power relationships among texts, language, social groups and social practices. It shows us ways of looking at texts of all kinds (print, visual, spoken, multimedia and performance texts to examine and challenge the attitudes, values and beliefs that lie beneath the surface. It empowers teachers and students to participate in a democratic society (a just society regardless of race, culture, class, gender or sexual orientation) and move literacy beyond text to social action. Literature has the potential to socially transform the reader. Freire views critical literacy as a vehicle for students and their teachers to learn to “read the world.” Freire and Macedo (1987) point out that “Reading the world always precedes reading the word, and reading the word implies continually reading the world” (p. 25).

Four dimensions of critical literacy identified by Lewison, Flint and Sluys (2002) include:

  • Disrupting a common situation or understanding (seeking to understand the text or situation in more or less detail to gain perspective)
  • Interrogating multiple viewpoints (standing in the shoes of others or thinking about texts from perspectives of different characters or from perspectives not represented in the texts)
  • Focusing on sociopolitical issues (thinking about power in relationships between and among people and exploring how power relationships shape perceptions, responses, and actions)
  • Taking action and promoting social justice (reflecting and acting to change an inappropriate, unequal power relationship between people)

Some examples of questions used to interrogate texts include:

  • Who authored this text?
  • Why did the author write this text?
  • Who benefits from this text?
  • What voices are being heard?
  • Whose voices are left out?
  • Is there another point of view?
  • How is gender, race, class, sexual orientation, age, etc. portrayed in this text?
  • What if this story were told from the perspective of a different character?
  • How is the reader positioned in the text?
  • What are the design features of this text? Why were they included?

http://www.frankwbaker.com/mediatriangle.gifIn the UOIT Faculty of Education, teacher candidates are being prepared to teach critical media literacy. They are using technology to develop critical media literacy teaching materials.  In the Language and Literacy programs, we are  developing in our students the capacity to look beyond the literal meaning of texts to observe what is present and what is missing, in order to analyse and evaluate the text’s complete meaning and the author’s intent and to focus on issues related to fairness, equity, and social justice. Our second, and equally important goal, is to produce teachers who can develop these skills in their future students so that they in turn can become critically literate students who adopt a critical stance, asking what view of the world the text advances and whether they find this view acceptable.