Teaching strategies: The need for teaching media literacy in education

In an age when information is just a mouse click away, students are spending more time doing online research. The availability of powerful search engines that find information combined with social networking tools that allow sharing of information has sparked renewed interest in teaching media literacy.

What is Media Literacy?

Media literacy is about more than how to use technology to acquire information. There are several definitions of media literacy but most concern the ability to employ critical thinking skills to evaluate information found online. This evaluation process involves asking questions about the choices involved in deciding what information is included and what is not included, the motives of the persons or institutions creating the information, and what results the creators of the information may have had in mind. In short, it is the development of the ability to question how and why the information was created.

It used to be enough to teach students how to spot stereotypes and propaganda but now the media literacy curriculum tends to include topics such as:

  • Using search engines
  • Creating websites
  • Using social media networks

In her July 15, 2011 essay for the Journal of Media Literacy Education (JMLE) titled, “Essay: The Coming of Age of Media Literacy Education,” Vanessa Domine explained how the fast paced development of communications technologies broadened the scope of media literacy beyond print and digital texts to include other media such as games, blogs, and social networking.

Domine said, “As educators we must consistently widen the definition of technology to refer to ways of seeing the world and to be inclusive (rather than exclusive) in our uses of media forms and their associated devices. In other words, it is insufficient for media literacy educators to simply critique texts—we must lead the field through our own lived examples of technological proficiency.”

Survival Skill

The renewed interest in media literacy comes from the recognition that the public, especially the youth, are being bombarded daily by information from an increasing number of sources. Sifting through the information and discerning what is useful and valuable takes skill and practice.

In his 2007 article for The St. Louis Journalism Review titled, “Media Literacy: A Survival Skill,” Art Silverblatt explained how critical a skill it is. Silverblatt said, “Media literacy is a critical thinking skill that is applied to most of the information we receive: the channels of mass communication. We blindly accept the information that we receive through the media–often with disastrous results. We develop brand loyalties that have little to do with the quality of the product. We take the word (or pictures) of journalists to provide us with a clear understanding of our world. And we vote for candidates on the basis of ‘gut reactions’ to political spots devised by clever political media consultants.”

Media Literacy Crosses Content Areas

Teaching media literacy is not so much about how to use the technology as it is about learning to think about the technology and what part it plays in learning and culture. In his May 5, 2011 article for New Media Literacies titled, “Greening a Digital Media Course” Antonio Lopez explained how he combines the concepts of media literacy and ecology into a multicultural context.

Lopez said, “In addition to using the gadget as an object-to-think-with, I also like to use media samples, in particular advertising, as ways to explore media as ‘institutions-to-think-with.’ This reflects my bias of old school media literacy, which is to use media for the purpose of dialog about forms of culture and power. I’m somewhat nervous about how new multimedia literacy approaches are abandoning deconstruction skills for the sake of tool empowerment. I think it’s possible to have both.”

Media literacy education is largely concerned with teaching learners to move from passive receivers of information to active involvement in using and creating media for their own advantage and for the betterment of society.

2 replies
  1. Leighton Cooper says:

    Questia falls in here but I have a question ?Why is it that Questia does not brag about the new books they add? When I run a search I find the youghest books you carry start around 2010. Have you not added any? I also subscribe to Safari books online and they have a great setup. I can browse their new books find books by publisher. Many times I search that way. Also with your website I ran all the publishers on Safari through your search engine and discovered you have many books from publishers that are not published in the about Questia part. That is my only complaint other than you not bragging enough about what you have? More or less I am pretty satisfied with the variety? Are regular members able to get the questia school listings or is that a different kind of subscription? Also questia should try to foster mini courses on either a relevant current author or a character building class things like that it might be fun to read and blog

  2. Leighton Cooper says:

    I have a disability and I am working with this book OH Pascal 2nd Ed. by
    Doug Cooper. What I find relevant to this conversation is that this book which was written in the 80’s collects together a curriculum coming from a wide variety of math disciplines and also word processing expectations. I personally think that Questia should produce a tutorial on learning Emacs because that editor has so many features useful along different disciplines and part of doing research and learning to learn is so spelled out by people who have been using that Emacs for over 20 years. In my opinion teachers know how to teach many things complete. So why aren’t the kids across the board picking it up? I think a lot of it is TV and the reporter frames which are disconnected from reading about things. They don’t match. See if you can get copies of his book each edition changed somethings the third edition took out some important tools and a word list that I found extremely worth while and helpful that is in the 2nd edition so I was disappointed about that.


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