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.”
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.