Sunday, November 13, 2005


EDUCATION: What is "media-literacy education"? A backgrounder

What is media-literacy education: A backgrounder from the National Media
Education Conference in San Francisco, June 25-28, 2005

By vanMeenen, Karen
Blck Enterprise Magazine

The media literacy and education movement is growing rapidly in this country
and abroad and the most recent edition of the biannual National Media
Education Conference offered a wide array of practical and theoretical
information under the theme of "Giving Voice to a Diverse Nation." Sponsored
by the Alliance for a Media Literate America, the event drew educators,
media activists, health workers, students of media literacy and youth media
makers for three days of workshops, presentations, lectures and screenings.
Four prc-conference sessions were offered, including Media Literacy 101,
facilitated by Elizabeth Thoman and Jeff Share, both of the Center for Media
Literacy based in Los Angeles, which set the stage for the conference. To
introduce attendees to the field, Thoman, explained that media literacy is
"a twenty-first-century approach to education," providing "a framework to
access, analyze, evaluate and create messages in a variety of forms-from
print to video to the internet." A more expansive way of looking at the
general concept of "literacy"-addressing images, sound and pop culture as
well as text-this burgeoning field expands reading and writing instruction
in educational settings and in general deepens our ability to understand how
media affects individual citizens and society. Intrinsic to this process is
building the "essential skills of inquiry" as well as an understanding of
the role of media in our culture. While stressing enhanced critical thinking
abilities and encouraging production of media as an essential complement,
Thoman clarified that media education is more about education than media.
Offering essentially a primer to the field, Thoman explained that the
equation "Text + Context = Message" (expanding upon, and in some ways
contradicting, media theorist Marshall McLuhan's contention that content
matters less than medium) lies at the heart of the media education movement.
She took attendees through the "Five Core Concepts" and "Five Key Questions"
that provide a structure and vocabulary for analyzing media that is similar
to literary analysis. These concepts and questions are directly correlated
and speak to the issues of authorship, format, audience, content and
purpose. Thoman addressed the specifics, providing information about how
media education can be used in the classroom to lead students into more
in-depth inquiry. For example, in terms of audience, there are three ways in
which audiences interact with media: reactive, active and interactive. By
providing students and citizens the tools to become interactive and
therefore engaged consumers of media, (media literacy) educators empower the
citizenry. To demonstrate this, Thoman explained the concept of the
"empowerment spiral" that is created through media literacy applications,
which consists of awareness, analysis, reflection and action.
While Media Literacy 101 provided a solid foundation for delving into the
field of media education, the breakout sessions that took place during the
conference went into more detail on specific issues and practical matters.
With a focus on providing media education in the K-12 classroom, many of the
presentations explained how media education can be included in curriculum
(and across disciplines), demonstrated successful programs being implemented
around the country and addressed how media literacy instruction can meet
numerous educational standards. Such presentations included "Using Media to
Boost Skills and Scores" and "Have Your Students Grade the News,"
facilitated by former journalists Paul Kandell and John McManus, creators of
www.gradethenews. org, who took attendees through their specialized
curriculum. Other presentations were centered on media production, a vital
component of formal media education and community-based efforts. These
included "Promising Practices in Community-Based Media Programs" and "It
Takes a Village with a Camera: Community Building Through Media Education,"
in which youth-made media about the conditions of the Baltimore City Public
School System and the community protests that resulted from this advocacy
were highlighted. Several breakout sessions had a more political or social
reform bent such as "One Economy & the Digital Connectors Program:
Connecting Low Income Youth and Communities to the Digital World" and "Ain't
Gonna Study War No More: Media and Peace Education." Bob McCannon, founder
(in 1993) of the New Mexico Media Literacy Project and Josh Silver of Free
Press (which he co- founded, in 2002, with Robert McChesney and John
Nichols) presented the dynamic, eye-opening and inspiring "Media Literacy,
Independent Media & Media Reform." A few sessions addressed the issue of our
global culture, including "Media Literacy in Europe and the U.S.A.:
Similarities, Differences and Collaboration Possibilities," "Multimedia +
Multiculture - Multiliteracy" and "Documentary as Professional Development:
Putting a Human Face on New Demographics," in which Elaine Shen of Active
Voice demonstrated how teachers can sensitize themselves to the growing
immigrant population. In "Media Literacy and Global Studies," teacher,
author and media advocate Barry Duncan used myriad media examples from
around the world to provide updated educational perspectives on the
representation of self and others as well as a consideration of the collapse
of private into public space.
Still from The Unheard (2005) by Tania Cervantes
The topic of pop culture was addressed in numerous ways, including "Youth
Culture Symbolism: Do Music Videos Teach At-Risk Adolescent Girls?" and
"Movies, TV & Character Education: Why Media Literacy Matters," in which
Rose Pacatte of the Pauline Center for Media Studies used popular television
programs to show how character education can be enhanced by media literacy
tools. Much of the media literacy work currently being done in schools
revolves around drug and alcohol education and other health issues such as
HIV and eating disorders, as evidenced in "AD IT UP: A Health-Related Media
Literacy TV Pilot," "Media Literacy and Healthy Bodies" and "The Media
Straight Up!," in which Renee Hobbs of Temple University provided concrete
examples of activities for use in substance abuse curricula. David
Considine, in his presentation "GET REEL: Teens, Sex and the Media,"
advocated for "richer reads" and spoke of the power parents have to
reinforce and refute media content by modeling behaviors that challenge or
confirm the media.
Central to the foundation of media education is media production and many
sessions addressed practical considerations or exhibited the results of such
activity. Several interactive workshops such as "And the Story is...: Using
Digital Storytelling to Find Voice" offered practical advice on media
production. During "Youth Media Distribution" Shira Golding of MediaRights
took production issues one step further, offering strategies for creative
partnerships and effective distribution. During the presentation "Story
Starters," staff of the Bay Area Video Coalition provided a hands-on
demonstration of storyboard creation and invited one of the youth who
participated in their media program to present her work. Tania Cervantes
interviewed homeless Hispanic men in San Francisco's Mission district. The
resulting video, The Unheard (2005), is a moving portrait of a segment of
the population whose stories are rarely told as well as a testament to the
empowering nature of media production education for youth.

Copyright © 2005 Earl G. Graves, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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