Academic Exchange Quarterly Fall 2005 ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 9, Issue 3
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Ray Hiebert, Professor and Dean Emeritus,
Mihailidis, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, researches media literacy in higher education. Hiebert is Professor and Dean Emeritus at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism
As a curricular initiative, media literacy presumes to go beyond base theoretical and ethical journalism courses by providing student-outcome, reflexive engagement that enables students to become active participants in an increasingly media-saturated society. In reviewing the current state of media literacy in higher education and hesitancies to its conceptualized benefits to higher education, some light can be shed as to why journalism departments have yet to fully acknowledge how media literacy can enhance their curriculum.
As a term, media literacy has mostly been applied to only
K-12 education (
That media literacy, conceptually, is complex and theoretically-based,
makes its place in journalism education quite ambiguous. This paper will
provide an overview of the current state of media literacy in
It was so last year when, after several years of teaching not only traditional composition and literature courses but also educational philosophy and methods courses, I found myself teaching media literacy to undergraduate and graduate students. During the course of the year I learned that invariably when a colleague asked “What are you teaching?” and I answered “teaching media literacy,” I could anticipate the follow up question, “What is Media Literacy?”
Media literacy on
the rise in the
Media literacy in
Concrete courses and/or programs in media literacy continue
to be developed in the
Progress has to rely on education. The individual must be made to know the social facts more accurately, including his own true interests and the ideals he holds on a deeper level of his sphere of valuations…I am quite aware that this prescription is nothing less and nothing more than the age-old liberal faith that “knowledge will make us free” (Gunnar Myrdal, 1958, 80-81)
Increased media access has exposed our society in such a way
that “knowledge” has become the fourth factor of economic production (
Media literacy, as a survival tool, aims to foster engagement and critical reflection about media that provides students the knowledge and awareness to become more curious and active in society. Under these tenets media literacy can be seen as prioritizing the development of students’ analytical and critical skills as they increasingly engage the media (McMahon 2003). David Considine (2002) states:
While more young people have access to the Internet and other media than any generation in history, they do not necessarily possess the ethics, the intellectual skills, or the predisposition to critically analyze and evaluate their relationship with these technologies or the information they encounter. Good hand/eye co-ordination and the ability to multitask are not substitutes for critical thinking
For media literacy to be seriously considered as part of higher education curriculum, it must first and foremost be clearly defined as to its place and relevance in university curriculum.
The definition of media literacy in
The definition has a pragmatic purpose. It is short, relatively easy to understand, and, more importantly, can be readily positioned within educational institutions. Rather than vying for space in an already crowded curriculum beset with the demands of computer literacy and information literacy, media literacy presents itself as compatible with and relevant to its potential competitors
this definition instated and widely accepted, it seems accurate and appropriate
to allow media literacy to function on many different levels of education,
including post-secondary education. In
However, the first step in media literacy being acknowledged in university curriculum is for the curricula-builders, scholars and academics in journalism/communication programs to see its potential benefits to society and their educational platforms. This entails making aware the tenets and intricacies of media literacy that prove its worth to a curriculum. However, as William Christ (2004) states, this is no easy task:
Most faculty in higher education media programs would probably argue that they teach students to become media literate. If push came to shove, however, they might not be able to articulate exactly what they mean by media literacy let alone how to measure it as a student-learning outcome
With the media playing such an essential role in American politics, how journalists create the news becomes even more significant (Lens 2002)
It is no coincidence that as the media landscape continues to stratify and expand, more students enroll in departments and programs dealing with the media. Journalism departments, then, have an added significance to their education. With media saturation and information access so heavily apparent, journalism schools must re-evaluate their curricula to see if the practical and theoretical teachings are properly satisfying the demands of the field. Departments now have the burden of teaching why the media works as it does, and its accompanying social significance and overarching civic role in democracy. Here is where media literacy finds its significance in journalism education.
Whereas theory, ethics, and society courses aptly teach about the role of the journalist, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ journalistic practices, and the nature of how the media function in society, media literacy engages students in a unique way. As a student-outcome centered pedagogical tool, media literacy actively connects and informs students to become critical and aware decision-makers and active participants in society through a deep engagement with media. In this regard, media literacy offers a new dynamic to journalism education, one which moves beyond base theory and teacher based dissemination and introduces activism and student outcome-based participation.
Where added value comes into play is in seeing media literacy as the connection between the practical role of the journalist and the theoretical construct within which the journalist exists. As media influence and saturation grow, journalism schools need to educate about the implications of such penetration. As journalism schools continue to grow, they must offer a home in which media effects on culture, democracy, society and humanity are taught. Media literacy serves as the adherent between such practical and theoretical components.
Herbert Zettl (1998) believes that anything having so much influence on individuals or society as a whole deserves to be critically and carefully analyzed and examined. He states:
The knowledge of how a specific mass medium such as television operates, how we react to its specific audiovisual stimuli, and how we use it to clarify, intensify, and interpret significant events around us is an essential prerequisite for the effective and responsible production and discerning consumption of media messages
For many media educators and critics, media literacy is considered an effective antidote to the potential influence the media may have on society. The vision of media literacy, as Thoman and Jolls (2004) write, is “to put all individuals, ultimately, in charge of their own learning, empowering them to take an active rather than a passive role in acquiring new knowledge and skills.” Here is where media literacy can make students more aware citizens, more participatory in their democracy and cognizant of the media messages they encounter on a daily basis.
Herbert Zettl’s 1998 scholarly publication, Contextual Media Aesthetics as the Basis for Media Literacy, and Christ and Potters 1998, Media Literacy, Media Education and the Academy, provide two relevant definitions of media literacy (taken from earlier scholars) that seem relevant to media literacy’s place in journalism curriculum:
From Zettl (1998):
Media literacy is concerned with helping students develop an informal and critical understanding of the nature of mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of these techniques. More specifically, it is education that aims to increase the students’ understanding and enjoyment of how the media work, how they produce meaning, how they are organized, and how they construct reality. Media Literacy also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products (Center for Advanced Technology, 1997: from Zettl 1998)
From Christ and Potter (1998):
[Media literacy is the ability] “to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate messages in a variety of forms” (Aufderheide, 1993, p.xx), [and that a media literate person] “can decode, evaluate, analyze, and produce both print and electronic media” (Aufderheide, 1997, p.97). Furthermore, they agreed that most conceptualizations include the following elements: Media are constructed and construct reality; media have commercial implications; media have ideological and political implications; form and content are related in each medium, each of which has a unique aesthetic, codes and conventions; and receivers negotiate meaning in media (Aufderheide, 1997, p. 80; from Christ and Potter, 1998)
These definitions are provided as a
starting point in renewing the push for a unified approach towards
understanding the nature of media literacy and why it is important in
journalism curriculum. While media
literacy is becoming increasingly implemented as a course and initiative in
higher education and journalism education, it remains fractious as to how it is
defined and understood by the journalism academics in charge of courses and
A positive aspect of media literacy
Revisiting Patricia Hinchey (2003), she defends the inclusion of media literacy by stating that, in a real sense, we have no choice about whether media will be involved in our students’ education. She further states:
Internationally as well as nationally, extensive coalitions for years have been defending, endorsing and promoting media literacy as essential, yet it remains off the radar screen of many educators, including administrators who can play a crucial role in enabling or thwarting curricular activities
More and more initiatives are
developing in the
Conclusion: A unified understanding
This paper aims not to call for immediate inclusion of media literacy in journalism education. Rather, it is an attempt to reveal the ‘added-value’ of teaching future media practitioners how to engage with and understand their constant subjection to and interaction with media. Under such a premise, educators can become more aware of the relevance and impact of their teaching experiences. At the same time, students will have the opportunity to actively, reflexively, and directly engage with media. To understand how media literacy, as a student-outcome based method of ‘teaching’ and ‘learning,’ can provide a new theoretical and critical lens is important in seeing how it can help prepare students for the important weight that will soon fall on their shoulders.
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