Media literacy encompasses the practices that allow people to access, critically evaluate, and create or manipulate media. Media literacy is not restricted to one medium. The oldest organization studying Media Literacy is the National Telemedia Council based in Madison Wisconsin and led by Marieli Rowe for over 50 years. The NTC has published the Journal of Media Literacy during most of that history originally known as “Telemedium.”
Media literacy education is intended to promote awareness of media influence and create an active stance towards both consuming and creating media. Media literacy education is part of the curriculum in the United States and some European Union countries, and an interdisciplinary global community of media scholars and educators engages in knowledge sharing through scholarly and professional journals and national membership associations.
Media literacy education
Education for media literacy often uses an inquiry-based pedagogic model that encourages people to ask questions about what they watch, hear, and read. Media literacy moves beyond the traditional formats of written and print text and moves to examining more contemporary sources. Some examples of media literacy include, but are not limited to television, video games, photographs, and audio messages. Media literacy education provides tools to help people develop receptive media capability to critically analyze messages, offers opportunities for learners to broaden their experience of media, and helps them develop generative media capability to increase creative skills in making their own media messages. Critical analyses can include identifying author, purpose and point of view, examining construction techniques and genres, examining patterns of media representation, and detecting propaganda, censorship, and bias in news and public affairs programming (and the reasons for these). Media literacy education may explore how structural features—such as media ownership, or its funding model—affect the information presented.
As defined by The Core Principles of Media Literacy Education, "the purpose of media literacy education is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world."  Education about media literacy can begin in early childhood by developing a pedagogy around more critical thinking and deeper analysis and questioning of concepts and texts. As students age and enter adulthood, the use of learning media literacy will be impactful in identifying ethical and technical standards in media as well as understanding how media ties to their cognitive, social, and emotional needs.
In North America and Europe, media literacy includes both empowerment and protectionist perspectives. Media literate people can skillfully create and produce media messages, both to show understanding of the specific qualities of each medium, as well as to create media and participate as active citizens. Media literacy can be seen as contributing to an expanded conceptualization of literacy, treating mass media, popular culture and digital media as new types of 'texts' that require analysis and evaluation. By transforming the process of media consumption into an active and critical process, people gain greater awareness of the potential for misrepresentation and manipulation, and understand the role of mass media and participatory media in constructing views of reality. Media literacy education is sometimes conceptualized as a way to address the negative dimensions of media, including media manipulation, misinformation, gender and racial stereotypes, the sexualization of children, and concerns about loss of privacy, cyberbullying and Internet predators. By building knowledge and competencies in using media and technology, media literacy education may provide a type of protection to children and young people by helping them make good choices in their media consumption habits, and patterns of usage.
Proponents of media literacy education argue that the inclusion of media literacy into school curricula promotes civic engagement, increases awareness of the power structures inherent in popular media and aids students in gaining necessary critical and inquiry skills. Media can have a positive or negative impact on society, but media literacy enables the students to discern inescapable risks of manipulation and bias through the media. A growing body of research has begun focusing on the impact of media literacy on youth. In an important meta-analysis of more than 50 studies, published in the Journal of Communication, media literacy interventions were found to have positive effects on knowledge, criticism, perceived realism, influence, behavioral beliefs, attitudes, self-efficacy, and behavior. Media literacy also encourages critical thinking and self-expression, enabling citizens to decisively exercise their democratic rights. Media literacy enables the populace to understand and contribute to public discourse, and, eventually, make sound decisions when electing their leaders. People who are media literate can adopt a critical stance when decoding media messages, no matter their views regarding a position.
Theoretical approaches to media literacy education
A variety of scholars have proposed theoretical frameworks for media literacy. Renee Hobbs identifies three frames for introducing media literacy to learners: authors and audiences (AA), messages and meanings (MM), and representation and reality (RR). In synthesizing the literature from media literacy, information literacy, visual literacy and new literacies, she identifies these core ideas that form the theoretical context for media literacy.
David Buckingham has come up with four key concepts that "provide a theoretical framework which can be applied to the whole range of contemporary media and to 'older' media as well: Production, Language, Representation, and Audience." Elaborating on the concepts presented by David Buckingham, Henry Jenkins discusses the emergence of a participatory culture and stresses the significance of "new media literacies"—a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape.
Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share have categorized four different approaches to media education: the protectionist approach, media arts education, media literacy movement, and critical media literacy. The protectionist approach views audiences of mass media as vulnerable to cultural, ideological or moral influences, and needing protection by means of education. The media arts education approach focuses on creative production of different media forms by learners. The media literacy movement is an attempt to bring traditional aspects of literacy from the educational sphere and apply it to media. Critical media literacy aims to analyze and understand the power structures that shape media representations and the ways in which audiences work to make meaning through dominant, oppositional and negotiated readings of media.
History and international applications
Media literacy education is actively focused on the instructional methods and pedagogy of media literacy, integrating theoretical and critical frameworks rising from constructivist learning theory, media studies, and cultural studies scholarship. This work has arisen from a legacy of media and technology use in education throughout the 20th century and the emergence of cross-disciplinary work at the intersections of media studies and education. The Voices of Media Literacy, a project through the Center for Media Literacy sponsored by Tessa Jolls, included first-person interviews with 20 media literacy pioneers active prior to the 1990s in English-speaking countries. The project provided historical context for the rise of media literacy from individuals who helped influenced the field.
In 2001, a media education survey by UNESCO investigated which countries were incorporating media studies into different schools' curricula, as well as to help develop new initiatives in the field of media education. A questionnaire was sent to a total of 72 experts on media education in 52 different countries around the world. The questionnaire addressed three key areas:
- "Media education in schools: the extent, aims, and conceptual basis of current provision; the nature of assessment; and the role of production by students."
- "Partnerships: the involvement of media industries and media regulators in media education; the role of informal youth groups; the provision of teacher education."
- "The development of media education: research and evaluation of media education provision; the main needs of educators; obstacles to future development; and the potential contribution of UNESCO."
The results of the survey indicated that media education had been making very uneven progress. In countries where media education existed at all, it was offered as an elective, and many countries believed that media education should not be a separate part of the curriculum but rather should be integrated into existing subject areas. However, respondents across boundaries all realized the importance of media education, as well as the need for formal recognition from their government and policymakers.
In North America, the beginnings of a formalized approach to media literacy as a topic of education is often attributed to the 1978 formation of the Ontario-based Association for Media Literacy (AML). Before that time, instruction in media education was usually the purview of individual teachers and practitioners. Canada was the first country in North America to require media literacy in the school curriculum. Every province has mandated media education in its curriculum. For example, the new curriculum of Quebec mandates media literacy from Grade 1 until final year of secondary school (Secondary V). The launching of media education in Canada came about for two reasons. One reason was the concern about the pervasiveness of American popular culture and the other was the education system-driven necessity of contexts for new educational paradigms. Canadian communication scholar Marshall McLuhan ignited the North American educational movement for media literacy in the 1950s and 1960s. Two of Canada's leaders in Media Literacy and Media Education are Barry Duncan and John Pungente. Duncan died on June 6, 2012. Even after he retired from classroom teaching, Barry had still been active in media education. Pungente is a Jesuit priest who has promoted media literacy since the early 1960s.
Media literacy education has been an interest in the United States since the early 20th century, when high school English teachers first started using film to develop students' critical thinking and communication skills. However, media literacy education is distinct from simply using media and technology in the classroom, a distinction that is exemplified by the difference between "teaching with media" and "teaching about media." In the 1950s and 60s, the ‘film grammar’ approach to media literacy education developed in the United States. Where educators began to show commercial films to children, having them learn a new terminology consisting of words such as: fade, dissolve, truck, pan, zoom, and cut. Films were connected to literature and history. To understand the constructed nature of film, students explored plot development, character, mood and tone. Then, during the 1970s and 1980s, attitudes about mass media and mass culture began to shift around the English-speaking world. Educators began to realize the need to “guard against our prejudice of thinking of print as the only real medium that the English teacher has a stake in.” A whole generation of educators began to not only acknowledge film and television as new, legitimate forms of expression and communication, but also explored practical ways to promote serious inquiry and analysis—- in higher education, in the family, in schools and in society. In 1976, Project Censored began using a service learning model to cultivate media literacy skills among students and faculty in higher education.
Media literacy education began to appear in state English education curriculum frameworks by the early 1990s, as a result of increased awareness in the central role of media in the context of contemporary culture. Nearly all 50 states have language that supports media literacy in state curriculum frameworks. Additionally, an increasing number of school districts have begun to develop school-wide programs, elective courses, and other after-school opportunities for media analysis and production. However, there is no national data on the reach of media literacy programs in the United States.
Interdisciplinary scholarship in media literacy education is emerging. In 2009, a scholarly journal was launched, the Journal of Media Literacy Education, to support the work of scholars and practitioners in the field. Universities such as Appalachian State University, Columbia University, Ithaca College, New York University, Brooklyn College of the City, University of New York, the University of Texas-Austin, The University of Rhode Island and the University of Maryland offer courses and summer institutes in media literacy for pre-service teachers and graduate students. Brigham Young University offers a graduate program in media education specifically for in-service teachers. Since 2011, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Teacher Education Program has required all new teachers take a 4-unit course on Critical Media Literacy.
The UK is widely regarded as a leader in the development of media literacy education. Key agencies that have been involved in this development include the British Film Institute, the English and Media Centre Film Education the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media at the Institute of Education, London, and the DARE centre (Digital Arts Research Education), a collaboration between University College London and the British Film Institute. The ‘promotion' of media literacy also became a UK Government policy under New Labour, and was enshrined in the Communications Act 2003 as a responsibility of the new media regulator, Ofcom. After an initial burst of activity, however, Ofcom's work in this regard was progressively reduced in scope, and from the Coalition government onwards, the promotion of media literacy was reduced to a matter of market research – what Wallis & Buckingham have described as an ‘undead' policy.
In the Nordics, media education was introduced into the Finnish elementary curriculum in 1970 and into high schools in 1977. The concepts devised at the Lycée franco-finlandais d'Helsinki became the standard nation-wide in 2016. Media education has been compulsory in Sweden since 1980 and in Denmark since 1970.
France has taught film from the inception of the medium, but it has only been recently that conferences and media courses for teachers have been organized with the inclusion of media production.
Germany saw theoretical publications on media literacy in the 1970s and 1980s, with a growing interest for media education inside and outside the educational system in the 80s and 90s.
In the Netherlands media literacy was placed in the agenda by the Dutch government in 2006 as an important subject for the Dutch society. In April, 2008, an official center has been created (mediawijsheid expertisecentrum = medialiteracy expertisecenter) by the Dutch government. This center is a network organization consisting of different stakeholders with expertise on the subject.
In Russia, the history of media education goes back to the 1920s, but these first attempts were stopped by Joseph Stalin. The 1970s-1990s brought about the first official programs of film and media education, increasing interest in doctoral studies focused on media education, as well as theoretical and empirical work on media education by O.Baranov (Tver), S.Penzin (Voronezh), G.Polichko, U.Rabinovich (Kurgan), Y.Usov (Moscow), Alexander Fedorov (Taganrog), A.Sharikov (Moscow) and others. Recent developments in media education in Russia are the 2002 registration of a new ‘Media Education’ (No. 03.13.30) specialization for the pedagogical universities, and the 2005 launch of the Media Education academic journal, partly sponsored by the ICOS UNESCO ‘Information for All’.
Montenegro became one of the few countries in the world that have introduced media education into their curriculums, when in 2009 “media literacy” was introduced as an optional subject for 16 and 17-year-old students of Gymnasium high schools.
In Ukraine, media education is in the second stage (2017–2020) of development and standardization. Main centres of media education include the Ivan Franko University of Lviv (led by Boris Potyatinnik), Institute of Higher Education of the National Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Ukraine (Hanna Onkovych), Institute of Social and Political Psychology of the National Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Ukraine (Lyubov Naidyonova).
Media literacy education is not yet as widespread or as advanced in Asia, comparative to the U.S. or Western countries. Beginning in the 1990s, there has been a shift towards media literacy in East Asia. In recent years, media literacy education is growing in Asia, with several programs in place across countries throughout the Asian Pacific region.
Teachers in Beijing, China are recognizing the importance of media literacy education in primary schools based on their own level of concern for the need of media literacy in education. Other programs in China include Little Masters, a Chinese publication created by children that report on a variety of issues, helping children learn journalism and basic teamwork and communication skills. Studies have been done to test levels of media literacy among Chinese-speaking students in China and Taiwan, but further research is needed. Information literacy is highly regarded in education, but media literacy less recognized.
In India, the Cybermohalla program started in 2001 with the aim to bring access to technology to youths.
In Vietnam, the Young Journalists Group (YOJO) created in 1998 in collaboration with UNICEF and the Vietnamese National Radio to combat false accounts by the media.
In Singapore, the Media Development Authority (MDA) defines media literacy and recognizes it as an important tool for the 21st century, but only from the reading aspect of the term.
Beginning in the 2017 school year, children in Taiwan study a new curriculum designed to teach critical reading of propaganda and the evaluation of sources. Called "media literacy," the course provides training in journalism in the new information society.
In Iran, Nasra is a movement aiming to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults in 2018. This social movement focus on digital media use and mental health and increase the skills of using the media for the public.
Jordan is moving forward in fostering media and information literacy, which is crucial to fighting extremism and hate speech, Jordan Media Institute is working on spreading the concepts and skills of positive interaction with the media and tools of communication technology and digital media, and to reduce their disadvantages. An academy in Beirut, Lebanon opened in 2013, called the Media and Digital Literacy Academy of Beirut (MDLAB) with the goal for students to be critical media consumers.
In Australia, media education was influenced by developments in Britain related to the inoculation, popular arts, and demystification approaches. Key theorists who influenced Australian media education were Graeme Turner and John Hartley who helped develop Australian media and cultural studies. During the 1980s and 1990s, Western Australians Robyn Quin and Barrie MacMahon wrote seminal textbooks such as Real Images, translating many complex media theories into classroom appropriate learning frameworks. At the same time Carmen Luke connected media literacy with feminism promoting a more critical approach to media education. In most Australian states, media is one of five strands of the Arts Key Learning Area and includes "essential learnings" or "outcomes" listed for various stages of development. At the senior level (years 11 and 12), several states offer Media Studies as an elective. For example, many Queensland schools offer Film, Television and New Media, while Victorian schools offer VCE Media. Media education is supported by the teacher professional association Australian Teachers of Media. With the introduction of a new Australian National Curriculum, schools are beginning to implement media education as part of the arts curriculum, using media literacy as a means to educate students how to deconstruct, construct and identify themes in media.
- Critical literacy
- Digital literacy
- Information and media literacy
- Information literacy
- Postliterate society
- Visual literacy
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