With the pervasive spread of the Internet and web technologies, the consumption and production of media materials have increased exponentially. There is a massive exposure to all types of media content (text, images, video, and audio), and for the first in human history, people are actively engaged in consuming, producing and sharing different forms of knowledge.
The nature of the medium through which a message is communicated is just as important as the message itself. Marshall McLuhan once stated that ‘the medium is the message’.
This is actually one of the major themes in the works of several cultural and media critics (e.g., Sherry Turkle, Nicholas Carr, Mark Bauerlein, Andrew Keen, to mention a few) who argue that digital media have the power to shape our cognitive capacities in profound and transformative ways.
It is within this context that the concept of digital media literacy acquires its importance as an important literacy for the 21st century students. By definition, media literacy, as Istvan (2011) stated, is an umbrella concept “characterized by a diversity of perspectives and a multitude of definitions” (p. 2).
Among the various definitions provided so far, Here are two that I find helpful. Both of these definitions highlight the critical aspect of media literacy:
According to the Commission of The European Communities (2007), media literacy is “generally defined as the ability to access the media, to understand and to critically evaluate different aspects of the media and media contents and to create communications in a variety of contexts” (p. 3).
As for the Ontario Association for Media Literacy (AML) (cited in Duncan, 2005) Media literacy is concerned with
“developing an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of these techniques. It is education that aims to increase 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.“
Media literacy, therefore, is not only about accessing and using media but more importantly developing a critical consciousness regarding how these media work and how meaning making processes are produced and negotiated within them.
Besides knowing how to effectively use media to produce meaningful multimodal content, media literacy also entails reading with a critical eye what others have produced and shared.
Drawing on Mills (1995, p. 199) and Duncan’s (2005) work I came up with the following list of questions to help students investigate the content of texts as they read them:
- What kind of text is it?
- What genre is it part of? (e.g., advertising, news, song, etc.)
- Does the text have a status? (e.g., canonical, literary, popular)
- How is it authored? (e.g., individually, anonymously, collectively)
- What information is readily available about the author(s)?
- How does this information help you with the reading and understanding of the text?
- Whose point of view does the text favour?
- Whose interests does the text foreground?
- Does the text exclude any groups of people or beliefs?
- Does the text expect you to have some sort of assumed background knowledge to understand it?
- Is this assumed background knowledge dependent on stereotypical assumptions? If so, what are they?
- Does your reading position align with the one communicated by the author or not? Why?
- Which voices, if any, are silenced in the text and why?
Ways to integrate media literacy in your instruction
There is a wide variety of strategies to help you integrate the ethos of digital media into your class instruction. However, the important thing here is to be able to justify the rationale behind your use of such media. Some examples to help you in this process include:
1- Ask students to work in groups and create short explainers or video clips covering a particular topic
2- Assign students to read and critically evaluate the content of a web page using the questions above.
3- Using a timeline maker tool, students chronicle the major developmental epochs, processes or events surrounding a particular historical event or figure.
4- Students adapt a short story they have read or written into a short movie they can create using either web tools or mobile apps.
5- Discuss with students the different techniques they can use to spot fake news then have them work in groups to locate sample fake news online and discuss their work with each other.
Media literacy skills
As I mentioned previously, media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media. It’s a critical skill in today’s digital age where we are constantly exposed to an array of media platforms such as social media, newspapers, magazines, TV, and more. Here are some key media literacy skills:
- Critical Thinking: The ability to understand and assess media content critically, not accepting information at face value. This includes distinguishing between facts and opinions, identifying biases, recognizing propaganda or manipulation techniques, and interpreting media messages.
- Understanding Media Forms: Understanding the different forms of media and their respective conventions. This can include everything from traditional print journalism to online media, movies, social media, etc.
- Media Influence: Understanding the ways media can shape perceptions and influence behavior. This includes recognizing how media can influence societal norms and values, and how advertising and other forms of persuasive media work.
- Recognizing Bias: The ability to identify the biases inherent in media representation. This involves understanding that every piece of media may reflect a particular perspective and may not offer a complete or balanced view.
- Digital Literacy: The ability to find, evaluate, create and communicate information using digital technology. This includes being aware of the responsible and ethical use of digital platforms.
- Media Creation and Communication: Understanding how to create media messages effectively and responsibly, and how to use media to communicate to others. This can include everything from crafting a tweet, creating a blog post or a video, or even designing an infographic.
- Media Law and Ethics: Awareness of laws and ethical issues related to media use. This includes understanding copyright, privacy rights, and the ethical use of information.
- Security: Recognizing the importance of privacy and safety in media interactions, including understanding how personal information can be tracked, stored, and used.
- Evaluation: Being able to assess the credibility of different media sources, to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources of information.
Media literacy examples
Here are some concrete examples of media literacy in action across a range of contexts:
- Advertising Analysis: Students can learn to deconstruct advertisements, looking at their use of color, language, images, and emotional appeals to understand the intended message. They can discuss questions like, “Who is the target audience for this ad?” and “What values or lifestyles are being promoted in this ad?” This promotes critical thinking about the underlying messages in media.
- Fake News Detection: With the proliferation of fake news, teaching students to identify misinformation is crucial. They can be trained to scrutinize the credibility of sources, check for the author’s qualifications, evaluate the consistency of the information with other sources, and identify any potential bias.
- Social Media Use: Teaching students to consider their digital footprint and to be thoughtful about what they share online is an important part of media literacy. Discussions could involve topics like privacy settings, the permanency of online posts, and how to communicate respectfully online.
- Creating Digital Content: When students create their own videos, podcasts, or blog posts, they are practicing media literacy. This involves not just the technical skills of using digital tools, but also thinking about audience, crafting a clear message, and critically evaluating their own work.
- Film or TV Show Analysis: Similar to ad analysis, students can learn to analyze the techniques used in films or TV shows. This can include looking at narrative structure, camera angles, lighting, sound, and character development. Such analysis helps students to understand how media messages are crafted and how they influence our perceptions and emotions.
- Video Game Critique: Video games are a form of media that many students engage with regularly. Media literacy can involve looking at representation in video games (gender, race, etc.), thinking about the messages in the game’s narrative, and understanding how game design influences the player’s experience.
- Exploring Bias in News Reporting: Students can compare how different news outlets report on the same event. This can help them understand how perspective and bias can influence the presentation of information.
Duncan, B. (2005). Media literacy: Essential survival skills for the new millennium. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/pMgQ2Z
István, S. (2011). The media and the literacies:Media literacy, information literacy, digital literacy. Media, Culture & Society, 33(2), 211-221
Daunic, R. (2017). 4 Ways to integrate media literacy in the classroom. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/f39ZmX
Mills. S. (1995). Feminist stylistics. New York, NY: Routledge.