With the pervasive spread of the Internet and web technologies, digital media consumption and production practises have acquired new critical dimensions. There is a massive exposure to all types of media content (text, images, video, and audio) and people, more than anytime in the history of humankind, are actively engaged in consuming, producing and sharing different forms of knowledge from the trivial to the arcane academic.
The nature of the medium through which a message is communicated is just as important as the message itself. Marshal 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 thus becoming an essential construct in raising students consciousness to the implications of interacting with digital media. The purpose of this post is to introduce you to this concept, provide you with some definitions of what it is, and discuss some ways to integrate it in your instruction.
Media Literacy Definitions
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 we find helpful as they both highlight the critical aspect of the 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. It’s only through such an informed understanding that we get to raise critically aware digital citizens who can safely navigate their paths through a complex and informationally obese world and productively participate in the knowledge economy.
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 a text using a critical approach:
- 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, literacy, 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
Media literacy is not just a skill; it’s a necessity in today’s digitally interconnected world. It’s also an incredibly engaging way to bring a range of subjects to life for your students. Here’s a deeper dive into some ways to seamlessly integrate media literacy into your instruction:
1- Create Short Explainers or Video Clips
Why it works: It encourages students to break down complex information into digestible parts, enhancing their understanding and retention.
How to implement: Give students a topic related to your curriculum and ask them to create a 2-3 minute explainer video. This could be a historical event, a scientific concept, or a literary analysis.
Tools to use: Software like iMovie or Adobe Spark Video can make this a seamless process.
2- Critically Evaluate Web Content
Why it works: It teaches students to question and evaluate the reliability of information sources.
How to implement: Assign students to read a specific article or blog post. Ask them to apply critical thinking questions to assess its credibility.
Tools to use: You can use a checklist or a structured form to guide their analysis.
3- Chronicle Historical Events with Timelines
Why it works: It provides a visual representation of events, helping students to better understand historical context.
How to implement: Choose a significant historical event or figure and have the students create a timeline of key moments.
Tools to use: check out this post featuring various timeline creation tools to try out.
4- Adapt Short Stories into Movies
Why it works: This encourages creativity and allows for a deep understanding of narrative elements like plot, character, and setting.
How to implement: Students can take a story they’ve read in class—or one they’ve written—and turn it into a short film.
Tools to use: Basic video editing apps on tablets or smartphones can work well for this.
5- Spotting Fake News
Why it works: In an era filled with misinformation, the ability to discern true news from fake news is a vital skill.
How to implement: After a classroom discussion on techniques to identify fake news, ask students to find examples online. They can then present their findings and the methods they used to determine the news’ authenticity.
Tools to use: Fact-checking websites and plugins can be used as additional resources.
Incorporating media literacy into your instruction isn’t just a contemporary trend; it’s an imperative for the digital age we’re living in. These activities serve a dual purpose—they not only make your subject matter resonate more with students, but they also arm them with the critical thinking skills they’ll need to navigate an increasingly complex information landscape.
As educators, it’s our role to prepare students for the real world. By weaving media literacy into our classrooms, we’re doing just that—equipping our learners with the tools to critically engage with the world around them. So go ahead, shake up your instructional methods a bit. The skills your students gain will last a lifetime.
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.