By Mel Telford
What is Media Literacy?
As someone who grew up in Canada during the nineties, when we talk about the idea of ‘media literacy’ I am always reminded of Degrassi, the show that boosted Toronto-born Drizzy, a.k.a. Drake to stardom. The show featured a new way of teaching media literacy called “Media Immersion.” The class had students critically evaluate and create different forms of media such as websites, blogs, or apps. While the show didn’t go into very close detail about the program, Media Immersion was intended to put Degrassi High at the frontier of technical and social education in a world that was still in the beginnings of its own immersion into a digital revolution unlike anything before.
Media literacy allows us to critically analyze and evaluate the validity and credibility of a media source.
Now, in 2019, our children are even more connected to the world than we were growing up. Social media enables them to feel like they really know someone that they have never met, or to watch something innovative that other kids are doing across the world. Our children’s digital education starts at a young age as they learn to explore the world with a keyboard and a mouse. While you would think it’s a great thing that kids have instant access to all this great information online, it’s in fact quite scary when you consider what kind of information is really out there for them to interpret. Not only are they consuming this information and these messages online, they are also participating in the creation and distribution of them as well, just as us adults are, every time they click post.
Why is it important?
Kids, just as much as adults, are immersed in the media. Whether it is social media, music, television and films, literature, or what-have-you, kids are doing it. They are consuming it and creating it every day. And in the digital era that we live in there is no practical way to sensor our kids from it completely; nor would we want to. So, in order to keep our kids from being overwhelmed by the barrage of mixed messages presented in the media (opinions and fake news included), and from creating and spreading inappropriate or misinformed messages, we must teach them how to properly analyze and synthesize this information they are digesting so that they can make informed, socially responsible decisions.
“Media literacy empowers people to actively participate in society.”
-Simons, Meeus, and T’Sas, Journal of Media Literacy Education, 2017.
Children who begin to understand the purpose of media at a young age will have a deeper understanding of why it’s important not to believe the first thing that they hear or read and be able to differentiate between credible and reliable sources of information. Additionally, they will understand the implications of their own use of media as a form of communication within their communities, and the world. Children who understand the power and implications of words and media will also be more aware of and responsible for the messages that they are sending out into the world and to other people.
Application in education?
Media literacy, although it is still a rather new concept, is quickly becoming a key concept in elementary as well as secondary and post-secondary education. Media has become a dominant mode of communication among Millennials. You can find the answer, or an answer, to almost any question that you have with the click of a button. Although this has made knowledge much more accessible to the world, it has also put us, and our children, in danger of falling victim to misinformation. As mass consumers and creators of media messages, children need to be educated not only in how to communicate using media but also how to be critical consumers of the information being presented to them through all forms of media.
So, as educators, it is important to understand that media literacy is inseparable from education. Media (specifically social media) is the main form of communication for most school-aged children. It’s how they gain their understanding of the world and shapes their beliefs and values inside and outside the classroom. In today’s society, the role of a teacher is to create an “Educated Citizen” (BC’s New Curriculum). Focusing on media literacy early will enable children to practice these skills and become “educated citizens” in today’s digitally enhanced society.
An “Educated Citizen” is someone who: can think both critically and creatively, is flexible and can adapt to change, is self-motivated, respectful, and productive, and who works co-operatively towards the betterment of their community and society as a whole.
Students who become “educated citizens” and have the media literacy skills to critically evaluate and contribute to the mass of information available to society will be the people who go on to make change in the world. They will become the kind of people who see a problem and ask, “why is this happenening?” and “who is this affecting?” They will create solutions that will enhance the lives of future generations and contribute to the wellbeing of the world. These students will think not only for themselves, but for others. They will seek the truth, or many truths, through critical inquiry and taking into account all perspectives. Media literacy will help our children to “navigate and negotiate an increasingly changing and complex world.”
Our society revolves around media. I believe that it is imperative that we integrate media literacy into everything that we teach our children. Whether it is how to research a topic, write an e-mail, or why you shouldn’t text your boss to call in sick. Kids need to know how to navigate the world of media with confidence, respect, and implicational understanding. The real world is so full of falsities: fake news, fake people, fake information. Kids need to know how to tell the difference between fact, fiction, and opinion. They need to have knowledge and understanding when navigating the mixed media messages that inundate us daily. It is so important that kids feel confident in their ability to use different forms of media effectively in their personal and professional lives.
Teaching media literacy:
It’s never too early to start familiarizing kids with concepts of media literacy at home. Kids will build upon these concepts and practices through elementary, secondary, and post-secondary school. The first steps can be as simple as explaining to toddlers that T.V. shows are most often people acting out imaginary situations. In elementary school media literacy instruction should focus on the different forms and proper uses of media, social media included. In secondary education and beyond focus turns towards effective research, critical analysis, and differing perspectives. This includes making ethical decisions about social and global issues such as human rights or climate change. Teachers guide students through fact-checking, forming opinions based on evidence and reason, and identifying ways in which their opinions could be challenged. Not only are these skills essential for being media literate, but they are also the pillars of BC’s new curriculum’s core competencies.
“[The] ability to construct, share, collaborate on and publish new instructional materials online marks the beginning of a revolution in curriculum development.”
-T. Jolls, Journal of Media Literacy Education, 2015.
Because our society relies so heavily on information media, incorporating media literacy is not only critical, it is achievable in all subjects and disciplines. Here are some resources for teaching media literacy in your home or classroom:
Media Literacy Week– Every November the Canadian Teachers Foundation leads an event highlighting the importance of media literacy for our young people and offers creative and insightful ways to incorporate it into your classroom
Media Smarts: Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy– This website has resources for teachers and parents on topics like body image and sexual exploitation, cyberbullying and online hate, excessive internet use, and privacy.
The Cinematique Education Department– Supported by the BC Arts Council, this company offers workshops and resources to students and educators focusing on Canadian cinema and filmmaking.
Teachers Pay Teachers– One of my favourite sites for resources in any subject or grade range. Like the name says, these are resources made and sold (although some are FREE) by other teachers. There are literally thousandsof lessons and units on media literacy to choose from.
Twitter – Check out hashtags like #digitalcitizenship and #edtechchat
“With the advent of the Internet and social media, it is now possible to provide
educationopportunities that offer a radically different approach from the “factory model” of education in closed classrooms that has long prevailed. Connected learning calls for education to provide youth with opportunities to engage in socially supportive learning that is also personally interesting and relevant,while connecting academics to civic engagement and career opportunities. Additionally, core properties of connected learning experiences are described as ‘production-centered,’ using digital tools to create a wide variety of media, knowledge and cultural content, with sharedpurpose for cross-generational and cross-cultural learning geared toward common goals and problem-solving”
-T. Jolls, Journal of Media Literacy Education, 2015.
What are some of your favourite ways of teaching media literacy? Leave me a comment!
M. Simons, W. Meeus & J. T’Sas. “Measuring Media Literacy for Media Education: Development of a Questionnaire for Teachers’ Competencies,” Journal of Media Literacy Education 2017 9(1), 99 – 115. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1151034.pdf
Jolls, T. “The New Curricula: How Media Literacy Education Transforms Teaching and Learning,” The National Association for Media Literacy Education’s Journal of Media Literacy Education 7(1), 65 -71. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1074687.pdf
More from Mel Telford
- What I Learned in Grade 5 (as a TEACHER!)
- Media Literacy – Teaching in a Digitally-Informed Class
- Global Education: Fostering World Citizenship in the Classroom