Are You Five Years Out?
by Cindy Pulley
The other day while I “multi-tasked,” the Final Four NCAA Basketball Tournament was airing, and I would look up from time to time to see the score, until an ad for Arrow, a young networking company aired. “Are you five years out? Most people live in the present. You know, the world of now. But a handful of us work in a unique world that doesn't quite exist yet”. My thought was how parallel that is to educators as we hope to prepare our students and ourselves for a future at least five years out. That caught my attention as the ad promoted the company’s ability to help its various clients across disciplines prepare for a future shaped by technology and how we use it. For me, personally, five years has changed my life… a lot. And I wouldn’t doubt that the same goes for most everyone else. From one perspective, the period of five years has changed my role in education because of my involvement in Media Literacy. It has helped me in my online and face-to-face classroom settings as I have moved from teacher to facilitator. And as a doctoral student, school program coordinator and health policy specialist, it has introduced me to the use of media education curriculum to engage teachers across disciplines and turn youth and adults into voices for addressing disparities or other issues in their own communities. This field of study is not just the encoding or decoding of words and symbols associated with reading. It isn’t even the “schoolish” idea of the conventional classrooms, although its principles are easily adapted to experiential learning. Media literacy is a useful term for giving critical thought and reflection to anything attached to print, image or sound. Versions of its definition have been applied to the public arena in the areas of policy, cultural, parenting, gender studies, pedagogy or from the pen of well-known media analysts like Marshall McLuhan. It is well-known that media technology drives our culture and we are shaped by our use of it, and likewise, that we humans re-shape its purpose and importance in our culture at warp speed. Its ever increasing inventions dictate the need for the core principles of Media Literacy that blend well into the new Common Core standards and across disciplines regardless of the technology platform used.
Media technology used to change every 30 years. Now it changes every few months as companies roll out new generations of e-readers, tablets and smart phones to a gadget-hungry public. Most often that public includes the youth and their families, those whose brains are wired to adapt quickly to new digital conventions. And in terms of how communication media will evolve, there is no real way to predict the exact developments in the next five years. Historically, changes in technology have often been met with ambivalence. But we have long moved past the point where educators decried the priority to stay relevant and digitally literate. With new crops of “mobile-me” teachers and with the experienced faculty committed to learning the latest applications, schools at all levels are embracing the very technologies that in the past had subverted teaching and learning routines. Media is now used in such a way that students partake in digital connectivity as part of their newly-tooled classroom experience. Professional development typically includes a lesson on incorporating technology. The field of education is also keeping pace through teacher association sites like the “Digital Is” page of the National Writing Project. This particular blog keeps teachers abreast of how to guide students to create meaningful multi-modal text. They become coaches of student media producers who not only understand how to read the combined texts, but they also know how to use media to apply knowledge from diverse subject matter to solve problems or engage their communities as productive citizens.
Despite these enthusiastic efforts to keep pace, the nature of technological advances continue to ensure there will be lag time between broad consumer use of new technology and education’s eventual…and effective…adoption. Recent history tells us the semi-annual innovations are here to stay, so what might be the answer for coping with change while catching up to the more mobile rhetorical spaces of students and their families? How do we transcend the unearned fanfare of some new digital toy that doesn’t always promote its responsible use? How do we bridge that gap? How do we get students to move past the “alone together” hours they spend or make them savvy to the intent and technique behind the message? How do we teach them to use the technology and their time to become whole individuals who are collaboratively connected online and off to improve brick and mortar neighborhoods or physical and virtual communities? These questions are important to address. While there is probably no way to fully anticipate what learning and communication will look like in five years, the critical analysis inherent in media literacy’s core principles can help students analyze, adapt and create their own meaningful texts against the backdrop of their own personal or family values. Most groups promoting the various genres of literacy--family, financial, science and health, and digital--recognize that we have evolved beyond the definition of literacy that a little more than a decade ago merely included the ability to decode or encode meaningful texts. Now literacy, as it is presented in the Common Core Standards, includes decoding multi-media text beyond its physical traits. It requires an understanding of where the content originated, by what means, by whom and for what purpose. In terms of thinking about media applications, one might ask how students of all ages can keep pace with the information and come away with a basic understanding of audience and authorship, representation and reality, and meanings and messages. Admittedly, media literacy may not be the only method for critical analysis, but certainly it offers a simple and effective means for analysis. Its core principles can guide a media consumer or student on how to frame the layers of information in a multi-modal text against five questions. These following five questions appear in various forms on websites and publications of various media literacy associations, and they can be used in any value system, in any discipline or with any technology:
Who created this message?
What techniques are used to attract my attention?
How might different people understand this message differently
What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in, or
omitted from this message?
Why was this message sent?
These questions reinforce the idea that media literacy isn’t just about the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a variety of forms. One must also be able to know the context of the message as well and develop the skills to engage the medium of the message in meaningful ways.
Media literacy may be considered a new field of study, but its origins, the application of analysis to media, dates back nearly 40 years, and its historical underpinnings are linked to principles of classical rhetoric that could be traced to ancient Greece. The philosophical framework for media analysis changes, depending on scholarly presentation. One author, James Potter, said after conducting an analysis of various research regarding the topic said media literacy is really the convergence of three huge bodies of knowledge: media studies (the industries, content, and effects), human thinking (how people attend to messages and construct meaning), and becoming educated. In the technology-driven society we live in, these bodies intersect in the rhetorical online spaces of students. Their activities of literacy are spent outside classroom contexts as they engage online and mix and re-mix a variety of text, technology, art and sound into new conventions of communication. To the credit of the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Writing Project and the parallel professional associations of other disciplines including STEM and the arts, threads of media literacy core principles are already in place, they are just have different names.
My purpose in writing this short blog is to ask those who have integrated media literacy (whether they call it that or something else) is to teach some of the core principles in their subject matter, How is that working for you? and do you think it will make a difference five years out? For more information about media literacy’s questions and its core principles, I have included the following links. Many others exist and I invite you to respond and add others you something about.
Gateway Media Literacy Partners-St Louis (Local- Register for the mini conference, Pedagogy to Production, June 7)
Site has some great essays to share with your friends and students.
National Association for Media Literacy Education
Look for the Core Principles of Media Literacy on this site.
Take a trip to LA this summer. National Conference is $365. There are discount offerings and CEUs for K-12 teachers and one-day attendees.
Media Literacy Clearinghouse
Frank is often the go-to-media literacy expert for the National Council for Teachers of English
Common Sense Media
Great Media Literacy Curriculum Resources
Center for Media Literacy
One of the original Media Literacy sites that contains a lot of the intellectual history of Media Literacy
USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab
Lab is directed by media innovation expert Henry Jenkins