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The multiple faces of Media Literacy

I attended the informative “Your Media, Your Tools” dissemination event at Leicester’s De Montfort University run by the Community Media Association (CMA) last Friday. It included a presentation by Ofcom talking about their media literacy agenda, as well as radio and video groups from across the UK showcasing the results of their involvement in CMA’s media literacy project.

It has always struck me just how slippery the term ‘media literacy’ is, with a different emphasis depending on the agenda of the person talking about it. I used to get frustrated by what I saw as a watering down of the notion, wanting the literacy aspect to acknowledged as the critical pedagogy that resides in community media activity, and that was me wearing my personal agenda on my sleeve. I now feel however it would be more useful to slow my judgement and analyse each different face of media literacy in its own right, as each interpretation of the term contains pragmatic, theoretical and/or ideological meaning for each different type of user, so that is worth looking at without undue dismissal.

In future articles I will be exploring the idea of media literacy in the nine predominant guises that I have seen it discussed within the community media sector, media education events, published research and academia. As with all identities of phenomena there is some overlap different contexts, though they will be analysed from the perspective of emphasis, and therefore argue that the identities described here are valid. Notions described in the future will be:

–  Media Literacy as media savvy
–  Media Literacy as semiotics
–  Media Literacy as creative activism
–  Media Literacy as cross-curricula engagement
–  Media Literacy as IT support
–  Media Literacy as media sector training
–  Media Literacy as process
–  Media Literacy as informed media consumption and media use

Interestingly, given this fractious identity, the actual definition of media literacy itself is, with slight variations, mostly settled in a broad consensus without too much debate. It is the interpretation of the accepted definition which is the cause of the majority of debate. Even though there is not one single definition, in loose terms it is widely acknowledged as being about;

– the right to have access to media platforms & tools;
– the need for people to be empowered to understand the media and its ever changing nuances;
– the ability to create media communications if so desired.

Some example of this are;

Ofcom’s definition is; “the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts.” They acknowlegde they are mostly concerned with media literacy as applied to digital technology and that people should be able to use the equipment to get the most out of it. (Media Literacy as Media Savvy / Media Literacy as IT support).

According to The Media Literacy Task Force:
“If people are to participate fully at work or in their community, or communicate effectively with family, friends and colleagues globally, or consume media intelligently they need to be media savvy. They need to understand how media works and to feel comfortable questioning what they watch and read. They need a sense of who knows or owns what, and to what extent what you see is really what you get. And, very importantly, they need to become confident in using and exploiting the possibilities of new devices and media channels.”
(Media Literacy as Media Savvy / Media Literacy as informed media consumption and media use / Media Literacy as semiotics / Media Literacy as IT support)

The Center for Media Literacy‘s view is: the ability to communicate competently in all media forms as well as to access, understand, analyze, evaluate and participate with powerful images, words and sounds that make up our contemporary mass media culture. Indeed, we believe these skills of media literacy are essential for both children and adults as individuals and as citizens of a democratic society.
(Media Literacy as Media Savvy / Media Literacy as creative activism / Media Literacy as process)

At some point in the not-to-distant future I will expand on these ideas in a case by case basis in future blog articles, and also write this up as a full academic referenced paper.

Until then, thanks for popping by. Comments always welcome.

Shawn

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4 Responses

  1. Hi, good post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will definitely be subscribing to your blog.

  2. so what is it really? If you are reinterpreting information or putting information in the open… i think if you get your message out, the way you want it to be, in a positive manner, prompt, and by using the right medium, you have a high media literacy as well. If the majority of people you tried to reach understand your message clearly, you probably are media literate.

    • Hi Brittany, thanks for your message.

      I agree. The ability to produce media that effectively communicates fulfills the Ofcom definition. Though different theorists would go further, for example Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share would say re-making the staus quo is not enough. That true media literacy is about disrupting the status quo, especially when the norm is demeaning its audiences and and exploitative. They say media literacy needs to become more radical in challenging norms and empowering the ‘student’ to question the status quo media we are usually fed, rather than simply re-creating it.

      I wrote about it for my PhD, see this link, page 91 for a chapter on the issue. All the best. Shawn – CMSW

      https://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B71I3mJbU4sENzkzMjEzYTMtY2M2MS00M2Y3LWEzZGYtNDQ3ZWI2NmE5OGNh&hl=en

  3. […] CMSW’s Blog. The Multiple Faces of Media Literacy. […]

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