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Media Literacy – Consumers and Contributors

November 15, 2009

This post is my reaction to Alec Couros’ presentation on 11/10 as part of eci831. The main topic was media literacy. Slides are online.

What is Media Literacy?

The world is full of people trying to sell us things – products, destinations, ideas, and messages. Much of it we don’t really need. We are subject to this every time we turn on the TV or radio, pick up a magazine or newspaper. Internet websites are no different. When you visit a website you are a potential consumer of whatever the creator or sponsor is trying to sell. The skill related to being able to decipher the sales pitch and make a decision about its worth is media literacy. Of course the Internet is more about interacting with the media, or can be, and that creates issues related to what you consume and contribute. Learning what you should and should not post and what is appropriate online behavior is also related to media literacy.

Can/Should Media Literacy be taught?

  • Teaching teachers. I worked on a course for pre-service teachers a few years ago and the content expert included a unit dedicated to media literacy. This seemed unusual to me at the time (note: my background is not K-12) but important for teacher candidates who would be moving on to positions of influence with students and reacting to issues related to internet access and censorship in school administrations. In hindsight, the students in that course would have probably been better served with a course that addressed media literacy throughout, not just in a specific unit.
  • My media literacy via TV. Couros’ presentation made me think about how I may/may not have learned media literacy prior to the age of the Internet. I grew up watching television. A lot of television. Not unlike the Internet, television was and is full of “good” and “bad”. Learning media literacy happened though the modeling and control of my parents, what they watched and wouldn’t let me watch. And perhaps also through the comments and lessons provided by my teachers and conversations with my friends and classmates, etc.
  • Knowing how it works. This presentation’s discussion reminded me of a general session with Andrew Keen at a recent conference. His approach was a little controversial with the audience – basically, kids don’t have knowledge or wisdom about the world-at-large. He gave the example of his son doing a Google search before making a purchase. When Keen asked his son which item he purchased and why, the son replied that he purchased the first one that came up on the result page since the one at the top must be the best. Did the son understand that the result page was the result of an algorithm and not a group of people rating the quality of the product? Keen supposed not, another issue of media literacy and the Internet – understanding how search engines work.

  • Online identity. As I watched Couros’ presentation I realized that I may live in an Internet bubble (a similar comment was made by a participant.) I don’t find myself exposed to offensive content, hate, racism, violence, porn, etc. on a regular or even occasional basis. We are all making choices about how we consume and contribute to Internet media. Perhaps this should be taught, or at least modeled in schools: creating, protecting, and maintaining your online identity. As a career counselor I used to encourage clients to consider what a future employer might find online and post accordingly. This might fall into the definition of media literacy. It may also be too conservative, to limiting to potential creativity and expression. Or maybe it depends on your career path. Your thoughts?

Other items to pass along:

photo credit: musha68000,  Flickr

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