Digital Media Literacy

According to the National Association for Media Literacy Education Media Literacy is:

Within North America, media literacy is seen to consist of a series of communication competencies, including the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms, including print and non-print messages.

Media literacy empowers people to be both critical thinkers and creative producers of an increasingly wide range of messages using image, language, and sound. It is the skillful application of literacy skills to media and technology messages.

Media Literacy has evolved in the last 20 years and is now even more important for educatomedia-literacyrs to understand and embed into their curriculum and lessons. Books, magazines, TV, movies have now expanded to the digital world and is now available 24/7 making the media that we are exposed to pervasive  and extensive. A recent Common Sense Census found that teens spend an average of 9 hours with entertainment media use a day. With that amount of exposure it is imperative that we know how this media attempts to manipulate our thoughts and beliefs. We need to be able to ‘…access, analyze, evaluate,…’ this media. And more importantly we need our children, who are growing up with this exposure, to be able to analyze and evaluate it.

What makes this even more difficult is that much of the media manipulation is even harder to see within the digital infrastructure. The media has become more than just consuming, but also interactive. This interaction creates  a psychological rewards system that feeds more interaction. Companies and organizations have created ways where their consumers become part of the system; sharing, liking, tweeting, retweeting, all the while getting fed ‘rewards’ that then sell more goods or ideas. This system also fuels more media and screen time.

How do we combat this manipulation? We need to give our students practice with various media and guide them through the analysis of them. This can take various formats, but there are a lot of resources available to help. Here’s my suggestions:

  • Start out with static images and train them to really look and think about them. VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) starts with three very simple questions: What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?
  • Introduce media literacy concepts: (These taken from the Center for Media Literacy.)
    • All media messages are ‘constructed’.
    • Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
    • Different people experience the same media message differently.
    • Media have embedded values and points of view.
    • Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.
  • Continue looking at media following this continuum: visual literacy–advertisements–moving images (recommended by Frank W. Baker, author of Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom)
  • Remember to embed all media, including digital media through apps that students are exposed to. In many of these apps advertisements are disguised as ‘rewards’.
  • Once you have done some explicit instruction on media literacy you can embed discussions into all units. The more exposure the better!

Not only does media literacy fit into life skills that all our students need to know, but also the art of persuasion that can be linked to persuasive reading genres and writing types. It can be embedded in all content areas as well, since there are a plethora of examples of media that addresses (and attempts to manipulate) all areas of knowledge. It really comes down to teaching our students to be critical consumers of the information presented to them.

Need more information:

Media Literacy Clearinghouse (Frank Baker)
Project Look Sharp
Center for Media Literacy
Media Literacy Now
8th Grade ELA Media Literacy Class/Resources


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