New Media, New Culture, New Education (excerpt)

Media literacy concepts and curriculums have evolved since the 1970s, building on successes and incorporating new pedagogies to engage the learner.  Although much has improved, there are four major problem areas, in addition to the myriad of internal conflicts, with the current state of media literacy in the United States.  First is an issue with the terminology itself; the phrase ‘media literacy’ does not adequately represent the complexity or significance of the practice.  Second, in many instances, media literacy is based on a model developed two decades ago, which positions the student as a powerless victim of the media and uses a pedagogy based on that assumption.  Third, there is a lack of comprehensive, critical media concepts taught in traditional school curriculum.  Finally, digital culture is changing the way we communicate and it is necessary that we change the way we teach and interact with media to represent these societal changes.

As stated by Tessa Joles (2008) and the Center for Media Literacy “Media no longer just influence our culture.  They are our culture”(p. 42).  Media literacy, or media education, therefore, is positioned to be at the crux of art, culture, entertainment, politics, business, and identity formation.  Only with a solid understanding of technology, and the ability to communicate on a global level using many types of media, will our young people be able to fully participate in the future we are creating.  A comprehensive media education must go beyond the deconstruction of media; it must guide a young person through the process of creating media messages of various types and explore the new skills that become necessary as we shift from a culture of individual expression to a participatory community (Henry Jenkins, 2006).  In addition, it must be a core part of education, not just an activity in a single class or after-school program.

I’m proposing the outline of an “introduction to media” course that will emphasize media production and communication technology skills while building upon the core principles of deconstructing and constructing media messages.  Frameworks for media literacy education have been created by the Center for Media Literacy, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, the New Mexico Media Literacy Project and several other organizations and institutions focused on media literacy education.  These frameworks provide the base that this course is built on.  Media production in various formats will be another focus.  Skills necessary to be successful in a digital participatory culture, such as transmedia navigation (Jenkins, 2006), will also be incorporated into the course.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the New Media Literacies project, media practitioners and scholars have identified these skills and their utility.

Creating effective messages is integral to many types of communication and only through a variety of experiences will students develop these skills fully.  To do so, students will be encouraged to work on projects for other courses using new skills and technologies introduced in the media course.  Ideally, these projects will be supported by the media class and by other teachers for which the projects are created.  Initially, this course will be taught primarily in isolation, but eventually core concepts should overlap, feed into and be reinforced in other courses.