The millennial generation is clearly conversant with the technical aspects of our information age but young people are among the most vulnerable to media misapplications. There is a tendency towards manipulation of data and information flow in the attention economy. Students need to acquire the knowledge and skills to distinguish between fact and fiction in our highly digitalized and mediatized world. Media literacy is becoming an essential component of education. It is not only of vital importance to develop critical thinking to recognize disinformation but also to harness the full potential of the media in a creative way.
What exactly is media literacy and how should it be taught most effectively? How can media literacy be used to nurture digital citizenship? How can young media consumers become creative innovators? In this selection of articles, specialists in this field bring their own insights and perspectives to the role of media literacy in the digital age.
Media Literacy’s Pivotal Role in a Disinformation Society
Ms Eva Van Passel
Media Programme Manager, Evens Foundation
Why is Media Education Critical in Today’s Attention Economy?
Mr. Paolo Celot
Secretary General, European Association for Viewers Interests (EAVI)
What is Media Literacy and How Should We Teach it?
Ms Tessa Jolls
President and CEO, Center for Media Literacy
Preparing African Youth for a Post-Truth World
Mr. Chido Onumah
Coordinator, African Centre for Media & Information Literacy
Diverse Discourse, Limited Action: Media Literacy in East Asia
Dr. Tzu-bin Lin
Associate professor, National Taiwan Normal University
Media Literacy: A Key to Digital Citizenship
Professor, California State University Long Beach
Most youth feel comfortable using media for entertainment or communicating with friends, but they often do not have academic, technical or critical thinking skills or know how to express themselves effectively online in public discourse. On the other hand, when people use the Internet to exchange information, they are more likely to be civically engaged, which can apply to media, and longitudinal studies found that civically engaged youth are more successful later in life.
While media literacy is a lifelong skill, the logical time to start teaching such literacy is in K-12 educational settings so that all people have the opportunity to learn and practice media literacy, even as early as kindergarten. In advocating for media literacy education, the National Association for Media Literacy Education identified six core principles for such education: active inquiry and critical thinking about media, need to address all forms of media, reinforcement of lifelong skills, development of civic engagement, media as part of culture and a socialization agent, individual construction of meaning from media messages. Silverblatt, Ferry and Finan (1999) suggested five approaches to teach media literacy: ideological analysis based on cultural studies, autobiographical analysis, nonverbal analysis (paralanguage), mythic analysis (allegories and belief systems), and analysis of production elements such as visual principles and editing practices.
While media has not been integrated well into traditional curricula, its impact on political and daily decision-making highlights its need to be part of formal education. Obstacles include lack of teacher expertise, competing educational demands, and lack of resources. Nevertheless, several curricular areas lend themselves to the examination and expression of media, one of them being science. Teachers can use science-related fake news in the media to foster not only stronger scientific thinking but also increased research skills, improved communications skills, and science-oriented civic engagement. In particular, teachers can help students apply these skills to serve as citizen scientists.
Media-enhanced digital citizenship is most effective when addressed explicitly with authentic and meaningful tasks, especially creative media-based expression in public discourse. The following steps can guide instruction.
Awareness. Educators need to make youth aware that the quality of information can impact their lives, and that abusing media can have dire long-term concrete consequences.
Connection. Learners connect with media kinesthetically, intellectually, emotionally. However, before they can comprehend the information, they need to decode its “language”, be it verbal, visual, or sound. Only then can they begin to understand the content in terms of associated concepts and societal consequences. When connecting to media from a digital citizen perspective, one of the most effective strategies is case studies: analyzing media messages for their production value, message and context, audience, and agenda.
Manipulating Information. Moving beyond the receiving, or consumer end, of media, youth should experience and hone their “producer” or contributing side of media in order to express and create digital citizen information” graphically, numerically, as a diagram, as a well-formed argument. They should learn how to manipulate knowledge representations; for example, learners might draw conclusions from data shown in a news cast by verifying and building upon the numbers to reveal patterns such as the relationship between gas emissions and health. As learners become proficient in different media manipulation strategies, they can begin to ascertain when a method would be appropriate given the nature of the information and the intended use of them. In public discourse, learners might create an infographic or a public service announcement.
Application. How does one act civically, particularly as a responsible digital citizen, within public discourse? Some student-empowering activities that enable learners to create and disseminate media as digital citizens include: