Colin's Sandbox

Exploring Media Literacy v2.0

by on Apr.01, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

Some of my favorite memories from middle and high school involved examining how media is created and used by individuals and organizations to convey a message.  Getting a feel for the techniques used to persuade others provided me with the tools necessary to critically examine elements of TV and radio advertisements, print ads, as well as political campaign messages.  That is, as long as I remembered to engage in that process.  It’s important to note that engaging in media literacy activities didn’t make me immune to propaganda, just much more aware of it.

In case you were late to the party, the combination of social media, data mining, and mobile devices has made it possible for you to be a target any hour of the day and most anywhere.  The need for understanding the power and reach of the message seems more important now than ever.

To equip individuals for the ever-present battle for their hearts and minds, as well as the dollars and votes that go along with them, Jason Ohler brings us up to speed in the Digital Citizenship MOOC with what he calls “Media Literacy 2.0”.  The new focus with Media Literacy 2.0 is the emphasis on leading students through exercises where they are engaged in creating the message using the exact same tools and techniques that they will encounter in everyday media.

A Refresher on Media Literacy

Exploring Propaganda in Popular Media

To refresh the subject in my mind, I turned first to a lengthy, but very thorough, video from Dr. Jerry Kroth, in which he describes at length the subject of propaganda techniques that we see in media today, covering techniques used across a broad swath of media: the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, rap and hip-hop music, advertisements, as well as content portraying themes of sex and violence in movies and TV.  This would be a good watch for an educator preparing to explore media literacy in the political sphere with their students:

Common Advertising Techniques

Let’s not forget your everyday advertising pitch.  This teacher-produced video really drove home for me the most common advertising techniques I encounter today: bandwagon, emotional appeal, celebrity testimonial, plain folks appeal, and snob appeal.

Issues of Gender Bias

One pitfall I have found in my own experience is that since I have actively studied media literacy in the past and consider myself “media savvy”, I haven’t critically reexamined media looking for issues that I haven’t considered before – this opens me up to blind spots.  Take for example this TEDx video posted by Andrea Quijada:

Since then I have been much more conscious of gender stereotypes and portrayals around me.  Always good to be challenged, even when you think you have a well-rounded view.

Changes in the Media Climate

The Speed of the Message and the Rise of the Meme

An interesting aspect of today’s media is the speed at which messages travel through the social web: viral videos on YouTubememestrending hashtags on Twitter and Facebook.  Pre-Internet, social trends spread at a much slower pace, through radio, print, and television media, and were subject to editorialization by the producers of those media.  Today, anyone with data plan on their mobile device can be both exposed to and contribute to these changing trends in real time.

funny-meme

Political Campaigns Continue to Evolve

As an example of the power of social media in today’s culture, political campaigns have been rapidly evolving to connect directly with voters, not to mention potential donors.  Barack Obama used this to great advantage in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.  Particularly in the 2012 election against Mitt Romney, Obama seemed to be much more active on social networking services, especially Twitter.  Romney’s failure to effectively leverage social media to the same degree in order to present current campaign messages is perplexing, given the relatively low cost and rapid publication potential.  The 2012 presidential election voting breakdown by demographic as reported by the University of Connecticut’s Roper Center correlates well with the “% who use social networking sites” metric on the Social Networking Fact Sheet reported in September, 2013 by the Pew Research Internet Project: the lower the age, the greater the chance an individual uses social media, and the greater the chance that they voted for Barack Obama.

Distributed Recording of History

During the Digital Citizenship course, the latest geo-political crisis that was in focus was the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula.  There’s a number of fronts on the information battlefield here.  First is the interesting history of RT, the Russia state-owned media corporation, which, while in its origins was largely independent, now lately finds itself in the traditional role of government mouthpiece, but not before becoming one of the most-watched media outlets in the world.  More interesting however, are everyday supporters on both sides of the issue having a voice on sites such as Wikipedia.

Integrating Media Literacy 2.0 into the Curriculum

From past discussions in this class concerning adolescent brain development as well as building on my previous thoughts on when the appropriate time to start developing an online profile, my current recommendation would be to begin limited working with students on media literacy topics in elementary school as soon at the same time that they are guided through the skills necessary for web browsing and research.  As students develop their talents for creating digital stories, schools should then take that opportunity to examine media literacy again from the producer’s side – the Media Literacy 2.0 angle.  This empowers students to advocate for change through media, introducing visual, audio, textual elements as well as to pick up the subtext quicker when messages cross their own radar.

I was recently introduced to an innovative way to take on media production called Reality, whereby collaborating with a team of people to create media pieces becomes a game.  The concept of the game is that each player is given a set of cards which are governed by a set of rules that dictate which cards can be combined together to form the requirements for the piece for that week, called the “deal”.  An example might be a 30 second short including the rise and fall of particular politician.  The more people and concepts that are involved the higher the score.  At first glance this seems a perfect  vehicle for introducing media literacy 2.0, perhaps in the spirit of a mock political or advertising campaign.

The evolution from the more passive forms of communication (radio, print, TV, movies, recorded music) to today’s highly interactive social media and Web 2.0 technologies mandates that we too update our approach when guiding our students towards a necessary critical eye.  Whatever course you set make sure that you involve the spirit of media creation in the media literacy process so students can themselves better pick up on the message behind the message.


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