Media literacy

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Five (5) key questions and concepts in media literacy
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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, July 2018


See also Dis-information and 'fake news' in a post-truth world | Information literacy | Henry Jenkins | Research Portal for Academic Librarians | Semiotics and the web | Transliteracy for librarians

" literacy is a repertoire of competencies that enable people to analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a wide variety of media modes, genres, and formats..." — Wikipedia
A view of overlapping literacies, using the information literacy wheel, including media literacy at the top

Media literacy (related: transliteracy for librarians) refers to the ability to "sift through and analyze any information on the web" including any media that informs, educates or entertains. Along with navigational skills, media literacy includes the ability to think critically and evaluate media from video and film to virtual and augmented reality. According to the Media Literacy Project, "...Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media. Media literate youth and adults are better able to understand the complex messages we receive from television, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, video games, music, and all other forms of media." Some librarians view media literacy as part of information literacy while others suggest it belongs to emerging concepts such as transliteracy. While there is obvious overlap in the various literacies referred to (see chart above), media literacy introduces some new requirements that take digital learners beyond their text-based literacies that have been acquired within their analog print environments. Media literacy moves learners towards informed and critical understanding of the nature of media in the Internet age and includes the techniques used by media outlets to communicate; this includes the impact of self-publishing media (i.e., social media). The role of the study of media literacy is to increase the understanding and enjoyment of how media work, how they produce meaning for learners, how they are organized, and how they are part of the constructing of agency, propaganda and reality. The ability to create media is also part of media literacy. Schmidt (2013) shows that learning the skills of media literacy starts in the primary grades in the United States and that, over time into college and university, media literacy is dealt with in an interdisciplinary fashion across the curriculum. (See Post-secondary media literacy education model.)

Being 'media-literate'

Someone media literate is able to navigate media, skillfully creating and producing relevant online content, and demonstrates an understanding of effective use of media in all (many ) forms. Although not specifically digital in nature, media literacy in the 21st century suggests the ability to navigate the text and moving images in various formats on the Internet. Moreover, the ability to create new media and participate as an active citizen in these new media and web spaces is increasingly desirable. Some of the competencies that inform effective use of media contribute to an overall understanding of mass media and popular culture. Quite simply, as these new knowledge forms and 'texts' proliferate and permeate our learning, our analysis and evaluation of their usefulness or lack thereof becomes paramount. By transforming the process of media consumption into an active, critical experience, we can (as librarians) gain a better feel for and awareness of media misrepresentation and manipulation (especially via commercials, infomercials and marketing of products, and social media). This will extend to the role of civic media and participatory spaces in expressing identity and collective action.

According to Tallim 800px-Flag of Canada.svg.png, media literacy is the ability to navigate and evaluate "...messages that inform, entertain and [are sold] to us every day. It's the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media— from music videos and Web environments to product placement in films and virtual displays on NHL hockey boards. It's about asking pertinent questions about what's there, and noticing what's not there. And it's the instinct to question what lies behind media productions— the motives, the money, the values and the ownership — and to be aware of how these factors influence content..."

And, according to Wikipedia, " literacy education is actively focused on the instructional methods and pedagogy of media literacy, integrating theoretical and critical frameworks rising from constructivist learning theory, media studies and cultural studies scholarship. This work has arisen from a legacy of media and technology use in education throughout the 20th century and the emergence of cross-disciplinary work at the intersections of scholarly work in media studies and education...."

Does media represent reality?

The idea of 'representation' is an important principle in media literacy. Any medium that provides its viewers or audience with a view into a given world, will aim to provide a representation of that world. Media representations will sometimes allow viewers to see something in very specific ways; in some cases, they will (en)force those views by using techniques such information propaganda or, as Peirce might say, powerful signs and symbols (semiotics).

Audiences will invariably compare what they see in various media against what their own lived experience tells them about the world. Subsequently, the audiences make their own judgments about the representations and how realistic they have been shown to be. Some media images are very real, even when viewers know that they are seeing something imaginary. Think of certain actors and the characters they portray, and how we have come to view them (and even refer to them) by those characters.

In interrogating media, consider the following ideas:

  • Realism: is this story intended to be realistic? true? a composite reality? Why do some stories seem real, and some don't?
  • Telling the truth: does media claim to tell the truth? Or is it merely entertainment?
  • Presence & absence: what is included in the representation of reality; what has been excluded? Think about censorship, and the control of messages we see in certain parts of the world.
  • Bias & objectivity: is the intent of media to support particular views? Are these views moral and political in nature? Social and cultural in nature? Aren't all stories and images political in nature?
  • Stereotyping: does media represent a specific group? In creating these representations, are they accurate?
  • Interpretations: why do audiences accept some representations and reject others? Does this have a sociocultural component?
  • Influences: Do media representations affect our views of specific social groups and issues?

What is media literacy?

Critiquing media

  • Describe the website or media; look closely at its message and images; describe what you see with as much detail as possible
  • List information about images, colours and composition (placement of objects on website homepage)
  • Write down what you see but don't make interpretations yet about the meaning of what you see; complete the statement: when looking at this image, I see...
  • Identify some of the basic information about the website or media. What questions do you have that you need answered before you interpret? Complete the statement: After looking closely at this website, I want to know... X. Find answers to these questions, such as when images were produced or who created them
  • Interpret what you see and what you know about signs, symbols & images. What do you think they mean? What message do you think the creator is trying to convey? What other messages, if any, does the website and its images express? Complete the statement: the message/s this site conveys are; I think the creator is trying to say the following...
  • Evaluate what you think might have been the intended purpose of this site. Who is its intended audience? Do you think its images effectively achieve its purpose? Why or why not?
  • Complete the statement: Based on my analysis, I think this medium did/did not achieve its purpose because...
  • Reflect on what you think might be the possible impact of the website. How might its message influence the ideas and actions of others? What does the information tell you about a specific place and time?
  • What questions do you have after analyzing this website and its images or symbols? What is trying to say? What more do you want to know? Complete the statements: I believe the impact of this site might be ....From analyzing this site, I have learned that .... and that I have the following questions...

Key websites

Media theory


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