The term ‘media literacy’ (often also termed ‘digital literacy’) has been bandied around in educational circles for a while now, and has been the subject of several documents (http://bit.ly/gKEWmz) and case studies (http://bit.ly/qUdCz0), of which this is clearly only a sample that I have come across. It is a hugely broad and encompassing term which is possibly one of the most problematic issues, as it takes just as long to define exactly what it is we’re talking about as it does to figure out whether or not it’s something we should be prioritising. To summarise what I think are the most important elements of the general theory, it’s about educating people (I say people as I think it’s just as valid for teachers as it is for pupils) about the influence of the media. This includes the massive assumptions we have about ourselves and our pupils (see http://bit.ly/Cdgmv for discussion on ‘digital natives,’ although I would argue that the link between someone growing up with technology around them and therefore being able to use it successfully is too much of a leap) and also the but also stresses the importance of decoding and deconstructing the messages that bombard us every day via the mass media. Should pupils have an understanding of the motives of media companies and how this skews their messages? Should pupils be able to understand how something is constructed in order to not only decode the messages it promotes but in order to successfully be able to reproduce it?
People’s main objection to taking something like media literacy seriously is heavily tied in with their lack of respect for the area in general. Often what is perceived as ‘easy’ or ‘obvious’ are the things we encounter every day. Therefore modern popular fiction is less likely to be treated as ‘literature’ and websites or films are less likely to be seen as worthy of study. The issue is not really about whether or not the media is worthy of study, at least not for this discussion, but rather that the widespread influence and all-pervasive nature of the media and digital technology means that we are doing our pupils a disservice not to help them in decoding and creating what will be an enormous part of their working and adult life. Interestingly enough, despite what appears to be a ‘back to basics’ approach to education in general, the government have just endorsed a ‘media literacy pack’ produced by Media Smart (http://bit.ly/p88Whu) in order to help teachers tackle issues of skewed messages in the media in advertising and related to body image in general which could have an adverse affect on young and influential minds. So where is the secondary equivalent? How can a topic so broad begin to be embraced in schools in any real way? Do teachers need to be convinced of its importance before it can be prioritised in curriculums? I’ll be trying answer some of these questions in the second post. Please submit your comments, I’d be really interested to know your thoughts or what you’ve encountered.