Teaching Media Literacy (Should We? Can We?)

By this point, approaching the home stretch of our run in EC& I 832, I no longer think there can be any argument that teachers have a role in shaping our students competencies with social media and technology in general. For me, the critical importance of developing these skills is beyond argument, as evidenced by our discussion of the kinds of skills our children are going to need to participate in the future economy. The Future Work Skills 2020 report makes articulate predictions on the kinds of skills our students will need, and they are indeed very different from the rote, manual labour, and straight forward calculation type skills that have dominated in the past.

Literacy Today

Literacy has always been a main pillar of our educational system. Teaching kids how to read, and teaching kids how to read to learn. While literacy certainly remains a foundational pillar of any child’s education, literacy today is fundamentally changed from literacy for generations past, and will continue to change. Consider, for one, the plethora of tools and avenues for children to meaningfully demonstrate literacy. Not being able to literally read text is no longer an insurmountable hurdle to participating with the curriculum. Text-to-speech and speech-to-text applications and software has become common to the point of being a tool of immensely wide applicability for the general population. I can dictate an email response to Alec as I am boiling my rice porridge for dinner, and have my email read back to me for proofreading without a single glance at my actual phone screen.

My point is this: Literacy is different now, and as such, the nature of our role as teachers is changing as well, a point echoed by Luke Braun’s conveying of Alvin Toffler’s point that  “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who can’t learn, unlearn, and relearn”

Importance of Media Literacy

A core learning throughout ECI 831 and 832 is this blurred line between our physical and digital lives. In her screen cast on media literacy today, Staci discusses the importance of being media literate as it helps us to navigate both our physical and digital worlds. I not only agree with her, but would go even further and say that being media literate with digital and online sources impacts our life, period. Over the past few weeks, some peers, along with myself, spoke on the idea of our digital and physical worlds merging together,  and this only reinforces the importance placed on media literacy by this week’s content catalyst presenters.

Again, Luke Braun, in his well-presented video on media literacy, talks about how we are estimated to be exposed to as many as 10 000 commercial media messages per day. That’s right, 10 000 …  In case we aren’t clear by now, media literacy is not talking about job skills training. Media literacy is talking about life.


Ok Teachers, How Do We Do It?

I often enjoy the how-to elements of discussions on educational issues. By the time we get to this point of the conversation, we often start to talk in terms of concrete ideas, concrete application. Authors will go out of their way to simplify main ideas and content to make them easily digestible for teachers, and therefore (hopefully) easier for teachers to wrap their minds around teaching students.

In some ways, this holds true with media literacy. An article on Common Sense Media titled ‘What is media literacy, and why is it important?’ succinctly discusses the kinds of things digitally literate children can do:

  • Thinking critically,
  • Be a smart consumer,
  • Recognize point of view,
  • Create their own media responsibly,
  • Identify the role of digital media in culture,
  • Understand the creator’s goal

Resources have been developed, like this Brainpop on Media literacy, that are designed to facilitate the development of media literacy skills in children. It talks about the importance of being doubtful, or skeptical, when being presented with online media sources. The importance of thinking critically, asking questions, is a prominent feature of the video. It also reinforces the concept of the line between our physical and digital lives being very blurred by talking about online shopping, and idea that kids can relate to.

Ok But, Can We Do It?

Unfortunately, the teachers role in developing media literacy is not at all as simple as knowing how to do it. Personally, I am coming from a place of deep seeded suspicion of anything to do with social media. For some time now, I have been actively working at toning down, or shifting my preconceptions. I mean, let’s be realistic:

  • Good or bad, social media is here to stay. It is what it is. Right?
  • Using these kinds of digital tools is what our kids will need to be able to do. Right?

We were fortunate enough to have Patrick Maze come in and visit our class this past week. At times seemed hesitant, or unclear, in stating how teachers might or might not be supported in various circumstances, especially with regards to social media. Naturally, we wanted clarity. But in his hesitancy and, perhaps, lack of certainty, he was being as truthful and honest as he could be. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this rapidly evolving field, and there is a lot we don’t know. In my opinion, this sense of uncertainty and unease was conveyed perfectly by Patrick as he tried to answer our fairly pointed questions.

But knowing that the ATRB is, as he put it (paraphrasing) on a mission to validate it’s existence. Knowing that our STF may not necessarily have our backs, and knowing that as a teacher, we can be responsible for paying our own court costs even if found to be completely in the right, can you blame teachers for being hesitant and cautious about diving headfirst into the world of media literacy in their classrooms?

2018 Joe McGuran does not blame 2017 old Joe McGurran for being as paranoid as he was.


























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