Media Literacy, Media Education and the Academy

Christ, W.G., & Potter, J.W. (1998). Media literacy, media education, and the academy. Journal of Communication, 48(1), 5-15.

The introductory essay in the Media Literacy Symposium discusses conceptual and application issues. The central conceptual issue is the definition of media literacy. Christ and Potter list the following uses of the term:

  • public policy issue
  • critical and cultural issues
  • set of pedagogical tools for teachers
  • suggestions for parents
  • "McLuhanesque" speculation
  • topic of scholarly inquiry from a physiological, cognitive or anthropological tradition
  • applied to study of textual interpretation, context and ideology and audience
  • used synonymously with media education

Both terms–media and literacy–are contested. Media can refer to oral and written language, still and moving images, television, computers, or multimedia. Literacy is also being debated: what does it mean to be literate?

The National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy (1992) defined literacy as the ability "to access, analyzse, evaluate and communicate messages in a variety of forms" (Aufderheide, 1993, p. xx). A media literate person can "decode, evaluate, analyze, produce both print and electronic media" (Auferheide, 1997, p. 79). Also, the report suggested that media:

  • are constructed and construct reality
  • have commercial implications
  • have ideological and political implications
  • form and content are related in each medium "each of which has a unique aesthetic, codes, and concvention" (Aufderheid, 1997, p. 80).

Media literacy is more than just skills; it is the "acquisition of knowledge structures, especially about the media industries, general content patterns, and a broad view of effects" (Christ and Potter, p. 8). Potter also argues that media literacy is not just cognitive but also requires aesthetic, emotional and moral development.The application issues related to media literacy address curriculum, teaching, and assessment. Christ and Potter identify three questions: what is the purpose of the curriuclum? how should media literacy fit into the curriculum? and waht are the key elements or principles of media literacy that should be taught? For instance, many emphasize training students to be part of the media industries. But there are larger issues of media literate citizens and consumers who challenge the role of media rather than working for it.

Another debate involves the concept of practitioner. Should students be taught to produce media? Will knowing how make students more analytical or just lead the to be "seduced by and to imitate television" (p. (p. 1). In other words, do we want to teach them to produce in order to preserve the status quo or do we want to teach them to be critical consumers who will lead to change? In terms of teaching, media literacy is associated with a more democratic, nonhierarchical classroom. Finally, there are questions associated with assessment: what are the objectives and how do we know if they've been reached?

Aufderheide, P. (Ed.). (1993). Media literacy: A report of the national leadership conference on media literacy. Aspen, CO: Aspen Institute.

Aufderheide, P. (1997). Medi literacy: From a report of the national leadership conference on media literacy. In R. Kubey (Ed.), Media literacy in the information age (pp. 79-86). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.


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