Archive for the ‘Media Literacy’ Category

Just a quick post as I’m out the door for a digital storytelling workshop.  Watched John Adams last night and enjoyed it.  It opens with the Boston Massacre and I was reminded of a media literacy lesson that I did with middle schoolers.  We took a look at Paul Revere’s famous engraving of the “massacre.”  Rather than an historically accurate depiction, it is a propaganda piece, designed to further rile up the mobs against the British.  Here’s a good description of the inaccuracies of the picture.


I am reading Dee Brown’s The American West.  It’s a compilation of short, illustrated pieces the Brown wrote in tandem with photo editor Martin F. Schmitt in the 1950s.  Despite being pretty familiar with the history of the West, I am still finding some great new tidbits of information as well as new ways of considering that history.

Last night, I read two different passages about how Easterners were lured into coming out West.  I thought both were excellent illustrations of media literacy.  The first dealt with a sketch created by in 1869 by artist Henry Worrall called “Drouthy Kansas.”  You can read the whole story at the Kansas Historical Society’s website. Media literacy figures in because of the comment made by several Kansas farmers, wiped out by the drought and grasshoppers that came in the mid-1870s.  As they headed back East through Topeka, they stopped to talk to Worrall and suggested that it was the “diabolical seductiveness of that picture” that convinced them to come to the state in the first place.  This illustrates the power of the visual to persuade.

Another similar story comes from Kansas.  Western speculators often used the power of media to attract Easterners to new towns that were really nothing more than some marks on the ground.  Brown writes:

John J. Ingalls, Massachusetts lawyer, was attracted in 1856 by a colorful lithograph of Sumner, Kansas Territory.  When Ingalls arrived, he found little but platted kansas prairie.  In later years, as senator from Kansas he recalled the attractive advertisement as a chromatic triumph of lithographed mendacity.”

I turn again to the Kansas Historical Society’s website for Ingall’s story.

Students Call Officials’ Homes When School Isn’t Called Off For Snow – News-

So, the MSNBC story and it gives some better detail.  The most important piece, probably, that wasn’t covered in the AP story was that this wasn’t the first phone call:

But recently, this role has resulted in dozens of phone calls to his home, many from students and some in the middle of the night. Other students have sent profane e-mails to the administration.

So, now we get a better view of the situation at least from the administrator’s wife.  Interesting media literacy lessons, here.  Check different stories.  Wait for a day before drawing too many conclusions.

From a colleague of mine as part of a discussion of protecting privacy:

Sorry, if you’re offended that I embedded it, but you need the effect before the story. Here’s the AP version. And, here’s Doug Feaver’s take on it at the Washington Post. Feaver reviews comments from readers on the story. He says, “I’m with the kid, but of course a recording of whatever message he left has not been made available so perhaps I would have a different view if it were.” That’s what I thought was interesting. The only person who can publish Kori’s message is the administrator’s wife. And, as long as we can’t hear Kori’s message, we really can’t judge for ourselves. Did she delete it? Or, is she just not adding fuel? Or was it a pretty reasonable message and she just overreacted? In the end, it probably doesn’t matter, but like, Feaver, I wonder in whose favor the pendulum of public opinion would swing if we heard the original phone message.

Here were two of my favorite back and forth comments about the incident:

readerny said, “I don’t agree with the tirade by the woman who answered the call, BUT as an employer of young adults, I can say that there are some (not all) who are overempowered and think that they know the whole story, or more than you do, and should be running the show themselves…”

But Nicester wrote, “Overempowered kid” and “self-centered youth” – OK, that’s one perspective. Sounds a bit like “whippersnapper” or whatever the Greatest Generation was calling the Baby Boomers when they were dropping acid and rolling in the mud at Woodstock…”

I just feel sorry for this woman, sacrificed on the altar of the digital generation gap. And, like the story about Heath Ledger and the blogs, it’s a story about the future of “news” in the 21st century. What if the kid hadn’t had access to the Internet? He might have sent the tape to the television news, but they have may have demanded to have his recording. He gets to bypass all those gatekeepers and tell his side of the story in a way that kids have never been able to do.

In the end, I find her tirade to be funny rather than offensive. “Snot-nosed brats” was the worst of it. It is more important as a reminder that digital recording and distribution is almost transparent, and perhaps will finally lead to people living by the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” We have left behind the era of deniability.

I’m tagging this one 21st century skills because I wonder how this fits in? I’m also going to tag it adult learning 😉

21st Century Collaborative: The Future of Reading

Sheryl’s thoughtful posts always provide an interesting read.  Her essay on reading, in response to Amazon’s much heralded debut of the Kindle, took on a topic I’ve also been thinking about.  As she did, I’ll give you my “reading” biography: I LOVE to read anything, analog or digital, but I am a committed, somewhat obsessed bibliophile.  I read fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.  I love nothing better than to lose myself in a good story. I try to sneak in some book reading at the beginning of the day, and most days end with me in bed with a book, usually fiction.  I just love books; like Sheryl’s house, mine is stuffed to the gills, and I’m thankful that my husband, who is not a book reader, is willing to live with them.  You can see what I’ve been reading at my Library Thing account.

Just a couple examples of my obsession: I once chose an apartment simply because it had built in book shelves in the dining room. And, several years ago when we were thinking about putting on an addition, I boxed up most of my books and moved them to the garage.  I lasted for about six months, until one afternoon I found myself in the garage, opening boxes and pulling out books, flipping the pages to read old notes, making small piles to bring into the house.  Eventually, when the addition fell through, I moved them back in.

As Sheryl suggests, this love of reading books influenced the way I taught.  I focused on a pretty traditional form of literacy, although I adopted a constructivist pedagogy in which to do it.  I’ve written before about running a reading workshop for my middle school students.  We read books, but I wonder if now I would allow students to listen to books as well.  I don’t see why not, if that was the way they preferred to engage with an author.   The technology just was not widely available in the 1990s when I was teaching.  I love books and their physical  nature, but if others don’t, I don’t think I’d get hung up on the technology.  After all, that’s what book is…a particular technology that, like all technologies, met the need of its time.  What I wanted to do was give my students time to READ.  We tended to focus on fiction, but I allowed them to read nonfiction, too.  Again, the focus was on reading rather than a particular genre.  I did ask that they read books rather than newspapers or magazines because I wanted them to have the experience of reading something longer, of getting the sense of story or argument.

But Sheryl goes one step beyond things like audio books which just change the format without changing the content.  She envisions a different kind of non-linear, hyperlinked reading; she has a wide perspective on reading that includes interactive experiences like video games.  Traditional reading associated with books is subsumed in a larger definition of literacy that includes being able to read and write with multimedia.  I don’t disagree; in fact, I did a small research project related to defining this new literacy.  I used the term “media literacy” and worked with several educators to develop a definition and standards that would seem to reflect the new ways that people read and write.

I don’t think we’re facing an either/or proposition the way some have made it.  (Check on the NPR radio show On Point to hear one such debate.) Sheryl’s title–the future of reading–is much better than those who are debating the end of the book.  I don’t think we’re looking at the end of anything.   Richard Lanham, my old rhetoric prof at UCLA, has some really interesting things to say about the future of both reading and writing in the multimedia age.  In this interview, Lanham suggests that the rise of electronic reading experiences will not, even as they add to the rich options for interacting with authors and creators, negate the book.  It’s exciting, really, especially for people like Sheryl’s kids who do have the best of all these worlds, with lots of choices.

I went ahead and put in my order for the Kindle as a little end-of-the-year business expense; I just want to see how it works.   I do a ton of computer reading but there are things I don’t like about it that I’m hoping the Kindle might address, especially the format and the ability to annotate.  I also think I will prefer the more book-like portrait interface that lets me see a whole page at a time.

Mostly, I’ve spent some time thinking about my own practice.  If I were back in the classroom and had access, would I also let students “read” podcasts or movies?  I’m honestly not sure.  I’m definitely one of those teachers who is wired for reading printed text and I definitely have a bias towards it.  If I did choose to include other forms of reading material, it would have to be done in the critical way that students responded to their books with the focus on having a dialog with the creator of the work, rather than simply consuming for entertainment.  There’s the important media literacy piece, I think, that should be the focus of future discussions.

Thanks, Sheryl, for giving me lots to think about.  Thanks, also, for taking my mind of my upcoming comprehensive exams oral defense.  Now, back to the grindstone 😉

An interesting abstract from my advisor for an article about the semiotics of multimodality, or texts that utilize a variety of media. I have to get the article from inter-library loan so I haven’t read it but I did visit the D.U.S.T.Y. website to see some of the examples. What a wonderful project! I can’t embed the videos here so I’m going to have to rely on you to check them out…

I’ve been using this McLuhan quote at the beginning of my research focus statement.  It’s from The Gutenberg Galaxy, published in 1962:

“An age in rapid transition is one which exists on the frontier between two cultures and between conflicting technologies.  Every moment of its consciousness is an act of translation of each of these cultures into the other.  Today we live on the frontier between five centuries of mechanism and the new electronics, between the homogenous and the simultaneous.  It is painful but fruitful” (p. 141).

I contend we stand at a similar frontier right now.  And nowhere is it better illustrated than in David Rothman’s rant about Second Life.   Here we see what McLuhan calls an “advantage” of being on the frontier of a culture class: the ability to generalize.  Rothman, after complaining about a software upgrade that had eaten his password, decides that he would rather spend his time with books but, more importantly, he assumes that his opinion must be shared by millions: “On-screen instructions say I should contact tech support, but should I bother? I’d rather catch up on my book reading and on RSS feeds relating to books and e-books. I’ve got enough media in my life, thank you very much, and millions of other people would probably feel the same way.”

I’m sure there are people who feel that way along with people who prefer having this particular media, and frankly, that’s what makes it pretty darn exciting. I am a bibliophile like Rothman.  I prefer nothing more than curling up with a good book and am still in the process of reading pdf files without printing them out.  But, every other week, I take a visit to Second Life to meet with other teacher-educators from all over the world.  Yes, there are plenty of other ways we could meet virtually (chat, elluminate, forums), but I find doing it in SL fascinating.  Rothman, probably, would be OK with this use as he sees value for specific kinds of uses of SL.

But, I sometimes visit just to sit quietly with my avatar along the river or ride the intertube that someone had thoughtfully created.  It is winter, I am in graduate school, and I miss my kayak.  I visit the planetarium or chat with folks outside an art exhibit.  My involvement with SL has not diminished my commitment to typography; it is completely different.  If anything, the media I have begun to abandon is broadcast television.  I can watch whatever I need to online when I am ready.  So, it is rare for me to reserve time to watch television.  I am what Jenkins calls a zapper…I move restlessly from channel to channel.  But increasingly, I am not turning it on at all.

However, I am not going to make the generalization leap that Rothman does:  I do know from talking to people that others have also indicated that they tend to watch less television than they used to because they have adopted other media for getting the news or entertainment.    But I also know that lots of people still watch television.  They may also consume other media related to that television program, but they also sitting down at a specific time to tune into a specific television show.

I would suggest, in an addendum to McLuhan’s ideas about generalizations, that these frontier moments open the possibility for a wide variety of media relationships that may, in some cases, be determined by the analog lens that you apply to the new media.  For instance, people of the book come into the World Wide Web looking for ways to share information about a printed technology.  Librarything, Librivox, and Book Crossing are just a few of the websites that celebrate Gutenberg’s technology.  And, for Rothman, that’s as far as he wants to go.  And, that’s fine.  We each make personal decisions about how we are going to get involved in any media, both old and new.

Not to sound like a Pollyanna here (it’s a literary reference, BTW), but I would like to see us embrace the diversity of relationships that we may have with media, and try not to generalize our experiences for others.  As I begin my own research into the literacy practices of students and teachers, I want to uncover the individual voices and experiences, beginning as Lemke (2006) does “with the study of how people make meaings and experience feelings across real time as tehy interact wiht rich, complex multimodal artifacts and environments” (p. 9).

Federal Way schools restrict Gore film

After conservative parents complained, the Federal Way schools adopted a new policy towards this film in which teachers must get permission to show it and then include alternative views.  Since the parents who complained also believe that the world is only 14,000 years old and that the Bible provides actual information about how the world will end, I wonder what other alternative views they think should be provided?  For instance, when we teach about dinosaurs, do we also need to suggest that despite all evidence to the contrary, the Jurassic period could not possibly have happened?

This really, though, is a media literacy debate.  Students should be given both sides of this controversy and then allowed to make up their own minds say the protesters.  Really?  Since when did fundamentalists allow anyone to make up their own mind?  The goal here is to further an agenda that, IMHO, is out of touch with science and the real world.  Yes, there is controversy among scientists about global warming, although the recent news about polar bears seems to have at least convinced President Bush, but it seems pretty ridiculous that educators are expected to incorporate a Biblical view in the classroom?  And that the complains of some pretty right of center parents can influence everyone in a school division.

Just posted about media literacy in a postmodern world. Browsed a few of my favorite blogs and found a post from Assorted Stuff about a report from Indiana University indicated that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is just as substantive as the typical nightly news program.

For me, the most important part comes right at the end: “The 2004 elections saw the highest turnout among voters among age 30 in more than a decade. A 15,000-student study released Sept. 22 by the Knight Foundation and J-Ideas found that young people are turning more than ever to programs like Stewart’s for political information.” Media literacy at work…but how many schools filter The Daily Show website rather than using it to discuss current events?

This is really the bottom line, isn’t it? We’re clearly living in a subjective postmodern world. Yet, the culture of the classroom still reflects an objective modern world. If I have learned anything from my focus on media literacy over the past few months, it is that we simply can’t afford to keep doing that. It doesn’t seem to matter where I turn, there’s an example. This week, it was Gloria Bolger’s column in US News & World Report.

Bolger takes George Allen to task for clearly suffering from a lack of media literacy skills: “But, hey, don’t feel bad for Allen. He said something awfully stupid, at the very least. He also knew he was talking to a guy pointing a camera at him who worked for his opponent. And he’s supposed to be savvy. So no excuses. But here’s the larger point: The new digital technology has completely changed the face of campaigning, so candidates beware.” I just finished Richard Lanham’s book The Electronic Word and he says that electronic text is changing the face of education. Don’t we just have this sense that things are radically different?

Yet, I hear from my contacts in K-12 that electronic text and video have barely touched the classroom. Schools divisions are filtering because that’s what we did in a modern world. We are leaving it up to the kids to teach themselves about the postmodern world.