||Volume 22, Number 7, May/June 2010
Beyond the flickering screen: A new course in media literacy for the 21st century
By Marian Dodds
Parents and teachers often joke about their need to call on their tech savvy kids to help them with the rapidly multiplying media tools that are de rigueur in today’s world. But listen to your students chat about the media they consume (and create) and the need for universal media literacy becomes crystal clear. Technical skills are one thing but where is the critical thinking that we know needs to accompany this consumption and creation of new media? Where are the conversations taking place that will enable this next generation to move past technological skills to become media-literate citizens?
Media education is now mandated in every provincial curriculum. This is an acknowledgement of the need for universal media literacy in the Information Age. Students entering today’s workplaces require skills to access, assess, evaluate, and produce media. But teachers seeking professional development in media education have found little support.
To fill this gap, John Pungente and Gary Marcuse, the originators of the widely used Scanning Television classroom resource, gathered Canada’s top media educators and distance education experts to collaborate in writing an online media literacy course, inspired by a parable of the cave in Plato’s Republic. Plato describes the situation of prisoners who are trapped in a cave. All that they can see are the flickering shadows of the outside world cast on the wall of the cave. Unable to escape, these phantom images are the only reality they know. Only knowledge, Plato suggests, can enlarge our perceptions and liberate us from these illusions.
The result of this collaboration is Understanding Media Literacy: Inside Plato’s Cave, which was field tested in Vancouver, London, and St. John’s by teachers who provided feedback and a generous amount of praise, like this comment from Connie Morrison in St. John’s:
“This is just what our students need—teachers who have a grasp on the complex media machine and an understanding of how to teach about it. The potential for this project has me awake at night and dreaming of the possibilities. Having used many of these clips and activities…I can say with complete confidence that they were probably the most meaningful and memorable classes I have been privileged to teach. Every teacher begins her or his career vowing to make a difference—but at the end of these classes, I know that I actually did.”
Teachers exploring Plato’s Cave can expect to be illuminated by the following units:
- Introduction to Media Education explores the roles of media in our daily lives and what constitutes media education.
- Media Literacy and the Curriculum examines curriculum documents and involves developing a curriculum unit and cross-curricular activities that meet provincial learning goals.
- Canadian Popular Culture examines the many perspectives needed to explore the elusive “Canadian identity.”
- The Art of Persuasion—Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations examines advertising and marketing to teens, sponsorship, personal testimonials and celebrity spokespeople.
- Media and Values examines contentious issues such as materialism, narcissism, and the acceptance of superficial lifestyles.
- Media Languages is an examination of how visual, sound, and structural languages combine to create meaning.
- The News examines the processes newsmakers use when producing the news of the day.
- New(er) Technologies analyzes developments in communications technologies and social networking.
- Ideology and Representation explores how cultural groups are represented, how their representations reveal ideologies and how these representations reveal sites of struggle.
- Audience explores the notion of audience in a broad sense; how audiences are influenced by, and how they influence, media messages.
- Movies helps students understand society’s longstanding love affair with story, ritual, entertainment, and our unending urge to understand the human condition.
- Prime Time Television examines the daily entertainment that remains on top of most people’s lists, from sports and sitcoms to reality-based TV.
- Popular Music provides an historical and pedagogical context for the study of music as a medium of communication and social force.
Understanding Media Literacy: Inside Plato’s Cave is available online from Athabasca University as a six-week course starting July 5, 2010 (registration is June 1–10). In September, it will be open to individual sign up, with up to a year to complete. While the focus is currently on Grades 7 to 12, additional units addressing elementary media literacy are planned. To learn more, visit www.athabascau.ca/platoscave.
The course is suitable for undergraduate and graduate studies and has been approved by the BC Teacher Qualification Service.
Marian Dodds, educational consultant.