We live in a multimedia age where most of our information comes from multiple media formats. As individuals we are not always aware that we are being educated and positioned by media culture as we unconsciously absorb its pedagogy. Kellner and Share (2007) state that “Critical media literacy expands the notion of literacy to include different forms of mass communication and popular culture as well as deepens the potential of education to critically analyze relationships between media and audiences, information and power (p. 4). Media literacy helps us to separate and assess media content, to critically divide media forms, to explore media effects and uses, to use media judiciously, and to construct alternative media. Most importantly we want to develop for our students a critical media literacy that addresses issues of gender, race, class, sexuality and power and how they intersect. With this we can then argue that alternative media production by students can help engage students to challenge media texts and narratives that appear, at first, natural and transparent.
In the article Critical Media Literacy, Democracy, and the Reconstruction of Education four major approaches to media education are listed and explored. The Protectionist Approach which suggests media audiences as passive victims and values traditional print culture over media culture over-simplifies our complex relationship with media and takes away the opportunity for empowerment that critical pedagogy and alternative media production can offer. Next, we have the Media Arts Education Approach where students are taught to value the aesthetic qualities of media and the arts while using their creativity for self-expression through creating art and media. The concern with this approach is that it falls short of socially conscious analysis over individual self-expression by teaching students the technical skills without any type of social critique. In the Media Literacy Movement Approach just touches the tip of the iceberg. This approach “attempts to expand the notion of literacy to include multiple forms of media (music, film, video, Internet and so on) while still working within a print literacy tradition (Kellner and Share, p. 7).” Finally, in the Critical Media Literacy approach that Kellner and Share propose includes some parts of the three previous approaches but mainly focuses on guiding teachers and students in their exploration of how power, media, and information are linked. This is evident in the following quote: “Media and information communication technology can be tools for empowerment when people who are most often marginalized or misrepresented in the mainstream media receive the opportunity to use these tools to tell their stories and express their concerns (Kellner and Share, p. 9).” The ability for students to see how diverse people can interpret the same message differently is important for multicultural/multiracial education because understanding differences means acceptance and more than merely tolerating one another.
In the second article Digital Ethics, Political Economy and the Curriculum: This Changes Everything, Luke et al state that “schools and education systems are caught in the headlights of the digital era (p. 1).” I couldn’t agree more. Each successive technological innovation often gets touted as the next revolution in teaching and learning only to be replaced by the next technological innovation. My school has a back room filled with “old” technologies that are out-of-date. And at my school, every time there is a new direction with new technology there is a professional development program where most of the senior staff take lightly citing it as just another fad. While my school is affluent and we often have the latest technological advancements, I cannot help but wonder how many teachers are using digital resources for community engagement and activism. In my IT classes, I cannot shy away from embedding relevant issues of social justice into my teaching of IT. An example of how this plays out in my classroom is seen in a unit I teach on anti-slavery and fair trade. This unit identifies slavery in certain popular products’ supply chains. Students select and research one international industry of their choice that has documented allegations of unfair labour practices and human rights violations. Students discover the impacts on people, the environment and personal daily choices. We explore our collective and individual responsibilities as global citizens. Students start the assignment by information gathering, which entails completing a web quest and researching appropriate and legitimate websites that provide information on the product they have chosen, such as chocolate, soccer balls, flowers, bananas, and coffee. Once they have enough investigative research done, the class focusses on information sharing by transferring their learning into a social action campaign using common computer technologies. Each student produces either a persuasive letter to a company president calling for an end to human slavery or child labour, or creates a website social action campaign outlining the key issues around the fair trade industry they have chosen. The letters and the websites are shared with the rest of the class and the learning community on the Internet.
I really had a chance to think about the questions in the Luke et al. article while reading it to myself. These question continue to be on my mind as I begin to plan my come-back year next school year. The questions are as follow: “How do today’s young people and children deal with right and wrong, truth and falsehood, representation and misrepresentation in their everyday lives online? How do they anticipate and live with and around the real consequences of their online actions and interactions with others? How do they navigate the complexities of their public exchanges and their private lives, and how do they engage with parental and institutional surveillance? Finally, how can they engage and participate as citizens, consumers and workers in the public, political, cultural and economic spheres of the Internet? (p. 2).” These questions lead me to wonder about my grade 7 and 8 students and how they navigate through the intricacies of media navigation, knowledge and learning, civic participation, work, leisure and everyday social interactions with their peers and others that occur online.