UNDERSTANDING MEDIA LITERACY: INSIDE PLATO'S CAVE, AN ONLINE COURSE FOR TEACHERS AND PARENTS FROM ATHABASCA UNIVERSITY

The course is offered online by Athabasca University  Communications Studies program as a 100 level or 300 level course.  The 300 level includes additional theory.  You can find the course syllabus for each level on the Athabasca website at these addresses:

 

Here is a description of the 13 units that are included in both courses.

Overview of the 13 Modules

   
 Modules
  1.    Media Education
  2     Media Literacy and the Curriculum
  3.    Canadian Pop Culture
  4.    The Art of Persuasion
  5.    Media and Values
  6.    Media Language
  7.    The News
  8.    New(er) Technologies
  9.    Ideology and Representation
10.    Audience
11.    Movies
12.    Prime Time Television
13.    Popular Music

Module Descriptions

Each module includes an introduction, description of learning outcomes, lessons, a discussion forum, video or print materials, links to websites and a reference shelf.

Module One: Introduction to Media Education

Module One examines what constitutes media education and the roles that media play in our daily lives. It will introduce you to key concepts which act as a framework for teaching about the media and provide you with the opportunity to apply these concepts to activities you might use with your students. 

Module Two:  Media Literacy and the Curriculum

This module provides an opportunity to examine curriculum documents for media literacy and begin the development of materials for teaching media literacy.  The module explores a conceptual framework for teaching in this area and engages the learner in developing a curriculum unit and activities that meet student expectations outlined in provincial curriculum documents.   It also examines what kinds of evidence of understanding, knowledge and skills can be used as indicators for student learning and involves the learner in developing evaluation strategies/assessment tools.  Some attention is also applied to identifying other curriculum areas where media literacy may be integrated.

Module Three: Canadian Popular Culture

A careful investigation of Canada’s popular culture will reveal rich and varied material and our ultimate goal is to contextualize a cross section of material and to raise some critical questions.  The module will examine the many perspectives needed to explore the elusive “Canadian identity.”  It will also explore how Canadian comedy and satire can facilitate the analysis of the issues around identity and national concerns.

Module Four: The Art of Persuasion - Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations

The first part of the module is designed to provide information about advertising and marketing to teens along with its close relationship with pop culture trends, the rise of celebrities and our lifestyle choices.

The second part examines the ways in which advertising has moved beyond the traditional space it occupied in the 20th century, as advertisers try to break through the clutter that advertising itself creates.  Today ad executives talk about creating an atmosphere or a “second skin” -- a whole new world made up of marketing.  Companies increasingly sponsor community events, adopt charitable causes, and hire celebrity spokespeople in an effort to stand out in the advertising crowd.  The techniques of persuasion have also been adopted by governments and politicians, as they hope to sell their image and ideology and win public approval.  The module explores the role and influence of advertising on our culture and on our identity and the strategies used by advertisers and marketers.  It also explores the ways in which advertising strategies shape public relations and sponsorship arrangements and examines the impact of public relations and sponsorship agreements on various aspects of public life.

Module Five: Media and Values

One of the most debated issues in the study of mass media centers on how media defines and shape values in our society.   On the one hand media creators have been accused of promoting a value system predicated on materialism, narcissism and the acceptance of lifestyles where so‑called traditional values are being cast aside.  On the other hand, media producers are sometimes accused of subverting political and ideological change and are conservatively protective of established norms and ideals.  Whichever viewpoint, media critics are quick to lay blame on the commercial objectives of big business and suggest that any problems with societal values are new phenomena that emerged with the advent of television and continue through music, the Internet and other purveyors of popular culture.   

Obviously, the topic of media and values is a complex one, a subject that unto itself is laden with value judgments, as well as moral and ethical perspectives.  In teaching about values it is important not to equate values solely with organized religion.  As well, it is important to respect the values of individuals.

Module Six: Media Languages

The better we understand media languages, the more we can understand and appreciate media messages.

Knowledge of a variety of media languages is necessary if we are to understand and appreciate the messages we receive.  Media languages are the codes and conventions that media use to communicate meaning.  Because some media languages are aural, some are visual and some are graphic, their codes and conventions are varied and unique. In order to have a complete definition of media language, we must also include those narrative and structural devices used to create meaning.  This makes media languages even more interesting.

Module Seven: The News

In earlier modules you were presented with the key concept, “the media constructs versions of reality”. This statement is preeminently true of the news that we read in our papers and magazines, that we hear on the radio, which we watch on television and, in the last 10 years, that we read, hear and see on the Internet. Some commentators see their task as news anchors as providing the viewer with a window on the world. They are not particularly interested in taking you behind the scenes to see the 30 or 40 individuals who are busily engaged in putting the news together for them to read.

There are, arguably, as many news stories out there as there are people in the world. Nobody expects everybody’s story to be told. This means that choices are made about what stories do get told. The goal of this unit will be to examine the process by which choices are made. Who are the people that are making the choices? What factors influence their decisions?  Or, we might ask, “Whose News Is it Anyway?”

This module will look at print and television news and the convergence of these forms on the Internet. The focus will be on news gathering in Canada, although, when appropriate, references will be made to other countries.

Module 8: New(er) Technologies

Positioning the word “new” in front of any other word immediately invokes a caveat of accuracy relative to the time of writing.  If your latest car is five years old, is it still “new” to you?  Is there still such a place as the “new world?” How then, can we discuss “new technologies” or “new media?” A few years ago the Internet world was reeling from the dot.com bust. Today, our discussions are riddled with references to web 2.0

Module Nine: Ideology and Representation

Ideologies are abstract, values-oriented ideas that are manifested through representation.  Analyzing representations can reveal ideological positions.  Most often, ideologies are shared among a group of people and so the representations that the group professes or condemns help to reveal its ideologies.  Representations can also be sites of struggle, meaning that contentious representations often reveal strong or changing ideological positions.  This module will explore how cultural groups are represented, how their representations reveal ideologies and how these representations reveal sites of struggle.

Module Ten: Audience

A common assumption in the past, in and out of a classroom, has been that an audience is a homogeneous group of passive individuals who interpret a text in much the same way. However, a revisiting of many English Language Arts theorists, going as far back as the late 1920s, such as Louise Rosenblatt, as well as Media Education theorists, such as John  Fiske,  Len Masterman, David Buckingham, tell us that this thinking is misleading.  Instead, how we understand a text is based on an individual’s prior social knowledge and experiences which s/he brings to a “reading” as an active reader, viewer and listener.

This module aims to explore the notion of audience in a broad sense; that is, not to focus on the decoding of a text, but rather on how audiences make sense of texts, and, to provide ideas of how to teach the notion of audience to students so that they not only are conscious of their own readings of media texts but also to broaden their understanding of how media texts are understood by audiences and, in the case marketers, by target groups.

Module Eleven: Movies

Why do we go to the movies?  We want to be entertained, to be distracted, to be informed, we have “a thing” for one of the stars, we like the particular genre, the gang is going, the issues and topics attract us, we are curious, it an assignment.  These are all fairly common reasons for heading off to the cinema.  But when we look more closely at those reasons, we see that they are rooted in the basic experiences of being human and that those basic experiences are themselves expressions of the human desire for self-transcendence. The desire to be entertained and distracted comes from the attempt to escape boredom, that entrapment within oneself.  To be informed comes from the quest for knowledge and truth and so we go to see films whose issues and topics attract us or that we are curious about. To be a fan of a star is to engage in a form of identification through idealization that ritualizes one’s own longings for self-awareness.

Module Twelve:  Prime Time Television

Television, more than any other media, is part of our lives. It dominates our cultural and political life. Almost all information we have, other than what we experience ourselves, comes from the media. And that information is not just presented to us; it is first shaped into a form of reality. Television presents us with model behaviour, beliefs and values and does this in such a way that we are not aware of its influence. Television is a passive entertainment – we let it wash over us – but it is entertaining and can make us laugh or cry.

Television is also big business. It sells us products, values, ideologies, lifestyles and cultures. The tendency today is toward increased concentration of ownership of media in fewer and fewer hands, as well as integrated ownership patterns across several media. This means that a small number of individuals decide what television programs will be broadcast, what films will be screened, what music will be recorded and make it to the airwaves and what issues will be investigated and reported by television news.

We need to take a passive medium and make it active. We need to understand how we can watch carefully and think critically about television. This does not mean that we have to give up being entertained by the media. The more we learn about television, the more tools we have to deal with it, the better able we will be to put our mass mediated world into perspective.

Module Thirteen: Popular Music

Listening to music is the most prevalent type of media consumption by young people. Even those who spend hours on the Internet frequently use it to access, distribute and store music. Popular websites like MySpace provide audio files and music videos that students can sample, share and discuss with their peers face-to-face or via chat lines. IPods and MP3s allow them to create their own playlists for sharing. Perhaps more importantly, they easily can produce their own music and post it online, burn it onto a disk, send it via email or podcast it. Music is at once local and global, private and public, and personal and social.

Over the past 50 years, not only have the forms and types of music multiplied and changed dramatically but so have the technological devices that allow one to consume and produce it. In an era of digital recording, sampling, hybridization and globalization, music increasingly has become a site of struggle and a source of innovation. It is pulling people together even as it is pushing them apart. Given this, music is rich terrain for educators who can engage in collaborative explorations with their students.

This module provides an historical and pedagogical context for the study of music as a medium of communication.  It also attempts to better understand and appreciate the types of music students are listening to today.  You will explore technological, economic, political and social factors that are shaping their students’ music consumption and production.