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

A writing sample from Inside Plato's Cave

Each unit requires a minimum of two hours to complete and includes an introduction, lessons, discussion forum, texts or videos, links, and references. 

Here, for example, is the introduction to Unit One: Media Education

Summary

Unit 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.

Things You Will Learn

Upon completion of this unit you will be able to:

  • identify and explain the eight key concepts of media education
  • use these in the analysis or "deconstruction" of a media text
  • recognize and apply the vocabulary used in media literacy
  • understand the difference between "teaching about" and "teaching through" the media
  • reflect on your own media use and consumption

Number of Lessons

There are three lessons in this unit.

Time Required

Each lesson will take a minimum of two hours to complete. If you choose to complete all suggested activities, the lesson may be spread incrementally over several days. The total time required to complete the entire unit will largely depend upon your level of engagement with the learning activities.

What is Media Literacy?

The need to study the media in a critical and coherent way has become increasingly obvious in recent years, as they have come to occupy a central position in our cultural and political life. Virtually all that we know, or think that we know, about the world beyond our immediate experience comes to us through the media. The fact that the media have remained outside the school curriculum at the same time as they have come to dominate so many aspects of our society, and indeed, our individual consciousness, is a tribute to their power to influence us on levels which we are unaware. It is not surprising then that we have come to study the media; it is only surprising that it has taken us so long to start.

Media literacy is concerned with the process of understanding and using the mass media. It is also concerned with helping students develop an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the mass media, the techniques used by them and the impact of these techniques. More specifically, it is education that aims to increase students’ understanding and enjoyment of how the media works, how they produce meaning, how they are organized and how they construct reality.

Media education is a process by which one becomes media literate. Media literacy aims to produce students who have an understanding of the media that includes knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses, biases and priorities, role and impact and artistry and artifice. Media literacy is a life skill.(Ontario Media Literacy Resource Guide)

Media Education is not:

  • media bashing – saying that everything or all media or certain media such as main stream television and not public broadcasting television stations are bad.
  • protectionist – demanding legislation or practices that “protect” children or the general public from the “bad” media.
  • only the study of television – media means more than television and includes film, the Internet as well as print media such as newspapers, books and magazines.
  • only video production – media production can happen with any media including crayons or computers.
  • only talking about specific issues such as violence in the media, sexism or stereotyping in the media.

The goal of media education is the creation of a media literate individual – a person who can read the media, critically analyze and evaluate the form and content of the media, create media, communicate with media and understand the use and purpose of media. For instance, a media literate person understands:

  • the different biases evidenced in a news report on the same event, from two different television stations, when one station uses the term “terrorist” while another station uses the term “freedom fighter” to describe the perpetrators of an act of violence.
  • the role of a product spokesperson and can effectively evaluate the claims of an advertised product when a sports star extols the virtues of the product.
  • how to communicate effectively, articulately and creatively through the creation of a media text (video, web site, CD-ROM, article, etc.).
  • why different people can react to the same media text very differently, yet they can all be right.
  • the economic implications, impacts, interests and effects of media ownership on the availability and perspectives of media outlets and audience media choices.

If this is an introduction to media education for you, you might visit the Media Awareness Network and take a look at the information and resources they have accumulated about media literacy and media programs in each of the Canadian provinces.

As with any subject, there are certain terms specific to media literacy. For a glossary of media literacy terms, please check the following page at the Media Awareness Network