Thursday, February 11, 2010

Week #6: "Media Literacy is Critical"

Okay - I've got this started on the same night as class (so there, Gary, you are not the only one).

The topic of media literacy seems to be the buzzword these days. The topic has been around for years (forever?). I remember teaching such literacy in regards to advertising way back when I started teaching in 1978. However, with modern digital media, there now seems to be more urgency to address this in schools. In the rush to teach digital or Internet literacy, we should also not forget other ‘texts’, as was pointed out in the presentation last night. Internet literacy does take in some other skills, such as search techniques, however, deconstructing the ‘text’, be it the written word, video, audio or some other form, is paramount. To me, this is one of the most important parts of the Manitoba Literacy with ICT continuum. Using ICT (educational technology) may be a means to an end – learning and critical & creative thinking, but media literacy is key to interpreting, consuming and creating media of any sort. Members of Manace & MB Ed created the video below to help get students/teachers thinking about Media Literacy. It was posted to YouTube and video responses were invited. The focus is on digital technology, but it is still a nice job (at least I think so):

The next item I want to touch on is the term “Digital Native”. When I first heard this several years ago, I thought it was a useful descriptor, a way to get teachers to embrace change. However, after doing some reflection, looking at my students and reading Prensky’s work, I came to realize how misleading, and incorrect, this term is. First off, anyone born before the eighties is considered a digital immigrant. I personally was taking computer science in high school (in the early seventies) when programs were punched onto computer cards, sent to the school division office, then returned with the results. I continued taking some computer science courses in University, used desktop computers (microcomputers, remember Commodore PETS and TRS-80s?) when they entered schools and I have used them ever since, keeping up pretty well with the newest ‘stuff’. I know many other people of all ages who are very comfortable and knowledgeable with computer technology. Yet many of us are considered digital immigrants because such technology was not around when we grew up. I guess I am an ‘automobile native’ and a ‘jet aircraft native’ by that reasoning. Paul expressed this nicely in his blog when he commented that just because a kid can use a cell phone – or facebook, or download music, etc – does not mean they understand the technology, their knowledge is often superficial at best. I do agree that many young adults and kids are very comfortable with technology, can use it for many purposes, and that it has an effect on the way they interact and learn. However, this does not mean they are using it to create and evaluate information, nor using it effectively and ethically. This means that teaching media literacy is, as Denis said, critical. Perhaps putting labels on generations and generalizing their characteristics is, as Heidegger put it “ordering’, it is what humans do to help understand the world. It does, however, also create problems. If we just assume all young kids love technology, are comfortable with it, can use it effectively, then we are both delusional and can miss those who are not as savvy with the technology. Some use the digital native construct to promote the need for change in education. I say it is precisely because this generalization is not universally true and that many kids are using the new technologies without a real understanding of them that is reason to change education. I have been conducting research with a colleague in this area (related to teacher education) and a paper I coauthored on the topic is in the MERN Journal (p 50), if you are interested. Whew – enough of a rant on that one!

Another area related to the topic of media literacy is ‘digital citizenship’ – the ethical and appropriate use of digital technology. Part of this is copyright and plagiarism. These ideas are becoming real problems when it is so easy to copy and paste information; download images, video and music. Denis pointed out nicely some of the problems with plagiarism, it seems that borrowing content is nothing new, who knew that “twinkle, twinkle, little star” was so popular! A similar thing can happen now with regards to intellectual property. The digital age is changing faster than lawmakers can keep up. A recent movement is the ‘open’ content movement which calls for sharing content openly, allowing use and re-use. Many people license their work under a creative commons license. with the right to remix with attribution and share alike clauses. So, if I use someone’s photo, tweak it a bit, add some text then re-post to share (attributing the original, of course), then someone else takes that and further changes it, giving me attribution, then again … when does the work become not that of the person who took the photo in the first place? Plagiarism has been a concern in academia for years, the problem is only getting worse and is another part of the media literacy puzzle, and is confusing for students and teachers alike.
(late addition: someone put this related article up on twitter)

Well, three topics, albeit related, in this blog, I think that is quite enough! Until next week…


  1. Contest? Who's in a contest? (lol)

  2. Yes. Nowadays, internet as it is, being able to critically deconstruct content and see binary oppositions have become paramount skills. The video is good. It gets to the point and has catchy music. Is ManACE receiving a royalty from Google or Wikipedia? The aliciabubs video, first on the YouTube related list, is also interesting; adult oriented but very real. What is connected to that is not so nice. Do we need critical thinking skills? Absolutely – no relatives there. Doesn’t take much to deconstruct low-valued images! Disclaimer: the writer of the above comment does not share the faith, trust and goodwill of the two visionaries who created Google.

    The digital native title creates a good debate. As you say, Mike, such a label makes people like us look like digital immigrants (more you than me!). I have read enough Prensky to know he is a hyper-dude; a little zealous. He does make some good points, but one can also critically shoot holes through some of his work (but that can be true for all of us). I think the western-world kids of today are digital natives in the sense that they don’t know a world without iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, etc. It’s their context. There are big gaps between generations living in the technosphere. The dichotomy of native/immigrant makes sense in the mutually exclusive world of being their before or after, but when Paul’s argument about superficiality and one’s depth of understanding technology and its uses is considered, then being a digital native may have little to do with being a digital citizen. Responsible use of any technology, which includes ethical use, makes a good citizentech.

    Plagiarism is a problem and is one of ethics. I have for the most part seen the concept of intellectual property and the internet as nasty. There is an easy solution - just don't plagiarize. Having said that, I think the Creative Commons project has merit.

    I looked at your MERN report, and will read it later. I saw enough stats in there to keep me happy for a month!

  3. It's funny you should mention the digital native because when I first heard the term I was thinking even before what you said about pre-1980... I was thinking of the industrial revolution. What did we call post-industrial revolutionists? Surely the industrial revolution changed life just as much if not more than the technology that is being produced

    And yes, I definitely agree that the students don't really understand the technology or its implications. This topic has been brought up by Prof. Hlynka in regard to context, but I also think it is important to add what you said about the students not really understanding the technology although they are completely capable of using it. For example, we see in the paper/news about people being irresponsible with photos and statements on social networking websites...and like you said, Mike, this is where education comes in. We need to educate people about the ethics, morals, responsibility, not the actual "how to" of technology. Students are very capable of learning how to use something, probably much faster than adults, but do they know how to use it properly...even to the extent of mere costs. I see students use their phones so much that it makes me wonder who is getting the bill, obviously, they aren't!

  4. I've created a link to an article by Marc Prensky on the digital human and digital wisdom. I think you will enjoy it.

  5. I have read it. It is one of his better ones. While some of the digital native stuff can be a bit of a stretch the wisdom article is an approach I like. I am sure others will enjoy it too. Have you read his gaming stuff?

  6. I have read Prensky quite extensively. His theories and thoughts are very relevant to my thesis work.