chapter  51
8 Pages

Media literacy

ByRenee Hobbs

A number of competing approaches to media literacy are now in wide circulation in the United States and around the world. Empowerment and protection have long been identified as the two overarching themes in the media literacy education community, reflecting a dynamic and generally productive tension between those who see media literacy education as a means to address the complexities and challenges of growing up in a media-and technology-saturated cultural environment and those who see media literacy as a tool for personal, social, cultural and political empowerment. Contributing to these distinctive perspectives is the rise of a community of scholars and

practitioners who are advancing new knowledge about the nature of the practice of teaching and learning about and with mass media, popular culture and digital media. As media literacy initiatives are implemented in the family (Mendoza, 2009) as well as in elementary and secondary education and in informal learning spaces, including summer programs, museums, libraries and cultural institutions, a body of research is emerging that offers insight on the consequences and impact of such practices. In a systematic review of over 150 empirical studies in the field, Martens (2010) notes that many communication scholars position media literacy education as a solution to the problem of negative media effects like media violence, gender and racial stereotyping, and bias in the news. A key framing question must be asked: is media literacy education a social movement or an aca-

demic field? Social movements arise in response to changing social norms and values (Blumler, 1969) as a form of political participation where people engage in a sustained public effort to make social change, using communicative action to raise awareness, build strategic alliances, and, ultimately, to challenge and reform some aspects of contemporary culture. Academic fields generally emerge when those working at the intersections of existing disciplines find the need to reconfigure themselves into a distinct discourse community with shared vision, goals and passion for creating new knowledge (Lauter, 1999). Emergent knowledge communities develop a collective body of foundational knowledge that provides boundaries for a theoretical, methodological and evaluative framework and an infrastructure for dialogue, debate and the dissemination of knowledge (Dirks, 1996). Although the term “media literacy” has been aligned with both the literature on media

effects (e.g., Singer et al., 1980) and the instructional practices of literacy learning (Hobbs, 1998; Lemke, 2006; Postman, 1970) over the past few decades, the inquiry-focused approach to media literacy education, with its critical examination of news, advertising, entertainment, issues of

representation, and media ownership, has been challenged by two new approaches. One is focused on digital learning primarily in informal out-of-school or online contexts; another approach positions media literacy as a means to promote increased student motivation and engagement in school through the use of digital technologies or popular culture. The use of mobile media, social media and new technologies for teaching and learning is creating new opportunities for digital and media literacy education in the context of elementary and secondary education, but there are some concerns about what actual learning outcomes actually may result from the use of technology tools for transmission-based (not inquiry-based) learning.