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Implementation: The Next Step

Author: Kathleen Tyner

The minimum steps toward implementing media education discussed here grow out of Canada's hard-won experiences and can be applied to media literacy implementation in the United States. The goals, objectives and pedagogical issues which are the underpinnings of media education come from work done in Europe and Australia. Finally, some of the thinking about implementing media literacy across the curriculum has a peculiar U.S. spin. We can implement media literacy by using American fascination with technology to its best advantage in the current climate of reform.

Underlying Goals and Skill Attainment

The ideal media literacy program includes both hands-on production and critical thinking about mass media. U.S. programs tend to be heavily production-oriented and often give short-shrift to the critical analysis side of media education. There are a number of reasons for this. Some media education has grown from technology education and eschews the academic side of media education. Video production, especially, is often employed to interest kids who are at risk of dropping out, or who are having problems in the language arts area. Most of all, people think that students will naturally learn media literacy skills by doing hands-on production.

In the Strategies for Media Literacy workshops, we stress that media literacy does not happen "naturally." It takes a systematic and formal approach to come up with a media education program that marries hands-on with critical thinking about media. Students must go beyond button-pushing, taping school plays and football games and learning drill and practice exercises on the computer to become media literate. It takes a rigorous, formal course of media study that does not happen accidentally.

The focus on production in the United States is not surprising. Americans love technology. Machines and electronics are a major part of North American culture and we tend to deal with the social consequences of technology later. Production also fits in better with a job-readiness approach to education. Job readiness is an important by-product of any educational effort, and hands-on production is the ideal partner for a total understanding of media, but the major goal of media education is not to train future television producers. The main underlying goal of media education is to teach good citizenship skills. If an informed public is the cornerstone of a democratic society and if, as reported in a Gallup Poll, over 70% of Americans receive news and information from television, then students need to understand about media to be participating, critically autonomous citizens in the age of information.

There was a time when amassing information was a form of power, but with an avalanche of information crashing down on us every day, it becomes increasingly apparent that those who can access and organize information are the ones who are empowered to make informed decisions.

Information access is a democratic skill and an important one for media education.

If students internalize the key concept of media literacy--that all media information is carefully manufactured--then they must be able to find information they can use that helps to break their dependency on media-generated sources. Computer education, telecommunications and old-fashioned library research skills are an essential adjunct to any media literacy curriculum.

Teachers in media production classes have much to share with media resource teachers, librarians, computer teachers, social studies teachers, language arts teachers, and artists. All of these teachers have common goals and only need to find ways to bridge the arbitrary divisions between subjects to teach media literacy across the curriculum.

Minimum Implementation

In order for media education to really move forward in U.S. schools, specific variables must be in place: Pre-service teacher training; in-service training; classroom resources; and teacher support.

Of these, classroom resources are the easiest step to implement. There are existing texts and lessons, especially at the secondary level, and teachers can easily adapt those materials developed outside the country until they can make their own.

Pre-service teacher training is essential for implementation of media education and there are university programs across the country which bridge mass communications and education departments. Even so, the arbitrary division of subjects into discreet fields of study is entrenched at every level of education--nowhere more so than in pre-service teacher training. This division encourages more competition than cooperation between university departments as they vie for students and their part of the shrinking funding pie. This causes people to dismiss media education (and critical thinking) by saying that it does not "hook into the curriculum."

This way of thinking about narrow fields of study is slowly changing. One hopeful area is in the field of Educational Technology which is a natural bridge for media and education. Also, many younger teachers-in-training came of age in a saturated media environment. They are demanding to know more and more about media in the course of their university education.

Strategies for Media Literacy conducts in-service workshops across the country and they have been enthusiastically received by teachers who are eager to learn methods to address media in the classroom. Others learn from similar community-based groups, media arts centers and from each other. But there need to be more opportunity for teachers to learn about media and for in-service workshops to be successful, teachers must have time set aside to attend them, preferably paid time. This only happens when media education is seen as a priority by administrators and teachers who see media education as a basic element of the curriculum.

Media education cannot go forth without support from administrators who must earmark money and time and who are left to deal with scheduling changes. Teacher support also means support from the community. Parents and businesses must "buy in" and think that media education is important. Teacher support also means teachers of media supporting each other. Sharing ideas and resources through forums like local study groups, the newsletter of the National Telemedia Council, gophers and listservs are places to start.

Optimum Implementation

The most successful programs in North American have other "finishing touches" which deal more with matters of style and educational philosophy than with actual organization. These include: a student-centered classroom; a cooperative classroom; teacher-generated (not top-down!) frameworks; student self-evaluation; and community outreach.

All of these variables are centered on the goals of student learning in a democratic classroom where students are given responsibility and respect. They also imply teacher autonomy in the decisions made for the classroom. The ideal programs might have a video or print product for evaluation, but the culminating experience is not a standardized test. Judgment on a project's merit is best done by the student, or by a committee of teachers.

And the community is a partner. Student projects are seen in a broader forum and the community gives students feedback about their work. Businesses donate money, equipment and mentors.

In the United States, media education has a long way to go, but there's hope on the horizon. Over the years, we've seen other media education efforts fall apart.

The critical viewing curriculum in the '70s and the computer literacy push in the '80s are two cases in point. But media education is inevitable. It's happening at the grassroots level and teachers are beginning to find each other to create the critical mass we need to push it forward. This blueprint is a place to start and is meant to be changed, because it's vital to any implementation of media education that teachers own and direct and tailor the course of study. The important part is that we take that step and move media education from theory into implementation.


This article first appeared in Strategies Quarterly (Summer 1992). Reprinted permission of author. Copyright 1992 Kathleen Tyner.