Muddling through the blogosphere

Why We Should Teach Media Literacy


Last week’s Teacher Teaching Teachers Skypecast brought a group of National Writing Project teachers together for a discussion of Henry Jenkins‘ paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Lots of gems in his findings, enough to justify printing out all 68 pages. Jenkins defines participatory culture as one:

1. with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement

2. with strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others

3. with some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passes along to novices

4. where members believe that their contributions matter

5. where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).”

This paper is great piece to share with administrators, who will be happy to see that textual literacy still remains a critical skill for the 21st century; in fact, “before students can engage with new participatory culture, they must be able to read and write.” New literacies “build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.”

Jenkins’ includes the New Media Consortium‘s definition of 21st century literacy: “the set of abilities and skills where aural, visual and digital literacy overlap. These include the ability to understand the power of images and sounds, to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute them pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms.”

Renee Hobbs is also cited in the paper. I recognized her name, but until reading Jenkins’ paper, had not looked at her work. Her My Pop Studio website “encourages young middle school and early high school aged girls to reflect more deeply about some of the media they consume – pop music, reality television, celebrity magazines – by stepping in to role of media producers.” Great resources for helping students to become critical consumers of media!

So what are the challenges of participatory culture?;

  • Unequal access – I’m impressed with the ways in which Philadelphia is trying to address the access issues.
  • Transparency – How do you show how media shapes people’s understandings and beliefs?
  • Ethics challenge – Making ethical use of the Internet visible to students…that’s a huge issue!

I think what amazes me about the power of participatory culture is collective creativity, made so visible by groups such as Playing for Change:

Of course, it is availability of the Internet that makes participatory culture possible. Fourteen years ago, I stood before a school board and requested that the computer in my portable classroom be hooked to the Internet. A board member challenged me with “So will this change the world?” At the time, I wasn’t sure having a classroom connection to the Internet would change the world, so my response was “I don’t know, but it certainly reflects a changing world.” Wish I could continue that conversation 14 years later;-).


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