Media Literacy Skills

A MacArthur Foundation report called “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” identifies several key skills that tomorrow’s professionals need and that can be addressed through media. Below are just some:

  • Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real world processes
  • Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
  • Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
  • Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand our mental capacities
  • Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others towards a common goal
  • Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
  • Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative sets of norms
young student using a tablet computer

Available from under a CC license

Do you agree that these are skills needed in future industries? How would they work?

For example, online simulations are great for science experiments when materials are nonexistent, too dangerous, too costly, etc. Students can use software to test physics concepts, inputting different weights and initial force to create data sets and figure out how mass and force are related. Nursing and medical students use simulationsfor dissection and diagnostic exercises.

Performance takes what teachers have done for ages (put on a skit!) and updates that for the digital age. Make a Facebook page for Thomas Jefferson. Create a series of tweets that Romeo and Juliet might have exchanged during Shakespeare’s play.

Asking students to blend poetry, images, and music, as Dr. Kirschten does in ENGL 3023: Creative Writing Processes, is a fine example of appropriation. Students have to reflect on what they want to say with a variety of media and create something new.

Every teacher should worry about judgment. Young students often believe that anything they find online is true and a good resource for academic work. Teaching students to read media critically–doing a little research on the author, clicking on the ‘About Us’ link for a web site to see its mission, searching for multiple accounts of the same event to see what’s the same–is a crucial skill to prepare them for college and also for the work place. What would happen if an employee used flawed data, found online, in a major presentation?

Distributed cognition depends on what you ask students to do. For example, by the time you have gotten through ENGL 3043, your cognitive abilities will have been stretched at least a little by unfamiliar Web 2.0 tools. Figuring out HTML codes, learning how to use Prezi, mastering a new blogging platform–all of these things require tenacity, problem-solving, and learning. You may end up relying on collective intelligence to deal with problems, asking (or tweeting) a classmate for assistance.

How could you make Web 2.0 work for negotiation? Could students have virtual pen pals in China or Kyrgyzstan using Twitter or a blog? Study comments on online news items in other countries to try to figure out those societies’ norms?


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