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Media Education 101

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What is Media Education?

Media education is the process through which individuals become media literate - able to critically understand the nature, techniques and impacts of media messages and productions.

In Canadian schools, there is a growing awareness of the need to connect classroom learning to the real world and to bring media content into the classroom for analysis, evaluation and discovery.

Media education acknowledges and builds on the positive, creative and pleasurable dimensions of popular culture. It incorporates production of media texts and critical thinking - decoding, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating media - to help us navigate through an increasingly complex media landscape. That landscape includes not only traditional and digital media, but also popular culture texts such as toys, fads, fashion, shopping malls and theme parks.

Media education encourages an approach that is always probing, posing questions such as: Who is the audience of a media production and why? From whose perspective is a story being told? How do the unique elements and codes of a specific genre affect what we see, hear or read? How might different audiences interpret the same media production?

In the digital age, the principles of media education are the same as they've always been, but the existence of cyberspace is adding new and challenging questions. How, for instance, does technology affect how we relate to others? Is new technology enriching or undermining culture, learning and a sense of community? What roles do ownership, control and access play? What are the challenges in regulating a global, borderless medium like the Internet?

Media education isn't about having the right answers: rather, it's about asking the right questions. Because media issues are complex and often contradictory and controversial, the educator's role isn't to impart knowledge, but to facilitate the process of inquiry and dialogue.

This role of the teacher as a facilitator and co-learner in a student-centred learning process is not only the model for media education; it has also become an accepted new critical pedagogy. Today, the chief challenges are to locate and evaluate the right information for one's needs and to synthesize what one finds into useful knowledge or communication. Media education - with techniques of critical thinking, creative communication and computer, visual and aural literacy skills at its core - is a key part of a 21st century approach to learning.

Key Concepts for Media Literacy

Media educators base their teaching on key concepts of media literacy, which provide an effective foundation for examining mass media and popular culture. These key concepts act as filters that any media text has to go through in order for us to respond.

There are a number of key concepts to choose from. Some of the current ones used by media educators are as follows.

1. Media are constructions

Media products are carefully constructed. They are created with a purpose and from a particular perspective, using specific forms and techniques. Media literacy works towards deconstructing these products, taking them apart to show how they are made and exploring the decisions and factors behind them.

2. Audiences negotiate meaning

We all bring our own life experience, knowledge and attitudes to the media we encounter. Each person makes sense of what he or she sees and hears in different ways. Media literacy encourages us to understand how individual factors, such as age, gender, race and social status affect our interpretations of media.

3. Media have commercial implications

Most media production is a business and must, therefore, make a profit. In addition, media industries belong to a powerful network of corporations that exert influence on content and distribution. Questions of ownership and control are central because a relatively small number of individuals control what we watch, read and hear in the media.

4. Ideological messages underpin all media

Explicitly or implicitly, the mainstream media convey ideological messages and notions of values, power and authority. In media literacy, what or who is absent may be more important than what or who is included.

The full range of key concepts, and a primer on media education, is available at

Source: Media Education: Make It Happen!


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