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Media literacy skills are crucial for today’s youth

BOONE—School students today belong to the most technology-savvy generation in ages.

Yet, they don’t have the skills needed to interpret the information they receive from the Internet, movies, newscasts and other sources, says Appalachian State University professor David Considine.

“Students today know more about media and technology than their parents and teachers. They can find their way around a video game or Web site, but they can’t ask critical questions about it. Hand-eye coordination is no substitute for critical thinking skills or ethical judgment,” says Considine, who teaches instructional technology and media studies.

Considine will lead a three credit-hour graduate class on Media Literacy and Curriculum Development July 23-28 to help educators and others design, development and deliver lessons that will teach students to critically analyze and evaluate media and technology.

While media literacy is included in many state and national standards, teacher training in media literacy techniques lags behind, so Appalachian stresses short intensive sessions like the summer class and online courses each spring.

Considine says the controversy over the best-selling novel and recently released movie “The DaVinci Code” is a case in point for the need for media literacy skills.

“Dan Brown writes at the beginning of his novel that its content is all true. But, it’s a novel,” Considine said. The media hype surrounding the movie has helped blur the lines between fact and fiction, Considine added. “That’s what we are talking about. Can you analyze fact and fiction, can you infer motive, can you understand the impact of mass media on other institutions?”

Teaching students to interpret and think critically about the variety of media messages they see and hear each day yields benefits on many levels, Considine said.

“When you teach students to analyze media, including advertising, it changes their attitudes and changes their behavior,” Considine said.

He pointed to a University of Pittsburgh study that showed students who had been taught to analyze tobacco ads and portrayals of smoking in the mass media were less likely to smoke.

Teaching media literacy has been shown to increase test scores.

“The research shows that students who have been trained in media literacy have higher scores on comparative tests than students who haven’t had the training,” he said. “Give them a test analyzing print, visual or auditory text and they can comprehend it, infer meaning and detect balance and bias.”

And, educators and others have found that students’ perceptions of historical events have been skewed by what they watch on television and at the movies. In the book “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts,” author Sam Wineburg questions students about various historic events. When asked about the Holocaust, many students and their parents recalled scenes from the movie “Schindler’s List,” which is historical fiction. When asked about Vietnam, they referenced information they had seen in the movie “Forrest Gump.”

“This is a compelling call to history and social studies teachers to recognize the fact that, lamented or not, a lot of our perception of the past, a lot of our sense of history has been shaped by Hollywood,” he said.

That’s one reason that teaching media literacy is supported by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “Accomplished teachers understand that what students read is no longer on the page. Today’s students must be intelligent readers of texts in different media, including illustrations, photographs, television programs, advertisements, films and Web sites,” the NBPTS writes in its English language arts standards.

Joining Considine to teach the media literacy class are Barry Duncan, founder of Canada’s Association for Media Literacy, and Kathleen Tyner, founder of Strategies for Media Literacy and a professor at the University of Texas-Austin.

Class content meets state and national standards in key areas of the curriculum as well as to the goals and mission statements of professional educational organizations like The National Middle School Association, The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and The National Education Technology Standards, he said.

Media literacy isn’t just teaching with a movie or through a movie, Considine said. “We use print and electronic media as vehicles to critically and creatively challenge and engage students. And they love it.”

For more information about the class, call Considine at (828) 262-2270 or e-mail considinedm@appstate.edu

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