Diablo Valley College hosted Dr. Allison Butler on October 20 for “Building Media Literacy in Higher Education,” a critical media literacy workshop held both virtually and on campus. The event was organized by DVC’s Journalism Department, Social Sciences Focus Area and Project Censored.
“We learn so much about our world through the media,” Butler said at the event. “He’s one of our greatest socializers, he’s one of our greatest educators, and yet young people very rarely get a formal education about it.”
Butler, a lecturer and director of the Media Literacy Certificate Program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, teaches courses on critical media literacy and representations of media literacy.
“Media literacy…is the ability to access, analyze and produce a variety of media,” Butler said when opening the workshop.
But, “What does it mean to engage with the media? Butler asked, speaking of the importance of educators working with students to encourage their continued questioning of the media narrative. “The critical media is going to ask us to step back and say, ‘How do we know that?'”
Critical media education involves exploring the “behind-the-scenes” ownership, production, and distribution of media, Butler explained. This process “really is where the money is, because that’s where the power is”. Engaging in critical inquiry when reading a text and asking questions about context, impact and known facts is a key part of critical media literacy, she added.
Butler admitted that “often teaching young people about current affairs can in itself seem quite alienating, because current affairs are not designed for young people,” she said, pointing out that media narratives generally fail. solve the problems facing young people and students.
“We hear a lot about things that matter to them,” like student debt and debt forgiveness, she said, “but not where they live.”
Butler also explored the growing role of digital technologies now used to monitor students in higher education, which is done “under the guise of ‘convenience,’ security and legal protections.” She cited the Internet-based plagiarism detection service Turnitin, the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and learning management systems such as Canvas as so-called “monitoring technologies.”
“All of these platforms monitor and sell student and staff data, and often without active user consent,” Butler said. Instructors’ use of Turnitin implies a lack of trust in their students, she said; at the same time, data, including language and vocabulary, is routinely extracted from student work and used in advertising.
The use of surveillance technologies in schools can also further stigmatize struggling and at-risk youth, schools, and communities. “It sells their behavior. He sells their immigration status. He sells their supposed state of mental health,” Butler said, “all for the benefit of society.
Critical media literacy can help consumers better understand the digital technologies used in today’s academic setting, Butler explained, and the key is to break down the tools and technology that seem pervasive and inscrutable. But to do this, a consumer must question the media he consumes.
Media is built, Butler said, for the primary purpose of being profit. It is important to understand the role that consumers play in developing critical media literacy; the same goes for the analysis and physical deconstruction of media in order to make sense of their meaning. Butler mentioned one of her classroom activities: dissecting women’s fashion magazines to show her students how much publishing is made up of advertising.
Knowing who interacts with what media and in what context is also vital for the educated and responsible contribution of these media. “Again, a lot of how we are known happens through this digital environment,” Butler said, calling critical media literacy “a kind of ongoing self-reflection project.”
The students told Butler that their use of social media left them feeling sad and stressed, with “so much pressure to be on all the time, but they can’t turn it off,” she said. With social media fluency translating into employment opportunities in the employment landscape and peer pressure forcing an online presence, students “don’t want to do this, but they don’t know how to do it”. not do it,” Butler said.
Awareness of the media industry, the context in which we consume media, and the implications of who owns and distributes that media, is key to critically engaging with it. “How do the texts reach the public? asked Butler, “and how can the public create their own media?” When the public creates its own media, she added, it is potentially a way to push back “the system”.
Butler’s workshop included a slideshow highlighting key concepts in critical media literacy, including a 2018 infographic that showed the media landscape and news ownership. AT&T/Time Warner, Comcast, Disney and Verizon were some of the familiar companies with a big presence on the chart. Butler also presented a chart showing news outlets and their political biases, from one extreme to the other.
Focusing on topics that reflect issues faced by minority students is also something Butler says should be addressed in the college setting.
During the presentation, Butler presented discussion topics and writing activities that she thought could help foster a better critical media literacy, such as asking students if they knew the distinction between real news and fake news; what news students and their families consumed; and if they could dissect a news report to determine who was actually interviewed and quoted, and how the story was reported.
“A citation implies some degree of power or some degree of authority,” Butler said.
Journalism course instructors can implement student news diaries that identify the tilt, bias and frame of reporting, Butler said. They can also ask students to compare stories with different biases and ask them how media changes when in newspaper, digital or other form.
Understanding representation in contemporary media, including how college instructors can use education media to understand race, class, and technology, was another topic discussed at the workshop. She included in the discussion a current “mockumentary” series set in a Philadelphia public school and two well-known education films that possess “a narrative of the white teacher as savior of colored students. at risk”. As Butler pointed out, this contrasts with the media that portrays wealthy white students attending lavish campuses but rarely showing up to class.
Media portrayals of students of color are changing, Butler explained, giving examples of TV shows that have majority and minority casts and don’t pathologize queer or disabled characters. However, Butler pointed to weak spots in the inclusiveness of TV shows.
Butler also discussed ways middle school instructors can include critical media literacy in the curriculum, including in math, science and other subjects. She included information on resources for educators and students.
“I think media literacy is important for classrooms because classrooms are the space where change can be made,” Butler said. Although she acknowledged that there are multiple definitions of ‘classrooms’, from digital to classroom, she reiterated that educational space can be a catalyst for change and that media literacy is important. .
“It’s so difficult to analyze what we live in, so critical media education asks us to take a few side steps,” she said. “Step back a bit and watch this text, watch this series, watch this individual episode, watch this scene.”