What is media literacy?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 | education

How do you react when you see a TV advertisement about a sensational new brand of toothpaste that promises that it will help to make your teeth gleaming white and will make them sparkle like marble?

If you rush out to the nearest supermarket to buy a dozen tubes you’re doing exactly what the advertiser wants you to do.

Would it not be wiser to pause and first ask some questions about the product?

What makes this product different?

How does it work – in fact, does it really work?

When the advertisement says, “it helps”, how much does it actually help?

A person who asks questions like these has achieved a measure of media literacy.

Media literacy is the ability to analyze messages brought to you by news media and then to make decisions based on a critical evaluation of the information.  A person may be literate in the sense of being able to read and write but be rather naïve when it comes to the media.  A media literate person has the ability to analyze, interpret and evaluate what is seen on TV, the internet or other information sources.

Media literacy does not only help you when you’re confronted by advertisements.  The media tries to shape your thinking in different ways – for example, politicians use it to spread propaganda about their ideologies.  Media literacy enables you to understand what is presented to you, to read between the lines and to understand the significance of what is not being said.

The media hopes to shape the opinion and actions of people – it tries to act on you.  Media literate people do not allow themselves to be acted upon – they have learned the art of acting on the media to their own advantage.  

Technology brings the media right into the homes and pockets of you and your learners.  Social media – such as Twitter and Facebook – are new delivery mechanisms of the media, made possible by technology; so are blogs and online news bulletins.  Neither you, nor your learners, can be called literate if you have not acquired the skills to use and interpret information presented to you by these new channels.

If your school’s prescribed curriculum does not yet make provision for teaching media literacy, you need to work it in somewhere during class time – perhaps as part of life orientation or language lessons.

Media literacy can only be taught if you know the technology behind modern media … and if your learners have access to technology.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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3 Comments to What is media literacy?

[...] media literacy [...]

John Thole
Thursday, 11 November, 2010

Yes, this is a very important development for learning and there are many good examples of media literacy tools such as blogs being used for excellent education purposes. Learners show a good grasp of these media literacies and it will be a challenge for teachers to find ways of ‘letting go’ and letting the kids express themselves using the social media available to them. Perhaps Khanya could put together a module of training that can focus on the use of these media literacies in the classroom?

Cape Town Science Centre
Friday, 12 November, 2010

This is a very important route to be taking, media is omnipresent in our existence today and it is vital that we teach learners the analytical tools to realise this so that they can afford to make educated decisions which will affect their future and livelihood.

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