Review: New Media Education Resources

This review has been written by Barry Duncan, an award-winning teacher, author, consultant and founder and past president of the Ontario-based Association for Media Literacy.

Mapping Media Education Policies in the World: Visions, Programs and Challenges, Frau-Meigs and Jordi Torrent eds. The United Nations Alliance of Civilization for UNESCO, 2009

This collection of articles on media education around the world will fulfill an important need: informing us of the struggle to critically understand the global implications of media education.

Few will read this entire collection, but it is worthwhile dipping into a cross section of the articles. Media educators from the developed and developing worlds offer testimony to the enormous difficulties in developing suitable school curriculum. Some of the reports include those from countries such as Canada (Carolyn Wilson and Barry Duncan, both of the Association for Media Literacy, contribute chapters; Carolyn is a member of the UNESCO commission), the United States, Turkey, Spain, the United Kingdom, Zambia, Morocco, India, Egypt and Ghana.

The last section deals with action plans, youth voices, and civic engagement. The editors write: “It is UNESCO’s hope that the information and knowledge contained in this collection will inspire readers to take action that is informed by expert knowledge.” The United Nations Alliance for Civilization, which commissioned this document, will be making recommendations for implementing best practices in media education. It is fortunate that the commission has made such a good start in making the case for the importance of media education in school curriculum and beyond.

Media Literacy is Elementary: Teaching Youth to Critically Read and Create Media, Jeff Share. Peter Lang, 2009.

Jeff Share worked for Liz Thoman of the Centre for Media Literacy, did his doctorate under Douglas Kellner (a cultural studies guru at UCLA), observed an impressive critical literacy program in some elementary schools and piloted some innovative curriculum. The book reflects all these experiences and offers us some exemplary curriculum.

I like the tough minded, transformative critical pedagogy found throughout, accessing the work of social and media radicals such as Henry Giroux, Paulo Freire, Len Masterman and Robert Ferguson. The book serves in effect as an activist’s guide for media literacy, acknowledging the necessity of social justice and an engaged citizenry. The definition of media literacy as “critical media literacy” (see the work of Peter McLaren for a fuller exploration of this distinction) will make some educators who would prefer bland and depoliticized material wince, but for those who embrace the concept this is an invaluable book.

A Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction, Grades 4-6: Vol. 7, Media Literacy. Ontario Ministry of Education, 2008.

As school curriculum evolves, new guidelines are created and teachers look for guidance and concrete ideas for their classroom. This new Ontario Ministry of Education Media Literacy Resource will provide significant help, especially for elementary teachers who are new to the game.
(Print copies of this document are scarce; you can access it electronically at here.)

Using the “media triangle” and the five key concepts of media literacy, the guide provides teachers with a coherent framework to apply to media texts. There are detailed lesson plans on topics such as creating public service announcements, constructing a Web site and organizing promotions for feature films, all of which will serve as exemplary models. The charts and rubrics will also be welcome.

My only reservation with the document comes as no surprise: government documents avoid controversy, ideological, values and oppositional activities, which foster social justice. (It is unfortunate that after initial work by the writing team there were no consultations. When will the Ministry come down from its lofty perch and allow stake holders a needed voice?) Despite this one lacuna, congratulations are due to the writing team for their work in creating such a helpful document.

The Struggle for Literacy, Irving Lee Rother. Detsilig Enterprises, 2008.

There are equally positive and negative dimensions in the book by Lee Rother, a Montreal teacher and media educator whose book draws heavily on the program he devised for difficult-to-serve students at the Alternative Career Education Program at Lake of Two Mountains School in Deux Montagnes, Quebec. The material connected with this project is fresh and his students’ comments demonstrate real growth through the dynamic new ways Rother presents of presenting literature, the students’ creativity and the social and cultural values of media studies.

The book has some weaknesses. To begin with, it needs a more specific title, or at least a subtitle, to make its subject matter more clear. As well, when Rother charts the development of the teaching of English he focuses primarily in the United States and the UK, touching on such seminal events as the 1963 Dartmouth conference and the work of the National Council of Teachers of English; except for models for media studies none of his examples are Canadian, and in particular there is no reference to the important work of Marshall McLuhan. As well, there are some simple errors of fact that an editor should have caught: in one unfortunate philosophical comparison, for instance, the views of media gurus David Buckingham and Len Masterman are reversed.

Finally, many media teachers are now encouraged to engage multiple literacies and critical pedagogies, both of which are given short shrift in this book. With too many irons in the fire, The Struggle for Literacy is perhaps too ambitious. Read selectively, however, it will be useful to English teachers who also teach media.

Rethinking Technology in Schools, Vanessa Elaine Domine. Peter Lang, 2009

A PhD in media ecology and an avid media educator, Vanessa Domine brings excellent credentials to the task of rethinking technology in schools. This book challenges the reader to critically and conscientiously investigate new media and communication technology. We should be grateful that media education is a major part of this book and others to be published soon. We have nothing to fear except a proliferation.

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