To teach students to be media literate, they – and their teachers – need to be able to critically engage with media. That may seem obvious, but until last year teachers’ ability to use media texts in the classroom was extremely limited by the Copyright Act.

There’s an old urban legend called “the water engine,” which tells of the discovery of a way to turn water into fuel. There are variations to the story – sometimes it’s tap water, sometimes sea water; in recent versions it’s specified the fuel is nonpolluting – but the ending is always the same: the invention is suppressed by the oil companies, either by buying the invention and burying it or by forcing the inventor into ruin and suicide.

I feel like such an old lady when I’m listening to the radio sometimes. When I’m in the car with my husband we often find ourselves having the I Can’t Believe What Kids Are Listening to These Days conversation, one that often ends with me hitting the OFF button in disgust.

Since at least the days of Birth of a Nation (1915), Hollywood has turned to history for material. A quick survey of this year’s Academy Award nominations shows that this is as true now as ever, with five out of the nine nominees for Best Picture – Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty and odds-on favourite Lincoln – based in history in some way. Their approaches vary, of course, with the history-as-backdrop approach of Les Miserables, the revenge fantasy of Django Unchained, the academic character study of Lincoln, the docudrama of Zero Dark Thirty and the history-as-thriller of Argo.

Screen-Free Week

Screen-Free Week is an annual event that traditionally takes place in April. Each year people from around the world make a conscious decision to turn off screens of all kinds for the week.

Teachers who include media literacy in their classrooms often face issues that don’t arise in other subjects. Nothing illustrates this better than the issue of diversity in media. It’s not unreasonable for teachers to see the topic as a can of worms and be concerned about offending students and their parents – not to mention worrying about what the students themselves might say. At the same time, it’s a topic that is simply too important to be ignored: what we see in media hugely influences how we see others, ourselves and the world. As a result, an ability to analyze media depictions of diversity is not only a key element of being media literate, it’s essential to understanding many of the social issues and concerns that we face as citizens. That’s why Media Awareness Network has developed That’s Not Me – a new online tutorial for professional development to help educators and community leaders approach this issue through key concepts of media literacy.

In the early months of 2011, the eyes of the world were on the Middle East, watching as the governments of Egypt, Tunisia and other autocratic regimes buckled under the pressure of democratic protest. Among those watching were a group of elementary students in northern Canada, who were able to watch a live Twitter feed of the protestors and other citizens of the region reporting what was happening. Despite their geographical isolation, these students were connected to events happening halfway around the world, thanks to the efforts of their teacher to bring digital media into the classroom.

The classic 1985 science fiction novel Ender’s Game is one of several books of that period that foresaw both the advent of the Internet and its eventual importance in society. While certain aspects of its portrayal seem dated – in particular, it more resembles the text-based bulletin board systems of the time than today’s graphic Web – one element stands out as being particularly prescient: the use of the Internet to allow youth to participate fully in society. While today’s young people aren’t using the Internet to take over the world, as the characters in the novel do, they are increasingly using it to change the world, and more and more teachers are using the Internet to bring civic engagement into the classroom.

In the last year or two many writers and researchers have been trying to correct the common perception that young people do not care about privacy. While the public may finally be getting the message that teenagers do value their privacy – as they define it – the idea that younger children have any personal information worth protecting is still a new one. Certainly, most people would probably be surprised to learn how early children are starting to surf the Net: the average age at which children began to use the Internet dropped from age 10 in 2002 to age four in 2009 (Findahl, Olle, Preschoolers and the Internet, Presented at the EU-kids online conference, London, June 11, 2009); and, thanks to the iPhone and iPad, that number has probably dropped even lower.

I was recently asked by Jane Tallim to write a guest blog and seriously wondered what suggestions I could offer that would appeal to high school English and Media Studies teachers. We all know that teaching media is like trying to hit a moving target, and education lags behind revolutionary changes in new media forms. However, over the past decade of teaching both Media Studies and high school English, I have spent much time considering the intersection of new media forms with traditional English forms and have tried to build a bridge of understanding across time for my students regardless of the target. By focusing on the skills of deconstruction and construction, I believe the form of the text, or the new medium, becomes less relevant to comprehension.

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