How to Use Media Meaningfully in Teaching and Learning Contexts: Jeff Share on Critical Media Literacy
For the HSE‘s research and transfer cluster “Critical Media Literacy“ two scholars have been particularly influential – Dr Jeff Share and Prof. Dr. Douglas Kellner, both from the University of California, Los Angeles. Thus it was a privilege that Jeff Share spent four days in Heidelberg, where he talked with researchers, students, lecturers and media educators about the importance of media and its critical analysis in current educational contexts. As a result, we can now rely on a circle of people for whom critical media literacy (CML) has become a notion and practice filled with urgency and intent. This post will present some insights from Jeff‘s visit at the HSE and his workshop “Engaging Media, Transforming Education“ (25th of July, 2022).
In their collaborative work, Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share have advocated for a more critical engagement with the media in various educational contexts. According to them, CML both expands the notion of literacy and deepens critical analysis of media messages. Therefore, literacy should no longer be understood as merely reading and writing letters on a page, but should also include the ability to ‘read’ images, sounds, advertising, multimedia and popular culture. Additionally, this should be followed by deepening our ability to critically analyse the relationships between media and audiences, information and power, especially considering that information is never neutral or objective.
CML‘s goals are therefore to use more media in the classrooms and various other educational contexts and to use it in more critical ways. As Jeff Share reminds us:
It‘s a different thing to send a message on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter – each one of these has its different rules, and it‘s a different type of communication. So we need to be teaching multiple literacies. These are all tools that our students are using already and we could be using them too, making our teaching more engaging and especially more critical.
But how to do that? When Jeff teaches his CML classes to all future teachers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), he offers a two-step approach: He goes through the concepts of CML with his students, but he also encourages them to bring questions rather than concepts to their future classrooms; questions like: Who are the people who made choices that helped create this media text? How was this text constructed and delivered/accessed? How could it be understood differently? What values, points of view, and ideologies are represented or missing from this text? Why was it created and shared? And whom does it advantage or disadvantage? (cf. Kellner and Share, 2019)
Of particular importance is concept no. 4 and the related question: When analysing media we should also analyse what is (not) in the media message and whose voice may have been lost among dominant hierarchies of power and privilege. Yet , as Jeff Share emphasises: “Looking only for agendas or misrepresentation is not enough. There must also be an exploration of the institutions and systems making those representations appear ‘natural‘ or ‘normal‘. Looking at the systems rather than just individuals is very important.“ He suggests asking students about the dominant ideas and assumptions that influence our thoughts and feelings, where they come from and how they are constantly reinforced.
An important tool Jeff uses in his classes is to facilitate his students to think about positionality and to become aware of the effects of structural hierarchies:
When you benefit from the ideology, you are less likely to recognize it. Men are less likely to see patriarchy than women. White people are less likely to see white supremacy as people of colour. Those who feel the negative effects are more likely to be able to see the oppressive structures and systems at work.
CML classes ought to reach three essential aims:
- to raise the awareness of how media and communication work, particularly with regard to the systems, structures and ideologies that reproduce hierarchies of power and knowledge concerning race, gender, class, sexuality and environmental justice;
- to develop the ability to think critically and to question media representations and biases;
- to enhance our disposition for curiosity, skepticism and critical engagement with the world as a prerequisite for taking action and transforming society.
Media are a construct, resulting from decisions on the use of light, angle, sound, script etc. – all of which could have been chosen differently. This insight is best conveyed when students themselves create media. Thus, they not only learn multiple modes of literacy but also critically engage with messages.
- Incorporate photography to illustrate vocabulary; use photos taken by students and make cards out of the photos and the words they illustrate.
- Create posters while analysing advertising and representations: Advertising is very good at making people insecure and unhappy with who they are and what they possess. Have students think about what they like most about themselves to increase their self-esteem.
- Explore your community and record a short audio or video story about it: Go out and collect stories from people living in the area about what life is like in their neighbourhood.
- Money is also a form of media, so ask students to create their own money: Whose portrait would they put on the bills and coins if they could choose? What symbols would they use?
- Create memes as a group work: Memes are a fabulous tool, for they include pictures and words and require a lot of critical thinking. Using templates available at free websites, students could create a meme about the topic you are currently discussing, the book/chapter you have just read, or a topic in the news. Ask students to justify and explain their choices.
- Create storyboards or short cartoons: Whatever you are currently teaching, this tool enables students to show their understanding of the topic in a summarised and entertaining manner. There are free online programmes available which are easy to use, such as storyboardthat.com.
- Podcasting as a teamwork assignment: The topics can be the ones already discussed in class, while one can play with radio show genres, for example students can tell their information as a news report, an advertisement, a call-in talk show, a weather or traffic report, an interview, a radio drama, etc.
- Create advertising of the same product, but for different target audiences can help students understand the way messages are influenced by audience and purpose.
All of these tips highlight the importance of representing ideas in different multimedia formats. Through the process of creating media messages, students practice critical thinking and teamwork, which are crucial skills for deconstructing media messages by reflecting on the meanings and uses of sounds, images and words. Don’t be afraid to learn something new along with your students. Creating and analysing media together is an opportunity to work collaboratively and leave the expert position for a while.
Lina Pranaitytė, Heidelberg School of Education
Douglas Kellner / Jeff Share, (2019). The Critical Media Literacy Guide: Engaging media and transforming education. Leiden: Brill/Sense Publishers.