Megan Hopper, PhD
Illinois State University
Joshua Fitzgerald, MS
Illinois State University
Alexander Kritselis, MS
Illinois State University
Media scholars and educators are often avid media consumers conflicted by their awareness of the negative impact the media can have on individuals (including themselves) and their enjoyment of multiple forms of popular media.
One way to balance this conflict is to recognize the importance of being media literate and consciously practicing media literacy skills while consuming media messages of all types.
Thus, as mass communication educators we realized that it was not only important to inform our students of the possible effects of the media messages they are constantly bombarded with but also to equip them with the skills to navigate the media landscape in an active rather than passive fashion. It is not possible to expect students to cease media consumption entirely especially when it is virtually impossible to escape the onslaught of audio and visual messaging in which they are so firmly immersed. Therefore, we make deliberate efforts to incorporate media literacy in our communication courses in order to equip students with the tools to recognize, identify and proactively combat the harmful effects media messages may have. Media literacy is defined as an educational “framework” that helps students “become competent, critical and literate in all media forms so that they control the interpretation of what they see, hear or interact with rather than letting the interpretation control them” (Center for Media Literacy [CML], 2008, p. 42). Essentially, through lesson plans and activities, media literacy education gives people the analytical tools necessary to become critical consumers and producers of media messages. According to Bowen (2006), one of media literacy’s primary goals is to help people “transform” this “passive relationship to the media into an active, critical engagement” (as cited in Johnny & Shariff, 2007, p. 613). According to the CML (2008), this process often begins by teaching people to “raise the right questions” about the media they consume in their everyday lives (p. 42).
Often educators and researchers are solely responsible for creating media literacy plans. However, the practice of engaging in deliberative dialogue and participatory action research with students to co-create plans and lessons can help increase the relevance and the effectiveness of the lessons. According to Longo and Gibson (2016), participatory action research encourages the development of research questions “by those people most affected by an issue and who are also partners in conducting the research” (p. 64).
In order to encourage students to become more fully active media consumers, we decided to push them to go beyond simply being aware of and practicing media literacy themselves and to create their own media literacy plans with the aim of spreading their knowledge and educating others how to be more critical consumers of the media. Thus, in the first author’s graduate level seminar on mass media theory and effects, the students produce a plan for a series of media literacy lessons for students in K-12 and/or undergraduate college students about one of the media effects topics that we examine in class (e.g., violence, body image, sexuality, stereotyping, etc.). Students also design a research study that would assess the outcome of those media literacy lessons and their effectiveness on the target audience. Students are divided into groups of four to five and each group then produces a 15-20-page paper that details their lesson plans and reviews relevant scholarly research the group is focusing on and media literacy.
While the students are not required to implement their plans to their target audience during the semester, they are encouraged do so upon completion of the class. The authors partnered to do just that due to their desire to test the timeliness and effectiveness of the plans they had created in addressing specific issues. The #metoo movement and bombshell allegations against many elite media figures left many reeling and asking themselves how they could contribute, help, and/or make a difference in a society clearly in need of an awakening and education regarding sexual harassment and consent. As such the two co-authors, who were students in the first author’s class, developed an idea for a media literacy plan to educate students on the impact of media content on beliefs about sexual harassment and consent tied to traditional mass communication theory. New teaching approaches to this subject matter are certainly needed in light of recent widespread claims of harassment and assault in Hollywood and, more importantly, the high frequency of sexual assault on college campuses. However, information on the influence of media messages, in particular on acceptance of and engagement in sexual harassment and assault is lacking in existing curricula.
Specifically, this media literacy plan applies propositions from objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) and media priming (Jo & Berkowitz, 1994) to the messages about the value of women and sexual harassment and consent contained within contemporary music lyrics and video imagery. The plan educates students on these theoretical tenets and provides them with the analytical tools necessary to become critical consumers and producers of these messages. The authors have begun to implement this lesson plan with undergraduate college students and have found it has been well received and effective. This has encouraged us to expand the participatory action research and involve undergraduate students in creating and planning further media literacy lesson plans. This form of collaborative engagement is especially important for this generation of media consumers in tackling a host of complex social issues. As Longo and Gibson (2011) argued, “they have grown up with technology and the practices and values that come with it – such as collaboration, transparency, and diversity – and they want more participation in their education” (pp. 66-67). Hopefully, this co-creation of knowledge will result in students taking full advantage of their roles as co-producers of media literacy initiatives to create content aimed at solving real-world problems and that they will share their knowledge and content with others.
Center for Media Literacy. (2008). Literacy for the 21st Century (2nd ed.). Retrieved from http://www.medialit.org/literacy-21st-century
Fredrickson, B., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory toward understand women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x
Jo, E., & Berkowitz, L. (1994). A priming effect analysis of media influences: An update. In J. Bryant & D. Zillman (Eds.) Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 43-60). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Johnny, L., & Shariff, S. (2007). Critical media literacy to counter Muslim stereotypes. In D. Macedo & S. R. Steinberg (Eds.), Media literacy: A reader (pp. 603–625). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Longo, N., & Gibson, C. (Eds.). (2011). From command to community: A new approach to leadership education in colleges and universities. Medford, MA: Tufts University Press.
Longo, N., & Gibson, C. (2016). Collaborative engagement: The future of teaching and learning in higher education. In M.A. Post, E. Ward, N. Longo, & J. Saltmarsh (Eds.), Publicly engaged scholars: Next-generation engagement and the future of higher education (pp. 61-75). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
(Editor’s Note: K. Megan Hopper received the 2018 Distinguished Early Career Professional Contributions to Media Psychology & Technology from the APA Society for Media Psychology and Technology).