August 7 — 6:44 am, 2009

Media literacy education elevator pitch

hitsville sriii 0 Photo: Samuel Reed, III

The first thing I get when I register at the National Association of Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) conference, held in downtown Detroit, is my conference bag. 

If you have attended professional conferences before you know that your bag serves multiple purposes. You have somewhere to place all your conference materials and goodies sponsors provide, and it serves as tool to promote the association.

With my bag over my shoulder I collect the key for my room and enter the elevator. I greet another guest thinking maybe he was also attending the same conference. He returns my friendly greeting, and asks “what is NAMLE … are you attending a conference here at the hotel?” I proudly say, “it’s a media literacy education organization, and I’m attending their conference." He gives me a blank look, “media literacy… what is that?”

I try to give my elevator pitch about media literacy, but think to myself “I may not be the best spokesperson for media literacy or NAMLE.”

This brief encounter in the elevator, makes me realize the daunting task NAMLE has in delivering its conference theme, Bridging Literacies: Critical Connections in a Digital World.

According to Clay Shirky, at New York University’s interactive telecommunication program, “the Internet turns 40 this fall, and public access is less than half that age. Web use as a normal part of life is less than half that age."

The Writing Framework for 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress Report notes that in 2005, 172,000 new books were published in the United States alone. One hundred million Web sites now exist worldwide and 171 billion email messages are sent daily. So what about media literacy?

Media literacy may be the bridge that helps connect online and offline learning. What was evident in many of the sessions and presentations I attended during the NAMLE conference was that using media or technology in isolation will not improve learning.

The workshops, presentations, and keynote addresses covered a wide range of media genres and represented work from media education academics, practitioners, and media producers. I also had the opportunity to meet and network with some of the very scholars and teachers–media literacy rock stars–whose work has inspired my fledgling practice.

I attended the workshop, Social Networking Among Pre-Service Teachers Bridging Media and Technologies Literacies lead by Vanessa Domine, from the Department of Curriculum and Teaching in the College of Education at Montclair State University. I wanted to learn how this teacher educator was using social networking with her pre-service teachers and see if any of her pedagogical practice might be applied to my curriculum unit “MySpace In Democracy” which inquires how social networks media technologies promote or disrupt democratic practices.

When I originally developed my curriculum unit at the Yale National Initiative Seminar, I read Domine’s work “Doing Technology in the College Classroom: Media Literacy as Critical Pedagogy” to gain insights on how K-12 educators could use media technologies to develop critical thinking skills. From her conference presentation, I learned about the challenges and opportunities of using blogs and other web based software to support learning and student assessment.

The Intersection of media and youth culture was the theme of the keynote presented by McCrae Parker, Director of Strategies Initiatives of Youth Radio. Youth Radio is an out of school program which works with underserved youth, ages 14-24 years old,  to produce creative multimedia content that addresses youth and community issues. Parker shared some case studies on how youth explore and produce programming that covers such topics as gender, race, sex, economics, health, and nutrition.

McCrae described one news segment, Exiting the Fast Food Lane in L.A., which young people produced about “food deserts” in poor communities. 

The work of Youth Radio is impressive. All the media content is created by and for youth and provides agency to not only talk about problems in their communities but actually make changes. Youth Radio has developed a domestic violence, health, and relationship program called the Boss of Me (BOM) that encourages youth to make healthy mind and body decisions for themselves and the people which with they have relationships. A Youth Radio contributor, King Anyi Howell, even weighed in with a “teachable moment” segment  related to the White House Beer Summit which also aired on NPR, “Jedi Mastering Racial Profiling.”

The panel presentation Music-Media Literacy- From ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ to Ne Yo from Beethoven to Yo Yo Ma, was another useful workshop I attended. The panel was multigenerational and included, a media literacy education consultant, a teacher educator, a pre-service social studies teacher, and a high school student from the Detroit public schools.  

The music and media theme was very appropriate since the conference was being held in birthplace of Motown, Hitsville, USA. The panel helped participants examine the power of music as a pedagogical tool and reflect on our personal musical moments. After leaving this session I came away with some ideas for a future media literacy lesson anchored around the work of Michael Jackson.

I closed out the conference by attending Chris Sperry’s keynote address, The Epistemological Equation: Tapping into the Curriculum of Adolescence. Sperry splits his time as a social studies, English, and media studies teacher and as the Director of Curriculum and Staff Development for Project Look Sharp-Ithaca College. He focused on ways to integrate media literacy to address core content and skills. This former surfer, turned educator, shared his practices of using media to promote decoding and critical thinking skills. He shared video footage of his students involved in a social studies and research project where they debate in a United Nation like forum and represent perspectives of world leaders with divergent agendas from Palestine, Israel, United States, and other areas around the world.

It was inspiring to see students placed in the center rather than the margins of learning. My biggest take away from Sperry’s discussion is that teachers need to find ways to actively listen to students and honor students’ voices.

I pack my NAMLE conference bag with my luggage. I head to the elevator to check out of the hotel. Maybe because my conference bag is not on display I didn’t get the “What is media literacy…” question. 

However, I know if someone asks about media literacy, my new elevator pitch would have been confident and concise. From my conference experience I now internalize NAMLE’s core principles, which define and  articulate that the purpose of Media Literacy Education is… to help individual of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers and active citizens in today’s world.

Anyone have a better elevator pitch?

the notebook

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