Sunday, November 14, 2004

The End(s) Of Media Literacy 

Excerpted from an ongoing open letter to the NMH administration -- one I wish I had the guts to send.

To develop and deliver a media literacy curriculum is to engender all use of media as thoughtful and deliberate, where, otherwise, student use of media, tools, and technologies is increasingly habitual, accidental, and dangerous.

And here I mean all media – from the visual literacies of Powerpoint to the critical eye of the otherwise-passive mass media participant; from the presenter able to play to or against the biases and needs of her audience to the student who finds herself suddenly better able to write complex papers because she understands what a paper is supposed to do, and how it is supposed to work, as a type of medium.

The student who complains that she cannot watch TV anymore without thinking gets it. But when all forms of communication are understood as media, and when both creating and absorbing media are addressed in the curriculum, media literacy is much more than this.


My work with teachers and students has but one purpose: to promote and instill media literacy into the NMH program.

There is no question in my mind that media literacy in this larger sense is a fundamentally vital aspect of development, one which must be guided and taught across the curriculum. House Directors and Deans continue to be concerned about the dangers of chat and the internet. Students celebrate the questionable value system of their mass media culture; struggle with the development of excellent product but own only the ability to make do. Teachers still struggle with developing appropriate rubrics which recognize the specific rhetorics and skill learning curves of projects developed in new media – we grade PowerPoint projects differently from papers, but still work on how differently, and why.

Through my own guidance, we have begun to incorporate the curriculum in Health and Humanities classes, Peer Ed training and research project development in classes from ESL to Math. And from there, students and teacfhers learn to seek me out for individualized instruction and guidance.

But we have only just begun. And in most cases, I myself am still asked to deliver this content. In fact, though the ideal would be for teachers in these courses to own this subject themselves, and bring it to their classes, few if any are truly “there” yet. One could arguable say that the direct delivery of this curriculum, then – individually via the Information Commons, curricularly via the odd elective minor, instructionally through class visits and teacher partnerships – is my best and brightest function here at NMH.


I came here to teach because I have a passion, a vocation, an itch.

When I was offered the chance two years ago to address this work on a school-wide level, I jumped at the chance, though it meant dropping the fully-enrolled major course in Media Literacy in order to be able to staff the delivery of that school-wide mission. It was clear two years ago that the incidental development of this literacy in our students and our faculty was not working, and I was eager to work throughout the curriculum, a change agent, to help teachers bring this more concretely into their curriculum, and to address these issues directly with students.

I took the chance because there is no other aspect of the program here at NMH which addresses these issues except incidentally. Though there are several of us setting up equipment, and teaching the skills and uses of technology, there is no other individual who more than anything teaches how to use one’s mind with these technologies – no one else who does the instruction, provides this exact class and project and faculty support, is available as a resource on this subject. I am not redundant; my curriculum is not duplicated anywhere that I can see. In fact, it has been clear to me for years that this work is far larger than I can really handle, especially when there is so much to teach, so many changes in technology every year with which to keep up, so many individual media to teach discretely.

The difference between teaching skills and teaching literacies is subtle, and the ultimate learning accomplished most often a combination of both. But though my job description is clear, I’m not seeing anyone be deliberate about the literacy involved here. And teaching skills without literacy – providing just-in-time support, and teaching vocational skills, rather than thinking and learning – is increasingly the focus of the departmental discussions in which I am involved, and how I am asked to spend my time.

Technology skill is a lot easier to teach. There are plenty of us who can and do teach technology skills. There are some who do it better.


Staffing cuts will be announced in December.

I wish I was more confident that they see what I see.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:34 AM |

My beautiful school -- it really hurts to see what it is doing knowing that, because it has demonstrated it, that there is little place for me in its new image, or even in its old future.
You did manage to change the way I think, Josh. So that’s something for you.

Why am I posting this: avoiding a paper, two days until classes end.
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