Media Literacy in the Digital Age

October 05, 2012

The Huffington Post

The first presidential debate moved me to reflect upon how we evaluate our leaders based upon who and what we see, which sometimes can be vastly different from what they say. Beyond politicians, instances of what we see mismatching who we are or what we do are widespread. Do any examples come to your mind? How about the images of the "ideal" female body splashed on magazine covers?

We know this culture-wide standard of the "ideal body" is unattainable for most girls and young women today, and we stress the importance of healthy eating and realistic body images. Still, women continue to be negatively affected by constant exposure that results in body image anxiety and eating disorders. Communication shapes our experience of reality. If we are not cognizant of the internalization of images, then how can we work to change its influence on our lives and the lives of our students, from the youngest to those in college?

Our culture has shifted from text as the dominant mode of communication to image. In today's image-based culture, reading images is critical to being able to understand and participate in civic engagement. Yet, image "illiteracy" is pervasive. How do we enable our students to discern reliable information in the mass media influx they receive each day and learn how to critically "read" images?

Teaching media literacy is a compelling way to move students from passive consumers of images to active citizens who can think critically about how they want to shape their own lives. Studies show that students who have access to media literacy skills that foster critical thinking begin to see themselves as agents of change. This process of empowering students is something we encourage at Wheelock College through our American Studies and our Communications majors, in which the core courses explore the role of the media in shaping and framing the way people think about the world and their place in it.

Professors at Wheelock are using a variety of methods to cultivate media literacy skills in students in order to ignite a passion for intellectual engagement with the world of ideas. These methods involve introducing students to a range of theories and concepts that provide a critical understanding of the images and messages that form the backbone of our collective culture. What follows are recommended tools and tips that have worked successfully with our students.

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