Building Media Literacy in Higher Education: Department Approaches, Undergraduate Certificate, and Engaged Scholarship

Building Media Literacy in Higher Education: Department Approaches, Undergraduate Certificate, and Engaged Scholarship

Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts – Amherst, USA), Martha Fuentes-Bautista (University of Massachusetts – Amherst, USA) and Erica Scharrer (University of Massachusetts – Amherst, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4059-5.ch009

Abstract

Through detailed discussion and review of the work done in media literacy in the Department of Communication at the University of Massachusetts, including curricular alignment, engaged scholarship, and a media literacy certificate, this chapter shares how faculty, students, and community partners work together to bring media literacy theory and practice to action. The Department of Communication places a high value on media literacy across its programs and curricula and this chapter describes the department's carefully structured approach to media literacy.
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Media Literacy Research In Higher Education: A Limited Field

Given the relative absence of higher education in media literacy discourse, perhaps it is not surprising that there is minimal research on media literacy in higher education. Indeed, most scholarship on the topic observes the dual absence of media literacy in the classroom and in research. Yet, scholars from college and university settings have long played an important role in media literacy development in the United States. The field has experienced sporadic growth over multiple decades, with short bursts of published empirical research as well as large gaps of multiple years between publications. This start-stop approach is familiar in it similarity to the growth, in fits and starts, of media literacy as both theory and practice in the United States.

Media literacy, as a topic, was formally codified in the United States at the 1992 meeting of various American scholars who believed that it was time to have a conversation about the influence of media on young people and to formalize its study. The group defined media literacy as the ability to access, analyze, and produce a variety of media1 (Aufderheide & Firestone, 1993). This conversation lagged behind the United Kingdom, for example, which had already developed a codified set of key aspects of media literacy (Bazalgette, 1992) and had delved into explorations of power, pleasure, and critical analysis (Buckingham, 1998) long before the United States. In 1998, the National Communication Association included media literacy in its standards, writing:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Media Literacy: Includes the ability to access, analyze, and produce media in various forms.

Engaged Scholarship: Includes critical pedagogy, collaborative learning, and applied research; faculty and students collaborate with each other and with community partners to address practical problems.

Critical Media Literacy: In addition to the ability to access, analyze, and produce media in various forms, critical media literacy is explicitly focused on explorations of power, including ownership, production, and distribution of mainstream media.

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