Fostering (Digital) Media Literacy Skills and Global Citizenship in the EFL Classroom: Digital Stories of Undocumented Youth

Fostering (Digital) Media Literacy Skills and Global Citizenship in the EFL Classroom: Digital Stories of Undocumented Youth

Stefanie Ruhe (Ruhr University Bochum, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2722-1.ch007


This chapter employs the mediazation of politics, or the changes that the use of media for political purposes has brought about, to understand the intertwinement of the rules and regulations by which media products abide. Through examples of digital stories of undocumented youth in the U.S., posted on YouTube, the chapter demonstrates that digital stories not only provide a solid base for multimodal analysis, but they may also foster (digital) media literacy skills of English as foreign language learners in German high school. Yet, students need to understand how to read the multimodal language of new media correctly to truly participate in current political debates of the 21st century.
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Since the mid-eighties, a rich body of theory has sprung from the study of the “mass media phenomenon” (Martens, 2010, p. 3) that early pioneers of the field such as Marshall McLuhan (1964) have initiated (cf. Rosenfeld, 2016; see also Cline, 2016; Hobbs & Jensen, 2009; Klook & Spahr, 2000). The focus of McLuhan’s work lay on media messages, media industries and the effects on their audiences – from the mass to the individual consumer. In particular, McLuhan (1964) proposed that the medium itself, not the content it carries, “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (p. 24). Therefore, understanding new media such as television, according to McLuhan (1964), bears immense power to, on the one hand, manipulate entire populations and, on the other hand, “moderate” the extent to which media influences audiences (p. 30). In sum, McLuhan’s theory was coined under the famous understanding of the medium as the message. This statement would influence much of the theory-building on the key concepts of media literacy today, as the media gained a sense of power that they were not ascribed to before, and that called for media awareness in the consumer (cf. Cline, 2016; see also Jolls & Wilson, 2010). When movies became popular, for instance, the work of McLuhan and his peers “emphasized the development of abilities that enable children to have an understanding of the techniques and language of film” (Hobbs & Jensen, 2009, p. 3). Today, media literacy education is still built upon this principle – the understanding that “each medium has its own technological grammar or bias that shapes and creates a message in a unique way” (Jolls & Wilson, 2014, p. 69), which calls for a systematic study of the medium in order to read the message correctly (Altheide & Snow, 1979; Hobbs & Jensen, 2009; Stöckl, 2004). Learning how to read “film grammar” became important among “a whole generation of educators [who] began to not only acknowledge film and television as new, legitimate forms of expression and communication, but also explored practical ways to promote serious inquiry and analysis – in higher education, in the family, and in K-12 and afterschool contexts” (Hobbs & Jensen, 2009, p. 3). Understanding this “grammar of communication” (Altheide & Snow, 1979, p. 10) further formed the basis of a theoretical perspective named mediatization (Esser & Strömbäck, 2014; Hjavard, 2008). Recent technological developments such as social media platforms, applications, and massively changing authorship models have further constantly redefined the focus of the study and definition of media literacy (Chen, 2016; Friesem, Quaglia, & Crane, 2014; Hobbs & Jensen, 2009). Over the past two decades, Duncan argues, scholars have more frequently called for “making [media] literacy more meaningful in the curriculum” (as cited in Jolls & Wilson, 2014, p. 76; see also Hobbs & Jensen, 2009). As a consequence, the theoretical and practical approaches as well as perspectives to media literacy (education) have left educators with “conceptual pieces or one-shot studies that generate, at best, exploratory findings” (Martens, 2010, p. 15; see also Chen, 2016). This is best reflected in the myriad of definitions of the skills and concepts attached to media literacy. For instance, digital or new literacies have emphasized participatory skills of literacy and active involvement in the digital world (Hobbs & Jensen, 2009).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Media Logic: The grammar of a medium, that is, the structure, aesthetic, and particular characteristics of a medium through which it presents, shapes, and transmits its messages (e.g., political messages).

YouTube: A video-sharing platform created in 2006 that has recently increased its options for user-generated content, allowing them to use the platform as a network where users may not only view but also comment on, rate, and share videos in addition to uploading their own, self-made videos. With regard to media literacy skills, YouTube is an important channel for publication of amateur videos and hence increases the means of digital participation in the national and global society.

Multimodality: The language for digital storytelling, which, on YouTube, requires the capacity to understand how to best combine modes, such as texts, images, audio, or video in order to craft a visual argument.

Undocumented Immigrant Youth: Those migrants who crossed the border (in this chapter: the U.S. border) without papers and live in the country without proper documentation. Due to their active involvement in social media, undocumented immigrant youth have become the voice of the immigrant rights movement of the 21st century.

Political Logic: The public face, tactics, and strategies for winning political support and publicity of a political group that, according to mediatization theory, is negotiated with the logic of the medium.

Digital Literacy: A skill that is necessary in the digital age in order to participate socially, culturally, and politically and make well-informed decisions in the digital world. In contrast to media literacy, this focus on participatory skills is said to enable active participation in digital media. It emphasizes the well-informed and able consumer/producer of media, who is able to access, use, understand, and create (new) media.

Media Literacy Education: Education that emphasizes critical reflection of media contents as constructed representations of reality. Media literacy education has been guided by Core Principles that are still grounds for many media literacy educational programs today. These principles put representation at the core of media education. Media literacy education further expands the traditional understanding of literacy to all media, and it understands all media as parts of culture. Ever since the preoccupation with media literacy, educators call for a more substantial integration of media literacy education in school curricula worldwide.

Mediatization: A theoretical perspective that acknowledges the increasing presence of media in all aspects of personal and political life, arguing that media logic and political logic intertwine. The mediatization perspective views digital media as the key to the concept of the public sphere by Habermas (1989) , thesocio-political space that all citizens participate in. From a mediatization perspective, media and society are understood to be in a dynamic, co-dependent relationship that challenges media-induced influence as a primary, linear force.

Core Principles of Media Literacy Education: Principles that the National Association for Media Literacy (NAMLE) defined in the year of 2007 and that articulated common grounds for the development of media literacy education as a field of research. Most importantly, the Core Principles declare that the purpose of media literacy education is to teach media/digital literacy skills to learners of all ages and backgrounds, not only to younger learners in school. They further declare consensus over the idea that traditional literacy (e.g., ability to read and write) needs to be expanded to include all forms of media and that media audiences themselves need to become informed, critical participants of the online culture.

Media Literacy: Media Literacy comprises a set of skills including a person’s ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, reflect, and act in and with media. It is based on key concepts for media literacy that claim that media products are constructions (of reality) that are expressed in a unique, aesthetic form. The meaning of media products is created by the audience, and that media have commercial, ideological, social, political, and value implications.

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