Media Literacy for Political Cognition in Higher Education: A Solution-Centered Approach

Media Literacy for Political Cognition in Higher Education: A Solution-Centered Approach

Chad Woolard (Illinois State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4059-5.ch018
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Civic education has long been a goal of liberal education, and many institutions are renewing their commitment to meaningful civic engagement as both a philosophical and educational goal of higher education. Civic engagement and media literacy are essential to fostering democracy. This chapter outlines the shared ideological and pedagogical approaches to civic and political engagement and its connection to media literacy education. The 2016 election cycle has presented a number of challenges for civic engagement and media literacy educators. Many of the core values and beliefs related to critical thinking and information literacy have been challenged.
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Media literacy and civic engagement in higher education share the same education philosophy stemming from John Dewey’s concept of “liberal education,” or liberal arts curriculum. This is foundational to the way in which American institutions of higher education approach teaching and learning. The basic concept of liberal arts is the connection between lived experience, expert knowledge, and critical thinking. Media literacy education is centered upon interplay between media and information, experience, and critical thinking (Hobbs & Jensen, 2009). Dewey (2008) argues that liberal education is necessary for democracy to function properly. Media and information literacy education fosters the skills and motivation for further student civic engagement (Martens & Hobbs, 2015) In both contexts, the central argument is that the masses can be manipulated, through media and through politics, to act against their best interests. To counteract this manipulation, colleges and universities must teach people to critical think about their lived experiences and foster skills that enable them to see through manipulation, or, at the very least, be aware of manipulation.

Although there is clear philosophical justification for media literacy and civic engagement in higher education, there are numerous barriers to this education as well. In this chapter, the author argues that there is an information crisis that challenges the very foundation of media literacy and civic education. While there is still some debate into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, it is clear that powerful actors attempted to manipulate the outcome of the election through traditional and social media (Demirjian, 2017). This manipulation should concern both media literacy and civic engagement practitioners. Beyond Russian influence, the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election was one of the most divisive is recent memory (Balz, 2016). “More so than in some past campaigns, however, the effect of all this seems to be accentuating the gap between left and right, between Democrats and Republicans, between elites and the rest of the population” (Balz, 2016, para. 8). Higher education institutions have always mediated between individuals and society; however, in time of crisis and division this meditation is critical to better both individuals and society (Maguire, 1982).

This chapter explores the underlining philosophical foundations of media literacy and civic engagement in higher education and suggest a pedological approach that considers the current political climate. Specifically, this chapter outlines the current “post-truth” political environment and its implications for media literacy and civic engagement; then conceptualizes civic engagement and media literacy pedagogy; and then discusses how the media influences civic engagement, knowledge, and politics.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Alternative Fact: Claims made they reflect an ideological position rather than an objective reality.

Post-Truth: Relating to a political climate where individuals rely upon emotion and personal beliefs rather than objective facts.

Political Cognition: How individuals construct political beliefs drawing for multiple sources of information.

Ideology: A system of interrelates ideas, belief and values.

Liberal Education: A pedagogy that foster a sense of social responsibility and application of knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Political Engagement: A pedagogy that fosters skills and motivation for students be politically active.

Faux News: Political satire and humor that mimic traditional news.

Misinformation: False information that is used strategically for political purposes.

Fake News: False news stories that become viral media content.

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