ICE 2013 Media Literacy Presentation

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the Illinois Computing Educator’s annual conference.  ICE 2013 was a fantastic conference with a great vibe (and I'm not just saying that because I'm on the planning committee).  One of the best parts about it, outside of being with phenomenal like-minded educators, is that so many of them are willing to share their talent.  There were over 250+ presentations given (and that was just during the general conference, not including the two days prior full of workhsops).   Presenters were willing to share their materials on ICE’s wiki:  making content available to folks that couldn’t attend their session.  That’s just classy.

My presentation was on Media Literacy. Media Literacy includes our interactions with media and the messages we take away from it. Its our ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media messages (language that is found throughout Common Core State Standards).

I walked the audience through how I teach this topic at the elementary school level (to middle school students in grades 6-8) and how I teach it to undergraduate and graduate level students who will become our next generation of educators (hence the asterisk on the word 'Students' in the title).  The topic of media literacy is one that could easily have its own college course.  There are topics and subtopics galore but I chose to highlight a few of the bigger concepts.

I began with a basic background of media literacy discussing different methods of media transmission.  When most people think about media they think about the “big 3” first:  television, newsprint and radio.  There are far more that our students are exposed to on a daily basis.  Other vehicles for media messages include magazines, billboards, social media, music videos, concerts, video games, banner ads, movies, books, music and products.

I shared statistics with the audience gathered from the Kaiser Family Foundation but when I teach college courses I often include research from other organizations such as Pew Research CenterCommon Sense Media and Project Tomorrow’s SpeakUp reports.  Thankfully there is a lot of research taking place regarding children and media.

Media Literacy for Teachers:  Stereotypes, Gender Issues, and Misrepresentations 

Stereotypes: This media piece is quite short at 0:29 seconds but speaks volumes.  It’s one of my favorite pieces to start a discussion on stereotypes.

Gender issues:  For years woman have fought to be looked upon as equals.  If you view advertisements from the past you can see that we clearly needed to fight for this moral right:

But, has anything really changed?  We are still using woman in advertising in a demoralizing fashion; only now we are subtler about it:

Misrepresentions:  Ah…Photoshop.  A blessing as well as a curse.  There are countless examples (as well as websites) that highlight photos that have been altered.  The one below is controversial.  Nancy Pelosi wanted to have a “Women of Congress” photograph taken.  There were members that were missing.  Instead of everyone coming together for a second photo shoot the remaining folks were “Photoshopped” in.  Editorial privilege?  What do you think?

Misrepresentations happen in news programs as well.  The following example speaks for itself, although I love the irony of the initial news story on this clip before the flood segment appears.

Media Literacy for Students:  Basic Concepts, Persuasion and Deconstruction

I first wrote about teaching media literacy with middle school students back in September.  Click here to see that post which focused on basic concepts.  Advertisers have three goals: to get you to do something, buy something, or believe something.  And they are serious about it.  In 2011 advertisers spent $496 billion dollars to accomplish those three goals.  They are projected to spend $603.1 billion buy 2015 according to LessonBucket.

There are 15 “basic” persuasion techniques that advertisers use. When I teach this to students we view examples of each.  For the purposes of my ICE presentation we only viewed a few:

Persuasion Tactic:  Beautiful People
This commercial is part of Dove’s Self-Esteem Fund and does a great job of showing the viewer how images are distorted. It's worth noting however that Dove is owned by Unilever, who also owns Axe.

Persuasion Tactic:  Fear
Fear of failing, fear of…just about anything is used in advertising.  Oftentimes these ads are promoting a solution of some sort and are meant to startle you in to doing (or not doing) something.  This ad is one that was released by the CDC:


It's important for students to know that they can deconstruct advertisements that they are exposed to. There isn’t a “correct” method of deconstruction; how we 'deconstruct' an ad in part is based on our beliefs and life experiences but in general there is a set of questions that lead to discovery:

            Who paid for this ad?  Why
            Who is the target audience?
            What is the creator of this ad not telling me?
            Whose message is this?
            What persuasion tactic is being used?

It’s a lot of information for students to digest.  I don’t expect that they will remember everything.  What I do expect, however is that when they see a media piece they will not automatically take it at its word but begin to ask questions.  If they have done that, then I have done my job.

To see my ICE 2013 presentation please visit:
Special thanks to Dr. Randy Hansen of National Louis University for his generosity with his materials.

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