1. A critical thinking skill that enables audiences to develop independent judgments about media content.

The following observations are designed  to serve as probes and provocations to uncover the essence of some  important ideas about media education and media studies. Based largely on the experience of The Association for Media Literacy during the last ten years,  we hope these ideas and resources will stimulate discussion and debate. This list is not carved in stone; the ideas keep changing. ( This list, since modified from the original, was first published in "Telemedium, the Journal of Media Education," in 1998.)

In the media classroom, we want to  pursue thoughtful media analysis in which it is understood that class discussions and reflection are the basis for constructing  new knowledge. In this context,  the classroom is a 'site of struggle' in which meanings are negotiated. UK educator Len Masterman insists that media studies should be inquiry-centered, co-investigative, (it does not seek to impose a specific set of values) egalitarian, dialogic ( N.B. True dialogue is not conducted through loose, rambling discussions but dialectically, leading students to critical autonomy. Such an expectation implies that they are capable of making independent judgments on future media texts.

1.) Teachers need to find a variety of ways of exploiting the 'teachable media moments.'
When excitement over a media text/event  comes our way, go for it!  Here is the most direct and relevant way  to contextualize the key concepts of media: how media construct reality; the role played by media codes and conventions; the nature of audience, the role of media industries; and the pervasive impact of values and ideology. Encourage in-depth study through comparing the extensive media coverage of a major media event. Examples: the death of Diana; the coverage of Clintongate; the  shootings at Columbine;  the hyping of the Titanic and the new Star Wars films; the trend of artificially created bands like 'Nsync and the Spice Girls;  and the impact of the  'reality television' phenomenon.  Use plenty of surveys to find out what students  already know about the media and duly note the wise guys in  your class who are already  pop culture experts.

N.B Starting in 2001, teachers will have access to  a monthly pop culture with teaching strategies for some current teachable media moments, available from "Barry's Bulletin"  created for Mnet  Go to www. media-awareness network.ca and click on 'educators' or 'resources.'

2.) Make media production an integral part of your course.
As UK educator Eddie Dick  pointed out, we want to have  both "critical practice as well as practical criticism." Therefore, link your analytical examples with practical work- using camcorders, multimedia digitizing, Polaroid or digital cameras and  try creating  some  satirical collages. Good equipment is desirable but not essential. Constructing storyboards and sequencing pictures can be done at little cost.

3.) Use all the key concepts of media to deconstruct media texts.  While codes, conventions and aesthetics are generally well done, others are often neglected including the following:
i.) Audience: how each of us makes sense of any media text on the basis of our gender, culture , race, and our individual and collective needs. See (Buckingham,1990) and (Duncan,1996).
ii.) Institutions: focus on concerns about social, cultural and politicalrelations. Sites include: media representation of schools, hospitals, and the military.
iii.) Industry- including critical topics such as ownership and control, the impact of transnational corporations and the global economy; cross media merchandising e.g. Star Wars.  Read about global media and merchandising  strategies in Wolf: The Entertainment Economy. Lest the topic seem too abstract, use documentaries on Coca Cola, McDonald's and Nike. Help  students  investigate monopolies, the extent of corporate resources for advertising and the incredibly powerful role of public relations' initiatives Critical marketing has become the most important aspect of modern media. Read Naomi  Klein's invaluable book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, Random House, 2000.)  Finally, no media course is worth its salt if it fails to do an in-depth investigation of the commercialization of our schools, from Channel One and  Pepsi franchises to corporate - sponsored classroom curriculum, including even media education resources.

4.) Place media literacy in the broader perspectives provided by cultural studies. 
Now established as a kind of  international consensus on theory, cultural studies  provides important contexts for  our media texts and helps us  construct a suitable critical pedagogy. Cultural studies foregrounds gender, race, class, political hegemony and the dynamics of subject positioning. (As an aside, teachers of English should be  doing more cultural studies approaches to literature and engaging in fewer literary approaches to popular culture.)

5.) Be up front about the importance  of media pleasures - guilty or otherwise.
Academics can sure take the pleasure out of this pursuit ! But the notion of the personal satisfactions in media consumption and the joys of fandom, from admiring the Backstreet Boys  to delving into quirky film noir movies, must be acknowledged; otherwise, the strident protectionist approach to media literacy will dominate. Teachers should begin by acknowledging their own problematic and contradictory culture  passions  and be prepared, when appropriate, to share them.  Why not encourage students to write thoughtful
papers on their media pleasures and  encourage  them to use their media logs for open - ended responses?

6.)  Learn from media professionals  to see media and popular culture in action and be prepared to expand the territory  of the subject.
Scan your community for potential speakers and field trips. Seek out film, television and sound producers, photographers, journalists, advertisers, public relations agencies, and media academics. Visit production houses including those for  film, television and multimedia
technologies.  Look for opportunities to watch the taping of regularly produced shows.  Organize a trip to a shopping mall, a theme park, a video arcade  or some  upscale urban site that will reveal interesting social and semiotic analysis. Check out book and poster stores including  comic book venues. Broaden the concepts of media literacy to include artifacts such as Barbie dolls, action figures, and  Furbies and all manner of pop  kitsch. By adopting  an expanded definition of media studies, the view from the classroom on our communities will be  richer and more complex.

7.) Where feasible, teach through concepts and important themes.
Tackle broad areas such as  representation, narrative, audience and media industries rather than being confined to genre- specific approaches e.g. television in grade 10, the newspaper in grade 11. Such an approach  may seem fine for a beginning teacher but this model is rarely productive in a field that is always crossing  genres. See (Branston, 1996) and secondary school text by Barry Duncan et al. Mass Media and Popular Culture.

8.) Avoid the tendency to depoliticize media texts.  Teach not only ''through' but also 'about' the media.
There are too many bland, soft landing, media literacy products in circulation. Without going on a crusade of media bashing fueled by moral panics, the media classroom deserves openness, intellectual rigor, loads of enthusiasm and a willingness to take risks. Model media texts with interesting ideological constructions and have students investigate examples which they might take for granted e.g. Coke, Nike and McDonald's commercials).

9.) Encourage oppositional readings of mainstream media.
Use the bounty of material on topics such as the Gulf War,  the war in the Balkans, and  the tobacco industry PR spin to demonstrate how the dominant media are able to manufacture consent. Encourage mainstream readings of popular television texts e.g. "Friends,"  "Dawson's Creek," and   "Do you want to be a millionaire?" and then model some oppositional readings in
which you 'read  against the grain.' Try to encourage students to transfer their insights gathered in the media classroom into other areas: the politics of schooling, the role of authority in the family, the world of work.  Otherwise, much of our endeavor will have limited impact. ( Guard against playing the 'spot the stereotype' exercise as an end in itself.)
Incorporate in media studies the most useful insights of media  critics such as Noam Chomsky, Herbert Schiller, Mark Crispin Miller but avoid being seduced into rigidly  holding monolithic interpretations which may be occasionally tinged with paranoia. (See  critiques  of  Douglas Kellner.)

10.) Face the challenges and controversies associated with teaching about
media representation.

Representation is generally considered the central principle in all media study, and  we must be prepared to mediate its complexity. For example, in studying race and the media there is a danger of essentializing  groups or 'the other,' of limiting the nature of difference through resorting to stereotyping.  Today, the legacy  of living in a multicultural society is the recognition  that identity is an evolving, hybrid and unstable concept. This in-between state necessitates finding   appropriate discourses. ( See Robert  Morgan, 1997) Education critic Henry Giroux reminds us that today, by necessity, we are all border crossers. Welcome to the global village!

11.) Insist that students conduct original research when doing media projects.
Using ethnographic models, students can learn to effectively observe, interview, and record the opinions and descriptions of individuals and groups when they are researching the reasons for the popularity  of TV programs, rock bands, and celebrities. Making students become avid
researchers will ultimately change the social dynamics of the classroom.

12.) Use appropriate instruments/rubrics for authentic media assessment.
To give media studies credibility and to overcome the dangers of arbitrary and subjective responses to student work, we need systematic approaches and easy-to follow models.  As Kathleen Tyner reminds us,  "When subject standards, classroom tasks, and student assessment are aligned, teachers can better recognize when learning takes place. (See also Chris Worsnop, 1999).

13.) Explore the richness of the many meaningful alternatives to mainstream media.

Access independent film and video e.g. Paper Tiger Television, experimental art which explores  media connections. Look for  media books and periodicals offering alternatives to mainstream media coverage. Subscribe to  Entertainment Weekly and Rolling  Stone by all means but include in your media perspectives periodicals such as Extra, The Media Studies Journal, Brill's Content, The Nation, Z, Cineaste, and Adbusters. As well, you might want to consider novels with media themes as a stimulating classroom resource such as, Burgess: Clockwork Orange; Kosinski: Being There;  De Lillo: White Noise;  Copeland: Generation X. and more recently ( 1997) Connie Willis:  Bellwether.

14.) To stay relevant, media education  must address comprehensively the new and converging communication  technologies, from multimedia  and Nintendo to the Internet.
The new media are reconfiguring media language, fostering hybrid identities and multiple literacies, and, as McLuhan noted, obsolescing aspects of communications  discourse while retrieving others. Technotopic discourse seems to prevail and Microsoft Inc. continues to dominate the world- all of which should be grist for the media teacher's mill. Mediate thisvast cyber domain through  applying the key concepts of media and see what important insights emerge. Regrettably, there is still a dearth of rigorous analysis supported by  solid empirical data from the classroom. (See the work of Marshall McLuhan and Sefton-Green's anthology: Digital Diversions.)

15.) Media teachers need to connect with each other.
Given that our numbers are small and our educational clout often limited, it is of paramount
importance to connect with our 'interpretative community.'  The qualified success of the Association for Media is largely attributable to our extensive collaboration in creating text books, newsletters, writing  media expectations and new courses for education authorities and organizing workshops and international conferences such as Summit 2000.  It is, therefore, essential that media teachers take out a  membership in one or more North American media literacy organizations. (It is not enough to assume that key information will automatically reach you simply through subscribing to The Media L Serve.) We need to keep up with this  constantly changing and exciting field and share ideas with our media education colleagues. Wish all of us good luck!


Branston: The Media Student's Book;  Buckingham, David. Watching Media
Learning; Duncan, Barry et al. Mass media and Popular Culture.
Harcourt-Brace, Toronto, 1996; Sefton- Green, Julian. Digital Diversions,
1998; Kellner, Douglas. Media Culture; Masterman, Len. Media Education in
1990's Europe;  Morgan, Robert. "Messing with Mr. In-Between:
Multiculturalism and Hybridization." English Quarterly vol. 29, no 1, 1997;
Schiller, Herbert. Culture Inc.; Tyner, Kathleen. Literacy in a Digital
World; Worsnop, Chris. Assessing Media Work.

2. An understanding of the process of mass communication

Media literacy requires an understanding of the production, transmission and context of interpretation involved in the mass communication process.

3. An awareness of the impact of the media on the individual and society

The media have revolutionized the way we think about ourselves, each other, and our world. The media have become a pervasive force in contemporary society, which is why the need for a media literate public is so acute.

4. The development of strategies with which to analyze and discuss media messages.

In order to become discerning consumers of media, individuals must learn to decipher the information they receive through the channels of mass communications.  These strategies also a framework that can facilitate the discussion of media content with others--including children, peers, and the people responsible for producing media programming.  

5. An awareness of media content as a “text” providing insight into our contemporary culture and ourselves

Media presentations (e.g., films, newspapers, television programs, or advertisements) can provide insight into the attitudes, values, behaviors, preoccupations, patterns of thought, and myths that define a culture. And conversely, an understanding of culture can furnish perspective into media messages.

6. The cultivation of an enhanced enjoyment, understanding, and appreciation of media content

A well-produced media presentation can provide audiences with enormous benefit and pleasure. Media literacy should not detract from your enjoyment of programs. Indeed, critical interpretation should enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of media at its best: insightful articles, informative news programs, and uplifting films.

7. In the case of media communicators: the ability to produce effective and responsible media messages.

 In order to be successful, professionals in the field of media must demonstrate an awareness of the mass communication process, as well as a mastery of production techniques and strategies. But in order to truly improve the media industry, media communicators must also understand the challenges and responsibilities involved in producing thoughtful programming that serves the best interests of the public.