The Case for Developing New Media Literacy

…every child deserves the chance to express him or herself through words, sounds, and images, even if most will never write, perform, or draw professionally. Having these experiences, we believe, changes the way youth think about themselves and alters the way they look at work created by others.” (Jenkins et al., 7)
In short, new media literacies involve the ability to think across media, whether understood at the level of simple recognition (identifying the same content as it is translated across different modes of representation), or at the level of narrative logic (understanding the connections between story communicated through different media), or at the level of rhetoric (learning to express an idea within a single medium or across the media spectrum).Trans-media navigation involves both processing new types of stories and arguments that are emerging within a convergence culture and expressing ideas in ways that exploit the opportunities and affordances represented by the new media landscape. In other words, it involves the ability to both read and write across all available modes of expression.” (Jenkins et al., 48)
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In “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”, Henry Jenkins et al. identifies the burgeoning engagement, communication, and actualization occurring in new digital spaces, primarily amongst young people, as the development of a “participatory culture” in which “relatively low barriers of to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentor ship.” (3) More, Jenkins et al. address how this new kind of culture necessitates greater responsibility on the part of educators to incorporate instruction on how to participate and and interact within online spaces. This is because these new digital spaces are fast becoming places of meaningful learning and skill development amongst younger generations. Often these new digital space serve as models for “real world structures” so navigation of and engagement with these spaces can allow participants opportunities to develop not only digitally but outside of digital spaces as well via a transfer and application of skills learned online, possibly through play or simulation, to real world situations. By encouraging and providing the tools to engage and participate as meaningfully and thoughtfully as possible with new digital media, educators are thus providing their students with the means to become more actively engaged citizens in their communities overall.
Henry Jenkins discusses this concept of transfer, wherein participation in online spaces and communities can teach and develop a kind of engagement that can be beneficial outside of digital spaces and out into the real world, in this interview:

(Thank you Courtney for sharing such an enlightening and informative video with us!)

Essentially, Jenkins believes that neglecting the very real learning that is occurring in new digital spaces because of longstanding stigma (particular from academic institutions about what constitutes “good” or “proper” pedagogy and learning) ultimately proves detrimental not only to these students whose engagement in these spaces is being written off as somehow less legitimate but to the global community at large as it ignores the many meaningful applications of new digital media to life. In referencing two other articles by Blau and Pew Research that advocate for viewing new digital media as a means of evoking more civic engagement among young people, Jenkins et al. state, “Both reports suggest we are moving away from a world in which some produce and many consume media, toward one in which everyone has a more active stake in the culture that is produced” and continue, “Empowerment comes from making meaningful decisions within a real civic context: we learn the skills of citizenship by becoming political actors and gradually coming to understand the choices we make in political terms.Today’s children learn through play the skills they will apply to more serious tasks later” (10) New digital media and the participatory culture that has risen up around it allows for a participants to be more than just that–they are not just consumers, but creators of the culture they identify within. In a participatory cultural framework, you are not just a consumer but a creator of content as well. This can generate a kind of awareness about the process of creating culture itself thus far elusive to many classroom discussions. More, in this kind of framework, participants become aware that culture  is creation. It doesn’t just exist. It’s made. We make it.

That said, participation in new online and digital spaces can still be very shallow without some establishment of framing or context. Basically, if the underlying structures many digital spaces mirror are not readily apparent or noted, learning can be limited at best. As Jenkins et al. state, “What we are calling here the new media literacies should be taken as an expansion of, rather than a substitution for, the mass media literacies.” () Meaning that new digital media is an expansion of mass media in many ways and as such is subject to all of the agenda-pushing, propaganda-aiding, and advertisement ploys that implies.

For some more insight into how digital spaces can extend the agendas of mass media, I highly suggest checking out these educational videos on the topic, especially if you are unfamiliar with things like learning algorithms:

This twining of new digital media and mass media seems only to further the case for why academia should be concerned with incorporating education on participation in online spaces with “traditional” subject matter. How students navigate and participate and “read” online spaces will undoubtedly have an affect on how they navigate, participate, and read their world communities. To me, teaching new digital literacy is merely an extension of the work educators should be doing. Jenkins et al., seemingly conscious of the sometimes stifling parameters of academia state, “Much of the resistance to media literacy training springs from the sense that the school day is bursting at its seams, that we cannot cram in any new tasks without the instructional system breaking down altogether. For that reason, we do not want to see media literacy treated as an add-on subject. Rather, we should view its introduction as a paradigm shift, one that, like multiculturalism or globalization, reshapes how we teach every existing subject.” () Again, according to Jenkins et al, providing instruction on new media literacy, should not be treated as an extra subject so much as an extension of already existing ones–because it is.

As much of Jenkins et al.’s project here is speculation based upon a comprehensive content analysis of other studies instead of concrete research, it’s difficult to speak to the effectiveness of the suggestions provided to help address the disconnect between academia and new digital media, between perceptions and the growing realities of participatory culture. Still, it seems highly irresponsible for educators not to, themselves, properly consider the applications of digital media to learning and to the development of skills that can be transferred across disciplines. More, it seems negligent not to address the ways in which meaningful participation in new digital and online spaces can lead to meaningful civic engagement and community participation.

If anything, it seems more research is necessary to uncover the power and possibility that participation with new digital media can access and actualize. “…every child deserves the chance to express him or herself through words, sounds, and images, even if most will never write, perform, or draw professionally. Having these experiences, we believe, changes the way youth think about themselves and alters the way they look at work created by others.” (Jenkins et al., 7)

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Jenkins, Henry et al. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning, 2006. chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.macfound.org%2Fmedia%2Farticle_pdfs%2FJENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF. Accessed 25 February 2018.

~Till Next Time~

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