06 SES 04, Criticality, Education and Economy: Contradicting Relationships?
Recently some commentators strongly questioned the power of media literacy to strengthen civic agency and critical thinking. Danah Boyd (2017; 2018) rebuked media literacy education for planting the seeds of doubt to students’ thinking, arguing that it is this disposition that media take advantage of to manipulate the public. Media literacy advocates (Hobbs, 2017; Noula, 2018) promptly responded to this critique by offering evidence of success in education settings and insights on critical thinking. In sum, although also these scholars recognise some potential pitfalls of media education practices, they strongly advocated media literacy education as a significant educational practice to foster critical thinking.
In this paper we join the debate on the relationship between critical thinking and media literacy education in the light of some key findings from an action-research carried out in the context of the EC-funded project “Media Education for Equity and Tolerance” (MEET) (Erasmus Plus, KA3, 2016-2018). The project aimed at promoting a critical and inter-cultural understanding as well as an aware use of media among young citizens in multicultural schools and democratic societies. In this respect, the design of the media education activities drawn upon the studies of Buckingham (2003; 2019), Hobbs (2011), Kellner and Share (2009), who indicate critical understanding of media and creative media production as pillars for media literacy education. In this perspective the main purposes of media literacy education are to encourage the analysis of media considering their economic, social and ideological dimensions and to support creative practices of media production in order to play an active role in contemporary society. Furthermore, our approach to media education embodies also the perspective of critical multiculturalism as argued by Hooks (1994) and McLaren (1995) who advocate the recognition of the effects of racial, gendered, and class power on people’s lives but also the participation of citizens in democratic life, particularly through practices of intercultural dialogue, cultural decentring, engagement in the process of multicultural community building and in the struggles for equity and social justice. Consistently with this theoretical background, MEET involved teachers and students in a participatory action research (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2000; Stringer, 2003) aimed at co-designing, implementing and evaluating six Learning Scenarios of critical media literacy in intercultural contexts. The educational interventions were carried out in three Countries (Germany, Italy and Slovenia) addressing 141 students (aged 15-18) and 15 teachers. The Learning Scenarios were implemented in secondary school, two schools for each Country. Although the schools involved were different for certain aspects, they shared important features such as the presence of a high number of students with migrant background and/or with low Socio-Economic Status. The impact of educational interventions on students’ learning was evaluated at the end of the process focusing on students’ understanding of media and intercultural relations, their expression with (or without) media on relevant social issues (e.g. equity, social justice, discrimination, human rights) and their engagement in a process of multicultural community building.
A “multiple evaluation case study” (Yin, 2003; Bassey, 1999) was adopted to analyse and compare the data gathered through the process. Qualitative data were collected in each single Country to explore participants’ perspectives about the impact of classroom activities. The research tools used at this purpose were: a logbook to document the teaching and learning processes during the classroom activities; and two surveys including both closed and open answers. A thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke 2006) was carried out at national level to examine open answers from questionnaires and the field notes from the logbook. Thematic analysis was essentially “theory driven” (or deductive) because each research team at national level identified the themes according to a common analytical framework where the evaluative dimensions (understanding, expression and engagement) were established a priori. Findings were further analysed and (re)interpreted by the researchers of University of Florence through a thematic synthesis (Kavanagh et al., 2012; Thomas & Harden, 2008). On one hand, the thematic synthesis was “theory driven” being based on the same evaluative dimensions of the thematic analysis. On the other hand, it was also “data driven” (or “findings driven”) because it inductively identified new themes across the findings of the thematic analyses.
The findings from the thematic synthesis are helpful to explain, at least partly, if, why, to what extent the educational interventions were effective. Two potential pitfalls of media literacy education were identified in relationship to the promotion of students’ understanding of news media and intercultural dialogue. Firstly, media analysis unintentionally increased, in some cases, a general sense of distrust toward the news media rather than their critical understanding. Secondly, an overtly “moral approach” (or “counter-propagandist approach”) to the controversial and sensitive issue of migration limited to some extent students’ engagement in terms of being involved in a genuine and constructive “intercultural dialogue”. On the other hand, qualitative findings indicate also several relevant affordances of the classroom activities, which contributed to mitigate the aforementioned constrains. Firstly, the inquiry-based approach resulted a particularly effective pedagogical strategy to promote the critical understanding of how media (mis)represent social groups, particularly marginalized an vulnerable groups (i.e. migrants and Roma). Furthermore, for students media production activities often turned into concrete occasions to learn how to cooperate and to dialogue productively with the classmates, as well as how to make their voices heard in – and beyond – the classroom community. In all contexts such activities provided most of students with the opportunity to engage authentically with intercultural issues, sometime even where the controversial issue of migration was difficult to address. Indeed, activities such as students’ production of some video reportages about the issue of migration, the writing of games stories based on migrants’ experiences of discrimination or their struggle for human/equal rights s were key to promote more authentic “intercultural engagement”, as well as more informed and participated dialogues around some key migration related issue (i.e. discrimination, rights, equity, social justice, etc.) even in some classrooms where initially students’ resisted the choice of such topic.
Bassey, M. (1999). Case Study Research in Educational Settings, Buckingham: Open University Press. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology , 3(2). 77-101. Boyd, D. (2017) Did Media Literacy Backfire? Available: https://points.datasociety.net/did-media-literacy-backfire-7418c084d88d Boyd, D. (2018) You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You? Available: https://points.datasociety.net/you-think-you-want-media-literacy-do-you-7cad6af18ec2 Buckingham, D. (2003) Media Education. Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture. London: Polity Press-Blackwell Publishing. Buckingham, D. (2019) The Media Education Manifesto. London: Polity Press. Hobbs, R. (2011) Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Hobbs, R. (2017) Did Media Literacy Backfire? Available: https://mediaedlab.com/2017/01/09/did-media-literacy-backfire/ Hooks, B. (1994) Teaching to Transgress. Education as the practice of freedom. London: Routledge. Kavanagh, J., Campbell, F., Harden, A., & Thomas, J. (2012). Mixed methods synthesis: a worked example. In K. Hannes and C. Lockwood Synthetizing Qualitative Research: Choosing the Right Approach. Wiley & Sons, pp. 113-136. Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (2000). Participatory action research In Denzin, N. K. And Lincoln, Y. S. (eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research. 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 567-605. McLaren, P. L. (1995). White terror and oppositional agency: Towards a critical multiculturalism. In C. E. Sleeter & P. L. McLaren (Eds.), Multicultural education, critical pedagogy, and the politics of difference (pp. 33-70). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Noula, I. (2018) I do want media literacy…and more. A response to danah boyd. Available: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mediapolicyproject/2018/06/21/i-do-want-media-literacy-and-more-a-response-to-danah-boyd/ Stringer, E. (2003). Action Research in Education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Thomas, J., & Harden, A. (2008). Methods for the thematic synthesis of qualitative research in systematic reviews. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 8(45), 1-10. Yin, R. K. (2003). Case Study Research: Design and Methods. 3rd. Edn., Thousand Oaks-London-New Delhi: Sage.
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