Media Education Landscape

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International Perspective

Despite pockets of thriving academic dynamism in the UK, as evidenced at the 2010 Media Literacy Conference (MLC) and in collaborative forums, such as the Manifesto for Media Education, The International Media Literacy Research Forum and the Media Education Association, it does seem that UK media education policy lags behind more forward-thinking Nordic countries whose strategies have emerged from historical mass media pedagogic practices dating back to the 70’s. The Finns in the field abide by this simply axiom:

“The central themes of the media education tradition are learning by doing, hearing the voice of children and young people and the active development of media skills.” (Finnish Society on Media Education 2010:16 my italics)

As distinct from the Finnish interpretation of the word, tradition has an altogether Victorian interpretation in this country, nuanced in favour of the 3 R’s and elitist Leavisite persuasions. Ken Robinson, in his introduction to the NACCE report (and elsewhere in the RSA Animate version of his ‘Changing Paradigms’ TED talk), alludes to this fundamental anachronism and the need to re-think the processes of teaching and learning:

“The foundations of the present education system were laid at the end of the nineteenth century … no education system can be world-class without valuing and integrating creativity in teaching and learning, in the curriculum, in management and leadership and without linking this to promoting knowledge and understanding of cultural change and diversity.” (1999:16)

The Finnish Society on Media Education Policies & Finnish Media Best Practices booklets (2010) distributed at the MLC, outlines widespread national legislation supporting fluid, cross-curricular learning both about and through the media from the early years, throughout formal schooling and into other social spheres such as libraries, youth work, school clubs, museums and arts centres. See below a table of themes and objectives in all tiers of Finnish education, embodying what Jewitt might describe as “an inter-textual web of contexts and technology” (2008: 47) with the intention of fostering individual expression, critical analysis, collaborative enquiry, active citizenship and well-being:

Finnish Media Education Policies

Finnish Media Education Policies: approaches in culture and education (2010)

Media Literacy in Schools

Given the various social and economic factors feeding into the participatory divide and the politics of online ethics and regulations, it is to the 2nd of Jenkins’ challenges that media education might be more directly relevant.  Buckingham professes dismay:

“… that the school system should continue to ignore the dominant forms of culture and communication of the last century, let alone those that are now emerging.” (2007: 180)

Burn and Durran (2007) signally do not ignore it and exemplify the pockets of media literacy good practice that have been developing since the 90’s in tandem with the development of more affordable and intuitive digital software. Following on from Buckingham’s critique of Masterman’s 1980’s innoculatory project, where:

Discrimination on the grounds of cultural value was … replaced by a form of political or ideological demystification” (Buckingham 2003:9)

Burn and Durran argue in favour of dislodging representation and the study of how media artifacts construct the world as the primary focus of media education so that communication can re-establish itself as a key concept.  In line with much of the prescience of Lanham and his belief in “the radical enfranchisement of the perceiver” (1993:17) ) and Williams’ allusion to a future of “equitable access to the means and resources of directly determined communication, serving … a qualitatively different social life” (Burn drawing on Williams, 2009:25), Burn and Durran’s creative production practices materially demonstrate a renewed concept of “media oracy” (2007:167) or “Lit-oracy” (Burn, 2009: 19). This represents a paradigmatic shift in emphasis, foregrounding the stylistic surface of rhetorical performance as well as attending to its anatomy.  Attention will be given to the relevance of oralcy to new media practices and literacy later in this account.

Burn and Durran’s work builds on certain precepts established by the New London Group (1996) and their concept of multiliteracies in flux with social contexts, as set against prevailing linear, monomodally conceived notions of literacy which they see as increasingly irrelevant in a environment of “hybridity and intertextuality” (New London Group, 2000:29, drawing on Fairclough). For young people at the computer interface, the confluence of informally acquired cultural repertoires and formally taught technical competence is a fulcrum for the articulation of “what Williams called relations between elements in a whole way of life” (Burn & Durran, 2007:173). As such, complex kineikonic design work (a mode originally conceived by Burn & Parker, 2003) could critically inform and add much needed relevance to national curriculum content and delivery structures.

For Jenkins, the systemic promotion of media literacy in the US, given its fragmented and de-centralized educational infrastructure, must present problems. In this country the concept of standardized curricula and national teacher qualifications are already well established and while certain areas remain inconsistent, uneven and problematic – curriculum delivery, assessment, lack of localized flexibility – we should be pursuing a more enlightened exploitation of this powerful network; more flow with fewer obstructive, inherited and antiquated routines. Jenkins (2011) laments thus:

“Media education may be one of the last professions to reinvent itself in response to contemporary media changes; we should have been the first.” (

Media Education Landscape: Jenkins’ Challenges

Henry Jenkins

American academic and media eudcation commentator: Henry Jenkins

Jenkins ‘White Paper’ (Jenkins et al 2007) is largely celebratory in terms of the participatory opportunities of digital media and interestingly draws attention to the cost of non- progressive media education, that is one that fails to confront three challenges that seem to address who, what and why?:

  • The Participation Gap – raising issues of (in)equality of access to technological skills and contemporary cultural repertoires
  • The Transparency Problem – the need for adequate media literacy programming
  • The Ethics Challenge – problems associated with changes to current ethical standards and social hierarchies

Creative media production is no ‘silver bullet’ but its non-hierarchical and improvisatory processes are well placed to: wade through the ‘gap’, rather than bridge it; meddle under the bonnet of the ‘problem’, as well as appreciate the bodywork; tackle the ‘challenge’ by offering an engaging route to “decentre” (Buckingam, 2003:152), to appreciate other perspectives and to an awareness of complex online social mores through personal investment in and distribution of their own media texts.

Benjamin Franklin:

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn."

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