Q: Our school is considering adding media education to the curriculum, but some board members want “evidence” of its benefit. Can you recommend any studies that clearly demonstrate that media education helps children/teens?
– Reaching for Research, USA
A: Dear Reaching,
You are right to want to have media education (often called media literacy education) in your school, and your board is right to want to have evidence that the program being implemented is effective. Although we know that media literacy can greatly benefit children, there are a number of curricula and programs out there that claim to teach children media literacy skills, yet because they have not been evaluated, we don’t know how effective they are.
Media literacy (or, as I like to say, media mastery) is important for the very same reasons that print literacy is important: It allows us to understand and deconstruct the messages we receive and to synthesize them in ways that are useful and meaningful. In general, media literacy programs teach young people to read and understand media content, the form of that content, and how it affects them. Because so many young people are posting on social media, from Facebook to Instagram to YouTube, more comprehensive media literacy programs strive to empower children by teaching them to write and create positive, meaningful media messages themselves. Doing this can help young people learn, in a very concrete way, that media are created by people for a purpose—and created to affect them in certain ways. In general, look for a media literacy program that teaches children how to understand the following:
- Who created the message?
- How did they intend the viewer to respond to the message?
- What is not included in this message?
- What audiences are excluded by or included in this message?
You may want to point out that Canada and many European countries have incorporated media education in their school curricula and have standardized tools for assessing media literacy. While some media education programs in the U.S. and elsewhere have been created on a solid foundation of theory and research, and some have been rigorously evaluated, the effectiveness of any program in helping children understand how media affect their actions, choices, emotions, and world view depends on its design and execution.
Finally, to help bolster your argument to the board, please explore the following resources:
- A Review of School-Based Initiatives in Media Literacy Education
- An examination of past and present K-12 media literacy education programs and suggestions for the future of the field
- Center for Media Literacy
- National Association for Media Literacy Education
- Media Smarts
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,