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Media Literacy as a Second Language Skill

This previous semester at the University of Iowa, I have taken interest in media literacy, specifically information literacy in terms of online or digital information, in the context of teaching English as a second language. I was hoping to investigate into this topic for one of my classes, Reading in a Second Language, however there weren't enough peer-reviewed articles for an adequate literature review. I broadened my search to extensive reading online and came up with a few more articles, but still not enough for a satisfactory literature review. Finally, I broadened the search to online or digital reading in a second language. If interested in this broader topic, please visit the website I created for my presentation.

For this posting, I will discuss how my teaching experience prompted interest in media literacy, followed by identifying who advocates and researches media literacy in general, and I will conclude by calling for research into and teaching media literacy as a second language skill. Media literacy, according to NAMLE, is "seen to consist of a series of communication competencies, including the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in a variety of forms, including print and non-print messages. Media literacy empowers people to be both critical thinkers and creative producers of an increasingly wide range of messages using image, language, and sound. It is the skillful application of literacy skills to media and technology messages." If you are familiar with second language teaching approaches, you will find how media literacy fits in well with teaching a second language with the term "communication competencies." If you are not familiar with communicative competency, please visit this page.

My Experience & Media Literacy
As a teacher educator in teaching English as a Second Language, I learned a lot about myself in terms of the teaching approaches and philosophies that appealed most to me. One of them is advocating critical thinking and learner autonomy. My first exposure to applying critical thinking to pedagogy was implementing Bloom's taxonomy in the form of questions. As a teacher educator and an ESL instructor, I would often encourage my students to think critically for a number of reasons.

While an ESL instructor at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, I found it to be easiest to implement critical thinking into the reading course. In this program, the four skills are divided into separate courses. Although I integrated critical thinking to all my courses, it was the reading course that had shown me the best results. It was also the reading course that helped me develop ideas for media literacy.

I noticed that some of my students would often refer to Wikipedia as the source of information. Instead of banning the use of Wikipedia like many professors at the university did, I encouraged them to use Wikipedia's links that took the reader outside of Wikipedia. From there, I believed the sites would be more reliable and easier to detect bias. So Wikipedia was a gateway to more reliable (or more biased) information.

During the semester that I mulled over the use of Wikipedia, I had an idea for the following semester. To encourage media literacy and intercultural communication simultaneously, I wanted to use Wikipedia's multi-language function so students could compare the content in the English language versus the content in their first language. I decided against implementing this idea because it was the course design was taking away my focus on the current semester and my colleagues disliked my advocacy for the use of Wikipedia. At the time, many professors at the university were vocal about blocking the site on the university's server.

After the semester had ended, I did a little investigation into how media literacy is taught. I came upon the conclusion that a media literacy course is essential for second language learning, but I didn't know how it would fit into our program. I let the idea sit and continued to teach the reading course focused on academic reading rather than media literacy, although the two areas are merging together quickly.

Advocates for Media Literacy
The biggest advocates are Canadian. At first I didn't understand why, but after reading "The Canadian Experience: Leading the Way" by Pungente, Duncan, and Andersen, it became quite obvious. The Canadians get more American media than any other country in the world, and developing media literacy was a way to help students distinguish the two media, cultures, and ideologies.

In terms of academic departments, I've found most literature about media literacy in library and information science. It's not surprising to find the literature there, but it did surprise me that it dwarfed the amount of literature on media literacy in education. From what I have gathered from reading the 104th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (2005), media literacy hasn't been widely accepted in K-12 schools in the United States compared to Canada and the UK. In the United States, the people who are most aware of the need are in the llibrary and information sciences.

If you're looking for advocates for media literacy online, all you need to do is enter "media literacy" into a search engine. There's the Center for Media Literacy, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, and the Media Awareness Network. These are just a few of the sites that can give you a better understanding of everything that entails media literacy.

A Call for Practice and Research into Media Literacy as a Second Language Skill
As I was about to write this section of the post, I came across a different term, multiliteracies, that is more widely used in the field of second language education. Media literacy is one of the many multiliteracies, and there has been substantial preliminary research done on this topic. Chief among the first articles is A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures by the New London Group. This article basically is a call for practice and research into multiliteracies.

Although there is a larger body of research on multiliteracies compared to media literacy, the research seems to be in the formative stages. I will continue my investigation into this field, but I urge anyone interested in this topic to practice and/or research multiliteracies in teaching ESL.


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