The advent of fake news and the pervasiveness of our screen culture have brought the role media play in our lives front and center. Media reach us through phones fiddled with in each spare moment, through televisions dispensing political controversy in our public spaces, through laptop screens glowing in the dark of our nation’s bedrooms into the night. There’s a way to decipher the methods that media makers use in producing what we see on the screen — and it’s what we call media literacy.
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The National Association for Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, communicate and create using all forms of communication.”
Truth is, media literacy simply describes a toolbox, one that is inert without the hand of media-savvy creators and consumers. At Indie Grits Labs, we work to foster these 21st century skills with educational programs for K-12 students through our Helen Hill Media Education Center. Our field trip programs, dubbed media literacy labs, give students an opportunity to come to the Nickelodeon Theatre for a hands-on cinema experience breaking down media fundamentals, complete with film screenings, activities and popcorn. As well, we bring these programs to schools, alongside production-based media workshops, giving students the opportunity to plan, shoot and edit a completed media work.
As someone who teaches and facilitates our field trip programs, as well as a weekly after-school program at W.A. Perry Middle School called “Mega MediaLab,” I’ve become a full-time advocate for team media literacy.
Unlocking critical viewing skills in students not only helps them think for themselves out there in the media-saturated world, but also plants the seeds for the film and media artists of the future. After all, it’s a new age: We all are our own broadcasters, news publications, filmmakers, thought leaders. The share of Americans who own smartphones is now 77 percent, up from just 35 percent in Pew Research Center’s first survey from 2011.
This all points to a changing culture, and I truly believe media literacy plays a crucial role if we are to build a critically-thinking, empowered future for our youth.
Program Coordinator, Indie Grits Labs