Every two years, the media literacy community gathers for its bi-annual conference, and this July 12 – 13, we met in Los Angeles. I was honored to work with NAMLE Conference Program Chair Erin Reilly of ASC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab on a session entitled, “Words Matter Provocation.” We wanted to poke and prod our way through the convergence — or discontinuity — that’s occurring now as more and more stakeholders gain interest in advancing core competencies that enable people to be effective in accessing, analyzing, evaluating, communicating, reflecting and taking action in the world. We designed an interactive learning experience with a ballroom full of conference attendees and worked through two activities in just one hour. Such fun!
Positioning Ourselves as Stakeholders Under a Big Tent. Reviewing a visual representation of media literacy’s “big tent” created by Michael Robb Grieco at Temple University’s Mass Media and Communication doctoral program, we asked participants to identify their allegiances. Many participants identified themselves under these “flags:”
- Digital Literacy
- Youth Media
- Critical Media Literacy
- Media & Public Health
- Digital Media & Learning
A smaller number of participants identified themselves with the flags labelled Visual Literacy, Information Literacy and Media Effects. When we asked participants to notice the omissions of the drawing (a classic media literacy question, of course) by adding new flags to the display to represent their affiliations, they suggested:
- English Education
- Global/Cultural Literacy
- Education Reform
- Early Childhood Education
- Teacher Education
- Media Arts
- Parent Education
- Gender Equity
I’ll admit that this year’s NAMLE had a unique range of voices and some perspectives were notably absent. (I can claim some responsibility for perpetuating the conflict between the “media education” and “media effects” stakeholders.) There was also some robust discussion by Jeff Share and others at the NAMLE conference about the characteristics of the “big tent” drawing itself. Their major concern: Why does it depict critical media literacy under the Protectionism domain? This could the topic of a fine dissertation, I suspect.
The Words that Matter Most to NAMLE Members. In the second activity, participants reviewed a list of 30 words and personally selected the 7 that most reflect their work.
- Popular Culture
- Social Change
- Critical Analysis
It was notable that few people put words like “Access,” “Media Effects” or “Representation” at the top. Can you guess what was the word at the very top of my own personal list? Constructedness. (Perhaps only the geekiest of media literacy geeks may appreciate the value of this word.)
Language is simultaneously a uniting and dividing force in the world. At the event, we humbly acknowledged that words are in a continual state of flux and only mean what we agree that they mean. To deepen our exploration, we generated a collection of “omitted words” and “problematic words.” When Erin and I asked people to discuss the most important words at their tables, discussions were energetic. Later this fall, we will share more reflections on lessons learned from these activities, I hope.
Why do I love NAMLE? Though dialogue with diverse others who share a passion for media literacy education, I gain a better understanding of the nuance of meanings associated with the words I use. The special words of media literacy help us establish distinctiveness in relation to related discourse communities, including ed tech, media studies, school reform, literacy education, and other fields.
The goal of this session was intended to deepen awareness and promote listening. There is a certain power embedded in words (and the questions we ask about their meanings). How can we learn to listen well across the intersections of disciplines that represent the complex intellectual heritage of our community? As you can imagine, the experience of this session generated many intriguing questions for me. I left NAMLE 2013 wondering: Does the diversity of media literacy stakeholders represent a strength or a weakness to the future of the movement and/or the field? Let me know your thoughts on this topic, please.