Remember that values questions have a “you” in them. The goal is to involve people in relating what they see on the screen to their own lives, not to analyze the filmmaker’s technique or to engage in intellectual criticism. Allow the conversation to flow along a values and feelings track.
I remember when George
I remember when George Gerbner was launching the Cultural Environment Movement in 1990, and myself and some of the media literacy community were invited to participate. It was the first time I saw such a distinguished communications researcher standing in a position as an advocate. Such an inspiration!
I was one of those many young
I was one of those many young fans of Susan Sontag in the 1980s. She was perhaps the only female academic of the time who had achieved public attention and become a literary celebrity. Her work was even more appealing to me because she was a critic, and she took on literature, art, history, and popular culture. I admired her sentences even as they dazzled me with their nuance and complexity. I was aware, even then, that she was offering me a new way to think about symbolic representation. From Sontag, I got introduced to ideas that I later encountered in the work of Roland Barthes, Rudolf Arnheim, and others. Over the course of her career, I appreciated how she revised and revisited her ideas from decades earlier with an open stance to reconsider their relevance.
I first learned of the work
I first learned of the work of Donna Alvermann around the year 2000, when she and her doctoral student Margaret Hagood published this work:
Alvermann, D.E., & Hagood, M.C. (2000). Fandom and critical media literacy. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 43, 436–446.
It was like a bolt from the blue: finally, the literacy educators had discovered that popular culture (like TV, videos, music, movies, and games) are texts. and that "reading" media is a literacy practice. Over the past twenty years, it has been a very validating experience to see the field of literacy studies move closer to media literacy pedagogy and practice, and Donna's leadership has played a huge role in helping literacy educators and scholars expand the concept of literacy.
Reading Propp helped me
Reading Propp helped me understand that conflict is essential to storytelling. Propp used the term villain to describe one of the key characters in stories, but he emphasized that a villain is not necessarily “bad” or “evil.” In many stories, it is not really about the character or personality of the villain, he pointed out. The villain simply has to oppose the hero. The villain’s primary function is to serve as antagonist and be a source of conflict for the hero. The same is true for heroes: they do not have to be good, and in fact they usually have many flaws. The main job of the hero is to struggle against an adversary toward a resolution. This idea has had a lot of value in my relationships with people -- as I check myself when I may want to blame the "bad guy" in a particular situation.
I was a reading of Media
I was a fan of Media&Values magazine ever since I saw it for sale at the original Border's Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the indie press section of the bookstore. I was intrigued at how it translated academic scholarship for a popular audience with a lens rooted in faith and values. It was a media literacy magazine for adult readers. So cool!
I had the opportunity to meet Liz first at the Guelph media literacy conference in Canada in 1989 and later at the Aspen Institute event she organized with Charlie Firestone in 1992. She was intimidating -- icy, cool and strong. But I saw how much of a learner she was -- she had worked hard to make the National Leadership Conference in Media Literacy a reality and she was a field builder.
As we walked the grounds of the Maryland campus on the Eastern Shore, we traded ideas and I could see her fine strategic thinking at work. I made it a point to visit her in Los Angeles and learn more about the work of the Center for Media Literacy and by 1996 we had partnered to create the Partnership for Media Literacy, the forerunner to the National Association for Media Literacy Education. We held the first conference in Colorado Springs in 1997 to build a learning community for media literacy educators.
Dear Barry: Fr. John Pungente
Dear Barry: Fr. John Pungente tells me that you’re in your final days now. I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you how important you have been to my life and work. You have been a lifelong learner and a courageous teacher and leader. I will always treasure your great mind, warm heart and generous spirit.
I remember when you joined us at the Harvard Institute on Media Education in 1993– you created a rich and informal experiental learning opportunity when you led participants on a walk of Harvard Square, deconstructing the symbolic environment, modeling the way media literacy educators teach attentional skills (learning to see) using a deft blend of theoretical ideas and the sharing of meaning.
And of course, your “call of the loon” at the end of our media literacy conferences has bound us together for many years – and reminded us of our deep connection to the communicative practices of the planet earth. It is an important tradition that I will continue to treasure and carry forward in the years ahead.
Know that I hold you very dear in my heart and acknowledge your important leadership and vision in creating a North American and global media literacy community.
"While a critic of what was
"While a critic of what was considered standard educational and pedagogical methods, Neil had a deep and profound understanding for and devotion to improving learning. "
--quote from Terrence Ripmaster, professor emeritus, William Patterson University
I was in high school when I
I was in high school when I read this book. Although some of the examples seemed quite remote, the ideas of the book resonated with the growing negative attitudes towards consumer culture which were part of my generation's heritage. I remember devouring all of his best-selling books, including The Status Seekers and The Waste-Makers. But it was The Hidden Persuaders that changed the way I watched television and looked at magazine advertising.
I think Edward R. Murrow is
I think Edward R. Murrow is part of the reason why I have such an intense love-hate relationship with television, and why, ultimately, I am an optimist about its future. With all of the dreck out there, there continue to be bold, inventive and idealistic creative producers who manage to find ways to inform, entertain and inspire.
I first encountered Cary
I first encountered Cary Bazalgette through her essay, "The Politics of Media Education," which was reprinted in Alvarado and Boyd-Barrett's edited book, Media Education: An Introduction in 1992. When I met her, I was so impressed at her approach to teacher education! What a terrific teacher she is!
We once had an opportunity to collaborate at a 2-day masterclass on media education that we offered in the Netherlands. At that time, Cary was emphasizing media education within the context of cultural heritage, and we discussed the implications of this focus. I certainly remember our many discussions about the humility needed for teaching teachers. She once told me, "Renee, when you teach teachers, you can be sure that 20% will do things with what you've given that far exceed your wildest imagination, developing extraordinarily innovative work that makes you think in new ways about media education. Another 20% will do just what you've taught them and nothing more. Be assured: many will never do anything with what you've taught them. Worst of all, some teachers will take what you've taught them and turn it into the most horrible stuff you can possibly imagine, so much so that you'll be ashamed when they tell you that they learned it from you!" I have often reflected on the wisdom and the paradox embedded in this wry comment in the context of my own work as a teacher educator.
Arnhem offered a large
Arnhem offered a large lecture course in visual thinking (art and perception) when I was a undergraduate at the University of Michigan and I remember loving his many ideas about gestalt, figure-ground and the psychology of color. But it was the book, Film as Art that really floored me when I was first trying to understand the early history of film in relation to media literacy. While at Harvard, I learned that Arnheim was following in the footsteps of Hugo Munsterberg, whose 1908 book, The Photoplay, explored the psychology and pleasures and aesthetics of film viewing. How fascinating that these German intellectuals helped us see the powerful interplay and depth embedded in the relationship between artist and interpreter.
I must have read Language in
I must have read Language in Thought and Action as an undergraduate, but I don't think it was formally assigned for a course. I found it, probably, in the University of Michigan library or perhaps at the original Border's on State Street. It was a slender, accessibly-written little book and it captured my imagination. Here was a simple explanation of representation-reality dialectic, where the big idea is to understand that "the map is not the territory." Concepts like denotation and connotation, euphemism, synonymy and homonymy helped me consider the power of language in shaping the attention-getting appeal of advertising. It was a natural choice for me in 1985 when I started teaching an introductory course in Human Communication and it was clear to me that students "got" media literacy better when we started with a close look at language. I have re-read this book every five years or so and continue to marvel at its timeless relevance and appeal.
In 1994, the superintendent
In 1994, the superintendent of the Billerica Public Schools wanted to build a cadre of leaders to advance media literacy in the district. We got 30 teachers to sign up and I hired John Pungente to come to give a summer course for these teachers, focusing on the international approach to media literacy education.
John was great with the participating teachers, who taught us all how they learn best. John's warmth and generosity combined with his love of film and media and his respect for classroom teachers. During this time period, my thinking about the practices of staff development changed dramatically because I had to really step away from my own expertise. To empower teachers, I had to completely change the way I taught—and John Pungente helped me learn about the value of activities and questions and open discussion. His approach to teaching media literacy had a great impact on me.
For me, the Jacques Cousteau
For me, the Jacques Cousteau TV show was my first sustained experience with the documentary form. As a child, it seemed amazing to be able to accompany the crew of the Calypso on their journeys around the world. The show captured the magic of discovery as well as the scientific rigor of the process of research. I was not aware, of course, of how carefully the program was edited to create drama out of life, but when I finally read the work of John Grierson on the documentary genre during my undergraduate years, I made immediate connections to my experience as an engaged viewer of Jacques Cousteau and his amazing (but highly constructed) ocean adventures.
When I first read Len
When I first read Len Masterman's book, Teaching the Media, it was around 1989 and I was just becoming aware of the media education community in England. Back in those pre-Internet days, we did not have easy access to the books and curriculum materials that are at our fingertips today.
The book was like a lightning bolt to my brain -- so much of it mirrored my own experience as a teacher. Masterman offered impeccable wisdom about "what works." He introduced the theoretical concept of representation by using rich, practical examples that made this idea relevant to secondary teaching and learning. What a thrill it was to get to meet Len and talk with him about the media education community in England!
I encountered the work of
I encountered the work of Jerome Bruner through my experience at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where Howard Gardner, David Perkins and colleagues at Project Zero were exploring the relationship between mind and culture through looking closely at learning in the arts. Only after I had read his work did I realize how much his ideas had infiltrated by thinking about learning, culture and media. As a child, my mother used Man: A Course of Study with her 6th grade students and I remember poring over the curriculum materials at home.
Bruner certainly validated the idea that one’s creative self could be connected to one’s identity as a researcher, teacher, and learner. Perhaps, however, I’ve known this forever: while I love to learn by reading, watching, and listening, I actually learn best by making and doing things. An important aspect of my personal and professional identity has always come through creative expression. As an undergraduate, I enjoyed serving as a reporter and editor for the Michigan Daily, the college newspaper. I love the forced concision of Twitter and appreciate how my creativity flourishes under constraints of time, resources and format.
I am at my happiest when designing websites and interactive media, making videos, writing curriculum, composing essays, making speeches, curating images for my PowerPoints, and using a combination of moving images, language, and sound to express my ideas. So much of my creativity is practiced through collaboration. Making media provides a structure for engaging with both people and ideas—it is through working with people to create media and learning experiences that I do my best thinking.
One fundamental value of media literacy education is expressed in the idea that by making media, we learn. Jerome Bruner identified the powerful interplay between working with people and materials (“hands-on”) and working with ideas (“minds-on”) as fundamental learning practices. In the 1960s, this approach was revolutionary and Bruner’s ideas were fueling the revolution. In my own teaching, I have discovered that many abstract principles and ideas become more engaging and accessible to learners when approached in an activity-based experience. By the way, this is just as true for graduate students as it is for young children (Hobbs 2015).
Creative authorship is fundamentally a learning process: as Bruner explained, artifact creation is an essential aspect of cognitive activity and cognitive growth. He appreciated that for many learners, it is vital to explain “in things, not words, understanding by doing something other than just talking” (Bruner 1996, 151). And not only do such creative works instantiate the learning process; they inspire those who participate in creating and sharing them and cultivate “pride, identity, and sense of continuity” (22).
Today, most media literacy educators insist on emphasizing the intersections that connect critical analysis to creative-media production (in print, visual, sound, and digital formats) as a core element of pedagogical value, reflecting a Brunerian line of inquiry in which learning is understood as a socially, culturally, and materially embodied process.
Of course, I was inspired by
Of course, I was inspired by Neil Postman as were many young scholars of my generation. I remember reading Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) and using it to teach my undergraduate course in Media and Society at Babson College as a new assistant professor. Postman's brilliant, accessible writing was an inspiration to me and I could see his good teaching instincts behind the shape and structure of his books.
When I got the chance to meet him in Cambridge for the first time, in 1993, I invited him to participate in the Harvard Institute in Media Education, which I had organized -- it was the first national-level summer teacher education program in the U.S. for media literacy educators. He was incredibly kind to me and very supportive of the project. Having him participate in the program helped draw more than 100 teacher leaders to the program and I was pleased to be able to interview Neil when creating my first documentary about media literacy, Tuning in to Media (1993). I understood, even then, that he was not a "computer guy," and that reaching him by telephone and letter was better than email. Neil's work resonated with me because of my own love-hate relationship with media culture and my appreciation for his deep humanistic values centered around the power of language to shape human experience. In 2014, I got the chance to reflect on Postman's impact on my thinking about media and learning in a 10-minute talk recorded on video.
When I was an undergraduate
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan studying at the Residential College, I had the pleasure of studying with Professor Herbert Eagle, who was a professor of Russian and East European cinema and film theory. From him, I got to study the theories and films of Sergei Eisenstein and view films by Andrzej Wajda and Dusan Makavejev. At that time, Professor Eagle was just finishing his book, Russian Formalist Film Theory (1981) and I could see how he was working out ideas about meaning-making and interpretation. I remember, at the time, trying desperately to figure out concepts like paradigmatic and syntagmatic structures, and feeling very unsure of this heady, abstract theory. Only years later, when I encountered the work of Mikhail Bakhtin did I make a connection to the important ideas circulating among Russian intellectuals during the 1920s that had been shaping my understanding of how to be an active film viewer and reader.