Media Literacy

What is Media Literacy?

Media Literacy is a term that I needed to work through and define for myself.  After discussions with my family, I realized that my take on the term was slightly off so I decided to pursue definitions that were available online.  Below are links to a few organizations that have provided slightly different definitions for Media Literacy.  Before seeking any further resources, a clear or at least clearer definition for Media Literacy was essential.  Please take a few minutes to peruse these available definitions.

The Association of Media Literacy

A Canadian association made up of volunteer teachers, librarians, consultants, parents, cultural workers, and media professionals concerned about the impact of the mass media on contemporary culture.  Take a peak at their definition for Media Literacy.

The Media Awareness Network

A Canadian non-profit organization with members from education, journalism, mass communications and cultural policy that have been developing media and digital literacy programs since 1996.  The MNet has a large number of resources available primarily for teachers and parents – but it’s a great place to get started with their definition of Media Literacy.

Center for Media Literacy

An American educational organization working in the media literacy field for more than 20 years.  The philosophy of the CML is “Empowerment through Education.”  They provide a very comprehensive list of definitions for Media Literacy from a number of perspectives.

21st century media literacies by Howard Rheingold –           See video here

Dr Howard Rheingold is an author and Professor at Stanford and California Universities in the United States.  This video is an interview with Dr. Rheingold at Cambridge University and he does a great job at putting media literacy into the context of today’s high school and university student.  He’s a very charismatic speaker and captures your attention from the start and gives us, or rather he gave me a much better sense as to what Media Literacy is all about.


Of course, there’s wikipedia’s definition.  This entry does a nice job at summarizing many of the points highlighted in the definitions provided above.

Based on the definitions that are available, I hope you can agree with me that it is very difficult to develop one definitive definition for Media Literacy, but in my opinion I will view it as the ability to critically evaluate information provided to you using a number of different media.  The different media may include: the television, the cinema, videos, the radio, photography, advertising, newspapers and magazines, recorded music, computer games and the internet.  Reviewing this long list of media, you can immediately see that any information or message that is conveyed through these venues will be communicated to the “mass” or the public and that’s where I got confused between “media” and “The Media”.


Let’s start by looking at fictional works that deal or discuss Media Literacy in one form or another in the book.  The first example of this that I came across was:

1 – Doctorow, Cory.  (2008).  Little Brother. HarperCollins.

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

Also checkout Cory’s YouTube series where he talks about media literacy in relation to this YA novel Little Brother.

2 – Kilbourne, Christina. (2007).  Dear Jo: The story of losing Leah … and searching for hope. Lobster Press.

Maxine and Leah used to have so much fun chatting with boys online. Their other friends were jealous of their new relationships, and their parents were oblivious to all the love notes being emailed back and forth. So what if Max and Leah lied about their ages and where they lived … it was just a website … just for fun. But when Leah disappeared, Max realized that they weren’t the only ones telling lies online. Now Max must help the police find her friend and catch an internet predator … a predator who had come dangerously close to Max. Through her daily journal entries, Max shares the horrible feeling of betrayal, the crushing loss of Leah, and the struggle to move on.

3 – Hathaway, William T. (2006). CD-Ring. Lobster Press.

This fast paced high-low novel is well-suited for reluctant teen readers and ESL students. The action-packed plot delves into the seedy underworld of music and media piracy.

Gabriel Estrada is waiting for his big break. He lives for his girlfriend and his band, Rip Chord – they keep him going when money issues get him down. But when a club owner dashes his hopes of making it big and the band’s gear gets repossessed, Gabriel is lured into a wide-scale counterfeiting scam by the promise of easy money. He becomes the pawn of a ruthless criminal organization, whose corrupt operation goes beyond trafficking ripped CDs and DVDs. With everything he cares about on the line, he realizes he has to fight for what is right, and try to take down the CD ring.

4 – DeBoer, Ron. (1995). Returning Light to the Wind. Waterloo, Ontario: Windmill Press

5 – DeBoer, Ron. (1998).  Racing Through the Times.  Waterloo, Ontario: Windmill Press

6 – DeBoer, Ron. (1999).  Caught in the Net.  Waterloo, Ontario: Windmill Press

First in the Lightbringer Series. Sarah has to pursue the hero’s quest into Islone, the alternate world of television, to save her brother, Dillon. The novel is a bit didactic but engaging and imaginative. DeBoer has followed with Racing through the Times (1998), a fantasy about newspapers, and Caught in the Net (1999-2000), about computer media. These novels are fun to read and worthy of discussion with kids.

The above entries were YA novels but when you think about Media Literacy, one of the media that is commonly used to convey messages is film.  There have been a number of films that deal with the effects of media messages in today’s society.  Some of these dating back before the year 2000, showing that although we live in the computer age the effects of media literacy are not restricted to the Internet:

7 – The Truman Show (director, Peter Weir; 1998).

Starring Jim Carrey and Ed Harris, this film examines the trend in “reality” television. Truman is a man raised and living, without his knowledge, in a world created for a TV audience. He is “on” all the time; even his marriage is scripted by others. This film could be used with all or parts of Neal Gabler’s disturbing 1998 book, Life, the Movie (Alfred A. Knopf) which suggests that entertainment has replaced reality in American life.

8 – Max Headroom (directors, Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel; 1986).

This video from Karl Lorimar is the pilot of an avant garde TV series that did not last, perhaps because of its dark look at a future in which television (supported by computer technology) is the only growth industry, dominated by a few ruthless multinational corporations.

There are others as well – please see the ALAN Review, Volume 28 for a more complete listing


When I first started thinking about Media Literacy and sources for young adults on this topic, I immediately though ah..  non-fiction items should be easy to find, but now that I’ve just listed fiction items (and I’m starting to realize that there are a lot more of there ), that maybe non-fiction will not be as easy as I had initially thought.  There are a large number of teacher and parent resources available on the web, through one of the associations or educational groups listed above. But let’s see what types of resources are available for students.

1 – UNESCO Media Education Kit for Teachers, Students, Parents and Professionals is a great document that highlights a number of activities that can be completed by a student.  Relevant and probing questions on topics that many are familiar with.  This document is available in hard copy through UNESCO or can be downloaded on their website at:

2  – Macedo, Donald and Steinberg, Shirley R. (2007). Media Literacy: A Reader. Peter Lang Publishing

Media Literacy: A Reader produces a critical understanding of media culture designed to help students develop the ability to interpret media as well as understand the ways they themselves consume and affectively (emotionally) invest in media. Such an appreciation encourages both critical thinking and self-analysis, as students begin to realize that everyday decisions are not necessarily made freely and rationally. While we strongly believe that humans exercise agency, we understand that there are social, cultural, and political forces that affect agency. In this context our conception of media literacy analyzes the ways our everyday decisions are encoded and inscribed by emotional and bodily commitments relating to the production of desire and mood, all of which leads, in Noam Chomsky’s famous phrase, to the “manufacture of consent.” These complex pedagogical and ideological issues demand rigorous skills including questioning, analyzing, interpreting, and meaning-making. Media Literacy: A Reader is a comprehensive collection of essays that is sorely needed, as most of the academic work in the area is written not for an introductory audience, but for scholars in the field. It will shape the agenda in media literacy for years to come.

3 – Wan, Guofang.  (2007).  Virtually True: Questioning Online Media.  Capstone Press.

4 – Wan, Guofang.  (2007).  TV Takeover: Questioning Television. Capstone Press.

5 – Botzakis, Stergios. (2007).  Pretty in Print.  Capstone Press.

6 – Andersen, Neil. (2007). Music Madness: Questioning Music and Music Videos. Capstone Press.

These three books form a series that give young readers the tools they need to evaluate the barrage of media messages that reach them every day. Value assumptions, product placements, and cues to act are embedded in each media message. This fun series embraces media as entertaining and useful but also puts readers in a position of strength, as they learn a systematic way to question pop culture and to recognize how influential media messages are.

7 – Sandler, Martin W. (2008).  Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shared an Extraordinary Life. Walker & Company.

A visual tour de force and insightful portrayal of our revered 16th president, in time for his 200th birthday

Abraham Lincoln was the first president whose time in office was captured by photography. Lincoln was able to use the camera to shape his image as a man of the people, and Americans responded by electing him during the turbulent times leading up to the Civil War. Inspired by a glass photographic negative recently discovered in the National Archives’ Civil War collection that is the only confirmed existing picture of Lincoln before his historic Gettysburg Address, Sandler tells the story behind the photos that document Lincoln’s rise from frontiersman to chief executive.


There are many resources available online.  Each of the three National associations or groups highlighted in the “What is Media Literacy?” section maintain a repository of materials and links dealing with different aspects of Media Literacy.  Each association hosts lesson plans, conference proceedings and papers on Media Literacy.  These are great resources and warrant a visit these great advocates for Media Literacy.  I would also like to highlight new movements and groups that work in this field as well.  Some of these may be of particular interest to librarians and teachers, but may be of interest to students as well.

Social Media Club Education Connection

A user group with members that include both students and teachers, looking to further their own understanding and development in the area of media literacy.  You can register and become a member and participate in their discussions.

Incorporating Media Into the Curriculum – Media Literacy Links and Resources

A page of links for numerous Media Literacy resources put together by LEARN Quebec and the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board.  Excellent resources for both students and teachers.

Media Literacy ClearingHouse

A website or clearinghouse that hosts links to a great number of Media Literacy resources and maintained by Frank Baker, a recognized guru in the Media Literacy field.  The links are updated regularly with new ones highlighted at the top of the page.


Transliteracy is defined as the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. Definition from Wikipedia

Transliteracy seems to be the next generation of Literacies.  In the academic world we’ve worked through Literacy, Statistical Literacy (ok we’re still working on this one 🙂 ), Academic Literacy, Media Literacy, Information Literacy, and now Transliteracy.

Here are a couple of examples of exercises that deal specifically with Media Literacy:

This list is by no means an exhaustive list.  If you would like more information on Media Literacy and are looking for additional resources please leave me a comment below.  I’ve managed to obtain a LONG list of resources that are not on this list but now reside on my laptop 🙂  If you notice any errors or serious omissions please let me know so that I may add and/or repair.


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