Arabnews - Arwa Alrikabi - Let's do an association exercise. I'll say “media education” and you tell me what first comes to mind. Did you think of using computers and various gadgets in the classroom? That's probably what most people think of when they hear “media education,” but is that it? To just turn classrooms into hi-tech utopias and behold: A better, more effective education? Sounds too easy, right? That’s probably because it is.
I believe most experts would emphatically agree that media technology is merely a tool devoid of content. Tanya Byron, professor of the public understanding of science, commented on this. “The technology itself is not transformative. It's the school, the pedagogy that is transformative.” Others would argue that technology indeed does change us: short attention spans and decreased human social connections are examples of its effects as a medium. The fact remains that we are the ones who infuse technology with meaning. This construction and interpretation of meaning is the domain of education.
So if digitalizing education is not the answer, what is? Now we will pick up from last week's article and repeat the question: How do we educate ourselves and our kids on media? Media theorist Neil Postman once said, “Television is altering the meaning of being informed by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented, or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.” This statement could easily apply to the Internet and social media as well, and it is the crux of media literacy.
So how do we sift through the “disinformation” and discriminate between fact and fiction, the informative and the manipulative? In short, we do that by understanding how the system works. A media literate person asks himself who created this message? What techniques were used to grab my attention? What values and points of view were represented or omitted in this message? Why is this message being sent? What is the role of editing in media and how does it construct meaning for us?
Such questions are a matter of life or death to our minds in this media-saturated world. However, since the potency of propaganda lies in its invisibility, the solution lies in making the invisible visible. By critically thinking about the main sources of information in this world, we could ultimately make the difference between a misinformed and complacent citizenry and its opposite: an informed and engaged group of people.
The latter understand that media is an industry; that messages have authors with a purpose; that media makers employ techniques to persuade and manipulate that are easily detected when you know what you're looking for; that media ownership and funding shapes the information presented and determines censorship and bias; that language (words, images and sound) is used to create specific and arbitrary meanings and evoke emotional responses.
Considering that kids are smarter than we imagine, all this can be discussed as early as childhood and adolescence. In fact, this could be an engaging method to explore a wide array of topics at school, thus cultivating essential critical and ethical thinking skills.
It has the potential to motivate indifferent students to become interested in learning because it tackles an integral issue to their lives. For instance, extending education to encompass online activities (texting, blogging, editing images and sounds, gaming, social media, etc.) could foster critical and ethical thinking in students. Through understanding the perspective of others, being aware of roles and responsibilities, and exploring the effects of one's actions online, we can develop character and mind in students who are already heavily involved in such activities. Moreover, if students were encouraged to not only analyze but also create media messages in school, they would have a deeper understanding of how the game is played. There are few authoritative clear-cut answers to such inquiries.
Real education is not about providing ready answers as much as it's concerned with exciting the mind to examine the world, inquire about it, seek answers, and rethink assumptions, thus producing proactive seekers and creators of knowledge rather than passive receivers.
This is a novel way of perceiving education as a tool that enables people to understand reality, envision a better reality, and actively seek to bring it about. Our youngsters are well equipped to venture into this truly new education, the question is, are we?
Exclusive to the Arab News.