Approaches to Media Literacy and e-Learning
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In the global information and knowledge society, the ability to communicate competently in all old and new media, as well as to access, analyze and evaluate the power of images, words and sounds, is a fundamental skill and competence for every young European citizen.
These skills of media literacy are essential for our future as individuals and as members of a democratic society.
A contemporary communication scholar Walter Ong speaks of “secondary orality” with the introduction of the electronic media. He asks what are the distinguishing features of media of communication, broadly understood? Ong finds “media” a troublesome term. Unreflective reliance on models has generated the term “media” to designate new technological ways of managing the world, such as writing, print, and the electronic devices. The term is useful, says Ong, but it can be misleading, encouraging us to think or writing, print, and electronic devices simply as ways of “moving information” over some sort of space intermediate between one person and another. In fact, each of the so-called “media” does far more that this: it makes possible thought processes inconceivable before (Gronbeck 1991, p.11-12).
Current research on media concentrates a lot on the so called new media and combination of many senses in the media culture. For example, the digitalisation and media convergence of telecommunication, computer and media have created an entirely new “grey area” or “media gap” with such new media that do not fall into the category of traditional mass medium but neither the private medium. The distinction between public and private is being undermined as the access and delivery of digital network media becomes available to small audiences.
The tools to amplify the mind include artificial development of sound, vision, and touch. In sound, virtual worlds can include three dimensional sound that appears to come from specific locations. In vision, computer-generated worlds need to move with the speed of live action so that viewers perceive what they see as real. In touch, gloves or entire body suits, armed with sensors let a participant communicate with the computer and direct objects in virtual space through gestures.
An important research area deals directly with human brain and behaviour. It is expected to shape and design computer-generated worlds so that the information can be presented in such a manner that it can be absorbed and manipulated more easily and quickly. For example, it is known that human mind is genetically programmed to pick up certain visual cues. This is helping researchers design better computer icons.
One of the most challenging areas for e-learning and virtual classrooms and universities is the creation of telepresence. The key to defining virtual reality in terms of human experience rather than technological hardware is the concept of presence. Presence can be thought of as the experience of one´s physical environment – it is defined as the sense of being in an environment. The term telepresence can be used to refer to the extent to which one feels present in the mediated environment, rather than in the immediate physical environment. Telepresence is defined as the experience of presence in an environment by means of a communication medium. In other words, presence refers to the natural perception of an environment, and telepresence refers to the mediated perception of an environment (Steuer 1995, p.35-36).
An American professor W. James Potter (1998, p. 4-12) has articulated the fundamental ideas of the definition of media literacy in the following four principles:
1. Media literacy is a continuum, not a category. There are degrees in this continuum and we all occupy some position on the media literacy continuum. There is no point below which we could say that someone has no literacy, and there is no point at the high end where we can say that someone is fully literate because there is always room for improvement.
2. Media literacy needs to be developed. Some of this change occurs through a process of maturation, and some of it can only be accomplished by conscious practice. We also mature emotionally and morally. As we reach higher levels of maturation intellectually, emotionally, and morally we are able to perceive more in the media messages. If we are passive, we can still pick up a good deal of information in our media saturated culture, but that information will be neither balanced nor complete. People operating at the lowest levels of media literacy are a relatively mindless state during exposure in the sense that they are not concentrating on the messages, nor are they actively thinking about the meaning of those messages. People operating at a slightly higher level of media literacy are often active in processing messages and constructing their own interpretations. People operating at high levels of media literacy are mindful during exposure.
3. Media literacy is multidimensional including cognitive, emotional, aesthetic, moral dimensions. According to Potter, someone who is highly media literate realizes that there is a synergy among the four; that is, developing to a very high level on one usually requires significant development on the other three. The cognitive domain refers to mental processes and thinking. This is the intellectual dimension. The emotional domain is the dimension of feeling. Emotions need not be only the stong ones like rage, fear and hate but there are also a more subtle emotions, such as ambivalence, confusion, wariness, etc. The aesthetic domain refers to the ability to enjoy, understand, and appreciate media content from an artistic point of view. The moral domain refers to the ability to infer the values underlying the messages. It takes a highly media literate person to perceive moral themes well. Like in other dimensions, this is also a continuum.
4. The purpose of media literacy is to give us more control over interpretations because all media messages are interpretations.Note: this text is an extraction from Tapio Varis's speech, "Approaches to Media Literacy and e-Learning," which he delivered on November 16, 2002. The full text and corresponding bibliography can be found in the "pdf" at the top of the page.