Tables under construction
Media Educations Present and Future: A Survey of Teachers
Several researchers made calls for the inclusion of media education within existing school curricula in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Considine, 1990; Duncan, 1989; Kahn & Master, 1992; Melamed, 1989; Wulfemeyer, Sneed, Van Ommeren, & Riffe, 1990). They argued that media education makes students critically aware of what they see, hear, and read, and it should be taught regularly in elementary and secondary schools.
Although media literacy is not yet a permanent fixture within school curricula, there has been rapid growth in the media literacy movement in the United States over the last five to six years (Considine, 1995). Support and advocacy groups such as the Center for Media Education, the Center for Media Literacy, the National Telemedia Council, Citizens for Media Literacy, the National Media Citizenship Project, and the Childrens Media Policy Network have been created to push for a media literate society. National conferences have been held to bring together educators, media professionals and concerned citizens in an effort to create a unified voice for media literacy. One such conference was the Aspen Instituteís National Conference on Media Literacy. Its participants developed a formal definition of media literacy:
The Speech Communication Association developed standards for speaking, listening, and media literacy in K-12 education (Speech Communication Association, 1996). Furthermore, several schools throughout the nation have some component of media literacy already within their curricula, including programs in Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Massachusetts (Considine, 1995; Darlington, 1996). Media literacy is also reaching the community through workshops conducted by the National PTA and "Cable in the Classroom" (Considine, 1995). Given all of these efforts on behalf of media literacy, it is more than apparent that many public interest groups and educational institutions consider it an issue worthy of attention. Therefore, since researchers called for increased media education several years ago, the question that arises is: How has the recent media literacy movement affected the educational environment?
Past Assessments of Media Education
Elementary and secondary teachers in Northern and Southern California were surveyed approximately ten years ago to assess mass media instruction in the high school social science curriculum and determine the media education needs of elementary schools (Lloyd-Kolkin & Tyner, 1988; Wulfemeyer et al., 1990). Wulfemeyer et al. (1990) surveyed a group of high school social science teachers in Southern California to determine if they felt there was a need for mass media instruction in the high school social science curriculum. Even with a crowded social science curriculum, teachers felt room should be made for media education and reported a need for meaningful instruction on how the media operate, how they should operate, and the impact they have on daily life.
Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988) surveyed parochial and public elementary school teachers in the San Francisco area to assess their media use in the classroom, their perceptions of student media use, and their educational goals for students in terms of media. The survey was designed to collect information to help develop a media literacy curriculum, which would be based on current teaching practices, for grades one through six. Findings indicated that teachers ìrevealed an open, enthusiastic and knowledgeable attitude toward mass media and a desire to incorporate media education into their classroom activitiesî (Lloyd-Kolkin & Tyner, 1988, p. 15). Furthermore, results indicated a clear need among teachers for additional and better media education resources. These two surveys are catalysts for this research study.
This study is designed to assess the current state of media education in elementary and secondary schools and determine if changes have occurred given the increase in educator awareness of media education benefits, media literacy advocacy groups, media education resources, and changes in technology. Therefore, the following research questions is proposed: What is the current state of media education? This can be broken down into several areas:
Responses to these questions will indicate if media education has made any progress in the last decade and suggest a direction for the future.
Most media messages are constructions of reality that have a specific purpose. Melamed (1989) argued that usually the purpose is to sell a product or advocate an idea. Certain values and ideologies accompany these products and ideas. Through media education students learn how to identify such ideological messages and analyze the underlying values that are communicated.
Melamed urged educators to approach teaching and learning about the media through a discovery or inquiry mode. She explained that "knowledge should be 'drawn out,' ... rather than presented in pre-packaged form" (Melamed, 1989, p. 191). This approach makes students bring a part of themselves to the learning process. They find ways to make the material relevant to their lives instead of relying on the teacher. Students realize the importance of listening to others because it may help them better understand the topic. In addition, different ideas facilitate discussions that add excitement to the classroom.
Melamed used the concept of sleuthing as a metaphor to describe the process of learning in whose interests the media are created and produced. Questions about bias, objectivity, motive, the inclusion of all facts, and the presentation of logical arguments are among the many that students must ask in order to discover the "truth." Truth can also be discovered by examining media techniques. Students must understand the messages different camera angles send, the significance of certain colors, and how sound affects interpretation.
Duncan (1989) identified a need for updated research that would include an in-depth look at the effects of media and popular culture on behavior. He explained that much of the research on the effects of mass media on behavior were dated or had been refuted by other studies. Researchers need to analyze audiences with respect to how they "negotiate meaning" (Duncan, 1989, p. 205) in order to increase understanding of the varied individual responses to a given message. Duncan also called for greater application of brain hemisphere research, especially with regard to visual learners.
In addition, he argued for an expanded look at the effects of mediation along with a summary evaluation of the leading approaches to media education in other countries like Australia, Scotland, and Norway. He said there is a need for formal research that evaluates the long term benefits of media literacy.
Duncan also emphasized the need to identify media literacy skills. Among the skills he outlined were critical thinking and visual literacy. He also noted a need to understand what popular culture is and its impact. In addition, he believed empowerment strategies are important for students to learn because they help students realize they have the ability to make a difference, despite the "seeming omnipotence of the mass media" (Duncan, 1989, p. 207).
Considine (1990) argued for the inclusion of media literacy within school curricula by discussing the controversy over the Channel One project and outlining the success of media education in Canada and Australia. He explained that even though the media is more prevalent in the United States than any other nation, numerous barriers impede the implementation of media education programs into the school systems. He urged the educational system to make major changes in teacher training and curriculum design. He believes media education must be integrated into existing curricula not as an elective, but as an integral part of the overall curriculum.
Wulfemeyer et al. (1990) found teacher consensus on the need to develop students' critical thinking skills. Nearly ninety-four percent of those surveyed believed the social science curriculum was the place for mass media studies. Despite the fact that only thirty-four percent reported any college training on how to teach about the media, about eighty-six percent said they felt qualified to do so. The respondents ranked television as the most important medium to be studied, and they indicated that the effect of media messages was the most important area to be included in the curriculum.
Rowland High School in Rowland Heights, CA (20 miles east of Hollywood), is providing meaningful instruction for its students with a program that teaches media literacy through a hands-on approach and emphasizes communication, i.e., the art of "telling a good story" (Kahn & Master, 1992, p. 77). The Rowland Animation program has pioneered the use of multimedia tools within the curriculum to teach students creative and critical thinking skills (Kahn & Master, 1992). The interdisciplinary approach involves collaboration, peer teaching, and problem-solving. It uses empowerment strategies like those advocated by Duncan (1989) to help students be active producers of the media.
At the core of the Rowland Animation curriculum are six basic skills that educator Herbert Kohl (1982) believes are necessary for children to acquire to function effectively as adults. Through their productions, students learn the ability to use language in a thoughtful manner. Language includes words, images, camera angles, and sound. They also acquire problem-solving skills as they experiment with many possible solutions to create and maintain the continuity of their message. The ability to understand and use technological tools as a means to an end is also learned. The focus of the program is what can be created with the technology, rather than the technology itself. Students learn to use their imagination and appreciate different individual and group expressions. They have numerous chances to experience the creative process at all stages. In addition, students gain an understanding of how groups function. They recognize the need for cooperation and compensate for individual strengths and weaknesses. Finally, students learn how to learn. They develop self-confidence and find learning enjoyable. These qualities are applicable to anything they do in life.
Graves-Snyder (1992) found similar benefits when she had her students produce videos, which included an oral defense, as an alternative to the traditional research paper. She explained that making a video requires students to research their topic thoroughly and provide their own creative interpretation of the material. This creativity is stimulating for the teacher and student. Video projects also increase student motivation and classroom camaraderie. The positive classroom atmosphere enhances in-class discussions and facilitates cooperation among students.
Graves-Snyder (1992) said these productions are also advantageous because they lend themselves to the "learning-by-teaching process" (p. 133). This advantage is based on the premise that the best way to learn about a topic is to teach it. Finally, another benefit of video assignments is that students learn to make the subject matter relevant and meaningful to the present day.
This overview of the literature highlights several successful media education programs and practices that offer meaningful instruction to students, which will benefit them far beyond the classroom. Such benefits are a key reason many educators desire an increase in media education. Given this desire to increase media education, it is important to assess the current state of affairs within the educational system to determine what progress has been made and what direction to take in the future.
Three hundred fifty-nine surveys were distributed to public and private elementary and secondary school teachers in a small southeastern city to assess their perspectives on media education. This purposive sample of local school teachers is consistent with the methodologies employed by Lloyd-Kolkin & Tyner (1988) and Wulfemeyer et al. (1990).
Approval was obtained from the local school board and school principals to distribute the surveys in four public schools. Six other public schools were solicited; four did not grant permission for distribution, and two did not respond. Principals from ten private schools approved the distribution of the survey to their faculty. Over a three day period, surveys were hand-delivered to a representative at two of the four public schools and six of the private schools. The surveys were distributed at a faculty meeting or put into teachers mailboxes. Teachers were asked to return the surveys to their principal or to the school office. Pick ups were made a week to 10 days after initial delivery. A subsequent pick up was made a week later. Due to a delay in school board approval, two of the public schools received the surveys two weeks after the initial distribution. Pick ups were made three days later. A follow-up letter and additional copies of the survey were distributed to all four public schools and one private school. These schools had the lowest response rate of all the schools solicited. Pick ups were made a week to ten days later. Due to a low response rate (13.9%) from the initial sample, an additional 72 surveys were distributed to four more private schools six weeks after the initial distribution. The surveys were collected one to three weeks after distribution. An overall response rate of 26.7% (n=96) was achieved.
The survey (see Appendix A) contained 95 items assessing teachers perspectives on the status of mass media instruction and its future in elementary and secondary schools. Respondents read 80 statements and indicated how much they agreed or disagreed with each one. Responses were recorded on a 7-point Likert scale (1=Strongly Agree; 7=Strongly Disagree). Topics of interest included goals for media education, the appropriate place for media education, preparation for teaching about the mass media, student media-related skills, student media understanding competencies, addressing media in the classroom, addressing media less often, barriers to media education, and sources of media education materials. Respondents also rated the importance of students understanding of 12 mass media elements using a 10-point scale (1=Very Important; 10=Not at all Important). Additional demographic data was compiled, including age, gender, type of school (public or private), grade level taught, years of teaching experience, professional media experience, media literacy training, and computer experience. The number of survey items totaled 109.
The data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). After examining the frequency distributions data were recoded for all items requiring a bipolar response of "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree" or "highly competent" to "not competent". All responses less than four (the median of the 7-point scale) were collapsed to obtain percentages of agreement with each statement (e.g., a response of 1, 2, or 3 was recoded as agreement with the statement). Such recoding is similar to that used by Wulfemeyer et al. (1990). Additional analyses reflected methods used by Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988). In their study, two new variables were created and chi-square statistics were used to make comparisons among groups of teachers. In the present study, several scales were constructed from selected items within the questionnaire and checked for reliability. The mean responses of public versus private school teachers were compared on the constructed scales and items of particular interest using t-tests. In an effort to expand on the work of Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988), other comparisons were made based on age, gender, grade level taught, and years of teaching experience.
A total of 96 elementary and secondary school teachers responded to the survey that assessed their perspectives on media education. Ninety percent of the respondents were female, and the average age of the respondents was 40 years old. Sixty-three percent of the teachers teach in private schools, while 37% work in the public school system. Years of teaching experience ranged between less than a year to 31 years. The average length of teaching experience is 10.80 years with a median of 1 year (Table 1). Grade level taught was divided into elementary, middle, and high school. Additional categories were created for those who teach several grade levels and Pre-K students (Table 2).
Perceived Use and Understanding of Media by Students
Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988) described this domain of items as those that addressed teachers perceptions of student media use and competency. Questions included how competent students are at operating equipment as well as a mastery of selected media literacy components. Drawing from Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988), media literacy was considered to have two components: 1) competency in equipment use and 2) competency in understanding media. Understanding media included the ability to self-regulate media use, distinguish fact from fiction, and choose useful/valuable media. Like the teachers in the survey conducted by Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988), teachers responding to this survey perceived their students as competent operators of various media equipment like television, radios, and VCRs (Table 3), but rated them less competent on their media understanding skills such as identifying values and distinguishing program content from advertisements (Table 4).
Scales of perceived student media skills and perceived student media understanding competencies were constructed. A significant difference was found between public school and private school teachers for student media understanding competencies. Public schools teachers reported a lower degree of competency among their students than did private school instructors. However, both groups rated their students media skills as equal (Table 5).
There was a trend toward significance when male (M = 3.90, SD = .76) and female (M = 4.45, SD = 1.17) teachers were compared on students media understanding competencies (t (13) = -1.91, p = .079). However, the small number of males in the survey (N=10) calls this evidence into question. The same can be said of the differences found when Pre-K teachers (N=4) are compared with elementary, middle, and high school teachers as well as those who teach a combination of grade levels (Table 6). In essence, the sample size of each group of teachers (i.e., male and Pre-K) is too small to make accurate interpretations.
Media Use in the Classroom
Teachers were asked about different ways they address media in the classroom. Those who strongly agreed they did not address media in class were asked to skip the items. Nearly 80% of the respondents addressed media through spontaneous discussion. Other common instructional practices involved the use of newspapers (61%) and magazines (58%) and discussion of general TV viewing (55%). Only 13% of the respondents teach media as a formal subject, but 48% address media as part of other subjects (Table 7). Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988) reported similar findings. Of the 373 elementary school teachers surveyed by Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner only 12.9% addressed media as a formal subject and 66.2% taught about media as part of another subject. Like teachers in the current survey, those in Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyners study reported spontaneous discussion, the use of print media, and discussion of general TV viewing as some of the most common instructional practices for addressing media. Interestingly, media literacy curriculum resources (14%) and the Internet (15%) were among the least common instructional practices reported by the respondents of the current survey. Perhaps a lack of access to these resources explains their limited use.
The items used to assess how teachers address media in the classroom were averaged into a scale (Table 7). When public school teachers (M = 4.26, SD = .92) were compared to private school teachers (M = 4.16, SD = .95) on this scale, no significant differences were found.
When Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988) asked teachers if they would prefer to teach about media more often, over 86% indicated they would like to address media more. Only 13.4% reported wanting to address media less often. Of those responding to the items in the present survey, 41% agreed they would prefer to address media more often. However, 25% said they would rather teach about it less. It is important to note the variation in the number of respondents for both of these items (Table 8). Taking into account the suspect nature of the findings, it appears teachers are less enthusiastic about teaching media in the classroom. For many a lack of materials (65%) and a lack of time (57%) are the most common reasons for preferring to teach about media less often.
Barriers to Media Education
Although approximately two-thirds of the teachers surveyed reported teaching about media in the classroom, their ability to implement media education into their regular teaching practices is not without difficulty. Several barriers to media education exist. The most significant barrier is lack of time (Table 9). Seventy-seven percent of the respondents cited time constraints as the most significant obstacle to providing media education at their respective schools. Additionally, just over half (51%) of the teachers cited lack of materials as a barrier to educating students about media. These findings are consistent with that of Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988).
Resources for Media Education
The data indicate that 46% of the respondents create their own media education materials. The school library/librarian (42%) and school media center (42%) are the other two most common sources of materials. Materials provided by the Media Literacy On-Line Project and ìCable in the Classroomî that are specifically designed for media education are only used by 2% and 18%, respectively, of the teachers responding (Table 10).
Teachers Media Qualifications
Lack of teacher training is also an obstacle that impedes the progress of media education. Nearly half (48%) of the teachers cited lack of training as a barrier. Interestingly, 56% of the respondents feel qualified to teach about media; however, only 38% received college training that contained information about media literacy. Eight-four percent of the teachers believe that future teachers should receive college training that has a media literacy component (Table 11). It is interesting to compare the findings of this study to those of Wulfemeyer et al. (1990). Wulfemeyer and his colleagues reported that 86% of the 159 social science teachers surveyed said they felt qualified to teach about mass media. Thirty-four percent received college training that contained information about the mass media and 94% felt that future social science teachers should receive mass media training.
Goals and Values of Media Education
Through an open-ended question about what is most important for students to understand about media, Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988) identified eight broad categories. These categories, along with five related ideas from the study by Wulfemeyer et al. (1990), were expanded to 13 statements in this survey. Findings indicate that teachers agree all of the categories are important ideas that students should understand about media (Table 12). A scale of media education goals and values was constructed (Alpha = .89). Comparisons among public (M = 1.34, SD = .42) and private (M = 1.50, SD = .52) school teachers revealed a significant difference between the groups (t (82) = -1.60, p < .10). Public school teachers were more supportive of the media education goals than private school teachers. When public school teachers (M = 1.28, SD = .51) were compared to private school teachers (M = 1.65, SD = .99) on each item in the scale, a significant difference was found for the item asking how important it is for students to understand that media is a window on the world (t (94) = -2.09, p = .04). There was a trend toward significance for the items addressing the importance of distinguishing fact from fiction and influence of TV/movies over print (Table 13). Additionally, comparisons among teachers who have been teaching eight years or less (M = 1.54, SD = .54) with those teaching more than eight years (M = 1.32, SD = .40) also resulted in a significant difference (t (86) = 2.15, p = .04). Teachers with more experience supported the goals of media education more than teachers with less experience. These differences are intriguing because of the overwhelming agreement of the respondents on each item individually.
Following the lead of Wulfemeyer et al. (1990), respondents were asked to rate the importance of students understanding of 12 mass media elements on a scale of 1-10 with "1" being "very important." The results are reported below (Table 14). Respondents ranked the potential effect of media messages on people, ethics in media, and the roles and responsibilities of media in society as the most important elements for students to understand. Wulfemeyer and his colleagues (1990) reported the same top three rankings in their study. While technologically related aspects of the mass media ranked last on Wulfemeyer et al.s survey, it improved its ranking by three places in the present study. Overall, teachers in both studies rank the mass media elements in a similar fashion.
Results also indicate that teachers believe media education has a place at all levels of elementary and secondary education. Although, media education is seen as more appropriate in middle (94%) and high school (95%) than in elementary school (82%) (Table 15).
The present study attempted to assess the current state of media education. In an attempt to address these issues the six specific areas of interest highlighted in the introduction will be discussed and comparisons will be made with the studies of Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988) and Wulfemeyer et al. (1990) where appropriate.
Importance of Media Literacy
The first area of interest focused on teachers perception of the importance of teaching media literacy. Responses indicate that the sample of teachers agree wholeheartedly with the goals and values of media education (Table 12). However, a significant difference was found among public and private school teachers. The data indicate private school teachers were not as supportive of media education goals as public school teachers. When compared on each individual item in the scale, public school teachers did not differ from private school teachers except on the item addressing the importance of students understanding media as a window on the world. However, these results are suspect given the overwhelming percentages of agreement on each item in the media education goals scale. When Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988) compared public and parochial school teachers on these items individually, they found that public school teachers were significantly more likely to support goals of understanding subjectivity of media content and how media works than parochial school teachers. Parochial school teachers were found to be significantly more likely to teach students to distinguish fact from fiction (Lloyd-Kolkin & Tyner, 1988).
Addressing Media in the Classroom
Although teachers believe in the value of media education, only two-thirds reported using or discussing media in the classroom. The most common practice of addressing media is through spontaneous discussion. Some discussion practices focused on specific areas of media such as general TV viewing, advertising, and medias role in society. It is encouraging to know that teachers are engaging their students in discussions about media, rather than just using the various media as instructional tools. Unfortunately, the survey did not address what type of discussions occur and exactly how teachers address media literacy issues through the use of the various media such as television and media education videos. Future studies must explore what type of discussions teachers are conducting and analyze how well these discussions contribute to creating media literate students.
The data indicate teachers use media that is readily available to them more often than more technologically advanced media. For example, approximately 60% of those teachers who address media in the classroom reported using magazines and newspapers as means of instruction. Only 15% reported using the Internet. Obviously, it is easier to bring in copies of newspapers and magazines than it is to get every student access to the Internet in the classroom. Teachers fortunate enough to have access to the Internet have a wealth of opportunities to use to teach their students about the media. However, those teachers in schools without classroom Internet access still have the opportunity to teach students to be media literate citizens through traditional mass media. A lack of technologically advanced resources should not stop teachers from using accessible media (e.g., newspapers and magazines) to educate students about the messages sent by the media and how they should be interpreted. Teachers have a greater opportunity to provide media education through discussion of specific media topics. It is through such discussion that teachers can help students develop critical thinking skills and teach them to carefully evaluate the messages they receive from the media.
Media Education Resources
Often discussions are sparked by specific media education resource materials that are designed to focus on a specific aspect of media literacy, such as recognizing stereotypes. Forty-six percent of the teachers in the survey reported creating media education materials themselves. The school library and media center were sources of media education for 42% of the teachers. Only 2% of the teachers reported getting materials from the Media Literacy On-Line Project. It is quite possible that most of the teachers in the sample were not aware the web site exists. "Cable in the Classroom" also provides media education materials designed specifically for teaching about critical viewing skills, yet only 18% of the teachers make use of these resources. Increased awareness of the availability of these materials could help teachers integrate media education into their existing instructional practices. For example, basic guidelines for deconstructing advertisements are available from the New Mexico Media Literacy Project (1996). Teachers could download these guidelines, make copies for their students, and bring in a magazine advertisement for them to deconstruct. The advertisement could be for a vitamin supplement. Teachers could discuss the persuasive techniques of advertisers, the images portrayed in the ad, and the underlying messages. Most importantly, teachers could use this exercise as an integral part of a unit on nutrition. This allows teachers to address the topics required by the school administration, but also incorporate media education without taking time away from the topic of interest.
Barriers to Media Education
Few could argue that there is a lack of resources available to teachers for media instruction; however, awareness of all available resources is another matter. In addition, there is another barrier to media education, lack of time. Seventy-seven percent of the sample respondents indicated that the most significant barrier to media education is lack of time. The second most significant barrier is lack of materials. Just over half of the respondents indicated a lack of resources was a problem.
In the "deconstruction of an ad" example above, the access to and use of the New Mexico Media Literacy Project (1996) resource was straightforward. Other resources provided by media literacy advocacy groups and national organizations like the Center for Media Literacy are just as easy to access and use. Perhaps teachers in this sample are not aware of the ease with which these resources can be obtained and implemented. Those teachers who are aware of the resources should share their knowledge with their colleagues. Media center personnel and school librarians should also keep teachers updated on the latest resources available to them. Perhaps this will encourage teachers to try these resources that have been designed to be easy to use and stand-alone as instructional tools. Teachers time is valuable and anything that can be done to help facilitate their ability to locate and write lesson plans to incorporate these materials into their daily instruction is necessary.
Besides lack of time and materials, lack of training was cited as a barrier. Nearly 50% indicated teacher training was a barrier to media education. One teacher wrote, "No time, no training, no extra supplies to do it correctly."
Other comments revealed that teachers prefer to teach about media less often because there is a greater emphasis on teaching traditional subjects rather than media. One comment was "[there is a] pressure to emphasize academic basics-little time or resources." Another explained, "We need to teach academics. [We] hope they will learn media literacy in high school or college." These comments suggest that media education is not as high a priority as reading, writing and math. While a strong argument can be made for the necessity of the 3Rs, teachers and administrators must realize that the basics have changed. Students are growing up in a media dominated society, which has transformed the idea of literacy into much more than reading and writing. Literacy has expanded to visual interpretation and understanding. Students need to know how to read visual messages and interpret the underlying messages communicated through media. However, it is not clear that instructional practices have adequately incorporated this new dimension to literacy. The data on sources of media education (Table 10) and how teachers address media in the classroom (Table 7) are a small indication of this. In order to more accurately interpret how effective media education among teachers is, additional data is necessary. Information about how teachers use the media in their classrooms and what type of discussions they have with their students is necessary to adequately assess how well the key dimensions of media literacy are being addressed.
A telling statistic is that, of those teachers in the sample, only 56% reported feeling qualified to teach about the mass media. Even more disturbing is that only 38% reported receiving any college training in media literacy. These data suggest some reasons for the discrepancy in teachers support of the goals and values of media education and the practice of media education. Essentially all of the teachers believe students need to understand how to critically think about, analyze, and evaluate media messages. However, only two-thirds address these issues in the classroom. Moreover, data were not collected to assess if the key dimensions of media literacy are actually being addressed in the classroom. So, what contributes to this discrepancy? An obvious argument is that teachers do not feel adequately trained to address media. They are more comfortable discussing subject areas they know well. It is clear that media literacy training would benefit teachers who question their qualifications to teach about media. The problem is finding time to train them. In-service training and media literacy workshops are valuable and necessary to increase teachers competency about media education. However, a more practical training opportunity might be collaborative efforts among colleagues. Perhaps teachers who have had media literacy training could work closely with their colleagues to provide them with several tips to increase the amount and effectiveness of media education in the classroom. Mentoring is an idea that typically dictates that the more experienced (sometimes elder) individual takes a less experienced colleague under his/her wing. However, this may not be the case for media literacy. It may be that a new teacher will serve as a mentor to a veteran of the classroom. Of course, the relationship will be reciprocal because the experienced teacher will be able to offer many valuable lessons to the new teacher. Both teachers benefit, and, most importantly, so do the students.
Eighty-four percent of the sample agreed that future teachers should receive media literacy training. Fortunately, there are programs like the Media Studies program in the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina that offer future teachers invaluable media literacy training (Considine, 1995).
Perceptions of Students Media Skills and Media Understanding
Lloyd-Kolkin and Tyner (1988) identified two components of media literacy: 1) competency in equipment use and 2) competency in understanding media. Teachers in the sample agreed that most students are adequate equipment operators, but they are not as competent at understanding what is produced by the media. This difference seems reasonable when it is thought of in terms of developmental stages. Students ability to reason and analyze develops more slowly than their ability to use motor skills to operate equipment. Therefore, this difference is not surprising.
The results also indicated public school teachers believe their students have significantly lower media understanding competencies than do private school teachers. This finding might be attributed to traditional differences in public and private education. For example, students in private schools typically receive increased individual instruction due to small class sizes. Also, public school teachers are bound by the school board to follow a specific curriculum; private school teachers sometimes have the freedom to adapt their curriculum. Another possible factor contributing to the difference is the socio-economic status of public and private school students. Private school students often come from families with a higher socioeconomic status than public school students, which suggests they have more opportunities for education in general.
The survey indicates that teachers believe media education is important, but putting it into practice is not easy. Several barriers contribute to the effectiveness of media education, mainly lack of time and materials. However, it has been argued that these barriers can be overcome with increased awareness of easy to use media education resources. As for teachers lack of qualifications, survey respondents strongly agree that media literacy training is a necessity for future teachers. Those in higher education cannot ignore the need to teach future teachers how to help students better understand the media messages that inundate their lives each day. In addition, current teachers who are trained in media literacy need to serve as mentors to their colleagues in order to improve teachers ability to teach about media effectively. It is clear from the data on teachers perceptions of students media understanding competencies that students are lacking in their ability to critically evaluate and analyze messages. This is an indication that media education needs to have a place in the curriculum, preferably integrated rather than as a formal subject.
As for future research, this survey needs to be redistributed in order to check the reliability of the findings reported here and assess two additional topics of interest. These topic include 1) the effectiveness of how teachers use and address media in the classroom and 2) the level of awareness regarding the availability of media education resources. Such information will provide more insight into the status of media education and its direction for the future.
© B.L. Yates 2000