Media and Learning 2010

Is media literacy best taught as a unique subject in primary and secondary schools?

Join the discussion

Digital and media literacy is such an important subject that many people argue it deserves its own time on the school curriculum. Others feel these are abilities as fundamental as reading and writing and so deserve attention across the whole curriculum.

Join the panelists:

  • Jacques Denies, Microsoft, School Technology Innovation Center (STIC)
  • Hans Laugesen, GL, National Union of Upper Secondary School Teachers, Denmark
  • Jim Devine, Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT), Ireland
  • Karl Desloovere, Flemish Ministry of Education and Training, Belgium
Moderator: Paul Ashton, Commissioning editor, Teachers TV, UK


Conference Team

Is media literacy best taught as a unique subject in primary and secondary schools? or should schools put in place initiatives that foster media literacy across the whole curriculum? can media literacy be taught in formal learning environments in the first place and what are the connections between media and digital literacy? join our discussion and have your say!

Andrew Watt

A fairly fundamental and underlying concept to the discussion that will go on here is "What is meant by 'Media Literacy'?" And this is not a new issue by any means. I have heard it argued that as 'media' is the plural of 'medium' it encompasses any medium that can be used in the process of communication between people. This would therefore include speech, written words, graphic communication, moving image, body language, facial expression, silence, and so on. However, a more restrictive definition takes it to be the study of what appears in what is generally referred to as 'The Media' i.e. newspapers, TV and radio. It might be that the first thing that we need to agree on is a definition that can be used during this conference.

Steven Malliet

I think this would also depend on the point of view we take. If we consider it from the teacher's perspective it would rather be about the competence to use interactive and/or audiovisual media as aids in the learning process. if we look at it from the students' perspective it would encompass aspects such as critical evaluations of media messages, using technologies to formulate a message of their own (in the sense of analysis, evaluation and creation of messages). In this case it might be relevant to use the term digital literacy - as has been done a lot in recent literature.

Deborah Arnold

I agree very much with your definition, Steven. I see media literacy about understanding and 'decoding' media messages (not just 'The Media' as Andrew says but including all the sources teachers, learners and citizens in general are exposed to and produce). I think critical thinking is a major competency to develop here. You might be interested in this presentation on "Digital literacy and competencies as essential life skills" which I gave at Online Educa Berlin last year, as part of the EC / EACEA Learning, innovation and ICT workshop.

But are digital literacy and media literacy really the same?!

David Seume

When the UK introduced the National Curriculum many years ago, 'Information Technology' was seen very much as a discrete subject, to be taught in separate lessons. Maybe that was excusable when schools had very few computers (I can remember when my Primary School got its first machine followed 'only' a year later by the second one!). Fortunately, things moved on and, once useful numbers of machines started arriving, many of us took the view that, to progress, it was essential to regard computers as tools rather than something to explore and use for their own sake. Therefore they became increasingly integrated into more and more subjects, as software and imagination allowed. As this approach has become overwhelmingly prevalent, it is similarly difficult to argue for discrete IT lessons except as part of specialist courses.
Steven has neatly articulated the distinction between teachers' and students' perspectives. However, in terms of passive use of the internet, I believe a lot more emphasis now has to be put upon the critical analysis of, or the extraction of useful information from, the welter of information thrown up by any Google search, for example. At the risk of offending anyone, I can't help feeling that this is a key area for progress.

Kirsty McLaughlin

Sugata Mitra gives an interesting twist to ideas of primary education learning with I.T, based on his research in India (later studies also conducted in the UK which looked at media literacy/ decoding when sourcing information)

Paul Ashton

I'll be chairing this discussion at the conference - many thanks for your comments. Here are three of mine. At Teachers TV we've found just about equal interest from teachers in programmes about the use of ICT in the classroom in support of learning, and in programmes that address ICT issues head on, ie issues like safety online, plagiarism and cyberbullying. We also had a good response to a four-part series for teachers on virtual worlds, blogs and wikis, podcasting, and hand-held devices. Shouldn't schools should advance on both fronts? And, secondly - would you agree with me that radio, TV and print now have less urgency as topics for attention than digital media? I can understand this to some extent, as those three older media are quite heavily regulated compared to the internet, and the development of the technology and applications in them is nothing like as fast as in the digital media. Thirdly, we have to face the fact that the staff in many schools just aren't equipped to match the students' use and understanding of mobile technology, internet (especially social networking), and games. So, is there an implication for teacher training here? Or is school the wrong place to try?

Hans Laugesen

Both among OECD and EU ministers of education there is an increased emphasis on 21st century competences, which besides media and information literacy, focus on ability to cooperate and problem-solving skills. In addition most governments in EU agree that we must focus on innovation and creativity to have a copetitive economy. In this setting I will - biased by my Danish school background - argue that both media- and ICT literacy should be an integrated part in of teaching any subject. But besides we still need specific IT and specific media study subjects for those student who want to qualify for further studies in those specific areas.

Ingrid Bruynse

In South Africa, we have a curriculum that leaves space for media literacy, which is forward-thinking, competency based and generally great. But the resources that are needed are: skills development for teachers; engaging materials that we can utilise and share at no cost to the users.

I am interested in seeing how other education ministries include media lieracy in the curriculae, and what resources are available in Europe...

Michel Wieczerniak

Hi Kirsty, Thanks for mentioning Suguta Mitra and his research. I never heard of him, but was very inspired watching his talks on Youtube. In Flanders we often hear from teachers that they don't use ICT in the classroom because they are affraid that they can't help the children; because they themselves aren't competent enough. But this showes that that is no problem. Children use the computer in learn. What we have to do as teachers is creating the environment and encourage them.

Mathy Vanbuel

Have a look at, which is an initiative of Belgian teacher Bart Verswijvel: the simple but excellent idea behind Teacher Aid is that "Everybody teaches, everybody learns". Teacher Aid involves students in a systematic and organised manner in the ICT training of teachers (indeed, turning roles upside down!)

Paul Ashton

Like Michel, I think the Suguta Mitra talk is fascinating. To me it's yet more evidence that traditional pedagogy and the traditional school curriculum are not helpful environments for the new kinds of learning we see in Suguta's piece.

Kirsty McLaughlin

I saw Sugata Mitra give his latest version of that presentation earlier this year in the UK,and I was completely blown away. I will be following developments to his work and theory of Self Organised Learning with great interest, however there was a mixed response from the audience. This is to be expected for any theory challenging entrenched models or traditions. JISC are doing some slightly more conventional research in this area, which you can read about here!

Paul Ashton

Many thanks to Jacques, Hans, Jim and Karl for kicking off this topic, and to all those who took part in the discussion in Brussels. At the outset Jacques made a powerful case for addressing ICT issues head-on with students, using a language-learning analogy, but as the discussion widened a body of opinion emerged that preferred all - or nearly all - media literacy learning to take place in a pre-existing curriculum or other context, to give it a sense of purpose. The discussion included a number of other issues, including funding, and the way in which the narrowness or flexibility of the curriculum and assessment procedures in a given country may be harmful or helpful to the best kind of media literacy work. We closed with a consideration of students' safety online, and how that might best be ensured by teachers. I learned to my surprise that in Denmark there are no filters on internet access in schools, which implies a pedagogy and teacher/student culture in Danish schools markedly different from what I'm familiar with in the UK!

25 - 26 November 2010 Flemish Ministry of Education Headquarters, Brussels
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