In this article, Martens conducts a
meta-review of existing literature to expand the understanding of media
literacy in the real world. A main finding from review of 156 scholarly
manuscripts was that definitions that vary from the Aspen definition, which
ultimately leads to different instructional outcomes in applied settings.
Martens critiques the traditional,
popular definition established at Aspen (access, analyze, evaluate, and
communicate messages) and offers instead Potter’s 2004 (p. 58-59, as cited by
Martens) definition: “the set of perspectives from which we expose ourselves to
the media and interpret the meaning of the messages we encounter.” This
definition requires a broader set of knowledge and processing skills (grouping,
induction/deduction, synthesis, abstracting, etc.). Relatedly, Birmingham’s
2003 concept of media education entails production, language, representation,
and individual interpretations.
Previous literature posited media
literacy education in terms of media industries, media messages, media
audiences, and media effects, which come from theories of mass communication. Media
industries deals with profit models, markets, motivations, control of news,
and economic and social conditions. Media messages, premised on the view
that messages are constructed and do not represent reality (citing Kellner and
Share, 2005), can be distinguished by grammar literacy (the particular
characteristics of the medium) and content literacy (technical aspects of the
camera, setting, and effects). Media audiences means more than just
individual interpretation and access, and includes a critical component of
empowerment and negotiated meaning (citing Kellner and Share, 2005).
Furthermore, new digital technologies pose questions about the audience as
creators. Media effects introduces an important discussion about viewpoints
and models of instruction—the consumption of negative images tend to be
emphasized, but this oversimplifies the need to consider how deeply adolescents
might be affected by images, models of instruction, and the learner as
empowered. All four are associated with how information is controlled,
filtered, and amplified.
Scholars’ interest in media
education stems from their work in four major areas—active citizenship, public
health, and aesthetics. These “mediating roles” (p. 6) guide the visions,
purpose, and key concerns of media literacy education. For instance, active
citizenship proposes that media literate individuals “become fully able to
participate as critical consumers and citizens in a media saturated society”
(p. 6); the public health role proposes that media literacy education can negate
unhealthy messages and empower healthy choices. Aesthetics, Martens writes,
“seem to have disappeared from the research agenda” (p. 8), despite deep roots
in film theory.
Undergirding all scholarly interest
in media education, Martens found instructional practices guided by critical
selection, analysis, and evaluation of media messages, with attention paid to
background information about the construction, purpose, and context of
messages, guiding audiences to adopt behaviors and attitudes, and empowering
them to express their own points of view.
All three roles— citizenship, public
health, aesthetics—have special implications for underrepresented populations.
Overall, media literacy education can “counterbalance the effects of race,
class, and gender stereotypes” (p. 7) by giving voice to people (such as
immigrants) to tell their own stories and critique oppressive narratives.
Children are particularly susceptible to the negative consequences of habitual
television viewing (especially when television shows aggression) which may lead
to risky behaviors and low self-esteem. Gender relations can be a focus of
media education as students analyze commercials and video games, for example.
Research has shown that evaluating
and understanding effectiveness of media literacy education is an area of major
challenge, with the small body of existing literature coming from different
fields, methodologies, and purposes. There is a notable lack of descriptive
research from classrooms, despite a great need for deeper understanding of
real-life media literacy instruction and learning outcomes. Previous research
indicates the importance of acknowledging “the complexities of media use”
(citing Zaslow and Butler, 2002, p. 32), conducting ethnographic research, and
looking at students’ everyday media uses. These limitations, Martens (p. 10)
writes, indicate that “researchers think of social reality as a complex of
interpretations and meanings” and thus use case studies and qualitative methods
in their research, which makes it difficult to generalize and explain effects.
Both inoculation theory and media
interpretation theory have informed research into learning outcomes from media
literacy instruction. It is known that media literacy instruction leads to
learning gains and adoption of healthy attitudes and behaviors, but the extent
to which students apply these into other media activities and long-term gains
are less clear. Another problem includes “boomerang effects” (p. 12), in which
one desired response emerges after instruction, but so does a less desired
response (increased prejudice, for example).
Finally, research into media
literacy is difficult because of organizational and methodological
difficulties, and results are often impossible to replicate and statistically
weak. Martens recommends future research into the cognitive processes of media
literacy instruction, explanatory variables, and individual differences in