Teaching Nuance

The need for media literacy in the digital age

Originally posted at The Blue Review on Feb. 20, 2013. http://thebluereview.org/teaching-media-literacy/

By Seth Ashley

Today’s students are not being equipped with the critical thinking and analysis skills they need to successfully navigate our media-saturated environment. Time spent consuming media, now up to nearly eight hours a day, continues to increase, but students often are poorly versed in analyzing and understanding different media messages and formats. They prefer to see the world of media messages as simple and straightforward, to be taken at face value, according to recent research in the field of media literacy. While students express confidence that media messages have clear primary meanings and sources that can be easily identified, media literacy demands nuanced thinking about message creators as well as their goals and values.

As policymakers grapple over how to deploy technology in classrooms, they should beware of producing generations of students drowning in digital devices without enough good ideas about what to do with them.
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Don’t Ignore the Evidence on Sensible Gun Control

We do not need to ban guns or even come close. We just need sensible restrictions.

Originally published at The Blue Review on Dec. 17, 2012: http://thebluereview.org/sensible-gun-control/

Less than 24 hours before the Sandy Hook shooting, students in my media and politics class, in our final meeting of the semester, debated gun control in the abstract. Students presented their findings on media misrepresentations of reality and demonstrated that, on this contentious issue, reality remains hard to grasp. Yet the next morning, reality was before us as another violent tragedy played out on television.

Liza Long’s piece on this site about the role of mental illness in these incidents has spread widely, and many others have emphasized the importance of discussing ways to improve mental health in this country. Absolutely. But let’s not be distracted from the real issue.
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Attack and Inform: Campaign spin actually informs and engages voters, in some states

Originally posted at The Blue Review on Oct. 9, 2012: http://thebluereview.org/attack-and-inform/

Compared to the barrage of political advertising in the 10 or so swing states that will decide this election, Idaho is on the sidelines, viewed as a guaranteed win for one party and a lost cause for the other. It can be hard to tell there’s an election going on at all here, and while we might be thankful that we don’t have to listen to candidates endlessly “approve this message” like folks in Ohio, Nevada or Florida, we may be less informed as a result.

Conventional wisdom and polling data tell us that political ads, which are mostly negative, turn people off and drive us further apart. They disillusion, they polarize, they depoliticize. They are what we’re referring to when we talk about our mean, ugly politics. But here’s the thing: They also educate us.
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Beyond Gingras: Tech Innovation Alone Will Not Democratize Media

Published Sept. 10, 2012 by PBS MediaShift


The choice of a keynote speaker says a lot about an organization’s outlook, so I was eager to hear what Richard Gingras, Google’s head of news products, had to say at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) in August in Chicago. The self-described “technologist” revisited good questions about the future of journalism practice and pedagogy, and received a standing ovation for his calls to “rethink everything” and create “constant innovation” through digital media technology. As he noted, today’s educators will help inspire tomorrow’s innovators.

But his broader message was disconcerting to those of us who feel that a celebration of new digital media too often deterministically assumes that new technological forms will and should dictate journalistic practices and participation. This worship of the limitless potential of technology ignores the limitations faced by journalists and citizens alike as online power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of traditional profit-oriented players who dominate the media landscape and impede the democratic potential of new technology.
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A Philosophy of Teaching

Back in the old days, much time was devoted to pondering the true nature of journalism: Is it a craft or a profession? Today that question seems mostly moot, if not decided. Anyone with the means (certainly not everyone) can practice journalism today, for better and for worse. For the sake of teaching, perhaps we should now wonder whether journalism is an academic discipline rooted in scholarship and the liberal arts or simply a set of vocational tools to be taught—how to make a website, operate a camera, put a sentence together. Ultimately, of course, it needs to be both.

But the challenge facing journalism is the same one facing higher education in general. How does a university best equip young people to grow and flourish as humans while also teaching the often highly technical skills required to be employable? As the university becomes more like a business, it aims to “serve its customers” with the short-term benefit of being able to get a job. But like most profit-oriented business strategies, this neglects the long-term needs of a human and the larger needs of society, as well as the university’s social responsibility to meet those needs.
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I teach courses in journalism and mass communication at Boise State University, and my research focuses on media literacy, media policy, and media sociology, with attention to the role of media in a democracy. Before coming to Boise State, I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, documentary filmmaker, musician, record producer, magazine writer, and theatrical lighting designer. This site is intended to provide a sampling of my work and experience as a media producer and scholar.

Assistant Professor
Department of Communication
Boise State University
1910 University Drive
Boise, ID 83702
Phone: 208-426-4495
Email: sethashley@boisestate.edu
Twitter: @sethdashley
Web: http://www.sethashley.com

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