URI connects media literacy’s past, present and future

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Sept. 20 symposium to address historical roots of media literacy education

KINGSTON, R.I. –August 21, 2013 – With all of the changes that mobile devices, tablets and social media are now having on work, education and everyday life, it’s important to remember how a previous generation dealt with the significant cultural shifts that occurred at the dawn of television broadcasting, first, in the 1950s and later, when the 500-channel cable television revolution first came into people’s homes in the 1980s.

On Friday, Sept. 20, media professionals, scholars, educators, librarians, youth media advocates and citizens will gather at the University of Rhode Island’s Providence Campus for the Symposium on the Historical Roots of Media Literacy Education. The symposium, which begins at 9:30 a.m. and ends with a special screening of videos from the history of media literacy from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Cable Car Cinema, 204 South Main St., Providence, is free and open to the public.

Participants will include members of the first generation of educators and activists, now in their 70s and 80s, who helped people build critical thinking skills about television, along with others who are interested in digital and media literacy education today.

Awareness of media literacy began with the work of leading figures such as Marshall McLuhan, who explained in 1964 that “the medium is the message,” Nicholas Johnson, commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission, who wrote How to Talk Back to Your TV Set in 1970, and Neil Postman, whose 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, inspired educators to take television seriously as an object of study.

“We are bringing together leaders from four decades to engage with the next generation of young leaders,” said Renee Hobbs, professor and founding director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media, a new school at the University of Rhode Island (URI) that brings together programs in journalism, film/media, public relations, writing and rhetoric, communication studies and library and information studies.

The symposium showcases URI’s recent acquisition of the Elizabeth Thoman Media Literacy Archive, which holds significant artifacts and documents related to the development of media literacy as a movement and a field of specialization at the intersection of media studies and education. Thoman was editor of Media & Values magazine from 1977 to 1993 and founder of the Center for Media Literacy, a leading national non-profit organization in the United States. The archive is available to scholars through the URI Library’s Special Collections.

“Beginning as early as 1960, there were a lot of people who were trying to give children, young people and adults the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the complex role of television in society,” said Sarah Bordac, head of instruction for the Brown University Library and the organizer of the Symposium on the Historical Roots of Media Literacy Education, which is co-sponsored by the Media Education Lab and the National Association for Media Literacy Education.

“Today, people need to be able to find, gather, use and share information using the Internet and they need to analyze and evaluate the messages they encounter,” said Bordac. “Many people are unaware that, throughout the 1970s and 80s, librarians all across the United States were advancing students’ critical thinking skills in responding to the rise of mass media and popular culture.”

According to Hobbs, digital and media literacy continues to grow in importance because of the rise of social media and digital culture. Educators, government leaders and members of the business community are recognizing the relevance of these skills to future citizens and workers.

Invited participants include Marieli Rowe, executive director of the National Telemedia Council, a non-profit media literacy organization based in Madison, Wis., Tessa Jolls of the Los Angeles-based Center for Media Literacy, and Alan Levitt, former communications director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy.

Michael RobbGrieco of Temple University will deliver the keynote address on the intellectual history of media literacy education, beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Paff Auditorium, URI Providence Feinstein Campus, 80 Washington St.

More information about the symposium and online registration is available at: http://historyofml.wordpress.com