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Prof. Dr. Alexander Fedorov

Which media literacy do we mean

In Russia as well as in foreign countries we can witness sort of the confusion of the terms of media education and media literacy. There are quite a few differences in theoretical approaches to media education, to distinguishing of the most important aims, objectives, means of introduction into the teaching process, etc. These are the reasons why we addressed to the leading Russian and foreign media educators asking them to answer the special survey aimed at the clearing up of the following questions:

-which of the well known definitions of media education and media literacy are supported the most among the experts;

-what media education aims and theories seem as the most important;

-how these theories and purposes correspond to the modern socio-cultural context of different countries;

-what way of the integration of the media education into schools and universities, supplementary educational and recreational institutions is seen as the most preferable;

-in what countries at the present time the level of the development of media education is the highest

We are very grateful to all the Russian and foreign experts in the field of media education/literacy, who sent their answers. In the result we’ve collected data from 26 media educators from 10 countries:

So, the first point of our questionnaire offered to the experts three variants of the definitions of media education (published during the past years by the authoritative editions), that they were supposed agree or disagree with. As a result it turned out that the majority of experts (96,15%) supported the first definition (Chart 1). Evidently, this definition developed by the UNESCO conference seemed to the experts as the most convincing and complete.

Chart 1. The experts attitude to variants of definitions of media education


Definitions of Media Education:

Numbers of experts, who basically agree with the given definition:

Numbers of experts, who basically disagree with the given definition:


Media Education

-deals with all communication media and includes the printed word and graphics, the sound, the still as well as the moving image, delivered on any kind of technology;

-enables people to gain understanding of the communication media used in their society and the way they operate and to acquire skills using these media to communicate with others;

-ensure that people learn how to

* analyse, critically reflect upon and create media texts;

* identify the sources of media texts, their political, social, commercial and/or cultural interests, and their contexts;

* interpret the messages and values offered by the media;

* select appropriate media for communicating their own messages or stories and for reaching their intended audience;

* gain or demand access to media for both reception and production.

Media education is part of basic entitlement of every citizen, in every country in the world, to freedom of expression and the right to information and is instrumental in building and sustaining democracy [Recommendations Addressed to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO. In: Education for the Media and the Digital Age. Vienna: UNESCO, 1999, p.273-274. Reprint in: Outlooks on Children and Media. Goteborg: UNESCO & NORDICOM, 2001, p. 152].

25 (96,15%)

1 (3,85%)


Media teachers today use the term ‘media education’, ‘media study’ and ‘media literacy’ almost interchangeably. My personal preference is to use the term media education as a broad description of all that takes place in media-oriented>

17 (65,38%)

7 (26,92%)


Media education is teaching about media, as distinguished from teaching with media. Ordinarily, media education emphazies the acquisition both of cognitive knowledge about how media are produced and distributed and of analytic skills for interpreting and valuing media content. In contrast, ‘media studies’ ordinarily emphasize hands-on experiences with media production [International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Vol. 14 / Eds.N.J.Smelser & P.B.Baltes. Oxford, 2001, p.9494].

12 (46,15%)


The number of experts, who suggested another definition turned out minimal (2 respondents). However, T.Shak wrote that it’s a process of media study and study with the help of media, the result of which is the ability to 1) analyze, critically comprehend and create media texts; 2)distinguish the sources of media texts, their political, social, commercial and /or cultural interest, their context; 3) interpret media texts and values spread by media; 4) choose the correspondent media for the creation and dissemination of one’s own media texts and find the target audience; 5) get the opportunity for the free access to media both for perception and for production.

In his turn, A.Guterrez Martin suggests his definition of multimedia education: I have referred to multimedia education as that which, making use of prevailing technologies of the day, allows students to achieve those skills, knowledge and attitudes needed to : communicate (interpret and produce messages) utilizing different languages and media; develop personal autonomy and a critical spirit, which gives them the ability to form a just and multicultural society in which to live side by side with the technological innovations of the day [Guterrez Martin, 1996, p.12].

In our opinion, the definitions by A.Guterrez Martin and T.Shak do not contradict the UNESCO definition, giving some variations and amplifications.

The second point of our questionnaire offered three variants of the definitions of media literacy to choose from or disagree (Chart 2).

Chart 2. The experts attitude to variants of definitions of media literacy


Definitions of Media Literacy:

Numbers of experts, who basically agree with the given definition:

Numbers of experts, who basically disagree with the given definition:


Media literacy proponents contend that the concept an active, not passive user: The media-literate person is capable recipient and creator of content, understanding sociopolitical context, and using codes and representational systems effectively to live responsibly in society and the world at large [International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Vol. 14 / Eds.N.J.Smelser & P.B.Baltes. Oxford, 2001, p.9494].




Media literacy, the movement to expand notions of literacy to include the powerful post-print media that dominate our informational landscape, helps people understand, produce, and negotiate meanings in a culture made up of powerful images, words, and sounds. A media-literate person – everyone should have the opportunity to become one – can decode, evaluate, analyze, and produce both print and electronic media [Aufderheide, P., Firestone, C. Media Literacy: A Report of the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy. Queenstown, MD: The Aspen Institute, 1993, p.1.].

16 (61,54%)



Definition for media literacy: the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a variety of forms [Kubey, R. Media Education: Portraits of an Evolving Field. In: Kubey, R. (Ed.) Media Literacy in the Information Age. – New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers, 1997, p. 2].



As we can see, there is a rather even distribution of voices between the three definitions of media literacy. Some experts proposed other definitions:

-media literacy as the result of media education is the ability to adequately percept, interpret, evaluate and create media texts (V.Monastyrsky);

-Multimedia literacy. More immediate objectives of multimedia literacy include: to provide knowledge of the languages that shape interactive multimedia documents and the way they are constructed; to provide knowledge and use of the most prevalent devices and techniques for processing information; to provide knowledge and facilitate the assessment of the social and cultural implications of new multimedia technologies; to foster an attitude of critical media reception and responsible behavior in the public sphere (A.Gutierrez Martin).

-To be media literate is to have an informed and critical understanding of the nature, techniques and impact of the mass media as well as the ability to create media products (J.Pungente).

As we see, the boundary between the media education and media literacy sometimes is rather blur both in the definitions included into the chart and in the expanded answers of the experts. Since these terms are often substituted with each other, by our third question we tried to find out if the experts see the difference in such commonly used notions as media education, media literacy and media studies

As the result it turned out that just 2 respondents (B.McMahon, B.Wei) do not differentiate these terms, while the rest of them think that:

-a matter of contextdepends on how the term is used and toward what purposes (R.Cornell);

-Media education is the process of teaching about print, electronic and digital media. Although ‘media studies’ has been used to distinguish itself from ‘media education’, the difference seems doctrinaire, artificial and inconsequential to the understanding of media teaching and learning. Media literacy implies the complex outcome of ‘literacy’. It is an imprecise and confusing term and does little to define the field. I prefer ‘media education’ (K.Tyner);

-‘media education’ is a cross-curricular/trans-curricular approach to be taken up in each subject; ‘media literacy’ refers to an overall ability/competence; ‘media studies’ is a discipline in its own right whose topic are media and all the implications connected to them (S.Krucsay);

-‘media education’ is basically an educational approach to media it is more comprehensive, ‘media literacy’ is basically alphabetization to visual codes. ‘Media studies’ are linked with the knowledge of mass media for technical, political, social, or educational or different purposes (M.Reyes Torres);

-Media education includes media studies and media literacy (N.Ryzhih, I.Chelysheva, J.I.Gomez);

-Media literacy is the result of the process of media education, media literacy is the intended outcome of media education (S.Penzin, V.Gura, A.Korochenskyi, V.Monastyrsky, T.Shak, Ch.Worsnop, J.Pungente, L.Rother, D.Suess);

-Media studies is the main way to practical mastering of media facilities (V.Monastyrsky);

-‘media studies’ are less normative than ‘media education’, it can be a more descriptive approach to media (D.Suess);

-‘media studies’ is focussed on the acquisition of cognitive knowledge about media. Media education is focussed on the development of attitudes and critical skills about media. Media Literacy includes the basics of Media Studies and Media Education to provide the student with the ability to participate freely in the society (A.Gutierrez Martin);

-‘media literacy’ and ‘media studies’ often implies the critical analysis of media but not the production, whereas ‘media education’ usually embraces both analysis and production (S.Goodman).

There are both the common stands and certain disagreement, blending of the essence of the terms media education, media literacy and media studies in the answers of the experts. In this sense the most expanded answer to the problem was given by the Canadian media educator I.Rother: Over the last decade the terms Media Education, Media Studies and Media Literacy have been used almost interchangeably by media educators in North America, Britain and Australia. The following distinctions have been adapted from Silverblatt (1995); Masterman (1985); Worsnop (1994); Buckingham (1993); Lusted (1991); Moore (1991); Media Education in Britain: An Outline (1989):

Media Education includes:

-using media across the curriculum application;

-a topic within another subject;

-develops critical understanding of media through analytical and practical work

-includes teaching about the forms, conventions and technologies;

-includes teaching about media institutions, and their social, political and cultural roles;

-places emphasis upon student's experience of the media and their relevance to their own lives;

-themes and project work;

-borrows from audio-visual literacy and English Language/Arts North American influence.

Media Studies includes:

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