By Angela Paradise

Asst. Professor

Dept. of Communication 

       When I first began teaching COM 419 (Mediated Communication Theory–one of our Department’s capstone classes), I structured this course around a semester-long research proposal assignment.  I soon realized that this project felt rather anti-climactic as a capstone experience; in fact, I recall students commenting in my course evaluations that the theory-driven material was “dry” and “boring.” As a result, I began working with Professor Ron Leone (who also teaches sections of this course) to develop a community-based learning (CBL) component that combined media theories, media literacy, and young people from outside the Stonehill community.  What evolved from this shared vision was a CBL component through which our students currently serve as media literacy facilitators at local afterschool programs. Since the Spring of 2009, my CO419 students have volunteered at Davis Commons, an after-school program in Brockton where they serve as “media literacy facilitators.” This partnership requires my students to create and lead lessons and activities with young people between the ages of 7 and 16, with the goal of encouraging the afterschool students to think critically about media messages.  There are several components of this CBL project, which I briefly describe below.

 

A Closer Look at the CBL Project

       First, as noted above, each week my students prepare lesson plans and activities that guide their visit at Davis Commons.  Their lesson plans relate to topics covered in our class (e.g., gender portrayals in media, television violence, deceptive advertising, Internet safety, etc…).  Our CBL program lasts ten weeks and I typically have three groups of Stonehill students visiting weekly for a total of 30 visits per semester. We spend considerable time in the beginning of the semester discussing age- and topic-appropriate lesson plans.  It is the responsibility of the entire group to give careful thought and consideration as to the preparation and facilitation of their weekly lesson plan. Each group is required to turn in their weekly lesson plan, as well as a reflection/evaluation of their performance each week.

       Second, throughout the course of the CBL project, my students create a media product that documents their experiences at Davis Commons.  In the past, CO419 students have created videos (one documentary; one mock newscast) that have fulfilled this requirement. Incorporating a media production component has several benefits.  Not only does it allow my Stonehill students to gain hands-on skills in the area of video production, but it also tends to spark the interests of the Davis Commons youth and motivates them to be active participants in our media literacy partnership.  Further, since I am not on-site at Davis Commons with my students, having them create a video project that chronicles their experiences allows me to see first-hand the wonderful work they are accomplishing at Davis Commons. 

       Third, a project of this nature requires consistent reflection and evaluation, both through written work and oral presentations.  Throughout the course of the semester, students reflect on their CBL experiences and connect them to course readings and discussion.  This comes in the form of lesson plan evaluations, a media literacy critique paper, a final self-evaluation document, the media production group project, and consistent participation in class discussions.

       Finally, as a way to celebrate the students’ capstone experience, the class coordinates an on-campus end-of-the-semester celebration for the youth of Davis Commons. This event typically involves a campus tour, a film screening of the CO-419 video, and a pizza party.  The CO-419 students are responsible for carrying out the necessary event-planning tasks.  In the past, this event has truly served as a “capstone” experience, whereby all involved (my students, the Davis Common youth, the after-school program coordinator, and myself) are able to celebrate our collective accomplishments and the benefits derived from our CBL partnership.

By Jessica Branco

       During the week of November 8-10, our Mediated Communication Theory class took on the topic of cyber-safety with the children of Davis Commons, in Brockton, Mass.  We thought this topic was important, and had to be addressed considering the amount of time children and adolescents spend on the internet.  According to a 2005 study by the Pew Foundation, those in the age range of 12 to 17 had the highest (87%) number of users online (Strasburger).  This particular age group uses the internet differently than adults.  They prefer playing games, instant messaging, and social media sites, like Facebook and Myspace.  We broke our cyber-safety week into three lessons:  cyber-safety, cyber-bullying, and online marketing.

        The first group visited Davis Commons on Tuesday, Nov. 8.  They introduced the general topic of cyber-safety, discussed cyber-safety tips, and offered a hand-out for the children to take home and use the next time they surf the web.  Tips included preferred privacy settings on Facebook, and what information is acceptable to display on the internet.  For example, a child shouldn’t put their age on their on-line social media pages.  This makes them more vulnerable to be targeted by others.  During the discussion, the group found that most of the children are already somewhat safe on the web.  Common responses were, “We already do this,” or “My Facebook is super private.”  The Stonehill students were surprised, but it was great news to receive in such a technologically-savvy world where kids are constantly on the web.

The following day, the second group tackled the topic of cyber-bullying.  The group stressed to the students that cyber-bullying can be done through various forms of media, including posting a threatening status about someone on Facebook, or texting gossip about a peer through a mobile phone.  Much to the group’s surprise, many students at Davis Commons admitted to cyber-bullying someone in the past.  The most popular form of cyber-bullying was posting a vague status on Facebook directed towards someone, but not mentioning their name in it.  However, their initials would be capitalized in the status, so they could easily figure out it was directed towards them.  An example would be if John Smith was cyber-bullied, and a status was posted saying, “Just watch your back, don’t Sleep tonight.”  The J and S would be capitalized, since it targets John Smith.  We were amazed to find out this tactic, and couldn’t believe it happens among most of the Davis Commons students.  We had the children each write down anonymously a time when they were cyber-bullied, or when they cyber-bullied someone else, and then read the responses out loud.  Names remained anonymous, since cyber-bullying is often anonymous, as well.  Some of the responses we heard were surprising.  One child got suspended for three days because of cyber-bullying.  We hoped that after our lesson with them, the children will walk away wanting to think twice before they post something about one of their peers. 

At the end of our week-long lesson on cyber-bullying, we thought the children had a better understanding of the matter at hand.  However, many of them still may not realize how much cyber-bullying can affect someone, or how much cyber-safety matters in a world where predators lurk online.  In the future, we hope these kids will alter their privacy settings if they’re not already highly private, and make an effort to stop the vicious cycle of cyber-bullying.  Our lessons were a start, and now the students must carry on the responsibilities and actions themselves.

 

By Faith Castiglione

       This week at Davis Commons, we taught the students about Public Service Announcements. Since we make our visit on Thursdays and are the final group of the week, we first did a “mini review session” by asking the students what they talked about during Tuesday and Wednesday’s lesson.  The students reported that they talked a lot about what Public Service Announcements actually were so they had a good foundation for our discussion. They defined Public Service Announcements as a type of advertisement on some type of medium (radio, tv, etc.) that aim to raise awareness among the public about a specific issue and maybe even persuade the public to change their mindsets on that issue.  That being said, during our session at Davis Commons, our goal was to film our own Public Service Announcement.  A hands-on activity such as this is important, especially given the fact that media production is an essential part of being a media literate person.

       First, we asked the Davis Commons students what kind of Public Service Announcement they wanted to create. We asked them to think about certain issues in our society that are prevalent and important to talk about. We came up with several issues, but the one that they found most pertinent and that they wanted to film about was the issue of pollution and taking good care of our environment.

       Next, we talked about who would do what during the filming of our Public Service Announcement. From our initial visits to Davis Commons we have talked about the importance of advertisements and filming that we see on the television. Along with this, we have emphasized that in advertisements, there are a lot of people and components that are behind the scenes. Therefore, for everything that we filmed with the students, we asked them what roles they wanted to fulfill in the production process. For our PSA we chose a director, a video recorder and actors. All the students contributed to the script writing and the props/layout of the scene.

       The actual filming was a success! One of the students threw some trash on the ground as he walked by a trash can. As two of his friends approached, they told him how bad littering is for the environment and led him to the trash can to throw away his trash. As simple as this PSA was, the students took it very seriously and wanted it to be perfect. This just shows how valuable media production is in media literacy education. We are constantly exposed to advertisements and PSA’s on the television and radio. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that behind these short and simple PSA’s , there is a team creating this message—and it typically takes a lot of time, effort and consideration to make an effective PSA. Teaching students about the process of media production was very beneficial because it captures the attention of the students and makes them aware of the decisions that go into creating media messages. Again, this is just one reason why incorporating media literacy into a young person’s education is both important and necessary.  Being aware and informed from a media literacy perspective is crucial because of the amount of media we consume and are exposed to daily.

By Jill Janson

       Advertisers bombard us with messages all day, every day. “Buy this.” “Wear that.” “Eat there.” It seems we are constantly being told what we need, why we need it, and how great you will feel if you have it.  As our world becomes increasingly media saturated due to the 24-hour-access of portable media landscape, we become less and less aware of the sheer amount of advertisements we are exposed to daily. Even with just one click onto a website, dozens of ads pop up. And these aren’t just any ads. These are messages personalized to you. As consumers, we are under the microscope, as the industry picks us apart and finds new and better ways to captivate us.

       The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), a theory proposed by Petty and Cacioppo (1986), is a “cognitive processing” model that seeks to explain how persuasion occurs in mass media messages. ELM defines two main routes by which people might be persuaded: the central route and the peripheral route.  The central route involves highly rational thinking, where people scrutinize the message and pick it apart, which often leads them to challenge it and pose a counter-argument. This route requires a sense of higher thinking, which often occurs if the message conflicts with their existing attitudes or beliefs. Those following this route are more difficult to persuade.  Those that take the peripheral route of persuasion tend to take a “mental shortcut,” giving the message little cognitive thought or scrutiny. This route is strongly tied in with emotion, and the person’s likelihood to fall for persuasive cues, like the attractiveness of models or characters, the presence of humor or the use of a catchy slogan. 

        Which route we take as audience members depends on our motivation and ability. Is a four year old capable of scrutinizing an advertisement? No, because they don’t have the cognitive development to even differentiate between the TV programming content and ad content. What about a 15 year old? Yes, because they, at least, have the cognitive ability to understand that the purpose of an ad is to sell them something, which is more likely to make them view the ad negatively and not want to buy the product. But teens still give into ads so easily. Teens are easily persuaded by advertisers because the ads link “being cool” with having those jeans, or eating that cereal. Also, ad industries are very aware of ELM and spend a lot of time and money working to get around the central route, and reach consumers before they put their guard up and reject the message. This is why today’s ad campaigns are entertainment-themed and chuck-full of emotional cues, which overtake our ability to view it critically.  This concern relates to media literacy or lack of it. Without having that higher-ordered understanding of media, we become a vulnerable group that advertisers zero in on.

       Our Mediated Communication Theory class at Stonehill College works against this force through our Community Based Learning program with the after-school kids at Davis Commons in Brockton, Mass. The group of high-school students we work with fall right into that soft spot.

One week our media-literacy themed lesson plans focused on advertising and commercialization. My group focused on food advertising, which has recently been in the national spotlight due to the debate over increasing obesity rates. Many point fingers at the ad industries for the excessive amounts of advertising of unhealthy foods and snacks, which account for 83 percent for ads on children’s TV, while only 3 percent of ads are for healthy food.

       To kick off our lesson, we drew the USDA food pyramid on the board. Next to it, we drew the “prime-time” pyramid, displaying how it would be divided up according to the media, which said 41 percent of our diet should be fats, oils and sweets, with only 6 percent going to fruit and vegetables.  This was no surprise. We asked the Davis Commons kids to think of any commercials they have seen on TV for fruits or vegetables. Needless to say, there are few to none. Yet, junk food and fast food chain ads, selling fatty, sugary foods, are run one after the other.

       We discussed with the kids how the ad industry uses techniques to persuade people, such as catchy slogans, fun and happiness, celebrity or character endorsements, and the glossy, appetite-inducing images. Think about the last time you ordered a frosty from Wendy’s, did it look like the picture in the magazine ad? Nope, because yours was edible and not made from glue and shaving cream. Or what about when you were choosing which cereal to buy from the grocery store; you probably picked up the one with your favorite character or celebrity pictured on the front. These are tricks used by the ad industry to push consumers to follow the peripheral route, and give into their persuasion. Ultimately, by addressing this topic at Davis Commons, our goal is to enhance the youth’s media literacy level, which means encouraging them to scrutinize media messages (i.e., applying the central route of persuasion, according to ELM theory).

By Kimberly Allen 

       This week at Davis Commons, our class focused on teaching the kids about the way in which gender roles are portrayed in the media.  I am part of the first group to visit every week, Tuesday’s group.  While Wednesday and Thursday’s groups typically teach a more specific component of the topic each week, such as gender roles in sports in the media this week, we usually start the week with an overview and introduction of the topic. 

       After brainstorming and looking through lesson plan ideas, we thought it would be best to have the kids first tell us what they knew about how men and women are typically represented in the media and then try to open up their eyes a bit to the common media stereotypes.  To get a grasp on their knowledge, we first had them describe common stereotypes they had heard, such as blondes being dumb, and then dove into gender stereotypes specifically.  On the board, we wrote the two phrases “Act Like A Man” and “Be Ladylike” and asked the kids to shout out anything they could think of that would fit these categories.  They threw out characteristics such as men should be strong, tall, and in control of situations and women should be pretty, shorter, and listen to the men.  After compiling these characteristics, we spoke to the kids about the typical roles men and women are cast in in movies, such as how women tend to only star in romantic comedies and rarely get to star in action films.

       Next, we thought it would be neat to have the kids go onto YouTube in small groups and find clips of both what they believed were traditional gender roles in the media and nontraditional gender roles.  It was rewarding to see what they came up with as they chose very accurate depictions based on what we had taught them.  For a traditional man role, for example, they chose a clip of a man eating his dinner very sloppily, that the women had prepared for him, with poor table manners.  For a counter-stereotypical gender role, for example, the kids chose a clip of a girl on her high school’s football team scoring a touchdown.

       Overall, I think that Wednesday and Thursday’s groups would agree that the kids at Davis Commons thoroughly enjoyed learning about gender roles in the media this week.  It feels great to see the kids understand and expand their previous knowledge and thoughts on different topics each week and this week was no different.   Next time they view a movie with stereotypical gender roles, I hope they notice these roles and stop to think about why they are occurring—and how to challenge them– instead of simply passively accepting them.  If we as facilitators can make them think critically, we are making a difference.

 

By Sarah Galligan

   This week was the first week in which my Senior Capstone course, Mediated Communication Theory, joined forces with the kids at Davis Commons Afterschool Program to begin a semester of media literacy workshops and activities. Through this semester-long project, my peers and I will be both studying the theories of mediated communication in addition to teaching students, ages from 7 to 16, the fundamentals of media literacy. The first week is focused on building a partnership and getting to know the students of Davis Commons.

       The media literacy program this semester runs on three separate days: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Each week the facilitators, or the students from the Mediated Communication Theory course, will discuss a different topic. Tuesday’s group of facilitators will introduce the topic of the week. Wednesday’s facilitators will follow up with a more specific lesson plan on a more specific sub-topic for that particular week’s focus. And lastly, the Thursday facilitators will also teach a lesson plan that delves into a specific sub-topic pertaining to the theme of any given week, and these facilitators will provide conclusions to that week’s general topic.

       This first week was merel a meet-and-greet to familiarize the students at Davis Commons with the Stonehill media literacy facilitators. Each group came prepared with several different icebreaker games designed to engage the students in the course. Thursday’s group introduced the camera to the students and reviewed the concepts of production. This was done because the end of the semester capstone project will be delivered in a video format based on the work done at Davis Commons, thus many of the classes with the students will be filmed. Also, a survey of the students’ media consumption was taken in order to gain a better understanding of the youths’ media habits.  Specifically, this provided valuable information about what media the students consume, why they choose to watch and listen to what they do, what they find favorable in their media diet, etc.  By having this information, we are better equipped to create interesting and relevant lesson plans for the Davis Commons kids this semester.  All and all, week one effectively introduced the course to the Davis Commons students and established the semester objectives for the Media Literacy Partnership between the Stonehill students and the Davis Commons students.

 

For anyone who has seen me crutching around campus or Brockton the past few weeks, you might note that my daily sprints and spirits have been sluggish.

Could it also be the post-Spring Break acknowledgement that we are in the final sprint towards summer vacation and my sprinting is severely restricted? But in my few “turning lemons into lemonade moments” I have realized two things. (more…)

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