Mediated Communication Theory (CO 419) is the capstone course for students in the Mediated Communications sequence of the Communication major. Taught by Professor Angela Paradise, the course reinforces the media theories and media literacy skills that we have been learning throughout our education at Stonehill, and applies them in a real-life setting through a required community-based learning component.
Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media messages that reach a mass audience. It is an understanding of how our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors can be affected by media messages. The term Community-Based Learning (CBL) is defined as the application of learned information in practical settings through community service. As students in Professor Paradise’s course, we have been carrying out a semester-long, media literacy-themed CBL project at Davis Commons After-School Program in Brockton, MA. Specifically, we’ve drawn on our own media literacy skills to help children between the ages of 7 and 14 to develop their own media literacy skills in an instructive setting. To do this, we’ve carried out media literacy lessons and discussions with the children at the Davis Commons in the hopes that they will learn new information and enhance their critical thinking skills. Not only is the time spent with the children beneficial for them, but it also enhances our own understanding of the concepts and theories that we learn about in the Mediated Communication Theory course. Now that the program is coming to an end, it has become more apparent to all parties involved that there is a need for media literacy education on a larger scale.
Regarding my personal experience at the Davis Commons Center, I have observed several of the theories we’ve studied through my own work in the afterschool program. A few theories in particular stood out to me more than others. Social Learning Theory, the idea that we learn behaviors and societal norms by observing others (either in the real world or in the mediated world), has been the most prevalent for me. The children’s use of computers supplied by the Center shows how they are adapting models for behavior. These models are usually celebrities or other well known figures. Also, they play a great deal of music, and it is easy to notice how the specific music genres that they listen to influence how they speak, dress, and behave.
Our time at Davis Commons has also illustrated the theory of desensitization. This theory derives from the idea that the more violence we see (particularly in the media), the more likely we will start to see it as normal. In turn, violence starts to seem like no big deal. Rob Connolly, supervisor of the afterschool program, was kind enough to share a story with us. Last year, two young men were seen fighting outside of the Center, and the children inside ran out to watch the fight. Rather than show fear of violence, the students’ actions showed that they had grown accustomed to witnessing violence. This led to us discussing the ways in which media violence may be partially to blame for desensitizing the students to real-life violence.
Another theory we have seen at the Davis Commons Center is called the Excitation Transfer Theory. This is the idea that media can increase one’s arousal state especially during intense scenes of violence. Many of the young boys that participate in the afterschool program follow professional wrestling on television and play aggressive video games at the Center. At times, we’ve noticed that some of the students, after watching aggressive TV shows or playing violent video games, seem a bit more rowdy or excitable. In many ways, what we’ve observed shares many of the characteristics that make up Excitation Transfer Theory.
Overall, the Stonehill College-Davis Commons partnership has been productive for both parties. We’ve applied the concepts and theories discussed in class to our observations at Davis Commons. We’ve also demonstrated our own media literacy skills and shared them with the Davis Commons students. Furthermore, we believe the Davis Commons students have benefited from our visits, in that they have hopefully learned new information and enhanced their media literacy skills. In short, our collective experience has been rewarding and fulfilling.