December 2010


Just in time for the holidays, here is the next blog entry from Professor Paradise’s Mediated Communication Theory course.

Cyber-Safety through Media Literacy: Our Experiences and Observations

According to DoSomething.org, nearly 35% of kids have been threatened online and almost one in five have had it happen more than once.  Also noteworthy, cyber-bullying has increased in recent years. In a national survey of 10-17 year olds, twice as many children indicated they had been victims and perpetrators of online harassment in 2005 compared with 2000. With statistics like these, it is of great importance that we educate youth on this growing trend.  As a way to promote awareness about this issue, this week’s lesson plan at Davis Common’s highlighted cyber-bullying and its ramifications.  In order to preface our discussion about cyber-bullying, the first team of media literacy facilitators on Tuesday provided an introduction to the topic by discussing Internet usage and general tips on internet-safety.  On Wednesday, the second team led a workshop on Facebook, one of the most popular social networking sites, and discussed ways to protect one’s privacy by sharing limited personal information.  On Thursday, our team, which I am a member of, focused on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and the issue cyber-bullying, since AIM is one of the key mechanisms through which cyber-bullying often occurs.

This was a popular topic among the Davis Commons youth because they are avid users of AIM.  In fact, most of them talk to each other on AIM while they are in the same computer room at the after-school center!  The goals and objectives of our lesson plan consisted of: (a) encouraging a deeper understanding of what cyber-bullying is (i.e. providing a definition), (b) fostering an awareness of the prevalence of cyber-bullying among youth, and (c) providing a knowledge-base of appropriate actions for the Davis Commons youth to take if and when they encounter cyber-bullying in their own lives.

As noted above, the first order of business was to introduce the topic and define cyber-bullying.  Using a definition crafted by Internet scholars, we explained to the kids that cyber-bullying is when “an individual is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, and embarrassed by another individual using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies, or mobile phones.”  Next, we handed out fictional scenarios and the kids had to decide whether or not cyber-bullying had taken place. For example, “Vanessa and Jessica were out at a party.  Vanessa sees Jessica talking to her boyfriend and becomes angry.  That night she goes home and spreads nasty rumors about Jessica on her blog.”  Once the kids evaluated and discussed  all of the prepared scenarios, we divided them into groups and had them come up with their own so that they could illustrate their understanding of cyber-bullying.  To finish the lesson, we passed out a list of tips to deal with cyber-bullying. The tips included: don’t respond, don’t retaliate, save the evidence, talk to a trusted adult, block the bully, be civil, don’t be a bully, and be a friend-not a bystander.

Overall, we felt our lesson plan was successful. At first, the kids had a difficult time defining cyber-bullying and determining whether cyber-bullying had occurred in the scenarios we presented to them. But by the end of the lesson, the Davis Commons students were able to understand and identify cyber-bullying, and more importantly, they were equipped with valuable information regarding how to handle cyber-bullying situations in which they or their friends are victims.

As for the Stonehill students (the “media literacy facilitators”), we love to watch the children make progress each week in becoming more media literate. Also, it’s fascinating to observe what we learn in the classroom unfold and present itself in real life.  In a way, a theory from our Mediated Communication Theory course that somewhat connects to this week’s lesson is “desensitization.”  Desensitization derives from the psychological construct of habituation, the process by which stimuli that are presented repeatedly lose their ability to startle or arouse.  Towards the beginning of our visit, when we asked the kids whether they had been a victim or perpetrator of cyber-bullying, the majority of the Davis Commons youth raised their hand and thought nothing of it.   In other words, since the kids were frequently exposed to this particular type of bullying, they saw it as no big deal and were less sensitive to cyber-bullying.  As such, it is our hope that our lesson plan and discussion “denaturalized” cyber-bullying, and we believe that we made progress toward achieving this goal.

 

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Here is the latest from our Student Bloggers in Professor Paradise’s Mediated Communication Theory course.

 

Captive Audience? Reflections on Facilitating Advertising and Commercialization-Themed Media Literacy Lesson Plans

Nicole Jaques

With only a few weeks of media literacy lesson plans remaining for our CBL project at Davis Commons, it is highly important to ensure that we are covering all aspects of media influence.  Many of our previous lesson plans have focused on television and film entertainment content aimed at our 7-14 student audience. This week we felt it would be highly important to cover another equally influential form of media: advertising. Advertisements reach audiences of all age groups, but can be most convincing to children who are more likely to misunderstand the persuasive intent of advertising.  People with lower levels of media literacy, especially children, often do not have the necessary skills or knowledge to deconstruct ads and discover the subtext and values hidden within ads. With this in mind, during our visit to Davis Commons this week, our group decided to provide the youth with a lesson plan on how to deconstruct advertising. After describing common persuasion tools like the use of celebrity spokespeople, humor and fear, we showed the kids a print advertisement, from a kid’s magazine, for lip gloss and nail polish. The ad included a celebrity from the popular kids show Sonny with a Chance. This allowed us to emphasize to the children why they may be influenced by ads. We were pleasantly surprised that the kids noticed these persuasion tools, even though they had never known their exact purpose. It is clear that many of the Davis Commons youth possess the ability to think critically about advertisements, and our collective goal is to help develop and strengthen these skills.

During our theory class this week we discussed the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) Theory which specifically deals with how persuasion occurs through persuasive messages, such as advertisements.  According to the theory, there are two routes of persuasion that adults can apply when faced with persuasive messages.  First, the central route of persuasion is when people scrutinize and give a high level of thought to the merit of the persuasive message (in part, due to having a higher level of media literacy skills).  Second, the peripheral route of persuasion is when people tend to only consider the superficial qualities of the message (i.e., using a low level of thought), and in turn they are easily persuaded by messages (in part, due to having a lower level of media literacy skills). When applying this theory to children, research has found that the distinction between these two routes is not as clear; in other words, although most very young children do not possess the skills to scrutinize persuasive techniques and goals, they are still developing their cognitive abilities that may eventually allow this scrutiny to exist.  Our deconstruction activity at Davis Commons reflects this belief. We found that the children were interested in exploring the deeper meanings behind advertisements, but they were not completely comfortable with the task yet, as it was something still very new to them. This demonstrates that some children, when given the opportunity, have some of the basic skills to deconstruct ads; it just takes media literacy teachers, like us, to push them in the right direction and provide them with the knowledge and skills to do so.

One of the most recognizable pieces of evidence that the after-school youth understood the persuasive intent of advertising occurred when our discussion shifted towards the topic of whether or not anyone had ever been disappointed, or deceived, by a product they had purchased due to a very persuasive advertisement. Many of the children spoke of TV commercials and print ads for food, such as the McDonald’s ads, which often show burgers as fat, perfectly formed, juicy and seemingly delicious. After viewing this type of ad, these children spoke of craving the burger and buying it, only to be handed a greasy flat pancake of a burger that led to disappointment and a feeling of being letdown. Other children discussed toys that had looked like fun in an ad, but then had been an utter disappointment when purchased, as the product portrayed in the ad failed to live up to the audience member’s inflated expectations.  These stories reveal that these children have been persuaded, and in many cases, fooled, by ads in the past.  Connecting this lesson plan back to the theories we discussed in class, teachers and media literacy facilitators should focus their efforts on advertising deconstruction techniques in order to encourage young people to think about advertising and other persuasive messages using the central route of persuasion instead of the peripheral route.

~~~

Matthew D’Amore

My capstone class, Mediated Communication Theory, is mostly about how different theories try to explain the effects of the media; knowing about these theories and the effects of media is one key component of media literacy.  Along with the normal readings and class discussions that go along with most courses, the professor requires small groups of students to serve as media literacy facilitators at Davis Commons, an after school program in Brockton, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays.  This is particularly important because it helps us to see how these different theories we learn in the classroom are applied to real life; as such, the interactions with these kids allow us to see some of the actual effects of media content.  We are nearing the end of our semester-long program at Davis Commons and this week we led a discussion and activity on food advertising.  Our goal for this lesson plan was to have the Davis Commons kids be able to understand why taglines and brand characters are created by advertisers, and to provide them with a better sense overall of what advertising tries to achieve.

When we arrived at Davis Commons, we started the lesson plan by asking the kids if they thought they had ever been persuaded by food advertising, and if brand characters and catch phrases made them want to buy the product.  The results were mixed—some kids felt they had been persuaded by food advertising and could point to examples; others felt that they were seemingly immune from these messages.   After these opening questions, we gave the kids a handout of different food mascots and catchphrases (ex. Tony the Tiger and Chester Cheetah) and had them match those with the food products associated with them; here the students did a very good job, which showed that the kids, whether they realized it or not, clearly remember the mascots used to promote food products.  After this exercise, we had the children talk about their favorite brand characters and catchphrases, which allowed us to have a better understanding of what they paid attention to; from this, we could see that the kids remembered many mascots and characters from junk food, fast food, cereals, and other unhealthy foods.  Next, we had the kids list as many healthy food advertisements as possible; as expected, the kids came up with a few healthy foods seen advertised on TV, but this list was quite smaller than the list for advertised junk food, fast food, and cereal products.  After comparing advertising for unhealthy and healthy foods, this led to our next activity, which was to have the students come up with ad campaigns for healthy foods.  One child did a really good job; he came up with a healthy cereal product and developed a product mascot of a character that had an orange slice as a head.  He then created a tagline for the cereal, “Orange you glad you’re eating this cereal?”  As a group, we felt his efforts were quite clever and reflected, in part, what we had discussed with the kids that day.

I feel that after conducting this lesson plan the children had a better understanding of what advertising is and how advertisers try to persuade them to buy their products, especially food.  The kids had a good time, particularly when it came to making their own advertisements for healthy food products.  Our time at Davis Commons also got the kids thinking about how much junk food is advertised, and how rare it is to see healthier foods promoted through advertising.  It was also beneficial for us as media literacy instructors to see how beneficial it is to be media literate.  Overall, I’d say that our trip to Davis Commons and our lesson plan turned out to be pretty great.   While it is sad these visits are coming to an end, we are really happy that we were able to gain this experience.

 

 

Here is the next update on Professor Paradise’s Media Literacy course!

 

“Producing” Media Literate Youth: Reflecting on the Role of Video Production and Student-Created Content

This semester’s Community Based Learning project for my senior Communication capstone has been nothing if not enlightening. I have learned that being a facilitator of media literacy doesn’t mean that the children of Davis Commons are the only ones learning. Our lesson plans reflect college-aged perspectives on media-related topics, but the actual lessons organically change to focus on the issues that surround urban young people. Each week I learn something new about the media’s effect on children and teenagers that I didn’t know about. They have truly taught me as much, if not more, than I have tried to teach them.

Until last week, we had followed structured lesson plans on specific topics, led activities to enhance participation, and video taped our sessions in order to document our visits.  Our visit this week, however, was structured quite differently. We had no actual lesson plan to follow, but rather were instructed by our professor to assist the students in creating a media literacy-themed Public Service Announcement.  In other words, we wanted the students to draw on what they had learned already this semester to create an informative and educational PSA that would not only demonstrate their learning but also enhance their video production skills.  After all, one important aspect of media literacy, according to many media education scholars, is the ability to produce your own mediated messages.

Being the first group to facilitate this video production assignment to Davis Commons, our goal was work with the Davis Commons youth to create a PSA on a media-related topic.  On the car ride over from Stonehill, our group brainstormed possible PSA ideas and thought that addressing Facebook privacy settings might be a great topic. In previous weeks, we had talked with the Davis Commons youth about Facebook in general, and found out that the students could use more training with this website. For example, many of the girls we had talked to had lied about their age in order to get an account.

Therefore, when we arrived at the after-school program, we brought eight interested students into the computer lab to start the creation of the PSA.  The students were excited by the prospect of creating a PSA and were on-board with focusing on the topic of Facebook.  Even though the Stonehill media literacy facilitators had come up with the PSA topic, we really wanted the students at Davis Commons to lead the discussion of Facebook privacy and decide on how the video should be produced. After providing some initial information about the purpose of PSAs and posing some initial questions for the Davis Commons youth to consider, the students really got into the topic and started making a list on the dry erase board of information one shouldn’t share on Facebook.  Essentially, from this information, we created a script to guide the PSA.

Once the script was developed, we started videotaping footage of Davis Commons students asking and answering questions regarding habits surrounding safe Facebook use, especially in regards to privacy issues. The camera was operated by a Davis Commons student as well, so my group of Stonehill facilitators more or less just supervised the video production process. We helped when some of the students had questions or differing views on certain aspects of the production process, but for the most part, the students had a firm grasp of the PSA they sought to create.

After the question and answer portion of the PSA, the after-school students felt it would be a good idea to show the viewer exactly how to change the privacy settings on his/her Facebook account. Thus, the second part of the video was filmed as a Davis Commons student demonstrated on the computer exactly where to go to find the privacy settings, and how to change them.
This lesson in video production was very helpful to the bonding between the Stonehill and Davis Commons students, in part because of the creative, fun, and largely unstructured nature of this assignment.  We weren’t there to lecture, but rather wanted an interactive discussion in which the students had a very important role to play. We trusted them to make a video that really could help other people who weren’t as familiar with Facebook as themselves, and they acted admirably in the effort.  It was great to see the students realize how much they could contribute to media literacy and how their voice, through video production exercises such as these, could be heard; further, I believe it gave them a unique sense of purpose. Production is such an invaluable part of media education, and this lesson taught the students much more than a lecture ever could have. The hands-on, student-centered approach to creating the video was successful, and we look forward to showing the students their final edited PSA product at the end of the semester.

Read what Cassie White, work study student in the CBL office has to say about her experiences with Broadcast Brockton.

Broadcast Brockton

This semester I had the pleasure of working for the Community-Based Learning office as a work study student. I collaborated with a few other students: Michele St Pierre, Megan McCoy, and Molly McKitrick on a project called Broadcast Brockton. It began as an idea from a CBL student, Laura Sidla, which grew into an initiative. The initial thought was produced out of feedback from students who volunteered in Brockton; they didn’t receive much training on diversity issues and were confronted with stereotypes of our neighboring city.

As students, we have each observed different incidents of stereotyping Brockton at Stonehill. Offhand comments about the safety of the city are common. And in general there is a lack of respect among many students for what the city is really like. Yet, outside of volunteering and internships Brockton has a lot to offer. For example, it has a variety of ethnic restaurants, a neat Craft Museum, and even some nice green spaces!

This past semester’s phase of the project focused on compiling information and brainstorming the best ways for its implementation. We were able to meet with numerous people on campus and within the community that proposed some really great ideas.

Next semester we hope to formulate a focus group for interested students, faculty, and administrators to discuss diversity specifically related to Brockton. Another suggestion is to offer a historical tour of Brockton, run by Willy Wilson (a historian and active member of the community).  That way the community is educated about Brockton’s roots, fostering a sense of appreciation. The Bat Bus has been a resource available to students, but seems to rarely be used. (For only a dollar students can go from the edge of campus to downtown!) Advertising these kinds of resources will definitely be part of our project.

One of our main goals is to form inclusive dialogue within Stonehill’s volunteering programs, CBL courses, and student programming. That way the community will begin to recognize the value of Brockton. We look forward to when Brockton and Stonehill are intertwined communities that have a reciprocal relationship built on understanding.

Read the next installment from Professor Paradise’s Mediated Communication Theory course!

Reality Check?

This past week at Davis Commons our media literacy lesson plan focused on the genre of reality television.  As media literacy facilitators, every topic we discuss with the kids, ages 8 through 14, is relevant and important for them to understand.  Our first week of lessons revolved around violence in the media – something the kids had plenty of exposure to. This previous week we shifted gears to reality programming, something they knew a little less about.

Being the first group of the week to go on Tuesday, we got to introduce the topic of reality TV and were able to get a good idea of what the kids knew about it – and what knowledge we could impart on them. Our lesson went well overall. We first had the kids make a list of all the reality TV shows they could think of. I was a bit surprised when they had trouble naming more shows than just the “Jersey Shore.” Many of the kids were throwing out names of talk shows, cartoons, comedies, and hit dramas. We adjusted by asking them what the difference was between shows like the Jersey Shore and America’s Best Dance Crew versus Family Guy and The Tyra Show. Then we went over the four different subgenres of reality television: physical-based competition (ex: Survivor), performance-based competition (ex: American Idol), romantic competition (ex: The Bachelor/Bachelorette), non-fictional (ex: Jersey Shore), and inspirational (ex: Extreme Home Makeover). Using YouTube clips to illustrate each one of these, the kids were able to grasp the concept of reality TV and even generate a more extensive list of shows that they had seen that fall under each of these categories.  We also worked with the students to have them think of ways in which the genre of “reality” TV often fails to reflect reality at all due to scenes being staged, scripted, and over-dramatized.

The most rewarding and fun part of our visits to Davis Commons has definitely been watching the kids use the video camera. After we were done teaching them about reality TV – and how the word reality is truly a misnomer in many cases due to manipulative editing and producing – we asked them if they wanted to come up with their own version of a reality TV show. They quickly sprang into action, deciding who was going to direct each scene, who would get to film, who was starring, and what type of episode they wanted to film. Naturally, there were so many different ideas that we helped them decide on three scenes. The first involved a scripted fight between two boys after one stepped on the others’ sneaker. The second scene was similar, involving drama between three of the girls. After we filmed these scenes, we interviewed the “actors” and “actresses” to ask them just how real each scenario was. For the third scene, the kids tried to include an element of competition-based reality and made a valiant attempt to use the trees outside of Davis Commons as the setting for their version of Survivor.

Overall, the excitement and enthusiasm of the kids (especially when in front of the video camera) is what makes the weekly trips worth it. Knowing that we’re potentially (and hopefully!) affecting their media use in a positive way, well, that’s just one of the benefits that goes along with the process of community-based learning.

Enjoy the next installment from Professor Paradise’s Mediated Communication Theory Students!

The Media’s Portrayal of Families

This week at Davis Commons, we focused on the portrayal of family in the media.  Our objective was to make the students more critical of the ways in which media chooses to depict families on mainstream television.  We wanted the students at Davis Commons to evaluate and analyze a show that they are familiar with, in order to demonstrate the lack of representation of different racial backgrounds, sexual orientations, and demographics.

As an activity to demonstrate these disparities, we asked the students at Davis Commons to draw and describe a typical family on their favorite television sitcom.  We had them fill out a sheet describing characteristics of a family on a show that they chose.  The children consistently described the father figure as masculine and strong.  His role in the family was to work and to make money.  They identified the mother as feminine, maternal, and often pretty.  Her role was to take care of the children and to do household chores.  The son was illustrated as athletic often along with other attributes based on ability.  The daughter, on the other hand, was identified with only physical attributes, such as pretty or well dressed.

We then asked them to do the same thing, but this time with their own families.  When they did this, we found many inconsistencies among their families that did not match up with any of the characteristics they described in the sitcom families.  For example, in all of their families both parents had jobs.  Most of them also said that both parents did chores around the house as well as helping to take care of the children.  The students of Davis Commons, most of whom are African American, also pointed out the racial disparity in sitcoms.  Fresh Prince and The Cosby Show were the only two shows they could think of that represent people of their race in a positive fashion.

This activity was really cool because it demonstrated a side-by-side comparison (i.e., the media vs. real world) of the blatant misrepresentation of the actual population.  The students at Davis Commons were able to see that the typical television “model” of the family oftentimes fails to accurately represent other more diverse types of family structures and familial roles.  In other words, entertainment media often perpetuate stereotypes so that they are perceived as the norm.  Fortunately, some programs, such as Modern Family, are helping to break the mold by introducing more diverse family structures on television, a trend that resonates to some degree with many real-world families. By identifying and discussing these types of media depictions and trends, it is our hope that the students of Davis Commons can become more critical of the messages that television, film, and other media send out to viewers.

Media influences our attitudes and behaviors and promotes standards and stereotypes in our culture.  In order to accurately understand the messages that are portrayed in the media, we must be critical of the messages we see and understand its origin.  We must understand who is delivering the message, as well as their intent.  Most media is motivated by power and profit, and in order to understand these messages, we must make sure that the students at Davis Commons understand that these messages are representations of reality and not depictions of true life.