If you can’t read it, then it can’t influence you. That may be true with words and books, but it is not true in a world of images, music and multimedia. With a book, if you can’t decipher the meaning of the words, then the influence is indeed limited. When you look at an image or watch a video, it can influence you without your ability to fully “read” it. Without any formal training, practice, or instruction, an infant can look at a picture and have an emotional reaction. As we grow up, we continue to be moved and influenced by visuals and media in a similar way. For many, they go through much or all of school with little or no introduction to the grammar of visual and multimedia messages. They can graduate high school or even college with a visual or media literacy that is essentially a first or second grade reading level. They may even go throughout their entire lives functioning at that visual and media literacy level. This is changing in some schools and districts as standards are beginning to include references to these new literacies. However, there is another challenge. The teachers who are expected model and teach media literacy across the curriculum lack the background as well.
What are the implications for a limited visual and media literacy? We can be influenced, but not fully understand why or how. We do not develop the capacity to “write” visual and multimedia messages, limiting our potential voice and influence in many contexts where images dominate or are the language of choice. We are influenced by messages about politics, science, religion, and healthcare without an ability to analyze and evaluate them.
For these and many other reasons, it is time to give visual and media literacy greater attention in education. If you are like me, you may see a need to nurture your own media literacy. Here are ten resources to get you started.
- National Association for Media Literacy Education
- Association for Media Literacy
- 5 Great Media Literacy Programs
- The Journal of Media Literacy Education
- International Visual Literacy Association
- Center for Media Literacy
- The University of Rhode Island Media Literacy Lab
- The Teacher’s Guide to Media Literacy (book)
- Media and Information Literacy Clearinghouse