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Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

Contested Subjects: Media Education in Policy, Politics and Practice

It has become a cliché to say that the lives of Canadians, and particularly young Canadians, are ‘saturated’ with media. Moreover, ‘the media’ now include a plethora of interactive technologies and communication devices, as well as more ‘traditional’ media such as newspapers and magazines, photography, film, radio, television and video. In merely two decades, media education has moved from the margins of education to a more secure, if not a central, place in the elementary and secondary curriculum. And while we hear a great deal from those who either welcome or fear this shift, we know less about how media education is understood by those who teach it.

In this SSHRC-funded study, I work with doctoral students, Colleen McLay, and James Rennie, to explore the following questions: First, if media education is now seen as a more legitimate, even mandatory, part of the curriculum, how and in what conditions was this recognition achieved? Second, how is media education experienced and viewed by those who teach it now? And, third, how can we understand the politics and practice of media education in relation to globalization and neo-liberal reforms of education? We are conducting key informant interviews and document analysis to map the short history of media education, while classroom observation and interviews with teachers will examine the experiences of teachers who currently teach media in elementary and secondary schools. The questions and approaches of the study have been generated through my ongoing work with the Media Education Working Group (see description of MEWG elsewhere on this site.)

The specific objectives of the study are 1) to map the competing claims for and about media education as it moved from being an issue of concern to a small group of activist teachers to a more legitimate and integral place in the curriculum; 2) to observe and analyze the practices and experiences of media teachers working in elementary and secondary classrooms; and 3) to consider the trajectories and practices of media education within and across different sites in Canada, Britain and Australia.

At a time when media technologies and media consumption and use are changing substantially, when media education is being integrated in all grade levels of schooling, and when more teachers find themselves teaching media, the first contribution of the study is to ask what media education is, and what it does, for those who teach it now. A second contribution is to trace how media education has moved from an ‘issue’ taken up by activist teachers and scholars in the 1970s and 1980s to a time where it has gained (some) formal recognition within the curriculum. We trace how this shift was accomplished, how it was argued for and how it was resisted. This part of the study considers the discursive practices of media education activists, scholars and policy-makers – their arguments, claims and recommendations – as integral to the formation of media education as a policy and curriculum discourse. By integrating critical sociology, ethnographic observation and interviews, and genealogy of discourse, the study combines conceptual and theoretical resources in innovative ways. For further information, contact Kari Delhi.