Media Literacy in Journalism/Mass Communication Education: Can the United States Learn from Sweden?

Article excerpt

Exploratory studies were conducted in the United States and Sweden in the spring and autumn of 2004 to determine how faculty in journalism/mass communication programs acknowledged and conceptualized media literacy both as a teaching tool and educational concept. The Swedish participants' feedback was markedly different from U.S. academics' in terms of acknowledgement and conceptualization of media literacy. Conclusions drawn may help clarify media literacy's intentions as both a curricular benefit and new teaching tool for programs of journalism/mass communication/media in the United States. Comparisons also provide a base for future rigid exploration into this topic.

Introduction

In Introduction: Teaching Media Literacy: Not If, But Why and How, Patricia H. Hinchey reflects on her experience when being asked to teach media literacy at Penn State University:

It was so last year when, after several years of teaching not only traditional composition and literature courses but also educational philosophy and methods courses, I found myself teaching media literacy to undergraduate and graduate students. During the course of the year I learned that invariably when a colleague asked "What are you teaching this year?" and I answered "teaching media literacy," I could anticipate the follow up question, "What is Media Literacy?"1

The term "media literacy" has mostly been applied to K-12 education.2 Christ and Potter believe that for those in higher education, the process of defining media literacy as an entity requires teachers to look introspectively at what and how they teach.3 Furthermore, Christ and Potter broadly identify the main restriction concerning media literacy and its potential value to higher education programs in the United States: "Yet, even with the reemergence of media literacy as a key area of interest, the construct itself remains a complex and dynamic phenomenon."4

Kubey and Baker believe that when it comes to the delivery of media education, the United States lags behind every other major English-speaking country in the world.5 They state, in reference to the United States: "the educational establishment is still often mystified about how to retool and retrain to educate future citizens of the new realities of communication."6 Furthermore, despite numerous state-wide initiatives to foster the inclusion of media education in secondary and higher education, Mary Lou Galician posits that the United States is still behind the rest of the Western World when it comes to education initiatives concerning the media.7

Christ touches upon the current lack of acknowledgement of media literacy in U.S. higher education, in stating:

Most faculty in higher education media programs would probably argue that they teach students to become media literate. If push came to shove, however, they might not be able to articulate exactly what they mean by media literacy let alone how to measure it as a student-learning outcome.8

To show the relevance of media literacy to U.S. curricular builders, the development of student-learning outcomes will require programs to not only define media literacy, but also develop standards and assessment that can be used to measure media literacy.9

This study will provide an overview of media literacy's current place in journalism/mass communication education in the United States, followed by an overview of Swedish media and higher education landscapes, and how media literacy is conceptualized in journalism/mass communication/media programs in Sweden. The aim will be to elaborate on exploratory findings that reveal differences in how Swedish and U.S. programs acknowledge the place and potential benefit of media literacy in their curriculum. Furthermore, the discussion section of the paper will attempt to draw a correlation between Sweden's media literacy education and its high levels of civic participation. Lastly, the paper will elaborate on potential ways in which U. …