- Global Perspectives:Developing Media Literacy Skills to Advance Critical Thinking
Women's studies and feminist curricula have been lauded for the development and application of critical thinking skills for social and political change in its students (Fisher; Kellner and Share; Mayberry). Critical thinking can be defined as the ability to identify and challenge assumptions, to search for alternative ways of thinking, and to summarize a reflective analysis (Ore). Yet for feminist pedagogues, the challenge of encouraging students to develop practical skills alongside knowledge of key concepts can be daunting. To address this issue, an existing course was redesigned to integrate critical thinking skills through media literacy activities. Inspired by Second Thoughts: Critical Thinking for a Diverse Society (Teays), the focus on increasing undergraduate students' media literacy was chosen because we agreed that "being literate in the media age requires critical thinking skills that empower us as we make decisions" (NAMLE). To this purpose, the course instructor worked with the media services librarian to integrate media formats—websites, maps, a graphic novel, documentaries and feature films—and increased library instruction into the course content of a women's studies class in order to facilitate critical analysis of women's issues worldwide. The use of films was felt to be highly appropriate for this women's studies course because visual media have the ability to illuminate lived experiences in a way that lecture cannot.
By encouraging students to explore the role of media in normalizing stereotypes and misrepresentations about other cultures, media can also be used to promote alternative ways of understanding different cultures. Through critically viewing films and other media, reflecting, performing active research, and presenting their findings, students gained a better understanding of the diverse issues impacting women globally and now, we hope, have the tools to better understand these complex issues. Ideally, the students learned by the end of the semester to "watch carefully; think critically" (CML).
Global Perspectives on Women and Change is a course that is part of Minnesota State University Mankato's Women's Studies core curriculum. The development of media literacy activities was piloted in spring 2007. During this time, the class was [End Page 168] offered as a three-credit course, with the knowledge that the department was revising its undergraduate courses into four-credit hour offerings. The additional credit hour permits additional time for instructors to utilize discussion groups, applied or laboratory instruction, and/or guided activism activities. The spring 2007 course section allowed us to develop and test critical thinking elements for incorporation as lab activities into the 2008 section. Specifically the course added critical thinking exercises such as evaluating websites, films, and other media forms. These activities were intended to apply the media literacy core concepts described in the Center for Media Literacy's Media Lit Kit.
Our initial plan was to make the class a film-intensive experience, but it was eventually expanded to include multiple forms of media. The first media literacy exercise was a session that had students evaluate several advocacy websites (e.g. Madre, Global Sisterhood Network, Global Fund for Women, Zonta International) on their accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, and coverage (Alexander and Tate; Kapoun). Students later commented that this activity was far more useful than they had expected:
Student: Ok, so when I first heard what we were doing today in class, I was like "Oh great." But when we were actually doing it, I was kind of interested. I never really thought to look at those things. I just thought if a website had up-to-date information and was reliable that it was a good site to use. Even some of the sites that we looked up today were questionable. I suppose if you want a good website for research, you should probably research the site a little to figure out what it is actually all about!
The next media lesson was a presentation about maps, by guest lecturers from the MSU Mankato geography department. In addition to a lecture and a PowerPoint presentation, the instructors provided critical thinking perspectives for the students that were uploaded to their course management platform (D2L). Before reading Persepolis...