Beyond Cynicism: How Media Literacy Can Make Students More Engaged Citizens

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Beyond Cynicism: How Media Literacy Can Make Students More Engaged Citizens explores what media literacy courses actually teach students. Do students become more knowledgeable consumers of media messages? Do students, armed with that knowledge, become more engaged citizens? A large multi-year study found that classes in media literacy do seem to make students more knowledgeable about media messages--but also found that the increase in students' analytical abilities does not perforce turn them into citizens who understand and support media's essential role in civil society.

This dissertation used a sample of 239 University of Maryland undergraduates in a pre-post/control quasi-experiment, the largest-ever study of this kind on the post-secondary level. The study did find that the students enrolled in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism's J175: Media Literacy course increased their ability to comprehend, evaluate, and analyze media messages in print, video, and audio format.

Based on the positive empirical findings, focus group sessions were conducted within the experimental group and the control group. The students from the media literacy course expressed their belief that media literacy education enable them to "look deeper" at media, while feeling more informed in general. Yet, when the discussions concerned media relevance and credibility, the students who so adamantly praised media literacy, expressed considerable negativity about media's role in society.

Preliminarily, these findings suggest that media literacy curricula and readings which are solely or primarily focused on teaching critical analysis skills are inadequate. Critical analysis should be an essential first step in teaching media literacy, but the curriculum should not end there.

Beyond Cynicism: How Media Literacy Can Make Students More Engaged Citizens concludes by recommending a way forward for post-secondary media literacy education. Beyond Cynicism offers a new curricular framework that aims to connect media literacy skills and outcomes that promote active citizenship. With a greater understanding of the limitations of teaching students to be cynics, university faculty can adapt their courses to give students not just analytical and evaluative tools to critique media, but a focused understanding of why a free and diverse media is essential to civil society.