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Critical Media Literacy and Climate Change

Mon, April 20, 12:25 to 1:55pm, Virtual Room


The purpose of this presentation is to share action research (Hinchey, 2008; Mills, 2011) from two classrooms in which teachers taught integrated units that combined critical media literacy (CML) with the study of climate change. Through analysis of the data we highlight potential benefits and limitations of combining this theoretical framework with issues of environmental justice.

López (2014) warns that there are many people in environmental education who think that “media and technology are anti-nature” and that “the general practice of media literacy marginalizes ecological perspectives” (p. 1). However, it doesn’t have to be this way, and in fact CML can be an important framework for uniting information communication technologies with environmental justice as well as social justice (Beach, 2015). Furthermore, CML follows from the ideas generated by Freire (1970). CML, as situated in this study, involves students and educators being involved in dialogical communication where both are learning and teaching from each other. Through a problem-posing pedagogy, they became aware of how corporations and politicians use media outlets to spin information about science as well as to create their own media to challenge environmental injustice (Author, 2007).
Methods & Data
Working with two educators, the research documented their process and results. The two case studies include a female teacher working with a group of seventh grade students in an English and Social Studies combined classroom in a low socioeconomic community. The other involves a male music teacher at a semi-private elementary school working with multiple grades. Both educators used the same CML framework (Author, 2012) for teaching about climate change over the period of one month. The data collected include field notes, student work samples, email communication, and extensive interviews with the teachers.
Student work provided insight into their thinking processes and connections they were making between climate change and media. Teachers commented about the increased levels of engagement they were seeing in their students. The music teacher encountered some resistance early on, but by the end of the unit students were inspired to create their own songs about climate change. A similar level of interest grew in the middle school when students created their own alternative media challenging environmental problems. Insights gained suggest that a CML framework can provide educators the theory and strategies to interrogate environmental justice issues into their teaching and through media production, students felt empowered to create their own media to challenge environmental injustices.
As climate change becomes the biggest crisis to affect life on this planet, we are seeing corporations and politicians spinning facts and emotions to create doubt about the science and reframe the discourse. The media messages about these issues are an ideal battleground for students to critically analyze and challenge the false assumptions. Using CML, educators can guide students to question media messages about environmental justice and build a sense of agency through the process of creating alternative media messages.