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Media Literacy in Higher Education: Breeding Civic Awareness

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Scholars, since Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s now famous Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community revived the debate about the alarmingly quick decline of civic participation in the United States, have increasingly pointed to the media as a key variable in this decline. Common speculation ranges far and wide—from sensationalized reporting to privatized media structures—as contributing factors to a general lack of interest and knowledge needed to effectively contribute to democracy. While the media can not be the lone catalyst for the current state of the U.S. civic democracy, they must be held to some level of accountability.

The increasing reliance on media combined with media reliance on profit for existence has contributed to a cynicism towards mass information outlets in mainstream America. This has possible negative implications for American Democracy. All nations have the responsibility to provide their public with diverse and credible information from which they can build sound value systems and make accurate civic and social decisions. At the same time, it is the public’s responsibility to demand such provisions. However, in light of this relationship, when politics, economics and business models become involved in the media information process, such responsibilities may not be tended to appropriately.

So what’s left to do? One way to approach a new understanding of the current media landscape and its role in society is to implement the proper educational structures that can teach citizens’ about the nature of media—its foundations, structures, and roles—so as to breed a new interest in society that stands to diffuse cynicism and breed interest and healthy skepticism. This type of education is commonly referred to as media literacy. If properly developed and implemented, media literacy stands to produce a reflexive learning standard for an informed citizenry. Any attempt to reverse or reform the current media structures in society would be a futile endeavor.  Thus, what this current debate should address are educational initiatives that can be implemented to teach about the current media landscape, and ways the public can be cognizant of how media influences their democratic values and civic obligations.

This presentation, presented at both the ICMPA Brown Bag session and the Media Smarts Seminar Series at Temple Univeristy, serves to promote the idea that education about media can positively influence students awareness of their role as citizens in a democracy.  This seminar is part of my larger research agenda on Media Education and civic democracy in the U.S. and abroad. For more information on my research, teaching, and consulting, please visit the About US page ICMPA or go to


The ICMPA Forum is a "brown bag" lunch for those at the University of Maryland community interested in media's roles in public consideration of political issues.

Paul Mihailidi at UMD; photo by Jad Melki

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