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The Importance of PD in Media Literacy Education

By Yonty Friesem

In his 1985 presidential address at the American Education Research Association (AERA) conference, Lee S. Shulman modified George Bernard Shaw's infamous quote to say: "Those who can, do. Those who understand, teach" in order to explain Aristo’s views on professional mastery. As we know the art of mastering a new skill is difficult. Malcolm Gladwell claimed in Outliers (2008) that to reach success, one need to practice. We know that growing knowledge must first come with intrinsic motivation. In the case of educators, I have shown in my doctoral dissertation how effective professional development in media literacy can help.

And indeed, this last week at the University of Lisbon, Renee Hobbs and I were able to provide deep dive into media literacy practice, propaganda education, and creating space for courageous conversations to faculty, librarians, graduate students, and educators. Developed by our host Cecilia Beecher Martins of the University of Lisbon Centre for English Studies (ULICES/CEAUL), the program was named Think Tank on Countering Disinformation in Education and Training and its program can be seen HERE. As you can see from the program, we looked at issues related to media literacy and how to counter disinformation with courageous conversations. We reflected on why education for life in democratic societies must include sustained and focused attention on the role of mass media and digital platforms in civic life. We even shared interpretations of Portuguese propaganda from 1969 by creating a mini-podcast! You can listen in to this fascinating 3-minute commentary:


American Corner & Confucius InstituteOn the second day, we delved more into the Mind Over Media platform and how to explore definitions of propaganda as a means to build critical analysis skills. As each participant was imagining how they will use the knowledge they acquired in these two days, we moved to plan a unit using the Future Protocol that is a highly useful tool for curriculum design. 

It was interesting to be inside the University of Lisbon's American Corner – a gathering and workspace developed by head university librarian Pedro Estacio and sponsored by the U.S. State Department. It's located right next to the Confucius Institute. It was the perfect location to discuss practical ways to engage students with the notion of what is information? Where it comes from? How are we individually and collectively impacted by it? 


UoLisboa High School WorkshopA Workshop for High School Students.  My personal highlight was in the morning of the second day when I offered a special program to 40 Portuguese high school students in a 90-minute program. To introduce critical questions of media literacy, I used a new tool developed to showcase media literacy critical questions. To engage student learning, I asked the them to remember their first childhood media, whether it was a TV series, a book, a video game, a toy, etc. We practiced answering the critical questions. I asked them (to their surprise!) to take out their phone and in groups to choose their last post on social media they consumed. Students had several minutes to answer the critical questions and create a short podcast using their phones. 

UoLisboa Day 2 PDAs some of the educators who participated in the workshop witnessed the engagement and way the students were working and showcasing their critical thinking, they approached me and asked if they could use it as well.

Obviously, I replied that this is meant to be spread as practice of media literacy education. Sadly, not all of the adult participants were able to observe the high school student workshop. Next time, we will use a fishbowl learning activity to enable faculty to observe and reflect on a classroom activity in real time. Shulman’s call to support teachers’ continuing education by providing meaningful professional development is so important to all of us at the Media Education Lab!


Estefania Sanchez-Aunon DefenseWelcoming a New Member to the Community of Scholars. From Lisbon, I flew to Spain to be on the panel of the dissertation committee of Estefania Sanchez-Aunon, in the Department of Didactics of Modern Languages and their Literatures at the University of Murcia. Her six-year research project explores how cinema-based instruction supports Spanish students to learn English as a foreign language and engage in environmental consciousness. Estefania published four articles and completed two additional ones that were submitted to publications. She is studying the attitudes of pre and in-service teachers as well as students toward the use of movies to teach English and environmental education. Her findings show a gap between the positive notion of using movies as instructional methods alongside the negative attitudes of applying it in the classroom. When inquiring why were there negative attitudes, she found teachers lack preparation and confidence. Some teachers did not see the connection between using movies as an instructional strategy and getting to be proficient in English. 

You can see that I am thinking a lot about the proper training of teachers in media literacy. What does proper mean? In my opinion and experience, it means much more than providing theory, case studies, and lecturing on the topic. Teachers need to experience new instructional strategies as learners themselves in order to build their confidence in feeling competent to transfer these practices into their own settings. This is the exact approach we brought to University of Lisbon as part of our ongoing MediaEd Institute – a leadership development in media literacy education. 

By yonty,