Media literacy education for adolescents: Testing an integrated theory of media literacy

George Sebastian Vallocheril, Marquette University


'Reality' for many today is what the media present. Skillfully designed to appeal and hold attention, media programs expose, motivate and persuade children and youth to consumerism and instant gratification. Media literacy education is one way to teach children critical awareness of mass media. This dissertation initiates systematic scholarship on media literacy by examining well established theories like social learning, cultivation analysis and medium theories which explain how modern media affect humans. Media education teaches how media messages are constructed, how to decipher them, how to discern the underlying values they present and how to distinguish between 'real' and 'unreal' in media. It is the instruction of media consumers to observe, interpret, analyze and evaluate objectively, critically, and creatively all that they see, hear, and experience from mass media. Media literacy in the United States appeared in school curricula in the late 60's, but was replaced by interest in computer literacy and the back to basics movements by 1975. Elsewhere it continued to develop as an integral part of the regular school curriculum. However, it is again gaining attention in some American schools in the United States. Current media literacy teaching materials rest on trial and error rather than on a foundation in social learning and mass communication theories. This dissertation develops a theoretical basis for teaching media literacy to high school students and tests two modules of media literacy on a sample of secondary school students in Milwaukee. Specifically it integrates social learning theory and cultivation analysis to form the basis of class room instruction. Thus, it examines theoretical foundations, rhetorical justifications and classroom practices of media literacy instruction and develops specific educational goals and principles of media literacy. A Pretest-Posttest study of the unified theory focused on the learning gain from structured classroom presentations on media literacy to high school students. In terms of six hypotheses, it measured learning gains of those subjects who received formal media literacy training on 6 elements of media literacy and was compared to a group that did not receive the training. Six hypotheses were developed for field test. Of these six hypotheses, three were fully supported by the data of the entire study population and all six were supported by the combined date of the two better sub-population. The data indicated that for better media literacy learning gains more time would be needed for instruction with regard to the hypothesis that were not fully supported by the entire study population. Despite the limitations of sample size, demographics and short term exposure, this study shows that media literacy education enables high school students to grasp the fundamentals of media structure and influence. This study suggests that people can be taught to recognize the manipulative devices that are used in media programs, and thereby the effects of media on them can be modified.

Recommended Citation

George Sebastian Vallocheril, "Media literacy education for adolescents: Testing an integrated theory of media literacy" (January 1, 1997). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9823991.