2007 Media Literacy Education Research Summit

The first-ever Media Literacy Education Research Summit was called by NAMLE (AMLA), hoping that researchers from a variety of fields – from education to public health to psychology – would germinate a new research agenda for the next 10 years.

What emerged from the two day event held in St. Louis the last weekend of June 2007, was more than dreamed – a plethora of new research questions; reports of innovative research tools; and a research paradigm for media literacy education that focuses less on media and more on education.

For more than five decades, research questions about media typically looked at media “effects” or the impact and influence of media in the lives of students. The Research Summit brought together a new generation of researchers who look at education – or how children learn from and with media.

Download a pdf file of the Research Summit Program.

Summit Chair Marilyn Cohen, PhD Assistant Chair Renee Cherow-O’Leary, PhD

Media literacy education researchers and practitioners from around the globe gathered in St. Louis in June 2007 for the first ever NAMLE (AMLA) Media Education Research Summit, which was held prior to the NMEC Conference.

The Summit brought together both well-known researchers and newer researchers from around the world and provoked important conversations among diverse media literacy advocates.

Sessions covered topics such as critical thinking, media literacy for families and adults, the state of media literacy in various countries, health, community and civic engagement, international perspectives, media production and pedagogy, issues of diversity, teacher education, and meaning making.

Defining the needs, recognizing the challenges: Keynote address by Kathleen Tyner

Kathleen Tyner, Assistant Professor in the Department of Radio, Television, and Film at the University of Texas and author of Literacy in a Digital World, launched the summit with her thought provoking opening keynote address.

Tyner began by summarizing some of the problems with traditional effects research (e.g. does TV watching lead to childhood violence) which include focus on content rather than effects and involve both pragmatic and ethical concerns when dealing with Institutional Review Boards. She then offered a new “assets model” for media literacy education.

Tyner offered six primary challenges for research in media literacy education:

  1. Need more careful definitions (define the topic as media or media literacy or media literacy education, for instance)
  2. Need process measures (what do media education activities look like?).
  3. Need valid and reliable measures of student skills as outcomes.
  4. Need valid and reliable measures of attitudes and values.
  5. Need hypotheses about how different teaching and environments contribute to outcomes.
  6. Need to develop and test conceptual models of how media literacy education contributes, or not, to broader educational and social outcomes.

Overall, Tyner emphasized the need for more collaboration, bigger and longer studies with more refined variables, the use of mixed research methods, more research apprenticeships, and more caution in generalizing knowledge from research results.

In short, we need to do more and better research-reaching across disciplines, but we must be careful about how we use research. In my own experience with university scholarship, research about human beings seldom proves anything once and for all. Modesty about claims is essential.

Tyner also asked several deep and ongoing questions as she described the state of research. Is media literacy a pedagogy or curriculum or . . .? Is awareness not different from behavior? What are good outcomes? And how can we empower people to communicate even in ways we do not anticipate? Tyner managed to share a clear understanding of what research is and should be and how it relates to those sticky human issues all educators face.

Hobbs’ Address

Renee Hobbs, Associate Professor of Communication at Temple University, was the outstanding keynote speaker at the joint luncheon with the NMEC. She reminded us of the debates and issues which plague researchers in fragmented academic worlds suffering from turf wars.

International and interdisciplinary perspectives

During the sessions, American researchers such as Lynda Bergsma, Assistant Professor in the University of Arizona Zuckerman College of Public Health, presented research on the effectiveness of media literacy education in promoting health, and Frank Gallagher, Director of Education and Media Literacy for Cable in the Classroom, presented insights on the state of media literacy from a survey of state departments of education.

International participants such as Alice Lee, Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism, Hong Kong Baptist University, and colleagues shared a study of media education in the school curriculum in Hong Kong, and Geoff Lealand, Associate Professor, Screen and Media Studies from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, offered a study of media teachers in New Zealand.

The international participation was significant with researchers from Israel, Korea, and Norway, and as several NMEC participants from Singapore told me at breakfast one day, it is remarkable how much we all have in common.

What kind of research do we need?

Plenary sessions were as informative and stimulating as the regular sessions, and the poster session was professionally executed and well worth visiting. I came away exhausted but loaded with ideas for research topics, instruments that may be useful such as those developed by Renee Hobbs and her colleagues, and ways of doing media literacy research.

Perhaps the most significant ongoing dialogue centered around the question that continues to rouse university researchers and policy makers-what kinds of research do we need? This is a highly political question affecting funding, programs, promotion and tenure, and teacher status. It in turn affects what kinds of educating we do.

From the variety of work represented at this summit and the comments during the general discussion lead by Robert Kubey, Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University, it seems clear that the answer is “all kinds.” Both large-scale quantitative studies and small-scale qualitative studies can enlighten practice and policy.

Although it is often difficult for scholars to communicate across disciplines and research methods, it is essential that media literacy be informed by all kinds of research knowledge from all kinds of disciplines and researchers. After all, we have all kinds of questions. However, we must be careful about speaking of our results with great certainty. In short, we are making progress but need more research such as that shared at this summit, research that speaks to those doing media literacy education.


An “extra” for attendees was the CD each participant received that includes abstracts, papers, and Powerpoint presentations from the summit. Since several appealing sessions were going on at the same time, it was useful to get this CD for information on sessions one could not attend. AMLA also provided attendees with a copy of the working AMLA Core Principles.

Article written by Gretchen Schwarz, a professor in the Education Department at Oklahoma State University and a member of the board of directors of NAMLE.

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