January 2011 M-Passioned Member: Mary Ann Allison

Mary Ann Allison Mary Ann Allison
Title: Assistant Professor, Media Studies and Principal, The Allison Group, LLC
School or Organization: Hofstra UniversityThe Allison Group, LLC

What do you do?

I teach Media Studies at Hofstra University.

I use media theory, sociology, and complex systems theory to study the ways in which individuals, communities, and institutions are changing.

I am also one of the principals of the Allison Group, which provides consulting services to government and business leaders and which has developed a program—now being piloted—in which we are experimenting to see if improving communication skills will help to reduce recidivism for offenders coming out of federal prison.

Can you tell us about your latest work or project in media literacy?

In one of my classes, I’m working with Our Blook, a new media company interested in changing forms of journalism. Sandy Ordonez at Our Blook created a site for my Mass Communications in Contemporary Society class. Ms. Ordonez has conducted and posted a series of interviews that I requested specifically for this class. Best of all, she is assisting students who are taking this class for honors credit  in making contact with and interviewing experts of their own choosing.

In another project that I’m very excited about, because we are moving from a text-based culture to a visual and auditory culture, I am experimenting with ways of demonstrating critical thinking without using text. I just made a presentation featuring student work which illustrated sophisticated concepts related to pop culture using pictures without words. Supported by prior in-class work, Hofstra students did a great job of locating and creating powerful images to exemplify concepts such as globalization, consumption, ideology, identity, and self.

What is your favorite form of media?

I rarely have just one favorite in any category…and media is no exception. There are so many wonderful forms of media. After I  finish watching a great movie (Stranger than Fiction for example), I think film must be my favorite. Then I read a powerful book (May Sarton’s Coming into Eighty or Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book) and think surely it must be books. And then, I listen to recorded music (Arbo Pärt, Beethoven, or Janis Joplin). Surely, my favorite is music. And so on. How wealthy we are in our forms of media!

Why is media literacy important to you?

Human beings are social animals. Our media environment affects us as powerfully—maybe even more powerfully—than our physical environment. Understanding the nature of the media that I use is essential to my happiness and to my effectiveness in the world.

Why do you think media literacy should matter to others?

Right now, we humans face enormous challenges to our survival as a species. Among the most important factors that have enabled us to survive huge challenges in the past is our ability to learn collectively. In our new media we have powerful tools that we are just learning to use. Our skill at doing this will make a significant difference to our mutual futures.

Can you tell us about how your work has been recognized? Awards you’ve received?

My study of media-triggered social evolution won the Harold A. Innis Award for Outstanding Dissertation in the field of Media Ecology in 2005.

I am a New York City artist in residence poetry. Here’s a poem I wrote in the early 1990s when I was a vice president at Citibank leading the global development of banking by telephone. I believe it speaks to an interesting form of media literacy.

What’s been your proudest moment in your work in media literacy education?

Again, I can’t pick just one moment. I use media theory to teach media literacy. Here are comments from two student blogs (with permission, of course) from a recent course. I’m proud of their work and of my role in assisting them to develop and apply theories.

Before this semester began, I thought this class would be boring…probably because I didn’t understand much about media theories. However, I have learned a great deal in this class. I see theories in everyday life now and I have learned to appreciate ideas more.

This class made me think about how much media really affects our lives. I see theories in every media outlet now, and I have this surprisingly interesting class to thank for that.

–Student, Mass 15: Theories of Media, Spring 2010

I didn’t realize how much of what we were reading applied to everyday life until I started observing and asking myself “how do these things fit together?” I was shocked at how much I found under the surface of things I see on a regular basis.

–Student, Mass 15: Theories of Media, Spring 2010

How has NAMLE supported you?

First and foremost, NAMLE’s presence provides a focal point for the teaching of skills and thought processes which are critical to human survival as a species. We are all descended from people who could find food and shelter and who could protect themselves from cave bears and ice ages.  Future generations will be descended from those who best understand and use the media environment in which we are all immersed.  Renee Hobbs’ recent action plan is just one example.

Day in, day out, NAMLE provides research which I used in developing my classes, fellowship with other teachers and researchers, and a place to publish my own findings around media literacy.

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