March 2016: M-Passioned Member Antonio Lopez

Lopez-SF1) What do you do? 

I consider myself a professional media geek. For my day job I’m an associate professor of media studies at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. It’s an American undergraduate university, but we have students from all over the world. In this capacity I develop curriculum, teach, and work within an extended international network of media educators. Since moving to Italy almost ten years ago, I’ve traveled and worked with media educators all over, including England, France, Spain, Belgium, Egypt, Tunisia, Switzerland, Kosovo and Germany. Several of my former students have gone on to do amazing media education work, including helping spread media literacy throughout Asia. One former student, Sara Gabai, is involved with Art Silverblatt and has created the Digital International Media Literacy eBook Project (http://www.dimle.org/). This fall my university will co-host the international Media Education Summit with the UK’s Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (http://www.cemp.ac.uk/summit/2016/).

My other “job” is as a writer, theorist and researcher. I’ve written three books about media, education, and the environment: Mediacology, The Media Ecosystem, and Greening Media Education. I’m constantly writing chapters and articles for various journals and media books. I used to blog, but my social media activity has replaced that.

Aside from my professional activities, I’m an amateur photographer and comics artist.

2) Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.

Before moving to Europe I worked mainly with teenagers doing grassroots media projects with a lot of nonprofits around the US. Some of the work I’m most proud of was collaborating with Native Americans and doing media literacy projects with many different tribes in North America.

These days I like to say that I’m “putting the eco into media ecology,” which means that my primary mission is to bridge media education with sustainability education. I’m uniquely positioned because I believe that I’m the only person in the world with a PhD in Sustainability Education that also teaches about media. My work manifests in different ways. Mostly I’ve been advocating for a more ecological approach to media literacy through writing and giving workshops at conferences. It’s a lonely job because there aren’t very many people doing this kind of work, and the audience seems limited (for now, at least). I’m excited because more and more media literacy educators are aware that environmental problems are directly connected to media, but it’s hard work raising awareness. Oftentimes when I run workshops at conferences, only a half-dozen people show up. But the volume of material coming out about the relationship between media and the environment seems to double every year and I imagine we’re going to hit critical mass soon.

3) Why is media literacy important to you?

I come at it as a graduate of the “School of Punk Rock.” What I mean is that I got passionate about media through my experience as a do-it-yourself (DIY) media maker in the Los Angeles punk scene during the 1980s, having learned how to make media by creating a ‘zine called Ink Disease. From there I went on to work in the media professionally—mainly as a journalist—but also in a variety of other capacities (such as publishing and film). In the late 1990s I saw a media literacy talk and I had an epiphany. I caught media literacy like one catches religion. I realized that the techniques of media production could be taught and that it was empowering. I’ve been an evangelist ever since. I’m able to connect to young people because I’m able to tap into my inner teen punk and impart a passion for being more than a consumer of media, but an actively engaged media practitioner.

4) What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?

Relatively speaking, media literacy is still a young field and remains wide-open. It certainly has a lot of old habits (some good, some bad), but as media evolve, so do media users. By necessity, as media educators we have to grow and expand. I worry that there is too much emphasis on the newest gadget, so I’m kind of “old school” and try to get students to use old-fashioned tools like pencil, paper, scissors and glue (in conjunction with high-tech media). I’m incredibly excited about how media literacy is exploding in places like Latin America, Africa, Middle East and Asia. I really look forward to innovative practitioners emerging from these places that will change the field.

5) Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?

Though I’m based in Europe, I’m still very connected to North America, and NAMLE helps me maintain that connection. There is a lot of diversity in the movement, and it seems like NAMLE is the one place where all of us can hang out together and share ideas. I’m glad to see how NAMLE has become a big tent and is evolving to accommodate greater diversity. It’s too bad the NAMLE conference happens every two years. It’s a long time to wait in order to “geek out” with fellow practitioners!

Do you want to know more about Antonio Lopez and his work? Visit his website: http://mediacology.com/

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