January 2017: M-Passioned Member Natasha Casey

august20161) What do you do?
I am a communications professor at Blackburn College, Illinois where I teach a variety of classes in the English and communications department including media and information literacy, communication theory, media and diversity, and advise the campus newspaper (The ‘Burnian).

I received my BA in media studies from the University for the Creative Arts (England), an MSc. in media studies from TCU and a Ph.D. in communication studies from McGill University (Canada).
My research interests include media and information literacy and critical race theory.

2) Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
For the past three years, I’ve collaborated with Spencer Brayton (Director, Lumpkin Learning Commons, Blackburn College) to bring our respective fields – information literacy and media literacy – together. Although they are often siloed (as is the case with most academic disciplines), there is much overlap between the two especially in the “critical” areas of both fields where issues regarding power and production of knowledge are key. We developed and co-teach a media and information literacy course, a requirement for all communications and professional writing students at Blackburn (follow our class on Twitter #co233bc). We are currently researching the effectiveness of the various pedagogical approaches utilized in the course and are looking to incorporate more production and “making” components (see syllabus at www.natashacasey.com). In the next couple of months, we are launching a media and information literacy blog to discuss how and why we teach various concepts in our class.  As Doug Kellner and Jeff Share wrote a few years ago, “In the interest of a vibrant participatory democracy, educators need to move the discourse beyond the stage of debating whether or not critical media literacy should be taught, and instead focus energy and resources on exploring the best ways for implementing it.” The implementing part is challenging but Spencer and I have benefited enormously from many in the field who’ve generously shared syllabi, tools, and lesson plans. By sharing our experiences and resources with other interested educators, we hope that the blog will be one way to return the favor and maybe even contribute a little to the field.

3) Why is media literacy important to you?
Mainstream media representations of the so-called ‘troubles’ after I moved from Ireland to England in the late 1980s sparked my early interest in media literacy. The disconnect between how the same events were covered by media in neighboring countries motivated an awareness of media studies in secondary school, as I wanted to know more about how television images in particular shaped perceptions. A couple of years later I took a media education course at college, was introduced to the work of Len Masterman by one of my professors, Helen Davis, and was hooked!

Today media and information literacy is more important than ever given that on average most people spend somewhere between 6-10 hours a day consuming some type of media.

So much of our knowledge outside direct experience is mediated. If you ask yourself “how do you know what you know about ……” (fill in the blank), the central role of media is obvious.

Most of my students have grown up with what I think is a very outdated protectionist approach to media and information consumption and tend to switch off when “adults” wag their fingers and decry their over-reliance on phones and Google, binge watching habits and pop culture fandoms. I prefer to use students’ interests as a way to discuss topics such as corporate media ownership, remixing, open access, privacy, issues of representation and more, and to facilitate critical consumption of media and information.

4) What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
The recent national spotlight on “fake news” has provided an unprecedented opportunity in the US at least, to emphasize the importance of media and information literacy. I have a Google alert on various media and information literacy terms and have seen a dramatic increase in interest in these topics since the election. Raising the profile and bringing awareness of the field to a larger audience is key.

In addition, other developments including research in open access journals and conferences point to the growing momentum of the field. The recent formation of a North American chapter of UNESCO’s Global Alliance for Partnerships on Media and Information Literacy is good evidence of this.

Later this month a group of educators will convene at the University of Rhode Island for the Winter Symposium on Digital Literacy in Higher Education. This is another opportunity to discuss the possibilities for the field, post election, with colleagues from across North America.

I am also looking forward to the NAMLE conference in Chicago this summer – not only because it is practically on my doorstep! – but for its theme of “Engaging Citizens and Building Communities”. Civic participation lies at the heart of media literacy. Doing something with the critical media and information literacy skills and knowledge is key to change on many different fronts, and not only the obvious national political one.

5) Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
I became a NAMLE member because I support its mission to “expand and improve the practice of media literacy education in the United States”. NAMLE is among the most recognized national organizations in the field. Membership ensures I am up to date with research in the field, learn about various organizations and the media literacy work happening in and beyond traditional educational settings. I love that membership is free (who doesn’t?) and encourage all my students to join.

NAMLE’s role in coordinating a national media literacy week is also crucial because it provides another opportunity to learn about and from what other individuals and organizations are doing. It also lends additional credibility to smaller, more local, media literacy efforts. For example, I am a member of the Gateway Media Literacy Partners organization based in St. Louis – this group has been doing media literacy advocacy and outreach in the region for more than a decade. National media literacy week helps us to connect to other groups doing similar work and potentially pool our efforts.

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