What do you do?
My name is Evelien Schilder and I am an instructional designer and instructor for the Instructional Technology Master’s Program at Virginia Tech. My background is in communications (bachelor’s and master’s degree in communication science from the University of Amsterdam) and education (Ph.D. in Instructional Design and Technology from Virginia Tech). During my master’s studies, I wrote my thesis about different approaches to media literacy, but I really developed a deeper interest in media literacy by completing the graduate certificate program in media literacy at Appalachian State University. Upon completion of this program, I came to Virginia Tech and conducted my dissertation research on media literacy assessment. In my current role at Virginia Tech, I teach four online masters courses for the Instructional Technology Master’s Program. I am also designing new materials for our program, like the content for a new online video production module for one of our courses. I am also a member of the NAMLE Leadership Council and I conduct research on media literacy on the side.
Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
One of the projects I am currently working on is a research study related to media literacy assessment that I am conducting together with Dr. Theresa Redmond, a colleague from Appalachian State University. One of the important outcomes of media literacy education is the habit of asking critical questions about media messages. Theresa and I are studying the extent to which students are asking these critical questions about media messages and whether they improve their questioning skills by taking a media literacy-related course. We are especially interested in looking at the areas in which students are (or are not) asking questions about before and after the course. For example, we look at the extent to which they are asking questions about purpose, media production, audiences, and ideology. Then we examine whether the amount of questions about each of these areas changes after taking a media literacy course. We are also looking at whether their questions become more complex after taking a media literacy-related course. For example, are they simply asking: “What is the color of the girl’s dress?” or “Why do you think they chose the color red for the girl’s dress in the movie?”
Why is media literacy important to you?
My interest in media literacy started when I moved to Israel to study political communications in 2006. I moved to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during the time of the Lebanon War. Every time something violent happened in Israel during that year, this usually made the headlines and very graphic images were usually broadcasted. Many people back home would ask whether I was OK, even if these events occurred many miles away. This prompted me to think about news criteria and values. Technically, driving a car is a lot more dangerous than being in Israel around that time, yet we do not see daily news stories showing crashed cars. And although hundreds of thousands of people still die from drinking unsafe water every year, these instances rarely make the headlines either. Having taken a course entitled Production, Contents, and Effects of the News the semester before I went to Israel, it made me think about what it takes for something to make the news, and in what ways these editorial decisions could bias what is ultimately shown. In other words, events that are unexpected make the news more than events that happen on a daily basis. Events that are unambiguous make the news more than more complex and ambiguous events. Stories with famous or people belonging to an elite class make the news more than stories with unknown people, and events containing conflict and other dramatic effects make the news more often than events that do not have these characteristics.
In addition, during my time there, I studied the framing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and learned about the ways different parties frame their stories, how they create their own narratives, and how they very purposely use media to tell these stories. All of this awakened my interest in media literacy education. Upon return, I wrote my master’s thesis about different approaches to teach media literacy specifically as it relates to the news. Then I arranged to come to the United States to learn more about the field. I wanted to teach people that media are not a clear window through which we view the world. Whenever something is shown within the frame of the camera, there are also aspects that are not shown or left out, which is something this classic image illustrates well.
We never get to visit all places in the world in person, so we learn about many of them through the media. Currently, the average adult uses media over eleven hours a day, which without doubt, impacts the way we see the world. As media literacy educators, we often discuss bias, but I think it is also important to look at the agenda setting function of the media. As some stories are shown repeatedly in the media and others get less coverage, people not only learn about these events, but it may also influence the relative importance they attach to these events. In other words, media may not only teach us about events, they may also influence what we find important and what we are thinking about. Recognizing this, taking a step back, deconstructing these media messages, and asking questions about them is therefore crucial, and that is why media literacy is important.
What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
It is exciting that we have recently seen an increase in popularity for media literacy education. This happened especially as the term “fake news” became popularized over the past year. Unfortunately, the term “fake news” itself is a very binary term, implying that there are only two types of news (fake and real). This undermines the assumption of the gray areas that are especially important in media literacy education. There are often no clear right or wrong answers in media analysis – and this is important to emphasize. Although the conversations surrounding fake news are often simplified, it has opened up the discussion.
As more attention has been called to our field in the past year, it allows us to inform more people about media literacy education, and to educate them to more critically access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act on media messages. I hope that educators, media, and the general public will continue to see the ongoing importance for media literacy knowledge and skills. As critical thinking about media messages is a habit of mind that cannot be taught in a single lesson, I hope that the recent conversations will lead to a more coherent integration of media literacy education in all subject areas, and at all educational levels in schools and colleges in America and across the world.
Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
I joined NAMLE about five years ago. During my dissertation research, I found some of NAMLE’s documents and resources very useful. These included especially the Core Principles of Media Literacy Education and the Key Questions to ask when analyzing media messages. I also enjoy reading and publishing in NAMLE’s journal: Journal of Media Literacy Education. Fellow NAMLE members have been very helpful to me in my profession. For example, as I was conducting my dissertation research, NAMLE helped to distribute my research questionnaire, and many NAMLE members completed it – providing data for which I am still very grateful. The NAMLE community consists of wonderful people who are enthusiastic about advancing the field of media literacy education.