NAMLE: How did the idea for this research study come about?
Donnell Probst: I am the parent of a child with a disability and have been a special education advocate for many years. As an advocate, I worked with families and schools to develop social skills interventions for students with varying disabilities, including my own daughter. As a parent, I have seen the very real consequences of media consumption in all three of my children, however, the way my daughter consumed and interpreted media was different. It was clear the social skills issues she struggled with in person were magnified in the online environment—a reality which affected her ability to make and maintain friendships, cultivate a positive self-image, and feel happy and included in the school environment. Unfortunately, the existing interventions for social skills in special education focused entirely on in-person interactions, ignoring the new ways students were communicating online.
Having both a media literacy and special education background, I began to notice parallels in some of the skills each field addressed—appropriate social behavior, personal responsibility, empathy and perspective taking, etc. Addressing social skills deficits in the digital environment using established frameworks for teaching these skills using social media literacy seemed like a logical solution to an existing gap in current special education practices.
NAMLE: What do you hope to do with this research in the future?
DP: Anyone who works in special education knows that special education tools and practices often lag behind the needs of the students they serve. This article gave me a chance to connect some of the theoretical frameworks and concepts in media literacy with special education practices, while providing a concrete example of how this framework would be implemented. The next step will be to build a more comprehensive program/framework and then conduct a full study to evaluate its effectiveness. If all goes well, the next challenge will be putting the framework to use in actual classrooms so we can begin to provide students who struggle with social and emotional skills the tools necessary to function in a digital age.
NAMLE: How do you hope this research will contribute to media literacy education?
DP: Disabilities and media literacy is a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of study. Just as a history, English, math, or foreign language teacher can incorporate media literacy practices into their existing lessons, I hope this serves as an example of yet another way media literacy can provide invaluable tools and resources for both the general and special education communities.
NAMLE: Why is media literacy research important to you?
DP: Media affects nearly every aspect of our lives. Whether we are evaluating the validity of data presented in an advertisement, reading a news story about a political candidate or their latest scandal, reading a pamphlet in our doctor’s office, flipping through a fashion magazine, Tweeting, chatting, or Snapping—our ability to create, consume, and analyze media responsibility has broad implications. It can affect our physical and mental health, our civic engagement and democracy, our relationships, employment, and most assuredly, our happiness. Many media literacy practitioners past and present have laid the groundwork with innovative research, practices, tools, and other learning objects. Now it is up to experts from other fields to identify innovative ways to connect their own work to media literacy and continue to grow the field with new interdisciplinary research, tools, and practices.