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How media literacy is defined: A review
Unformatted Document Text:  2 How media literacy is defined: A review Introduction What should people know about the media and their usage in order to be considered media literate? Numerous authors in the field of media literacy have answered this question. Two categories of answers may be distinguished: theoretical discussions on the notion of media literacy; and descriptions of specific media-education programs. The first category refers to publications that present a theoretical discussion on what media literacy could or should entail. In these discussions, media literacy is defined using characteristics of the media system. Examples of this approach may be found in the 1998 special issue of the Journal of Communication. Meyrowitz (1998), for instance, outlined three perspectives on the term media literacy, which he based on three different “metaphors for what a medium of communication is”(96). Messaris (1998), on the other hand, based his definition of ‘visual literacy ‘on the importance of knowledge of the representational conventions used in the media. Because these definitions are derived from media characteristics, they may be said to rely on a text-centered approach to media literacy (see also Zetl, 1998). However, because media literacy describes how people use the media, a user-centered approach seems theoretically more appropriate. The second category consists of publications that describe the content of specific media-education programs (e.g., Brown, 1991; Considine, 1997; Piette & Giroux, 1997), and evaluate the efficacy of specific media curricula (e.g., D.G. Singer & J.L. Singer, 1983; Vooijs & Van der Voort, 1990), thus providing insight into how media literacy was defined within these curricula. Evidently, these definitions have been biased by actual societal concerns and practical restrictions, and can thus not be interpreted as providing a general definition of media literacy. While acknowledging that both categories of publications provide interesting and valuable insights into the current ideas held by media literacy scholars, the conceptualizations in these studies seem to fall short in two different respects. First, although media literacy describes media use, previous theoretical studies start from a medium-centered approach. Second, due to practical restrictions, empirical studies focus on both practical as well as popular elements of media literacy. The aim of the present paper is to review what has been said about the concept of media literacy from a user-centered perspective. In order to attain this goal, a constructivist model of media literacy is used to organize what has been said about the concept of media literacy in previous literature. The paper tries to answer two questions: How have authors in the field of media literacy defined media literacy? And, how does the sum of definitions relate to the constructivist model of media literacy? In order to collect relevant literature, the databases ERIC and PsycLit were searched, using two keywords; ‘media education’ and ‘media literacy’. These searches were conducted at regular intervals between March 21, 2002 and September 30, 2002 1 . In addition, relevant literature was selected using the reference lists of articles found through the database-search. Constructivist model of media literacy The constructivist model of media literacy was developed as a theoretical framework for the concept of media literacy (Rosenbaum & Beentjes, 2001; Rosenbaum & Beentjes, forthcoming). The model conceptualizes media literacy as knowledge and abilities concerning 1 Please note that this paper is still under construction. Not only has not all of the literature found on these two databases been included yet, I also intend to run a similar search on ‘Sociofile’.

Authors: Rosenbaum, Judith.
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2
How media literacy is defined: A review
Introduction
What should people know about the media and their usage in order to be considered media
literate? Numerous authors in the field of media literacy have answered this question. Two
categories of answers may be distinguished: theoretical discussions on the notion of media
literacy; and descriptions of specific media-education programs.
The first category refers to publications that present a theoretical discussion on what
media literacy could or should entail. In these discussions, media literacy is defined using
characteristics of the media system. Examples of this approach may be found in the 1998
special issue of the Journal of Communication. Meyrowitz (1998), for instance, outlined three
perspectives on the term media literacy, which he based on three different “metaphors for
what a medium of communication is”(96). Messaris (1998), on the other hand, based his
definition of ‘visual literacy ‘on the importance of knowledge of the representational
conventions used in the media. Because these definitions are derived from media
characteristics, they may be said to rely on a text-centered approach to media literacy (see
also Zetl, 1998). However, because media literacy describes how people use the media, a
user-centered approach seems theoretically more appropriate.
The second category consists of publications that describe the content of specific
media-education programs (e.g., Brown, 1991; Considine, 1997; Piette & Giroux, 1997), and
evaluate the efficacy of specific media curricula (e.g., D.G. Singer & J.L. Singer, 1983;
Vooijs & Van der Voort, 1990), thus providing insight into how media literacy was defined
within these curricula. Evidently, these definitions have been biased by actual societal
concerns and practical restrictions, and can thus not be interpreted as providing a general
definition of media literacy.
While acknowledging that both categories of publications provide interesting and
valuable insights into the current ideas held by media literacy scholars, the conceptualizations
in these studies seem to fall short in two different respects. First, although media literacy
describes media use, previous theoretical studies start from a medium-centered approach.
Second, due to practical restrictions, empirical studies focus on both practical as well as
popular elements of media literacy. The aim of the present paper is to review what has been
said about the concept of media literacy from a user-centered perspective. In order to attain
this goal, a constructivist model of media literacy is used to organize what has been said about
the concept of media literacy in previous literature. The paper tries to answer two questions:
How have authors in the field of media literacy defined media literacy? And, how does the
sum of definitions relate to the constructivist model of media literacy?
In order to collect relevant literature, the databases ERIC and PsycLit were searched,
using two keywords; ‘media education’ and ‘media literacy’. These searches were conducted
at regular intervals between March 21, 2002 and September 30, 2002
1
. In addition, relevant
literature was selected using the reference lists of articles found through the database-search.

Constructivist model of media literacy
The constructivist model of media literacy was developed as a theoretical framework for the
concept of media literacy (Rosenbaum & Beentjes, 2001; Rosenbaum & Beentjes,
forthcoming). The model conceptualizes media literacy as knowledge and abilities concerning
1
Please note that this paper is still under construction. Not only has not all of the literature found on these two
databases been included yet, I also intend to run a similar search on ‘Sociofile’.


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