Why isn’t there more digital media literacy research?

I took a recent trip to Toronto for the Sport and Society international conference.  Intrigued by “the cultural, political, and economic relationships of sport to society” that this knowledge community embraces, I was ready to dive headfirst into a world of sport analysis.

And I did.  I learned about Australia’s new National Policy on Match Fixing in Sport, 2011, which attempts to eliminate match fixing in three ways: a) Player rules must be clear; b) rules must be enforced; c) educational programs must be implemented; d) there must be mechanisms so officials can come forward Toomey, University of Canterbury, New Zealand). I heard how Brazil is attempting to help its citizens to become less sedentary through a program called “Agita,” in which, if people determine that there is an active health risk, and they become “indignant about other methods of treatment, they will accept physical exercise as a viable alternative” (Matsudo, plenary speaker).  There was research about how “being able to identify those with high athletic identity can help to prepare (health workers)… to recognize and/ or treat mental health issues” (Bouchanine, Houston Baptist University). Each of these was fascinating and informative.

There were presentations that included references to media representations and language use. I heard how NFL domestic violence incidents have come to be filtered through a “rhetoric of praise and blame,” in which organizations “glorify certain values and push away others,” leaving the victim as “instigator” (Schneider and Tinkleby, Morningside College, Sioux City, USA). I even was part of a session in which the topic was the determination by the Canadian sport industry— clearly a branch of the media—- “whether medicinal marijuana fits with respect to sport sponsorship” (Mansour, University of Ottawa).

But what I didn’t hear was an interrogation of sport through digital media literacy research.  Sure, several worthwhile presenters included references to media influence.  But  I believe I was the only researcher who deepened the stakes to suggest a research methodology that would help today’s generation of youth to take critical distance from sports media messages.

What is “critical distance?” Individuals demonstrate the capacity for critical distance from topics and issues when they show evidence of measured thought, digest multiple possible interpretations, and demonstrate reason around dominant discourse.  Digital media literacy can help students to gain the tools to unpack and make sense of ubiquitous sport media messages.  The “digital” aspect occurs when individuals Incorporate a combination of digital composing (such as Prezi, Pinterst, Google Drawing, We Video). The “media” analysis involves identifying author, audience, implications, and different possible interpretations.  Together, digital media literacy equips student to gain structures that they hold onto well beyond one course or teacher’s influence.

So, why don’t more researchers embrace digital media literacy as methodology?  The most likely reason is difficulty of access.  It’s hard to locate and get permissions from minor students (and their families).  And there’s the difficulty of physical access—- you have to be with that particular population of students throughout the entire unit of study, which usually involves a rotating schedule of meeting times.  And, honestly, students who are immersed in a research study are a bit unreliable.  They’re frequently absent, or their attentions are divided among social, emotional, physical, psychological, and cognitive places.  Their enthusiastic responses and engagement one day may be dampened another day by elusive exterior influences.

For those of your researchers who are considering an attempt at digital media literacy pedagogy, I say, Go for It!  Student reactions to media texts are quite thought-provoking.  And, when they take the next step to produce their own media messages, you as a researcher will see the authentic social and cultural impacts that disciplines like sports are making on today’s youth. The results you’ll find will shift the academic discourse with the capacity to look at cultural reproduction of norms, social shifts in ideology, and the pathways to tomorrow’s sociocultural climate.

Your impact on research could be really powerful stuff.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information for your school or non-profit organization about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.

 

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