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Dissecting the message


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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

Montana State University-Northern has taken a step into a growing field in the world of education teaching students how to analyze and understand messages in the myriad of media in today's information-technology world. “I think it's important to get people to think about their media consumption,” said Northern English professor Steve Hesske, who teaches Media Lilteracy at the university. The idea of the class is to teach students to think about what they see and read in mass media products, ranging from print items to televesion programs, movies, music and Internet sites. The idea has seen growing attention as the amount of information available to consumers explodes. Hesske said the field has been taught in Canada for a couple of decades and is incorporated throughout its educational program. Hesske first taught the class at Northern in the summer of 2007. He said he wants to try to offer it next summer, and it will be offered again next fall. He added that he had enthusiastic support from the former dean of the College of Education, Arts and Sciences, and Nursing, Jim Longin, and Carik Reifschneider, chair of the Department of Arts and Sciences. Support has been slow to grow in the university in general, Hesske said many seem opposed to trying new things. But the class is doing well, he added. “I think we're rolling pretty good. We had 16 (students) this semester,” Hesske said. The idea is starting to gain interest slowly in the United States. Montana is among a few states that have set a media literacy curriculum for their K-12 schools, Hesske said. The state Office of Public Instruction sets the standards for Montana's K-12 schools, defining what the students must know and be able to do in order to graduate. The media literacy standards are among the communications arts curricula which also inludes, reading, writing, literature and speaking. “Media literacy is key for students to become productive and informed citizens in a democratic society,” said Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau. “In the 21st century, the technologies used in our daily lives, and the changing nature of communication, make the communication arts standards even more important as a major part of our curriculum.” The Media Awareness Network Web site describes the ideas behind media literacy. The concept includes five core concepts with five corresponding key questions, the site says. The first is that all media messages from news broadcasts to music videos are constructed. The corresponding question is: Who created the message? The next is that all media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules. The question is: What techniques are used to attract the consumer's attention? The third concept is that different people have a different experience when consuming the message. How might other people experience the message differently from each other, is the question. The next concept is that different media include values And points of view within them, and the question is: What lifestyles, values and points of view are included or left out in each message? The last key concept is that messages are made to gain profit or power, and the consumer should ask, what was the purpose in sending the message: What is the creator trying to do? Hesske said he has the students look at a variety of media in the class, although with the prolific increase of portable and electronic media, he barely looks at print media any longer. He said one of the lessons involves the students watching a news broadcast, then asking the students what they saw. Then the class watches it again, and applies the media literacy questions to the broadcast. Hesske said he does not try to demonize or blame the media being viewed, and he does not want to reduce the students' enjoyment of the media. “I want to enhance their enjoyment by enhancing their understanding of what is happening,” he said. He said an important aspect in American media is understanding underlying messages, what American mythology, is included in the message. That often is not obvious, he added. For example, Hesske said he had the class watch and analyze commercials using Vikings quarterback Brett Favre to sell jeans. The underlying message, he said, is one of rugged individualism seeing the all-star quarterback, in a pickup and with a dog, tries to persuade viewers that if they buy those jeans, they are pursuing the American dream of individual success. One day, he had the class watch the video “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga, followed by the final hand played in the last World Series of poker. The question? What did the makers of each try to use to draw in their viewers? Hesske said at least one intended underlying message was that any American can succeed and make their goals if they try the American success story. He said he tries to help students deal with a possible information overload. “They are bombarded constantly with information,” Hesske said. “I want them to be educated consumers.” On the Net: Media Awareness Network: http://www.media-awareness.ca


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