First National Media Literacy Conference -- Boone, NC -- 1995

Exerpted with permission from Telemedium, The Journal of Media Literacy, Winter 1995.

Three-Day Event "Sows the Seeds" for Future Growth

Some 400 enthusiastic participants gathered in the hilly, lush green college town of Boone, North Carolina September 22-24, 1995 to talk, learn and share experiences about media literacy. It was certainly the largest, most diverse and prestigious group to come together in the United States to date. Located high in the Appalachian mountains, over 2 hours by car from Charlotte, Boone is not an easy place to reach!

Nearly two years in the planning, sponsored by the National Telemedia Council and V.I.E.W. (Visual Information Education Workshops), co-sponsored by Appalachian State University's Reich College of Education, it was the intense, dedicated work of Conference Chair David Considine and his indefatigable efforts that brought this event to life. And people responded: They came from 29 US states including Alaska and five countries including Australia, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand. They were teachers, library media specialists, university professors and researchers, media literacy scholars, professionals in public and commercial broadcasting, the cable industry, school and state public instruction administrators, parents, students, media artists and producers; and even, White House officials.

The "welcome mat," a large banner strung across the entire main street of Boone, was out as we entered the town and its campus of Appalachian State University. With this official community welcome complete with a proclamation from the mayor, we assembled at the Broyhill Conference Center overlooking the campus and nearby Appalachian Mountain Range.

It is impossible to do justice to the wealth of talent and expertise, the rich diversity of speakers and the sheer number of presenters who contributed their experience and insights. Eight plenary speakers keynoted important issues in media literacy. Some seventy workshop presenters featured classroom projects, media productions, strategies in media education, both general and in specific application.

  • Karon Sherarts, Minneapolis consultant in media literacy and education, showed examples of outstanding production work with minority youth exploring multicultural viewpoints and alternative perspectives on media representations.
  • Art Silverblatt, Webster University in St. Louis, described a creative classroom project for modeling media stereotypes: students are asked to assume the role of archeologists uncovering evidence of a species, discovering a composite image through clips and film that can be used to explore media representations.
  • Pennsylvania teacher Mary Beth Ziegenfuss explored strategies for getting started in media literacy.
  • Julian Bowker, Education Officer at the British Film Institute in London, raised the question, "how can we evaluate children's learning about media?" and he shared the British experience toward this goal.
  • Dennis Moriarty, Rochester, N.Y. professor and media educator; and Joseph Behson, Director of the Independent Living Program at the New York State Division for youth, told of their work in bringing media literacy as a life skill to young people in trouble, juvenile delinquents and juvenile offenders aged 13-17.
  • Gail Hailey, artist and award winning children's book author, regaled her standing room only crowd with her lively presentation on "Developing Critical Viewers and Thinkers Through Children's Books."
  • Renee Hobbs, Professor at Babson College and Director of the Harvard Summer Media Education Institute, presented "What Teachers Need: Media Literacy and Teacher Education" - a much needed discourse on the knowledge, attitudes, and intellectual skills teachers need to effectively integrate media literacy into the curriculum.
  • Gregg Hoffman, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, explained his semantic mapping approach, discussing the media literacy project he is developing in the Brown Deer Middle School project in Milwaukee.
  • And Gwendolyn Mills, Indiana University at Pennsylvania, presented a dynamic session on cultural stereotypes, focusing on representations of two very different groups: Arab Americans in the U.S., and the elderly.

Barry Duncan, a pioneer in the Canadian media literacy movement and president of the Ontario-based Association for Media Literacy, presented the opening address. With wit, humor, a passion for teaching and an engaging informality, he set the stage for the multifaceted conference. "It is very important to have conferences such as this," he began, "because they legitimize and validate our media literacy programs. We need this conference to keep the flame burning."

Out of his travels though some twenty years of navigating the media age as an educator, Duncan shared the history of media education in Ontario. He told of "working with young people in the media world they know" which resulted in the 1986 mandate for media education in Ontario schools, Grades 7-12. And he described, with illustrations, the principles which have come to be the building blocks of his teaching practice. "With every passing year, the case for media literacy became more and more important...but you can never take for granted the accomplishment. You must keep sustaining it - which is why this kind of conference is so very important."

Other major speakers included:

  • Milton Chen, author of the Smart Parent's Guide to Kids' TV : "for Families on Using the Power of Television"
  • Television critic and author David Bianculli: "Taking Television Seriously."
  • David Buckingham, leading British media educator, author and researcher at the University of London: "Media Education: Beyond a Defensive Approach."
  • Roderick Hart, University of Texas, Austin: "Seducing America: How Television Charms the Modern Voter."
  • Susan Jeffords, professor of English and Women's Studies at the U. of Washington, Seattle: "Siege: The Media and the American Public."
  • John Pungente, SJ, founder of the Jesuit Communication Project in Toronto: "Forming Values in a Media Age."

The conference attempted to build a big tent for media literacy, providing variety and diversity. Sessions connected media literacy to health, media arts, responsible citizenship, the information highway, multiculturalism and other areas. Approaches ranged from production to aesthetics/appreciation to "protection." While media literacy experts from other countries raised concerns about the "protectionist" model and what they regarded as both media bashing and behavior modification, the formal evaluations clearly revealed cultural differences in perception. The overwhelming majority of participants agreed that the conference, for the most part, avoided media bashing.

In his later reflections, conference chair David Considine noted, "he success of a conference cannot be measured simply in terms of how smoothly a two or three day event operated, or even how enthusiastically participants responded to the program. The real success, value and benefit is in the seeds sown, the ideas planted, the relationships cultivated. By this criterion, as the fall leaves fade, the National Media Literacy Conference may well result in a bounteous harvest."

Author Bio: 

Marieli Rowe is the executive director of the National Telemedia Council in Madison, WI (founded in 1953 in Madison, WI) and editor of Telemedium. Since 1978 she has spearheaded the organization's role in promoting media literacy through innovative and interactive initiatives, and has developed what was a four-page newsletter into one of today's major print journals in media education.