Becoming Critical Participants of Media Culture
By Xinghua Li, Assistant Professor of Media Studies
“What is your favorite medium? Great. Now try to live without it for a week.” During the first day of my Media Studies courses, I assign the “Media Deprivation Experiment.” For the younger generations, media are the air they breathe, and in today’s overwhelming media environment, they can easily drown in oceans of information and entertainment and lose sight of the key functions that media are supposed to serve for our lives.
Step One: De-Familiarization. Aside from venturing a week without their favorite media, my students are exposed to media cases in different cultural contexts or historical periods. This allows them to see familiar media technologies from an outsider’s perspective and ponder media’s role in an alternative space or time.
Step Two: Pattern Recognition. I invite students to identify larger patterns in media culture and explore the structural forces that lead to the formation of these patterns. I also provide questions that prompt them to explore the hidden principles, rules, and taboos of the media industry. Students slowly start to see media as products of larger social, political, and economic forces, rather than unique expressions of individual media producers.
Step Three: Evaluation. Students are invited to assess media’s impact on society and reflect on the ways we can use media to enrich, rather than impoverish, our lives. Through my questions, students find themselves in ethical dilemmas that they will encounter in their future careers and are forced to consider the implications of their duo-identity—simultaneously as business leaders and global citizens. I believe that it is in deliberating about these contradictions, conflicts, and complexities, that students can explore their personal agency in relation to the structural forces that will face them in future decision-making.
As a media educator, my overall goal is for students to learn to become critical participants of media culture, rather than passive consumers of media products.