Jan. 24, 2020

Media literacy is crucial in today’s world

Werklund’s Shirley R. Steinberg recognized with national award for bringing to light media bias and misrepresentation
Shirley Steinberg was honoured with the 2019 EdCan Network Whitworth Award for Career Education Research Excellence.

Shirley Steinberg was honoured with EdCan Network Whitworth Award for Career Education Research.

Dr. Shirley R. Steinberg’s research focuses on empowering students to challenge media bias and misrepresentation. Steinberg, PhD, is the author and editor of many books in critical pedagogy, urban and youth culture, and cultural studies, and is professor of critical youth studies at the University of Calgary's Werklund School of Education.

She was recently recognized as one of Canada’s leading scholars who have expanded media literacy into the field of critical pedagogy, as co-winner of the 2019 EdCan Network Whitworth Award for Career Education Research Excellence.

Her work supports teachers and students to use and explore a wide variety of art forms, culture, and media — including hip-hop, commercial broadcasting, and new digital technologies — as a way to understand and question biases in the media and everyday life.

UCalgary News reached out to Steinberg to find our why learning about media bias is important, and how it has changed over the course of her career.

Q: Tell us a bit about your work.

A: My work is situated in social justice and equity, and in my research it often focuses on how media creates and changes lives. When I began media analysis and cultural studies a couple of decades ago, media was still somewhat innocent in how people viewed the world. Of course, obvious issues like racism, sexism, gender bias, were all prevalent in media, but there were still ways in which the public could make informed decisions.

In the past decade, it is clear to me that media has become the power behind society, from how children and youth formulate their lives and social ideas, to how governments wield power through media. 

Indeed, I suggest that media corporations and conglomerates are the most powerful organizations in today’s world. So my work often deals with ways in which our schools can create a media-literate citizenry.

Q: Why do you think it’s important for students to look at media bias?

A: Today’s kids are media-born, media-bred, and media-controlled. As one who teaches pre-service and current teachers and administrators, I believe it is essential.

Q: Is there something that really surprises students in the classrooms these days?

A: When I work with students with racial/gender/sexual preference/class bias, they are often shocked at how much their lives are informed by media. Our discussions in class create change, and unfortunately, some anger, as some students are so steeped in their own biases and prejudices that they don’t want to have the discussion.

Q: How has media bias and what you teach changed in the last 10 years, or even two years? Is this area rapidly changing?

A: Yes, absolutely. My work in the '90s dealt with youth and how youth make certain media-related choices. After 9/11, I realized that a huge difference in my work was to understand  the ease in which many people around the globe grabbed on to Islamophobia so easily.  The stereotypes were already imprinted through the media, and after 9/11, it was easy to blame everything on Muslims or Arabs. I still spend a lot of time working on this, and unfortunately, almost 20 years later, I see only a rise in Islamophobia.

Q: What’s one thing Canadians can do, or critically challenge, when consuming media today? 

A: Until school boards, divisions, and governing agencies take media and social media seriously and insist on mandated education at every grade, we have no chance to become media literate. Children at an early age need to understand the way media manipulates them. We walk into a Grade 1 class, filled with corporate images: Disney, TV, movies, sports figures, singers, we see kids by Grade 4 or 5 with smartphones, access to everything.

Screen time is destroying eyes, brain, and relationships. Media consciousness is difficult to create as most of the world relies on media to think.

This is a commitment I believe we must have as educators and global media consumers, to integrate a critical media literacy across the curriculum.

Nominations are now open for The Alberta Teacher’s Association Educational Research Award. The Alberta Teachers’ Association Educational Research Award is presented annually to a Faculty of Education member or sessional lecturer at an Alberta university who has undertaken high- quality research on classroom teaching and learning. Nominations close May 15, 2020. Visit the Prizes and Awards Calendar to learn more and view other upcoming opportunities.