Post-Secondary Support

Adult Media Literacy Introduction

Link: (What is Media Literacy?)

                Adults need to become competent, critical, and literate in all the forms of media.  In today’s age, people are bombarded with copious amounts of messages every day.  People need to have protection against unwanted messages from the media.  They have to be competent enough to know what is fact or fiction.  Adults need to have control over their interpretations of media messages rather than have the messages control them (Thoman, 2003).

                Media literacy is a skill, process, and way of thinking that is always evolving.  People do not need to know trivial facts about the media.  They merely need to know what messages to question.  There are five concepts about messages that everyone needs to know (Thoman, 2003).

                The first concept is all messages are constructed.  Messages were constructed by someone.  It should not just be the way it is for people.  Adults need to know that someone came up with the message instead of thinking that “it is just the way it is.”  Someone creatively put words together to create a message (Thoman, 2003). 

                The next idea is messages were constructed using creative language.  The English language has its own rules, which allows people to creatively put messages together.  Understanding how the grammar and syntax behind messages can increase the level of enjoyment of the media message.  It is easy to put a message together (Thoman, 2003). 

                People experience messages differently.  When someone is listening to a song or seeing a movie, they experience it based on their upbringing or level of education.  Parents and children do not view the same show the same because of their differences .  People are more than couch potatoes.  People are constantly trying to make sense of what they see (Thoman, 2003).   

                The media is a business.  Advertising plays a major role in the messages people receive.  Advertisers want people to spend money.  The media wants to create an audience so they can advertise their products in advertisements or commercials.   Sponsors pay television stations for advertising time (Thoman, 2003).

                The media has its own values.  The media tells people who or what is important.  The media messages tell stories, which need characters, a setting and a basic plot.  Adults need to learn how to read all kinds of media messages so they can find out what the media finds important.  By doing this, adults will know what is important to the media and can protect themselves against some of the unwanted messages (Thoman, 2003). 

                Media literacy serves three purposes: contributing to democracy and active citizenship, knowledge of the economy, competitiveness and choice; and lifelong learning and personal fulfillment.  Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, (2010) stated that media literacy is “the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts” (p. 3).

 Internet Literacy

Link: (Internet Literacy and the Digital Divide)

                There are three ways of getting to a website.  A person can follow a link to a site, type in a URL, or search for a website on a search engine.  The search engine is the digital gatekeeper.  Using the search engine requires a high level of competence because there is so much information on the internet.  A person has to know key words or phrases.  Also, a person needs to know exactly what it is they are searching.  According to Hargittai (2000, 2004), competence in search engine usage is a strong element of people’s ability to find information on the internet.  Hargittai claimed that the general user population does not know the basics of searching the web.   A UK study indicated that users did not know how to use a Back button.  It also indicated that the majority of people do not know how to spell (Hargittai, 2002).  When people misspell a word in a search box, chances are good that the person will not find what it is they are seeking.  Many people would misspell words in search boxes and lack the knowledge to know where to put spaces (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010). 

                  Most users who use search engines with an average of two words per query.  They typically do not use intricate query syntax.  A study reported that when users search for information via search boxes, they rarely ever look past the first page (Ozmutlu, Spink, & Ozmutlu, 2004).  People tend to view no more than ten documents from the result list (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010). 

                The Pew Internet project in the US stated that 87% of Americans who use search engines end up finding the information they are seeking.  32% of Americans said they could not live without search engines.  92% claimed they were confident search engine users (Fallows, Rainie, & Mudd, 2004).  Most Americans feel that they know how to use a search engine to find information.  According to a German study, 66% of internet uses considered themselves to be search engine experts (Machill, Neuberger, Schweiger, & Wirth, 2004).  Data on US search engine users has not been found; however, it can almost be assumed that US search engine users would be more satisfied with search engines due to the fact that they are US based and they contain more features (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010). 

                Some studies suggest that the search engine is to blame for coming up with undesirable results from search queries.  Sometimes, the search engines produce information that is not topically relevant.  A large study of European search queries reported that only half were relevant to the topic being searched.  Also, some studies have proposed that search engines are doing a poor job of representing content accurately and fairly (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010)

                Many search engines have a ranking system.  Sites that are heavily linked receive a higher ranking on the list than those that do not contain numerous links.  Also, search engines favor sites that are American.  American sites are given a higher-ranking than non-American sites.  Policy decisions by search engine providers can prevent a site from being listed (Introna & Nissenbaum, 2000).  Some search engine providers stated that some sites were blacklisted when deciding what to put on the search index (Van Couvering, 2004a).  The search engine providers can control what information people get when they search for certain topics (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010). 

            It is possible that the public is becoming more concerned about search engines.  In Germany, a random sample of 1000 users found that most people were in favor moderate government control over searches to prevent people from accessing illegal content.  30% stated that they wanted hard government controls to prevent people from accessing illegal content (Machill et al., 2004).  More research is needed in this area (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010). 

            According to Livingstone, Couvering & Thumin (2010), people must have a basic search literacy assessment, which can be improved by media literacy programs.  Search engines might have illegible features.  There needs to be an assessment of search engine features.  Economic factors may play a role in what information can be accessed via search engines.  Also, public opinion may cause increased regulation of what people can access from a search engine (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumin, 2010). 

            Livingstone, Couvering and Thumim (2010) view protective media competences as the public ability’s to protect itself from harmful or offensive media content.  Online, this could be the public’s ability to protect itself from spam.  For broadcast media, this would refer to the public’s understanding of programming regulations so parents can protect their kids (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010).

                Attempts have been made in the US to implement age and content-based ratings to support parental regulation.  Parents preferred content-based ratings and the industry preferred age-based ratings (Kunkel &Wilcox, 2001).  There is concern that the ratings are under-or-misapplied.  This results in parents receiving misleading information (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010).

                People can protect themselves from unwanted messages online.  In order to be protected against harmful messages people need a conceptual and practical understanding of how to block or allow content.  They need to understand how to use internet filters or firewalls.  People need to know what sites are considered safe or trusted.  They need to be aware that there are sites that are not secure.  This could prevent them from getting their credit card number stolen.  People need to have an understanding of internet privacy policies.  They also need to be aware of the issues that are involved in giving out personal information or publishing on the internet (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010).

                One UK study that focused on parents and their children found that 46% of UK parents said they had installed content filters to help them control what sites their children visit.  Pop-up blockers are advertising filters that might be of critical use to adults (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010).

                Email spam is a major problem in the UK.  An internet group found that companies had inboxes where half the messages received were spam messages.  AOL reported that they were blocking over 2 billion spam messages per week worldwide.  For companies, spam caused productivity loss and a loss of confidence in using the internet as a tool in general.  There have been many people in the UK who have received abusive messages via email.  The Oxford Internet Survey (sample size over 1,000) concluded that 23% of UK internet users received obscene or abusive emails, and 17% of people said they were getting fraudulent emails.  These experiences make people less trustful of the internet (Dutton & Shepherd, 2004). 

                Pew Internet found that some people in the US cope with spam by deleting unwanted messages in their inbox.  86% of the total respondents reported that they immediately delete the spam messages.  37% of respondents reported that they use their own filters to control the amount of spam messages they receive (Fallows, 2003).  There needs to be further research on this topic because there is no available information on how people in the UK cope with spam (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010).

                There has been concern about privacy online, especially in the UK.  In the OXIS survey, 54% of adults in a sample of 2,000 people agreed or strongly agreed that going online puts people’s privacy at risk.  41% agreed or strongly agreed that people get information about you if you go online.  The people who were most concerned about these risks were broadband users (Dutton & Shepherd, 2004).  Americans are also concerned about their privacy online.  Only 43% of internet users knew what a “cookie” was.  A cookie is used to track people’s internet use.   10% of people set their internet to reject cookies (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010). 

                There is still research being done that is examining people’s internet literacy.  Compared to other mediums, there is not a lot of literature on this topic.  From the research, it is evident that many people are not internet literate.  This can cause numerous problems for people such as being bombarded by spam or fraud.  Also, it is clear that many people do not know how to affectively use a search engine.  If a search engine is used correctly, people can find the information that they need.  If people gain a better understanding of the internet, people will trust it more.  Internet literacy is not being affectively taught to people, which is why post-secondary education needs to enhance people’s internet knowledge and skills.  

Reality Television

                  One example of a genre that needs a media literate audience is reality television (Holmes, 2004).  These shows are supposed to give an accurate portrayal of real life.  However, some participants are going outside of the boundaries of what they would normally do in their life.  With an audience watching them and a camera following their every move, some people perform life threatening stunts to get more people to watch.  Reality shows are not as real as people think  (Russel, 2010). 

                From new television innovations, many uncertainties and confusions have taken surface.  There are grey areas with production in which audiences are unsure of what category the show falls under or how truthful the show is (Hill, forthcoming: 1).  Determining what is fact or fiction is a problem for all age groups, which causes people to redevelop their thoughts and understanding of what is real (Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010).  Hall (2003) claims that there are six criteria for evaluating realism of media messages.  These are “plausibility, typicality, factuality, emotional involvement, narrative consistency and perceptual persuasiveness” (Hall, 2003; Livingstone, Couvering & Thumim, 2010, p. 36, 2010). 


Dutton, W. H., & Shepherd, A. (2004). Confidence and risk on the Internet. Oxford: Oxford Internet Institute.

Fallows, D., Rainie, L., & Mudd, G. (2004, August). The popularity and importance of search engines. Retrieved 25 November, 2004, from

Hargittai, E. (2000). Open portals or closed gates? Channeling content on the World Wide Web. Poetics, 27(4).

 Hall, A. (2003). Reading realism: Audiences’ evaluations of the reality of media texts.

Journal of Communication, 53(4), 624-641.

 Hargittai, E. (2004). The changing online landscape: From free-for-all to commercial

gatekeeping. In P. Day & D. Schuler (Eds.), Community practice in the

Network Society: Local actions/global interaction. New York: Routledge.

 Hill, A. (forthcoming). Adult media literacy: A case study of television audiences and

factual programming. London: Ofcom.

 Introna, L. D., & Nissenbaum, H. (2000). Shaping the Web: Why the politics of search engines matters. The Information Society, 16(1), 169-185.

 Kunkel, D., & Wilcox, B. (2001). Children and media policy. In D. G. Singer & J. L.

Singer (Eds.), Handbook of Children and the Media (pp. 589-604). Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage.

 Livingstone, S., Couvering, E., & Thumim, N. (2010). Adult media literacy.

London School of Media and Communications. Department of Media and Communications.

 Machill, M., Neuberger, C., Schweiger, W., & Wirth, W. (2004). Navigating the

Internet: A study of German-language search engines. European Journal of Communication, 19(3), 321-347.

Ozmutlu, S., Spink, A., & Ozmutlu, H. C. (2004). A day in the life of Web searching: an exploratory study. Information Processing & Management, 40(2), 319-345.

 Russel, M. (2010). How real is reality tv?. EZ Articiles.

 Thoman, E. (2003).  Skills & strategies for media education. Center for Media Literacy

Summary of Research

 Photo url:

My portion of the media literacy blog will focus on adult media literacy and how adults can enhance their media literacy skills.  I will provide a brief definition of media literacy.  Also, I will describe what areas of media literacy that should concern adults.  Finally, I will provide strategies that will help adults become experts in media literacy.  It will be interesting to identify problem areas that adults have in the realm of media literacy.  The strategies will help faculty members at universities provide programs for their students that will teach them skills they need when they are exposed to media messages.  I’m curious to see what factors are most important to a person’s media consumption.  I believe that education will be the leading factor in an individual’s media literacy.  I feel that post-secondary education should focus on protecting people from media messages.  Adults attending college or graduate school need to be educated consumers of the media.  This will enable them to protect themselves and their children against messages that can potential harm them (magic bullet theory).

Magic Bullet Theory Diagram (Hypodermic Needle Model):

There is  a review I found that relates to the research I will be doing.  This review titled “Adult Media Literacy” by Livingstone, Couvering and Thumin identifies studies that have been done that indicate problem areas among the population of people who consider themselves to be media literate.  I will summarize studies mentioned in the review that I find that are both interesting and important.  My goal is to conclude my portion of the blog with strategies that will aid in the teaching of media literacy in post-secondary education.

I hope that this project will give educators the ability to enhance people’s media literacy skills.  I believe that coming up with strategies to help people gain more knowledge of the media will help educators and parents pass on knowledge that will protect others from the media.

Livingstone, S., Couvering, E., & Thumim, N. (2010). Adult media literacy. London School of Media and Communications


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