5 Tips for Teaching Media Literacy Using Universal Design for Learning

By Jeannine Chartier and Yonty Friesem

In today’s media-saturated environment, students should be encouraged to use media thoughtfully and respectfully. Digital media is an inclusive medium that allows students with varied disabilities, abilities, and diverse talents to share their thinking and creativity. Employing the multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is one of the strengths of teaching media literacy as a way to advance education practices. However, using media has its own challenges. Here are five tips to cope with the challenges of implementing UDL through digital media.

  1. Produce. Make use of experiential learning where students produce media and not just consume media. Students’ comprehension is encouraged by media production rather than just as instructional demonstration. There are many ways to use digital media, such as creative apps on tablets, computers, and smartphones. These vary from simple photo taking to video production and audio podcasting. Teach students that there are many diverse roles on a production team; for example, a student with learning disabilities may have trouble expressing themself through writing, but can articulate visually through use of a storyboard.
  1. Listen. Take advantage of students’ prior knowledge by listening to their passions and aspirations. Students have vast knowledge of not only digital equipment and the latest apps, but also popular culture. Use of digital media should always acknowledge students’ skills and preferences, connecting their lives with learning. For example, a student on the autism spectrum who loves action movies or games can contribute to the narrative for a proposed project. A student who does not connect with the visual may be interested in creating a soundtrack.
  1. Facilitate. Instructors provide more than just information; they provide context for gaining knowledge. By allowing every student to shine and take a significant role, understanding and learning will be achieved. Each student can add a different skill that showcases her or his strength and make an important contribution. For example, a student using a wheelchair can be the cinematographer using their wheelchair like a Steadicam for tracking shots.
  1. Play. Explore, have fun, learn to experiment and fail and try again. Research the equipment available at your educational setting and what technology the students already use to tailor the program; this helps engage the students and keeps expenses low. Successfully using and producing media is ultimately not about the budget or equipment available, but about utilizing the students’ and the instructor’s experience. For example, the instructor can explore the use of the students’ mobile devices as they record and edit using a wide variety of apps.
  1. Celebrate. Respect and honor the learning by having students share with each other and a target audience. As different learners can demonstrate understanding in different ways, opportunities involving diverse show and/or tell presentations provide valuable acknowledgment of students’ efforts. For example, students become more empowered if they know that their friends and family will be watching their final product. Celebrating the accomplishment of the work is also time for reflection. Experiencing the reactions of the audience provides a valid and real feedback from the audience.

Remember: It is important to appreciate that it is not about the medium, but about the message!

A picture of Jeannine Chartier and Yonty Friesem

Jeannine Chartier and Yonty Friesem

Jeannine Chartier, Executive & Artistic Director of VSA arts Rhode Island, is a multi-media artist and arts educator with a disability. Jeannine has 25+ years of program design, development, teaching in and evaluation of arts education experience. www.vsartsri.org

Yonty Friesem, Assistant Director of the Media Education Lab, is a Ph.D. candidate at the doctoral joint program in Education at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. His research and advocacy on digital empathy can be seen on his website: www.digitalempathy.net.

Together they design curriculum and provide professional development for educators specializing in Media Literacy and Universal Design for Learning.



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