Concepts, Assessments, Subversions
Edited By Matteo Stocchetti
Informal media education in Europe: an analysis of the best practice
This chapter maps and proposes an analysis of European best practices in informal media education. Our study is based on an extensive research in all EU countries. The research included three different and increasingly complex stages of selection and analysis, and allowed us to tackle important methodological issues concerning the evaluation itself of informal educational activities. We have categorised best practices in media education according to the most often used definition of media literacy: fostering access to and analysis of the media and their contents, raising evaluation skills and awareness on the use of media, and fostering creative production of media content. In addition to this, the study suggests a method for the evaluation of hundreds and hundreds of projects and programmes in informal education in Europe – something that is currently by and large missing.
In the last two decades digital technologies and EU/EC as well as national government initiated and supported programmes and policy initiatives have substantially changed and expanded the world of education in Europe, also in the field of informal education. However, there has been little attention paid to the impact of these initiatives on actual learning, as well as on financial efficiency and possible wider (including cross-border) extension of these projects.
By ‘informal education’ we refer to all those educational paths which take place beyond regular school curricular activities, and that involve other intermediating subjects (such as NGOs or media), often relying on processes of self-learning and social acquisition of knowledge. Digital technologies heavily affected this kind of ← 131 | 132 → processes by providing a much wider audience with direct access to educational resources, by allowing an easy and fast distribution of contents, and most importantly by lowering the costs and the obstacles to the independent creation of digital products potentially by everybody.
A crucial role in this situation is played by the education to digital technologies themselves and to media in general, i.e. by those processes which contribute to cultivating digital literacy and media literacy. Media literacy refers to the individual competencies of users, which – in a frame of citizen participation to social and political life – must be able to critically read (in a broader sense), understand and use the media (and particularly digital media). This is why we believe our research is relevant in this regard: it focuses at the same time on two fundamental aspects of the impact of digital technologies on the world of education. On the one hand we consider the idea of informal learning and informal education as enhanced by digital technologies; on the other hand we focus on media (especially digital media), both as objects of study and as channels/providers of media education.
Our study is part of a wider project on media education in Europe: when we were asked to formulate some policy recommendations to the European Commission concerning media literacy and informal media education, we decided to undertake an extensive research in all European Union countries, looking for best practices to learn from and for good ideas to spread. Of course, we had to overcome several theoretical difficulties and methodological problems, as well as face actual research obstacles and objective limits to our ambitions of research.
This chapter aims at giving a synthetic account of our study (concluded at the end of 2013), by tackling the idea of informal media education (par. 1), exploring the methodological issues arisen in the collection and the evaluation of cases (par. 2), developing an analysis of some good practices as well as some less positive experiences (par. 3), and drawing some selected conclusions useful for policy goals too.
The informal dimension of media education
Digital technologies greatly enhanced and enriched the world of informal education on many levels, both cognitive and factual; but what precisely do we mean when we refer to informal education? Despite a wide terminological variety, reflecting different views and highlighting different features of the concept (Knowles, 1975; Simkins, 1977; Marsick and Watkins, 1990; Lave and Wenger, 1991; Reber, 1993; Jeffs and Smith, 1996; Eraut, 2000; Gee, 2004; Drotner, Jensen and Schroeder, 2008), informal education can be described as the mix of experiences, ← 132 | 133 → processes and educational itineraries that one or more subjects construct through the dynamics of cooperation or virtual collaboration, as well as through the exchange of knowledge and experiences, and through the participation of one or several subjects to one or more activities with educational aims. In other terms it is the education which occurs beyond formal contexts (such as school classes or traditionally structured courses).
Informal education usually does not use standard methods or strategies like the ones characterising formal courses in or outside school; it is not necessarily founded on a specific correspondence between a planned or expected didactic (or educational) objective and the structured educational itinerary that leads to the achievement of that objective. Most often, it does not include standard evaluation systems either (this is one of the sources of major methodological problems, as we will see later). In other words, the “informal” context refers to those spontaneous processes that an educator cannot always predict. Different individuals learn differently from these processes depending on their cultural and educational background, as well as on their individual cognitive and emotional potential. From the didactic point of view, although an educational mediation is planned in order to increase the competences, it is difficult to include and define precisely some standard procedures to be used by educational mediators. From a methodological point of view, the informal dimension of media education is difficult to analyse, because due to its heterogeneity it is a challenge to use some reference criteria and indicators capable of strictly defining its educational profile and impact. In addition, various important indicators needed for proper scientific evaluation of pedagogical impact and cost efficiency are usually missing or not easily available.
However, by applying the idea of informal education to the specific context of media education, we can try to articulate the concept more in detail. If we were to reflect on and synthesize the basic ingredients of informal media education, the first factor would certainly be the emphasis on the development of cognitive and meta-cognitive processes of the individual. The elaboration of media education plans is often pragmatic and participative.
The second factor that characterizes the informal dimension of media education derives from the approach of learning by doing and by using. It refers not so much to the educational strategies as to the tactics of appropriation of the inputs, knowledge and competencies that learning individuals observe, transmit or share. In comparison to older media, what characterizes digital media specifically is that the vast majority of users learn to use digital tools and new media on their own, by doing indeed.
In conclusion, informal media education can also be characterised by a process of post-alphabetization or new alphabetization. Informal media education should ← 133 | 134 → be a life-long learning process. The digital dimension of media literacy refers to the traditional objectives of media education that oscillate between the basic alphabetization and the ability of creative production of media contents. Still present is also an important more traditional part of media literacy that tackles the critical analysis and evaluation of media messages or self-regulation of media experiences by the user (Celot and Tornero, 2009; Ceretti, Felini and Giannatelli, 2006).
To sum up, at an analytical level education can have three basic forms: formal, non-formal and informal (but see also Zaki Dib, 1997–1998). Earlier approaches regarded formal, non-formal, and informal education as distinct categories. For example, Coombs and his colleagues distinguished between informal and non-formal education, defining informal education as learning in daily life situations, and non-formal education as planned educational activities taking place outside the classroom (Coombs and Ahmed, 1974). Nevertheless, the two terms have been used interchangeably throughout the literature.
Indeed, in contrast to Coombs and Ahmed, more recently Rogers (2004) proposes that all three analytically separate parts should be viewed as part of a continuum, with fine gradations between them and blurred boundaries. According to Rogers, the key analytical and practical distinction between these three categories of education would lie in the individualization of learning. While formal education would be highly de-contextualized, standardized, and generalized, informal learning would be highly contextualized and non-formal learning would be a hybrid that would include informal learning as well as formal learning. But there is a great uncertainty in the current context as to what constitutes non-formal/informal education, what the term refers to, what its meaning is (see Kamil, 2007). Non-formal education as we understand it today would cover flexible schooling, while informal education would have to do with highly participatory educational activities. This is precisely where media literacy education by and about digital tools fits.
Evaluation and methodological considerations
As may be evident from what we wrote in the previous paragraph, the major problem with informal media education is that its heterogeneous character, lack of (self-)evaluation of its pedagogical effectiveness reports and lack of revealed financial data make its scientific evaluation a challenge. A wide variety of actual experiences fall under the domain of informal media education, and that does not allow easy comparisons, for instance between the educational activities of a local community media centre and an educational web portal managed by a big ← 134 | 135 → TV company or by a public agency. In the context of informal media education we necessarily had to deal with diverse and original practices, managed by media companies (TV broadcasters, newspapers, radios, social networks), by public organizations (regulatory authorities, Ministries of Culture, Media or Education) or non-governmental organizations (small associations, councils of users, as well as international private organizations). This is why we had to tackle a number of methodological issues, the main one indeed being making comparison between cases possible, useful and logical, naturally using some objective and general criteria in order to formulate impartial evaluations. We had two different teams of research (Slovak and Italian): as a result, on the one hand, we could rely implicitly on an international perspective and on the independence of evaluations; on the other hand, though, the need for objective and impartial criteria was even stronger, because we had to coordinate the work of research of several people with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. As mentioned, our objective was to select a number of best practices to analyse in depth, in order to take them as examples of success and draw useful insights to formulate policy recommendations.
Considering everything said so far, we designed our path of research articulating three moments of evaluation, following different criteria and procedures:
- 1) research and first selection from all available cases (made individually by all researchers involved), finally collecting more than 110 cases from all over Europe; although preference was given to the most recent cases, by the design of the study we had to select at least one case study from each of EU27 countries4.
- 2) further selection of good practices (made assembling the positive evaluations of four independent evaluators), finally getting to 36 best practices (a sample which could be manageable for more detailed analyses), by applying an objective scheme of evaluation, including specific criteria and indicators;
- 3) a final selection and analyses of 10 best-ranked practices (a sample which could be subject to a very detailed analyses).
In the first phase, the two teams of research worked independently, looking for good practices of informal media education, across all sectors, in EU countries. The methods used for our search were mainly three: a) email and phone interviews to various experts, teachers and government officials working in the field of media education; b) searching the web, consulting organizations’ websites and following links on portals of media education; c) questionnaires to specific subjects (both individual educators and organizations). At the end of the first phase, putting ← 135 | 136 → together all the cases collected individually by all the researchers, we assembled more than 110 cases targeting all categories of informal media education.
In the second phase, we needed to restrict our field of observation. As a result, we had four independent evaluators (all working in the field of media education) selecting around 36 cases (out of the total list), which most closely resembled key criteria (whenever data were available) such as
- project innovativeness level,
- cost efficiency
- project logical structure (introduction, definitions, key terms, organization of tasks, etc.)
- support for development of key competencies in ML (media literacy)
- support of cooperation between teachers and students
- potential of the sustainability
- interactive and effective delivery methods.
Even if the selection was somehow arbitrary (we could not carry detailed and time-consuming research on all these criteria in all 36 cases), we were able to achieve a higher degree of impartiality by overlapping the four independent evaluations, keeping in our selection only the ones that had been positively assessed by at least two evaluators. In other words, we used our experience from the experimental phase when we attempted to use both a questionnaire and a qualitative evaluation of selected very heterogeneous projects. Following this procedure, we got to exactly 36 cases (resulted from the addition of the cases that received four “votes”, three votes and two votes).
In the third phase we had to select our final best practices, trying to achieve as much objectivity as possible in the selection process. This is why we developed a more sophisticated procedure, creating an evaluation scheme composed of various indicators and of a scoring system for every element considered. The scheme was based on three main criteria:
- pedagogical effectiveness
- economic efficiency
By pedagogical effectiveness, we referred to the presence of: ideally, learning assessment or, at least, customer satisfaction tools (we are aware of the fact that these are different and irreducible categories), ex-ante and ex-post analyses of needs and performance, a clearly stated methodological approach, target and objectives clearly identified, innovative pedagogical strategy (bringing new added value regarding methods, tools and approaches). ← 136 | 137 →
By economic efficiency, we referred to the cost per unit of the pedagogical initiative, resulting from the relation between the budget of the project and the number of people reached by it. We were unable to identify economic efficiency in all cases, including some of the best projects according to overall criteria (the project managers simply did not reply to our repeated written or phone requests).
By impact, we referred to the extension of the project (local, national or international) and to the number of people reached (we had three different groups: less than 100, between 100 and 1000 and over 1000). Every element of the three criteria in our scheme had a pre-assigned score, which allowed us to assign a precise score (and rank) to every case, thus selecting the best practices among them.
Naturally, the process we followed is far from being perfect. It can only be considered an original attempt to deal with the two-fold problem outlined in the previous paragraphs: evaluate a variegate and diversified pool of cases all falling under the category of informal media education, without giving up a sufficient degree of objectivity and impartiality in the selection of the best practices. Ideally, one can achieve all three major goals – pedagogical effectiveness, economic efficiency and impact. This, in fact, happened in the case of some of the best projects presented below. Thus, the measurement tool, by definition arbitrary, can be used in the future by others – or may be adjusted to other criteria, e.g. if one prefers the pedagogical impact over all other aspects.
For example, we compared our methodological approach with that used in a similarstudy: Parola, Ranieri and Trinchero (2010, 138–140) in their study used an in many aspects different approach both in selecting criteria used for evaluation as well as in their ratings of particular criteria (scale, with “1” = Low and “5” = High). Thus, they considered:
- Educational Relevance: significance of the educational objectives, integration into the curriculum, impact on the school, involvement of extra-school educational agencies
- Teaching Approach: planning appropriateness, effectiveness of methods, content accuracy and appropriateness to level, students engagement
- Media Use: added value for the project/experience, appropriateness for topic/skills, variety and integration of media used in the project/experience, ease of use both for students and teachers
- Sustainability: time manageability, sustainability of the staff, equipment affordability, cost effectiveness
- Product (if any): originality, content accuracy and communication effectiveness, graphics appeal, ease of use)
- Documentation Quality: documentation completeness, appropriateness of methodological tools used to document the process (e.g. log book, observation ← 137 | 138 → grid, checklist etc.), appropriateness of media used to document the process (e.g. text, audio, video etc.)
Each topic was to be completed with a comment, and finally with an overall evaluation of the experience in an open-ended question.
Clearly, the above-mentioned methodological approach does not differentiate sufficiently enough among variables which have equal value (not in reality, but in the approach they are used). For example, involvement of extra-school educational agencies is much less important or indeed irrelevant compared to a definitely important criterion such as Students Engagement (learning by doing). However, in the assessment process they had equal value. If we focus only on criteria in the same category, for example on Educational Relevance, then it seems clear that significance of the educational objectives again is a key criterion but Involvement of extra-school educational agencies may be a by and large irrelevant criterion. In her response, Maria Ranieri responded to this criticism as follows:
“When talking about criteria there is always a certain degree of subjectivity. Therefore, what I estimate as relevant in my context could seem irrelevant in other context. Criteria are values-based, so they are strongly influenced by the social and cultural context. From our point of view, it makes sense to consider as a relevant factor the “Involvement of extra-school educational agencies” since in many documented (unfortunately in Italian) experiences this variable has been a key factor for the success and the continuity of the project. Moreover, considering other theoretical works on innovation, it’s clear that different levels of analysis must be taken into account to assess educational projects: we can distinguish at least three levels, i.e. micro/meso/macro levels: the role of extra-school agencies would be relevant at the meso level”5.
It remains questionable in this category what the criterion “Impact on the School” means and how it can be evaluated. Perhaps it would be more proper to use “Impact on Quality of Testing Graduates’ Results”? Maria Ranieri responded to this criticism in the following way: “we refer to whether the school changed its practices towards the media or not, which is quite relevant from our point of view, if media education must enter into the school”.
Finally, while we mentioned that the authors Parola, Ranieri and Trinchero (2010) did not differentiate sufficiently among various evaluation variables (criteria) at the same time they used too many variables (some of them very vague) which would be very difficult to compare – at least in our case study. ← 138 | 139 →
The above-mentioned discussion on methodology represents only a small part of all methodological and research issues we had to deal with. This discussion will hopefully help future researchers in the area of evaluation of various projects in informal media education.
Best practices in Europe in informal media education
As mentioned, we have focused on the most typical categorizations of media literacy competencies (Tornero, 2004; Celot and Tornero, 2009; Jenkins, 2009; Calvani, Fini and Ranieri, 2009). Therefore, in this paragraph, we will analyse and present some of our best practices according to the different media literacy competencies on which each practice focuses. We first deal with three cases of projects fostering access to media and their contents (par. 3.1). Secondly, we deal with two cases fostering analysis of media and their content (par. 3.2). Then, we present three projects which aim to raise evaluation skills and awareness on the use of media and their contents (par. 3.3). Lastly, we present two cases of projects fostering creative production of media content (par. 3.4). Obviously, some projects covered more aspects and media literacy competencies at the same time, but we categorized them here according to the prevailing one.
Fostering access to the media
One of the most interesting European cases of projects promoting access to media we have identified is Communities 2.0, a project created by the Welsh government through a partnership of public and private organizations active in the Welsh region of Convergence.
Through training, mentoring, technical support, ICT-related business support, research and sharing of best practice, the programme was able to reach around 20.000 people in four years (2009–2012), providing assistance in loco, organizing courses and training sessions, providing suggestions on line on the best ways to get someone acquainted with digital technology (pushing towards an “intra-family” training, for example with parents or grandparents, or with friends), and offering “How to” manuals, video-guides and links related to basic operations with computer as well as more complex uses of software (such as video and audio editing, digital photography, etc.), or the creation of a website and cloud computing.
The programme was designed to reach different targets in various contexts of stronger or weaker digital exclusion, and carries on different activities (they also run their own blog, in addition to the presence in all main social networks), ← 139 | 140 → ensuring a high level of involvement of users and – what is even more important – of the people around the final users. In fact, their “appeal” to contact them and benefit from their services is mainly directed to community organizers, social housing landlords, group leaders and voluntary association managers, among others. The impact factor of the programme is even bigger thanks to the “train the trainers” courses, which teach people (such as social operators or simple voluntaries) how to teach about the digital world.
The aforementioned characteristics allow us to make three positive considerations about the programme. a) The project ensures a higher level of participation and involvement in comparison to programmes conceived as one-direction activities of knowledge transmission (typical of formal media education), thus fully developing the potential of informal media education directly in the place where education is needed (enterprises, social centres, communities). b) The strategy of the programme is evidently based on the awareness of the close relationship between digital inclusion and full citizenship, because digital competencies are not presented and taught as a learning outcome per se, but as effective tools directly connected and pragmatically tied to the everyday life of people, associations and enterprises. In fact, the programme is implemented through networks and structures that exist independently from the programme, this way overcoming the potential barrier that sometimes can be created between a learning environment and what is seen as “real life”. c) The programme strongly supports the economic development and the growth of the region, because digital technologies allow enterprises and organizations as well as single users to improve their business profiles and their attitudes towards everyday problems, making people save time and money (economic capital) and stay “connected” (social capital) in their communities and beyond. The only negative side of the project resides in the very high cost of the programme (around 13 million euros for the period 2009–2013), which hardly makes the programme scalable or reproducible without the involvement of public governmental authorities. Yet, their innovative approach, structural organization and strategic conception make Communities 2.0 one of the European best practices to look at when we discuss informal media education.
Our second case in this category is Wiener Bildungsserver (“Vienna Education Server”), a non-profit organization active in Vienna (Austria). It is a network of individuals and representatives of various educational institutions and branches in the Vienna City School Board (Wiener Stadtschulrat), aiming to promote media activities in school and in non-school related fields and to provide access to information and communication technologies to all population groups. There were different “independent” websites specifically designed for various target groups, each providing media education materials ← 140 | 141 → and further links: www.netbridge.at (coordination and trends), www.ideenkiste.at (elementary school teachers and parents of 0–6-years-old children), www.lehrerweb.at (teachers), http://kidsweb.at (children) and http://elternweb.at/ (parents). Overall, this Austrian multidimensional project contains many useful ideas and links on various aspects of media literacy. These are somehow not so well centralised, so it may take effort to find all of them and, furthermore, access is often limited by the need to register. However, it is still a good example of a project which succeeds in reaching the target – groups over 1,000 people – and articulating the right strategy.
Our third best practice is represented by Kennisnet, a Dutch public organization which provides educational content and support in the use of information and communication technology, targeting mainly teachers, pupils and parents. Of special educational importance seems to be their project IT competency framework for teachers. In this project, Kennisnet describes which skills teachers need to integrate IT in such a way that it makes their education more attractive, more efficient or more effective. The Framework applies to teachers in primary, secondary, and vocational education. Within the framework developed by Kennisnet, the approach to ICT is explored and explained specifically from the point of view of the teacher, describing how IT can support each key task. It is an excellent and science-based tool, and a very good example in the scenario of a fully digitalized educational environment.
Fostering analysis of media and their content
One of two best practices in this category appears evident if we consider the success and the diffusion of the format in various EU countries (in summer 2013 the programme was present in nine countries: the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Portugal and France). The format has in most cases been developed by local advertising sector associations and by various companies and corporations: the programme is in most cases named Media Smart. Of course the various national versions of the programme may show slight differences of quality or organization, but the core-format is the same in all the cases. This format derives from an educational programme which was started in Canada in 1990. Media Smart develops and provides (free of charge and on request, through simple agreements with schools) educational material to primary schools. The learning material is developed, reviewed or approved by teams of independent experts of media literacy. This is an actually quite famous and already known project, whose effectiveness continues to appear quite evident, considering the increased number of schools and countries adopting it. ← 141 | 142 →
The aim of our second best practice in this category, Project Evvoluce (it was active in the Czech Republic between 2011 and 2012, with a one year preparatory phase), was to develop cross-curriculum activities by merging environmental studies with multicultural, multimedia, social, and European studies. The project was run by an NGO (Centrum ekologické výchovy). The total budget was around 800.000 euros. It reached about 8.000 pupils, with a relatively high production cost of 100 euros per unit. We appreciated the creativity, cross-curricularity and adaptability of this project on, but not only on, media education. A very important aspect was that all materials were extensively tested. In the end, this is a very good example of integration of media-educational content with other disciplines, according to the interpretation that we exposed in the previous paragraphs, which considers implicitly cross-curricular life-long learning.
Raising evaluation skills and awareness on the use of media and their contents
The first project in this category is the Slovak cartoon series Sheeplive. This project was actually evaluated as the best project among all informal media education projects we have studied. Since every episode can be replayed and easily localized for different languages, the project has a high cost efficiency. The project, including various side-productions, costed about 400.000 euros. This seems to be an outstanding informal initiative focusing on the media/digital literacy of young children. The cartoon series for children goes back to the traditions of original cartoons for children and youth traditionally created in the former Czechoslovakia. In particular, the project focuses on the safety of children and youth, especially the risks related to the Internet, mobile phones and new media technologies. The project serves as a prevention tool for children: it wittily shows teenagers a mirror of their improper behaviour, and gives adults an opportunity to learn too. A civic association has been producing this series of cartoons already since 2008, with the support of various domestic donors and the Safer Internet Programme of the European Union. The NGO produced 601 episodes of Sheeplive cartoons within different linguistic versions. Sheeplive Cartoons have been seen on the YouTube channel 1.761,084 times until the end of 2012 (in various linguistic versions). The high numbers of viewers and the fact that the authors have been producing new episodes every year, prove the popularity of this series. Since every episode can be replayed and easily localized in 21 different languages, the project shows a high economic efficiency. The programme can still be seen as basic, from the point of view of innovation level (a traditional fairy tale), yet, it also offers interactive tools to test the gained knowledge. Episodes are independent and cover different ← 142 | 143 → aspects of mobile and internet communication. They are very logical, simple and always contain a “lesson learnt”. The multi-level content communicates different messages for various age groups and thus it is attractive to all of them. This programme is very supportive for development of key competencies in ML, since it shows real life examples and sets them in the non-probable environment of a sheep farm. Every episode is based on a simplified real example and clearly shows wrong and right behaviours in handling the media. In summary, its pedagogical – educational evaluation of impact suggests that it managed to attract (in a sense of getting attention or awareness, at least) quite large target audiences. Further, the programme fared well at international festivals too6. In conclusion, it seems that some old-fashioned pedagogical-educational approaches – cartoons/fairy tales – still can work relatively well in media education today.
The second initiative is Finnish Mediakasvatusseura (Media Education Centre). It runs a web portal directed to professional educators and workers, researchers, students, voluntary organizations and parents. The mission of the portal is to increase the awareness as to media education and provide material resources for users in three languages. Around 20.000 visitors every month use the portal to look for material useful for their activities. The website also includes news and information about events and conferences, a massive collection of material for different target groups, information about research and statistics, online forums as well as a survival kit for parents. Mediakasvatusseura proved to be a precious initiative, also as an “aggregation point” for all those who work with or are interested in the field of media education, although many contents could be promoted with more innovative strategies in order to catch younger generations more easily, even when not explicitly interested in the issue of media education.
Our third project in this category, Abeceda (“Alphabet”), was produced in the Czech Republic by an NGO. The project was supported by the European Social ← 143 | 144 → Fund in total value about 580 00 euros. It reached about 12 000 people, so cost per unit can be estimated relatively high 50 euros. The project aimed at promoting reading and media literacy at primary schools in three areas: readership and reading literacy, reading literacy and media education, and reading literacy and creative writing. For this purpose, four materials, freely downloadable from the web (after registration), are available. These materials have been downloaded between 120–200 times as of May 2013. Considering these materials were already sent by regular mail on DVDs to 2000 Czech primary schools, and that in order to download one must register first, this shows a relatively high interest among the target audience. The general portal (www.ctenarska-gramotnost.cz) offers short know-how focused at innovative approaches to teaching (each seen between 400 and 6.500 times). The e-learning courses on reading literacy (seen by about 1800 times) is more for the self-evaluation of teachers. There are many other guides focusing on creative writing or analysis of films. There are also links to educational videos on YouTube (e.g. describing the use of electronic/digital textbooks or video monitoring of experimental teaching). In a playful form a special portal for children (www.sotkoviny.cz) offers advice on how to write reports, interviews, commentaries and comics. The final output also includes a full-format school magazine. There are many other tips and bits of advice, e.g. recommended journals and magazines for children. However, there are some limitations since everyone must first sign in, in order to get full advice. These pieces of advice have been seen by between 2.000 and 10.000 pupils. The innovation level of this project can overall be seen as advanced. The positive factor is that the project is operating even after the funding has expired.
Fostering creative production of media content
In this category, we have identified Média Animation, an education resource centre in Bruxelles (Belgium) among our best projects. The principal activities carried out by Média Animation focus on the teacher’s training and the creation of new tools and methods to facilitate and support teaching overall through innovative strategies such as new audio-visual techniques and multimedia equipment. A strong methodological awareness is evident in the various programmes of the centre, which certainly is an example of excellence in several fields of digital literacy.
Our second best practice in this category is represented by Mediální škola/Mediálna škola (“Media School”). These are actually two independent projects which originally were co-organised by a Salesian Youth Centre in Brno (Czech Republic), in cooperation with another Salesian Youth Centre in Bratislava (Slovakia). The target group includes youth (15–20 years old), in the Czech case ← 144 | 145 → especially Salesians and those working with youth; in the Slovak case, schools, centres for extra-school activities and parishes. They offer four to six basic courses delivered in the form of a practically oriented workshop led by professional media lecturers. In the Czech case there is also a final international festival of media production. The project costed about 3.200 euros and reaches about 20 people per course. The initial cost per unit was thus relatively high, about 160 euros. Currently the Czech Centre charges participants with some 15 EUR fee each, while Slovak project charges 20 euros per participant.
These two cases, as well many of the previously analysed ones, present the advantage of being examples of fully integrated and situated learning environments in a social context, be they educational institutions or private associations, so that they implicitly show the relevance of digital and media literacy in a frame of real social life, thus actuating the potential of informal media education.
What may we conclude from our research? Firstly, it is necessary to continue to work on the fine-tuning of the assessment tools of media literacy projects and of informal media education in particular. The fact that informal processes are fairly hard to conceptualize and categorize does not mean that researchers must not try to always elaborate new theories and new tools in order to frame, evaluate and compare them.
In fact, curiously enough, in spite of a flourishing of informal media educational initiatives, there is not a sufficient number of studies at national level (Tomková 2010) or comparative research at international level focusing on that (Nóvoa and Yariv-Mashal, 2002; Livingstone, 2003). Despite all the methodological problems we mentioned, evaluation and assessment tools are necessary for impact analyses of educational projects, as well as performance management tools for educational mediators. It is urgent to create evaluating tools to “measure” what students learned, allowing consideration of the efficiency of training courses or other educational activities.
Our study provides a contribution for future research in this area, firstly, by making the methodological limits of researching the informal domain of media education more evident and secondly, by proposing some criteria (which may be developed into indicators after further conceptual and practical elaboration) to assess projects of informal media education.
Secondly, life-long learning cannot help increasingly relying on a closer integration of formal and informal education, since digital technologies definitely contributed to make the distinction between different learning environments ← 145 | 146 → increasingly blurred. This does not mean that we are uncritical technological supporters, but clearly, modern technologies are being used by children and youth in general, thus increasing media literacy is an imperative.
Third, there is a need to include the analysis and the assessment of the actual pedagogical – educational impact of projects (both ex ante and ex post) in all projects. This should be done at least initially, for example by analysing the educational needs of the target group, targeting the messages, or testing whether a project can really bring expected educational achievements. In the case of larger projects (e.g. TV programmes) these should be done on a smaller experimental sample. Parola, Ranieri and Trinchero (2010, 17) explicitly warn that a kind of unawareness of the relevance of a proper assessment of what students learn seems to prevail. They urge to create evaluating tools to “measure” what students learned, allowing consideration of the efficiency of a training course. For example, Ashley, Maksl and Craft (2013) have developed and assessed a measurement scale focused specifically on critical news media literacy (in formal education, but this can be adapted to informal education too).
We have welcomed some examples (in countries such as Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia) of competitions (regional or national), either ad hoc or on annual basis, aimed to evaluate various media literacy/educational programmes. It is urgent to create evaluating tools to “measure” what students learn, allowing the consideration of the efficiency of training courses or other educational activities.
Our study provides a contribution for future research in this area, firstly, by making the methodological limits of researching the informal domain of media education more evident, and secondly, by proposing some criteria (which may be developed into indicators after further conceptual and practical elaboration) to assess projects of informal media education.
In the end, life-long learning cannot help increasingly relying on a closer integration of formal and informal education, since digital technologies definitely contributed to make the distinction between different learning environments increasingly blurred.
Ashley, S., A. Maksl and S. Craft (2013). Developing a News Media Literacy Scale, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator 2013 68: 7 originally published online, DOI: 10.1177/1077695812469802.
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1. This essay is a product of a research made jointly by Eurispes (Italy) and Skamba (Slovakia) as part of the European project EMEDUS (www.emedus.org), which involved a consortium of research institutions and universities from different European countries, under the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission.
2. Alberto Bitonti is Research Analyst at Eurispes (Rome, Italy), Adjunct Professor at IES Abroad Rome and Fellow of the School of Public Affairs at American University (Washington DC, USA).
3. Andrej Školkay is the director of Skamba – School of Communication (Bratislava, Slovakia).
4. Our study started before Croatia joined EU.
5. Email from May 18, 2013.
6. The cartoons received various international awards in 2009–2011. In 2011: Special Recognition, European Award of Excellence, City for Children, Stuttgart, Germany; Best Motion Picture at European Prevention Film Festival for project Sheeplive, Székesfehérvár, Hungary; Professional Audience Award at European Prevention Film Festival for project Sheeplive, Székesfehérvár, Hungary. In 2010: Prix Danube Award at the 20th Film Festival, Bratislava, Slovakia; the Official Selection in the TV Series category at the International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France; Rainbow Marble Award for responsible approach at the International Advertising Festival, which is part of the Zlín International Film Festival for Children and Youth, Czech Republic. In 2009: International Jury Award at the 36th Ekotopfilm Festival, Slovakia; ITAPA International Congress Special Award, Slovakia; First Prize in Slovakia in the European Crime Prevention Prize competition, Slovakia.