Rebecca Herr Stephenson
Committee: Sarah Banet-Weiser
, Chair Douglas Thomas
, Larry Gross
, Ellen Seiter
Kids as Cultural Producers: Consumption, Literacy and Participation
This dissertation looks closely at the practice of digital media production within a group of special education students and their teachers. Using ethnographic methods of extended participant observation and semi-structured interviews with students, teachers, and parents, along with textual analysis of students’ media projects, this work examines the types of learning that emerge from making media at school and the ways in which that learning relates to media and technology use in everyday life. Over the course of one school year (2005-2006), the students who are the focus of this dissertation undertook eight different multimedia production projects, ranging from designing PowerPoint presentations to digital video production and stop-motion animation. Through media production, the students found opportunities to practice traditional and digital literacy skills as well as to explore issues of identity and self-expression.
This dissertation provides empirical support for recommendations made by several media literacy scholars to include media production as part of critical media literacy curricula and contributes a unique case study—one situated in special education--to a growing body of work on digital literacy. Three interdisciplinary themes--consumption, literacy, and participation—are used to organize the description and analysis of the students’ media production activities. These themes connect the specific production that took place in the classroom to larger discourses about youth, media, technology, education, and access, working to complicate existing constructions of young people as either helpless victims of manipulative media or naturally savvy media and technology users. Instead, this research emphasizes that the relationships kids have with media and technology are complex, dynamic, intrinsically linked to their identities as consumers and participants in society. Media literacy is thus theorized as a tool for understanding and controlling consumption, participation, and the construction of young people as both current and future citizens.