The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change - Why We Do It

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Aug 22, 2012
by Paul Mihailidis
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The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change - Why We Do It

Program Director reflects on the importance of the summer's session

It’s now been a week since I’ve been home. I’ve had to wash dishes, make my bed, and brew coffee.  I’ve been moping around in my usual post-Academy haze, trying to figure out what we accomplished, what we didn’t, where we are, and where we need to go. 68 amazing students representing over 20 nationalities spanning the globe all just spent three weeks together, exploring media literacy, global citizenship, and empowerment. There’s a lot to digest.

We had an ambitious program this year, with a host of accomplished guest lectures from around the world—Renee Hobbs from the University of Rhode Island and the Media Education Lab gave an inspiring keynote talk on the intersection of art, journalism, and advocacy; Christy Pipkin of the Nobelity Project screened her film One Peace At a Time, and talked about the power of change; Gerry Power from Intermedia led a rigorous discussion on media research; Sanjeev Chatterjee of the University of Miami introduced his Global Cities project and showed a gripping piece on Climate refugees in Bangladesh; Edward Mortimer, senior advisor for Salzburg Global Seminar led a session on the outcomes of a BBC study he conducted on the MENA uprisings; JoAnna Wasserman from the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum led a session on propaganda; and Anthony Ioannidis, a usability expert based in London, provided a crowd-pleasing, and, well, usable lecture on why usability matters for the future of media. We had an amazing cast of faculty members and staff that helped this academy be our most dynamic program to date.

As students engaged with a media literacy curriculum that asked them to explore their identities and communities, define pressing global challenges, and create action plans that use media literacy to address these challenges, I saw more engagement, on a higher level, than ever before. Through this maze of energy, I kept looking around at the faculty, who work tirelessly day and night for this program, and wondered: Why do they do it?  The answers to that question get to the core of why media literacy can be a transformative experience. Here are a few insights from me.

1. Community and Collaboration make Media Literacy Stronger The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change - Class of 2012  – During our wrap up session, our keynote speaker, Renee Hobbs, reminded the students that we are limited by what we can do alone, but if we multiple our reach by one, we double our possible impact, by two, by three, our reach grows and grows. What we are doing at the Academy is mobilizing a global network of scholars, activists, and professionals to help change the world.

2. We need to believe in Media Literacy as a change agent – I think all the participants need to believe in the Academy as a change agent. Christy Pipkin of the Nobelity Project reminded us of how change starts, by just getting up and going. And this is what our faculty and students believe in. It’s why we are still doing this.

3. Creating a core of lifelong friends – This is not an understatement. When passionate people get together and become friends, they are far more motivated to be part of collective goals and ideals. This is what happens at the Academy, and why we’ve been able to grow into a vibrant, diverse, and dedicated community.

4. It’s about one word: Empowerment – During the final day of the Academy, a group of students from Argentina were filming interviews to make a video to bring home to their university, to help spread the word about media literacy. They asked me a simple question: if there is one word you associate with the Academy, what is it? Empowerment. From the most senior faculty to the youngest student, at the core of “why do we we do it?” is to empower future leaders in media across the world.

In Salzburg we are forming a global collective of young leaders, emerging faculty, professionals, and activists who are building a dynamic global initiative for media literacy as the path to active, engaged, and empowered citizens. Faculty come to form a global research network (see our News Literacy book, our World Unplugged study, and our Tethered World study), to embrace in faculty development around how we teach media literacy in our respective institutions, and to try and help build a solid framework for media literacy education as it crosses cultures, borders, and divides.

Through the work of dedicated young and emerging leaders in media fields across the world, who have the passion to do good, we achieved a long list outcomes and projects. There were creative videos on UGCInformation OverloadGroupthink, and Bias, among others. There were simple stories about Acceptance too. These were all part of an attempt to use media literacy to solve some of the information challenges we face in a digital age. You can see more work on identity, community, and action through media literacy here.

See the Me stories
See the We stories
See the Media Literacy Action Plans

And finally, I noticed that as students began to wax poetic about how much they missed their Academy and Schloss, a few began to create top 10 takeaway lists for their experience. As always, they are far more creative, provocative and funny than I could imagine. What a great way, however, to really say something about the Academy, that is sweet, to the point, and powerful.

So, without further ado, here is my Academy list for 2012.

1. It’s not what you do in life, it’s who you do it with.
2. Media Literacy is personal to each of us, but collective around the values that we want our communities to uphold.
3. Change starts with you, and multiplies with those around you.
4. You can only break cultural barriers when you break down your own barriers first. That is a lifelong process.
5. Faculty learn as much from students as they do from Faculty. It’s a dirty secret we keep.
6. When you hike the Untersberg, you transcend groups, and become an elite team of Academy overachievers.
7. The faculty are the most amazing hard working lifelong friends we have the fortune of knowing.
8. The students are the most amazing hard working lifelong friends we have the fortune of knowing.
9. The Academy is about empowerment. Media is the tool we use to get there.
10. Dance. And when you can’t think of anything else to do. Just dance.
Bonus: Thanks to everyone, 2007-present, who have made this the most rewarding experience in the world for us. It’s amazing what we’ve done and where we can go. It takes a group of really motivated people to make that happen. We’re lucky to have you all.