Using Media to Make a Difference

Curator's Note

I help to provide leadership with an after-school digital media club that brings university and high school students together in one of Denver’s most culturally diverse schools. With more than 60 language groups and 40 nations represented in its student body, the school has a large English language learners (ELL) program and provides support for refugee and migrant communities.

In the Club’s second year, we discussed what we called the high school students’ Big Dream.  We asked: if you could make a difference in your community, what would you do?  And then: how could digital media help you to accomplish this? 

A high school student who had moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia just four years earlier said that he wanted to focus on his homeland’s schools and communities. Several other students nodded in affirmation.  They, too, wanted to ensure that other young people in their homelands could someday have the educational opportunities that they had travelled all the way to the U.S. to find.

They decided that one of the main obstacles to achieving this dream of global educational equity was this: people here don’t really understand what life was like there.  Even their high school peers didn't really understand, and that offered a starting point.  We began by analyzing how the legacy media represented African and Asian countries, and we found many sobering images.  How might we convey the need while also conveying the joys of life in those places, we wondered?

One student had an idea.  He proposed that the group organize a dance, sell tickets as a fundraiser, and create a series of videos for the school’s weekly broadcast to help students understand how the dance would celebrate African and Asian cultural heritage. The video at the left is one the students created for this purpose.

They circulated the videos through Facebook, sold dance tickets, and raised funds to send overseas.   By focusing their efforts on a goal, these students had learned to use their voices, their critical media literacy skills, and the available digital media tools to achieve something they felt was deeply worthwhile. 

These students had learned that they could harness social media to challenge traditional media images while engaging, empowering, and inspiring their communities toward positive social change. They demonstrate that although the media can create harmful images, the media can also be rethought, challenged, and changed, for the benefit of us all.


It's exciting to see young people--especially coming from places and cultures that have been traditionally under- and misrepresented in mainstream media--use their critical analysis and creative skills to better their communities. The ability to recognize the inadequacies of and contradictions within media representations of issues and peoples and to produce alternative media in an effort to correct these issues are key characteristics of critical media literacy. And in this case, their efforts have some immediate, measurable effects--the students research, discuss and make something to address these problems; their classmates learn more about the issues; and together they contribute (in some small way) to a solution.

There are so many interesting initiatives involving young people in critical digital media literacy projects that bridge from evaluating to producing messages. Steve Goodman's Educational Video Center in NYC ( is one of my favorites, but I've recently learned about Boston's Home Inc. project (, and New Mexico's Girl Tech project ( There are also a lot of initiatives related to the MacArthur-funded Digital Media & Learning program ( Wonder if NAMLE is the place to archive contact info for these and other critical media literacy projects? It would be nice to have some way of finding out what's going on where so that we could learn from one another and thus push the discussion and theorizing forward through an examination of practices.

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