Ithaca College Goes to Shangri-La to Teach Media Literacy
ITHACA, NY — The last nation in the world to receive television is asking Ithaca College to help its citizens become more media literate. Project Look Sharp, an initiative at the college that promotes media literacy, will work with the Kingdom of Bhutan as it attempts to enter into modernity in a conscious and thoughtful way that is consistent with its cultural values.
Located at the eastern end of the Himalayas and considered by some to be the inspiration for the mythical Shangri-la, Bhutan first allowed television into the country in 1999. It is a constitutional monarchy that measures the quality of life for its citizens based on “gross national happiness.” Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communications reached out for help from Project Look Sharp, which has a growing national — and now international — reputation for teaching media literacy and critical thinking.
Chris Sperry, the director of curriculum and staff development for Project Look Sharp, will be in Bhutan Jan. 27–Feb. 3, while associate professor of psychology and founding executive director of Project Look Sharp Cyndy Scheibe will travel there in early March.
“For most of its history, Bhutan was an absolute monarchy with one of the world’s more isolated societies,” said Sperry. “As it attempts to develop civic and democratic institutions, its leaders are also rightfully concerned that the rapid introduction of Western media influences has the potential for undermining the strength of its traditional Buddhist culture.”
Sperry says the government has already drafted a media literacy curriculum, and is teaming with Project Look Sharp to assist with its implementation. He will be working primarily with officials from the Ministry of Information and Communications as well as Bhutanese educators. Scheibe will work with students completing teacher education training at the Royal University of Bhutan.
“The monarchy knew that opening up their society would have both positives and negatives,” said Sperry. “They also recognize that media literacy is a critical component of citizenship and helping transition to participatory government.”
Sperry will be bringing with him the book “The Teacher’s Guide to Media Literacy: Critical Thinking in a Multimedia World,” which was coauthored by Scheibe; curriculum resources developed by Project look Sharp; and some materials specifically created for this program. “I will show examples of American media that romanticize Bhutan and help them pick it apart, then present examples of Bhutanese media that romanticize the West and help them pick that apart.”
While in Bhutan, Sperry will post to a blog that he hopes will also serve as an interactive opportunity for both Bhutanese and American teachers and students to question and learn from one another. The blog is at http://www.looksharpblogs.org/.
Based in the Ithaca College School of Humanities and Sciences, Project Look Sharp provides lesson plans, materials, training and support for the effective integration of media literacy with critical thinking into classroom curricula at all education levels. It holds regular workshops for students and faculty on campus and around the country and has produced more than a dozen free online curriculum kits for teachers on how media “construct” such topics as presidential campaigns, the Middle East, peace and war, social justice, chemicals in the environment and sustainability.
For more information and background on Project Look Sharp, Cyndy Scheibe and Chris Sperry, visit www.ithaca.edu/looksharp/.