Institutional Education of Communication Researchers and Media Literacy. The case of the PhD in Communication Research
Rebeca-Illiana Arévalo-Martínez [CV] [ ORCID] [ GS] Lecturer. Universidad Anáhuac, México - firstname.lastname@example.org
Translation by María Elena Sánchez-Salazar (Professional translator) and
In 1989, the Mexican researchers Enrique Sanchez Ruiz and Raul Navarro are conducting a general assessment on the state of Research in Communication in Mexicoentitled "Some conditions for scientific research in communication in Mexico". This diagnosis reports the triple marginalization of communication studies: "Communication research is a marginal area within social sciences, these within scientific research in general, and the latter in turn among the national development priorities" (Sanchez & Fuentes, 1989: 12). Later, another source of marginalization emerged, this time within the professional field, where scientific research is not a priority in the curricula of the more than one thousand universities that offer college studies in communication (Rebeil, 2009). Eighteen years after this first diagnosis, Fuentes (2007) conducted an investigation to update this question considering the progress of communication in Mexico. This study concluded that there are positive numbers suggesting some progress in this sense; however: "We will continue behind (as regards research in communication), for a long time to come, in terms of methodological soundness and epistemological consistency, as well as regarding the social legitimacy and the scientific identity of research in communication" (Fuentes, 2007: 43). A key measure to address this lag and the subsequent marginalization deals with the proper training of researchers. This can be achieved at the graduate level, to build a comprehensive vision of the current needs of communication as a scientific discipline, to contribute to an interdisciplinary approach in the treatment of working objects.
The overall assessment notes that, in education terms, the availability of information on the Internet contributes to a decentralized knowledge; as a result, the support of technology has changed the way in which researchers and lecturers involve their students (Greenhow, Hughes & Robelia, 2009), leading to a more operational collaboration (Stephens, Wedaman, Freeman, Hicks, Matthews-DeNatale, Wahl & Spiro, 2014). These changes affect the ways in which it meaning is assimilated thanks to the sequences of joint activity (Coll, 2004). Thus, building a participatory culture that responds to a triad between content, learning and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) (Culver & Jacobson, 2012). Media literacy and digital citizenship are topics that need a scientific approach, since these are achieved as part of a social and cultural practice, as well as through education initiatives (Livingstone, Van Couvering & Thumim, 2008), and have gained growing importance and remarkable visibility in communication research, as evidenced by the results of the qualitative study presented herein.
However, the questions that arise are: What are the most important curricular and non-scholar advances for the media literacy processes in Latin America? What are the changes in the way to build science using ICTs and how to incorporate this knowledge into citizenship?
The need to cope with these and other subjects and the urgency to generate an epistemic foundation for addressing these issues in the region have been expressed in various communication graduate programs. This is the aim of the present study. There is a joint need to produce rigorous knowledge and think about the training of communication researchers that acquire the skills and competencies to conduct basic research, translate their results into rational, ethical and technically based communicative actions with a geopolitical perspective, incorporating the digital variable into this process. The above is relevant the ultimate aim is to train independent and critical persons to deal with information and ICTs (Pérez & Delgado, 2012), being competent in media management integrating a critical analysis of language, technology, perception, production and dissemination, ideology and aesthetics (Gonzalvez, Gonzalez & Caldeiro, 2014). The above is a key ability in this society of media prosumers (García-Ruiz, Ramirez-Garcia & Rodriguez-Rosell, 2014), where the citizen should become proficient in critical thinking becoming aware of the emotions derived from images (Lopez & Aguaded, 2015).
Our objective is everything but minor: the digital system has become the tangible support for the various language codes: abstract verbal, iconic, mathematical, musical, and digital, developed by all human cultures. This technological core has a universal scope and its deployment through a number of practices in society is incipient; its transformations are a technological system that is qualitatively differentiated with capabilities that demand the conceptualization and development of applications guided by rationality and ethics criteria (Montoya, 2015).
The extent of these transformations goes beyond the invention of writing, since the digital convergence can accommodate any form of language and interface between human communication processes with the technological environment created by human beings themselves. The material support of the human communication codes and, in the present case, digital convergence between machines as well, sets the grounds of sign signals that are used in the creation of sense:
The above condition poses a dual and simultaneous phenomenon: on the one hand, the accelerated universalization of knowledge, which is now universally available through the Internet; on the other, the recognition of the cultural production of the world’s past and present. The acceleration and access to knowledge lead to an irreversible change in the social fabric, and the society of knowledge becomes a digital citizenship. For the above, the communication researcher inevitably becomes the primary responsible for defining the epistemic bases of the construction of science from TICs, as well as for analyzing and assessing the problems associated with these changes within the social network.
The technological revolution exponentially diversifies and amplifies these possibilities of significant relationship between human beings to surpass the spatial and temporal boundaries; it is a digital revolution that impacts all areas of public and private life (UNESCO, 2013). The leverage of technology to create a participatory culture requires the development of skills such as networking, creativity, citizenship and communication within a large number of modalities and means (Dawson & Siemens, 2014), so that media literacy fosters citizenship through a more proactive role in society (Bujokas & Rothberg, 2014). The societies of the future will be increasingly shaped by individuals who, although located within different socio-cultural contexts, may set relationships and shared regulatory systems. The use of information and communication technology is a matter of digital culture and access, rather than a generational trait (Nasah, DaCosta, Kinsell & Seok, 2010) that requires skills and attributes to navigate in the increasingly complex social, cultural, technological and economic realms (Dawson & Siemens, 2014). Another edge is to develop knowledge and the conceptual framework on the new potential modalities, more appropriate for human understanding. The undergraduate communication programs have the possibility to be redesigned to better fulfill the current scientific and virtual mandates:
Consequently, the interdisciplinary integration of media literacy courses within academic curricula is currently taking place (Schmidt, 2013). A PhD program in communication research should address the emergence of this digital cultural environment.
The PhD program in Communication Research (DEIC, for its acronym in Spanish) was redesigned considering the social and technological innovations. For such diagnostic process, a qualitative research was conducted with experts to investigate the guidelines, objectives, contents and relevance of the academic program. The key objective was to develop an articulated academic program, and determine its scope and what curricular aspects were mandatory for inclusion.
The aim of the qualitative descriptive study focused on identifying the research needs that are anticipated and detect the skills that the researcher should acquire to produce contributions that are translated into basic and applied knowledge to improve society, its institutions and organizations, in the context of the twenty-first century education. To fulfill this goal, the following research questions were proposed:
The baseline research model (Figure 1) is complex and multi-reference, and was integrated under the technological priorities and technology and computer skills; however, it is only mentioned that the 19-topic interview instrument collected information on 37 research interview categories and was based on similar studies performed by other universities.
Figure 1. Research model
The research was carried out through interviews, focusing on each of the categories in the research model in order to identify the aspects that are essential for the professional practice of a PhD in Communication. The five groups were the following: Communication researchers, employers of our graduates, graduates from the PhD Program in Applied Communication, current students of the PhD program in Communication Research, and researchers registered in the National System of Researchers at CONACYT (area of Social Sciences/Levels 1 and 2). The field work was conducted in February and March, 2015. Rather than including a large sample, the study focused on specific information and the experience of the persons interviewed.
Figure 2. Thematic cloud: Characteristics of the Communication Researcher
The investigation on the traits of a communication researcher and the expectations of employers from a graduate in this field of research revealed the frequency, forcefulness and depth mentioned in relation to categories such as: the need to have the necessary skills on research, information management, the ability to report the results, the creativity and innovation in the use of technology, the high potential to become adapted to the environment to capture the society’s most urgent needs and provide solutions to them and the vision of how the use of technology can contribute to social improvement. The need for media literacy emerged when it was mentioned that they should be persons whose knowledge, credibility or appreciation of their degree, creative vision and theoretical-methodological soundness, lead them to seek an improvement in the way in which society feeds, uses, receives and disseminates the contents received from institutions, mass media and digital media (Figure 2). The ability to learn was also stressed, aspects which undoubtedly point to the need of media literacy. Finally, additional traits were also evident, such as: innate curiosity to anticipate and solve problems, and the importance of leadership and teamwork, as shown in Chart 1.
Chart 1. Characteristics of the Communication Researcher
As regards the importance of the intended competencies, the interview responses pointed to effective writing skills, followed by being proficient in managing specialized information. Furthermore, the answers obtained in this regards do refer to the knowledge and use of technology, which underlines the importance of this program in media literacy. The data are supported with the rationale mentioned in the responses of the participants interviewed:
The focus on knowledge, its dissemination and communication, and technology acquires a considerable weight in the views expressed by experts: "He/she should have technological skills, expertise in specialized software for the production of multimedia contents; strategic thinking, multi-task abilities; skills in public-relations issues; strategic management of key messages for all kinds of audiences." (INDIC IM 7).
With regard to the skills and knowledge required in the academic curriculum of Communication Researchers in the next ten years (Figure 3), it is worth stressing the importance of technology, digital areas, communication via the Internet (social networks) and innovation. These topics, coupled with the need to have a broad knowledge about the environment and the needs of society in order to achieve the application of knowledge, reflect the concern of respondents as to the role of communication researchers in media literacy. That is, the communication researcher should support the development of a knowledge-based economy and the consolidation of citizenship in the new digital participation schemes.
Figure 3. Thematic cloud: skills and competencies of the communication researcher
What are the essential abilities of a communication researcher? According to the respondents’ opinion: theoretical soundness; in-depth knowledge on research methodologies, and being well acquainted with the context (social, cultural, technological, economic, etc.). Again, the technology category emerges in this context.
With regard to the priorities of a communication researcher, most of the respondents stated that a top priority should be the production of knowledge, followed by the training of other researchers and also the dissemination and publication of results in journals and congresses. Here a revealing finding is the absence of any relationship with technology. In the responses to interviews, the investigation revealed a distinctive feature of a PhD in Communication Research, he/she should work not only on basic research but also in applied fields:
The research provides an account of the most relevant issues at global and national levels on the field and labor market of communication. Most responders stressed the importance of addressing the need for social welfare that prevails throughout the world, as well as the need to educate the audiences in a critical vision for the consumption of media with the emergence of technology and digital media, and the need to ensure access to information for all. Additional issues identified in the responses were sustainability, poverty and education. There were other references to issues such as transparency, safety, participation, entrepreneurship, interdisciplinarity, leadership, health, humanism, and the work in social and research networks, among others (see figure 4).
Figure 4. Thematic cloud: Priorities in communication research
Source: CICA, 2015.
As regards how the Communication Researcher should contribute (figure 5): ranking first is that he should generate research products; second, the production of media contents; also, the development of social-meaning/social-responsibility communication projects, and innovate in the communication processes. The thematic focus of media literacy is evidenced in the production of contents, as well as in the innovation in communication.
Figure 5. Thematic cloud: Contribution of the Communication Researcher to society
The responses obtained in the interview were in favor of the production of knowledge or communication theories to address the emerging social issues related to the development of technology and innovation, and should contribute to social welfare, peace and union of all citizens.
Summarizing the key findings, that are four axes derived from the responses: technological innovation and development, resolution of issues based on the knowledge produced, diagnostics and social intervention for improvement. These should intersect in the PhD training with four evolutions that are currently unstoppable in their transformation potential: evolution of society, evolution of business and markets; evolution of technology and the inevitable media literacy, and the evolution of communication disciplines and their relationship with other disciplines of human knowledge. However, these axes and developments should be matched, from the education standpoint, with issues such as technological progress, connectivity, the growth and social and political implications of social-network users, sustainability, cultural issues, corporate social responsibility with the poor, and the specific logic according to the vocation of companies or organizations for which professionals work.
4. Discussion and conclusions
The offer of graduate studies in Mexico has had to incorporate media education and literacy in their programs as "innovative training methods that consider the new emerging cultures from the Information Society. Some prefer terms such as Education in Media, Educommunication, Audiovisual Literacy, Digital Literacy, or even 21st Century Literacy." (UNAOC, 2015).
As a result, activities focused on training and high-level scientific-research are currently ongoing in graduate studies, with the aim of incorporating this digital communication challenge in research seminars and other subjects: Creativity and innovation, Design of multipath strategies, Categories and contents of media and hypermedia, etc.
DEIC has incorporated the media literacy component seeking for the continuous improvement of the program, with the university curriculum as a core element that is relevant in view of the needs of society:
At a doctoral level, the incorporation of specific subjects for education or media literacy in the curriculum it is not considered as a necessary condition (Wade, 2014), given that the program objective is the training of researchers with high levels of social awareness that contribute to advance the knowledge for social development. In this regard, training on media is achieved through the involvement of PhD students in projects and research processes, the holding of International Conferences and other forums and platforms to discuss the importance of ongoing research. In summary, the aim is to establish complex pedagogical practices that support education in media, popular culture and digital technology (Hobbs, 2011), with a commitment to the consolidation of science, technology and innovation (UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women & UNHCR, 2015).
The media literacy component becomes the common thread of many of the PhD theses that are being carried out in the two generations currently in the program, which not only recognize that the meaning of a message lies in the context of the receiver (Weintraub, Pinkleton & Patterson, 2007), but that it is also necessary to analyze the contents of media, transmitters and effects of production techniques (Weintraub, Pinkleton, Austin & Van of Vord, 2012), and that it is required to discuss the design of content and the social function thereof (Fedorov & Levitskaya, 2015). A critical incorporation of the various perspectives generated around collective and integral communication, to build a knowledge that opens up possibilities of studying the social reality from a different perspective, and the conformation of institutions and organizations (Rebeil, Hidalgo & Moreno, 2011). Undoubtedly, the reflection on social processes (digital convergence) and cultural spheres of society should lead to proposals of solution for democracy, local, national and global development of the institutions and organizations that support it. The aim is to have PhDs in communication research that are citizens educated in the understanding of the functioning of the media-driven world (Kamerer, 2013), and who develop the skills related to the use, creation and analysis of communication media for their participation in the democratic culture and to compete in the labor market (Hobbs, 2012). Finally, another objective is to ensure that the analysis of media education addresses the impact of digital media in both individuals and society (Silverblatt, 2013).
In the DEIC academic program, research on media literacy and digital citizenship has been included within the area of knowledge generation and research (LGCA, according to the name in Spanish). named: Social reality, public policies, technology and communication. In order to provide a framework, a broad repertoire of theorists who have led provided accounts of the transformation of the western society over the past 26 years, from the fall of the Berlin Wall, which symbolizes the end of socialism as a true social alternative and the permanence of a capitalism that is experiencing an increasing and dramatic dehumanization process in the past quarter of a century. These authors include Kosík (1963), Heller (1977), Berger and Luckmann (1968), Giddens (1972-2010), Lipovestsky (1983-2015), Baudrillard, Chomsky, Klein, Wallestrein, Bauman (2003-2009), Garcia Canclini (1995), etc., all of them descriptors and critics of these profound social changes.
In terms of communication theory, classical works are reviewed, including the theory of mediations (Martin-Barbero, 1987) and of multiple mediations (Orozco, 1991, 1996, 2001), research on mass communication (Lozano, 1996) and transmedia narratives (Galician, 2011; Hidalgo, 2013). However, only two theoretical proposals will be used in this article to help organize the core research area, enriched with the contributions of the authors already mentioned, and the way in which it responds to the needs for media literacy just described.
The theory on supermodernity and non-places put forward by Marc Augé (1993, 2001, 2015), which we have applied given the results obtained in this study, has been pivotal to understand the importance of technology evolution and its presence in the DEIC. This author describes a society driven by excessive modernity and overwhelmed in its transience. Augé underlines three driving forces: (a) the change from a society with modernity traits to a society saturated by modernity: from families that own one car, a television and with a limited consumption to another with apparent unlimited spending capacity; (b) the evolution from the real to the virtual, currently with modern mobile devices that connect the world in any place and at any time or under any circumstance; and (c) from the place (family, home, work, school, etc.) to an anonymity space (roads, public transport, waiting rooms, etc.) defined as non-places. Other phenomena –maybe more subtle but equally influential– are also ongoing in the knowledge society, such as: d) from formal to informal, from employment to certain social relaxation, (e) from human to technological dominance in the workplace, information, leisure and relationships, contact modalities, etc.; (f) from the permanent to the ephemeral, as evidenced in all arts and other cultural social and communicative manifestations; and (g) from identity to the identities of regions in a country, from the gender to a sports team or political party, from ethnicity to social movements, from the person to the prosumer. Each human being is loaded with different identities, even throughout a single day.
For the above reasons, the work in the PhD program has set the following global objective: Collaborate with and consolidate professionals in the field of communication research, through training and research processes, knowledge, skills, methods and values that will allow them to carry out original research for the production of new high-quality knowledge, supported by scientific methodologies on communication and related to economic political, social, technological and cultural processes.
This LGCA’s overall objective gives rise to specific objectives:
Some emerging issues as products, byproducts, presentations and transversal topics in the investigations of this research area involved in the new knowledge-acquisition and participation modes with the use of media are:
The following are put forward as concluding remarks:
1.- The general context of the DEIC, in terms of the emergence, access, availability, connectivity, effect, use and processing of the digital and technological resources is having an irreversible impact on the formal education throughout all education systems. This warrants an in-depth analysis of virtuality and a thorough understanding, leverage and social impact in universities, and in particular in graduate programs.
2.- This program stems from of the evident need in the country of researchers trained in most of the areas; specifically, there is a huge lag in the communication field. Consequently, the doctoral training is perceived as a possibility to contribute and respond to urgent and emerging issues. The urgency of educating and enabling the incorporation of citizens into the digital world is one of the challenges addressed in the training of PhD graduates in communication.
3.- In the DEIC, the presence of media literacy and the elements for questioning the new forms of citizenship and political participation that emerged in the digital era, has a clear, active and growing presence in the demand for knowledge, education processes, research areas, contents of the PhD program and the conclusion of research as a degree thesis and the publication of results of studies conducted by the affiliated researchers. This is an irreversible trend that is leading to make decisions about the operation and social impact of the academic program.
4.- It can be stated that the presence of the media literacy in the graduate studies in communication will be essential to: 1) perform analysis, synthesis and evaluation of communication issues guided by ethics, social responsibility and the common wellness from the use of communication media and TICs; 2) enable connections, reflections, products and actions, with an independent and critical approach, in view of the knowledge and the cultural and social issues arising from the use of the technology and the lack of media literacy; 3) encourage the conduct of research that contributes to the improvement of national public policies and/or international standards in the field of society and technology to support democracy based on the effective and responsible use of the various multimedia devices; 4) know and use the various research methodologies aimed at the development of original studies and proposals and more comprehensive academic proposals and knowledge generation in communication that support the development of citizenship; 5) collaborate with society to trigger and enhance skills for the design, organization and conduct of scientific research to produce innovative knowledge in interpersonal, group and organizational/institutional communication and virtual media, and; 6) increase the number of persons trained in a critical manner on collective and integral communication, aimed at building interdisciplinary knowledge to open up possibilities from studying social reality from various perspectives, and the formation of institutions and organizations considering the emerging needs in the field of media literacy
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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References
RI Arévalo-Martínez, R Del Prado-Flores, RT Ramírez-Beltrán (2016): “Institutional Education of Communication Researchers and Media Literacy. The case of the PhD in Communication Research’: 2010-2015”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 71, pp. 800 to 817.
Article received on 25 April 2016. Accepted on 28 July.