Applying Media Theories

“In an era of convergence, consumers become hunters and gatherers pulling together information from multiple sources to form a new synthesis.”

–Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins, a successful American media scholar, describes “participatory culture” in terms of a new media framework, in which producers and consumers of media are now interacting and forming relationships with each other, as opposed to “occupying separate roles” (Jenkins, 3).  Some consumers have more access and ability to take part in this convergence than others do,  and this concept can be applied to the way that we view international education.

Jenkins suggests that our personal and individual uses of media encourage conversations among each other and about the media that we each consume.  “None of us can know everything; each of us knows something; and we can put the pieces together if we pool our resources and combine our skills” (Jenkins, 4).  Similar to the approach of international education is the recognition that all parts make up a whole; that separate cultures and nations are in the process of integrating and working together to build a global community.  

This collective intelligence is a media power, according to Jenkins.  People are working together using various forms of media–the internet, social media, blogs, videos, etc.–to share ideas and information.  Ideally, what would follow this sharing of information is the active growth of a knowledgeable community.  For example, a group of study abroad alumni students create a Facebook page.  They share short posts about their experiences, write about the importance of study abroad, create albums of photos from around the world, and ask others to share stories as well.  The Facebook community grows and has a following; people contribute, interact, and participate in this participatory culture.

“The media industries are undergoing another paradigm shift” (Jenkins 5).  Convergence and participatory culture are the realms of media in which our current generation is entering.  These types of interactive and collaborative media environments are extremely helpful in advocating for international education.  One of the leading international education organizations, NAFSA, has a website for their online community called Connecting Our World, where people can share their stories and discuss international education.  This example of participatory culture is crucial in this field because it is through word of mouth (or media in this case), especially for younger generations and students, that this knowledge is passed along.  

Through participatory and convergence cultures, mass media is helping to advance international education advocacy.  Its impact is only just beginning.  Jenkins states that the two cultures will continue to expand as new technologies are introduced, as international education is recognized, and as we continue to grow into a more interconnected world.

Jenkins, Henry. (2006).  Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.  New York: NYU Press.

“Variations exist in the ways that audiences interact with media” (Kremar, 239).

The purpose of an international education is to build mutual understandings between the world’s nations and people.  However, each culture and lifestyle differs from the others.  As a result, each individual consumes, interprets, and values the information received through media in a different way.  A 21-year-old American student will have different ideas and thoughts about international education than an 80-year-old farmer in Mongolia.  In “Individual Differences In Media Effects”, Kremar discusses variations in message selecting and processing that vary between each individual.

Kremar’s ideas are extensions to the uses and gratifications theory (UGT) of communication.  “Uses and gratifications researchers focus on media use and assume…users to be selective in their media choices” (Kremar, 239).  Kremar is suggesting that there are actually variations in media’s effects rather than “powerful and uniform effects” (Kremar, 237).  This means that for each person, media’s influence will vary.

A benefit of this individualistic perspective is that each person with an international education experience can share his or her own story in a unique way which will in turn be received in a variety of ways by different audiences.  Someone interested in sociology would be more inclined to read about the cultural and sociological aspects of an international education, while a male college freshman interested in sports would prefer to read about an international student playing sports abroad.

The ideas that people have about international education vary because of this individualistic aspect of the UGT theory.  Kremar discusses the process that occurs after one is exposed to media; the interpretive assessment, and the value assessment.  Interpretive assessment is a process in which a media consumer attempts to make sense of the media; value assessment is asking “Did I enjoy or like the content?”  The results of the two evaluations are what determine the cognitive, psychological effect on the consumer, ” leaving the user with a “positive or negative perception of the media” (Kremar 243).

Media users are more likely to enjoy content if it is relatable or geared to their personal interests.  If the international education content found through various media outlets are somewhat diverse, the greater ability there is to spread awareness about its importance.  Kremar states that “our response to these media is based on our evaluations of characters and their actions” (Kremar, 239).  Because different subjects are more or less important to different members of society, it is important that the media provides a variety of content.

The influence and power that mass media has to educate people becomes increasingly significant as technologies, economies, and cultures advance.  This power can be even stronger and more influential on an individual level according to Kremar, because there are variations in the audience it aims to make an impact on.

Kremar, Marina. (2009). Individual Differences In Media Effects.  In Nabi, Robin L. and Mary Beth Oliver, The SAGE Handbook of Media Processes and Effects (p. 237 -250). United States of America: SAGE Publications, Inc.

“Perceptions shape how we feel about our own lives.  Even when it comes to issues of self-identity, issues about which we have the most direct knowledge, our perceptions of what others think about us are influential.”

In a study published by the International Communication Association, it was determined using the third-person effect that the perceptions that people hold about us and where we live affect our own perceptions.  The third-person effect is a hypothesis which suggests that people “perceive others as more influenced by the mass media than they themselves are” (Tsfati, 711).  A component of the theory “suggests that people’s expectations regarding media impact lead them to take action” (Tsfati, 712).

In the study, researchers investigated development towns in Israel.  These development towns were not covered often in the media, but when they were, the focus was on “violence, crime, unemployment, poverty, and economic hardships; positive stories were relatively rare” (Tsfati, 714).  The study determined that “the more negative the perception of the conditions in the town, the more residents contemplate leaving” (Tsfati, 722).

It concluded that regardless of the direct or personal knowledge that people have on subjects, the perceptions of what others think remain influential.  If the third-person effect is applied to an aspect of international education, it is likely that students or people pursuing international educations will be influenced by the media’s depiction of opinions.  For example, it is not likely that a student develops a desire to study abroad in Syria after seeing a news report covering Syria and its current civil war and violent uprisings.

If this theory works with negative perceptions, then it is likely that it works for positive perceptions.  Positive reinforcement is the strengthening of a behavior using a stimulus in order to increase that behavior.  Just as negative perceptions or depictions by media influence the public’s opinion, positive perceptions and media stories do the same.  A professor who sees a newspaper article about a successful international education conference that he or she attended in London will likely be encouraged to continue attending these conferences.  The positive newspaper article is the stimulus that will reinforce the behavior of attending this particular conference.

In this context, media is influencing one’s opinion using the opinion of a third party .  People care about what others’ think, and this sociologic idea applies to international education as well.  If international education is being encouraged by the public, the media, or any third party, it is likely that one will feel supported in pursuing one.

Combining the third-person effect with positive reinforcement and applying it to media and international education makes sense in that it explains the psychological and sociological ideas behind the driving factors that help people make decisions.

Tsfati, Y. and Cohen, J. (2003), On the Effect of the “Third-Person Effect”: Perceived Influence of Media Coverage and Residential Mobility Intentions. Journal of Communication, 53: 711–727.

 

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