Wednesday, November 9, 2011

FaME: Financial and Media Education

Throughout history, economic strength has determined the rise and fall of empires. Understanding the power of money transcends time and to some extent continues to determine the strength of nations. Yet the power of money is not the only influence on the structure of daily life. Today, the media plays an even larger role in determining who wins. Perhaps more than ever before, there is a need to be forthright in educating students in these areas, making them an integral part of the curricula. Likewise, bringing financial and media literacies into the classroom should not be viewed as separate “units of study.” Instead, they should be incorporated across all subject areas to make connections to real-life applications, especially for learners in the 21st century.

The deliberate design of information extends far beyond a combination of data and images. In fact, we see it everyday through advertising. When you think about it, every company, institution, or politician considers the selection of graphics, data, and text to market goods and services. Media of all types tell stories through branding, whether selling a war from a podium or advertising a product during a football game. For this reason, our students need the skills of analyzing and interpreting to grasp the underpinnings of finance and the messaging behind the media. They need to learn to “read an image.”

One way we do this is through visualizations such as infographics, which teach to students' interests and connect to their daily lives. For example, this Starbucks and McDonald's graphic on the Princeton University website has a clean, crisp design to compare two corporate giants:

Source: Princeton University
Although this particular infographic dates from 2003, the point about branding is clear. The financial information about McDonalds is telling, especially with the mini, built-in geography lesson comparing its nearly $32 billion in sales with the $21 billion GDP of Afghanistan. McDonald’s is a financial powerhouse in this image compared to Starbucks and other fast food competitors. Cool Infographics updated the data in 2007 showing Starbucks almost doubling the number of stores to 11,225 and McDonald's flat in terms of sales. Asking students why they think this occurred would open the discussion to changes in diet or perhaps the sheer marketing power of the Starbucks brand.

Source: gplu.com
Another good example to drill home the connection between finance and media is the infographic, "Is There a Tech Bubble?" In the fight to be number one, are financial investors willing to pay over-the-top valuations for these brands? This image would appeal to students, since social media is so much a part of their lives. It has all the key players: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Comparing the branding and looking at the numbers can open the eyes of students to read between the hype. For this reason, using media and finance are essential in any classroom. If we stop and look around, there are countless examples for incorporating both of these literacies into everything from language arts to mathematics.

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