Community: Meet Marilyn, the Director of the Center for Media Literacy at UW
Interviewer: Lillian Huang; July 31, 2020
Interviewee: Marilyn Cohen
Senator Liias, center, with AME board members Jenny Gawronski, Michael Danielson, Marilyn Cohen, and Barbara Johnson (Action 4 Media Education).
Could you tell us about yourself and your occupation? How does it impact the local and international community?
I have been a professor in the field of media literacy at the University of Washington’s College of Education for many years. I currently serve as Executive Director of Action for Media Education (AME), as well as Director of the NW Center for Excellence in Media Literacy at the University of Washington’s College of Education. AME is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting media literacy. Between these two institutions, I have worked with youth, families, and schools across the country. In some cases, I have even worked with youth across the world. For instance, my coworkers and I are currently putting on a project called the Corona Multimedia Showcase, which aims to provide youth all over the world with an opportunity to showcase their creativity and experiences during COVID-19 through a variety of media.
How has COVID-19 impacted your organization and the way that it runs?
There are two aspects to my work; I direct the NW Center for Excellence in Media Literacy and I lead Action for Media Education. Since March, I haven’t been able to go back to my office, so I have been working largely from home. Fortunately, my coworkers and I have been able to continue having board meetings and doing the same work remotely. This outbreak has also inspired one of our current initiatives. The Corona Multimedia Showcase was launched entirely virtually given our current circumstances. This project has flourished in a virtual environment, even though an initiative like this would normally involve a lot of in-person work. I feel that there are many advantages, as well as drawbacks, to working remotely from home. I save time by not having to commute to work and back, but at the same time, I have lost the ability to genuinely connect with people in person.
"... there are many advantages, as well as drawbacks, to working remotely from home."
What worries you most regarding the effect COVID-19 has/will have on your occupation?
I worry tremendously about children who lack access to resources to guide them through these unprecedented times. Those who don't have access to wifi, remote learning equipment, and additional support are especially vulnerable to the educational consequences of this virus. Not every child is in the same situation, and we must remember that many don’t have equal access to technology and learning opportunities. In addition, complications like poverty and special needs have made it even harder to provide sufficient support to all youth. Because this outbreak was cast upon the education system so quickly, there was not enough time to thoroughly plan or distribute resources to children. The education system is essentially flying the plane while building it. Another concern I have is whether we will be able to improve remote learning practices for the upcoming school year. On top of worrying about the virus itself, we now have to worry about all of the ways that it has and will continue to impact our daily lives. We must also consider the tradeoffs of returning to school. Are we willing to take the risk of transmission in order to get children back in school? And where will all of these extra resources come from?
"The education system is essentially flying the plane while building it."
If you are willing to share, how has COVID-19 affected you personally and your family?
I have been staying at home and I no longer see my friends in person. Though it’s been great being able to stay in contact with friends and family through online mediums, I believe there is no real alternative to face-to-face interaction. My children and I have been discussing whether it may be possible to see one another in the near future. They live on the East Coast, so we already aren’t able to see each other very often. Our society, as a whole, has changed its entire life pattern. We aren’t able to celebrate important moments with our loved ones, spend time with friends, or have dinner at restaurants anymore. This has been one of the biggest impacts of COVID-19 on my family.
"Our society, as a whole, has changed its entire life pattern."
What is the greatest lesson we can learn from this outbreak?
I believe the greatest lesson we can learn from this outbreak is that technology is saving us in terms of connection. Without it, we would be completely isolated in our homes, without any way to interact with our loved ones. The impact that technology has had on our daily lives is truly amazing. Everything, from banking to purchasing to communicating, is now conducted through technology.