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MEDA209 - Reading Screen Texts

Unit rationale, description and aim

Technological convergence has all but cemented the humble mobile phone as the ruler of screens, despite its diminutive size. Virtual reality, video on-demand services, and video games are experiencing tremendous growth, spurred on by the rollout of 5G and the promise of unprecedented access to small-screen content at any time and place. A key development is the divorcing of content from the delivery platform: television, for instance, specifies a cultural form accessible anywhere rather than a technology in the living room through which one engages with content. It is becoming increasingly important for graduates to be able to analyse and critically appraise narrative, non-fictional, and videogame content designed for the screen, something that is brought into even sharper focus by the globalization of distribution mechanisms.

This unit will introduce you to the basic principles of screen analysis and is designed with both theorists and practitioners in mind. Each lecture and tutorial will focus on a different element of screen form and will assist you to develop a language through which you may critique your own practices (should you approach this unit as a practitioner), and those of others. The term ‘screen form’ is used here in its most general sense, and includes broadcast or streamed television, cinema (feature and short film), web-based and videogame texts.

The aim of the unit is to encourage you to develop an aesthetic sensitivity to screen art forms and an awareness of how screen-based media is exploited for entertainment and to make claims about what is right, normal and ‘true’.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Relate theoretical considerations to production practices (GA4, GA5)

LO2 - Explain how potential meaning is created through selection, association, ordering and prioritising within screen texts (GA4, GA5, GA9)

LO3 - Interpret the ‘truth’ claims made by screen texts (GA1, GA4, GA5, GA9)

LO4 - Employ selected analysis techniques to critically appraise screen texts (GA1, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

  • factual and non-factual screen texts selected from a wide range of genres and sources
  • production technique and aesthetic
  • how potential meanings are created through selection, association, ordering and prioritising
  • theoretical tools drawn from film theory, television studies, media studies and cultural theory 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit explores and analyses theories that provide us with vantage points from which to evaluate and inform our own practices. The unit considers key concepts in debates about media screen language in greater levels of detail and structure, building on and complementing other ideas in the media major, something Bruner (1996, p119) calls a ‘spiral curriculum’.

The unit is delivered as a 1-hour lecture, followed by a 2-hour tutorial. Lectures, tutorials, and assessments are sequenced in accordance with constructivist principles to guide you from simple formative tasks to more complex summative tasks that invite you to apply screen analysis techniques to a genre of personal interest. Lectures seek to promote deep learning by weaving theoretical concerns through a rich tapestry of screen texts from around the globe.

Tutorial tasks and assessments are designed to ensure that theoretical engagements are relevant to both media practitioners and those approaching the subject through a cultural studies lens. Rather than simply trawling through readings, tutorial exercises will concentrate upon the threshold concepts (Biggs & Tang 2011, p93) from the lecture that can unlock new ways of approaching screen texts.

Assessment strategy and rationale

In this unit, students will be asked to demonstrate their analytic engagements with screen texts by preparing assessment tasks that develop an aesthetic sensitivity to screen art forms and an awareness of how screen-based media is exploited for entertainment and to make claims about what is right, normal and ‘true’. Given the nature of the theoretical content, assessment has been designed so that initial analytic tasks grow into a larger individual research project. The formal deconstruction of a fictional screen text builds critical awareness of screen, style and form and the language used to describe it. The second task requires students to analyse non-fiction screen texts and the way meaning is encoded in them. The final task applies theory and analytical skills in the analysis of an existing film, series or game. In order to pass the unit, students must successfully complete the learning outcomes for the unit. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment 1: A formal deconstruction of a fictional screen text.

To build critical awareness of screen style and form, and develop a language for describing, or where available re-editing, those forms.


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA9

Assessment 2: An analysis of the truth claims made by a selection of non-fiction screen texts, drawing upon semiotic principles.

To develop the analytic skills needed to show how meaning is created in screen texts through selection, association, ordering and prioritising. This may involve re-editing material where relevant.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

GA1, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Assessment 3: A major screen analysis project, putting ‘theory to work’ by choosing salient techniques from the unit and applying them to a feature film (cinema and/or web release), television series, web series or game.

To combine the descriptive and analytic skills developed in the previous two assignments, and demonstrate their application in a larger scale textual analysis project.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

GA1, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Barsam, R & Monahan, D 2019, Looking at Movies, 6th ed., Norton & Company, New York.

Berger, A 2019, Media analysis techniques, 6th ed., Sage, California.

Bordwell, D & Thomson, K, Smith, J 2020, Film Art, 12th ed., McGraw-Hill, New York.

Brown, B 2016, Cinematography: Theory and Practice: imagemaking for cinematographers and directors, Routledge, London.

Corrigan, T & White, P 2018, The Film Experience, 4th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston.

Fiske, J 2011, Television Culture, 2nd ed., Routledge, London.

Gee, J 2014, An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method, 4th ed., Routledge, London.

Hickman, R 2017, Reel Music: Exploring 100 Years of Film Music, W.W. Norton & Company, New York.

O’Shaughnessy, M & Stadler, J, Casey S 2016, Media and Society, 6th ed., Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.

Zettl, H 2017, Applied Media Aesthetics, 8th ed., Cengage Learning, Boston.

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