Think! Media Literacy and the quest for truth

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Literacy refers to the “ability to read and write” and is mainly associated with the first years of school: reading starts with learning to recognize the letters; next to identify words, and finally to grasp what those words mean. As they become able to understand a text, readers then become writers. Along the way, with lots of practice, readers and writers will develop strong literacy skills.

In the last part of the 20th century, the increasing spread of computers and other digital technologies in communication required additional skills and by extension, these necessary skill-sets became known as computer literacyinformation literacy, and technological literacy.

Photo by Agnieszka Boeske on Unsplash

They are all interconnected and, a couple of decades ago, it became obvious that it should include media literacy.
Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they are sending. According to Media Smarts, Media Literacy means “being able to access media on a basic level, to analyze it in a critical way based on certain key concepts, to evaluate it based on that analysis and, finally, to produce media oneself.” This is crucial as nowadays it is not anymore only adults, but children and teenagers as well, that are exposed to a huge amount of information from a wide collection of sources, far beyond the traditional media such as TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines of previous generations.
The scope is large and diverse: text messages, social media, memes, viral videos, video games, advertising, etc. Media literacy is not limited to only digital media, but rather all messages we consume in a variety of media platforms. It is very important to realize that all media share one thing: someone created it, and it was created for a reason. Understanding that reason is the basis of media literacy, and as educators, we need to fully understand it to implement it in our curriculums.

Most people have access to technology and are active online: while beforehand you had to be a journalist or a writer to publish information, today it is easy for everyone to create media. Anyone can publish online (nearly) anything they want and, as a consequence, we don’t always know who created something, why they made it, and whether it is reliable. This makes media literacy tricky to learn and teach. Perseverance and commitment are needed, as media literacy is an essential skill in the digital age.

Common Sense Education provides educators and students with the resources they need to apprehend the power of technology for learning and life. On the topic of Media Literacy, they insist that everyone need to:

  • Learn to think critically
  • Become a smart consumer of products and information
  • Recognize the point of view displayed
  • Create media responsibly
  • Identify the role of media in our culture
  • Understand the author’s goal. 
From Pixabay

At our school, as I already mentioned in a previous post, we were lucky enough to have in situ training from Common Sense Media expert Merve Lapus who met with some admin and teachers and modeled lessons for Librarians and Technology Integrators.
Their Digital Citizenship Curriculum program is great for its ready-to-use lessons, adapted to each grade, and knowing that you can even tailor them to your own specific needs and curriculum (by shortening them, adding activities, slides, etc)
As an example, here is a lesson planned for grade 6, titled: “Finding Credible News, How do we find credible information on the internet?

Media Smarts, along with their partner Companies Committed to Kids (who shut down in 2017) also created lesson plans on the topic, including videos. Their goal with the project Media Literacy 101 was to help Elementary School teachers delivering lessons on Media Literacy concepts.
The first one of the series is: What is media anyway? and provides both a lesson plan and a video for the older elementary school students, but could easily apply for teenagers up to grade 8 at least.

Being able to decrypt the different media content you are exposed to is extremely important, but sometimes people won’t be so critical when it comes to their own online contributions, especially if they re-post or re-Tweet. You should always THINK Before You Post, at the Butler University reminds its faculty and students (and us)! The graphic below is worth memorizing…

At the beginning of our school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 10, I joined on Facebook an international support group for educators going through the same unique experience. In this group called “Global Educator Collective”, I was amazed to read a teacher’s plea to her fellow colleagues and members of the online community, asking them to check their information before posting them!
If educators are not setting the example, how can today’s young people navigate critically and safely through the traps of the 21st-century information world?

Screenshot from the Global Educator Collective Facebook banner and from a message posted on March 20, 2020, by Carol G. D.

There is still a lot of work needed to be done to raise awareness to counter misinformation, especially when the Pew Research Center tells us in its Social Media Fact Sheet that today about 7 in 10 Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with new content online, share information and entertain themselves. Social media usage by adults raised from 5% in 2005 to approximately 72% today!

Fake news websites deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation — using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. These sites and their creators seek to mislead, rather than entertain readers, for financial, political, or other gains.
Misinformation and the five types of fake news be described as a modern plague of the digital world.

In conclusion, as young children were taught by pre-Kindergarten teachers the beginnings of reading and writing, becoming more literate year after year, nowadays students need to also become media educated with the guidance of their classroom teachers and librarians.