Can media education fight against the “degradation of truth”? What teachers need to know
As “fake news” proliferates and heated political debates rage online, more teachers are turning to media literacy to help their students understand how information is created and distributed today. today.
In a new report, the RAND Corporation surveyed this developing media literacy landscape. Through interviews with a dozen media literacy experts and a review of studies of educational interventions, the researchers examined the definition of media literacy, the educational resources available, and the effectiveness of media education. to the media to guard against the spread of misinformation.
They found that although experts say media literacy is of urgent importance, there is no one set of universal skills for the discipline, making it difficult to assess and compare educational programs. .
The report is the latest installment in the RAND Corporation’s study of what they call “truth degradation,” or the blurring of the lines between opinion and objective fact. The first report in the series, which my colleague Stephen Sawchuk wrote about last yearattempted to define the problem and identify its source.
In this 2018 report, the researchers wrote that the public is increasingly prioritizing opinion and personal experience over facts – and the veracity of established facts is now up for debate. Political polarization, cognitive biases and the rise of social media are partly to blame, they argued. But the education system also plays a role. The pressure on schools to prioritize reading and math, coupled with the difficulty of the education system to adapt to rapid change, means that students are not always learning to be critical consumers of information.
That’s where media literacy comes in, said Alice Huguet, associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and lead author of this new report. Explicitly teaching these skills is a way to combat the degradation of truth and help people be “better prepared to enter the information ecosystem”, she said.
In interviews for this new report, experts said that, broadly speaking, media literacy refers to the ability to find, critically interpret and create media. But under this large umbrella, there are many subfields that deal with specific types of information, such as information literacy, digital literacy, and science literacy.
The report also found that there are different ways of conceptualizing the purpose of media literacy. The objectives vary, from verifying the quality of information, to uncovering the financial motivations behind certain messages, to understanding the role of the media in civic and political life.
Ultimately, however, there is no conclusive evidence on which approaches are most effective in K-12 classrooms. The studies reviewed by the researchers differed in how they defined and measured media literacy skills, and there were not many studies that measured the effects of specific interventions. Overall, however, correlational research has suggested that teaching media literacy skills can improve students’ ability to analyze and interpret information, Huguet said.
What do these results mean for educators who want to teach media literacy skills?
There are no clear indications of which resources might be best. For now, Huguet said, teachers should focus on their particular school or community context, and their own expertise, to determine what is most useful for their students. The researchers created a database of 50 educational resources, ranging from short videos to full programs. They have not evaluated these documents, but they have described their format and the content they cover.
However, Huguet has identified some good practices. Teaching media literacy is not just about fact-checking, she said, and teachers need to recognize the complexity.
“In our very hot political climate, with all this attention to ‘fake news’, it’s very easy for us to think that we just want to teach people to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake,” she said. “But it is not that simple.”
Teachers should also work with students to develop other media literacy skills, such as evaluating the process that creates a product. For example, rigorous scientific research on climate change is created through a different process than an opinion piece on the topic. Understanding the standards of scientific research gives students more context when trying to decide what is trustworthy and what to share, Huguet said.
In interviews with RAND researchers, experts discussed the balance between skepticism and trust. It is important that students understand that there are reliable sources of information and that they know where to find them.
Huguet noted that it’s unclear from the research whether integrating media literacy into the curriculum is more or less effective than offering it as a stand-alone class. Still, she says, there is evidence that greater exposure to these skills correlates with better outcomes. The report also suggests involving members of the community, such as librarians and clergy, in media education.
“Thinking about the many different approaches to media literacy research helps us see that you don’t have to be a language arts or social studies teacher to participate in media literacy. “, she said. “If we’re going to have the herd immunity that we’re talking about, which is everybody being inoculated with this problem of breaking down the truth, that’s going to take everybody on deck.”