“Media Literacy is Literacy”: Here’s How Educators and Lawmakers Are Working to Prepare Students for Online Success
Michael Danielson gives the students in his ninth-grade media literacy class a simple homework every night: pay attention.
The mission aims to inspire them to think critically about the countless messages that bombard them every day. They report back to their teacher and classmates at the start of each lesson with “media literacy moments,” explaining how they uncovered hidden motives and attempted to manipulate them or sell them products.
Watching his students apply five basic media concepts to what they see on Netflix, in theaters and online is Danielson’s favorite part of his job. That’s how he knows he’s changed the way they consume media.
“I changed them for life,” he said.
Danielson teaches at Seattle Preparatory School, a private Catholic high school. In addition to the required semester-long media education course, he teaches yearbook and theology courses and advocates for media education as president of Action 4 Media Education, a state-based group. from Washington.
Media literacy is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of skills from critically thinking about news and opinion pieces to dealing with cyberbullying to creating and sharing content online. The idea of media literacy is not new, but experts say it gained new momentum after the 2016 presidential election.
Across the country, legislators, educators and advocates are working to advance the issue of media literacy in legislatures and schools. Washington State has been at the forefront of the movement.
In 2016, Washington state lawmakers passed a bill with bipartisan support that created an advisory council to study media literacy and make recommendations to the legislature based on its research. The following year, lawmakers passed a law — based on the council’s recommendations — requiring the state superintendent’s office to survey educators and district officials about the state of media literacy in schools. from Washington. Now lawmakers are considering a bill that would provide grants to educators to create a media literacy program and allocate funds for the state Department of Education to hold two conferences on the subject.
Washington’s initial move to create the advisory council is now the basis of a model bill used by Media Literacy Now, a nonprofit that advocates media literacy, to help lawmakers put the topic on the table. the agenda in their states.
Other states have taken their own approaches to making media literacy a priority, some more forcefully than others. For example, California lawmakers passed a law requiring the state Department of Education to provide a list of media literacy resources on its website by July 1. 12 education standards.
Media Literacy Now is currently tracking 15 bills in 12 states. The bills range from proposals for advisory councils to measures that would create grant programs for media literacy specialists or add media literacy to state curriculum guidelines.
Research indicates that students need help evaluating the information they find online.
In 2015 and 2016, Stanford researchers tested more than 7,000 K-12 and college students on media literacy and found that, despite spending a lot of time online, the students didn’t were not as proficient in media literacy as researchers had anticipated or hoped.
One of the activities aimed to determine whether middle school students could distinguish between news articles, sponsored content and advertisements on the homepage of a website and how they assessed the credibility of social media posts. .
“In all cases and at all levels, we were surprised by the lack of preparation of the students,” write the authors.
One of the researchers, Joel Breakstone, told The 74 that growing concern over fake news is part of the reason for the growing interest in media literacy.
“I think the last two election cycles have suggested the dangers, the substantial dangers of spreading problematic information online,” Breakstone said. “And that has potentially very negative consequences for the functioning of our democracy.”
Breakstone and his team’s research and subsequent creation of educational materials have focused on the civic aspect of media literacy and how it affects people’s decisions related to social and political issues.
“It’s not a partisan issue,” he said, adding that neither side “has a monopoly on delivering problematic content.”
Students seem to lack the skills to navigate the vast amount of information online, but many adults also need help. A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found that young people were better able to distinguish facts from statements of opinion than older people. A separate study in 2016 found that people over 65 were much more likely to share fake news on Facebook than younger age groups.
What are states doing
Representative Lisa Cutter, a Democrat elected to the Colorado state legislature in November, was vacationing in Mexico late last year to consider her legislative priorities.
“It just came to mind: media literacy,” she told 74.
Cutter, who previously worked as a public relations consultant, said she has always enjoyed the media.
“I’ve always been idealistic about the power of communications,” Cutter said. “I’ve been a huge media fan, really, and the advantage [it brings] to a democracy and to our society.
Cutter introduced a bill that would create an advisory council similar to Washington’s.
He encountered some resistance within the education committee, of which Cutter is a member, over who would sit on the committee. Cutter wanted the board to include teachers and librarians who are members of professional organizations, which could include teachers’ unions, but Republican members said having union members on the board could create a conflict of interest. Cutter tweaked the language of the bill to address this concern, and the bill advanced out of committee and is now being reviewed by the appropriations committee.
Cutter hopes this will eventually lead lawmakers to add media literacy to the state education standards, which provide guidance to school districts.
Similar laws have already been passed in Rhode Island and Connecticut, and lawmakers are considering comparable measures in seven other states. The New Mexico legislature this year passed a version of the bill, which now awaits the governor’s signature.
The primary goal of the model bill is to put media literacy on the political agenda at the state level, said Media Literacy Now founder and president Erin McNeill.
“It’s a good first step,” McNeill said. “It’s a structure that allows the state, experts and stakeholders to work together to find solutions.”
Breakstone agreed that the advisory board model is a good first step, but said it should be just that – a first step.
“I think we can’t delay too long,” he said. “The consequences are too serious to delay this with years of committees. So there is a balance to be found, a need to be deliberate in developing a well thought out and manageable plan. On the other hand, we cannot dither given the stakes at stake.”
“Media Literacy is Literacy”
Some advocates and educators are working on more direct ways to reach teachers and children and invest in media literacy.
The Knight Foundation, which supports journalism, recently awarded a $5 million grant to the News Literacy Project, launched in 2008 by journalist Alan Miller, to expand its online course to middle and high school students and increase its opportunities for professional development. for librarians and teachers. The grant is part of a larger $300 million effort by Knight to strengthen local news over the next five years.
Public radio station KQED in March launched a new microloan program open to teachers across the country that will provide teacher training in media literacy. In partnership with PBS, KQED will award media education certification to teachers who complete the free online competency-based program.
KQED already supports media literacy with two websites, KQED Teach and KQED Learn, but Randy Depew, general manager of education at the San Francisco-based station, said he and his team realized that many teachers needed to sharpen their own media literacy skills.
“The certification was born out of this idea of being able to provide a roadmap for teachers so they could see, what skills do I need to qualify as a media specialist?” he told 74. “And then, at this point, we think if we can improve the teachers, the classroom activity will follow.”
Depew added that he expects what is now known as media literacy – consuming and creating blogs, podcasts and other digital content – will eventually be “integrated” into literacy itself. and considered essential skills for all students.
“If we want the best for our students, we have to make sure they know how to read and write with the media,” he said.
Experts agreed that both adults and students need help learning to navigate the online information landscape.
“Media literacy is literacy in the 21st century,” McNeill said.
This article was published in partnership with The 74. Subscribe to The 74’s newsletter here.