Media literacy

“Media Literacy Is Literacy”: Here’s How Educators and Lawmakers Work to Prepare Students for Online Success

Students in Michael Danielson’s media literacy class with storyboards for PSAs. (Photo: Michael Danielson)

Michael Danielson gives the students in his ninth grade media literacy class a simple assignment every night: Pay attention.

The mission is meant to inspire them to think critically about the myriad messages that bombard them every day. They report “media literacy moments” to their teacher and classmates at the start of each class, explaining how they discovered hidden motives and attempted to manipulate them or sell them products.

Seeing his students apply five basic media concepts to what they see on Netflix, in the movies, and online is Danielson’s favorite part of his work. This is how he knows he has changed the way they consume the media.

“I changed them for life,” he said.

Danielson teaches at Seattle Preparatory School, a private Catholic high school. In addition to the compulsory one-semester course in Media Education, he teaches yearbook and theology classes and advocates for media education as the president of Action 4 Media Education, a group based in the Washington State.

Media literacy is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of skills ranging from critical thinking about news and opinion pieces, to dealing with cyberbullying, to creating and sharing online content. The idea of ​​media literacy is not new, but experts say it gained new momentum after the 2016 presidential election.

Across the country, lawmakers, educators and advocates are striving to elevate 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 board 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 investigate educators and district officials about the state of media literacy in the media. Washington schools. Now lawmakers are considering a bill that would provide grants to educators to create a media literacy program and allocate money to the state’s Department of Education to host 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 campaigning for media literacy, to help lawmakers put the subject to the agenda in their States.

Other states have taken their own approaches to making media literacy a priority, some with more force than others. For example, California lawmakers passed a law requiring the state Department of Education to provide a list of media education resources on its website by July 1. 12 education standards.

Why now

Media Literacy Now currently tracks 15 invoices in 12 states. The bills range from advisory board proposals to measures that would create grant programs for media literacy specialists or add media education 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 although they spend a lot of time online, students were not as proficient in media literacy as researchers hoped or hoped.

One of the activities assessed whether high school students could distinguish between news articles, sponsored content and advertisements on a website’s homepage and how they assess the credibility of posts on networks. social.

“In all cases and at all levels, we were surprised at the lack of preparation of the students,” the authors wrote.

One of the researchers, Joel Breakstone, told The 74 that growing concern over fake news partly explains 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 potentially has very negative consequences for the functioning of our democracy.”

Breakstone and his team’s research and subsequent creation of classroom materials focused on the civic aspect of media literacy and how it affects people’s decisions about social and political issues.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he said, adding that neither side “has a monopoly on the dissemination of problematic content.”

Students seem to lack the skills they need to navigate the vast amount of information online, but many adults need help as well. 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 on vacation in Mexico late last year to reflect on her legislative priorities.

“It occurred to me: 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 was a huge fan of the media, 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 the one in Washington.

He encountered some resistance within the education committee, of which Cutter is a member, over who would be on the committee. Cutter wanted the board to include teachers and librarians who are members of professional organizations, which could include teacher unions, but Republican members said the presence of union members on the board could create a conflict of interest. Cutter changed the wording of the bill to address this concern, and the bill rolled out of committee and is now being considered by the supply committee.

Cutter hopes this will eventually lead lawmakers to add media education to 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 is now awaiting the governor’s signature.

The main purpose of the model bill is to put media education on the political agenda at the state level, said Erin McNeill, founder and president of Media Literacy Now.

“It’s a good first step,” said McNeill. “It is 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 dire for it to be put off with years of committees. So there is a balance to be found there, of a need to be deliberate in crafting a well thought out and manageable plan. On the other hand, we cannot procrastinate given the stakes at stake. “

“Media education 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 for middle and high school students and increase its development opportunities. professional for librarians and teachers. The grant is part of Knight’s larger $ 300 million effort to strengthen local news over the next five years.

Public radio station KQED launched in March a new micro-accreditation program open to teachers across the country that will provide training for media literacy teachers. In partnership with PBS, KQED will grant media education certification to teachers who complete the free online competency-based program.

KQED already supports media education 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 develop their own media literacy skills.

“Certification grew out of the idea of ​​being able to provide a roadmap for teachers so they can see: what skills do I need to qualify as a media specialist? “He told 74.” And then, at this point, our belief is that if we can improve the level of teachers, class activity will follow. “

Depew added that he expects what is now called media literacy – consuming and creating blogs, podcasts and other digital content – to eventually be “built into” literacy she. – even and considered essential skills for all students.

“If we want what’s best for our students, we have to make sure they can read and write with the media,” he said.

Experts agreed that both adults and college 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 newsletter here.

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