UGA Education Researchers, Nonprofits Combat Misinformation with Media Literacy | Campus news
Micah Shannon enjoyed his advanced English course at Clarke Central High School. It made him think critically. His teacher presented two perspectives on a subject and had students analyze the flow of logic that the authors used to develop their points.
“At least for me, it was a big part of my education, but this … is quite a high course,” Shannon said. “I wish it was a compulsory course.”
Shannon is the senior and webmaster of Clarke Central’s ODYSSEY Media Group, which produces a news magazine, digital news website, and iliad, a literary and arts magazine. He also takes a journalism course which exposes him to the review process that is at the heart of news creation and editing.
His education has made him a critical news consumer. Shannon knows how arguments are made. He knows how to arrange facts to shift a certain perspective. He knows that a headline can be misleading. But how well prepared is the average student to consume media effectively?
“The techniques used” [in media] are so much more compelling and challenging that students don’t necessarily make that connection between critical thinking skills they are learning, ”said Erin McNeill, founder and president of the nonprofit Media Literacy Now.
The Georgia Department of Education created a digital and media literacy webinar to train educators on how to use digital technologies, evaluate online sources, and protect data. But despite the constant media exposure of students in and out of the classroom, Georgia doesn’t have state-wide legislation that requires that these classes be held in the classroom.
A growing number of education researchers, teachers, nonprofits, and news outlets agree: media literacy education can fill these gaps.
“I think [schools] need to have these critical conversations, ”said William Wright, a third-year graduate student in the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of Georgia. “And to tie what they do more closely to the educated life that students engage in outside of school.”
What is media literacy?
The National Association for Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as the skills required to “access, analyze, evaluate, shape and act in all forms of communication”.
The field is not new, and neither is its proponents. Organizations like Media Literacy Now and the News Literacy Project have been around for at least a decade. NAMLE, founded in 1997, has been holding an annual media literacy week since 2015. And there is more discussion about it.
“We have clearly seen misinformation that has very serious consequences in real life, like the attack on the Capitol,” said McNeill. “A lot of people are starting to pay attention and understand that media literacy is more than deciphering an advertisement. … There is a media system that influences what we see and when and why. “
The National Council of Teachers of English set up a task force on critical media literacy in June 2020. It focuses on making students aware of the choices they make when accessing information, the media institutions around them, and how to create their own media to develop understanding.
In Georgia, it is still up to school districts and teachers to prioritize media literacy.
“[It’s] more on how to leverage all of the information available … and whether or not you can find reliable and accurate information, ”said Alison Eber, a UGA PhD student and fourth grade teacher at City Schools of Decatur.
In her classroom, Eber asks her students to look for sources to identify prejudice and misleading information. Another activity is like two truths and a lie, said Eber. She will give her students articles – some with incorrect information – and let them figure out which is which.
She said it was a strategy to already deepen critical thinking in her fourth grade curriculum and to envision how easily people can manipulate information. By integrating these activities throughout the school year, Eber wants her students’ media literacy training to correspond to constant media presence.
“It’s a big responsibility and it can be difficult to face,” said Eber. “And when teachers aren’t comfortable with it, it can be overwhelming.
Training of educators
Eber committed himself to imparting media skills on his own. Her teacher training in the early 2000s didn’t affect that, she said, so she had to find out for herself.
But younger teachers who grew up with new media can also struggle with media literacy education, Wright said. This applies in particular to media issues related to power, access and representation.
“Often times, they may know how to get into a new tool and move around properly,” Wright said. “But they themselves have not thought critically about the larger social, economic and political foundations of many of these things.”
As broad as the field of media literacy is, the News Literacy Project seeks to help teachers understand the news media aspect.
The non-partisan, non-profit organization runs teacher training workshops that enable teachers to connect with journalists from partner news organizations to discuss misinformation and verification techniques. The NLP also offers a free learning platform with messaging literacy units for teachers to use in class and an online forum for educators to network.
“We believe education is the most effective approach because it empowers people to think for themselves,” said Hannah Covington, part of the NLP’s education team.
More than 2,700 students in Georgia have engaged in NLP’s learning platform this school year, Covington said in an email.
Addressing a polarizing topic like misinformation can be difficult for public educators.
“I think a lot of the teachers I work with have this pressure to be politically and religiously neutral,” Wright said. “I think neutrality sometimes slips into indifference when it comes to critical media literacy.”
Another obstacle to emphasizing media literacy education is standardized tests, according to Wright. He said the “high stakes testing” system in schools and their focus on educational benchmarks can take away less testable critical skills, which is a problem for education researchers.
Eber agreed, adding that resource constraints in schools and support from administrators also affect media literacy integration.
“I think with [school] Districts are investing primarily in what needs to be done in more places, ”said Eber. “And it’s difficult because there are so many competing priorities right now.”
In the meantime, students can apply their critical thinking skills to the media. Shannon believes his fellow students understand the personal and institutional biases and blind spots that find their way into news content.
He said they are “a little skeptical” about the information they are consuming. Still, he wants media education to become the standard in upper school classes.
“Maybe just one unit on ‘This is how modern journalism is’,” Shannon said. “I think that would be a pretty good thing to teach students growing up in this world.”