“Media literacy is literacy”: This is how educators and legislators work to make schoolchildren successful online
Michael Danielson gives his ninth grade media literacy students a simple homework assignment each night: Pay attention.
The mission is intended to inspire them to think critically about the myriad of messages that bombard them every day. At the beginning of each lesson they report to their teacher and their classmates with “media competence moments” and explain how they discovered hidden motives and tried to manipulate them or sell them products.
Seeing his students apply five core concepts about media to what they watch on Netflix, in the cinema, and online is Danielson’s favorite part of his job. This is how he knows he has changed the way they consume media.
“I changed her for life,” he said.
Danielson teaches at Seattle Preparatory School, a private Catholic high school. In addition to the mandatory one-semester media literacy course, he teaches yearbook and theology courses and, as chairman of Action 4 Media Education, a Washington-based group, advocates media literacy.
Media literacy is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of skills, from thinking critically about news and opinion pieces, to dealing with cyberbullying, to creating and sharing content on the Internet. The idea of media literacy isn’t new, but experts say it gained momentum after the 2016 presidential election.
Legislators, educators and lawyers across the country are working to raise the profile of media literacy in parliaments and schools. Washington State was 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 lawmakers based on its research. The following year, based on recommendations from the council, lawmakers passed a law requiring the state superintendent’s office to interview educators and district officials about the state of media literacy in schools across Washington. Legislators are now considering a bill that would provide grants for educators to create a media literacy curriculum and to raise funds for the State Department of Education to hold two conferences on the subject.
The original Washington move to create the advisory board is now the basis of a model bill used by Media Literacy Now, a nonprofit advocating media literacy, to help lawmakers get the issue on the agenda in their states.
Other states have taken their own approaches to making media literacy a priority, some more than others. For example, California lawmakers passed law requiring the state education department to post a list of media literacy resources on its website by July 1. In a stronger move, Minnesota added “digital and information literacy” to its required K-12 educational standards in 2017.
Media Literacy Now currently tracks 15 bills in 12 states. The draft laws range from advisory board proposals to measures that create scholarship programs for media literacy specialists or include media literacy in state curriculum guidelines.
Research has shown that students need help evaluating the information they can find online.
In 2015 and 2016, researchers at Stanford tested more than 7,000 K-12 students and college students for media literacy and found that although the students spend a lot of time online, they weren’t as good at media literacy as the researchers expected or hoped for.
One of the activities looked at whether middle school students can distinguish between news articles, sponsored content, and advertisements on a website’s home page, and how they rate the credibility of social media posts.
“In every case and at every level, we were amazed at the lack of preparation of the students,” write the authors.
One of the researchers, Joel Breakstone, told The 74 that the growing concern about fake news is one reason for the rising interest in media literacy.
“I think the last two election cycles have shown the dangers, the significant dangers of disseminating problematic information online,” said Breakstone. “And it has potentially really negative consequences for the functioning of our democracy.”
Research by Breakstone and his team, and the subsequent creation of educational materials, has focused on the civic aspect of media literacy and how it affects people’s choices about social and political issues.
“This is not a partisan problem,” he said, adding that neither side “has a monopoly on the distribution of problematic content.”
Students seem to lack the skills needed to navigate the vast amount of information on the Internet, but many adults also need help. A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found that younger people were better able to distinguish facts from expressions of opinion than older people. A separate 2016 study found that people over 65 were much more likely to share fake news on Facebook than younger age groups.
What states do
Rep. Lisa Cutter, a Democrat who was elected to the Colorado state legislature in November, was on vacation in Mexico late last year pondering what her legislative priorities would be.
“It crossed my mind: media literacy,” she told The 74.
Cutter, who previously worked as a public relations consultant, said she had always valued the media.
“I’ve always been idealistic about the power of communication,” said Cutter. “I was really a huge fan of the media and the advantage [it brings] to a democracy and to our society. “
Cutter has tabled a bill that would create an advisory board similar to the one in Washington.
It met with opposition from the education committee, of which Cutter is a member, as to who would be on the committee. Cutter wanted the council to include teachers and librarians who are members of professional bodies that might include teachers’ unions, but Republican members said union members on the council could create a conflict of interest. Cutter has adjusted the language of the bill to reflect this concern and the bill has been passed by the committee and is now under consideration by the budget committee.
Cutter hopes this will eventually lead lawmakers to incorporate media literacy into state educational standards that provide guidance to school districts.
Similar laws have been passed in Rhode Island and Connecticut, and legislators are considering similar measures in seven other states. The New Mexico legislature passed a version of the bill this year that is awaiting the governor’s signature.
The main goal of the model law is to put media literacy on the state-level political agenda, said Media Literacy Now founder and president Erin McNeill.
“It’s a good first step,” said McNeill. “It is a structure that enables the state and the experts and stakeholders to work out solutions together.”
Breakstone agreed that the advisory model is a good first step, but said it should be just that – a first step.
“I think we can’t put off too long,” he said. “The consequences are too bad to be postponed with years of committees. So there is a balance to be found that needs to be considered in creating a well thought out and manageable plan. On the other hand, we cannot tremble at the stakes that are 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 support its online course for middle and high school students and improve its professional development opportunities for librarians and teachers. The grant is part of a broader $ 300 million effort by Knight to bolster local news over the next five years.
The public radio station KQED launched a new micro-evidence program in March, open to teachers across the country and offering teacher training in media literacy. In collaboration with PBS, KQED will issue media literacy certification to teachers who complete the free, skills-based online program.
KQED already supports media literacy with two websites, KQED Teach and KQED Learn, but Randy Depew, the station’s director of education in San Francisco, said he and his team realized that many teachers need to improve their own media skills.
“Certification came from the idea of giving teachers a roadmap so they can see what skills I need to qualify as media literacy?” He told The 74. “And then at this point we believe that if we can level up teachers, then class activities 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 “consolidated” into literacy itself and seen as an essential skill for all students.
“If we want the best for our students, we need to make sure they can read and write with media,” he said.
Experts agreed that both adults and students need help learning the online information landscape.
“Media literacy is literacy in the 21st century,” said McNeill.
This article was written in collaboration with. released The 74. Sign up for the The 74 newsletter here.