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Nationwide Report Finds RI Students Not Having Access to Media Literacy Education – URI News

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KINGSTON, RI – October 25, 2021 – In a time of misinformation, toxic social media, and deep political and cultural divisions, students must learn to critically analyze media messages. But not enough Rhode Island students are given media literacy opportunities, either at school or at home.

Most Rhode Island elementary and secondary school students do not receive media literacy training, according to a survey and interviews of over 500 educators, parents and community leaders. This new report provides an overview of research from a nationwide study on the degree of integration of media literacy in RI schools. The study included the opinions of school educators, school principals, parents, elected officials and community members, as well as interviews with 30 respondents who provided more detailed information.

The study was conducted by Media Literacy Now Rhode Island and Renee Hobbs, Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Rhode Island, in collaboration with the URI Social Science Institute for Research, Education and Policy.

After analyzing the results, letter grades were issued to school districts in Rhode Island to document their efforts to impart media literacy to all students. The main findings of the report include:

• Rhode Islanders recognize the importance of media literacy education as they see the clear consequences of fake news, political polarization, and disinformation spread through social media.

• Respondents believe that the most important reason media literacy education is valued is people’s ability to improve people’s ability to analyze information and identify good quality sources.

• Some of the core media literacy teaching practices are applied to students in elementary, middle, and high schools in Rhode Island. For example, every third student in school learns to understand and analyze news media.

• Most RI students have no media literacy learning experience that will help them understand advertising or the economics of the media industry.

• There are significant differences between school districts, with some municipalities offering media literacy education to most or all of the elementary, middle, and senior high school students, while other municipalities offer fewer opportunities for students.

• Beyond watching them together, parents and guardians do not use a wide range of activities to develop media literacy with their children at home.

Striking differences were found between communities, noted Hobbs, co-author of the report. For example, most students in West Warwick are exposed to media literacy classroom practices in elementary, middle, and high school, and the district also faces few challenges related to access to technology, student readiness, or the school climate. In communities such as Coventry or Exeter-West Greenwich, implementation of media literacy teaching practices only reaches a small fraction of learners, and there educators, principals, parents and community members report a significant number of obstacles and challenges that limit innovation.

The report was in response to a law passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 2017 that mandated the Rhode Island Department of Education to consider adding media literacy to the state’s basic education plan. Pam Steager, director of Media Literacy Now Rhode Island and co-author of the report, said, “The Media Literacy Report Card provides educators, principals and community members with a foundation and blueprint to build transformative media literacy programs on for all learners in Rhode Island schools . “

School librarians understand the value of media literacy teaching practices, and media literacy opportunities are already anchored in national school library standards. According to Mary Moen, assistant professor of library and information science at URI, school librarians are being trained to recognize the cross-curricular ways in which media literacy classes can take place in collaboration with English-language arts, social sciences, science, and emotional learning and civic education. “The high percentage of librarians who responded to this survey shows that they are interested in and involved in media literacy education,” she said. “This evidence contradicts the outdated view that school librarians only hold the books.”

Thanks to a grant from the Social Science Institute for Research, Education and Politics at URI, student researchers took an active part in the research process and worked with professors and community leaders in the field of media literacy. They learned more about what media literacy looks like in formal education.

“While working on this project, I had the opportunity to design survey questions and learn key media education classroom practices,” said Rongwei Tang, a graduate student.

She was also able to interview educators in the field and learn more about their teaching practices, the challenges they face and the implementation of media literacy in schools.

“This is perhaps the best preparation for becoming a media literacy leader,” said Steager, a longtime leader in the field.

For more information, contact Pam Steager of Media Literacy Now Rhode Island at (401) 439-1292 or psteager@gmail.com.

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