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Media Literacy

Bipartisan NJ bill would require schools to teach media literacy


New Jersey schools would have to teach media literacy to students at all grade levels — how to decipher fact from disinformation as they absorb content on social media — under a bipartisan bill that passed the state Legislature overwhelmingly and now awaits Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature.

The bill won the support of the state’s Senate with a vote of 36-0 and the Assembly by a 61-8 margin.

“Consider our daily use of mobile phones, the internet, and social media, not to mention our evolving information practices in schools, workplaces, businesses and organizations,” said Catherine Baird, an academic librarian at Montclair State University. “It’s important to be aware of and reflect upon all of our intersecting and overlapping information worlds and to explicitly teach information literacy at all levels of education.”

Teaching information and media literacy to students from a young age will prepare them for a smoother and easier transition into college, Baird said. “I anticipate that It will make it easier for those of us teaching information literacy in higher education to align our efforts with our high school partners,” she added.

The leader of the New Jersey chapter of the advocacy group Media Literacy Now, Olga Polites, said many teachers have already been including media literacy in their class discussions without even realizing it. “Teachers are going to be able to implement media literacy, information literacy, digital literacy, in ways that maybe they weren’t conscious of, and a lot of them are going to discover they’ve already been doing it anyway,” she said .

“This is really about showing students, well, how is this information created?” Polites said. “Who is the creator? Who’s making money from it? What’s the purpose of this?

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“So, all of that is going to be included in the discussion,” she said, “rather than, ‘Hey, here’s something, read it, go study it, quiz tomorrow or test next week.’ So that’s what’s going to change.”

With the evolution of technology and the use of social media platforms, it is important to have media literacy as another learning tool, said Carolyn Fernandez, a US history teacher at Paterson Arts and Science Charter High School.

“It’s important for students to be more aware of disinformation and how to identify sources that are legitimate,” she said. “Student sources for information tend to be TikTok, as well as other social media apps. This is a generation that [has] never lived in a world without an iPhone.”

Jennifer Rocca, left, a teacher librarian at Brookfield High School in Connecticut, left, works with Ariana Mamudi, 14, a freshman in her Digital Student class.  The required class teaches media literacy skills and has the students scrutinize sources for their online information.  AP Photo/STEPHEN DUNN

The media literacy requirement is not expected to be a challenge for teachers or students.

“There are a number of very good curricula online free for teachers to support their teaching of media literacy,” Fernandez said. “The obstacle is time, particularly when teaching US history, as trying to teach the amount of information required in a year not feasible.”

Research from the Stanford History Education Group showed that it will take less than six hours of instruction for students to be able to separate fact from fiction and determine the credibility of sources.

Society is constantly bombarded with false information and many people fail to verify their sources, said Gabrielle Casieri, a library media specialist at Lawrence Intermediate School and chair of the standards subcommittee for the New Jersey Association of School Librarians. “The more platforms there are, the more commonly that news or information is spread that way,” she said.

“And so students need to start considering from the time they can read, ‘Who is giving me this information, what are their qualifications? Are they an expert?’” Casieri said. “They need to consider all of the aspects of a source and right now we just don’t do that. And it’s not just kids, but I think if we teach them starting when they’re young, we will have adults who have learned how to critically evaluate information.”

Olga Polites, Media Literacy Now

Political hopes that teaching media literacy will combat the spread of misinformation.

“The real emphasis on this is really great policy, because what we want is for students to ultimately graduate high school and be civically responsible to be good citizens,” Polites said. “And the only way to do that is to ensure that they’re getting the depth and breadth of the information that’s out there, but also to warn them that there are bad actors out there, and you might be subject to manipulation.

” And we want you to have skills to be able to combat that.”


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