Media literacy is desperately needed in classrooms across the country, advocates say – The Hill


The story at a glance

  • Media literacy is the process of critically evaluating information found on the Internet.
  • Advocates say media and information literacy is desperately needed in K-12 classrooms across the country.
  • Data collected by the non-profit News Literacy Project found that 55% of students were not even moderately confident in their ability to recognize misinformation online.

As misinformation and misinformation have flooded the internet on topics ranging from the current conflict in Ukraine to COVID-19, advocates are pushing for media literacy to be taught in schools. It is a process of critically evaluating information found on the Internet, which experts say is becoming increasingly essential to well-being and full participation in economic and civic life.

Many advocacy groups are dedicated to promoting media literacy, citing research that shows children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day with the media outside of school. At the same time, most schools fail to teach children how to use media thoughtfully and apply critical thinking skills to the onslaught of content available on a multitude of different devices.

A study 2016 by Stanford University’s History Education Group (SHEG) found that among middle school, high school, and college students, “young people’s ability to reason about information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: dark”.

This is despite the fact that these young people are considered “digital natives”, able to switch seamlessly between Facebook and Twitter while texting a friend. However, Sam Wineburg, Stanford education and history professor and one of the study’s lead authors, told Changing America that the biggest problem Americans face is “using skills developed in the analog age to understand a digital medium”.

Wineburg continued to lead another study last year, which examined the effect media literacy can have on students at Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) in Nebraska. High school social studies teachers at LPS completed six lessons on “online civic reasoning” to improve students’ ability to make quick but accurate judgments about Internet sources.

The results showed that students who received instruction in “online civic reasoning” “significantly increased their ability to judge the credibility of digital content. These findings inform efforts to prepare young people to make wise decisions about the information scrolling across their screens. »


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The SHEG researchers argued that the volume of content on the internet is insurmountable and that there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to research every issue – but people need fast, effective strategies to separate the good information from the bad.

One of the key strategies employed by SHEG in their study was side-reading, which involves finding out who is behind an unknown online source by leaving the webpage and opening a new tab to see what other websites trusted say from unknown source.

“The most important thing can be summed up in four words: getting off the page. When you’re not familiar with the site or the source of information, use the power of the web,” Wineburg said.

Some groups hope to enact permanent legislation focused on media literacy, similar to what SHEG did at LPS. Media Literacy Now (MLN) is an advocacy group that has helped pass laws in nine states as well as local efforts across the country to engage lawmakers, educators and parents in promoting literacy programs. media education in K-12 classrooms.

MLN played a role in helping pass House Bill 0234 in Illinois last year, which requires every public high school to include in its curriculum a unit of instruction in media literacy – such as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and communicate using a variety of forms including, but not limited to: , visual, audio, interactive and digital texts.

An important component of media literacy is information literacy, which focuses on applying similar critical thinking skills to news media content. Proponents say this is a huge cause for concern, as misinformation and misinformation about the US presidential elections, the COVID-19 pandemic and even the current conflict in Ukraine can mislead consumers – leading to bad decisions. which can even cost someone’s life.

Pre-assessment data among more than 100,000 students collected by the News Literacy Project (NLP), a nonprofit organization focused on news literacy programs, revealed that nearly 4 in 10 students could not not recognize that a meme about GMOs did not contain solid evidence of the false claim that accompanied it. their safety.

More than half of students said they were not even moderately confident in their ability to recognize fake news online.

In an effort to address this, NLP offers training sessions for educators to learn how to teach news literacy, including a camp that brings educators into a newsroom to learn directly from journalists themselves.

It’s an effort that has been widely embraced — since the launch of NLP in 2016, it’s engaged with more than 50,000 educators in all 50 states and an additional 120 other countries. In 2022 alone, the organization estimates it has reached 2 million students.

“It’s really about helping people tell fact from fiction, and its fairness. We have no political agenda. We believe that everyone should make decisions based on facts. So it’s just about giving you the skills to think critically about the news and information you come across, if you need to act on it, share it, no matter what,” said Mike Webb, vice -senior president of communications at NLP.

According to NLP, over the past five years, at least 29 states and the District of Columbia have begun exploring legislative solutions to address media literacy, but the group says many are stopping short of mandating the instruction.

“Ideal legislation in this area would require middle and high school students to complete an information literacy teaching unit, and core subject teachers to integrate information literacy concepts and skills into their respective programs,” NLP said in a white paper provided to Changing America.

Posted on March 18, 2022

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