What media literacy means in the age of alternative facts
Published by International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), April 2017.
The new media literacy
For adults who grew up in the age of the card catalog, it was difficult to access a large quantity of information. Today, the problem is sifting through a huge volume of resources to identify what is quality. This is an enormous shift that is disrupting all our institutions, including journalism and education.
Frank Baker is an ISTE member, author of the ISTE book Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom and creator of the website Media Literacy Clearinghouse, a resource for teachers. Baker says the education system must value teaching media literacy, news literacy and information literacy, which he says all involve critical thinking about media messages. Asking students to read closely and ask questions of both print and multimedia, op-eds, newspaper articles and fake news examples is the backbone of media literacy. “We must engage students with the news, and they must understand how news is reported,” he says.
Reading carefully and thinking critically about the media sounds a little old school, but it is the backbone of media literacy even, and maybe especially, now that the content is infinite and at the touch of our fingertips. We still need the skills to determine if a piece of information is legitimate.
The Center for Media Literacy was created to address this situation. President and ceo Tessa Jolls describes media literacy as being able to “access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with media in all its forms. We believe these skills are essential, as citizens of a democratic society for both children and adults.”
“All our institutions are based on the idea that information is scarce, but now it’s plentiful. What’s scarce are the process skills for discernment. In order to have a democracy and a free society, we have to rely on the discernment and judgment of each and every citizen, and that can only happen through education,” says Jolls. “They must have a methodology to rely on that’s evidence-based and is, frankly, scientific. That’s really where media literacy comes in. It doesn’t give people the answers, it just poses the questions on a base of concepts that hold true when it comes to media messages.”
Connection to the ISTE Standards
ISTE student standard 3: Knowledge Constructor
Cybercivics is a media literacy and digital citizenship curriculum for middle schoolers. The first year of Cybercivics focuses on digital citizenship and how what you post on social media reflects on you. In the second year, Cybercivics focuses on copyright, plagiarism, cookies and filter bubbles. After building these basic skills, Cybercivics goes on to focus on media literacy in the third year, i.e., how to evaluate for veracity and stereotypes and how to avoid becoming a purveyor of inaccuracy.
The founder and teacher of Cybercivics, ISTE member Diana Graber, says that by middle school, kids are ready to become good, ethical thinkers. “They should use these muscles in the classroom with friends before they go out into the online world and make critical mistakes,” she says.
Graber teaches students to use author Howard Rheingold’s “craap detection test” when assessing media. Is the information current? Is the information reliable? Who is the author? What is the point of view or purpose? Graber says teachers can embed this test into any subject where students are doing research.
“We have to be more critical of information. We have to become critical thinkers and not just believe the first thing that my Google search comes up with,” says Ribble. “We want students to see that how many likes or shares they have on Facebook is not a good metric for deciding if information is true or real.”
ISTE student standard 2: Digital Citizen
Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
ISTE student standard 7: Global Collaborator
Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.
“If all teachers are building media literacy skills into their content areas, then that student will graduate having had teachers modeling and creating learning activities that allow students to practice those skills,” says ISTE’s Sykora. “We can’t afford not to take the time to develop this skill in our students.”
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