Blog Archives

What is Media Literacy?

On the first day of #SXSWedu I went to a panel session around media literacy. The panel consisted of educators and representatives from KQED and PBS. During the course of the discussion, one of the panelists mentioned that the term “media literacy” is really built around new forms of media.

When becoming literate in film, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, social media, etc, it’s about learning new forms of media. The term “literacy” is still centered around reading and writing. Thus, anything listed as “Media” literacy must be new.

I looked up the official definition of “literate” on Merriam-Webster’s website and this was the result:

In this definition, reading and writing is tied to literacy. However, some of the other definitions like “having knowledge or competence” is an interesting angle that is used with media literacy. Adding the word “media” as stated in the definition would mean you would have knowledge or competence of the media.

A different panelist brought up the point that if you have an Alexa or Google Home in your house, that you’ve just included a new form of media (A.I.) to learn and become literate in. That said, many people add these tools without thoughts of learning how to really use or leverage them.  They don’t think about the long-term consequences of a tool capturing your verbal data over time. As I wrote about last year, one of my main parenting fails was buying and Echo Dot for each of my kids, so this really hit home with me.

That said, I think that banning or turning away all new forms of media is also not productive or a good long-term solution.  Becoming literate in a tool, as by the definition above, means you understand the downsides as well as the positives to using such a tool.  That’s what we need to be teaching kids.

I threw out this concept around the term media literacy on Twitter during the event:

Here were a few of the responses:

Patrick’s thought here is where I was leaning originally and would be more in line with the Merriam-Webster definition. Just list items that have tech in them as media items that we need to become literate in, but then list the more traditional (books) as literacy. However, when he mentions digital or analog, it starts to throw me off a bit as digital means technology.  In an attempt to summarize: Not all technology is media, but some could be considered literacy.  Here’s a series of thoughts that I grouped together:

 

 

All of the above tweets refer to how the term can influence certain thoughts. This is where I really started to have a conundrum. In some ways, the way I was posting and gathering this data on Twitter is considered a form of (social) Media literacy. The idea that reading=consuming media and writing=creating media seems to make the most sense to me.

Using those ideas and removing the term “media” would insinuate that the person that has set up an AI home assistant would know how to “consume” it (have it play you music, give you a joke) as well as “create” with it (have it add to a shopping list or program it to flash your lights when a message comes in).

This new form literacy in the AR/VR world looks fairly weighted at the moment to the consumptive side of literacy. We are interacting and consuming virtual worlds or augmented material, but very few are actually creating in this space. My thinking is, as this becomes much more user-friendly through apps like ARMakr or Panoform, we’ll start to create with these tools and become more literate in their use as a result.

After writing all of this, I’m now beginning to wonder if the definition of literacy or to be literate needs to be rexamed. One of our amazing middle school teachers shared this:

It’s clear in the future, that students (and adults) will need to interact with multiple forms of media. Becoming literate in those forms of media will not hurt them, it can only help to give them an advantage in the future work place. Knowing that, we would be doing a disservice to the future of our students to not show them how to interact with multiple forms of media. Making them literate, thoughtful, empathetic and impactful members of society is one of the most powerful things we can do as an institution.

Creating this literacy doesn’t happen without the right tools, teachers, leaders, and mindsets when it comes to using all of this “media” in our world.

Teaching Kids About Fake News

fakenewsgraphic-001Unless you have been living under a rock, the last several months in the U.S. has meant an onslaught of news stories around our election and the political aftermath that followed a Trump presidency. As someone who works closely with students and teachers, I’ve been traveling to various schools both in and out of my district to talk about a great many things surrounding social media. Lately, many of these talks have turned towards “fake news” and the premise of what is real and what isn’t.

As kids learn and grow up in the 21st century, they quickly realize that information is cheap. Unlike hundreds of years ago, where only the literate could relay information (sometimes with their own spin), now we have everyone, including the leader of our country sending messages directly to the masses in 140-characters or less. While this level of direct communication may seem like a great way to filter out the “fake news” types, it also means that news is not being vetted as it reaches our inbox or Twitter feed. Students (and adults) today now need to take every post, tweet, or website with a grain of salt.  Kids may be able to get information freely and instantly, but it takes work to determine what is real and what isn’t.

“Fake news” isn’t new

In 1938, Orson Welles decided to get behind the microphone of his radio show and realistically re-enact an invasion from aliens in a show he called “The War of the Worlds”. As people believed that anything from the radio was true, hearing this tale of aliens taking over the planet created a state of mass-hysteria. Back then, as the radio was the only means of mass communication, it meant that intermingling news with entertainment happened from time to time. People not privy to this fact were indeed sent into hysterics as they ran outside their homes looking up for the UFOs that would surely be landing at any moment. Making it seem real was what made it so believable.

Images drive historical and modern media

The original click-bait - courtesy - https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/20452052572

The original click-bait – courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/20452052572

Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations told their stories by drawing pictures on walls in the form of hieroglyphics. We are now experiencing a revitalization of that image-driven movement on the web. Memes, animated gifs, and infographics now clog most of our social media feeds as an eye-catching way to get a click. Look on most major websites and you’ll see links to several stories with sensational titles and an image to make us click.  Headlines like “What happened next will shock you” with an image of a man with a shark behind him seem to crowd my “recommended stories” section of most websites I visit. This too, isn’t a new thing with mass media. The National Enquirer in some ways was the original “click bait” before the internet even existed on a wide scale. Grocery store shoppers standing in the check-out isle would see the headline about batboy or the latest from Brad-gelina and be tempted to purchase just to see more details inside.

Most sources have a spin

Between the direct messages we can receive on social media, there are also professionally published news stories that reach our stream one way or another. A couple of months ago this image  went viral as it broke down various news agencies based on range of complex to sensationalist vertically and liberal to conservative viewpoints horizontally. This is a great image to share with students because it shows that while all of these websites, newspapers and broadcast shows are technically “news” they do come with their own biases. Vanessa Otero actually created the original infographic and has a great breakdown of the Reasoning and Methodology Behind the Chart that really is worth the read. She even points out that she created the graphic because we are in a day and age where we don’t read everything and that we are more and more visually driven (see previous point).

So how do we teach kids about all of this?

Teaching kids to think critically about all of this can seem like a monumental task. During my talks with 4th and 5th graders this month, I’ll show them a series of websites and images and ask them to determine if they are fake or real. One of the best recent resources I’ve discovered comes out of a study taken last year from Stanford University. The study (executive summary here), shows a variety of activities shared with high school students to determine whether or not a news story is real or not. One example that I’ve used from the study is the Fukushima nuclear flower picture and post below:

Nuclear flowers? via http://imgur.com/gallery/BZWWx

Nuclear flowers? via http://imgur.com/gallery/BZWWx

Many students immediately say the picture is fake or photoshopped. When I reveal to them that it is actually a real photograph, most claim that it must be a true photo and probably happened new Fukushima, Japan. However, when I ask them how they know it was near Fukushima, they realize that they poster of the image could have made that up, especially given that the site imgur lets anyone upload and comment on images without vetting the sources.

Having these sort of activities with students can cause them to pause and be skeptical of sources and not just take them at face value. And while sites like Snopes are essential in the critical thinking tool kit, students should still check multiple sources before validating and image or resource. Need help getting the conversation started in your class or school? Check out this 2:10 video on how to quickly fact check fake news sites via Channel 4 FactCheck to help kick off discussion.

As I’ve shared, this isn’t a new phenomenon, but now the variety of channels of mass media and a contentious presidential election has brought this issue to the forefront and it’s time we started having these discussions with our students. Seriously. Let’s get real.

Other resources on this topic:

My slides from my Elementary “Tech Talks” with 4th and 5th graders

Connected Teaching and Learning post – How Can You Spot Fake News? via Ann S. Michaelsen @annmic

The Problem with Fake News (and how our students can solve it) – (video via John Spencer @spencerideas)