Why Is Media Literacy Important, Especially in the Wake of COVID-19?
📸 | Julia Gillard for The New York Times
Written by Mary Ryerse, Managing Director for School Success, and Lauren Vertrees, Senior School Success Associate
School closures across the nation have prompted several businesses, nonprofits, and organizations to circulate resources online. With so many to choose from, it’s hard to know which ones are trustworthy and right for your students.
A 2018 report found that “97% of the educational professionals feel it is important to raise the level of digital and video literacy among teachers and students.”
The explosion of digital contentfollowing the COVID-19 school closures and the already precarious ethics of algorithms makes teaching students skills to help them navigate the online space more important than ever.Trustworthy sources that display helpful information are especially needed at this time, like Emerson Collective’s Resources for Wellness during COVID-19.
Teachers work endlessly to instill skills in students that last a lifetime, like how to encourage healthy discourse, think critically about the world, and engage with others in a respectful and civilized way. At XQ, we know the importance teachers have in fostering learning experiences and have placed creating meaningful and engaged learning as a core design principle within XQ schools.
As the New York Times article, “These Students Are Learning About Fake News and How to Spot It,” points out, students are not always provided with the tools and strategies needed to evaluate the wealth of information that is accessible properly. While students may be tech savvy, that doesn’t mean they are news savvy. News and media literacy teaches students how to critically analyze and evaluate online content—whether it’s images or stories.
Effective Strategies in Practice
The same New York Times article referenced above outlines tips you can give students that will help them decipher what is and isn’t a credible source:
Practice Lateral Reading: When encountering an unfamiliar website, open additional tabs to determine its reliability. You can start by browsing what authoritative websites, or organizations considered to be experts in the field, have said about the site you’re evaluating. You can also research the author who wrote the piece you’re reading to see if they are authorities or experts in that field.
Demonstrate Click Restraint: Instead of clicking on the first result of a search, scan the results list to find ones that articulate the source of their information. An article may be engaging and well written, but without clear sourced facts, statistics, reports, and other articles, it’s hard to measure the accuracy of the content.
Apply IMVAIN: A mnemonic that helps you remember characteristics for good and reliable news—Independent sources; Multiple sources; Verified evidence; and Authoritative, Informed, and Named sources.
Deepen Related Knowledge and Skills: Learning is an incredibly interdisciplinary process, and often two learning processes need to occur simultaneously. For example,The News Literacy Project, encourages educators to teach students the skills they need to become smart, active consumers of news. This also helps students become informed participants in civic life.
Student Intuition on Media Literacy
We also asked students what their favorite hacks are to interrogating online sources. Through our conversations we learned that most students have a decent idea of how to distinguish between good and bad sources, but very few students we spoke to had clear instructions on these important skills. Here are a few tips that come from their own intuition!
Check the obvious: One student said that he only uses vetted and reliable sites—many of which end in .org, .gov and .edu.
Do your due diligence: Students that we spoke with said that each time they are getting ready to write English papers, their teachers would remind them to look at author credibility (do a quick search on author name), date of publication (the newer the better), and, of course, evaluate the overall source.
Quantity and quality: Verify multiple sources on the same topic to see if the information lines up with each other, one student remarked. Remember to check that the spokesperson hasn’t contradicted him or herself across multiple sources.
Pause and consider feasibility: Another student said that his first strategy is to pause and ask “Is what I am reading really possible?”
Examples from XQ Schools
One of our goals at XQ is to help students become original thinkers. Thinkers who can make sense of conflicting knowledge, create ideas despite ambiguous and new situations, and critically analyze from different perspectives. Across the nation, XQ schools are learning how to give students access to tools and resources as well as the skills to properly navigate the challenging media landscape. Here are some quick snapshots of how they are accomplishing just that!
In response to COVID-19 related school closures, Purdue Polytechnic High School’s Design Thinking Coach, Andrew Goodin, instills the importance of vetting “multiple, credible sources” in his Morning Announcements Video. (11:10-12:42) Teaching students about media literacy has become especially important as many students continue working and researching remotely.
Crosstown High School teaches students to be critical readers. In fact, it’s one of their core competencies. One way they do this is through meaningful and engaging projects. For example, this year students examined immigration policies, tweets from President Trump, and documents from the Iranian Embassy to understand diverse perspectives and validity of sources.
At Washington Leadership Academy, teachers designed a “fake news” unit, where students aggregated information from twitter and other media sources to evaluate their validity.
At Elizabethton High School, biology students studying genetics and mutations explored how narratives can be distorted, and how one source may not be sufficient for reliable evidence. This led them to do a deep research dive where students interviewed multiple experts. They spoke with their community to understand audience awareness, multimodality, and the importance of synthesizing information.
The skills and tips outlined above are important for all of us to keep in mind whenever we’re performing an online search. Media literacy helps ensure that the information we’re receiving is reliable and worth sharing.
When it comes to students, it’s even more important to provide them with high-quality sources and the know-how to find these sources on their own—especially in a particularly uncertain time.