Tuesday, November 21, 2017

If you could teach a course on media literacy... what would it include?

I am in the process of planning a media literacy course. In this post, I am sharing what I have developed so far. What follows is a broad brushstrokes outline a one-marking period in duration (approximately 8 weeks) course. I envision this course becoming a required experience for all incoming 9th graders. Or, at least, a prerequisite for enrolling to work at a student help desk. Please leave comments about how this course can be improved or expanded. Thanks!


Our innate need to receive and share information seems to go hand-in-hand historically with censorship. From Martin Luther’s revolution made possible by the printing press to digital media distributed via the small computers we euphemistically call phones, the power of creating, curating, and distributing information is immense. Napoleon once said, “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” As librarians, each year we promote banned books and websites in order to increase our students' understanding that their access to information is a privilege -- while it should be a right -- that they need to safeguard. Furthermore, when choosing to exercise that right, we tacitly accept responsibility for participating in a manner that advances civil discourse. The challenge of teaching cyber citizen students to be good digital citizens is helping them create space, a moment of reflection, between stimulus and response. Teaching them to be mindful. You might remember the days of walking down the hallway at school and shoving a note through the vents in a friend's locker. Some people shoved unkind notes through locker vents. But, more often than not, the time it took to walk the halls of the school and find the target locker created that space between the stimulus that prompted the writing of an unkind message and the response of slipping it through the vents of the recipient's locker. That hallway walk created the space necessary for better angels to prevail in many cases. What makes today different is the immediacy with which a response to a stimulus can be created and disseminated. A challenge of digital citizenship education is to prompt students to be mindful, to breathe before posting, to reflect on their response before sending their response, to consider whether that response is something they want to be permanently etched into their digital profile.We need to help our students to approach every digital interaction with the same caution that they might employ when they hear the buzz of a tattoo needle. Building empathy is the key to helping students hit the pause button rather than acting (or posting) on impulse.To that end, Unit 1 addresses these questions:
  • What is my online persona and how can I be sure it represents me accurately?
  • What is news and how do I know when something is true?
  • What is my role curating information? (consumer, producer, disseminator)

What is true evolves as a news story unfolds. Journalistic truth provides information consumers with the best available account of an event based on the available, verifiable facts at any given time. Even when publishing objective news stories, journalists exercise editorial judgment balancing what their audience wants to know with what they need to know. The target audience for any publication of information is a critical element in determining the manner in which the content is portrayed and disseminated. Professional journalists are trained to remain neutral when reporting; their bylines assure information consumers of their accountability for impartiality or bias. News consumers must remember that opinions included in reporting don’t always indicate bias and that commentary is a part of reporting. One important gauge of the quality of an information source or news outlet is whether or not that publication or agency separates objective reporting from editorial content. News consumers need to know that the content of the editorial pages does not influence the objective reporting of the news.
  • The many faces of me: when can I have an opinion and when must I refrain from bias? Which platform is for which purpose (or which face of me)?
  • When I encounter new information, how do I know when the author’s bias interferes with the meaning and substance?
  • How can I hold my own biases loosely so they do not interfere with what I can learn and understand?


American Press Institute: Understanding bias and tools to manage bias
Interesting dialogue about the future of news reporting and the relationship between reporters and their stories
Switched front pages - how we are framed to see and understand media

We all have our preferred modes of communication. Frequently those preferences may vary generationally. Creators of content understand those variations. Ads play on television on certain networks at certain times of day to reach the demographic audience most likely to be watching at that time. The same principles are true of other modes of information transmission. The products and ideas sold to a 19-year-old within the video game he is playing (yes, advertisers can and do infiltrate your games) aren’t the same or aren’t portrayed in the same way as the products sold to his 50-year-old mother in her Facebook feed. The same principles apply to fake news or intentional misinformation and hoaxes. The creators of this type of information rely on digital manipulation of images and video and digital transmission to reach wide audiences through viral re-sharing. Message, audience, and medium are inextricably linked.
  • How do advertisers use different media to sell the same product or message?
  • How has the evolution of media changed the way in which information is created, distributed, accessed and used?
  • When deciding how to share what I have learned, how will I consider my audience? Message? Purpose? And create a product that meets all of these needs?

Fake News. It's Complicated. (First Draft News)
Urban Legends (About.com)
Grasswire examines social media images in real time to expose hoaxes

Digital media has transformed our relationship with information and therefore with the global community. We are instantly aware of events happening around the world, we can hear the sounds of war and terror as well as those of harmony and jubilation. We are moved to act by the video footage we see of natural and human-caused disasters. And we join movements for change because we see them playing out on our devices in our hands. Professional conferences even have hashtags for the people not in attendance to follow! (#notataasl7) As we equip our students with the tools and skills requisite to recognize and not be duped by hoaxes and misinformation we must go further and empower them to be digital leaders. The most effective way to combat purposeful, ill intentioned misinformation is by elevating and magnifying the voices engaged in informed civil discourse. Students must learn to use social media not just for interacting with friends far and wide. They must also learn to engage and organize through digital media, researchers, advocates, fund-raisers, politicians, non-profit organizations, and other problem solvers in order address the needs of their communities.
  • What issue, problem, or cause do I care about? Why?
  • How can I take informed action?
  • How can I contribute to a solution or remedy?
    • Design cycle
    • Presentation of plan
  • Whom am I trying to reach (who is my audience)?
  • How do those people most frequently access information? Why?
  • What is the best media for conveying my evidence and conclusions? Consider:
    • Do I need photographs or other artist renderings?
    • Do I need data visualization?
    • Are voices, music, or other auditory files important to understanding my message?
    • Is there a need for video footage?
    • How much text do I have? Does it require hyperlinks or interactivity?
  • How will my product reach my audience?
    • Will it live on a website?
    • Post to a video sharing forum like YouTube?
    • Be delivered via email?
    • Exist in printed form?
    • Be performed or delivered to a live audience?
    • Something else?
  • How will the talents of my team combine to create a successful product or presentation?

By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova


  1. You have some great sessions set up for your students. I am sharing one of my resources that is packed with wonderful resources. Please feel free to use it https://goo.gl/Piznrc

  2. Hi Jacquelyn,
    Stanford History Education Group just released their civic online reasoning assessments. From what I have seen, they include the assessments in Google Docs where you may make copies, they also include rubrics. SHEG has always been an excellent resource for my history teachers. Here is the link, you do need to register for a free account: https://sheg.stanford.edu/civic-online-reasoning

    1. Thank you! As a former social studies teacher, I have long been a fan of their resources. The SHEG report is also a huge influence in the creation of this course. I appreciate your feedback!

  3. Jackie,

    I think your study units look great. As I was reading about your units (and the titles) I was thinking it could be fun to fit it into a sort of superhero theme and gam-ify it by letting students earn badges for reaching certain proficiencies.

    The other thing I wanted to add is- when you get down to the nitty-gritty, if you'd like any help with differentiating or modifying for ELLs, you should ping me- I'd be happy to help!

    Laurah J.
    (#SWE17 for life!)

    1. Thank you, Laura! Excellent suggestions. I appreciate your offer for helping me meet the needs of ELLs - go #SWE17!

  4. Bravo to you for developing this, Jackie! I'll be excited to follow how your course progresses.