Most educators can agree that media literacy is important. Students are exposed to several forms of media in our modern world. Nowadays, they often turn to sources like social media to learn about current events. Social media can be a valuable tool if students understand how to identify credible sources. This is why media literacy might be the most essential skill for 21st Century Learners.
Why is Media Literacy Important for Students?
Many students spend a lot of their spare time consuming some form of mass media. It’s no secret that the media has become the main source of entertainment, information, and even social engagement. Teenagers are spending an average of 9 hours a day engaging with technology (and this number does not include technology used for education).
This level of engagement with technology is alarming, especially if you did not grow up on the internet. But as we all know, the internet isn’t going anywhere. With increased access to social media and digital transmission of knowledge, our students have instant access to mass information.
Of course, not everything our students read online is considered valid information. Students may not understand how media ownership, bias, and political affiliation influence the media they consume. They also may come across and even share information that is misleading or untruthful.
This combination of quantity and quality of media suggests why it is important for our students to be media literate.
What is Media Literacy?
Media Literacy is the ability to interpret various forms of media and understand the message communicated by each media form. The fundamentals of media literacy involve comprehending information presented in different forms of graphic texts (flow charts, infographics, statistical displays, etc.) Media literate readers must also be able to identify the characteristic features of particular media sources, including headlines, cross-references, publication dates, and citations.
Once readers have mastered these fundamental skills, the next level of media literacy involves metacognition. Readers must also think critically about information and its purpose. This critical analysis involves asking a number of questions, including:
- Who is the source of this information?
- What is the intention of sharing this information?
- Where has the source gathered their information?
- Is this secondary source trustworthy?
- What bias might this source hold?
- What is the context in which this information was published?
- Who is the intended audience of this information?
Only when readers instinctively consider these questions – and successfully answer them – can they begin to read media with fluency.
What is the Impact o Media Literacy?
I am writing this blog post in August of 2020. This year, our students have witnessed the most significant global pandemic of the century. COVID-19 has led to inevitable school closures and social distancing measures. It has also had less foreseeable outcomes, including economic and social turmoil.
2020 has been a year of political riots, grassroots movements, record-breaking losses on the stock market, and general weariness of what the future will hold. Let’s throw a presidential election in there too, just for fun. The media’s impact on the events of 2020 is undeniable. While it may not have created the coronavirus, it was instrumental in spreading information about it, along with fear, anxiety, and a fair bit of false information.
What we’ve experienced is not just a pandemic, but what has come to be known as an infodemic. An infodemic is a surplus of information that has provided the public with more content than they can process.
How Does Social Media Affect Literacy?
The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the power of news broadcasting. Similarly, the Black Lives Matter movement has avidly illustrated the power of social media. Engagement on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram has been the driving force for social unrest.
Social media offers a platform for common people to voice their experiences and concerns. For their audiences, these outlets are especially distinct for their ability to document and distribute information instantaneously. In an attempt to amplify those who have been using social media to seek justice, some have asked users to abstain from using these platforms to share about their social lives. This shift away from the intended use of social media has many people envisioning a more liberal form of media distribution and consumption.
But the reality is that media ownership is far from within reach of the general public. While it may seem that platforms like Instagram and Twitter are free forums, it is important to consider the algorithms and other filters that impact the distribution of social media. The majority of media is owned by a handful of corporations.
Students must consider ownership when confronted with any form of media. When they take this into consideration, they can begin to recognize bias and instinctively search for more context. These skills can help them navigate social media literately.
Examples of Media Literacy in the Classroom:
There are so many opportunities to build a media literacy program within your current framework. Here are some great resources to support media literacy in your classroom:
- TED-Ed Lessons: TED-Ed offers a collection of videos and articles that cater to students of all ages. Some of my favorite lessons include “How False News Can Spread,” “The Key to Media’s Hidden Codes,” and “Factchecking 101.”
- Common Sense Media: This non-profit organization hosts a wealth of knowledge catered to parents and advocates. Their website offers suggestions for the best books, apps, streaming services, and other media sources for kids. They also provide research, professional development, and educational resources for teachers.
- CrashCourse: In understanding the complexity of media literacy, CrashCourse has created a whole series of educational YouTube videos on this topic. This series explores important subtopics of media literacy, including Media Ownership and Online Advertisement.
- TeachersPayTeachers: Several teacher-authors have developed engaging activities to tackle media literacy in your classroom. I particularly love the resources offered from 2 Peas and a Dog, which cover a wide range of Media Literacy topics including Consumer Awareness and Advertising. Mondays Made Easy also offers a free Media Literacy Worksheet that can be used to analyze any media source. This resource can also be found in my Free Resource Library.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for expressing interest in the importance of media literacy. Teaching media literacy can be challenging, but it is a subject that our students. are sure to engage with and benefit from.
Make sure to download Mondays Made Easy’s FREE Media Literacy Worksheet for analyzing any media source