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The Need for Media Literacy Education in 2020

Michael Nutter

May 6, 2020

Media literacy education is essential in this day and age to ensure that students have the critical analysis skills to understand whether online sources are trustworthy and accurate.

If you were given a pop quiz right this second, would you know the difference between misinformation and disinformation? Misinformation is the milder of the two and refers to inaccurate information that stems from unintentional error. Disinformation, on the other hand, is more malicious. Disinformation refers to false information or content that’s meant to manipulate, mislead, or deceive, often to push a political agenda.

Social media is one of the primary battlegrounds where disinformation comes into play. A recent study from the University of Oxford found that in 2019, government bodies and political parties in 70 different countries were involved in manipulation media campaigns. Unfortunately, this is a rapidly growing trend — the same report identified only 28 participating countries in 2017 and 48 in 2018.

Disinformation often looks like a legitimate news piece or advertisement. An effective disinformation campaign can have multiple points of contact with an intended audience, reinforcing the intended message. These strategies are often incredibly effective due to the phenomenon known as media saturation. According to Nielson’s 2018 Total Audience Report, the average American adult spends over 11 hours each day engaging with some kind of media. During this time, they can be exposed to as many as 10,000 branded ad messages each day.

While these numbers represent American adults and not our youngest generation, we have every reason to believe that today’s students will soon consume even more media than the average adult. Media saturation has made it possible for listeners, readers, and viewers to essentially have their own pre-existing opinions repeatedly confirmed and reflected back at themselves — meaning that it’s more important than ever for students to learn how to discern fact from fiction.

The State of Media Literacy Education

Research has shown that historically, students have not been able to assess whether online sources are factual, legitimate, and accurate. A 2019 study from Stanford researchers found that when given media literacy exercises, students tended to perform poorly, with at least two-thirds of students clocking in at the lowest possible score ranking.

In hopes of providing students with the necessary skills to critically analyze media messages, 14 states so far have implemented media literacy curricula. Ohio is one of these states, and has required some form of media literacy education for all grade levels for more than a decade. As a result, it was recently identified as an “advanced leader” in the field by Media Literacy Now’s 2020 policy report.

However, despite Ohio being a leader in the field, the nation has yet to standardize the variety of forms that media literacy education can take. While some states focus on making educational resources available to instructors, others mandate media literacy as a subject in schools. The goals of media education initiatives also differ, one study found. Some ask students to determine the quality of the information they receive, while others ask students to look into who stands to profit from the messaging in question.

As the nation works to better integrate comprehensive and cohesive media literacy initiatives into schools nationwide, Ohio can forge the path by continuing to emphasize critical thinking — especially as media consumption continues to rise. Doing so is key to ensuring that students develop the skills necessary to understand and analyze current events, preparing them to be better global citizens.

Incorporating Media Literacy into the Classroom

Educators can integrate media literacy into their classrooms in a number of ways. For instance, political science instructors can design assignments that involve researching not only current events but also the news outlets that students rely on to investigate the story. It can be difficult for students to know how to navigate the overwhelming amount of news sources available, so giving them the skills to identify credible sources will become a key element of teaching students good reading habits.

Perhaps more importantly, educators can show students why media literacy matters, using examples of how the media has been used to influence the political beliefs and behavior of certain audiences. Once students have developed critical reasoning skills, they’ll be able to better understand the power of media and be better prepared to work against deliberate and misleading disinformation.

Although Ohio may have some of these initiatives in place, it will take a concerted effort to remain a national leader and continue to shape lessons around an ever-changing media landscape. As with any new education goals, incorporating or standardizing lesson plans into one robust curriculum can be a costly, time-intensive ordeal. Educators may need to take new training courses to have a proper grasp of the material, or it may require professional development days to help teachers develop new lesson plans.

Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform can help your district receive the funding you need to secure these new educational initiatives. Intuitive reporting functions streamline the process of tracking various sources of student data, removing the need for cumbersome spreadsheets. CheckPoint has built-in error-checking capabilities that help ensure your district is on track to take advantage of all the funding that you’re qualified for. By securing the maximum amount of funding, your district can better arm your students with the critical media literacy skills they need.

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