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Media literacy is a critical life skill. To understand why, we need only look to the real-world consequences of “doing your own research” and “fake news” in the middle of a global pandemic. With Media Literacy Week running from 25 – 29 October this year, it’s a good time to take a look at this essential capability, as well as some great resources you can use in the classroom.

School Stream is a one-stop shop for families who are looking for reliable and up-to-date information from school. Watch this short demonstration to see why school administrators love School Stream or keep reading for more on media literacy. 

What is media literacy?

These days, while we may be accessing media and information at a greater rate than ever before via digital technologies like social media, our smartphones and the web, the original definition and purpose of media literacy holds true. Executive Director of the National Association for Media Literacy (US), Michelle Ciulla Lipkin knows a thing or two about media literacy and she defines it as follows:

“The purpose of media literacy is to ensure that people have the critical thinking skills, effective communication skills and all of those habits of inquiry, curiosity and skepticism that they need to navigate the media ecosystem.” 

Why is media literacy important?

Media literacy is important because we rely on good information to make good decisions about our lives. A recent report from Stanford University described the gaps in critical judgement in this area in students at secondary school and tertiary age as a “bigger problem than fake news”:

“Our findings show that many young people lack the skills to distinguish reliable from misleading information. If they fall victim to misinformation, the consequences may be dire. Credible information is to civic engagement what clean air and water are to public health. If students cannot determine what is trustworthy—if they take all information at face value without considering where it comes from—democratic decision-making is imperiled.” 

With 80% of the Australian population actively using social media, having the skills to evaluate what we see online is imperative.

What can media literacy help us with?

The students of today are more likely to learn about the world via social media rather than newspapers or the evening news. They may well be able to scroll and navigate their way through multiple platforms while simultaneously uploading a selfie and keeping up their group chats, but it’s also crucial they have the capacity to evaluate all the content they encounter on a daily basis. That’s where it starts to get a bit tricky for all of us. We often think of information as something that is “true” or false”, but the reality is information is complex and can fall somewhere in the middle:

“For every social issue, there are websites that blast half-true headlines, manipulate data, and advance partisan agendas. Some of these sites are transparent about who runs them and whom they represent. Others conceal their backing, portraying themselves as grassroots efforts when, in reality, they’re front groups for commercial or political interests. This doesn’t necessarily mean their information is false. But citizens trying to make decisions about, say, genetically modified foods should know whether a biotechnology company is behind the information they’re reading.”

Civic Reasoning in a Social Media Environment

Handy classroom resources and strategies

It’s never too early (or too late) to learn more about media literacy! Here are some resources from around the web for students and teachers:

  • The ABC is an absolute treasure trove of resources when it comes to media literacy. You’ll find engaging videos by journalist Jan Fran who presents a humorous take on misinformation in her popular Jan Splaining series, as well as loads of other videos and resources to get kids and teens thinking about media. Visit the ABC Media Literacy Week page for loads more resources for all year levels from Australia and around the world.
  • Your students will be fact-checking like a pro with Common Sense Media Education. There are resources for teachers, worksheets, activities and more. (Suitable for primary age students)
  • The Big Fib podcast (formerly Pants on Fire) is a media literacy activity disguised as a hilarious game show. A kid interviews a credentialed expert and a liar to find out just who is telling the truth and who is telling a big fib. (Suitable for ages 7+).

Strategies for older students

Get off the website 

Experts universally agree that to assess an unfamiliar website, you need to leave it in order to investigate whether it is a credible source. Searching outside the website may reveal things like whether an author has a particular agenda or if a site is funded by a business with a vested interest, and so on. Once you open additional tabs and start researching it’s possible to find out if the information presented is credible and trustworthy.

How to use Wikipedia wisely 

Wikipedia might be the ‘wild west of information’, but with 40 million articles accessed every month, it’s also one of the world’s most popular websites. This handy article from Edutopia. offers practical strategies to teach students navigating Wikipedia how to distinguish dodgy information from its trustworthy counterparts.

This was the final article in our series on 21st Century skills. We hope you’ve enjoyed taking a deep dive with us into empathy, resilience, critical thinking and media literacy across the year.

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