Topics in Digital Citizenship- Media Literacy and Fake News

Part III: Topics in Digital Citizenship
Week 11

This course is in three parts:

  1. Part I. The Big Picture – A history and overview of digital citizenship; how to approach digital citizenship from a policy perspective
  2. Part II. Tools, Skills and Resources of Digital Citizenship – Theoretical and practical tools to help educators develop tools and approaches to address digital citizenship issues with students, schools, and districts
  3. Part III. Topics in Digital Citizenship – Of the many issues associated with digital citizenship, we have time to consider two: cyberbullying, media literacy

Part III allows us to drill down on a few issues that are particularly challenging and problematic in the area of digital citizenship. This week addresses our second of two topics, media literacy. line200

Part III, Topic 2: Media Literacy

Essential question: What is the value of teaching media literacy in K-12, and can media literacy be used to help students understand the nature and effects of fake news?

Other questions to consider:

  1. What is media literacy?
  2. Why is it important that students develop media literacy skills?
  3. How has the nature of media literacy changed from an era of mass media, to an era of personal, digital media?
  4. How do we help students identify fake news?
  5. How do we help students distinguish solid and questionable news sources?

Goals, objectives, understandings:

  1. To explore the nature of media literacy, particularly as it applies to the needs of our students living in a media saturated world.
  2. To distinguish between media literacy versions 1, 2 and 3, and apply each to the needs of your students and professional practice.
  3. To develop strategies that help students’ desire to make media and use social media as a means to also teach them media literacy skills.
  4. To identify and/or develop strategies and curriculum that addresses fake news.


Our interest in participatory media tends to focus on interpersonal relationships.  KidsTechnology36668973-flippedhorizontallyIn contrast, our interest in media literacy tends to focus on the nature of the media, and how it can be manipulated to present particular versions of reality. To prepare students to live in a media-saturated world, we want to help them be “media literate.”

This week we will focus on media literacy, particularly to help us understand the phenomenon of fake news. We will also look at the resources dedicated to media literacy for students, including The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), The Center for Media Literacy, and others.


What is media literacy?

To help answer that question, we turn to an excerpt from my book, Digital Storytelling in the Classroom (11):

While there is a good deal of debate about what media literacy is, I define it simply as having the skills to recognize, evaluate, and apply the persuasive techniques of media.

Our students live in a world overwhelmed by story-based media that often view them in terms of commercial market share. For that reason, we want students not only to learn with media but also to learn about media. We want students to understand that the difference between a successful story and an effective advertisement is largely one of purpose. This is true whether students are using just print or the full arsenal of digital tools at their disposal. In the words of Steve Goodman (2003), “Media is a filter while pretending to be a clear window” (p. 6). We want students to understand how a filter can be made to seem like a window.

The reality is that until students become persuaders themselves, the persuasion of media often remains hidden to them.

ISTE Educator
Standards addressed: 3, 5, 6, 7

Digital story development provides powerful media-literacy learning opportunities when teachers involve students in the analysis of media technique and grammar and can relate it to other media in their lives. Doing so helps students detect how and when they are themselves being persuaded. In much the same way that we want students to be effective writers because it helps them become better communicators and critical thinkers, we want them to be effective media users so that they can tell their story and understand the true nature of the stories that others are telling them. (page 13)

From Media Literacy V 1.0 to V 2.0 – what changes?

Our exploration of this area continues with the following, which I have adapted from Digital Community, Digital Citizen, about the evolution from media literacy version 1 to version 2.

Media Literacy Morphs
While media literacy may be a core component of digital literacy, its roots make it a bit of a special case. It emerged forcefully in the 1960s—I refer to this as Media Literacy 1.0—due to concern about how mass media was being used to persuade and convince its audience to think in particular ways, buy certain products, and otherwise influence their behavior. Because Web 2.0 and the cheap tools of media development were decades into the future, we only consumed media in those days. Our only possible media literacy responses were to either ignore the media or develop the critical thinking skills necessary to understand how media influence worked.

The basic premise of Media Literacy 1.0 is still intact. Professional mediasts are very adroit at bypassing our discriminating minds in order to influence our behavior. In brain research terms, they dodge the frontal cortex and head straight for the limbic system. Providing students with the critical thinking tools to become discriminating consumers of media will always be important. There are a number of effective programs that help students do very practical “minds on, hands on” kinds of activities, like deconstructing advertisements and media programming in order to understand both the mechanics and biases of media persuasion.

However, in the era of Web 2.0 and the media collage, we have graduated to Media Literacy 2.0. The primary difference between versions 1 and 2 is that media literacy has been expanded to encompass production. I define Media Literacy 2.0 as “understanding how to identify, evaluate, and apply the techniques of media persuasion.” Production is important for one simple reason: There is no better way to understand the persuasion of media than to reflectively create media. When you do, you come face to face with the techniques of persuasion as you choose particular images or background music to achieve particular effects.

This is not much different than how we approach writing in school. Students are required to write persuasive essays, harnessing the medium of words in order to convince readers of a particular perspective. Ideally, writing helps them deconstruct the persuasive writing of others, making them more discriminating readers and consumers of information. Bear in mind that if you want students to be cognizant and reflective about the media development decisions they make, then you will need to require they do so as part of the project you assign. This kind of reflection does not come naturally in the flurry of media generation.

Thus, we live in an in-between world. On the one hand we want to be cognizant of how we are being influenced by professional mediasts, largely because we do not trust their intentions and we are aware of media’s persuasive ability- we would like to be in control of our perspectives. On the other hand, we want to be successful media, which requires that we be as persuasive as possible. It’s a conundrum.

Media literacy 3.0? Social Media
We can also make a case for media literacy 3.0 based on the changing needs of mediasphere created by social media. So, we go from the era of media literacy 1.0 in which we consume media, to media literacy 2.0 in which we create our own media, to media literacy 3.0, in which we collaboratively create media and community media spaces. Each requires its own kind of perspectives, skills and literacies. We address one important aspect of this in our week on digital footprints. However, know that this is a vast area that we simply don’t have time to consider in depth.


What is fake news?

Wikipedia provides a very clear, concise definition of fake news:

Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.[1] Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention.[2][3][4] Intentionally misleading and deceptive fake news is different from obvious satire or parody which is intended to humor rather than mislead its audience. Fake news often employs eye-catching headlines or entirely fabricated news stories to increase readership, online sharing and Internet click revenue. In the latter case, it is similar to sensational online “clickbait” headlines and relies on advertising revenue generated from this activity, regardless of the veracity of the published stories.[2] Fake news also undermines serious media coverage and makes it more difficult for journalists to cover significant news stories.[5]

I encourage you to read the entire wikipedia article on fake news. Wikipedia explores it in some depth.

Unfortunately, one of the foundational problems with fake news is that we are predisposed to believe it. It plays on an aspect of the human condition called “confirmation bias.” That is, we tend to use personal biases to select, subscribe and filter in and out the information that confirms the perspectives we already have. For more information on this, read an issue of the Big Newsletter: The Real Problem with Fake News? We’re Wired to Believe It.

Read/view for this week:

Start with these to develop an understanding of what media literacy is:

  1. Watch Frank Gallagher’s video. Frank put this together especially for this course. It provides an excellent overview of media literacy in K-12 and how it ties to digital citizenship.
  2. Cable in the Classroom InCtrl. Then look at these resources, which provide a great follow-up to the materials above.

Other Media Literacy Sources

There are a number of excellent resources in the area of media literacy for K-12 students. Here are a few. Please explore as many of these resources as time allows.

1. Center for Media Literacy. CML provides access to a number of resources on its site. Of particular note is its “Five Key Questions of Media Literacy Inquiry,” which provides a foundation for building a program for any approach to media literacy. From CML’s website:

The Center for Media Literacy (CML) is an educational organization that provides leadership, public education, professional development and educational resources nationally and internationally. Dedicated to promoting and supporting media literacy education as a framework for accessing, analyzing, evaluating, creating and participating with media content, CML works to help citizens, especially the young, develop critical thinking and media production skills needed to live fully in the 21st century media culture.

2. Commonsense Media. Media Literacy is woven into Commonsense’s digital citizenship curriculum, particularly in the lessons that address information literacy. It is also addressed in the lessons in its Gender and Digital Life Toolkit (which are a subset of its Digital Citizenship curriculum), and includes media literacy elements such as analyzing, evaluating, critiquing, and creating new messages.

3. Digital Disruption. Digital Disruption offers resources for helping students understand a number of aspects of media literacy, particularly in the areas of critical thinking applied to understanding propaganda. From their website:

Our Mission:

To realise the Internet’s potential to benefit individuals and society – as something that informs, empowers, liberates and enlightens.

The Problem:

As the digital world continues to grow and to play an increasingly central role in how we all learn and form opinions about the world and each other, it is now more important than ever before to be able to tell good information from the bad, truth from lies, and to ably navigate the grey area of opinion in the middle.

This skill – digital judgement – is especially important for young people. They both trust and use the Internet more than any other generation, but are not always savvy, critical consumers of online content. This is no surprise. The older generations, often knowing even less about the Internet, are not in a position to provide the leadership and teaching young people need. Formal education also struggles to fill this void, as teachers lack the training and materials to do so.

Our Solution:

We create and supply the tools and training that young people need to be savvier, more discerning Internet users. We do this through real engagement and co-creation with young people. Tailored workshop programmes allow young people to discover themselves the techniques and scams that are used to manipulate them online. Through this, Digital Disruption arms young people with the skills they need to engage with the Internet on their own terms. This website is being developed as a one-stop-hub for teaching these critical digital judgement skills across the curriculum.

4. Media Literacy Clearinghouse by Frank Baker. Frank has been a respected name in K-12 Media Literacy for many years. His clearinghouse provides a number materials for teachers interested in pursuing media literacy with their students. From his website:

A message from Frank: “Everywhere I go, teachers tell me that their students believe everything they see, read and hear. Today many students aren’t applying the critical thinking skills we know they need in order to become active, engaged, intelligent citizens and consumers of information. 21st century skills include both critical thinking and media literacy– both part of every state’s teaching standards. Today’s students only know what they see on the screens (TV, computer, motion picture). They don’t have a clue how it got to the screen: the process. Media literacy, among other things, is about helping them appreciate how media are constructed. When we ‘pull back the curtain’ (on advertising, TV, film, propaganda, etc.) exposing how they work, and give students opportunities to create media, we help them better understand and appreciate both the ‘languages of media’ and how the media influence and persuade: critical skills in a 21st century world.”

5. National Association for Media Literacy Education. NAMLE provides a number of resources. Of particular note for those starting out in media literacy is “Core Principles of Media Literacy in the United States.”

From their website:

The National Association for Media Literacy Education is a national membership organization dedicated to media literacy as a basic life skill for the 21st century.

Our Vision

The NAMLE vision is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world.

Our Mission

The NAMLE mission is ”to expand and improve the practice of media literacy education in the United States.”

We define both education and media broadly. Education includes both formal and informal settings, classrooms and living rooms, in school and after school, anywhere that lifelong learners can be reached. Media includes digital media, computers, video games, radio, television, mobile media, print, and communication technologies that we haven’t even dreamed of yet.

Our Initiatives

Ongoing NAMLE initiatives include the;

1) Journal of Media Literacy Education- a peer-reviewed, online journal;

2) Marketplace- an online compendium of affordable media literacy resources

3) Resource Hub- an searchable, online area for curriculum, activities and resources relating to media literacy

BTW, I subscribe to the Med!aLite Monthly Newsletter, by the The Consortium for Media Literacy, which I always find interesting and helpful.

Find our discussion for this week at the Google+ Community. Look for my lead post for the week, which will always be a restatement of the week’s essential question. Please post at least one substantive posting about this week’s material, as well as at least three responses to colleagues’ postings. Please always address this question as well: How can you apply what you learned this week to your professional practice?

ePortfolio postings: By Sunday, post a 1-2 page synthesis of your major understanding from the week’s materials and discussion. Please use the following format:

  • Thesis (main point)
  • Development (discussion and support for your major point, referring to the week’s materials, as well as other sources and your own experience)
  • Conclusion (wrap up of your discussion, and call for further study)

Add resources to your ePortfolio: As always, add resources you have discovered this week (or remembered from previous activities) to your ePortfolio. The goal is to build your ePortfolio into an online professional resource site you can use and build on in the future.

Citations, credits

Ohler, J. 2011. Digital Community, Digital Citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Ohler, J. 2013. Digital Storytelling in the Classroom (2ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Students with media. Retrieved 1/4/2014,, used with paid subscription

World, in header [Photoshop created image]. (2011). Created by Larry Addington for Corwin Press. It is a modified version of the cover of my book Digital Community, Digital Citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.