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How to be Media Literate? (podcast)

Sandra Užule - Fons

Media literacy is the ability to understand the information that is presented to us and respond appropriately. We need to make a conscious effort to understand how all forms of media are created and consumed. To be media literate is a hard task for adolescents. But it’s even harder for children. Teaching media literacy helps to foster critical thinking in students. 

Media Literacy education has been of high interest in Ukraine since the 2014 annexation of Crimea. The study of propaganda has become increasingly important, especially with the rise of fake news and disinformation during the current war in Ukraine. Today we are joined by Maryna Dorosh, a media literacy expert from Ukraine

“Our project in Ukraine is called Learn to Discern. The main aim of our project is to develop critical thinking skills among today’s youth. We do this by integrating media literacy into formal education. We develop materials for teachers and media literacy exercises that are integrated into the curriculum; we support the training of teachers while working with institutions of higher education where future teachers study”, says an expert on the so-called complex approach to media literacy. 

With so many sources of information today, media literacy can help people identify reliable sources and filter through the noise to get at the truth. This is a difficult task for children, but even more difficult for adults. “Because we as adults have more established habits, more stereotypes, more prejudices and sometimes it’s difficult to be convinced of some rational arguments”, says Maryna. “From my observations, children and teenagers are more flexible and more open to opinions and even to the facts. It is important to start developing media literacy skills at a young age, because only then can we have a new generation that is able to think critically”, she claims. 

Teaching media literacy helps to foster critical thinking in students. Apart from this, there are other important skills such as the ability to search out information and verify sources, crosscheck information, identify misleading information, fakes, propaganda techniques, discrimination, and hate speech. “I think that creativity is a media literacy skill as well, for example, the ability to create your own media pieces, even if they are only short messages on social media”. Maryna adds that, as a school subject, media literacy goes well with an interdisciplinary approach, as it is easy for teachers to incorporate media literacy lessons into their other classes, such as literature and history, or even biology and geography. She emphasizes, however, that media literacy is easier to incorporate into some subjects, such as Ukrainian literature, grammar and history, than others. “For example, in the case of a grammar lesson with a topic such as «Direct and indirect speech and grammar construction» the students can look at examples from the media and see how a number of quotes by famous people are interpreted by journalists in the media, is it in fact an accurate interpretation or not”. 

Despite many positives, the world of media also involves many risks. Media literacy education is sometimes conceptualized as a way to address the negative dimensions of digital and mass media, including media manipulation, misinformation, gender and racial stereotypes, the sexualization of children, and concerns about loss of privacy, cyberbullying and the Internet predators. Without cautiousness and care, these risks can make media consumption potentially problematic. Young people, in particular, tend to spend large amounts of time each day browsing social media apps. This can be incredibly dangerous for young minds. According to our expert, it is possible to use digital media wisely and safely, but it’s hard to reduce these risks. “My advice is to be conscious of the time you spend on social media and identify the fact that you are browsing half of the day. The first step is to analyze your own media landscape, and it will be good if you have an opportunity to discuss this with parents or with teachers. Another thing is emotional intelligence. It’s important to identify the emotions which you have when you see certain content because it is connected with the ability to ask questions. For example, when you ask yourself how it makes me feel, maybe the next question will be whether someone wants me to feel like that, what is the aim of this message? The more you ask questions in your regular life as an adult or a child the more you will be confident as a media consumer”.   

Media is a broad term and encompasses many different forms. Media is any communication outlet used to distribute information, entertainment and data. Essentially, media is the method by which messages are distributed to an audience. Maryna says that they work not only with traditional mass media but also with some other commonly used media such as social media, film, radio, video games, artificial intelligence, even VR. “We have no time to analyze all this stuff, but what we are trying to teach is that you can be influenced by different channels. For example, in the Art and Culture lessons, we look at video games in order to see that they also have some narratives. When you see some funny picture like a meme a narrative can also be embedded in it. As for the VR, we don’t work with children directly, but with higher education instructors we have a VR programme in which they are taught how to integrate media literacy programmes into VR teaching. It’s super innovative, much more than AI. Even students can pass exams through this system, it sounds very exciting and even scary”. 

As for evaluating the outcome of media literacy subjects, our expert says that the main focus should be both on self-assessment and some kind of assignments. For more listen to our podcast. 

Media literacy helps to foster critical thinking and creativity (Episode 4)

About the author
Sandra Užule - Fons
Holds Ph.D. in history, journalist, documentary filmmaker. Researcher and author of scientific and other publications about the Baltic States and media. Her professional career started in Warsaw in Polish Public Radio working for more than 10 years as an editor in Polish Radio External Service. She cooperates with media outlets in the implementation of media projects in Central Europe and Post-soviet countries. Currently, she is working on an alternative school project.
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