Joho the BlogThe safe harbor theory of media literacy - and two discussions about the Net and teaching - Joho the Blog

The safe harbor theory of media literacy – and two discussions about the Net and teaching

I had the honor of keynoting the New Hampshre Society for Technology in Education Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference, and then led two conversational sessions (where “led” means “sat while knowledgeable and committed people engaged in conversation”).

I came away realizing why media literacy programs often bother me. Frequently, the idea even is that we have to teach our children how to recognize the Internet sites that are as reliable and safe as what they’ll find in a library. That’s a useful skill, but the overall picture is wrong. If you want to know what’s going on in a field, the static and credentialed sources generally aren’t where you want to go. The credentialed sources are great for certain types of information—the solid and stolid facts, the commoditized information, the boring truth—but the real intellectual action is usually occuring in the blogs, newsletters, and forums. Confining students to the credentialed sites is likely to kill their interest and enthusiasm.

And then we have them write reports. Is there anything more likely to throttle curiosity than a report?

The two discussion groups this morning, however, were full of good ideas. For example…

Students need help “decoding” search engines, one participant said; she gets bibliographies that list Google as a source. (I’d like to see students build bibliographies together, in a class wiki. That way they could teach one another about how to evaluate a site, and the teacher could always step if they’re going wrong.)

Another participant set up a page for her class.

Someone has his students observe how they talk about the game sites they visit, for they’re evaluating those sites using valuable and sophisticated criteria.

Someone has her students using wikis to create study guides.

One person is concerned about the study that shows that students spend only 20 seconds evaluating a site. That seems to me to be appropriate, although students need our help learning how to evaluate a page in 20 seconds. Or 10.

In an AP calculus class, every day a different student is the note-taker, posting the notes on a blog. The note-taker is also responsible for answering questions on the blog that day.

In an art class, each student has a blog. Peer feedback is encouraged.

A kindergarten teacher uses a blog as a replacement for the traditional bulletin board, writing posts of interest to parents. She also uses to post photos and audio about the photos. She has connected her students with New Zealand kindergarten students where there are no bears and it’s summer in the winter.

One teacher said that a parent printed out his daughter’s MySpace page and told her he was going to post it at the mall. When the daughter objected, mortified, the parent explained that MySpace is as public as the mall.

One teacher has a book club blog for the kids.

The discussions weren’t, however, merely lists of things you can do on the Web. That’s just what I recorded, in a haphazard way. (Where was the note-taker student posting things on a wiki? :)

I so much enjoy getting to hang out with teachers. Along with with librarians and journalists, they are the heroes of democracy, as far as I’m concerned. [Tags: ]

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7 Responses to “The safe harbor theory of media literacy – and two discussions about the Net and teaching”

  1. Interesting comments – I’m a technology leader at my school and a pilot teacher for implementing our district’s ICT continuum. I am also doing what the AP Calculus teacher does. I want my kids to talk about math and to feel safe posting in their online community. An new concept in our building….I only hope the others will take interest and give it a try. It can be very powerful.

  2. I think we should enrol some parents in media literacy courses, so that the parent in question can understand the (physical, emotional, psychological, cognitive, social) differences between MySpace and the mall.

    More heartening, though, is the emergence of the the multi-modal, or hybrid class. Part of the time it’s in physical space, and part of the time it’s in cyber space. All of the time, the students are engaged with each other with the “home” in homework now extending beyond the isolation of an individual student’s house or apartment walls. Kudos to the clueful teachers. (I tend to do this with the grad students I teach and they all report that they feel as if they never leave the class, or perhaps it’s that the class never leaves them. This is the effect I want; some of the students would prefer not to attend Hotel California U – “you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.”)

  3. You know…I worry less about media literacy for kids than I do for adults. My column in this month’s issue of Information Today, “Marketed to Since Birth,” discusses how many kids develop a natural cynicism towards the media that seems to innoculate them against…well, bullshit. The column is not online in full text, but here’s the last two paragraphs:

    When fretting about all the…stuff…that marketers — and others with a vested interest and access to media outlets — direct toward the young, consider that children and adolescents are far from passive consumers of information. In self-defense, they’ve have to learn to sort through the barrage of…stuff…directed at them on a continual basis from they time they became sentient. A study published last year by two Yale University researchers found that “cynicism starts young.” According to one of the researchers, in interview with ABC news, this is not necessarily a bad thing, “particularly in U.S. society where children can be inundated with all kinds of information from television, friends and movies.”

    And, of course, the Internet.

    Oh, by the way, I am a librarian and we appreciate the fact that you include our profession in your short list of “heroes of democracy.” We try our best.

  4. Media literacy is critical in a 21st century education environment. But one of the problems is that most policy and decision makers don’t have a clue. They’re too worried about raising test scores and educators are teaching to the tests, so important and critical learning, like media literacy are left out. I maintain a national media literacy web resource, the Media Literacy Clearinghouse,, and I travel the US conducting professional development workshops. We must raise the nation’s awareness and we must get media literacy taught!

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