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Media literacy may take a village now

Last week’s post featured a U.S. celebrity’s very personal media literacy learning and teaching. This week a program successfully tested in the Ukraine that represents an equally informal much more collaborative approach to growing media literacy in our very social media environment….

IREX logoMaybe it’s just a theory or it could be I’m stating the obvious, but media literacy education needs to be as social (or collaborative) as media is now. A fascinating recent media literacy education project in Ukraine certainly seemed to demonstrate that; in a way, it was crowd-sourced. And it may just come to a public library near you.

Collaborative learning

The project – called Learn to Discern and created by IREX, a US-based international nonprofit education organization – gathered 15,000 Ukrainians aged 18-70+ into small groups “in libraries, offices, and recreation centers” throughout the country “to talk about something that many of them had never really pondered before: their media consumption,” reports Lisa Guernsey in “They sat down at tables, introduced themselves, and spent a few hours mulling over what they watched on TV, what they viewed on the Internet, what they read in the newspaper.” In addition to t-shirts, tea and cookies, participants received handouts they filled out which would help them reflect on and then discuss their media use and experiences.

The discussion leaders were people in their own communities – 450 librarians, teachers, police officers and other community leaders trained by IREX to spread the word through their social networks, recruit their trainees and facilitate discussion.

They had lots of autonomy. “Although Learn to Discern is based on a nearly 200-page curriculum (copies are available in English, Ukrainian, and Russian), the trainers were told that they didn’t have to follow it step by step and could choose what activities to do with their fellow citizens.”

The results? In a followup study, IREX found that “Learn to Discern participants performed better than their peers on assessments of whether they understood where their news was coming from and whether they could detect disinformation” (please see the Slate piece for more detail and reactions).

Being adapted for the U.S.

The concept is being adapted for American society, which – compared with Ukraine three years ago, when the project happened there – has a much more diverse media environment and (probably) lower tolerance for lecturing by community leaders. Librarians across the U.S. have contacted IREX “to find out how to roll it out in their communities.”

This project, to me, spells hope amid all the concern about “fake news,” or misinformation and media manipulation, and evidence of a lack of media literacy. We don’t have to depend on formal learning to teach it. There are other fun, collaborative, informal, age- and otherwise diverse ways to grow media literacy, even as we hear so much about being a polarized society. This way, we can mix it up in media literacy groups, with kid social media experts and adult subject matter experts.

In any case, adding social to media literacy education seems increasingly crucial not just because of the nature of our media now. We’re seeing more and more that we’re persuaded more by the people who influence us than by information itself.

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