Year 9 students on green screen credit Mark Gambino

It’s not all about fake news

Susan Bye

Susan Bye

Senior Producer, Education, ACMI

The continuing evolution of the media and communications landscape poses a challenge for us all.

It is hard work to be news, media and information literate when there is so much information available, so many different sources and perspectives to be verified and evaluated and such sophisticated and powerful technologies for harvesting data and directing discovery. However, if we want to be thoughtful participants in civil society, and support our students to do likewise, our collected and collaborative efforts to develop our own and our students’ media literacy skills are essential.

It is a good idea to get started with a thoughtful and workable definition of media literacy such as this one composed by NAMLE (National Association for Media Literary Education). This US-based association has also designed a guide “to help all individuals practice the process of critical, inquiry-based evaluation and analysis of all media big and small.” Closer to home, you can check out the learning framework provided by the Australian Media Literacy Alliance. You can even print it out as a poster if you are really keen.

Recent research into how Australian young people (8-16 years) access and assess news and information suggests that family is a significant source of news (54 per cent), with TV, teachers, friends and social media also playing a significant role (36 per cent, 33 per cent, 30 per cent and 29 per cent respectively). We know that the social media landscape is the unregulated frontier of communications media, and we have seen the havoc and social upheaval wrought by the spread of misinformation and intolerance. So it is reassuring to discover it doesn’t completely dominate young people’s understanding of what is happening in the world, and that its influence is balanced by input from other sources. It is nevertheless worthwhile for teachers to take the time to learn about the social media platforms that are most influential and why. For instance, there are very good reasons for the rise of Instagram along with a range of issues and challenges relating to its role as a source of news and information.

While Australian schools prize and prioritise critical thinking and build analytical skills and independent thinking through Inquiry projects, students also benefit from focused and foregrounded learning around the interrelated areas of media, information and news literacy. However, the News and Young Australians in 2020 research discovered that news media literacy is not a priority in many Australian classrooms, with four in five of the young people surveyed reporting that, in the previous twelve months, they had not had a lesson exploring how to verify the accuracy and trustworthiness of news stories. You can read more about these discoveries in this informative article.

If you are looking for some support in navigating this complex learning area, head over to the ABC Education website where you will find a range of resources designed to support teachers and learners in navigating this complex learning area.  A range of materials helps students dig deep into the complexities of the news and promotes critical awareness around misinformation. The ABC’s Media Literacy Week resources are always available – so any week could be Media Literacy Week at your school. The ABC also gets our stamp of approval for BTNBehind the News -- a fun and informative news digest for young people. BTN genuinely fosters media literacy by encouraging and championing the contribution of young reporters. This poised and genuinely informative piece by 11-year-old American correspondent Zo is an outstanding example.

There are heaps of captivating ways to build critical thinking around news and media. For instance, you can challenge students to see how bad they can be and how many social media followers they can entice while flouting the ethics of journalism. You can also ask students to calculate their lifetime media usage with this media usage calculator, an activity that might also spark an interesting discussion about whether it makes sense to give equal weight to all the different media we engage with. (And can books really be considered media?) The ABC’s interactive around news bias is also fun – though it requires participants to read a lot of text very quickly, so might be tricky for younger students. This survey about deepfakes takes a lot of patience – it is really long, and you never discover which videos are real and which are fake. But it would be fun to do it together as a class, and the fact that we never discover what is real and what is fake is an important lesson about the world we are currently navigating. There are also plenty of online quizzes that ask people to spot fake news headlines (such as this one) but I’m not a fan. Surely we want students to look for context and facts, rather than take a stab at deciding whether an unlikely headline is true or false. We also need to teach them – and ourselves –  to resist clicking on enticing headlines. Why not share this useful list of clickbait clues with your students and ask them to create their own terrifyingly tempting but dubious content?

Yet, it is also important we don’t let dodgy data miners and unscrupulous purveyors of misinformation build cynicism and apathy in our young people. An increased capacity to make and share information and opinion might not have led to the vibrant, democratic and independent media sphere promised by digital technology and online access. Nevertheless, movements such as School Strike 4 Climate demonstrate that new modes of media and communication can help change the world.