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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Instant Resources: The Importance of Media Literacy

By Peter DeWitt — July 23, 2012 5 min read
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Have you ever read a story and wondered if it was accurate? When doing research, do you not only read your primary sources but also dig down a little deeper and read the sources they used? Do you take it a step further and look for arguments that give the other side of the story? In these days of 24/7 media we are hit with so much information that I often wonder if it is true. I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist, but there is no way that all the information that is present in our world is 100% accurate.

We are living in exciting times where we are instantly connected and we spend our time on-line getting our news or we read the newspaper. Millions of educators spend their time on Facebook or Twitter and share, like or Retweet information. We have all seen the clauses on some Twitter profiles, which state “Retweets are not endorsements.” However, something in the story must have made them want to send it out to their Personal Learning Networks (PLN).

Are the clauses we add to our profile our way of saying that we are not sure if it is accurate or is it just a way to separate ourselves from Tweets links that may share information that may be controversial? We instantly share information in an effort to show we are connected but how many of us are really sure the information we share is true? Our students are watching and if we want them to learn about media literacy, we should probably practice what we preach.

“While young people have more access to the internet and other media than any generation in history, they do not necessarily possess the ethics, the intellectual skills, or the predisposition to critically analyze and evaluate their relationship with these technologies or the information they encounter. Good hand/eye co-ordination and the ability to multitask are not substitutes for critical thinking” (David Considine, 2002, p.5).

When I was growing up I had news that offered me a few choices. I could watch Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings. When I was young my parents always watched Dan Rather and as I got older I watched Tom Brokaw. When those anchors spoke, the world around us stopped. We either ate dinner before the news came on or we waited until the news was over before we ate. I never questioned the news because I trusted the source. Can we still trust the sources? That is not meant to make me sound like a conspiracy theorist; it is meant to caution us that we need to make sure the news we share is accurate.

A Venture into Google Chrome
Our students really don’t know anything other than the world they are living in. To them, the internet is not an extra tool they have to learn how to use; it is a natural part of their life. They didn’t have one of three people offering them the news on television as a specific time in the evening. They can get the news whenever they want it. Computers, tablets, Smartphones, etc. are just an extension of their arms. To some of us who remember a day without computers, when we had to take keyboarding class in high school that actually meant we had to learn how to type on typewriters, the internet is still something that we find fascinating.

The other day I downloaded Google Chrome because I found some interesting resources that suggested using it. I’m fairly confident when it comes to the internet but I sat for about an hour (ok, two) cruising through different Chrome resources and was in awe of the possibilities. I almost wish that students knew a time without computers so they can see the benefits of what they offer. However, I began to wonder as I had a plethora of choices coming at me whether these new resources we really true. One critique of the Language Immersion App suggested that the language was not always correct. How would I know if a language I never used was really correct or not? It made me think about other resources I use.

I remember searching through textbooks or encyclopedias, which I trusted, to find answers to questions pondered by my teachers. These days I find myself searching through Biodigital Human and the Ancient History Encyclopedia and re-evaluating my dislike for those subjects because I am now engaged in actively searching through the websites and understand what I’m reading. There are so many ways outside of books that we can engage our students but our students need to understand the importance of media literacy. It’s more important now than ever before because what we send out is happening instantly.

Making a List and Checking it Twice
Everything needs to be done in balance. It’s easy to lose yourself on the internet and forget about the outside world. It’s also easy to believe that everything we see in print or on the screen is true. Educators and their students have to make sure that they are not just using the first source they find; they need to dig down deeper and look at the sources their primary source used.

In addition, educators and students need to look in multiple on-line databases and look at the arguments on both sides so they are informed. Yes, it takes time which is something being over-connected makes us believe is something we are short on. If educators and students do not take the time to check their information twice, they are at risk of sending out the wrong information.

There are things we read that may make us laugh, but in education there are too many changes coming at us to not make sure they are true. As adults, and for those of us who use Twitter, we need to make sure we just don’t love what we read. We need to make sure what we love to read is true. Things are happening instantly and it’s easy to make mistakes. Delivering inaccurate information is dangerous. It’s not enough to be connected; we need to be accurate in our connections.

Suggestions from the Partnership of 21st Century Skills (2007)

  • Analyze Media
  • Understand both how and why media messages are constructed, and for what purposes
  • Examine how individuals interpret messages differently, how values and points of view are included or excluded, and how media can influence beliefs and behaviors.
  • Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of media

(Baker, p. 141).

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Peter will be doing a free webinar for Corwin Press on August 7th at 1:00 p.m. PST where he will offer resources on how to safeguard LGBT students and create an inclusive school environment. Click here to register.


Baker, Frank W. (2010) Media Literacy: 21st Century Literacy Skills. Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. ASCD

Considine, D. (2002, March). National developments and international origins (Media Literacy). Journal of Popular Film and Television.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.