The role of me­dia in K-12 lit­er­acy and civics ed­u­ca­tion in Amer­ica

The Insider - - CONTENTS - By Igor Smirnoff, Chief Com­mer­cial Of­fi­cer, PressReader

When I look back over the last year, I am re­minded of how, now more than ever, we are living in a world that epit­o­mizes ev­ery­thing that the US Army coined as VUCA af­ter the Cold War — Volatile, Un­cer­tain, Com­plex, and Am­bigu­ous.

From the war in Syria, to

Brexit, to the refugee cri­sis, the per­ceived rise in ter­ror­ism, and the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, VUCA has in­fil­trated ev­ery as­pect of our lives. No one or in­dus­try is im­mune, in­clud­ing K-12 ed­u­ca­tion.

The pace of change today is faster than it’s ever been be­fore which puts enor­mous pres­sure on the need for new learn­ing sys­tems to en­sure fu­ture gen­er­a­tions can de­velop the right skills to thrive in a VUCA world.

Many look to tech­nol­ogy to solve our prob­lems, but as most of us have ex­pe­ri­enced, tech­nol­ogy is a dou­ble-edged sword. It is both a de­stroyer and cre­ator — pro­duc­ing both win­ners and losers.

Neil Post­man, a renowned Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tor, me­dia the­o­rist, cul­tural critic and au­thor of Technopoly posited over 25 years ago, that as a re­sult of tech­nol­ogy (even be­fore the in­ter­net), we have been trans­formed into “a so­ci­ety that no longer merely uses tech­nol­ogy as a sup­port sys­tem but is in­stead shaped by it, with rad­i­cal con­se­quences for the mean­ings of politics, art, ed­u­ca­tion, in­tel­li­gence, and truth.”

When one looks at the mas­sive changes in so­cial be­hav­iors and at­ti­tudes over the past quar­ter cen­tury, it’s hard to ar­gue with him.

So it’s no won­der that by a mar­gin of 2-to-1, today’s high school stu­dents (who grew up never know­ing a world with­out the in­ter­net) be­lieve that in­no­va­tion is evolv­ing far too quickly and is threat­en­ing their pri­vacy, data, and job se­cu­rity — a fear val­i­dated by a study at Ox­ford Univer­sity that re­ported that 47% of US jobs are at high risk of com­put­er­i­za­tion.

When I saw this data, I must ad­mit I was sur­prised that our youth fear what they em­brace so pas­sion­ately — so­cial me­dia and mo­bile de­vices. But then I thought about some­thing that se­rial en­tre­pre­neur, ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and au­thor of The Great Re­write, Leonard Brody, shared about the power of the in­ter­net. Let me ex­plain…

When one looks back at hun­dreds of years of me­dia in­no­va­tion, it his­tor­i­cally con­sisted of in­ven­tions such as the Guten­berg Press

(and mov­able type), recorded me­dia, ra­dio, the tele­phone, and tele­vi­sion.

These in­ven­tions, while im­pres­sive at the time of con­cep­tion, were fun­da­men­tally much the same:

• They broad­cast con­tent on a one-to-one or one-to-many ba­sis

• They were tech­no­log­i­cally very ex­pen­sive to build

• They were all reg­u­lated by gov­ern­ment

But when the World Wide Web was made pub­licly-avail­able in 1993, for first time in our his­tory, peo­ple owned a many-to-many com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem, where mil­lions of us could com­mu­ni­cate with mil­lions of oth­ers for al­most no cost — a new, de­moc­ra­tized form of me­dia that is al­most im­pos­si­ble for gov­ern­ments to reg­u­late.

So what does that mean to pub­lic school stu­dents and why should we care? Be­cause it’s all about power. Prior to the in­ter­net, power/author­ity was con­trolled from the top­down, whether that be from pres­i­dents, prin­ci­pals, priests or pub­lish­ers. Fu­eled by mas­sive changes in tech­nol­ogy and so­cial be­hav­ior, that tra­di­tional pyra­mid of power has been com­pletely in­verted in al­most ev­ery facet of our lives.

And Brody isn’t alone in his think­ing. The 2017 Edel­man Trust Barom­e­ter Study showed that there has been a fun­da­men­tal shift in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween those who tra­di­tion­ally held author­ity and the peo­ple they once con­trolled.

We live in a peo­ple-pow­ered world and today’s youth have pos­sessed that power their en­tire lives. As much as they fear the pace of change in in­no­va­tion, so­cial me­dia and mo­bile, they aren’t pre­pared to give up any of it be­cause it gives them author­ity their par­ents never had — a power that makes them ques­tion ev­ery­thing and ex­am­ine more closely the world around them through a new, more crit­i­cal lens.

This had led them down a sim­i­lar path as pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, de­vel­op­ing a grow­ing lack of trust in some of the fun­da­men­tal pil­lars of so­ci­ety — gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, me­dia, and civil so­ci­ety. But those born af­ter 1995 are not copy­cats of their pre­de­ces­sors.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 Guardian study of Gen­er­a­tion Z:

• 70% worry about ter­ror­ism (which is not sur­pris­ing giv­ing their un­fet­tered 24/7 ac­cess to the hor­rors of bomb­ings, be­head­ings, and mur­ders on their smart­phones)

• Only 6% trust big busi­ness to do the right thing, ver­sus 60% of adults

• One in 10 trusts the gov­ern­ment to do the right thing, ver­sus 20% of Mil­len­ni­als

• 70% are greatly wor­ried about the amount of in­equal­ity in the world

And if you find those statis­tics dis­turb­ing, the Cen­ter for Gen­er­a­tional Ki­net­ics re­ports that only 47% of them say that vot­ing is im­por­tant — a num­ber sig­nif­i­cantly less than the 75% of Mil­len­ni­als who reg­is­tered to vote in the 2016 elec­tion.

Can you imag­ine if only ~40% of those Gen Zs who think vot­ing is im­por­tant now, ac­tu­ally don’t fol­low through when given the chance to par­tic­i­pate in an elec­tion like those Mil­len­ni­als didn’t in Novem­ber? What does that say about the fu­ture of democ­racy?

Is me­dia to blame?

It’s easy to cast as­per­sions on me­dia given all the stud­ies and polls that show a grow­ing mis­trust in it by adults.

But what about our high school stu­dents? Data shows that teens are ac­tu­ally more trust­ing of main­stream me­dia than adults by a mar­gin of 59-48%; and more than 80% of them say they reg­u­larly en­gage with cur­rent af­fairs.

But today, Gen Zs trust al­go­rithms and search en­gines twice as much as tra­di­tional ed­i­tors and per­sonal con­tacts to rec­om­mend rel­e­vant con­tent for them — con­tent they use in their per­sonal lives and stud­ies.

It wasn’t all that long ago that stu­dents could not use what they found on the in­ter­net as a pri­mary source for their as­sign­ments. In fact, they were taught to dis­trust, prima fa­cie, any in­for­ma­tion on the web. Ev­ery­thing they wanted to ref­er­ence on­line had to be val­i­dated by a “real” pri­mary source.

So why do they trust al­go­rithms so much now? It all comes down to a pre­sumed in­her­ent bias in hu­man be­ings who cu­rate con­tent. So, it’s no won­der most pupils im­me­di­ately head to Google or Face­book when tasked with a re­search project in­volv­ing me­dia.

As a re­sult, be­cause so­cial me­dia is such an ac­tive player in dis­sem­i­nat­ing news, Gen Zs don’t fol­low the news as much as it fol­lows them, fre­quently en­coun­ter­ing it by ac­ci­dent and it be­ing of­ten ques­tion­able in terms of its qual­ity.

But what’s in­ter­est­ing is that these same teenagers place a higher im­por­tance on facts than their par­ents and tend to rely on ex­ter­nal ex­per­tise rather than the echo cham­bers of in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia.

Which is per­haps why 61% of 16-24-year-olds visit news web­sites or apps on their smart­phones.

In fact, Gen Zs trust ex­perts four times more than peo­ple like them­selves, with teach­ers con­sid­ered the most in­flu­en­tial and trusted sources of in­for­ma­tion for them, de­spite their par­ents’ grow­ing lack of trust in the pub­lic school sys­tem.

Our young stu­dents are hun­gry for ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion and want a va­ri­ety of news sources to ver­ify sto­ries and ac­tively seek out op­pos­ing view­points in or­der to ed­u­cate them­selves through a range of per­spec­tives. But the big ques­tion is, “Do they re­ally have the crit­i­cal­think­ing, anal­y­sis and fact-check­ing skills to ac­cu­rately as­sess what they are con­sum­ing in an ob­jec­tive way?”

In this age of fake news and “al­ter­na­tive facts”, ev­i­dence would strongly sug­gest not.

Me­dia lit­er­acy and civics in pub­lic schools has reached a cri­sis

If ever there was a time to in­vest in me­dia lit­er­acy and civics in K-12 ed­u­ca­tion, it is now.

Ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Col­leges & Uni­ver­si­ties (AACU), civics ed­u­ca­tion is a far cry from what it should be, and is worse now than it was in 2006-2007 when the av­er­age score of 14,000 col­lege se­niors on a civic lit­er­acy exam was an ‘F’.

When look­ing at pub­lic schools, only half of US states re­quire civics for high school grad­u­a­tion. In 2014, Na­tional Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion Statis­tics as­sessed over 9,000 eighth grade stu­dents and dis­cov­ered that only 17% were pro­fi­cient in US his­tory, 24% in ge­og­ra­phy, and 22% in civics.

For the past three years, there have been no fur­ther assess­ments done due to “lack of fund­ing”.

The prob­lem is not go­ing un­no­ticed or ig­nored by any stretch, but it has yet to re­ceive any sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing to pro­vide the sup­port it needs countrywide out­side of a few pro­gres­sive states.

One ded­i­cated group, rep­re­sented by ex­perts in K-12 so­cial stud­ies ed­u­ca­tion, along with 15 pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tions dis­ci­plined in civics, eco­nom­ics, ge­og­ra­phy and his­tory, de­vel­oped The Col­lege, Ca­reer, and Civic Life (C3) Frame­work for So­cial Stud­ies State Stan­dards — a frame­work that pro­vides guid­ance to states look­ing to up­grade their ex­ist­ing stan­dards to bet­ter pre­pare pub­lic school stu­dents for suc­cess in col­lege, ca­reers, and civic life.

One of the foun­da­tions of the frame­work is a com­pre­hen­sive and global repos­i­tory of dig­i­tal and print sources such as his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments, tra­di­tional me­dia, eco­nomic statis­tics, new me­dia, maps, leg­isla­tive ac­tions, and court rul­ings, to name just a few.

But sources them­selves do not con­sti­tute ev­i­dence, as we’ve wit­nessed with the ram­pant rise in “al­ter­na­tive facts” re­cently. In our VUCA world where ideas, in­for­ma­tion and mis­in­for­ma­tion is just a mouse-click away, stu­dents must be able to sep­a­rate the wheat from the chaff — some­thing to which they’ve demon­strated less than pro­fi­cient ca­pa­bil­i­ties ac­cord­ing to a Stan­ford Univer­sity study that dis­cov­ered that 82% of mid­dle-school stu­dents couldn’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween a na­tive ad­ver­tise­ment ac­tu­ally la­beled as “spon­sored con­tent” and a gen­uine news ar­ti­cle on a web­site.

So it’s no sur­prise that a cen­tral com­po­nent of the frame­work in­cludes help­ing stu­dents be­come pro­fi­cient in gath­er­ing, an­a­lyz­ing, and eval­u­at­ing a di­ver­sity of sources for ac­cu­racy and com­plete­ness, and then us­ing only fac­tual ev­i­dence to build in­ter­pre­ta­tions, ex­pla­na­tions, and ar­gu­ments.

Col­lab­o­ra­tive and ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing is also a key com­po­nent of the C3 frame­work in prac­tice. With C3, stu­dents learn how to work/learn ef­fec­tively alone, with part­ners, in small groups, and whole class set­tings. They be­come pro­fi­cient, not only in how to con­sume and cri­tique me­dia, but how to cre­ate it, de­velop opin­ions and sup­port­ive ar­gu­ments.

Gen Zs value cre­ativ­ity more than any pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, but teach­ing meth­ods today aren’t living up to their ex­pec­ta­tions or needs.

Li­brar­i­ans can play a cru­cial role

With the ad­vent of the in­ter­net, so­cial me­dia, and a whole new breed of on-de­mand post-Mil­len­nial dig­i­tal na­tives sit­ting in K-12 class­rooms, school li­brar­i­ans’ jobs have not only evolved, they’ve been rewrit­ten. No longer do they play a pas­sive sup­port role within the cur­ricu­lum, but are now in­struc­tional col­lab­o­ra­tors with teach­ers and stu­dents.

In Hanover Re­search’s Emerg­ing and Fu­ture Trends in K-12 Ed­u­ca­tion one of the key find­ings was, “The chang­ing uses of tech­nol­ogy re­quire that teach­ers also change their meth­ods of in­struc­tion…. As a re­sult, teach­ers must shift from be­ing hold­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of knowl­edge to be­com­ing in­struc­tional fa­cil­i­ta­tors who en­cour­age stu­dents to di­rect their own learn­ing.”

The days of just need­ing to mas­ter the Dewey Dec­i­mal Sys­tem are long gone. Today to meet the de­mand­ing needs of their GEN Z con­stituents, li­brar­i­ans need to con­tin­u­ally:

• Ed­u­cate them­selves on the lat­est and emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies and so­cial trends

• Un­der­stand the unique char­ac­ter­is­tics of those they serve — traits that seem to morph year-on-year

• Learn how to cre­ate en­gag­ing dig­i­tal li­brary spa­ces

• Pro­vide ser­vices and in­struc­tion in phys­i­cal, on­line, blended, and re­mote en­vi­ron­ments

• Scout and rec­om­mend li­brary tools and me­dia re­sources to meet the ur­gent de­mand for di­ver­sity

• Train stu­dents on how to use li­brary re­sources and cre­ate/co-cre­ate con­tent (ar­ti­cles, opin­ion pieces, pre­sen­ta­tions, case stud­ies, videos, etc.)

• Men­tor and en­cour­age stu­dents to di­rect their own learn­ing In the past, school libraries of­fer­ing printed me­dia with a few se­lect dig­i­tal edi­tions of pe­ri­od­i­cals and news­pa­pers was suf­fi­cient to sup­port the stu­dent body and teach­ers. At that time, News­pa­pers in Ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams ad­e­quately met a limited need for lo­cal and na­tional news con­tent. But today’s ex­pec­ta­tions far ex­ceed these an­ti­quated sin­gle-source so­lu­tions. The world of knowl­edge is at stu­dents’ fin­ger­tips and they ex­pect un­lim­ited ac­cess to all it has to of­fer.

It’s time for K-12 schools and li­brar­i­ans to crit­i­cally an­a­lyze the re­la­tion­ships be­tween me­dia, au­di­ences, in­for­ma­tion, and power and give their stu­dents the RIGHT re­sources at the RIGHT time through the RIGHT chan­nels with the RIGHT sup­port to help them be­come bet­ter global cit­i­zens and guardians of Amer­i­can democ­racy. De­spite Gen Zs hav­ing a more fear­ful view of the fu­ture than gen­er­a­tions be­fore them, 78% be­lieve that the Amer­i­can Dream is still at­tain­able. We can help them. Let’s do this!

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