A brief guide for teachers on including media literacy and latest news in various school disciplines
The most widespread model of introducing media literacy into general education is “dissolving” it into the educational curriculum as a package of certain skills and abilities integrated in various school disciplines. Many EU countries have been applying this approach. It has been also widely discussed with representatives of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports in Armenia.
It is quite easy to introduce the topic of personal data security into the information technology curriculum, whereas freedom of speech and the role of the media in a democratic society totally fit into social studies. However, it is often hard to imagine how media literacy could fit into the curricula of history, physics, math and geography.
Covid-19 has drastically remodeled the world and the education, turning into a “great excuse” for introducing media literacy components into various school disciplines, illustrated by epidemic-related examples.
This approach solves a few problems at a time
- Teachers can connect the curriculum topics to current events, making them even more interesting for students;
- Students face modern world challenges in the classroom, trying to find their way around and look for their own creative solutions;
- Taking into account that students make more use of the media in a lockdown, teachers shall encourage project-based tasks, introducing audio-visual, interactive or other media tools;
- Students learn to use those tools, information sources and platforms more wisely, as well as to distinguish between suspicious and trustworthy sources;
- Students learn to critically analyze the information spread by the media, as well as its impact upon the world and their life;
- Students discuss and analyze the role of the media and information in emergencies and times of crisis.
This guide contains tips on the topics, skills and tools that could be used in the curriculum. The integration of media literacy topics in school disciplines is not restricted to these examples.
What could be more fascinating for a math learner than performing calculations and forming charts based on huge data bases and statistics?
For example, calculating the basic reproductive ratio of the virus in Armenia and worldwide, formulating the recovery and mortality rates, forming infographics and timelines.
Here, it is important to define the data sources that learners use, to discuss the extent of their accuracy. And if you add the analysis and comparison of the charts and figures published in the media, it will turn out that students have learned to imply the knowledge obtained at the math class, as well as gained some new info about the virus.
Moreover, they have learned to analyze the work of media industry and their manipulations.
Figures published in the media are often confusing – the audience hardly has time to study, analyze and compare the charts in detail. They just settle for the visual clues.
The epidemic provides numerous international and local examples that can be discussed to demonstrate how statistics can be presented through pictures and how it can affect people.
Radio Liberty and Armtimes.com had disseminated a misleading graph. Later they apologized and changed it. Another graph spread by Arsen Torosyan led to an expert discussion in the media. Here, students can try to understand the issue and analyze it on their own.
Similarly, measuring the social distance or economic fluctuations can turn into math problems, as well as the reproductive ratio changes in case of state of emergency extension in Armenia or another country.
Biology, ecology, environmental studies
While studying the human body and how viruses affect it, teachers can help students to find their way in various related myths, to understand the principles of virus spread and their impact, to talk about vaccines, to discuss the mask-wearing and handwashing instructions.
Also, they can debunk the misleading and absurd pieces of advice, explaining that not being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds has nothing to do with Coronavirus. They can talk about the health benefits of garlic and ginger, explaining why they cannot kill viruses and why you should not trust such materials.
Discussions can be conducted on what students know about the origins of viruses. In this process, it is worth to discuss the existing hypotheses, helping children not to fall into the traps of conspiracy theories, and only be guided by accurate scientific sources.
This is a great occasion to discuss zoonotic viruses, to compare their characteristic features, to analyze, for example, the false info spread about bats and snakes.
All these topics can turn into wonderful materials for research, since students can fact-check the suspicious info on their own, making use of the scientific websites and trustworthy media suggested by the teacher.
As for environmental studies, it is worth to examine the air pollution decrease maps and images spread by the media, as well as the info on the impact of lockdown upon the atmosphere and the nature, and to discuss how the media explain the topic, helping to understand the benefits and negative consequences.
Teachers can encourage students to produce and disseminate educational materials in their favorite platforms and in their favorite formats by making TikTok videos to explain the importance of social distance, posing a status and publishing a picture to describe the main symptoms of the disease, running a blog.
The scientific nuances of the epidemic can be also discussed at physics and chemistry classes. For example, the students can try to study the possible impact of mobile networks and to discuss if 5G networks are to blame for Coronavirus spread.
The issue of medication development and implementation can be studied at chemistry lessons. Publications related to them can be fact-checked and analyzed.
Language and literature
The epidemic has generated new words and concepts, such as infodemic, covidiot.
They are disseminated through the media, and the media turns into a tool and means to develop and change the language. There are enough materials on how a language creates or borrows words.
On the other hand, this is a great excuse to discuss the linguistic nuances of scientific, official, informational messages, comparing them to the social media language.
Teachers can ask students to change the styles and genres of various texts (how would a minister, a news anchor, an active social media user or a fellow student present the same message.)
It will be also useful to discuss “panic-provoking” texts and info that were banned and even punishable at the beginning of the state of emergency in Armenia. Students can find examples and analyze them.
It is quite important to discuss with the students the sources of the information as well as its audience . What you say is essential but who listens to you is equally important because the structure and language of your message are driven by your audience.
This will help students not only to develop their public speaking or writing skills but also to understand how messages are constructed and what possible manipulations can be used by various media or public figures.
Using the topic of Coronavirus in advertising is also an interesting phenomenon – shops and producers, taking advantage of people’s fears and desperation, have been applying a special language and using the context of epidemic to find customers and convince them to buy their vitamins, supplements and therapies.
Students at language and literature classes work with large texts, learning to analyze and to develop their skills of getting the gist of the story. They discuss how and why a historical event or a literature topic can be interpreted and presented in the works of different authors.
As for the media, one of Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan’s state of emergency press conferences can be studied. Students can be asked to define the most essential points of the press conference.
Then they can study how the media chose the headlines for that story, giving certain values to different parts of his speech. Are those messages different, what will the audience conclude by comparing the messages of various media outlets or persons?
This is a great exercise of text analysis, as well as a way to understand that any journalistic story has been resulted by a subjective choice and, in some cases, by an intentional misrepresentation.
There are lots of literary works covering epidemics. Surely they are works of fiction but they are also media presenting a glance at historical or imaginary events changing human behavior and expanding people’s views on life. These days, it will add extra layers to the lessons.
There are numerous epidemic-related maps in the media, displaying the general picture of virus spread, as well as comparative images where the outbreak is presented in relation with the weather, previous vaccinations, rate of growth, mortality and recovery rates, etc.
There are also historical and chronological maps, maps displaying the economic consequences, the movement restrictions, and even maps presenting the closed and open schools.
The students can use, for example, real-time flight tracker maps and check the flight restriction data from different sources.
Working with maps can be fascinating since it contains elements of gaming. However, it is also important and quite useful for getting to know, to measure and to understand the world, as well as to reveal the power of the media.
Maps are also media products, and, in this case too, it is necessary to find out their sources and authors, to fact-check the data, to understand how the images change in case of changing the data and the perspective of their presentation.
Students can check if a map presents exactly what the media article claims.
For example, an English tabloid published this map, claiming to reveal how Wuhan travelers had spread Coronavirus worldwide. In reality, it is an image that indicates world flight routes. However, it has been incorrectly used in the context of Coronavirus, misleading the media and the audience.
Teachers can try to make maps with the students, using the existing data. There are useful tools at online educational platforms, such as CommonSense.org or National Geographic.
Just like ecology, geography can discuss the impact of Coronavirus upon the nature and the world, studying the pollution or nature recovery maps. Lockdown changes the world map. And it would be quite fascinating if students could create a map of the future, trying to justify their viewpoints.
Also, it will be useful to discuss how the media helps us to get to know the world, how much we learn about China, Italy, the USA and other countries affected by Coronavirus, just by watching the news.
Many scientists divide world history into stages, based on disaster and epidemic dates.
The article called “11 ways pandemics have changed the course of human history, from the over $4 billion spent to fight Ebola to the trillions it might take to tackle the coronavirus” provides food for thought not only for history lessons but also for fine arts or history of arts classes. The epidemics are presented not only through words but also through pictures. Those pictures are the media because they have played the role of photos and documentation.
Many centuries ago they used to replace Facebook live broadcasts and media outlets that currently present emotional video pieces on Coronavirus pandemic from various parts of the world.
If students compare the 14th century world-changing plague with the 21st century horrifying Coronavirus, they will not only find out a lot about the epidemics impact and significance, the world and human life in those two periods of time, but will also discuss how technologies change daily life when information spreads instantly.
A messenger reading the news in every village against a social media post – this can turn into a fascinating discussion if students try to present how many people a piece of news can reach at a certain time period.
History has reached us in a form of texts often written by the order of various kings or the church. There were no mechanisms for fact-checking – thus, students can discuss how an individual (a subjective perception) becomes a historical source (an objective fact.)
Epidemics are good cases for research to reveal what we know (and from which sources) about the time when they appeared, to what degree we can trust them, which sources people used in the past and in current times.
On the other hand, students can discuss if the current state of IT and the media help to control, treat and prevent the virus, or help to inform and protect people.
Discussing the vital role of information, its benefits and possible harms is very important.
As for the Armenian history, we can take the case of typhus outbreak in the beginning of the 20th century, studying the information and the sources, analyzing how and why various historical sources presented the epidemic (the press, the official documents of the time, international organizations could display the issue at different angles), how the media helped to fight the epidemic.
Apart from being a public health disaster, Coronavirus is also a huge social and economic problem that affects the daily vital activities of the public, the traditions of interaction and self-organization, changes the economic and social contacts, makes people think about their own protection and, at the same time, about social responsibility, makes review one’s values, priorities, explore the perceptions оf the world, freedom and safety, power and weakness, and other essential concepts.
All of the above happens under the influence of media messages, reassuring or panic-provoking materials, official information and suspicious news from unknown sources, scandalous headlines and extremely emotional social media statuses.
The discipline of Social studies helps students analyze the changes in personal perceptions, as well as perceptions of the world, that form social contacts, as well as studying the role and consequences of information.
Should people’s movements and geolocation be tracked through technologies, or personal data security should be a priority?
How to avoid manifestations of nationalism or spreading hate speech towards various groups when people’s fears and survival instincts make them believe unsubstantiated info, such as the one claiming that the Chinese have intentionally spread the virus, or that a certain citizen has intentionally infected the participants of an engagement party/a funeral/an event?
To what extent does the public trust the authorities, and how does the trust or the lack of trust support or impede the fight against the epidemic?
How different are the approaches and restrictions of the countries with various governance systems and values?
How are the crisis and media platforms exploited in internal political debates?
How legitimate were the Commandant’s Office restrictions against the media? How do the media, in their turn, observe the code of ethics while covering sensitive issues and to what extent do they consider the audience’s responses and feelings?
How can the media turn into a tool for enhancing or diminishing public trust through intentional and targeted publications? An expert and a media outlet present the same figures and data as achievements, whereas others display them as a loss of control over the situation and a breakdown.
Coronavirus helps to understand the standpoints of media outlets when the same event, press conference, statement are interpreted in diametrically different ways at various platforms.
It also helps to distinguish dedicated and professional reporters that truthfully and responsibly try to help readers find their way in this strange time period and also try to admit their mistakes when they make them.
The Verified section of Media.am contains a big “supply” of verified and analyzed suspicious news that can turn into great materials for discussion at different classes. The games Media Battle (Armenian) and the Adventures of Literatus (available in multiple languages) that are available on the website can turn into tools for learners and add to their knowledge and skills in media literacy. Other local resources in Armenian language for teaching media literacy can be found in the “Media Literacy” section of Media.am website.
Getting ready for the future
The world-changing epidemic of Coronavirus that has greatly affected the humanity will sooner or later be included in school textbooks, becoming a part of the curriculum.
However, the 21st century education can be characterized with its practical use and the link with the real world and real problems. Today students and teachers are interested in and concerned about Coronavirus – thus, that topic should be discussed as part of the lesson.
To turn the education into a network of flexible and extensive life-explaining knowledge, each school discipline should try to analyze the present times, helping learners to understand the understandable, to explain the unexplainable and to look at the future, empowered with the knowledge about the past.
Interdisciplinary projects are also among the characteristic features of modern education, and media literacy helps to link the topics, to build bridges between the subjects, to find tools that will not frame the borders of disciplines but will bind them together.
The Coronavirus epidemic can be quite smoothly studied at the classes of history and math, biology and Armenian language, social studies and physics. Here, teachers can combine various methods and skills, make use of the media, create media and analyze the contents.
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