What do you do?
I run the education team at the News Literacy Project (NLP). We create all student- and teacher-facing resources from NLP, including interactive online learning experiences for our online platform, the Checkology® virtual classroom; professional development and conference workshops for educators; and our weekly email newsletter for teachers called The Sift, which I co-write. What does most of this work have in common? A semi-fanatical devotion to tracking mis- and disinformation trends — along with other oddities and dystopian developments across the information landscape — so we wind up being obsessively online, constantly curating examples to use in new resources, and going to some truly bizarre and even distasteful places. We also follow a lot of really interesting conversations among journalists about standards, ethics and the future of journalism.
Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
We are getting ready to launch three really exciting projects. First, we spent the spring and summer totally reworking our interactive lesson about news media bias — drawing the complexity of the concept into focus for students by giving them new ways to think about different types of bias and the possible forms they can take in coverage, and by reminding them that their own biases get mixed up in the process. Second, we’re adding a really cool digital verification sandbox area to Checkology in October called The Check Center, which will feature a toolbox of digital verification skills tutorials — like how to do a reverse image search, or how to use Google Street View to geolocate a viral photo — and a collection of verification challenges that students can take on that require them to use these skills to solve. Finally, we are launching our first-ever mobile app: a news literacy brain-trainer called Informable that gives users a series of examples and forces them to make fast decisions about them. There are four modes: one in which people have to decide if each example is an ad or something else; one that asks people to sort straight news pieces from opinion journalism; one that tests people’s ability to recognize claims that are factual in nature (or “checkable”); and one that requires you to identify when an example contains strong evidence for a claim. The modes are based in research and public opinion poll data that supports the need for practice in these four areas.
Why is media literacy important to you?
Oh my goodness. That’s difficult to answer in a concise way, but the closest I can come is this: Today’s teens didn’t ask for the information landscape we’re handing off to them, but they’re inheriting it nonetheless. They therefore have an inarguable right to news and media and information literacy education. If we don’t provide this, we’re putting them at a distinct civic disadvantage — we’re actively disempowering them — because the ability to evaluate information is the basis for their civic empowerment. In fact, credible information is the basis for democracy itself, so if we lose either access to that or the collective ability to differentiate between misinformation and fact, we’re going to lose our republic as we know it.
What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
All of the amazing work being done by so many dedicated journalists, misinformation researchers, media academics and thinkers, and classroom teachers … all of whom are building tools, gathering datasets, building resources and trying new things to make sure we can maximize the benefits of our information environment and minimize its pitfalls and exploits.
Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
Being connected to a group of practitioners who are all focused on the same core ideals — helping teens know what they can believe, and how to empower their voices in critical conversations about issues that affect them — is invaluable. We may not always take the same approaches or agree on the methods, but we’re all in the right room for all the right reasons.