Have you heard of the CRAAP test? Perhaps you have used one of the many other checklist options which claim to help students critically evaluate information sources and improve their media literacy? Did you know that the CRAAP checklist was actually designed for librarians deciding whether or not to purchase a book rather than to help students evaluate online information? The CRAAP test and many of the other checklists being used to help students evaluate information contain an overwhelming number of prompts for students, often leading to formulaic and stale responses and boredom for students. They also overlook the sophistication of thinking needed to navigate the abundance and complexity of information available today. There has to be a better way.
The aim of this post is to explore effective strategies for teaching information and media literacy.
Top tips for embedding information and media literacy into your lessons:
- Look for ‘media moments’ alongside the formal curriculum – try to incorporate current events and issues into the context of what you are teaching.
- In order for students to be able to critically think about what they are reading, they first need domain-specific background or content knowledge to comprehend and then analyse claims. Explicitly teach very specific skills of analysis for each subject.
- Don’t assume that ‘other subjects’ are teaching media literacy. Even if other teachers and subjects are teaching media literacy (and they should be!), the reality is that critical literacy or disciplinary literacy is very different depending on the subject and is best taught in the context of domain/subject-specific knowledge. Generic training in ‘critical thinking’ is not nearly as effective as subject-specific interrogation. Research shows that it is very difficult for students to apply critical thinking skills learned in one subject to another – each subject has to teach the skills as they specifically apply to each discipline.
- Knowledge about how news media works matters as much as the thinking skills for students to build effective critical thinking skills – explicitly plan, teach, practice and re-visit with students the knowledge and skills needed for critical literacy in each subject.
- Encourage students to see beyond the ‘checklist’ approach to evaluation (lists of evaluative questions) and, instead, think of themselves as an investigator, detective or ‘fact checker’ when using online media.
- Teach students how to make smarter selections from search results (the right ‘moves’ rather than analysis alone) by teaching click restraint alongside basic research skills. For example, knowing how and what keywords are useful when searching, how to scrutinise URLs (beyond simple, often incorrect assumptions about .org suffixes), lateral reading, triangulation, pearl growing (turning one good source into many by mining citations or subject headings), forward and backward chaining and how to use Wikipedia wisely (hint: it doesn’t involve avoiding it all together).
I’ve also created an infographic (see below) which summarises these tips further. Blog post continues after image.
I still think that some sort of checklist-style prompts are necessary as students develop their media literacy competence or fluency. I really like the simplicity of Mike Caulfield’s Four Moves SIFT acronym:
He has also added a habit to his approach: Check your emotions. This encourages students to stop and fact-check before sharing with others online. His online book Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers and free, modifiable online course, Check, Please! provides a comprehensive discussion about how to adopt the SIFT approach with students. I love the simplicity and practical application in the way that both these resources are presented.
I also think it’s a great idea to get students involved in competitions like the ABC News Diet Challenge which asks students to examine how and why they consume news and then create a short video to share how examining their news habits helped them “broaden their [usual] palate” of news consumption. A new digital literacy tool which aims to support Australian teachers of students at the secondary level to develop enhanced critical thinking skills and how to navigate news is also due to be released in early 2020. It will be an extension on the existing eSmart Digital Licence which caters for junior primary, primary and secondary students (although this program is more about being cybersafe rather than explicitly media literacy).
Ultimately, media literacy, information literacy, critical digital literacy or ‘digital and media literacy’ or even media and information literacy (combining the terms to encompass the full range of cognitive, emotional and social competencies) – whatever you want to call it – is about more than evaluating online content. It is also about understanding the internet’s production and consumption processes; its potential as an emancipatory tool as well as the structural constraints which can create highly fragmented, polarised narratives of questionable reliability.
Critical digital literacy of all members of society effects social inclusion (or exclusion) and public participation. Media literacy is about more than abstract information literacy principles. We also need to be mindful of equity issues in the teaching of soft skills – encouraging empowerment of students at one end of the scale and humility and recognition of privilege for students on the other end. Users need domain knowledge (or disciplinary literacy) relevant to the subject being studied as well as technical knowledge about the way that the internet works. By doing this, students can gather a bag of tools, processes and knowledge to make meaningful evaluations about the media that they are exposed to, instead of baseless, generic statements which merely answer evaluative checklists. It is a complicated and overwhelming landscape, but also one with great potential and relevance beyond the school gates.
For additional resources on how to teach information and media literacy, please click here.
The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside