Feeling Down, But Not Out

Although the literal definition of literacy is the ability read and write, the idea of literacy has, over time, evolved greatly in conjunction with the evolution of the medium by which information transmitted.  Today, the concept of literacy is much more nuanced if we consider the context that in a modern society nearly all adults can at least read and write on a basic level.  Consequently, the conveyance of information in today’s world is a delicate dance involving the medium and the message.  In many cases, as Marshall McLuhan stated: “The Medium is the Message”.

Confronting the challenge of deciphering the information and its true intent though the complex interplay of the medium and the message is what I think is to be literate today.

Considering the profile of modern literacy, one cannot ignore the current international crisis that is the COVID-19 pandemic.  As Shelby mentions in her blogpost, this week has been exhausting!  As a science teacher, I’ve had to field so many questions related to public health and microbiology that I have become almost numb to the situation!  As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that rather than answering their questions, I should be investing in their literacy skills by helping them develop sound information gathering and research skills.  In addition, I should be helping them decipher the value and the validity of this information based on sound critical and analytical principles.

toilet paper panic
Illustration by Jason Kirby – https://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/the-toilet-paper-panic-and-why-more-stockpiling-is-inevitable/

The mass hysteria being observed with the hoarding of toilet paper in recent days highlights the power that social media can have over rational thought.  How do I go about helping my students gain these attributes to allow them to become informed proactive citizens rather lemmings?lemmings

From our readings, many resources were highlighted.  Most of these resources are based on sets of questions aimed at guiding students in assessing the qualities of online media.  From the IMVAIN resource to the questions proposed by Hobbs and the CRAAP detection method, all of these tools are a good starting point in establishing a basis for modern literacy.  Unfortunately, I don’t think these tools are sufficient to address the deeper need to comprehend the wider context of media in our world.  With so many slanted perspectives being shared on the internet and the increasingly challenging presence of deep fakes, a more comprehensive view of the digital information economy is essential.

The knowledge that data is precious and how the gathering of personal information is quickly becoming an important commodity in the internet age.  As teachers, we must help our students achieve this level of understanding by teaching good online information management.  Here are but a few subjects that come to my mind:

  • Data security and encryption
  • Passwords and password management
  • Internet tracking targeted advertising
  • Social media use personal wellbeing

An excellent resource I have found that addresses many of these subjects is ConnectSafely.org  By encompassing this type of knowledge in addition to the basic literacy skills that can be built with questioning the previous questioning tools, we can have students that can better understand not only the information itself, but the context in which it lives.  To me, this represents the types of skills needed to be literate in the 21st century.

As I said in the beginning, this week really kicked me down and I’m exhausted.  Here’s to good information and proper literacy!

4 thoughts on “Feeling Down, But Not Out

  1. Great post Daniel! I completely agree with you. This week has been overwhelming and I think we have all been feeling very uncertain about what is going on. This is a critical time to be teaching students how to read effectively online and understand where the information is coming from however increasingly difficult it is becoming! Thanks for sharing the resources and I’ll be checking out ConnectSafely!

  2. What a horrible time to be a biology/microbiology teacher! I agree that social media definitely amplifies the lemming effect… of course, this is coming from the guy who usually keeps about a year supply of toilet paper in my house at all time (haha, I have the storage and I only buy household items when they go on sale, and TP goes 50% off a few times a year where I live!)

    I think not enough is really done on the whole digital citizenship front, and you correctly point out that passwords & security are often overlooked. So is being tracked online and SM wellbeing… good points. Thanks for sharing that resource connectsafely.

  3. Excellent post, Daniel! It is so important to give our students the skills to find the answers to their questions online. The 24-hour news cycle is almost suffocating, so I think teaching digital and media literacy is one of the most skills we can work on with our students across all curriculum areas. Thanks for sharing some great resources like IMVAIN, Renee Hobbs and the CRAAP model. I really enjoyed looking through ConnectSafely.org – a few good podcast episodes as well! And I agree – these last 2 weeks have felt very long. Sometimes focusing on our class is a good distraction. Take care!

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