Ljubljana-based Institute Državljan D has been focusing on media literacy ever since 2015.
The purpose of a media literacy program is not to explain how to use a web service or an app or to improve reading skills or writing skills. Nor is the purpose of media literacy (just) teaching how to spot fake news or how to spot mass media propaganda. Rather, it is to create skilled media users by teaching them these three skills (Moeller et al., 2011):
- An ability to evaluate and understand media and information they present
- An understanding of the ways that media can and are being used to communicate
- An understanding of the media themselves and their operating strategies
Skilled media users must in addition know and understand the nature of mass media as well as know how to apply their media-analytical skills when accessing, analyzing and evaluating various media-provided information.
A true media literacy program therefore is aimed at creating a skilled individual, capable of understanding that the mass media is in fact a country’s fourth branch of government, along with the legislative, executive and judicial branches (albeit independent of them), and helping that individual to form accurate conclusions and make responsible decisions regarding all four branches.
In recent years the term media literacy has often been misused, being misrepresented as digital or reading literacy, resulting in misguided and misdirected educational programs.
In the past few years students have been taught about computer programming, computer systems and the development of mobile applications, on the pretence that they are thus being taught about media literacy. Understandably these skills are important in this day and age, but they cannot be mistaken for media literacy skills.
The term fake news, currently one of the most popular terms in and about the media, has served as one more reason why more and more organizations are working on developing different solutions for tackling this problem. But they are all making a key error – they understand spotting fake news as a skill, similar to riding a bike, without taking into the account all the specifics of media reporting and different types of media.
About the program
Before we created our media literacy program, we analyzed the media usage and media habits of the young population. We used this analysis, and the concept described above of what media literacy really is, to devise the program’s content pillars. We use these content pillars to put media practices into an everyday context.
The classical media theory – that mass media is a fourth estate, an independent branch of government and a watchdog on the other branches – is presented in an understandable and easy to grasp way. The key theoretical premises are explained through everyday practical cases. The everyday cases help pupils put theory into context and help them understand the wider picture relating to media issues.
It’s important to note that the content formulations and presentations have been adjusted to the age of the pupils, taking into consideration the media knowledge and experience level of the pupils: pupils in their last three years in elementary school have different knowledge and experiences from those in their first three years in high school.
Additionally, the media landscape and media practices and trends are ever evolving and changing. Our program takes these changes into account as well.
We do not teach our media literacy pupils how to use modern media, e.g., the technical methods and practices of accessing digital media. Rather, we show them the sociological influences on the media and media technology and the sociological impact of the media and media technology in everyday life. By using this approach, we do not cave into the techno-deterministic understanding of media literacy, where the key emphasis lies in tool -usage education. All our efforts and emphasis are put on teaching students how to understand the contemporary and historical civic and media context.
The overall content development is based on Državljan D employees’ analysis and understanding of the media, with is in turn a product of the experience and life-long lessons they have obtained from their work in the media, IT and mobile spheres.
Phase 1: Institute for Sustainable Development
Duration: October 2016 – December 2016
Together with the Institute for Sustainable Development we developed and carried out 80h of media literacy workshops in elementary and high schools all over Slovenia.
The media literacy workshops were a part of the EAThink 2015 project. In this project, media literacy was analyzed from the viewpoint of sustainable environmental efforts.
Participants (elementary and high schools): OŠ Artiče, OŠ Franja Goloba Prevalje, OŠ Tončke Čeč, OŠ Domžale, OŠ Milana Jarca Ljubljana, Gimnazija Celje, Gimnazija Ptuj, Gimnazija Ilirska Bistrica, Gimnazija Franca Miklošiča Ljutomer, Gimnazija Moste.
The individual school hours combined discussions of media policy basics, the integration of mass media into democratic systems and other practical matters. Among other things, we discussed agenda setting by the media by analyzing Slovenian daily newspapers’ covers (e.g., those of Delo, Dnevnik, Večer), the differences between public and commercial media and similar topics.
Analysis of the workshops’ results showed that the pupils were interested in media and in media policies and structure and were familiar with media genres, media agenda setting and the differences between advertising and news content, but mostly lacked skills in contextualizing the information that they obtained.
A big emphasis of the workshop was on discussion with the pupils, encouraging them to think outside of the box, connecting and contextualizing various topics inside the media. We also discussed active citizenship, media (self-)regulation and other topics.
Phase 2: Gimnazija Vič
Duration: November 2017 – February 2018
In close cooperation with the high-school’s head-mistress and its sociology and IT professors, we set up a 20h program for all high-school sophomores.
60% of the curriculum was sociology-based and 40% was IT-based.
The themes of the program were:
- Information check-ups online
- News factors
- Filter bubbles
- Individual roles in the media sphere
- Media as an enterprise
- Online advertising
- The functions of media in a society
Each topic was dealt with in the timeframe of two school periods. In the first period we presented the theory, the second was focused on discussing the pupils’ experience and on debate.
We used an interdisciplinary approach in which we explained the technological and sociological influences (social media, advertising, media financing) on media and consumers of media, and we encouraged the pupils to interconnect their everyday experiences to the theoretical frames.
The program was concluded with three speakers from the media and IT spheres. The speakers were selected by the pupils, using a questionnaire. The pupils were most interested in television hosts and journalists and in CEOs of IT startups.
The media literacy program was funded by a public institute, The Academic and Research Network of Slovenia (ARNES), media literacy being one of the ARNES’s key focuses. The leader of the program was an employee of the Registry.si project, an internal project of ARNES at the time. The leader of the program was therefore able to develop the program and set up its timetable freely.