What does it mean to be (media) literate in today’s world?

According to Alberta Education, literacy has traditionally been thought of as reading and writing. Beside the essential components of literacy, our understanding of literacy in today’s world holds within a lot more. Alberta Education defines literacy as the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily living.

Renee Hobbs describes media literacy “more parallel to literacy: reading and writing in a digital age”.

(Media) Literacy is critical in helping us make sense of the world. As my classmate, Krysta pointed out, in our present days’ information abundance it is very difficult to tell what is reliable information and what is inaccurate, biased and/or opinionated. In order to avoid misinformation, it is important to help our students become media literate.

But what is media literacy? From Daniel Dion’s content catalyst, I learnt that according to Sylvia Duckworth, Digital Literacy is when students know how to use various digital technologies and how to assess legitimacy of web resources. Being media literate means being able to ask important questions. Srividya Kumar refers to it as content curation and crap detection based on four criteria: currency, reliability, authority and purpose/point of view. The ten questions she believes a media literate person should ask are:

  1. How recent is the information?
  2. Is it current enough for the topic?
  3. What kind of information is included in the content?
  4. Is the information meaningful?
  5. Who is the creator or author? What is their expertise on the topic?
  6. Who is the publisher or sponsor? Are they reputable?
  7. What is the publisher’s interest (if any) in this information?
  8. Is it primarily data or opinion? If it’s the latter, is it balanced?
  9. Does the author provide references or sources for the data or quotations?
  10. Is the creator or author trying to sell you something?

Renee Hobbs in the Media Literacy for the 21st Century: Interview with Renee Hobbs, EdD suggests 5 important competencies: Access (Listening & reading comprehension, hyperlinking, search strategies), Analysis (evaluation), Create and collaborate, Reflect and take action. As my classmates, Brad Raes & Shelby Mackey shared, according to the National Association of Media Literacy, Media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication”. “It empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, communicators and active citizens”. According to Commonsense Media, Media literacy helps kids think critically, become smarter consumers of products and information, recognize perspectives, create media responsibly, identify the role media plays in our culture, and understanding the author’s intent of the content. Alina Tugend in the article These Students Are Learning About Fake News and How to Spot It points out the two equally unfortunate outcomes of the inability to judge content: “having people believe everything that suits their preconceived notions, or they cynically disbelieve everything. “Either way leading to a polarized and disengaged citizenry.”

In order to teach student how to critically understand, analyze and evaluate online content, images and stories, research shows that there are two major skills we should direct our attention towards: the first is lateral reading to help determine the authenticity or reliability of the respective site and the second skill is click restraint, focusing on resisting the impulse to click on the first result that appears, until looking at the full list of credibility and then clicking selectively. In my belief, in order to help students get a good understanding and truly develop their crap detection skills, digital literacy and media literacy should be taught throughout all content areas.

Until next time,


7 thoughts on “What does it mean to be (media) literate in today’s world?

  1. I agree with you that digital and media literacy skills should be taught throughout all content areas. The idea of lateral reading is an excellent way to go about it. Thanks for the concise post.

    • Thanks, Daniel! I think first many teachers have to be aware of what lateral reading is and the importance of it, to be able to actually teach it.

  2. Great post Melinda! I really like Rene Hobbs work and her ten questions are so crucial in today’s digital and media age. Taking the proper steps to ensure credibility is key online!

    • Thanks Adam! I agree! It is so easy to get sucked in, in this information abundance. I am definitely starting to focus more on reading laterally.

  3. Excellent post, Melinda! Thanks for sharing Srividya Kumar’s 10 questions – I found it to be an easy guide for exploring media literacy. I also agree with your comment that we should be teaching digital and media literacy throughout all content areas. I am curious as to how you might incorporate it with your EAL students?

    • Hi Catherine,
      Thank you for reading my post and for your kind comments! Of course teaching anything twice in half an hour is difficult but I think it is doable. Teaching how to be responsible (digital) citizens could be done by simply asking students to read each other’s written responses and write 3C’s and a Q for their peers. Access to technology would definitely be helpful when it comes to teaching digital-, and media literacy. Students could be given two articles to read and decide which is fake and which is true by practicing lateral reading and critical thinking. I also shared some English Language Learning apps with my students just before schools were closed. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to follow up with them to see how they feel about these apps. But evaluating apps could be a very interesting activity as well. I think digital-, and media literacy education can be implemented in all content areas as long as we give it some thought and ask for support from our more experienced colleagues.

      Thank you,

  4. Thanks for the share. Your post has helped me with my own project as I am exploring crap detection and lateral reading. I’ve done lots of interviews on this and I’m working on a lesson on this. Thanks for the list of Kumar’s questions.

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