June 6, 2022
This spring, 541 Maynard Public Schools students in grades 4-12 took a 24 question survey on their media literacy education. This survey was administered by Gracie Gilligan as a part of her senior project, in collaboration with Watertown-based Media Literacy Now and the Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island. The survey explored whether students are learning the skills necessary to decode messages sent via social media apps, television, video games, newspapers, and other forms of media.
“The findings of this survey showed that students are largely not acquiring these skills at home, and that although many aspects of media literacy are being taught in Maynard Schools, there are still important areas for improvement, ” said Gracie Gilligan.
Maynard High School Senior Project Coordinator Jean LaBelle, a librarian and history teacher, emphasizes the importance of media literacy to students’ lives. She says, “So much of our kids’ lives now are spent online. From Instagram to Netflix, YouTube to Apple News, TikTok to BuzzFeed – our kids are bombarded by content. Students need to be taught sourcing, critical thinking, and bias as they consume and understand this bombardment. They also need the chance to create their own messages and see the different elements that make up our media landscape.
Only 13% of survey respondents reported that they often discuss what makes media sources trustworthy with their parents or guardians, and 47% reported that they hardly ever discuss this. Additionally, only 12% often comment on the pros and cons of online life with their parents or guardians and 51% hardly ever do this.
“These findings bring to the forefront the necessity for the school and the parents and families to continue a dialogue about media literacy, and further our work on this topic. Media literacy is a critical area for all of us, especially our students, to have a firm understanding of as they transition post-high school,” said Brian Haas, Maynard Superintendent of Schools.
There are some areas where Maynard Schools are doing very well educating students on media literacy. For example, 79% of students, including 95% of 12th graders surveyed have done a research project where they had to think of questions, gather information from multiple sources, and then summarize what they learned in a paper, video, presentation, or other forms. Projects like this give students experience navigating media and interpreting information. Additionally, 66% of students surveyed have discussed in class how media can be beneficial or harmful to their health, identity, and relationships, including 61% of 4th graders. This shows that this aspect of media literacy is very much present in Maynard education at all grade levels.
However, there are still areas where Maynard can improve. Only 34% have looked at media to identify stereotypes, and only 45% of students overall – 52% of 12th graders – have learned how selling audience attention is the way media companies make money.
Maynard history teacher Olga Doktorov says these results give “food for thought” as she is planning her instruction and curriculum for next year. She says, “I often ask myself what I want my students to know and remember 10, 20, 50 years after graduating from high school, and media literacy is certainly one of the things that come to mind. It is a skill that will be relevant in any profession my students choose and in their personal lives as well.”
Maynard High School Principal Charles Caragianes said, “It’s critical for a functional democracy to have citizens who can discern among valid information, opinions, and outright lies. Media literacy is one way to ensure that life in Maynard, in Massachusetts, and in the United States flourishes as true democracies.”
“This survey helps inform policymakers in Massachusetts about where additional resources are needed to help students, families and schools to prepare young people for civic and economic participation in a truly global media environment,” said Erin McNeill, president of Media Literacy Now. “The findings here are likely reflective of the current state of school districts across the state. Policymakers need to step up to ensure Massachusetts is prepared for the challenges of the 21st century.”
The wide-ranging survey, in addition to examining the approach of one school, also helps to demonstrate what a comprehensive media literacy program would look like.
Media Literacy Now is a Watertown, Mass.-based nonprofit organization advocating for a public education system that ensures all students learn the 21st century literacy skills they need for health, well-being, economic participation, and citizenship.
Media Education Lab, founded and directed by Professor Renee Hobbs, provides public programs, educational services, community outreach and multimedia curriculum resources targeted to the needs of educators and learners in school and after-school settings; and develops and implements a multidisciplinary research agenda to explore the educational impact of media and technology, with a focus on digital and media literacy education as an expanded conceptualization of literacy.