Critical thinking tools that make sense

Iowa children between the ages of 8 and 18 (not unlike children throughout America) spend more than 54 hours weekly on cell phones, computers, the internet, and television. They are largely not engaged in educational efforts and virtually unsupervised in terms of content and behavioral influence. The Partnership has identified the media, the entire digital environment, accessed by our children without supervision, as one of the most powerful contributors to high-risk behavior in children.

What is Digital Literacy?

Digital Literacy is a set of critical thinking skills that help people to understand how the media work, what effects they have, and how to manage them to get the maximum benefits while minimizing potential risks.

Why is it Important?

Children are constantly surrounded by media, all trying to get their attention and to leave an impression. Children today spend vastly more time with screen media than with traditional print media, and the Iowa Digital Literacy Program is designed to help educators enhance the teaching of traditional literacy with digital literacy.

Children need new literacy skills to go with the new media. Without these skills, they are at the mercy of marketers and are unable to manage the information either for appropriateness or truth.

Three Reasons to Teach Digital Literacy

Some have noted that there are at least three stages in gaining digital literacy*

First, one needs to become aware of how and when we use digital media. When people actually start counting the hours they spend with various media, they tend to be surprised at how much time they spend on televisions, cell phones and computers. The average school-age child now spends over 10 hours a day OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL devoted to electronic media. Once we are aware of how we use the media, we can begin to be more thoughtful about our choices with it.

Second, one needs to learn critical viewing and thinking skills. These include asking questions of any given media product to consider whose point of view is being represented, what meanings should be taken away from it, what technical and psychological tricks are used, and what points of view were left out.

Third, one needs to pay attention to who creates the media we consume and what are their goals? This includes political, economic, cultural, and sociological forces behind media creation and distribution, critically evaluating who stands to profit or lose.

Media Literacy and Critical Thinking

It is easy for any medium to claim to only have benefits or to be “fair and balanced,” so it is important that consumers learn not to accept any claim without first applying some critical judgment.

Critical analysis of media is not something that has traditionally been taught, and children often have “blind faith and acceptance” of what is shown. This alone is dangerous. Consider, for example, the phrase “As Seen on TV.” This very phrase connotes that if something is seen on TV, then it should be not only trusted, but better than something that wasn’t seen on TV. Although that may be true in a given case, it should not be simply accepted as true.

Media literacy education supports other critical thinking skills that youth need to learn in schools. It can be easily integrated into multiple classroom curricula, including language arts, health, and social studies.

Historically, teachers find critical analysis skills difficult to teach in the classroom, perhaps partly because children expect that most subjects have a “right” answer. Critical thinking is therefore easier to train with media because it is easy to demonstrate that different people can take away different meanings from any given media portrayal or advertisement. This is the foot in the door for helping them learn to question their initial interpretations and to begin a process of critical evaluation.

Digital Literacy Resources

Digital Literacy is not one skill but many. At its core it is a set of critical thinking skills that help people to understand how the digital media work, what effects they have, and how to manage them to get the maximum benefits while minimizing potential risks. Iowa Digital Literacy makes sense of how the media affects children, families, and communities.

The Professor and the Ad ManThe Professor and the Ad Man Program

The Professor and the Ad Man is an in-school presentation that teaches children the five secrets about how advertisements affect the brain. This presentation can be used to kick-off or cap-off a unit of medial literacy and persuasive speech.

Lesson Plans

Other Resources

Helpful Websites