Swimming in a sea of information

As an elementary and middle school student in the 1990s, research consisted of carefully labeled, color-coded index cards with facts copied from a stack of library books. The Internet, specifically search engines, had not caught up to our classrooms yet, leaving us at the mercy of the school or local library. Depending on the subject, there might only be a few books available and in these volumes some of the information would undoubtedly be the same. When I tell my students these stories of the past, they look mildly alarmed. “That’s so hard!” one or two will moan in unison. I find this response alarming and indicative of the problem at hand. The process of finding books and writing down information was certainly time consuming; however, what my students fail to understand is that it is much harder to find accurate and reliable information today than it was 25 years ago, even with the click of a button.

As technology use continues to expand and individuals are inundated with media on a daily basis, it becomes clear that there is a need to teach digital and media literacy in our schools. However, with tight budgets and jam-packed curriculums, who should be required to teach these skills to our students? While finger pointing may ensue, the most fair and practical answer is everyone, as media is everywhere.


In order to combat the reality of fake news, numerous source material, and ever-changing interfaces, students must be prepared to step into the world with both confidence and skepticism. Gone are the days when only a few sources of media were accessible to young learners. Students must now have the knowledge to browse sources while identifying authenticity and accuracy of the information that is provided. It is difficult, as it requires students to take the time to investigate their sources, a step that most passively skips over as they are often monitoring massive amounts of media simultaneously (Ember, 2017).

When digital and media literacy is taught successfully, students gain skills for this success, including critical thinking, inquiry, reflection and analysis. Students are probed to ask questions and lead the discussion, rather than passively addressing a teacher’s insights. As Schiebe & Rogow (2012) note: “…media literacy education is not about teachers asking questions or even about students imitating the teacher’s questions but, rather, about students learning to ask questions for themselves” (p.53).


The good news for educators is that many important aspects of teaching digital media literacy are already present in classrooms that value student-led learning and 21st century skills, such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication. These skills do not require a separate block or specialized teacher, but rather a shift in the mindset of how we teach our students. Media is more abundant in today’s world than past decades. Students no longer require a teacher to give them the answers when information is easily accessible with the click of a button. Our job as educators today is to teach our students how to access information, as well as providing them with the necessary skills to navigate the constant influx of media that surrounds them.

With all things in education, change is a slow and painstaking process. The idea of implementing digital and media literacy into the classroom may conflict with the ideologies of educators, parents, or administrators that believe technology in school should be limited. This is in part due to the excessive amounts of screen time that may take place at home; however, a recent updated guideline from the AAP note that media usage guidelines refer to entertainment, not educational, media (“American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use,” 2016). This trend can be seen in places like Silicon Valley, where some of the leading producers of technology prefer a Woldorf approach to education in which technology plays no role at all (Richtel, 2011). Another setback educators may face is a lack of available resources. Technology, including computers or laptops, provides students with an opportunity to explore and create various sources of media. While this setback would not prevent students from learning about the analytical aspects of digital and media literacy, it would not provide the entire scope of the curriculum.

Food for thought: Is there a way to combine these ideologies while still allowing students to be proficient in digital and media literacy skills?


American Academy of Pediatrics announces new recommendations for children’s media use. (2016, October 21). Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/american-academy-of-pediatrics-announces-new-recommendations-for-childrens-media-use.aspx

Conference on digital literacy [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2017, from http://faculty.gsu.edu/event/conference-on-digital-literacy-feb-2-3/

[Digital Media Traits]. (2013, March 23). Retrieved July 23, 2017, from https://edtechnow.net/2013/03/23/good_lord/

Ember, I. S. (2017, April 03). This is not fake news (but don’t go by the headline). Retrieved July 23, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/education/edlife/fake-news-and-media-literacy.html?mcubz=0

Richtel, M. (2011, October 22). A Silicon Valley school that doesn’t compute. Retrieved July 23, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?mcubz=0

Scheibe, C., & Rogow, F. (2012). The Teacher’s Guide to Media Literacy: Critical            Thinking in a Multimedia World. Corwin: Thousand Oaks, CA.



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