Media Literacy Part 2

media literacy


Tune in for the 2nd half of Janna and Nate Noorlander’s discussion on media literacy. What we see is just the tip of the iceberg.  How to critically think about the information we are exposed to and define the underlying reason ‘why’.

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ABOUT OUR GUEST |   In college, Nate Noorlander double-majored in philosophy and history teaching. After a stint as a project manager with a disaster repair company, he moved to Beijing, China, where he taught IGCSE and A-level history at the Cambridge International Curriculum Center of Beijing Normal University. He also spent time touring India and trekking in Nepal.

Worn out by the Beijing air, Nate moved home with his family and taught English and history at Mountainville Academy, and then the American International School of Utah. At AISU he developed mini-courses in boredom and awareness (probably close to what many people call mindfulness) based on Heidegger’s ideas about technology, and Nicholas Carr’s ideas about what the internet does to our brains, areas of study that (perhaps ironically) he finds compelling.

Done in this time by life in the beautiful Mountain West he returned to Beijing, where he taught IB History, IB English, and Theory of Knowledge at the Yew Chung International School of Beijing. When Covid-19 hit he was coaching the boys' basketball team and gearing up for an end-of-season tournament in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, ignorant of what was coming. The trip was canceled, his family just made it out of Beijing on a flight three times its usual cost, and he stuck it out in the shuttered city for another six weeks. When life didn’t change, he left too. Since then it’s been all history with The Nomadic Professor.

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Podcast Transcript

Janna 00:00: Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host Janna Koch, and BookShark’s Community Manager. Today's episode is Part Two of Media Literacy with Nate Norlander from the Nomadic Professor. We're going to jump right into Nate's metaphor of the iceberg in navigating media literacy. 

Nate  00:00: But underneath the surface of all of that we have so much going on that we are unaware of that is acting on the stories that make it to the top in ways we should be aware of if we are going to be fully literate, and not just to kind of, you know, dog-paddling to stay on the surface of misinformation and disinformation and being misled. Alright, so I'm going to switch metaphors. So on the one hand, you know, you can think of it like an iceberg, and at the top, you've got these kinds of tips and tricks, there's a lot of fundamental stuff going on that you need to understand for those tips and tricks to be more than just bandaids. Now if we switch metaphors to imagine that you are looking ROA at something through a set of binoculars or a telescope, when you're looking through a lens like that, you can see a very small piece of what's out there, and you can see it blown up, right. And that's great for its purpose. But what you can't see is everything going on around that zoomed-in image. So if I'm looking at a bird, or a mountain or whatever, I can see all the beautiful parts close up. And that's what these skills, like lateral reading, and corroboration are, they're kind of a really zoomed-in look very close to the surface. But there's a lot of stuff going on around and outside of that zoomed-in look that we should pay attention to. So in our media literacy course, I'm going to ask the students to take off their binoculars or the instructors, the the parents to take off their binoculars. Let's look at the whole picture. And we will kind of like an onion, take off layers until we get back to the tips and tricks that help us navigate. But until we understand the rest, those are really just band-aids or things that help us stay afloat. So I would argue there are let me just tell you to keep it sort of concrete, we divided our course into five units. The first one is called fundamentals. The second one is called history. Third is politics. Fourth is language. And the fifth is tools. And the fifth is the stuff I just mentioned, like corroboration, and lateral reading. Got a lot of stuff before that. So in fundamentals, we're going to talk about technology design, for example, the like button, the incentives for companies to get eyeballs and attention, right, the attention economy. All of these are related to the story you're reading on some foreign policy event or some domestic economic question. Because, as you said, the story that reaches your eyeballs is the story that has met all these preceding criteria, not necessarily the story that is best serving you as a consumer of information. So technology design is very important. I argue that technology. This is a little more abstract, so I'm not going to go deeply into it. But technology as a fundamental thing is important because we tend to think that we are using technology to get what we want. But in fact, we're being shaped by the tools we use, whether it's our phones, the internet, or our vehicles. They shape our expectations, our expectations, our values, and the things we find important. So it's kind of a relationship we have with our technologies, and they change us in important ways. So I think that's important to understand. I think psychology is important to understand the ways that we tend to discount what other people believe if it contradicts our prior biases or intuitions. That way, we tend to trust our intuitions very fast, without really getting under the surface of them. And instead, if we have an intuition, we look for evidence that confirms it. Evidence that supports it rather than disconfirming evidence that might help us come to a better conclusion. So all this is kind of in the fundamentals box. 

When I read a story that is in the headlines today, say it's on the war in Ukraine. I should understand sort of in the background, some of these things that are going on, I found it on the internet, that is related to technology design. And it is it's generating a lot of controversy (the story in the Ukraine). And it's very partisan. So you have a left reaction and a right reaction, that's related to the way our intuitions seek to, you know, they look for congratulations more than they look for contradictions. And so that kind of bias that's built into the impact these stories have is important to understand. 

Now, the second bit, and I'll, I'll try to speed through these, so I'm not talking for an hour and interrupt me if there are questions you want to get into, but the second unit is on history. So I would suggest it's important to kind of understand the history of information technology and the history of social media. So we can watch as social media and its goals and incentives evolve, say from the 90s, to now, right, that's a very shallow history. Or we can look at the history of politics in America. So we'd go all the way back to the 1700s to now. And we look at the left and the right in the center and how these have evolved and changed and how the teams have reoriented and their policy goals and objectives have evolved and morphed and even come to be exactly the opposite of what they used to be. So we want to understand partisanship, political bias, and the history of our technologies and politics. So that would be units two and three. And I think that's important because if we're going to tell a student look, you got to understand bias. They're looking at such a narrow slice of what that means if they don't understand, left, right, liberal, conservative, progressive. You know, Democrats and Republicans, if they don't have a sort of broader framework for making sense of partisan means this, the left is reacting in this way, because they have these sort of tendencies or values and the right this way, the way to understand bias is, is to have a deeper understanding of what motivates a person's reasoning. So if they can get a sense for the politics, that is deeper than just, oh, that's what Republicans like. And that's what Democrats like, that's just, it's too black and white, it's too shallow, we're gonna get a little deeper. Now, so we're ….

Janna  07:29: Let me stop you there for just a second. Do you think that most people would be surprised that having an understanding of political history is important for media literacy in 2023? 

Nate  07:42: I don't know if they'd be surprised. But I don't know if it would be the first approach that would come to mind. Because I think when we think of media literacy, we really do think of the immediate actions to be taken. I want to find a website that aggregates all the news and helps me figure out which stories to pay attention to and which are valuable. I'm not saying there's no place for them. I want to read laterally, I want to corroborate. We think of media literacy, we really do think of kind of these skills and shortcuts to figuring out what is good information, and what is bad information. But if we're looking at it in a zoomed-out way, in a more fundamental way, so we're building our media literacy course in collaboration with a group called Brown News. And they are a, an aggregator that brings together all the headlines on a given story in one place and rates the institution based on their political bias. That's an incredibly valuable service that acts as a shortcut to getting to the bottom of any given story. But it's not that useful if the student can't go to the website and have a a well of understanding about what is political bias, and where does it come from? Right. 

Janna  09:04: And would you say that that is applicable throughout the world? Like, I know, we're specifically talking about like the United States and a lot of things that you've mentioned, just our politics, right? We're Americans. And so that makes sense for us. And we're, we're kind of, you know, ethnos era, Nate, what's that word? Not ethnocentric? But I guess it could be or we just kind of pay attention to our nation. And obviously, we're the ones that do it. Right. And nobody else does it any other better way. But would you say that applies globally as well that like if you're looking at countries that have free media, right, not state ran or, you know, there's so many countries that don't have what we have, is it applicable to countries that are similar setup as ours and the freedoms that they have that their students would also need to understand the politics behind it, or is that more centralized to our country? Or are the countries that we deal with typically in our headlines?

Nate  10:03: So I will offer a disclaimer first, that I'm not an expert globally, I would say based on my impressions that, broadly speaking, being what we know as the West, this is a universal story, a kind of, there's a, there's a kind of populism and partisanship that is, seems to be more seems to be stronger or accentuated than it has been in the past. So I think the political aspect is not unique to the United States. Obviously, there are nuances to American history that don't exist in Europe or somewhere else. But I think broadly speaking, the sort of partisan divide, and its importance for understanding today's media is a universal story. But I would also say, regardless of where you are the tendency to think, along tribal lines. And so here, we're not just talking politics, it could be anything, it could be ethnicity, language, religion, class, you know, economic status, like, there are lots of ways in which we think in the same ways as our groups. And so that might be a more fundamental version of partisanship is just, we are people who, whose psychologies cling to people like them, right, and people on their team and on their side and their family. And so I think that's the universal story as well, whether it's politically oriented or oriented along some other line, the tendency to confirm your biases based on the tribe or group you belong to, is a very old story.

teaching kids media literacyteaching kids media literacy

Janna  11:55: It applies to all humans, no matter regardless of the situation. 

Nate  11:59: Yeah. So there are two more units in the media literacy course, I'm going to jump into those. Okay. So the fourth one, I call language, is where we do things that help us understand arguments. So like I said, if you go to ground news, it will give you you know, here are the 30 outlets that are covering this story, here are their political biases. And that is a very nice shortcut to making sense of the headlines. But it's, it's best used by people who already have a mature understanding of the media, and of how to read and break down arguments. Because a 15-year-old who comes to that site and decides, Okay, these are the three outlets I'm going to pay attention to, here's the story, they still have to now read and comprehend the story, they have to make sense of the argument and decide whether, you know, one bit of evidence is convincing and or one bit is not convincing. They have to make sense of just the fact that it was presented in this context versus this context impact the way I read it. So in this unit, we're gonna get into Logic and Rhetoric, you know, how to break down arguments, how to make judgments about whether primacy is aligned with conclusions, arguments are valid, rhetorical strategies are manipulating us or just elevating the speech of the person, you know, writing or speaking. We're going to get into word choice and tone and the way these have implications for what a writer or speaker is trying to say. It's going to help us read between the lines and tease out nuances that aren't explicitly stated. So the unit on language, we're really trying to say, Okay, we've got some background here. We know about politics and technology design, we know some of the fundamentals. Now, when you're actually in a story, how do you make sense of it? How do you how do you judge the argument of a given author or institution? So we're going to work with language until a student can break down a story into its component parts can analyze language in a way that is convincing and useful, and will serve them well when they have to, you know, decide who to vote for or what toothbrush to buy, or, you know, there are all kinds of ways in which this is practical for every person everywhere in society. 

And then the fifth one is tools. So this is where we're going to get to some of the stuff we've talked about already, lateral reading, we're going to open a new tab and find out about the institution we're reading from before we just dive in and start believing based on superficial indicators like the URL or the lack of typo was there the professionalism of the site and all that, we're gonna get back to the original source. And as opposed to, you know, it's funny, you can read a story online that without knowing it is really just a third-hand report that doesn't have anything original in it. So you might find a site that has reported what was reported on this site. And that site just reported what was reported in this site, which reported what was reported in this site. And then, you know, obviously, the obvious analogy, there is the game of telephone. One person 

Janna 15:37: You just described every college paper I ever wrote.

Nate  15:42: Wait, meaning you didn't do good research? You?

Janna  15:45: I don't know. I don't know, I put those things together pretty quickly. But I am saying it like that. I was like, Oh my gosh, like, that is kind of funny. When you think like that, if not presented that way, you're like, oh, wait, I guess that is just my opinion on someone else's opinion. And nobody actually got the original story to begin. 

Nate  16:03: It is funny. In the end, it could be a story that just blows up in the media is a story that blew up in the media because one person reported on it. And they may be a good journalist, they may be a mediocre journalist, they may be a dishonest journalist, we don't know. But the next outlet that sees it doesn't want to take the time to investigate it because then they're going to lose the scoop, they're going to lose the eyeballs. So they report it with a disclaimer that this is being reported by this institution. So our hands are clean if it turns out to be false. And then the next institution does the same thing. And you end up with a kind of mushrooming of reportage or journalism that was only done once and hasn't been corroborated yet. But now you have this international story, right? And, you know obviously, not every story is this exaggerated, I'm speaking to the extremes. But that's the kind of tendency. So in this final unit, we're gonna we're gonna hit some of these skills, these tips and tricks. How do you navigate the Internet? How do you do searches on Google? How do you find where the information came from and make judgments about the reliability and credibility of that source, that author, or that institution? And so I feel like those skills are best learned when they're coming on top of a foundation of a really strong understanding of what's going on beneath the surface of all of this reportage, from technology designed to psychology to partisanship to you know, American politics, et cetera. Now, you're ready to say, Okay, I'm going to open a new tab, and I'm going to find out about this institution and decide if it's worth reading because you have some background to arm you with the ability to do that. But prior to that, I really not that it's a bad thing to learn in isolation. But I think our students and our teachers and parents will be better served if those skills are learned on top of the fundamentals.

Janna 18:20: So I'm excited to see this course when can we expect it to be available for purchase?

Nate 18:27: So that depends on when you are willing to make the purchase we have our fundamentals unit is published now. 

Janna 18:37: Okay.

Nate 18:39: And available for purchase. Now, any purchases now we'll obviously get the rest of the content as it's released. We're putting out a new session about every three to five weeks. So there are maybe 8 to 10 sessions available now there will be about 30. By the time the course is complete. And we'll just roll them out until the course is complete. If you want to take it along with us, then you can take it at our pace. If you want to wait till it's done. It probably will be you know, next summer before it's totally completed. But we're working through jumping now into our unit on history from our unit on the fundamentals.

Janna 19:20: Well, I appreciate the work that you and the professor are doing, not only the amazing videos that are on location but also the idea of helping parents want to educate their children on how to properly just walk alongside media in a world where we are just inundated with stories and like you said there we couldn't possibly take it all in. But I think as homeschool parents, we are really trying to make sure that our children are armed with if whether they choose to go to college or not to be like I said contributing members of society who aren't so apt for the clickbait, but have more critical skills to say, Okay, wait, there's a deeper question here or there's something else that I can look at instead of just sensationalizing. I do kind of feel like, remember when we were kids, they had like the Star Magazine and the Enquirer. And I don't even know if that stuff is still around, because I kind of feel like sometimes, like, the just main media has become some of that is like, it used to be like the junk stuff that you'd read for entertainment. And sometimes I read these articles that come up in my feed, and I'm like, I didn't I didn't sign up for this wire today. 

Nate 20:35: Yeah, that's a good point, the mainstream outlets are so hyper-partisan, that they've become versions of the tabloids, they might be reporting on more sophisticated stories like about Biden or Trump, or, you know, this or that happening abroad. So they're not talking about, you know, UFOs landing in your backyard, or I don't know, alien abduct? Well, that's true, bad, bad example. But don't talk about alien abductions necessarily, or, you know, some fringe extreme claim that was kind of humorous before, but they're doing a similar version of that kind of sensationalism. So that is a good observation. 

And I don't think I have any mainstream. I mean, I think it's important to pay attention to kind of some mainstream conversations, so you're not totally out of touch. And you, you get a sense for the way the culture is trending. But as far as reliable sources of news, I personally avoid most of what you would consider mainstream because they're captured by their audience are their incentives or their you know, need for attention, or whatever it is, it can be honest or dishonest. But if it's been captured in one way or another, I want to find somebody who's doing journalism, not entertainment.

Janna 22:02: Yeah, I think that's a really good distinction. I do feel like we've gotten into a trend where we just want to be entertained. 24/7. And so now to have you know, like, pick up a book and actually ask questions and say, Well, what do I think about that? Or how does that apply? To me? I think those are some of the things, especially at BookShark, using literature-based curriculum, the way we build it is so that we can keep that alive in today's society. And I know, we're not the only ones. And so we're, we're excited to see that there is more and more people who are putting down the phone or getting off social media or starting to think a little bit more critically about the things that are just pumped to us 24/7. So before we go, do you have a life hack or homeschool hack or educational hack that you can share with our listeners?

Nate 22:55: I do. Briefly, I wanted to follow up because your your last, the last thing you said was so irrelevant. There's a book we cover in media literacy called Amusing Ourselves to Death by an author named Neil Postman, that is just so good at making critical distinctions between news and entertainment, and our tendency to believe they're the same thing. The hack I would offer is I don't know if you'd call this a hack, but you tell me, I would always be asking the question and training my students to ask the question whether they're four years old or 24 years old. Where did the information come from? It's a question that should be front and center in the minds of students and parents alike. Where did the information come from? And that is at least a kind of first-blush, defense against your instinct to either confirm your own biases or reject evidence that doesn't feel good? Where did it come from? And that can kind of lead you down the path of asking other important questions about whether it's information you should consume, reject, consume with reservations, et cetera. It's a very good first blush question to ask. And ultimately, what we're trying to do is not necessarily train our kids but here are the five things you always need to do and then you'll be protected. It's more like an orientation toward our media environment. How should we be oriented? And if they're oriented with always starting with where did it come from? I think they'll be better able to manage what they encounter that we can't foresee on their own. 

Janna 24:51: Well, I think that is a wonderful hack, and I will get and start saying it in my house. So my children see you at a convention and Thanks. Thanks, Nate. Because my mom asked us every time we say anything, where did that information come from? And

Nate 25:07: They're patting me on the back. So I will take it.

Janna 25:09: Yes. Well, I appreciate the time. Thank you so much for coming on today. I know our audience, that was a lot of information, it is important for us to, you know, at least start thinking about these things. And so we will put all of your links and the Nomadic Professors links in the show notes so that people can learn more about what you guys are doing and what you're putting out there. And then, specifically about the course that we just talked about today, so thank you so much. For those of you who listened to the very end, the Nomadic Professor has some promotions just for podcast listeners. The first listener to use the code nomadicsharksub will receive 75% off the life of of subscription for the Nomadic Professor. The second offer is for the first listener who uses the coupon code nomadicsharkpurch will receive 75% of all products in the cart. All other listeners can use the promotion code, secondarysharksub or secondarysharkpurch to receive 20% off the life of the subscription or all purchases in the cart. Thanks to the Nomadic Professor for giving our listeners some great incentives. Until next time, bye bye