College of Education and College of Media team up to help Illinois high schoolers understand the media they consume

High school students in classroom

A new state law is requiring Illinois public high schools to teach media literacy. Through IMEDIA, the College of Education and the College of Media are helping teachers prepare to do just that.

When Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law on July 9, 2021, requiring that media literacy be taught in public high schools, Illinois became the first state in the nation to mandate such instruction.

The instruction, to begin with the 2022-2023 school year, will teach students how to analyze and communicate information from various mediums, including digital, interactive, audio, visual, and print.

Immediately after the bill was passed, the College of Education and the College of Media went into action, planning how to prepare Illinois teachers to be ready to instruct students in an area made critical by the massive amount of misinformation that circulates in cyberspace.

The two colleges collaborated to form the Initiative for Media Education Inquiry and Action (IMEDIA) to help fill educators’ needs for media literacy training and curriculum development. The goal of IMEDIA is to assist high school teachers with integrating media analysis and production into their classes and building a robust critical media literacy curriculum in Illinois schools. 

“Many of us in the College of Media have been working on media literacy-related research and teaching in the last several years,” said Professor Stephanie Craft, head of the Department of Journalism. “When we heard about the new law, we wanted to be able to turn that work into action. Teaming up with curriculum and instruction experts in the College of Education seemed an ideal way to do that."

IMEDIA will launch a pilot program on campus from June 27-29, to both find out what teachers are already doing in the area of media literacy and to help them integrate a media literacy component into their curriculum, said Professor Sarah McCarthey, head of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. The three-day workshop is for local teachers and potentially for teachers across the state.

“Media literacy is especially important in light of the last presidential election and the amount of disinformation and misinformation that is pervasive in the U.S.,” McCarthey said. “It’s more and more critical that we equip students with the ability to discern what’s factual from what’s not.”

“Preparing Illinois students to successfully navigate an increasingly complex media environment is vital to their well-being and ability to participate in democratic life,” Craft added.

The state is putting together media resources for teachers to download, McCarthey said, “but it’s important to have a professional development component to that, and our workshop is going to provide teachers an opportunity to do some hands-on things as well.”

Early talks between the Colleges of Education and Media include the development of modules that high school teachers could download to use in their classrooms. 

“We’ve also talked about in the future taking advantage of some of the credentialing programs that are in process at both the campus and state levels,” McCarthey said. “But the first step is to get this group of teachers ready for the fall.”

IMEDIA has recently received initial funding from the Office of the Chancellor. They are consulting with the Office of Foundation Relations to identify additional potential funding sources. The group also hopes to apply for Spencer Foundation funding to do a statewide survey of the media literacy landscape, to discover who is teaching what across the state. 

“The end goal is quite simple,” McCarthey said. “We want all of our students to be prepared to be critical media consumers.”

In addition to Craft and McCarthey, members of IMEDIA include College of Education faculty member Jon Hale; College of Media faculty members Amanda Ciafone, CL Cole, and Michelle Nelson, and doctoral student Sakshi Bhalla; as well as Michael Spikes, a doctoral student at Northwestern University and founder of the Illinois Media Literacy Coalition, of which IMEDIA is a part.

—Tom Hanlon, College of Education, and Holly Rushakoff, College of Media