My 2015 (re-post!)

I was tagged by my sweet Twitter nephew Justin Birckbichler to write a reflective post. I don’t usually reflect on things, which I know is something horrible to admit.  But reflection requires quiet thought.  I am neither quiet nor thoughtful – I am much more likely to DO without thinking than is good for me.

So let’s start with things that I attempted in 2015 that didn’t work out so well:
– Ever walk out of the classroom thinking “Why didn’t they LOVE that? By golly in my mind that was going to be the best class session EVAH and they all stared at me blankly.”  This happened to me more times in 2015 than I care to admit.
– Ever get hired to do a speech on social media for parents and have two people show up who weren’t even parents?  Yep.  
– Ever give a talk on digital citizenship to high schoolers and spend the following week reading crass and nasty Tweets about yourself?  Yes it was ironic.  And yes, I must have really sucked that day.
– Ever fall for a hoax online because you’re so likely to believe horrible things about cable news?  Yep, I did that too.
– Ever receive a scathing email from someone you respect about how much he hated your book?  Yep. I can cross that off my list.
– Ever have a student tell you she’s not graduating because she failed your course?  And then wonder what you could have done differently to help her?   Yep.  This semester.  Awful.
– Ever lose your cool in front of your class because they’re not responding and then feel like shit afterwards and apologize? Yep.
– Ever get chosen for a conference and then have the moderator let the other people go on too long so that by the time you get to talk about media literacy, you have seven minutes?  I can also cross that off my list.
– Ever get an email from a brilliant student about how you missed a great chance at a class discussion one day?  Yep.
– Ever obsess over the one negative course evaluation while ignoring the 149 positive ones?  Always.
– Ever question what you’re doing with your life, wonder if you could be making more money, making more of a difference, using your talents in a different way?  Or for that matter, ever have days when you wonder if you have any talent whatsoever?  I had loads of those days toward the end of 2015.  Just not sure what I want to be when I grow up.

Things that worked out well:
– Having students groan when class is over – more times than I can count.
– Several speaking gigs where it was crowded and people were hungry for media literacy
– Getting emails from high schoolers saying “Thanks for coming to talk to us about social media”
– Sharing loads of online hoaxes and getting people to think of me when they see them
– Receiving Tweets and emails from strangers about how much they loved my book
– Loads of students who tell me “I’ll never look at the media in the same way again.”
– Meeting Twitter friends in real live at loads of conferences
– Getting a Christmas card from a student saying “You made me like school again.”

The adjunct life means nothing is concrete in 2016 except five courses spring semester.  And I know when I doubt myself, or screw up – I can turn to my wonderful friends on Twitter to remind me what’s really important:

Diet Coke and Star Wars.  xo

Bias Isn’t Always Negative Coverage


Here’s a screen shot from CNN’s website a few moments ago.  Bernie Sanders won the Michigan primary last night, even though average polls had Hillary Clinton up by as many as 20 points.

This is not political commentary  (the world has plenty of that already) but as someone who analyzes media and media coverage this fascinates me.   Even though Bernie Sanders won the primary, his name is not even mentioned in the above screen grab. (Except for the actual results, in the chart on the right.)

It’s not “Bernie’s Victory” – but it’s “Clinton’s Suprise Loss”.  The photo is Hillary.  The headline is Hillary.

I’m sharing this because we hear so much about “media bias”.  We hear people complain that FOX leans to the right and MSNBC leans to the left.  Whatever.  (I tend to think you can get your news from ANYWHERE, as long as you know and recognize your sources. But I digress.)

Typically – when my students think of media bias – they think of commentators who vocally root for one candidate over another.

I’m sharing this example to demonstrate that bias can also be observed in the silence.  In what they DON’T say.  What or whom they do NOT focus on.

News is created, sifted, edited and presented by human beings.  Keeping it objective is a nearly impossible task, and (frankly) bad for business.  Bias doesn’t necessarily mean negative coverage.  It can also mean silence.

We need to help our students continuously ask themselves “What is being left out?


(If you are interested in media literacy, please check out my book on either Amazon or Barnes & Noblethanks!)

Don’t censor. Be media literate.

I’ve been grading final projects for a couple of days now.  They’re decent.  Some of them are excellent.  But many have something in common that fascinates me:  many suggest outlawing various forms of communication.

This isn’t a media law course so (professionally) I can’t throw a tantrum that they’re not familiar with the First Amendment.

But personally, I can totally throw a tantrum.

Case in point:

“Cyberbullying hurts feelings and can be offensive. Our government should do what it can to make it illegal.”

“Tobacco advertising is miselading and since tobacco is bad for our health, advertising for it should be banned.”

“Photoshopped images of models make girls feel insecure about themselves so photoshopping images should be illegal.”

Where should we start?

“Cyberbullying hurts feelings and can be offensive. Our government should do what it can to make it illegal.”

Yes, cyberbullying hurts feelings and can be offensive. So can family dinners.  How does one define “offensive”?  And who would make that distinction? Not to mention the fact that the sheer volume of online material produced daily makes enforcing such a law impossible, especially since much of online material originates from outside of US jurisdiction anyway.

“Tobacco advertising is miselading and since tobacco is bad for our health, advertising for it should be banned.”

Yes, smoking is gross.  But it’s also a legal activity, if one is over 18.  So as long as the activity is legal, advertising that activity is also legal.

But I struggle with the student’s assertation that it should be banned because it is “bad for our health”.  In that case, ads for fast food should be banned.  Ads for soda and candy shoud be banned.  Heck, let’s ban ads for chairs since they promote a sedentary lifestyle. Let’s ban “The Bachelor” because it’s bad for my blood pressure.  Let’s ban annoying, anxiety-inducing leaf blowers because the sound is equivalent to hyenas being dragged across a cheese grater.

Where do we draw the line?  We can’t.

“Photoshopped images of models make girls feel insecure about themselves so photoshopping images should be illegal.”

There are a thousand things that make girls feel insecure about themselves. The media definitely play a part, don’t get me wrong – but eating disorders existed way before Vogue magazine.  And couldn’t someone using Photoshop claim their product is art?  Of course they could.

I suggest an alternative to all this law-passing.  Media literacy.  (I know, you’re shocked)

Let’s ask questions instead.

What techniques are used in tobacco ads to make smoking look appealing? Who is their target market for each ad?  What does the content of the ad portray, what is being promised?  Where was the ad found, and why? What is the intent of the ad?  What do the people look like in the ad, and what are they doing?  How is that different from how you’ve witnessed smoking in real life? etc.

Why do you think images are photoshopped?  What are the advertisers trying to do by using that technique?  What is portrayed, and why?  What values do the images represent?  Does anyone look like that in real life?  Why or why not?  What lifestyle is being portrayed?  Do you think people would buy lots of products if we were actually content with our physical selves? etc.

What are some coping mechanisms for negative online experiences?  In what platforms can users be blocked or reported?  What are some techniques for reminding us that our personal value has nothing to do with our online activity? Are there adults we/you can talk to about this experience?  Are there positive ways we can use the internet for good?  What are those ways?

Of course, I always think media literacy is the answer to every problem (don’t even get me started on this election) but for these students, I hope that suggesting a law isn’t their automatic knee-jerk reaction for anything they find undesirable.

(Wanna buy my book?)





Teaching Media Literacy: Baby Steps!

I am frequently asked “So how does somebody start teaching media literacy, anyway?”
The answer to that question is, ironically, a bunch of questions.
The Association for Media Literacy has a great website that includes core concepts with questions to ask yourself AND students.

Last semester, for example, I took a few of the core concepts and paired them next to different images from the media.  The students were then encouraged to do a “turn & talk” with each other as they considered these ideas and how they related to the media image in question.

sun question snip

Certain concepts will get more attention in your class than others, depending on the media example that you choose.  For this example, my students went into great detail about #5 and #6 because of the extreme stereotypes depicted on this front page.
But we kept going back to concept #3 in class:  we all negotiate meaning differently, right?  So how might others interpret this message?

​You will find that once your students have examined these core concepts, it’s very difficult for them to consume media messages WITHOUT thinking of those concepts.  And is there any better time than an election year for students to be critical consumers of media?

Five Ways to Survive Political News Coverage

news source

Are you ready for the political news in 2016?  I’m already sick of it!  But it’s still important – so here are some pointers:

1. Remember that the news business is a business. Our news outlets are typically owned by profit-based, privately held corporations that exist to generate a profit – not inform or educate (although they do inform and educate, even unintentionally).

Since the news is dependent on advertising and subscription revenue, we will be shown the stories that are most likely to keep our attention. Policy issues? Not so much. Donald Trump making a controversial statement? You bet.

The 24/7 news business has a ton of time to fill. So we will hear the outlandish stories over and over – not because they’re important, but because they are compelling. It’s all about the ratings and the subscriptions.

2. Take up fact-checking as a sport or hobby. The days of politicians saying whatever they want are over, thankfully. Anyone with an internet connection can double-check claims made by a candidate.

You can also rely on sites like and to verify claims or commercials. But even in that case, we should double-check those that do the double-checking!

3. Be aware of our selective exposure when it comes to news outlets. Try to get political news from as many sources as possible. Are many news outlets politically biased? Sure. But being aware of that is a big step toward media literacy.

We are more likely to choose our news sources based on those that will affirm our already-held beliefs. Live on the edge– consume some political news from a source you would not normally ever consider.   We’ll never learn anything new in an echo chamber.

4. Notice the role that visual images play in the construction of political messages. We live in a visual culture now, not so much a literate one. And our brains can process images much faster than they can process words. But visual images can also cause emotional a wide range of emotional responses.

Visually de-construct campaign events. Why is the podium where it is? Why are people staged behind the speaker as well as in front? What role do balloons, banners and signs play? What colors are typically used?


Photo by Adam Aigner-Terworgy 2012

5. Be discerning about political photos, facts and memes shared on social media. Many images or memes are shared and re-Tweeted even though they are clearly misleading or downright lies. These images are easy to create, and if they look credible, will get passed along without a second thought.

Even if a meme or image will benefit a favored candidate, a responsible digital citizen would still verify its authenticity before passing along. That can be done through fact-checking sites or Google Reverse Image Search.

A compelling photo representing one claim or event might actually be a photo – but from a different year or location.

this is islam

The photo above has also been circulated claiming it depicts a “terrorist attack on Christians two days after Paris”.  The photo, however, was actually taken after a fuel tanker overturned and exploded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010.

Activate your internal BS detectors, everyone!

Joseph de Maistre said “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” Each society get the news it deserves. It’s time for us to critically evaluate the news we consume – and it’s never more important than during an election season.

Our democracy depends on it.

Why Media Literacy is More Important than Ever

NYDN cover

This semester we’ve witnessed a brutal execution, played out initially on live television to a small audience and then broadcast worldwide via social media channels.  Some are now advocating for stricter gun laws while others suggest that automatic-play videos on social media be outlawed.  Neither one of these solutions are quickly feasible or easily enforced.  There is a larger point here that is being ignored.  The suspect filmed the murders.  He shared the murders.  And we watched the murders.

Although Twitter and Facebook took down the videos, reeling in content on social media is much like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube.  The clips were on YouTube within an hour, and the online debate turned into “to watch or not to watch”.

While society can debate gun laws, mental health and the legality of sharing disturbing videos online, the ever-increasing role of the media in our lives cannot be debated.  Countless studies show that Americans are spending more time than ever in front of screens, both consuming and creating content.  Some of it is banal, some of it is interesting, all of it is educational even if it was not created with that intent.

Since the role of media in our lives is likely to only increase, perhaps it is appropriate to stand back and ask ourselves what it all means.  How many viewers of last week’s crime felt like they were watching a film?  Or a first-person-shooter video game?  Or perhaps more disturbing, how many viewers were desensitized to what was actually happening in the video?

Disturbing video is nothing new.  The public relations experts of ISIS have mastered the art complete with professional production quality and soundtrack music.  We are at once voyeurs and squeamish about the accessibility of all this disturbing content.

Sometimes disturbing content is delivered without context or analysis.  Think of the photos of the refugee crisis in Europe.  We see desperate people huddled in train stations and images of a lone drowned child on a beach.  But how many of us really understand the context and history of why this is happening?  Or do the media just give us compelling images and expect us to research them ourselves?  This is a quandary.  That these images cause affective responses requires special responsibility in sending as well as decoding these images.

So what to do?  The likelihood of disturbing media content somehow dissipating or disappearing is minute.  In fact, it is more likely to increase.  We cannot stop the senders of these messages, the tools are ubiquitous.  We cannot change their message.  We can, however, educate and empower the receivers of these messages with media literacy education.

Media literacy is not media bashing.  It’s not a topic, it’s a skill.  It’s the ability to critically evaluate the thousands of media messages we consume daily.  Media literacy isn’t a panacea for negative media effects, but it can force us to step outside ourselves and ask basic questions.

Who created this particular message, for example?  What is their motive or intent?  What information is being omitted?  What tools are used to get me to pay attention?  How might others interpret this message?

Americans live in a mediated world.  It only seems logical that we should analyze our media consumption and what its effects are.  Yet, although media literacy is mandated in several countries, it faces an uphill battle in the United States.  Teachers are stretched to the limit, and although media literacy can easily be implemented across the curriculum, there’s very little teacher training, time or administrative support to teach this critical subject in schools.

While we may not see another live execution on television, we will definitely see irresponsible behavior being celebrated, fake stories being circulated and news stories exaggerated.  Isn’t it time we give our children a defense mechanism that doesn’t involve censorship or sequestration?  We owe it to our children to teach them how to live in this mediated world.  And it doesn’t have to begin in schools, it can begin at the kitchen table.

Why I Use Social Media in My Classes

Some disclaimers
I teach college.  So every kid has a phone.  Heck, every kid has a nicer phone than I do.  But I digress.
I teach media courses.  So we talk about the media.  Cell phones are media tools, and they are the primary social media access tool for my students.  It’s content-related for my discipline.

That being said, here are my reasons:
1.  The classroom engagement functions provided by phones and apps/websites make it almost irresponsible to NOT use them.  Sites like Mentimeter, PollEverywhere and Kahoot enable the students to partipate in class in a whole new way.  Not to mention class discussions we have on Twitter (without using our voices!) using the class hashtag and fun sites like TweetBeam.  Want to see your introverts come to life in class?  Do a Twitter discussion.  Their tweets will be the most thoughtful and interesting.  Trust me.

2.  It’s selfish on my part.   There’s nothing more fun to say to 75 college students in a huge room than “GET YOUR PHONES OUT!”  I absolutely love saying that.  You know why?  It tells them that I am trying to meet them where they are.  

3.  I don’t want them to think I am some “sage on the stage”, up in front barking out knowledge like they are little sponges just waiting to hear the dulcet tones of my voice.  (Actually, I walk around while I bark/lecture).   Lecture has its place.  But not for 75 minutes.  A quick cell phone activity breaks up the class, re-engages them, and shows them that I am interested in connecting with them through a medium that they love.

4.  It’s a perfect place to demonstrate and model appropriate cell phone use.  If a student is texting someone while I am standing right by them, of course I call them out on it because that is rude.  But prohibiting phones in class is wasting your energy as an instructor.  Students having their phones is the equivalent to them having their arms attached.  And if they’re playing on their phones, I see it as a failure on MY part, not theirs.  If my classes were good enough, they wouldn’t be surfing.

Best thing ever written on one of my course evals?  “Her classes were so great I never played on my phone one single time.”

5.  I am constantly telling my students that they need “internal bullshit detectors” activated at all times.  (If I was K-12 I’d have to think of a different way to say that!)  What better way for them to discern & analyze information in real time?  How are phones different than my students having laptops open all the time?  Same thing.  Same internet.  Same access.  Same critical evaluation skills required.

6.  This reason will be seen as a copout.  Regardless of what any teacher says or plans, students have their phones.  I’ve had colleagues say “They’re not allowed to have their phones in class”…but who are they kidding?  Of course the students have their phones.  My philosophy is to stop fighting the battle.  It’s exhausting and only demonstrates a digital disconnect between an instructor and a student.

7.  My students live on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.  Although I haven’t mastered the Snapchat Story feature (be very afraid for when I do!)  I encourage them to use these sites to share media examples that they find when we are NOT in class, by using our class hashtag.  Doing this demonstrates the fact that learning happens 24/7, not just within the time and walls of the classroom.  

I’m sure I have other reasons and I’m sure everyone has different situations and scenarios.  But the phones and social media work for ME.  

Ways to use the phones in class:
Twitter discussions using TweetBeam or TwitterFall
Real-time polling like Mentimeter & PollEverywhere
Put QR codes in your syllabus instead of links so they can access info right away
Use Remind to send out messages to students or links to Padlets before class even begins
Use video/audio features to do engagement activities within class
Have students double-check facts in lecture or the book
Follow people on Twitter who are experts in the field, see if they’ll respond to questions
Interactive quiz games like Kahoot (even my college kids flip over Kahoot)
Set up a Today’s Meet site for your class