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The threat of disinformation

How we are rising to the challenge with peer learning in schools

False and misleading information affects over 80% of online global citizens who are forming opinions and making decisions not only about who to vote for, but on how they understand the world’s biggest threats; like climate, conflict and cost of living. Navigating our rapidly changing digital world is challenging, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. For young people, whose lives are increasingly lived online, the challenge can be ever greater.

Adding to this, only 11 % of children aged 12-17 are able to correctly identify a genuine social media post, without making a mistake. In order for teachers to tackle this challenge, media literacy needs to be embedded into the curriculum, as well as the development of critical analysis skills amongst students. In light of this The Guardian Foundation Media Literacy Ambassador (MLA) peer to peer programme was devised.

As a schools engagement officer I have had the opportunity to deliver the MLA pilot programme across 31 schools and colleges in central England. The experience of working with a range of teachers and their students has been incredibly rewarding and enjoyable, providing me with a range of perspectives on media literacy. The value of being able to give young people the opportunity to discuss their confidence and apprehension in manoeuvring through the online world, in addition to equipping students with a range of skills to be able to navigate it safely, is not to be underestimated. Throughout the workshops one of the many recurring aspects I have encountered is the eagerness displayed by students to share their insights and debate their opinions of the online world in the classroom with their peers and adults. One of the many benefits of the programme is the opportunity for teachers to provide students with the space and time to learn, discuss and demonstrate their media literacy knowledge through a project that enriches the wider curriculum.

When delivering to our peers, I heard comments about how fun and relatable it was and how they could connect it to daily life. It was fun and effective.
MLA Ambassador

We kept in touch with schools and ran two showcase events over two academic years to celebrate the achievements of the students at the University of Manchester, and Birmingham City University. They were a joy to host and a chance to celebrate the hard work and recognise the achievements of the participating schools and young people involved.

Evaluation conducted by the National Literacy Trust ran through the project informing design, delivery and measuring impact, a copy of the impact report can be read here. Consultancy from teacher and youth panels was important in guiding and informing the project.

As a result of the project, more than
4 in 5
pupils were able to correctly identify two examples of misinformation and disinformation.
After completing the project,
of students reported being more confident in recognising mis- and disinformation.

By taking part in the project our evaluation report demonstrated that 3 in 4 MLAs felt they had increased their presentation (76.7%) and communication skills (75.2%), with teachers commenting on student engagement in the co-delivered sessions, as well as an increase in their wider confidence, teamwork and leadership skills. The report goes on to suggest that the experience supported students in developing transferable skills likely to be important in the workplace. Whilst schools and colleges who received refresher training and were revisited, there was a possibility for a ‘powerful longer-term impact on students’ engagement with media and news, as well as helping students to feel empowered in their interactions’. Feedback from teacher interviews and surveys highlighted how the skills taught in the programme complemented the curriculum, were relevant, increased reach and offered a sustainable approach to supporting media and news literacy. With the peer-to-peer model in particular being seen as an effective approach to reaching and engaging students and is a model they would like to continue using.

Maintaining a relationship with schools meant being able to offer a number of students the unique and exciting opportunity to take part in wider public events, including two celebration events for Ambassadors at regional universities and the Foundation’s annual event. They were able to experience interviewing journalists, taking part in a panel discussion and presenting activities to a large audience, demonstrating the confidence and leadership skills they had developed by taking part in the project. Throughout the programme I have delighted in witnessing how different students approach the various activities we have offered from youth panels, showcase events, the workshops themselves and the material we cover. Hearing directly from young people about their perception of the media landscape facing them today, alongside insightful comments about their online interaction and engagement with social media, has equipped me with a depth of understanding I would not have obtained were it not for my role. Being able to see how they develop in confidence over the course of the programme and hearing them reflect on their experience of teaching key skills to their peers has deepened my passion for the importance of this project.

I loved how not only were we being educated but also given the opportunity to educate others about fake or real news making it a very interactive project!
MLA Ambassador
Impact for our students is significant. In terms of critical engagement with news, this has been the most profound impact. Students who have a wider knowledge of legitimate news journalism now regularly tell us that they have been reading the news from apps they have downloaded.
Teacher involved in the MLA programme

A lasting legacy of the Media Literacy Ambassador programme is the accompanying teacher guide, created to enable teachers to continue to independently roll the programme out within their school or college, or to implement elements of it in their curriculum. Alongside this there is a special educational needs teacher guide available here for teachers to access. We are continuing to deliver the programme within schools and colleges in the UK for the remainder of the academic year, and looking for further funding to continue the programme. If you are interested in taking part you can sign up here.

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