Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

@sdmoeller: How I’m already using 'Searchlights and Sunglasses' in the classroom

Oct. 21, 2013, 5:38 a.m., Posted by Susan Moeller

searchlightsandsunglasses

Knight Foundation asked the students, educators and professionals who beta tested our new digital teaching tool, "Searchlights and Sunglasses," for their five favorite lessons. The book explores the digital transformation of journalism, and with one click turns into a classroom tool, offering a learning layer with 1,000 lesson plans and resources for educators. We will be posting our beta testers responses over the coming weeks here on Knight Blog.

By Susan Moeller, University of Maryland, College Park 

I am always looking for help.  I teach a huge (200 student) media literacy course at my public university and a research methods class for graduating seniors in our college of journalism.  I’m seemingly on a bazillion committees in our j-school – including one having to do with curriculum reform.  I founded and still teach a Study Abroad program that brings students and faculty together from five continents.  I also write a media column for Huffington Post and consult on digital, media and information literacy for a number of international organizations.

"Searchlights and Sunglasses" has become my new go-to resource.  Here are some ways I’m already putting Knight’s digital book to use.

1. I’m tapping into "Searchlights and Sunglasses" for ideas that help me make the link among digital media literacy, free expression and democratic governance.  Given the diversity of the students I teach and the consulting projects I undertake, I love the Knight quote:  “Free expression is the social sunlight that makes civilizations prosper.”  That’s already emblazoned in a lecture slide of mine.  But beyond the takeaway words, Searchlights gives brief and useful case studies demonstrating how citizen journalism, social media and support for independent journalism work to educate audiences about “the power of free media to improve lives.”  I also am finding the book’s  “4 C’s of successful community media” and several of its Learning Layers – “World Press Freedom: Behind the trends”; “Focusing on just one country”; and “From revolution to self-censorship” — to be great tools to help make those connections among free expression, an informed citizenry and civil, democratic societies.  

2.  I’m mining multiple chapters in "Searchlights and Sunglasses" for ways in which I can teach my students about the First Amendment.  Knight’s book neatly summarizes the studies that have tracked attitudes about free speech, a free press and the expression of unpopular opinions.  I’m mining the book’s suggestions for ideas about how best to educate students on why they should care about and protect their First Amendment rights.  In one recent media literacy lecture, I opened up a discussion about whether students thought greater use of social media would encourage or discourage support for minority or unpopular opinions.  I capped that heated debate by showing the infographic from the eBook as part of my powerpoint presentation.

3.  "Searchlights and Sunglasses" offers what amounts to a compelling checklist for what should be in our journalism education curricula.  One of my favorite sections of the book is the reprint of an interview with Eric Newton for the publication Empowering Independent Media.  “We need more design, technology and business people,” in journalism, Newton says, “ good ones who can iterate but also journalists who can ‘speak’ tech, or who can understand business. We need differently taught journalist-programmers who can design high-tech platforms and differently trained journalist-proprietors who can run companies — renaissance people who can operate in different fields.”  Is my college of journalism making sure we are graduating renaissance students?  We’re trying, but reading this is prompting me to have conversations with my colleagues about how we can build on what we are doing: by increasing our efforts to integrate these skillsets and mindsets across the college curriculum, by more robust partnering with other departments and professional schools across the university, and even by encouraging students with these interests to consider journalism in the first place.

4.  "Searchlights and Sunglasses" is helping me think about how to encourage students to be critical thinkers — not cynics — about the role of media in society today.  News and media literacy classes can fall into the trap of just putting in front of students examples of all that media do “wrong” today — sensationalized stories, biased reporting, facile coverage, etc. Knight’s digital book gives example after example of how investigative reporting and community-based coverage have changed lives and places for the better.  It also reminds that the media “are us” — even those who don’t call themselves citizen journalists, “act like journalists every day.”   Knight’s book challenges students (and those of us who teach them) to take responsibility for their own part in the news chain and, what’s more, to share what they’ve learned about “how to think critically about media.”   To me that’s teaching for the public good.

5.  "Searchlights and Sunglasses" demonstrates a cool and efficient way to publish research and news.  Sometimes to get your own research or that of your students out to the audience you need to reach, conference papers, academic journals, media outlets and even press releases may not be ideal — they may not be fast or flexible or in-depth enough, for example.  "Searchlights and Sunglasses" demonstrates how appealing and effective it can be to put research out on an interactive website or in a digital book.  I’m already using Searchlights as inspiration for my research methods class. I’m considering putting our semester project on one of the recent parallax scrolling themes from Wordpress and SquareSpace that will allow us to do the kind of cool graphic and content overlays that Searchlights uses so well.

Susan Moeller is a professor and director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland, College Park.