Skip to main content

Learning how to be critical in what you read & write – for digital natives

Information overload, fake news, alternative facts – these phenomena call for new formats in tuition and in university education: The SKILL subproject Information & Media Literacy has responded to these developments by organising a think tank where teacher training students get to consider, on equal terms with lecturers, how future generations can be primed for the digital information and knowledge society.

Dr. Sarah Makeschin

Dr. Sarah Makeschin explains the concept "Information & Media Literacy"

Standard lecture format versus think tank

This is how the standard lecture works: the professor stands at the front of the room, lecturing. The students, i.e. usually those who know less, listen and write. They call it the sender-receiver model in communication sciences. Traditional media follows this paradigm as well.

Today's networked and digital communication landscapes work differently. In response to these developments, a research project at the University of Passau came up with new formats: the Information & Media Literacy Think Tank, for example, which is due to be held every Tuesday from 6 to 8 pm in the teaching laboratory during the winter term.

Cultural science and American studies scholar Dr. Sarah Makeschin, who played a key role in developing the interdisciplinary format, pitches the think tank in the  video (only in German):

Information & Media Literacy – "If you translate that, it just means being able to read and write and reflect critically on what you read and write," says Makeschin. In her research, she has found that the generation of digital natives is rather adept when it comes to using and applying new technologies. But their ability to classify information, media and technologies accurately and view them with a critical eye has been found wanting.

Information & Media Literacy – "If you translate that, it just means being able to read and write and reflect critically on what you read and write,"

American studies scholar Dr. Sarah Makeschin.

The think tank session is not facilitated by a professor but by a tandem of two researchers who get to present the views of their respective fields. Instead of delivering a 90-minute lecture, they provide impetus, food for thought. The teacher training students spend most of the time in small groups working on a specific topic like: what do alternative facts signify in political communication. The lecturers participate on equal terms with the students.

"I don't want to tell anyone what to think," says Makeschin. Instead, the students actively take part in the think tank. In return, they receive input from researchers in six different disciplines – from American studies/culture & media studies, history education/aesthetic education all the way to media education and media semiotics – and from experts in the field.

Regular field check by external experts

Makeschin and her team regularly invite such experts to ‘discussion sessions’. Teachers actively involved in tuition, for example, who are able to judge whether what is developed in class would actually work. ‘We want to take our findings out into the world,’ says Makeschin.

The ultimate purpose of the think tank is to produce prospective teachers who are able to reflect critically on how they use media, technology and their content – both new and old – and are capable of imparting this awareness to their future pupils. Possibly in an interactive process similar to what they experienced in the think tank.

DiLab design top view