Media Literacy for Me: Educating Youth in Belarus to be Sensible Consumers of Digital Information

By Iryna Roubel

Teenagers in Belarus are exposed to a large quantity of media and information every day, spending multiple hours watching television, listening to the radio, reading magazines, sending memes, communicating on social media, and playing computer games. While students interact through these various informational platforms, they often do not understand and evaluate the implicit and explicit meanings embedded in media and shared information with peers.

Students participating in “Media Literacy for Me” work together to critically analyze their daily consumption of media.

Media literacy skills are increasingly essential in today’s digital age. Different types of media influence our choices in products, education, careers, and as a result influence our lives. The Alumni TIES seminar in October 2018, “Alumni Educators in Action: Media Literacy and Critical Thinking in the Digital Age,” inspired “ML.fm (Media Literacy for Me),” an Alumni TIES small grant project funded by the U.S. Department of State that connects media literacy and critical thinking in the classroom.

Our project’s goal is to teach teenagers to become sensible media consumers and select information sources with a critical lens. Unfortunately, students are not taught media literacy skills at the primary, secondary, or even post-secondary level in my country; this topic is simply not included in the curriculum. Another challenge is that there are not any resources or courses in the Russian language on the topic.

After a competitive selection process, 45 teenagers (13-16 years old) were chosen to participate in the “Media Literacy for Me” project. All of these students are highly motivated and interested in acquiring media literacy skills as well as establishing social relations with peers from different regions of Belarus. At the start of the project, students from Novogrudok, Priluki, and Minsk attended the introductory training “Media Literacy for Me. Start” in Minsk Gymnasium № 5. During the first session, the students evaluated their daily consumption of media. They discussed the influence of media in our lives and discovered why it is important to be self-aware. The second session, facilitated by a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, was devoted to learning what is and is not fake news and how to debunk these types of media sources. During this session, the students learned how to check media messages following a simple, yet effective acronym called “E.S.C.A.P.E.” from NewseumED.

Students participate in an interactive session with Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Leslie Gibson, and learn how to debunk fake news and various media resources.

The students are now engaged in an active learning, online course called ML.fm on the learning management system, Edmodo. Every week, they complete assignments, watch instructional videos, take part in discussions, and demonstrate their understanding of the topic through quizzes. They have mastered the online modules of four topic areas: basics of media literacy, digital citizenship, right ways of using media sources, and differences of traditional media and social media.

The next step of the course, will be a “training of trainers” curriculum for the students to develop and deliver media literacy classes to their peers and local community members. These classes will take place at local schools and community centers in April and May. We are confident and hopeful that “Media Literacy for Me” will improve the media literacy skills of our local community members. The students in our program will acquire these critical skills and share these skills with their peers, friends, and relatives, transferring this knowledge to more students, community members, and future generations.

“Media Literacy for Me” participants gather for a group photo with project lead, Iryna Roubel.

The Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by World Learning