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Wonder Media offers online media literacy tools for youth

A child interacts with a
Courtesy of Wonder Media
A child interacts with a display at the Wonder Media: Ask the Questions! exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Kalamazoo. The exhibit was recently turned into a website to expand news and media literacy access across Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Education’s Library of Michigan and Western Michigan University are partnering on a new media literacy project.

The Wonder Media website is geared toward helping youth navigate social media, news, and online content by building media and news literacy.

WKAR’s Melorie Begay spoke with Sue Ellen Christian, a journalism professor from Western Michigan University who worked on the project.

Interview Highlights

On why media literacy is so important for youth

The largest population of people in the United States that access social media are teens and young adults. And they deserve education, training and skills to navigate this glut of content that is always at their fingertips.

On why the museum exhibit was turned into a website

Unfortunately, a museum exhibition can only go one place at a time. And our society so desperately needs media literacy and news media literacy now. And instead of doing one off locations, we decided that we wanted to create this website as a team, so that we could get the word out about media literacy education more quickly.

On how parents should monitor their child's online use

Having the conversation sitting next to your child as they're online to see how they manipulate the choices available to them. What they choose, what they're spending time on. And instead of being punitive, really working to withhold judgment and instead to learn.

Interview Transcript

Melorie Begay: Sue Ellen, could you tell us about the website and how it should be used?

Sue Ellen Christian: Sure, thanks for asking. It's giving individuals support, knowledge skills and a framework to think about the content that's coming at them, particularly through social media, on their smartphones and on their screens. Helping individuals to access and analyze and evaluate media messages of all kinds is the goal of media literacy. And news media literacy is sort of a cousin of that, in that it's directed at news and information and looking for evidence based factual content that you know, you can trust.

Begay: Now kids have, what feels like, a lot of access to the internet. Whether it’s for school or for fun. Why is teaching news and media literacy so important?

Christian: The largest population of people in the United States that access social media are teens and young adults. And they deserve education, training and skills to navigate this glut of content that is always at their fingertips. And acknowledging the worth of their attention is really an important part of this website.

Inviting people to think about the fact that their time, their clicks, their likes, their shares, their attention is worth something. And they should allot that attention to the things that they think are worthwhile. And what this website seeks to do is to educate folks in a fun way, in an engaging way with games, videos, interactive activities, and then offline programming to develop those skills.

Begay: Before Wonder Media was a website, it was an interactive exhibit that ran for two years at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Kalamazoo. What made that exhibit so successful, and is this why it was turned into a website?

Christian: It is why it was turned into a website. 137,000 People came through in the 21 months that it was at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. And there was a lot of support for it. Unfortunately, a museum exhibition can only go one place at a time. And our society so desperately needs media literacy and news media literacy now. And instead of doing one off locations, we decided that we wanted to create this website as a team, so that we could get the word out about media literacy education more quickly.

Begay: The website covers a pretty wide variety of topics from conspiracy theories, deep fake videos and algorithms. What goes into determining what content to cover and how do you make that content engaging?

Christian: This website is meeting folks where they're at to say, there are no dumb questions. All of your concerns are legitimate and shared and we want to help you with this. Another determination for me as the creator of the content was talking with focus groups and getting their input and what are they nervous about when it comes to messaging online. How can we best meet them where they're at in terms of their skill levels, and needs educationally? In terms of the fun part, I'm a pretty playful person and I love to use creative means to educate and we can learn and it doesn't have to be a drag and it doesn't have to be work.

Begay: Sue Ellen, I’m curious. Do you have any tips for parents about how to monitor their kids online-use or what they can do to ensure their kids are informed about media and news literacy?

Christian: What I would recommend is having the conversation sitting next to your child as they're online to see how they manipulate the choices available to them. What they choose, what they're spending time on. And instead of being punitive, really working to withhold judgment and instead to learn. Why are they interested in this? What is compelling to them about this content?

Begay: Sue Ellen Christian is a journalism professor from Western Michigan University Thanks for joining me.

Christian: Thank you very much for having me.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

The website project was funded by a federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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