Training Future Digital Citizens and Leaders Through Alumni TIES

This article originally appeared on the Alumni TIES blog. It is reprinted here with permission.

By Chrysoula Lazou

We live in a digital era where social media has overtaken the traditional media by providing opportunities for two-way communication and promoting both expert and crowd-sourced sharing of knowledge and information. Nevertheless, as much as it can make a positive impact, it also has the power to negatively influence and mislead populations on a grand scale through disinformation. Therefore, a project that prioritizes the education of media literacy and how to recognize and respond to the dissemination of fake news is vital.

During the past few years, Northern Greece has seen an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants that have undoubtedly influenced the political and socio-cultural landscape within local Greek communities. As locals, refugees, and migrants try to adjust to the new status quo, it has become very clear that that there exists conflicting attitudes and opinions across all three of these groups. The new reality of existence for many communities across Greece has had a significant impact on the youth who often spend long hours on social media consuming unfiltered information without applying critical thinking and media literacy skills to distinguish what is true and what is false. In this age of instant media and widespread news, this culture of sharing demands an innovation in the educational landscape, providing future voters, citizens, and leaders with tools and skills to successfully learn how to discern quality in information — both in its consumption and creation.

To address the problem of youth of consuming media without a critical lens, team member and fellow exchange alumni Efterpi Bilimpini and myself, high school teachers at Alexandroupolis and Kavala, respectively, decided to create a project on media literacy and critical thinking for teenagers in Northern Greece. The project was funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State based on the seminar “Media Literacy and Critical Thinking in the Digital Age” that took place in Kyiv, Ukraine in October 2018. With the grant, we created our project, “Media Literacy for,” to help teenage students raise awareness about the disinformation and dissemination of fake news, considering that it can negatively influence public opinion and lead to negative consequences for different spheres of society.

During the first phase of the project, student participants in Alexandroupolis and Kavala had the opportunity to learn a range of strategies to interpret media in an innovative, educational context. In order to create a blended learning environment to accommodate all learners’ needs, we implemented the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) method and designed the sessions in English. In addition, some of the pedagogical methods that we enacted to encourage bonding between the students and foster diversity in thought between these two distant cities included synchronous online sessions between the two schools. During these discussions, they learned how to make decisions on inquiry-based learning, gamification, concept mapping, the deconstruction and reconstruction of news articles and advertisements, and much more. Moreover, students had the chance to take part in experiential activities, engage in various videos including TEDx talks with micro-teaching activities, and use the skills that they have acquired so far to interview local media interviewer experts. The two groups of students also created an online group on social media networks to exchange ideas, share materials, and socialize with one another.

To complete the first phase of the project, students from both high schools took a two-day field trip to Thessaloniki and were able to finally meet their peers in person. While there, the group met with academic media experts such as Professor Nikos Panagiotou from the Department of Journalism and Media from the Aristotle University, Anthi Baliou, Reference Librarian of the Library of the University of Macedonia, and Sophia Papadopoulou, Head of the News Agency of Northern Greece. On the second day, the students made live appearances on state television ERT3 and the Athens-Macedonia news agency FM 104.9 where they shared their experiences and feelings on what they had learned through the program. The final and one of the most memorable visits involved the presentation of the small grant project to the U.S. Consul General in Thessaloniki, Gregory Pfleger, who was energized by the students’ enthusiasm and new attitudes about responsible and active citizenship in today’s world. The visit at the Consulate ended with a special ceremony where the U.S. Consul General granted the students with certificates of participation.

In the second phase of the project, Efterpi and I plan to collect and synthesize our findings and communicate our results with colleagues and our local communities in order to encourage further community engagement and sustainability. Following this compilation, a two-day event has been planned in the Municipality’s Library of Kavala for February 21–22, 2020 with keynote speakers from both the academic and active journalism field and a “Train the Trainers” session scheduled. Additionally, to hold and share all of the helpful knowledge that we have gained throughout this process, we created an educational blog of the progress of the project that offers free resources and sessions for a common curriculum on media literacy for teens.

The outcomes of the project have also been presented to the Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Cynthia Harvey, the Journalists’ Union of Macedonia and Thrace on an American Studies Seminar “Threats to Democracy from the Spreading of Disinformation,” and will be presented at two international conferences based on innovative, sustainable educational practices. To date, our two schools have been invited to participate in a pilot program with schools networking around the world with the support of The Economist and under the guidance of professors of Journalism and Media at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

“I could never believe that my teenage son [Mario] would try to teach me how and what to pay attention to when consuming information in the media. He keeps talking about the sessions, the activities, the trip, and his new friends that shared this project! On behalf of the family, thank you for the valuable experience and knowledge offered!” —Mother of student participant

Media Literacy for is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State. Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by World Learning.

World Learning empowers people, communities, and institutions to create a more peaceful and just world.