Media Literacy

Lori Carter


Student Materials


Ethics background required: Basic understanding of the analogy ethical framework is helpful, but it will be briefly reviewed in the lab.

Subject matter referred to in this lab: This lab can be used as a precursor to any assignment where students are required to perform research on the web and are expected to choose their own articles. References are made to technology, but no specific knowledge is needed.

Placement in overall ethics curriculum:

Time required:

Learning objectives:

Lab overview:

Ethical issues to be considered: Media Literacy, Transparency, Data Integrity, Diversity

Many students get all of their information from social media. It is often one-sided and not fact-checked. Through the analogy of the best set of witnesses for a trial, students are helped to understand that it is important to read multiple, reliable sources with differing views when doing background research.

Preparation required:


Prior to class

In class

Instructors Guide

Lesson plan

1. Pre-discussion assignment

This can be done as homework or activity completed in previous class. The important thing is the students complete the assignment prior to the class discussion so that the instructor can read student answers.

Notes to instructor

The first article is a review for a lithium battery power backup system. The author works for GearJunkie which appears to be a site that provides reviews on tech items. The product was probably donated to the author for free and so the author may have a motivation to review it favorably. Also, since the site is most concerned with tech items it would probably favor the techie battery over the old-fashioned gas-powered generator. The author does not address the drawbacks of price, recharging the battery when there is no sun, the lack of portability of the battery etc. Reading the first article alone probably does not give a clear enough picture for the decision to be made.

The second article is written by an author representing Consumer Reports, a reputable review company. The article gives pros and cons of both of the options. Some students felt that because the article gave both sides, it would have been enough to read. Both articles were current at the time of this writing.

2. Introduction to class discussion (1 min)

To be read or summarized and tailored to your results.

You have had the opportunity to read two articles presenting on similar topics, but with different purposes and levels of credibility. While there were very interesting observations from everyone, It might surprise you that there were different ideas on which of the articles/authors were more credible, the reasons for their credibility, and whether it was helpful to read just the more credible article or both.

One of the tools for helping to clarify a situation is an analogy. Recall that an analogy allows for the comparison of two completely different things that might have similarities in concepts. Generally, the concept in the analogy is better understood, and might help in comprehending the concept in the other. I would like to present an analogy to see if it adds clarity to why and how we must carefully select articles for background material

Note to Instructor

It is probably a good idea to make the analogous scenario available either on-line, on paper, or using presentation software. We also had the suggestion from a student that we should give a heads-up that the analogy used might be a sensitive topic for some. Giving that quick warning might prepare students who have found themselves in a hospital frequently either as a patient or a visitor.

3. Activity 1 (10 min)

Consider the following courtroom witness scenarios for a case where a jury is attempting to reach a verdict in a wrongful death case. The individual died while in a hospital from a complication of an injury. The injury itself was not life-threatening. You will be asked to give your opinion on which is the best set of courtroom witnesses and why.

Set 1: The witnesses are many: the patient’s hospital roommate, the patient’s rabbi, the patient’s cousin, the hospital’s HR director, the hospital’s nighttime security guard, the hospital’s PR director.

Set 2: There are three witnesses: the attending physician, the patient’s sister (a nurse) who was a frequent visitor and kept detailed notes, and an outside expert agreed upon by both the hospital’s lawyer and the patient’s family lawyer.

Set 3: There are two witnesses: the attending physician and an expert on the patient’s injury hired by the family’s law team

Set 4: There are four witnesses: the attending physician, the patient’s sister (nurse, frequent visitor, note-taker), the hospital’s PR director, the patient’s rabbi.

Set 5: There is one witness, an outside expert agreed upon by both the hospital’s lawyer and the patient’s family lawyer.

Set 6: The patient’s sister (nurse, frequent visitor, note taker)

Rank the witness sets from 1 (best) to 6 (worst). Be prepared to explain your choice.

4. After students have completed their rankings:

Notes to the instructor

  1. We expect that students will disagree, and that is OK.

    The goal is to get them to think, to articulate and to support their choices, and perhaps to hear another opinion.

  2. Likely choices

    • Sets 2 and 4 are likely top choices. There are multiple witnesses and they represent both sides in each case. Also, these may be appealing because there are records (Physician records and sister’s notes) involved. Set 2 might be preferable since one witness appears to be more impartial.

    • Set 3 also has witnesses from both sides, but no second voice on either side. Students may like this choice because each seems to be an expert.

    • Set 1 also has multiple witnesses (the most) representing both sides, but none are experts (credibility may be in question)

    • Set 5 may be desirable to some, keeping things simple, but there are no checks and balances. Still some may see no need as this witness should be impartial

    • Set 6 may be desirable to some, given that the sister was there a lot and had lots of data.

  3. After discussing the analogy, ask students how choosing articles is similar to choosing witnesses, and how it might be different.

Notes to the instructor

5. Activity 2 (5 mins)

Notes to the instructor

Experts on media literacy ask researchers to consider the following when choosing articles for their background research:

  1. Consider the credibility of the author.

    a. Was this article peer-reviewed? OR

    b. *Does the author have credentials that suggest credibility (represents a credible company, has degrees or significant experience in the area being written about). Sometimes the company behind the author must be researched as well.*

  2. What is the purpose and intended audience of the article or post.

    a. Is the author trying to convince the reader of one position?

    b. Is the author writing to what he believes is a group of like-minded people? (such as often happens on social media)

    c. It is suspicious if an idea or product is presented with absolutely no down-side.

  3. Is the article current?

    a. Could new ideas/products have appeared since it was written?

    b. Could theories have been disproven more recently?

  4. Does the article/post itself reference credible authors using the same criteria?

  5. It is helpful to search for articles on the same subject that present differing views.

6. Reflection (4 min)

7. Assessment