Media Literacy and the Adult Learner

Hi Everyone,

Adults now spend over 13 hours per day consuming various forms of media, including 2 hours and 27 minutes on social media (Statista, 2022). How can we assist our students in making sense of media?

October 24 - 28, 2022 marks Media Literacy Week. In February 2021, our community group hosted "Believe It or Not! Information Literacy and Adult Learners" with social studies expert John Trerotola. John mentioned several pertinent resources including:

What are you doing to help your students become more media literate?

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 


Hi Everyone,

A popular activity in media literacy courses is a 24-hour media fast. The purpose of the fast is to show how pervasive media is in our lives and how one reacts when it is unavailable. To celebrate media literacy week, I will embark on a 24-hour digital media fast for one day this week and report on the results. Here are my rules for this experiment:

  • No smartphone use except for making calls. (My wife will monitor texts to see if there are any emergencies.)
  • I’m allowed to check email once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and that’s it!
  • No digital entertainment media - this means no YouTube, Amazon Prime, or TV watching.
  • Work-related Internet use only. (This means no research on topics totally unrelated to work, a frequent pitfall for me!)

I will begin Tuesday, October 25 at 10 AM ET and conclude on Wednesday, October 26 at 10 AM ET. Check back later this week to see how I do!

Have you ever done a digital media fast? How did it go?

Thanks for your thoughts,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group

Hi Everyone,

I began my digital media fast at 10 AM Tuesday, and I write this as it ends 24 hours later. The fast’s purpose is to reflect on my digital media use, so I’ll offer a few insights.

I’m a Modern-Day Pavlovian Dog

In the 1890s, Russian researcher Ivan Pavlov described how dogs salivated in response to a ringing bell that signaled imminent feeding. This became known as classical conditioning. 125 years later, it appears that I have been conditioned by my phone and laptop to want the dopamine rush that comes from responding to all manner of notifications. While LinkedIn is the only social media I use regularly, most of my other phone apps are set to signal me when there is activity. Of course, this is by design so I will engage with the apps.

I feel that I am Pavlov’s dog mindlessly responding to the phone buzzes and laptop taskbar notifications I receive. I don’t like that feeling. I want to be able to make deliberate choices about how I access digital media and when I do so. During the fast, I decided to permanently turn off the taskbar notifications on my laptop.

I felt some anxiety about not being able to immediately respond to messages and notifications, and I felt a bit helpless having to ask my wife and kids about the messages I heard buzzing on my phone. Overall, I did feel less anxious and more at peace over the course of my work day since I couldn’t respond to the incoming notifications. I would love to have this peace every work day! I believe I will continue keeping my phone away from my desk and looking at it only at times I choose going forward.

I did miss playing Wordle at the breakfast table with my daughter. I also missed singing in the shower to music on my phone, and I certainly missed texting friends and extended family when the mood struck me. Technology provides several avenues for joy in my life.

There's more to come!

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 


This is interesting! One of my current ESL students was a practicing psychologist in Venezuela. Just last week, he was talking about the perils of technology and how it has altered our behavior. He introduced our class to phantom vibration syndrome. It is a name I hadn't heard of for a phenomenon that I experience almost daily. I was wondering if there were aspects of ignoring your phone notifications that continued to trigger anxiety throughout the 24-hour period.

While it would be uncomfortable (and I don't plan to actually try it), I believe that I would be able to set my phone aside for 24 hours, but it would not be without anxiety. As someone who works multiple part-time jobs. my phone is how I check my email and manage my to-do lists and calendars across multiple email accounts. It would require pre-planning. I imagine the experience of going without a phone for 24 hours would be far more challenging for my ESL students who use it as a tool to maintain contact with family in other countries and to translate words/phrases from English to another language. Just proposing the idea and asking students how it would affect their lives would prompt an interesting discussion about the tension between digital media that improves our lives and that which doesn't.

I've often wondered if a day without media consumption would heighten or lessen my anxiety.  During the earliest stages of the pandemic (I live with a nurse), things were so chaotic around my house that I wasn't able to handle watching TV.  It went on for about 6 months, and I managed to read 75 books that year.

I didn't know about phantom vibration syndrome, but it makes total sense.  I often find myself thinking my watch is pinging, but when I look down I see no notifications.  I dream of liberating myself from the constant notifications of this vibrating watch, but I'm also scared to let it go.  I guess I'm a Pavlovian Dog as well!

I love the idea of asking students how they'd feel about doing this experiment and also having them brainstorm pros and cons lists.  (Ex: Apple maps make my life better.  Election campaign donation request texts make my life worse.)

I read the very interesting NPR story on phantom vibrations you suggested Erin. One take away from that article was about weaning ourselves off technology for short periods, say for 30 minutes or an hour. I love that idea.

Like you Rebecca, I definitely read more during the 24 hours of the fast. Kudos to your 75 books read! 

Further Reflection on the Media Fast

A gray area in my rules was whether it was OK to read Kindle books on my phone. I typically sleep well for about five hours and wake up around 3 or 4 AM. I read Kindle books on my phone in night mode for a while to put me back to sleep. I decided that the book constituted digital entertainment, so I read a physical book with a flashlight (provided by my smartphone) instead.

This got me thinking about how many other things that my smartphone replaced or lessened my use of: I no longer wear a watch since the phone tells the time, my family's calendar is synched on our phones, I read Kindle books more often than physical books, the smartphone has also replaced my calculator, ticket apps (and many other apps) replaced paper tickets and the use of my laptop and old desktop computer. 

Also, I was definitely more productive during my normal work hours. Knowing that I could check email only once in the morning and once in the afternoon kept me focused. The prohibition on non-work related web searching during the work day also helped me achieve more including finishing a slide deck for a presentation next week.

I've also struggled with this question: Just because I can, should I? Do I really need to check email every hour or two? Do I really need to check LinkedIn several times a day? I am working on setting ongoing limits that I can live with forever. 

I hate it when I visit restaurants and see families absorbed with their phones and not interacting with each other. They are alone together. I never want to see my family that way. While technology has improved our lives in many ways, too much of a good thing can be a negative thing. 

What do you think about the role of technology/media in our lives?

Thanks for your thoughts,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 


Hi Everyone,

My Appalachian State colleague Jeff Goodman conducted a summer institute session entitled Reading the Media a few years ago. Here are a few of his thoughts about media with follow up discussion questions:

"1. All media are constructions.
Media products are carefully crafted constructions, the results of many decisions, conscious and unconscious.

Questions: How do we know this was "constructed"? What are the elements of the construction (script, music, editing, etc.)? How was this crafted? What decisions were made by the director and producers?

2. The media are commercial entities.
All media products are shaped, in terms of both their form and their content, by commercial considerations.

Questions: All media cost money. Who made this piece of media? Why? Who might they have sold it to? Why would it have been bought? Who was the target audience for the purchase of this piece of media? Who was the target audience for the messages in the media? How might the commercial considerations have affected the piece?

3. Media communicate values and ideology.
All media products contain implicit and explicit value messages and assumed truths about the nature of human beings and the world in which we live.

Questions: What value messages does this piece of media send? How does it communicate values about what is right and wrong? What economic messages does it send? What messages does it send about relationships between people or between people and the world?

4. The media have social and political implications.
The mass media have the potential to affect out behavior as individuals and citizens in a variety of ways.

Questions: What might be the cumulative effect of repeatedly viewing message like this? What issues is it most related to? How might it change how people act? How might it change how people vote or think about political issues?

5. Media forms are related to content.
Different media represent reality in different ways: the form of a given piece of media shapes the message it sends.

Questions: What form is this media? How do the characteristics of this form affect the message it sends? How would it be different if it was in a different form (e.g. if a film was changed to be a billboard, or if a song was changed to be a short story)?

6. The media have aesthetic qualities.
Familiarity with the aesthetic dimensions of media can lead to deeper understanding and greater enjoyments.

Questions: What are the aesthetic components of this piece of media? What does it look like? What does it sound like? How is color or lighting used? How is music used? How is editing used? How is meaning constructed through these elements?

7. Audiences are involved in the process of creating meaning.
What a viewer makes of a piece of media depends on his or her past experiences, viewing skill, and current state of mind.

Questions: How might different audiences view this differently? How might this piece of media be interpreted at the time it was made? How has that interpretation changed over time? Would the meaning of this piece of media differ if viewed by someone older or younger, someone of a different race or nationality, or someone of a different socioeconomic status?" (Goodman, 2015). 

How have you seen examples of the above points in media you encountered?


Thanks for your comments,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 

Thanks for leading this discussion of media literacy. It's really important to learn how to find reliable information online. 

This list of statements and questions could be an outline for a unit of instruction on critical reading and writing. For each statement, have learners explore a website and discuss and write about the questions. I'll have to check out Jeff Goodman's institute to see how he used them. 

In an earlier post, you mentioned the Civic Online Reasoning site at Stanford, started by Sam Wineburg. It's an excellent resource of ideas for teaching how to find reliable sources online. In our work with college developmental writers, we had them read an article by Wineburg and McGrew, "Why Students Can’t Google Their Way to the Truth.” The article describes a study in which they asked Stanford students, college history professors, and professional fact checkers to look at pairs of websites and decide which one was reliable. The Stanford students could not tell (no better than chance); the historians did somewhat better; the fact checkers got them all right. Why? Because the fact checkers did not read the websites until they had looked elsewhere on the web to who sponsored the site. Then we taught our students how to do that. The students loved the fact that they were learning to do something that Stanford students could not do. 

Reference (the link works)

Wineburg, Sam and Sarah McGrew. “Why Students Can’t Google Their Way to the Truth.” Education Week, 1 November 2016,