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Elizabeth Smith and Theresa de los Santos Advance News Literacy Education with Latest Study

In June 2022, Seaver College communication professors Elizabeth Smith and Theresa de los Santos published their shared research project titled, “Seeing and doing: Exploring the use of journalist videos and simulations to increase news literacy awareness among high school students,” in the the journal of Media Practice and Education

With this project, Smith and de los Santos set out to study the effectiveness of simulation-based, news literacy training for high school students. Their work is part of a continued effort to understand how to best educate younger generations on the topic of responsible news consumption. 

“There is so much negativity surrounding the news. We see people turning away from the news because it makes them upset,” says de los Santos, concerning the importance of this educational initiative. “And while we know all news topics aren’t relevant to the lives of young news consumers, we want to help them appreciate the importance of truthful information - and appreciate and trust the work of journalists. Right now, if they grow up in the environment the U.S. is in, and that doesn’t change, we’re heading toward a scary place.”

“Misinformation has always been out there, but because of social media platforms and the haphazard nature of how we can and do consume information, whether we intend to or not, [news literacy education] is urgent,” adds Smith. “It has to start in kindergarten or earlier.”

Fueled by this belief, Smith and de los Santos conducted an experiment focused on adolescents. They ran eight high school classes through the Situation Room Experience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library which, “immerses students in a high-stakes, fast moving fictional government crisis that includes a focus on the journalism process.” 

Students were assigned to either a role in the government or a role as a reporter. Both of these groups were forced to make decisions based on an evolving, crisis situation. However, one independent variable that Smith and de los Santos developed was an informative video featuring a professional journalist, which four of the eight classes viewed prior to moving through the simulation.

In exposing students to the journalistic process, Smith and de los Santos hoped to provide a form of hands-on education regarding news literacy. In the end, the students who benefitted the most from the experience were those who first watched the introductory video. These students reported a higher awareness of media meanings and messages, self perceived media literacy, and the value of news media. 

“The learning happens when the experts, the journalists, are intersecting with these beginners, people who don’t know very much about the news industry even though they may have engaged with it haphazardly,” reports Smith. “That really informs who the experts are, who [students] should be hearing from, and where learning happens… You have to be engaging with the journalists who are producing the work.”

Elizabeth Smith and Theresa de los Santos are both former journalists, with Emmy award winning careers. In moving from the newsroom to the classroom, these two Seaver College  communication professors put into practice what their research proves to be true – learning occurs when experts intersect with beginners.  

To learn more about Smith and de los Santos’s simulation-based research, visit their digital publication.