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MacArthur Foundation Awards $285,000 to Stony Brook University

MacArthur Foundation Awards $285,000 to Stony Brook University

Grant for web-based News Literacy Program to promote critical thinking by citizens

STONY BROOK, NY, March 26, 2012 – Stony Brook University School of Journalism today announced that the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded a $285,000 grant to the Center for News Literacy to fund the creation and delivery of digital materials demanded by the rapid spread of News Literacy courses.

 “This is the rocket fuel we need to launch Stony Brook’s web-based News Literacy education system in 2013,” said Howard Schneider, Dean of the Stony Brook School of Journalism, “so that students can learn to separate legitimate news and information from propaganda, spin and uninformed assertion masquerading as fact.”

Under the grant, the Stony Brook Center will create timely video and interactive examples, “ripped from the headlines” that can be used by a growing number of university and high school instructors each week. The grant will also allow the Center to complete a searchable database of curriculum materials, lesson plans and archival material to make it easier for teachers seeking to adopt the course. More than two dozen campuses and dozens of high schools are currently teaching a version of the course first created at Stony Brook.

The MacArthur grant is the second major grant awarded to the Center in the past six months. In 2011, the McCormick Foundation awarded the Center $315,000 to accelerate the spread of News Literacy teaching with digital services and materials, online teacher training and a variety of other approaches.

The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. This grant, made through the Foundation’s Program on Media, Culture and Special Initiatives, supports MacArthur’s efforts to strengthen democracy by funding improvements in the way Americans can use digital media to participate in civic life.

The projects funded by this grant arose from the 2nd national News Literacy Conference, held at Stony Brook, March of 2011. They include:

• Design/Build/Test digital infrastructure for national online News Literacy Teachers Resource Center.
• Curate existing materials, test new search system and begin to gather and curate new materials, emphasizing the location of best teaching examples from current events.
• Create new content weekly, by hiring a professional writer/educator to build curated examples into a weekly current events-driven News Literacy lessons, classroom exercises and homework, including interactive games that use current events to engage students in civic practice.
• Build an advisory panel of classroom teachers to test and revise materials and methods and support colleagues in launching new courses.
• Create video tutorials on a battery of key concepts, targeting self-directed learners.

Some 29 colleges and universities across the country have adopted all or part of the Stony Brook Model, a course aimed at teaching students how best to find reliable information for their lives as citizens. During the same time period, three dozen high schools have added the Stony Brook Model as a stand-alone course or significant unit within an existing course. This fall, Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Council approved a proposal to offer News Literacy as a for-college-credit “ACE” course and two Long Island high schools have launched courses. Another is proposed for the fall of 2012.

“We have taken an open-source approach, sharing every element of Stony Brook Model, from syllabus to Blackboard™ documents at no cost,” said Dean Miller, Director of the Center for News Literacy. “The rapid spread of the course in four years demonstrates the effectiveness of that approach and now the MacArthur Foundation is giving us tools to keep up with the growing demand. They share our aspiration: News Literacy courses in all 50 states by 2017 and a slew of new digital tools that make it possible to teach these essential skills for citizenship in the information age.”

About The Center for News Literacy

The Center for News Literacy was established in 2007 at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism with the mission to educate current and future news consumers. The Center serves as a resource center for universities and high schools across the U.S. The Center also develops programs, designs conferences, seminars, lectures, and workshops that bring together journalists and academics to explore issues related to the reliability of news. With funding from the MacArthur, Ford, Knight, Atlantic, Levine, New York Community Bank and McCormick Foundations, the Center for News Literacy has built an undergraduate course that has been taught to 7,500 students at Stony Brook University and is now being taught at 29 universities around the country.

Preliminary research, based on an independent survey of more than 400 Stony Brook undergraduates, shows News Literacy students are more likely than their peers to register to vote and to get involved in democratic organizations, said Miller. “They demonstrated a dramatic improvement in their ability to correctly assess flawed video news reports and they keep up-to-date on current events more than do their peers in the control group,” Miller said. The Center is midway through a follow-up study and will share the methodology with other News Literacy campuses to test that finding.

The Stony Brook Model aims to teach students to recognize the difference between independent, verified, accountable journalism and other, compromised sources of civic information, said Schneider, who conceived and built the course at Stony Brook starting in 2005.

In the standard syllabus, News Literacy students are encouraged to bring current events into every class and professors do the same. Attention is devoted to thinking about how the digital revolution and the structural changes in the news media can affect news consumers. Students are challenged to shoulder their new responsibilities as publishers as well as consumers. Hallmarks of the course are exercises and readings that help students distinguish between news media bias and audience bias, Miller said. 

“Several universities have adopted our approach, which is to teach this as a general education course and not a journalism course,” he said. “We teach more than a thousand students every fall, typically a quarter to a third of the incoming freshman class, and we hope News Literacy skills become one of the defining characteristics of graduates of schools across America.”

For more information: 
Dean Miller, Director
Center for News Literacy


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