Using Project Look Sharp’s Free Resources and Lessons for Online Learning

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My last blog was posted 2 weeks and a lifetime ago.  For those of us in education, the radical shift in every aspect of our personal lives is compounded by an equally radical shift in the ways we teach and interact with our students.  For most of us, this has meant scrambling to find challenging and engaging ways to teach online – getting up to speed on Zoom and Flipgrid and VoiceThread and Kahoot!, while praying that our laptops and WiFi connections hold out.  As both Mark Twain and Ariana Grande said, “who woulda thought it?” 

 At Project Look Sharp, we initially struggled to figure out what we could offer of value to the many teachers and librarians interested in media literacy.  We have always had hundreds of media literacy lessons and thousands of media examples that can be downloaded and used totally free by educators and students – including video clips, advertisements, speeches, and dozens of other media formats – designed to teach core subject area content and habits of critical thinking.  But how can those materials and approaches be used in the context of online learning, where the highly interactive constructivist media decoding approach now needs to be mediated by distance and technology? 

We eventually came to the conclusion that media decoding lessons – and media literacy approaches in general – are not only possible to do in today’s online learning formats, they can engage isolated students in the deep questions that face us today.  They can be applied in a wide range of ways – with little or no technology – and can bridge the course material we want to cover with the real-life experiences our students are facing.  Here are some of our initial suggestions – and we will be adding more to our website in the coming weeks. 

Low Tech Ideas:

  • Give your students the handout Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages (which can be downloaded for free from our website) and encourage them to apply these questions to the media that they see, read and hear in their homes and neighborhoods.  For younger students, this can easily be applied to food packages, books, online videos, and commercials. For older students, asking key questions about news, advertising, and social media messages can help them step back a bit to gain new perspectives on how they know what they know.
  • Have your students keep journals (on paper or digitally) about their own media use, noticing changes in their media diet during the shutdown (compared to their use of media before).
  • Encourage your students sign up for a free Project Look Sharp account and find media literacy lessonsthat interest them.  Many can be done independently.

Asynchronous Online Ideas:

  • Push out to your students any media documents from the thousands available in the free Look Sharp collection, posing questions for discussion and analysis from our associated lessons.  Share digitally with students the Background InformationDocument Notes, Additional Info, or other text from the lesson plan that you would otherwise share orally with the class. Have them respond individually or in a group forum using whatever classroom technology students are using for your class.
  • Use one of the online annotation apps to have students communicate their analysis of media messages in Look Sharp lessons or messages from their current media use (e.g., Flipgrid or VoiceThread for audio/video sharing).
  • Encourage students to use the Key Questions to Ask When Creating Media Messages (which is embedded in the Key Questions for Analyzing handout) as they prepare projects, artwork, and social media posts to share with others, reflecting on their own goals and choices as a media maker.

Synchronous Online Ideas:

  • Use an online platform like Zoom to facilitate a live group decoding of a media document from the free Look Sharp collection.  This works really well (even in a large class) if the teacher shares their screen to show the media document, posing questions and asking students to raise their hands (in the participants list). The teacher can then call on someone, who can unmute themselves and respond.
  • Start with the whole class together to lay out relevant background information and the context for the decoding, using the teacher guide or activity plan provided in the Look Sharp lesson.  Show the media image or film clip, giving students a chance to take notes. Then send students into smaller groups (e.g., in Zoom breakout rooms) to discuss what questions they think are most important to ask about that media example – and what the answers might be to those questions – with one person designated to report-out when the class gets back together.

You can explore our huge archive of free lessons, media examples, curriculum kits, and handouts on the Project Look Sharp website – all grant-funded which allows us to make them available at no charge for educators.  And please let us know if you have other suggestions or feedback on how Project Look Sharp can support educators to prepare students for new ways of learning in this beautiful and broken world. 

                                                    Cyndy Scheibe, Founder and Executive Director 

Cyndy Scheibe