To download the free e-book, go to:
For more information about the RJI e-book development project team:
The learning layer helps teachers and students take up the discussion about journalism in the digital age by providing assignments, activities, questions and supplemental reading and research. To access the learning layer of the e-book, teachers simply click on the red buttons scattered throughout the e-pages of the author’s essay content. They can print or email the content as individual elements or as chapter units. The layer is readable on mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops. It also can be displayed on a large classroom screen.
Students, teachers, practitioners and citizens have equal access to the learning layer content. Assignments and other activities are organized on three levels: Flashlight, Spotlight and Searchlight. Some may find they coincide with high school, community college and college-level teaching. But others may see them simply as different approaches to the same subject matter. Teachers have the freedom to assign work from any or all of the levels as they see fit.
The learning layer is a design layer within an HTML 5 package. It is the work of a team of graduate students as well as college and high school teachers as part of a joint publishing project of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
As an educator passionately focused on infusing the theme of global competence across the curriculum, I recommend the following lessons/activities:
“Social Media Case Studies: Finding Case Studies on the Impact of Social Media”
(from Chapter Two learning layer)
On March 15, 2013, the award-winning graphic novel, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, was pulled from library shelves and ordered removed from classrooms by the Chicago Public Schools. A student journalist found Satrapi’s literary agent, who immediately found the author. Satrapi, who now lives in Paris, responded – as did the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom and many outraged local, national and global citizens. In summary: Students used social media to put the word out about Chicago’s policy, and the book was returned to library shelves.
Ironically, the book was written partly in reaction to the censorship of artistic expression in Iran under the fundamentalist Islamic regime that took over power of the country after the 1979 Revolution.
Three levels of activity for students:
Flashlight: How can you verify that the above story is true? Can you find news reports or statements from the parties involved online? Do they verify the story or conflict with the story? How can a researcher resolve conflicts if sources say different things in a case study?
Spotlight: Research a similar case of censorship that was overturned. Start by looking over the Global Journalist. Explore the role of social media in the case.
Searchlight: The use of social media is exploding. Is censorship also increasing? How would a researcher look into that? Find two or three examples of groups that monitor Internet freedom. Do those measurements include social media?
Extra credit: How many universities offer a college degree with a specialty in social media? Here’s a master’s degree specialization from the University of Florida. Of the 500 journalism and mass communication programs and schools in the United States, how many others can you find?
At the Flashlight level, students gain valuable practice in verifying facts and cross referencing sources in order to resolve conflicts in information. The activity reinforces critical thinking skills necessary not only to a student journalist but to any citizen concerned with forming unbiased opinions based on factual evidence in order to participate and effectively contribute to civic discourse. The activity links to two valuable websites: “The Global Journalist,” which reports on the state of press freedom and related international issues and the IFLA website.
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. It is the global voice of the library and information profession.
All three levels of activity present teachers with the opportunity to focus on the increasingly important role that social media plays in world affairs.
“Think Globally: Act Locally-
Challenge Others to Learn Digital Tools” (from Chapter Two Learning Layer)
The author calls upon leaders to make big changes in journalism education. But social, cultural or institutional change doesn’t happen only when leaders reinvent institutions, if people change their own behaviors, it can change a system from the “bottom up.”
Consider the use of digital tools in journalism education. One approach to increase the use of those tools might be to try to change accreditation standards to favor use of current technology. Another way might be to change your own classroom’s habits, and pass along the challenge to another class, until hundreds and thousands of classes are changing.
Activity: Try it. Take two or three basic tools (such as the ones below). Assign your students to try them and report back to the class. Then report your findings to another class and challenge them to find two tools, try them and pass along the challenge. Will the next class take you up on the challenge? Have a class discussion of other non-institutional ways to create change in what journalism students learn.
Paper.li allows people to create their own newspaper by finding sources on a particular topic. This website allows readers to download their content into an application that aggregates information. Students can use Paper.li to create their own news report and explain their choices. What community are they trying to communicate to and with? How do they know those stories will be consumed and acted upon?
FlipBoard is an application for tablets and smart phones that lets the user flip through, with the swipe of a finger, a self-refreshing collection of articles and social media posts curated to user’s tastes. With Flipboard you can make online magazines tailored to a specific community need.
WordPress has become the news industry standard in blogging because of its simplicity. It offers free tutorials and basic web templates that adjust to fit smart phones. Bloggers can also install plug-ins to track content engagement on their site. WordPress blog examples: Reuters, Wall Street Journal, CNN, NYT. You can also check out this this page of notable WordPress Users.
News Sense on NewsU.org is a course, not a tool, but it can help make sure your story meets the journalism standards of fairness, accuracy, context and truthfulness, the necessary foundations of good reporting.
Most teenagers are competitive by nature. I love the idea of having one class challenge another to become agents of change within their school and community. As an added incentive, the chance to win class I-pads or kindles might add momentum. Grant opportunities abound for those teachers who are motivated to take the time to seek them out and apply. (For more information, see the “Grants” section of the learning layer!).
The sites mentioned are only referenced as a starting point. All of these sites are valuable not only to student journalists but to all students as a means to developing important digital literacy skills that will serve them throughout their lives in a wide range of careers and as citizens of the planet Earth.
“Include Social Media in World Press Freedom Measures,” Animated Chart, Content, Plus Chapter Three Learning Layer: “Freedom Means… Disagreeing on What Freedom Means”
The 2012 State of the First Amendment national survey reflects conflicting views on support for free expression and press freedom. Review and pick an activity:
Flashlight: What parts of the survey seem the most noteworthy? Are there important questions the survey did not ask? Why might Americans be so divided?
Spotlight: “Education for Freedom” is offered by the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan center dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of the values of the First Amendment. Do any of the lessons seem right for your class? Choose one.
Searchlight: University of Washington legal scholar Ronald K. L. Collins is a First Amendment Center fellow. In 2012, he was awarded a Scribes Book Award (bronze) for his work We Must not be Afraid to be Free (written with educator Sam Chaltain, who pioneered First Amendment Schools). Ask students to review the book and write a short paper on the fears Collins says hold us back.
Bonus activity for high school teachers: Conduct an exercise that allows students to explore the meaning of the First Amendment with this web site as a resource.
This section of the e-book is rich in content that will deepen student understanding about the concept of freedom, 1st Amendment issues and the varying degrees of freedom accorded to the press across the globe. The “Education for Freedom” website offers additional lesson plans to supplement content. Their lessons (beginning and advanced levels) address constitutional principles and contemporary issues involving the First Amendment, and draw students into an exploration of how their freedoms began and how they operate in today's world. Students will discuss how far individual rights extend, examining rights in the school environment and public places. The lessons may be used in history and government, language arts and journalism, art and debate classes. The animated World Press Freedom map offers teachers the opportunity to teach graphical analysis along with the content itself, and as such is excellent as an interdisciplinary teaching tool.
As follow up to the 1st Amendment lesson, I recommend the Learning Layer, also in Chapter Three, “Mexico’s Endangered Journalists,” as a research opportunity that allows students to focus on one country’s current human rights/press freedom issues. The questions require students to research the facts and to use higher level thinking skills to draw conclusions based on those facts.
Mexico’s Endangered Journalists (Chapter Three Learning Layer)
You don’t have to go to the other side of the globe to find attempts at silencing journalists. According to the Associated Press, 84 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, and 20 have disappeared since 2005.
Mexico ranks seventh on the impunity index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (the index measures the impunity with which murderers get away with killing journalists).
Activity: Students find at least three articles (like this one) about the killings and disappearances of journalists in Mexico. Use the research to answer the following questions:
1) Does the increase in violence against journalists coincide with another trend in the country?
2) Has the government of Mexico acknowledged the problem and implemented any programs to address it?
3) Are crimes against journalists investigated in Mexico? How many of these crimes go unpunished?
Similarly, “Google and Asia: Google and Censorship in Different Cultures,” Chapter Three Learning Layer, gives students the opportunity to compare and contrast the censorship rate in different countries, focusing in particular on China’s restriction of Internet access, and to come up with conclusions about differing cultural values and the ways in which those values determine
societal rules. The TED talk offers an engaging look at the role of citizen journalism and the potential impact of social media as a back channel for news and information.
“Google and Censorship in Different Cultures” (Chapter Three Learning Layer)
Google-China was launched in 2006 and has been the object of censorship and fiery rhetoric from Chinese officials. China blocked access to YouTube during 2009 as a result of footage that showed Chinese security beating Tibetans. China continues to block access to certain search terms on Google, which protested but continues to operate as the number two search engine in China. Baidu, the market leader, is in full compliance with China’s censorship laws.
Flashlight: Do you think most of China’s Internet users know that a large amount of information is being blocked? How might they know? Are there long-term consequences for China stemming from internet censorship? What might those be?
Spotlight: According to the author, 40 governments currently censor the Internet. Find out the names of these countries. Do they have anything in common (geography, religion, language, political systems)? Do these similarities help explain their attitudes toward the Internet? Is China on the list?
Searchlight: Different cultures value different things. In 1956, Four Theories of the Press developed four media types. It’s still used a half-century later. But its critics say it described the systems according to Western (mostly American) standards. Discussion: What does the American culture value? How does our media system and the media and press freedoms we have support or hinder those values? Consider Asian cultures known for valuing collectivism. Can their media system support those societal values? How?
Extra credit: Chinese blogger Michael Anti (aka Jing Zhao) says hundreds of millions of micro bloggers and readers are at work. On platforms like Sina Weibo they discuss public issues banned from the official press. View this TED talk and assign a short paper on this question: Are these social networks effective as a back channel for news and information or are they a tool to try to keep the masses complacent?
Another lesson that focuses specifically on one country recently in the headlines is:
From Revolution to Self-Censorship (Chapter Three Learning Layer)
Wael Ghonim is the Google executive who helped jumpstart Egypt's democratic revolution with a Facebook page memorializing a victim of the regime's violence. Share the TED talk, "Wael Ghonim: Inside the Egyptian Revolution."
In early 2011, Ghonim was detained by the Egyptian government. Freed after 11 days of international pressure, he revealed his identity and helped lead the revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak. Says Ghonim: "The power of the people is much stronger than the people in power."
Flashlight: Do people have the power? Why or why not? How does social networking overcome what Ghonim describes as "the psychological barrier of fear"?
Spotlight: Dictators can steal a country’s wealth by directing government contracts to companies they own. Explore the following sites: Alaveteli and Investigative Dashboard. They can help journalists track a dictator's assets. See more in this video. How do investigative journalists make this information known in countries where the traditional media is controlled?
Searchlight: Research the story of a small news website Al Masry Al Youm, published in both Arabic and English. It started as a print version to challenge the largest newspaper in the nation: Al Ahram, which, while state-controlled, is seen by many as the “official” way Egypt is presented to the world. But the print version of Al Masry Al Youm was shut down April 25, 2013 by its parent corporation. A digital copy of the final edition was posted on the web by Editor Lina Attalah. The final edition, which was never printed, noted that the very prospect of being an independent journalistic entity in Egypt can be threatening to those in authority. Discuss the issue of “self-censorship.” What is it? Is this an example? Can it be overcome? How?
The Flashlight discussion questions address the power of the individual in changing society, and the potential of social networking to increase that power. The Spotlight section highlights the value of investigative journalists in exposing government corruption across the globe. The Searchlight discussion addresses the issue of self-censorship and the role that fear can play in stopping individuals from exposing unethical behavior. Our students need to learn that what they hear on the news or view on the Web often times lacks depth, and that in order to fully understand what is happening in our increasingly interconnected world, we need the skills that will allow us to look deeper and to continuously question the quality of information we are receiving. It is my hope that teachers will take advantage of the rich content produced in “Searchlights and Sunglasses.”
The lessons and activities I’ve highlighted represent my personal favorites and are not comprehensive but rather offered as a starting point to exploration of this valuable e-book. Many other globally focused digital literacy lessons are incorporated into the e-text. Though the focus is on journalism, it is my strong belief that these lessons have applications far beyond the journalism classroom and can be successfully used across grade levels and curriculum areas.