Take Control of Information Overload

30 June 2015


The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, where GEN Board member and Professor of Practice Dan Gillmor teaches digital media literacy, is launching a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on how to deal with what often feels like an overload of information from the media. Instead of drowning in a sea of news, this free course is aimed at helping people take control by becoming active media users. Registration is now open for the MOOC, which will run for seven weeks from 6 July. In the new media world of immediacy and fast news, the course will look at the benefits of taking a "slow news" approach, especially as a news consumer. At the GEN Summit 2015 in Barcelona, Dan Gillmor talked about why journalists should be activists (at least sometimes) - and, in an interview with GEN, he explains how the MediaLit MOOC will enable people to become media creators in their own right.

Dan Gillmor

Photo: Dan Gillmor speaking at the GEN Summit 2015 in Barcelona

 Q. What is the MOOC about?

The title is "MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload". The goal is to help people do that by
becoming active users, not passive consumers, of media in a variety of ways. The free course runs for seven weeks beginning 6 July. Beyond the usual mini-lectures, readings, conversation, and so forth, we've added a special feature: video interviews with interesting people in the media and digital worlds. Among them are Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales; Margaret Sullivan, NY Times public editor; Brian Stelter from CNN; Len Downie, former executive editor of the Washington Post; Renee Hobbs from the Media Literacy Project; Joi Ito of MIT Media Lab; the physicist Lawrence Krauss; Latoya Peterson, activist and editor at Fusion; the author and comedian, Baratunde Thurston and the musician and author, Amanda Palmer. The course is a project of ASU Online and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication where I teach part-time, and is running on the edX platform, the MOOC initiative started by Harvard and MIT. We're releasing it under a Creative Commons license as well.

Q. Can you tell us more about how this MOOC was compiled?

I've been teaching this topic at the Cronkite School - it was the subject of my most recent book, Mediactive, and the US-based Robert R. McCormick Foundation asked us to do a MOOC on it. There are the usual lectures, readings, quizzes and conversation, but I hope that the added interviews with some of the most interesting people I know in the media, technology and literacy fields sets it apart.

MediaLIT wearables

Q. How will the MOOC - MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload - help people to become active and not passive users of media?

We hope to show them why they should do this, and then offer some techniques and tactics. They include being skeptical, using judgment, doing one's one research, seeking information from a wide variety of sources and understanding how media are created and used to persuade. In addition, we will ask people to be media creators in their own right.

Q. You mention that the MOOC includes interviews with interesting people in the media and digital world. What themes are covered in the interviews?

A great variety, and of course it depends on each person's particular expertise, but the common thread is active use of media.

Q. How will the university moderate student participation and progress?

We have several teaching assistants who will be working in the forums, as will I, during the course. There will be quizzes to see if the participants have learned what we hope they've learned. And there will be several peer assessments, where they look at each other's work and offer feedback. This isn't a for-credit course, however. It covers only a portion of what I do in a normal course. We're asking for 3-5 hours a week of their time, far less than we'd do in a regular course.

Q. MOOCs are still regarded as relatively entrepreneurial enough to attract contracts and funding. Do you think that this business model will hold or will it have to change? 

It's far too early to know. MOOCs were over-hyped at the beginning, and there was a backlash. But there's no question that some things in this category can scale. Online education is not by itself the future; the experience of being in a room with others, working with an educator who
understands the topic and how to teach, has enormous value, but online
education is part of the future.

MOOC banner

Q. As a learning method, what potential do you think MOOCs offer?

My own view is that they are very useful for some kinds of learning and probably not useful for others, at least so far. This is in the experimental stage - we see this course in that category, and so does our funder. I hope we can offer another version of this course again, after revising it based on what we learn.

Q. So you already have in mind a second MOOC?

I hope to do another course of this kind if I have the time, and can get the funding. We may also offer the media literacy MOOC again in the future, after revising it based on what we learn in the process of doing this one.

>>Register for the MOOC

 MOOC image: by Mathieu Plourde- Flickr Creative Commons Licence.