Assessing How the Media and Information Landscape Impacts Democracy | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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Lesson

Assessing How the Media and Information Landscape Impacts Democracy

Students reflect on the relationship between democracy and the media and information landscape.

Duration

One 50-min class period

Language

English — UK

Published

This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

Overview

About This Lesson

This is the eighth lesson in a unit designed to help teachers have conversations with their students about media literacy in a critical, reflective and constructive way. Use these lessons to help your students reflect on the changing media and information landscape; understand how this landscape impacts individuals, communities and society; and consider how they can thoughtfully and responsibly engage with content they encounter online and in print. This learning can also help them become conscientious content creators. Supporting students to develop as critical consumers and creators of information is vital for their well-being, their relationships and our democracy.

This lesson provides students with the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between democracy and the media and information landscape. Students begin the lesson by reflecting on what democracy is and what a democracy needs to function effectively. They then consider some of the features of the information landscape that they studied in the unit so far and the impact these can have on the functioning of a democracy.

How can developing our media literacy support our well-being, our relationships and our democracy?

  • What is democracy and what are the features of a healthy democracy?
  • What impact can the information landscape have on democracy?
  • Students will understand what democracy is and what a democracy needs to function effectively.
  • Students will consider how the media and information landscape impacts democracy.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes the following student materials:

  • 1 PowerPoint
  • 2 handouts

For democracy to function effectively, citizens not only need to have access to certain rights and the ability to influence the power holders representing them, they also need to have access to a free and open media. The media is regarded as a pillar of democracy; it is vital for holding those in power to account, for giving people a voice to speak out against injustice and for giving people the information needed to inform their decision making. Populations, therefore, also need to be able to critically engage with the media and information landscape: it is through different types of media and information that people learn about themselves and others, and come to make sense of the world and make informed decisions. What people consume can shape their worldviews, and impact their behaviour and their ability to participate fully and freely in the democratic process. 

The relationship between democracy and the media and information landscape is, therefore, one of interdependence: both areas influence and impact the other. Understanding this relationship, and how the different aspects of both these areas interact, is a core part of media literacy, and can help people fully realise their democratic agency. Studying this relationship can also highlight the important role the media and information landscape can play in upholding democracy, as well as, conversely, the risks that the present-day landscape poses to democracies around the world.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Before class, prepare the hexagons by printing out the Hexagonal Thinking: Democracy and the Media and Information Landscape handout, cutting out the hexagons, and placing each set in an envelope for easy distribution and clean up. Students will work in groups of three; each group will need a set of hexagons. 

Alternatively, you may ask students to cut up the hexagons themselves, but this will take some time out of the lesson. 

If you would like to select your own topics related to democracy and the media and information landscape, print out the handout Hexagonal Thinking (Blank) and complete the hexagons yourself. 

Here are some resources if you would like to learn more about the Hexagonal Thinking discussion strategy, see examples of print and digital versions, and consider possible extensions and modifications:

Depending on your students’ prior knowledge, you may need to provide them with the following definitions before or during the lesson. Consider adding the following terms to your Word Wall:

Information Landscape (noun): Everything relevant to the world of information. This includes different types of information, how and why they are created, and how they are shared.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Activities

Inform students that, in today’s lesson, they will be exploring how the media and information landscape can impact democracy.

First, ask them to journal on the following prompts:

Democracy is ‘the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves’. 1

The word democracy comes from the Greek word dēmokratia, which is composed of two words: dēmos (‘the people’) + -kratia (‘power, rule’). It literally means rule by the people. 

  1. Write your own definition of what a democracy is.
  2. What do you think a democracy needs to be able to function properly?
    You might want to think about institutions that exist, how people select governments, what people are allowed to do, how people in power are held to account for their actions, etc. 
  3. How well do you think the UK’s democracy functions? Explain your view. 

Lead a short class discussion, inviting students to share their responses and taking note on the board of what students think a democracy needs to be able to function properly. 

Then, share the following aspects of a healthy democracy with students, checking for comprehension:

  • Free and fair elections, including voting rights;
  • Free and open press;
  • Freedom of expression;
  • Trust in the democratic process;
  • Ability to hold power to account;
  • Space for disagreement and dissent;
  • Equality before the law;
  • Fair and equal rights for all.

Next, inform students that they will spend some time exploring the relationship between democracy and the media and information landscape, thinking about how different features of this landscape impact and/or relate to aspects of a healthy democracy. 

If needed, give your students the following definition:

  • Information Landscape (noun): Everything relevant to the world of information. This includes different types of information, how and why they are created, and how they are shared. 

Divide students into groups of three and distribute the already cut handout Hexagonal Thinking: Democracy and the Media and Information Landscape to each group, or the uncut version, along with scissors for students to cut up the hexagons themselves.

Explain to students that each hexagon contains a different aspect of democracy and/or the media and information landscape. They should position the hexagons into a grid that connects these aspects, thinking about the relationships between them and referring to what they have learnt so far in the unit. For some aspects, students may only find one connection, while for others they may find two, three, or even six. Tell them there is no right answer, they can decide where the hexagons go. 

Model the activity by drawing or projecting some labelled hexagon examples (with different labels from the ones they will encounter) and explaining how you might connect them. Try to show how there could be multiple options for each hexagon. 

When all of the groups have finished, ask them to tape their hexagon grid onto a piece of paper. 

Debrief the activity with a Gallery Walk. Groups can place their grids on their desks. Prompt students to look for similarities and differences as they circulate. 

Then, lead a short class discussion inviting them to share what they noticed about different grids and about the relationship between the information landscape and democracy.

Next, inform students that they will be using their group’s grid for an individual written response that uses the content and their learning from the previous lessons in the unit to explain three points of connection on their grid. This is an individual activity, so each student can choose the points of connection that they are most interested in writing about. 

Distribute the Hexagonal Thinking Written Response handout or project the prompts contained in the handout on the board and read the instructions as a class. Then, have students complete the task, encouraging them to choose connection points that relate to both the information landscape and democracy and to write about the relationship between them.

Finally, ask students to discuss the following questions in their small groups:

  1. How does the information landscape impact democracy? 
    Consider the risks it poses and the ways in which it can boost the democratic process.
  2. In the UK, there are several laws that restrict expression to prevent harm. For example, there are laws that prevent the incitement of hatred, the harming of someone’s reputation through false accusations, and the spreading of false information by media outlets. 
    • What are the benefits of laws that restrict expression? 
    • What are the potential risks? 
  3. What do you think needs to be done to ensure the information landscape supports the democratic process? 
    You might wish to think about laws, skills the population needs, people’s rights and responsibilities, etc. 

Lead a class discussion inviting students to share their views.

Extension Activities

Invite students to think further about the risks that the information landscape can pose to democracy. Ask them to select one related to the information landscape and its potential impact on democracy. You might allow them to think of their own topics, use ones contained in the handout Hexagonal Thinking: Democracy and the Media and Information Landscape, or share the following options: 

  • Social Media
  • Algorithms 
  • Conspiracy Theories
  • Misinformation, Disinformation and Mal-information
  • Generative Artificial Intelligence

Once students have explored one topic in depth, ask them to think about what can be done to counter the risks that this part of the information landscape poses to democracy.

To help students further reflect on the complex interplay between democracy and the media and information landscape, use the Parts, People and Interactions teaching strategy created by Project Zero at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. As a class, you might first think about completing the activity for the UK’s democratic system. Then, once students are clear on what to do, invite them to complete the activity in groups for the media and information landscape/system, or a specific aspect of this system (you might give different groups different aspects). Once students have mapped out the parts, people and interactions of their given system, invite them to compare the different systems, discuss where they intersect and what this can teach people about the changes needed to ensure the media and information landscape upholds democracy.

Share some or all of the activities from the lesson Understanding and Assessing the UK’s Democracy to help students deepen their understanding of what a democracy is and how the UK’s democracy functions.

Inform students that investigative journalism and the press are vital in holding people in power accountable for their behaviour and for helping people understand the truth about what is going on in the world. However, journalists are facing difficulties in being able to do their jobs properly: press freedom around the world is under threat, the information landscape and rise in misinformation and disinformation means that people are losing trust in media providers, and the Internet and social media have given many people voices who do not adhere to the journalistic standards and codes of practice. Review some or all of the following resources and select information to share with students to help them reflect on the challenges that journalists and journalism face: 

Materials and Downloads

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