In Finland, the Mind over Media -workshops were held in November and December 2018. A two-day workshop was organized for Finnish eight grade students in basic education (equivalent of an upper comprehensive school, in Finnish yläkoulu). Another workshop was held for a group of immigrant adult students in upper secondary school for adults (aikuislukio). This was a group studying Finnish as their second language on a follow-up course.
As the groups greatly differed from each other, so did also the approaches and methods used. Let’s start by reviewing what the eight-graders did during their workshop days.
The group of eight graders comprised of sixteen Finnish, approximately 15-year-old students. The first workshop day was integrated into their Finnish language course (first language) and the second into a multidisciplinary learning module a week later.
Apart from recognizing the four techniques (activating strong emotions, responding to audience needs and values, simplifying information and ideas, or attacking opponents), the goals included developing transversal skills, especially multiliteracy (in Finnish monilukutaito) as well as practicing cooperating in groups and expressing, explaining and arguing one’s opinions.
The first workshop day began with a short teacher-led introduction to the topic. The students then had a warm-up exercise, in which they were asked to react by physically moving in the classroom on statements about social media influence and influencers in their lives. The students also presented quite critical views on for example commercial content produced by YouTube content producers. The credibility of the opinions on video from their perspective close to zero in videos, where “commercial cooperation” was mentioned.
Next, the students moved into groups of four members. Each group were assigned one of the four techniques, which they examined more closely. The students were instructed to help each other to learn as much as they can about the technique (using the support materials provided) in question. In the following phase, they were told they were to teach the technique to a new group, which would consist of members which all would have learnt a different technique. Throughout the workshop, the students were encouraged to also use teacher assistance available, which they also did. In the process, interesting conversation arose, for example on bullying, too.
The students also used the Finnish version of the ‘Media Literacy Smartphone’, titled in Finnish ‘Tuota and tulkitse’, produce and interpret.
On the second workshop day, the focus was on four phenomena significant in the present-day Finnish media landscape: hate speech, populism, disinformation and influence marketing. The goal was to practice recognizing the techniques through fictitious, also slightly humorous problem-solving “cases”. Humor, along with other methods, was introduced as one possible antidote to manipulation techniques online. In fact, the students were encouraged to freely enjoy and have fun throughout the workshop, also as to intentionally not give the phenomena, especially hate speech, any more power to intimidate, divide and aggravate audiences.
The students worked in new groups. First group wrote a script for a commercial YouTube video and the second an extensive message on a social media platform of their choice on the importance of critically reviewing the sources of information. The third group had a task of creating counter-speech to fictitious hate speech comments, relying mainly on an approach based on humor. The task of the fourth group was to analyse populist speech, with which they used ‘Media Literacy Smartphone’, called in Finnish ‘Tuota ja tulkitse’ (link: http://mediakasvatus.fi/materiaali/tuota-ja-tulkitse/). In the end of the lesson, the groups shared their creations with each other.
The questions for Finnish language students stirred up very interesting conversations, helping the students reflect on their media use and issues on credible sources.
In the group adult students, most had never witnessed nor heard media literacy being taught in the education systems of their home countries. As group consisted of adult students all learning Finnish as a second language, the backgrounds of the students differed greatly. Most of the students were from Asian or Middle Eastern countries, though.
Before the workshop, the students prepared for the the topic by reading at home a brief description of what media education and media literacy in the Finnish context are. The text was written in easy-to-read Finnish. While most students showed interest in the topic, some were clearly very inspired and enthusiastic to learn more about media education and how they could further develop their critical media literacy skills.
An important part of the workshop was group discussion. The topics were connected to the personal lives of the students, and they were encouraged to share the experiences they had had in their home countries as well as to compare them to their current situation in Finland. The home countries of most of the students had at least some challenges, even ongoing war and humanitarian crises. The small group-size and long duration of the course (the students already knew each other) were ideal for sharing personal stories, as the students were comfortable voicing their opinions on even sensitive, heavy and emotionally triggering topics. Everyone got a chance to learn something about each other’s cultures, while practicing speaking in Finnish.
The students shared many interesting details from their paths. For example, one group member had unknowingly been working at a big “fake news factory” for several months, until they finally realized the “bigger picture” and purpose of the work, to propagate certain ideology. This was not the only person who had also given up on following the news: many said that if something truly important were to happen, they would hear about it from their social network anyway. The limitations set by their developing Finnish language skills also contributed to this decision, since the Finnish media was perceived as mostly non-corrupted. On a global scale, some students viewed all news organizations as in some ways politically biased, though.
Finally, the workshop was concluded with a media-analysis, in which the students were taught how to use the ’Media Literacy Smartphone’ or ‘Tuota ja tulkitse’ -tool for different texts. In this case it was demonstrated on pictures chosen by students. The students agreed that it could be useful in parenting, too, as they could use the questions to evaluate any media content with their children and family.
To summarise, both workshops stirred many very interesting conversations and provided broader perspectives on how the students deal with different means of manipulation they encounter online. The eight-graders had at times astonishingly astute remarks on the topics touching their lives, while the adult students broadened each other’s perspectives to a global scale by sharing stories about their everyday media lives and the conditions of press freedom, among other things.
Besides developing skills in critically evaluating media messages, one of the leading principles of both workshops was indeed shared learning and cooperation. At its core, propaganda relies on the premise that only the propagandist possesses the ‘correct’, ‘most appropriate’ or ‘one and the only’ perspective on the world. Therefore, a special emphasis must also be placed on helping the students to listen and value each other’s viewpoints, and also see them as something that can enrich the ways they can perceive and interpret messages in their mediated lives.
(by Sonja Hernesniemi – The Finnish Society on Media Education)