Media Literacy | October 26, 2020

Media Literacy: Tackling an Infodemic in a Pandemic

By Yoo Kyung Chang, Ioana Literat and the LAMBOOZLED! research group at MASCLab

During this global pandemic — or infodemic, as WHO has called it — we’re all experiencing firsthand just how important (and challenging) it can be to identify reliable sources of information. However, the ability to sift through breaking news, fake news, and misinformation is not only an important challenge in times of crisis, but an everyday issue.

Navigating new media requires new skills and knowledge

Media literacy is defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication. It sets a foundation for understanding and participating in the world around us. Given the current proliferation of media platforms, news sources and misinformation, the need to exercise media literacy is increasingly important, in all aspects of our lives. One of the biggest challenges in the current media literacy landscape is that the varied and complex nature of the media ecosystem demands mastery of new skills and knowledge, as contemporary media allows for the relatively easy manipulation, production, and dissemination of misinformation, including the manipulation of media assets like images and videos. As media platforms become increasingly complex, the demands for varied knowledge and skills will increase even further.

Beyond the need to foster new knowledge and skills, media literacy researchers and educators have emphasized the significance of exploring different approaches to media literacy education more generally. Media literacy education should be more relevant to youth, and allow them to deeply engage with and apply these skills to their everyday lives. Several approaches offer exciting opportunities, with games emerging as a promising channel for media literacy education due to their potential to foster agency, engagement and motivation, as well as due to their centrality in youth lives and proximity to youth interests.

LAMBOOZLED!: A playful way to foster media literacy skills

The 2016 presidential election exposed critical shortcomings in the media literacy sphere, and highlighted the significance of media literacy skills in the contemporary media ecosystem. In the immediate aftermath of the election, all of us at the Media and Social Change Lab (MASCLab) at Teachers College, Columbia University, were in equal parts paralyzed by recent events and reenergized to continue, with even more urgency, our mission of tackling issues at the intersection of media and social change, through collaborative practices of media-making, research, and media-making as research.

In thinking about ways to address the need for more effective media literacy education, we landed on games as an underused, yet potentially highly effective, instructional approach. While games facilitate representation of and interaction with complex systems – in this case, complex media ecosystems – they are also accessible and engaging for young people. Here, based on existing research on media literacy needs, we decided our target audience would primarily be middle and high school students.

The game that was born out of these conversations, LAMBOOZLED!, is a card game developed and tested with educators and students, and recently released by Teachers College Press. Drawing from interdisciplinary research, the game tightly integrates declarative knowledge (e.g. identifying a missing byline, a strange URL, or a sensationalist title) and procedural knowledge (e.g. seeking out an expert opinion or checking alternative sources) as part of its gameplay.

Examples of LAMBOOZLED! Cards

Set in the fictional sheep world of Green Meadows, LAMBOOZLED! encourages players to build strong hands of evidence in order to prove whether specific sheep news stories are real or fake. There are two different types of evidence that players work with: evidence cards that analyze the content and format of the news stories (e.g., bias, byline), and context cards that evaluate additional information around the news story (e.g., triangulation with other news stories, information about the news source, reverse image search). The strongest hand of evidence each round wins one point! With quick rounds of gameplay and embedded discussion, the game allows for the repeated practice of important media literacy skills.

Implementing LAMBOOZLED! in Formal and Informal Educational Contexts

According to the evaluation research we conducted in classrooms, libraries, and playtesting workshops, both educators and students found the game to be engaging and relevant, while helping them learn and apply an array of skills and knowledge necessary to critically evaluate contemporary media. You can read more about these findings in our article in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review.

The game can accommodate 2-6 players, and has been successfully implemented across subjects (English, Media Literacy, Social Studies, library-based activities), grade levels (5th ~ 12th grade), and contexts (classroom, library, workshops, informal events etc.).

Of course, the current COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on education and social interaction pose significant challenges for playing a social card game like LAMBOOZLED!. However, there are alternate ways to use the game, before a full return to normalcy is feasible. For example, the game can be played with family members at home, which provides opportunities for parents to engage their children in productive discussions around media literacy. The educators can then continue the discussion in their classroom, integrating their curricular goal as they reflect on their gameplay experiences. Or, evidence cards from the game can be used as tools to analyze news stories or materials researched in the classroom, or serve as a foundation for additional activities and exercises. In this sense, we have provided a few resources (lesson plans, activities, tutorial videos) to help facilitate playing LAMBOOZLED! in different contexts.

LAMBOOZLED! is published by Teachers College Press and was released on October 9, 2020. For lesson plans, activities, video tutorials, and more information about the game, and our team, please visit https://www.tcpress.com/lamboozled.

For more media literacy resources, visit Take on Fake, a YouTube series that debunks claims you’ve seen or shared online to show you how to stay informed. On PBS LearningMedia, see the News & Media Literacy collection and PBS NewsHour’s Daily News Story.


MASCLab is a hub for multimodal and digital scholarship at Teachers College, Columbia University, that explores the relationship between media and social change.