Lurie College Faculty Awarded $50k Grant

Congratulations to Child and Adolescent Development faculty Ellen Middaugh, who earned a $50,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation!  Through this grant, she is able to kickoff her research study “Civic Media Literacy in a Networked Society: Supporting Mindful Circulation” which will develop a deeper understanding of how youth interact with media online, not only when it comes to fact-checking but also when it comes to interpreting media, sharing media, and beyond.  Listen to or read through the interview with Dr. Middaugh below.

SJSU Lurie College of Education Child and Adolescent Development Faculty Ellen Middaugh Spencer Foundation

“The project that I received funding for is called ‘Civic Media Literacy in a Networked Society: Supporting Mindful Circulation.’  What makes this a little different is there’s a lot of work on media literacy, and that’s been going on for many, many years as I’ve been studying social media and civic engagement.”

Can you introduce yourself to our listeners and readers?

I’m Ellen Middaugh.  I’m an assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Development in the Lurie College of Education.

How did you become aware of this grant? What is the grant intended for?

I had been aware of the Spencer Foundation because they’re one of the few foundations that funds basic research in education, so funding work designed to investigate new ideas before they’re ready for a training grant.  The small grants award program is incredibly helpful for trying out new ideas.  The project that I received funding for is called “Civic Media Literacy in a Networked Society: Supporting Mindful Circulation.”  What makes this a little different is there’s a lot of work on media literacy, and that’s been going on for many many years. I’ve been studying social media and civic engagement for a number of years and one of the things that came out in some of my research in Oakland before I joined San Jose State is noticing some of the students were getting really high-quality media literacy training on looking for facts and checking for fake news.  When you would sit down with them and ask them “how do I know if this is a good source?” they would go through some of the things they have been taught.  Then, when you would shift tasks and just talk about sharing information, the same considerations didn’t come into play.  So I had my little lightbulb moment of ‘this is actually how we interact with media online.’  We rarely approach it like a research project where we set out to look something up. The information is coming to us, we make these very quick decisions about whether to share it, and even those of us who know to check for facts that might not be what’s our primary consideration at the moment.  It may be because it’s funny or because it’s heart-rending and so we aren’t thinking of that.  I became interested in figuring out a way to assess how people are making these decisions and then whether we can support what I call mindful circulations and being kind of more conscious of emotional reactions or what our purpose is or what the impact might be.

What impact do you hope it will have in your various communities – ChAD, Lurie College, SJSU, academia, etc.?

What I’ve received funding for is a two-phase project that I’m hoping to, in the future, build some interventions and partnerships with educators.  I have an advisory committee built into it so that I can work with people who are working with youth along the way.  What I really wanted to begin with is something very foundational, so I’m interviewing 40 young people. Right now, it’s focused on ages 18 to 24 because I’m doing the work on Zoom and so there are some research ethics considerations, so that’s already one COVID-adjusted situation that I’m working with.  I’m figuring out the best way to work ethically with the adolescents, but I want to get moving.  I’m conducting interviews where we really go through people’s social media, what they choose to pay attention to, what features cause them to share, what kind of influencers they follow – because that’s a big source that we haven’t paid as much attention to – to lay out a framework of what kinds of emotional, design, and purpose considerations, what these practices look like, and what they say they need support for.

From there, the goal is to share this with my advisory committee, where I can create embedded experiments.  I’ll probably work with Qualtrics on this to a broader sample to embed social media of different types into a survey that people can kind of authentically click to share, and then see what kinds of reminders make a difference so many young people have been given frameworks of stop, think, that kind of thing but I’m curious about some of the reminders about the impact of sharing media or ‘how do you feel at this moment?’ so those emotional gut-driven outrage language type things if that will make a difference.  The overall goal will be ‘Okay, how can we measure whether people are kind of pausing and being mindful as a tool to work with young people to think about their own goals for sharing media and whether they’re being informed, whether they’re being ethical, or whether they’re being empowered?’  Those are my goals for the work.

Currently, I am in the middle of interviewing which has been incredibly fun. I’m speaking with some really interesting youth.  When I started this project, COVID hadn’t happened and the murder of George Floyd had not yet happened and so we hadn’t seen the reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement.  It’s always been a big part of social media, one of those cases where social media makes has made a difference.  That’s actually something we’re going to be talking about my social media and social issues class tomorrow – the role of social media in expanding and sustaining the Black Lives Matter movement.  It’s definitely very active right now so I would say that, in some ways, I’m having an easier time finding and people are very politically active on social media and talking about it.  In some ways, that’s good; and in some ways, it’s a different situation than existed maybe two years ago, so we’ll see how it is in two years.  I’m also trying to think about how people interact with things aren’t so active.  It also makes the research field pressing and that, you know, my goal is to help youth who want to be engaged to have more support for doing that and to think through and be effective in what they’re doing, so in some ways, it makes the work feel more relevant and important and it has been really inspiring at a really hard time to see kind of young people band together and support each other to demand change.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I did want to add a plug – while I already knew about the Spencer Foundation, one of the big supports I got from the university was through the University Grants Academy.  That was incredibly helpful to create a structure and a community other academics who are working on grants and getting guidance through the CSU system and the SJSU research system, and with support with being more effective in the application.  That was really helpful and I wanted to make sure I mentioned that.

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