Kalamazoo Valley Community College Partners for Unique Exhibit to Improve Media Literacy

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CAPTION: Local students enjoy one of the 14 activity stations that are part of the “Wonder Media: Ask the Questions!” exhibit.


A new exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum provides a fun way to explore the skills necessary to navigate an increasingly important issue: spotting false information in whatever form it may appear, from printed and online articles to social media posts, ads and everything in between.

“Wonder Media: Ask the Questions!” is believed to be the first exhibit of its kind of this scale and depth in the country. It opened April 9, and runs through December 2023, made possible by two major academic institutions, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, parent organization of the museum, and Western Michigan University.

“We are pleased to present this important exhibit,” said Kalamazoo Valley Community College President L. Marshall Washington, Ph.D. “The conversations that it prompts are important to help people become better-informed media consumers.”

The public is invited to a free reception on Tuesday, May 24 from 3-5 p.m. at the museum, located at 230 N. Rose St. in downtown Kalamazoo, to recognize the project’s opening. Speakers include Dr. Washington, Museum Director Bill McElhone and WMU Communication Professor Sue Ellen Christian, the guest community curator.

The exhibit encourages visitors to engage in critical thinking about news and media literacy topics by interacting with 14 hands-on activity stations housed on the museum’s first and second floors. For example, visitors are tasked with escaping a social media post of misinformation, whacking the fact instead of the opinion in a wall ball game, deciding what to share and not to share in social media posts and broadening their understanding of media representations of marginalized groups.

Statistics show a large majority of Americans get their news from their electronic devices. Specifically, 86 percent of American adults in a 2020 Pew Research Center study – that’s more than eight in 10 – said they get their news from a smartphone, computer or tablet “often” or “sometimes,” with 60 percent of them doing so often. This, along with the consolidation of media ownership, has led to significant changes in the media landscape.

About the exhibit

After many years teaching about journalism, media literacy and writing books related to those areas at Western, Sue Ellen Christian said it was clear the issues she was covering needed to be heard by a wider audience and thus the idea of the exhibit was born. She brought her idea to both higher education institutions and to the museum in 2020. Her ideas were embraced and she began work on plans for the exhibit. She designed the activity stations based on key themes in her most recent book, “Everyday Media Literacy: An Analog Guide for Your Digital Life,” which she wrote for her global media class at Western. The book was published in 2020.

In building the exhibit, Christian, who was named a WMU Presidential Innovation Professor in Communication in 2021 for her work on the exhibition, formed an academic advisory team of Kalamazoo Valley and Western instructional staff members, Kalamazoo Public Schools educators and administrators, and national news and literacy experts. She also tested out the stations with area middle and high school students.

While the exhibit’s target audience is middle-school aged students, Museum Director Bill McElhone said older teens and adults will enjoy it as well. “The museum has always been and should be a safe space to explore topics that may challenge us, force us to ask hard questions, learn new things and spark community conversations,” he said.

Christian said the completed exhibit exceeded her expectations in terms of “beautiful presentation, fabrication, graphics and narration” and she is looking forward to community feedback. “My hope is that users of this exhibit will leave feeling more equipped to deal with the flood of media messages and information which come our way daily,” she said. “I want users to adopt the attitude of using the media intentionally, it is to their great benefit to do that – to be an active user of media, not a passive one, and to critically engage with media messages instead of letting those messages wash over us one after the other in a ‘recommended for you’ stream of content.”

Portions of the “Wonder Media” exhibit will remain part of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s permanent collection. Christian hopes to make other parts into a traveling exhibit.

Admission is free to the “Wonder Media: Ask the Questions!” exhibit and to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. The museum is open 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and noon – 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit kalamazoomuseum.org.

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is operated by Kalamazoo Valley Community College and governed by its Board of Trustees.

Established in 1966, Kalamazoo Valley offers certificate programs in more than 50 areas of study and associate degrees in 60 others. These include business, healthcare, human and public service, and technical occupations, culinary arts and brewing training. It has four Kalamazoo, Mich., locations, including the Texas Township Campus, the Groves Campus, the Arcadia Commons Campus and the Bronson Healthy Living Campus. Classes are available during the day, evening, online and weekends. More details are at kvcc.edu.

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