Anne Tastula works as an editor for Elm Magazine and runs media literacy projects at Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation KVS. Anne volunteers for organization and website which publishes research-based but easy-to-understand articles on science and health, which was awarded with the Grand Journalist Award for journalistic act of the year 2019 for producing the website. She teaches applied improvisation at adult education centres and for companies.
In the interview for EPALE, she addresses the interplay between media literacy and health literacy during a global pandemic, and tells us how her work as an adult educator has been affected.
Could you tell me more about the Science over beliefs project, and the rationale behind it?
Health is something that concerns everybody, and that generates strong opinions. Not everybody is willing to just take the facts in or believe in science, it's easier to believe in your own knowledge or your own experience, or your neighbour’s experience. This can be very, very dangerous not only to the person in question, but to society all together if we talk about for example, vaccination.
To address this, we worked together with a group of Finnish medical students, whom we trained to write and speak about medical issues in ways that would be easy to understand for the general public. We ran a 30-hour training course which included basics of journalism, media processes, source criticism and dialogue. Students then wrote their own articles, focusing on one health claim at a time; the process was overseen by senior doctors and professional editors. We also organized a series of health cafes, modelled after the world café discussion method, where medical students and citizens came together as equals.
The website we produced in the project was then awarded the Grand Journalist Award, a major journalistic prize in Finland, which usually goes to leading media outlets. It was a big surprise to us, but also showed us that our work is relevant.
Photo: Karoliina Knuuti
Has there been more interest in the project after COVID-19 started?
There has been definitely more interest in and demand for our work; you can see that there’s a need for that in the time of a global pandemic. As funding for the project ended, we don’t have as much time and as many resources as we would like to, but the work continues. During the project, a group of medical students founded Vastalääke, an association to fight against fake health beliefs, where they continue to work on the project website. I help them out as a volunteer. The students who set up the association are very young, and great at communicating on social media. We are also working on a series of articles that would address different health claims linked to COVID-19, which in itself is a challenge: new information about the pandemic is published every day. With the articles we are producing now, we’re trying to explain the science behind certain issues, for example why there isn’t yet a vaccination against COVID-19, or why you should wash your hands. Personally, I find the discussion about how important it is to wash your hands very interesting. I obviously thought that I knew how to do it, but now I found out what happens to the virus when you put soap or alcohol on your hands, and the mechanical work that breaks the virus.
Do you think it will be possible to sustain this new interest in health and media literacy after the pandemic ends?
I noticed some trends in health journalism that I hope are here to stay. There has been so much information coming out in the media, sometimes contradictory – for example, whether you should wear a mask or not. I noticed that recently media outlets in Finland started adding a sentence in articles on COVID-19, confirming that the research cited in the article has not been peer reviewed. I had never seen this before, having peer review mentioned in a journalistic article. I also noticed that some health claims are now described as false, or “fake news” in a very straightforward way, which personally I’m very pleased to see. I think a lot of people were getting concerned about the amount of misinformation in the media, and demanded better health journalism.
Photo: Anne Tastula
The adult education sector has been hit hard by the crisis. Have you been able to continue your work as an educator during the pandemic?
Some of my classes were put on hold. When lockdowns were starting in Europe and elsewhere, I was in Palestine, where with KVS we are running a project on media literacy. We were doing a two-week course with our students, and the announcement that the university was closing came in a few hours before we finished it. Everything happened very fast; we had to fly back to Finland from one day to another. After that, I actually wrote to my students, reminding them that it was the right time to put what they have learnt into practice, and to make sure that they share accurate information. We hope to be able to resume our work in Palestine in the autumn, but we also made plans on how to continue if we can’t travel.
I also teach applied improvisation, and the adult education centre where I have my classes asked us to continue them virtually. I was hesitant at first: how was I supposed to teach improv’ online? So much of the interaction is based on physical contact. But in the end, everything went very well, and I’m really excited about all the options that the online environment gives us, and I’ve been sharing best practices on how online classes can be more engaging with other teachers. There has also been a lot of support in the applied improvisation network, and I got to participate in workshops that I probably wouldn’t be able to attend if they were held face-to-face. When would I ever had a chance to take, for example, a pop up class in London? It opened a lot of opportunities.