Our Team

Sakshi Bhalla is a doctoral student with the University of Illinois’ Institute of Communications Research. Broadly, she is interested in studying how media environments and political environments interact with each other. Currently, she is working on a project that studies the contextual constitution of misinformation and what that means for fact-checking processes.

Amanda Ciafone is Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Cinema Studies and the Institute of Communications Research in the College of Media. She teaches classes in media literacy, media history, and the political economy of communications. She was recognized with a 2021 Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for her classroom instruction and work in building a critical, publicly-engaged media studies curriculum.

CL Cole is the Department Head of Media & Cinema Studies (MACS), and Professor of MACS and Gender & Women’s Studies, and ICR. In 2010, she created MACS’s first new media literacy course — a case-based course that emphasized participatory culture skills and culminated in student proposals for a 21st century media literacy curriculum. Cole’s public engagement includes work with Beyond Media Education, a Chicago-based non-profit that supported media production for underserved youth populations, and FemTechNet, a networked collaborative of scholars and artists dedicated to addressing the educational needs of students interested in feminist science-and-technology studies. Cole is the recipient of numerous teaching awards including the LAS Dean’s Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award (2007).  Cole’s recent courses includes Digital and Gender Cultures; Gender and Sex in Popular Media; Sportmedia, Technology, and Culture, and Social Aspects of Media.

Stephanie Craft is Professor and Head of the Department of Journalism and a member of the Institute of Communications Research. Her research addresses journalism norms, ethics and practices and how news literacy is defined and measured. Ten years ago, she headed a research team that received McCormick Foundation funding to develop a scale to measure news literacy. That collaboration has expanded to include researchers at five universities who have recently (re)theorized “news literacy” to distinguish the knowledge and skills comprising it from its application in the form of behaviors such as identifying misinformation. With funding support from a division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, that research group is currently redeveloping the news literacy scale in line with this new approach.

Jon Hale is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Curriculum and Instruction and Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership in the College of Education. As a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation postdoctoral fellow, his research focuses on the history of student activism and the intersection of race and educational policy. His award-winning book, The Freedom Schools was published with Columbia University Press in 2016. His new book, The Choice We Face (Beacon Press, 2021) examines the controversial history of school choice. His work has been featured in outlets including The Atlantic, The American Scholar, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, and The Washington Post. 

Sarah McCarthey is Professor and Department Head of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education. She has been Co-Director of the University of Illinois Writing Project with Scott Filkins (Central High School) since 2008; UIWP provides professional development for teachers through summer workshops and supports youth developing their writing skills through summer camps. She teaches courses in literacy pedagogy to graduate and undergraduate students and has had a lifelong interest in journalism, media and the development of critically literate citizens.

Michelle R. Nelson is Professor in the Department of Advertising and the Institute of Communications Research in the College of Media. Her research and public engagement focus on media literacy. Past projects include “Kickin it at Kickapoo” (with Illinois Public Media and the Boys and Girls Club of Danville), which exposed adolescents to nature and taught them how to create public service announcements for Kickapoo State Park. Nelson has also partnered with Illinois Extension and teachers in the Waukegan Public Schools to integrate food-focused media literacy into elementary school curriculum. She received funding from the NIH for a food-focused media literacy intervention program with adolescents in Jamaica and is currently extending that research with Black immigrants/refugee populations in the U.S. 

Michael A. Spikes has been teaching, writing about, and developing curriculum on the subject of news media literacy and its production for more than 15 years. Before coming to Northwestern, he was a program manager for the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University, and has taught skills in news literacy skills to audiences as varied as senior citizens in Illinois and New York to teachers and high school aged youth in Bhutan and Hong Kong. Michael is currently working with David Rapp in the reading comprehension lab to explore assessment tools of news media and information literacy for both young people and adults.