DIGITAL MEDIA and Information Technologies have taken over most aspects of our lives. They provide a variety of opportunities and benefits, including the ability to quickly look up information, maintain social contacts, and create and share information. We take advantage of these opportunities, but we must constantly assess them, select the offer, and decide how to deal with them, because, in addition to opportunities and benefits, digital and synthetic media also present challenges and potential dangers.
Rising cases of misinformation and disinformation around the globe amid Internet accessibility programmes, and aggressive digitisation, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, led scholars and policymakers to rethink digital, media and information literacy policies to address issues arising from the lack of it. The move to educate society, particularly educators, on the importance of digital, media, and information literacy came only as an afterthought. Information literacy emphasises critical thinking skills that enable consumers to develop independent judgements about digital media content and should be included in the school curriculum to better combat misinformation and disinformation issues.
Digital & media skills focus on what and how.
Digital & media literacy focuses on why, when, who, and for whom.
Skilling would focus on which tool to use (e.g., Twitter) and how to use it (e.g., how to tweet, retweet, use TweetDeck), while literacy would include in-depth questions: When would you use Twitter instead of a more private forum? Why would you use it for advocacy? Who puts themselves at risk when they do so?
– Maha Bali – Professor, American University, Cairo, Egypt
Since teachers are primary agents of change and play a key role in this 21st-century learning environment, we need to ensure that their curriculum develops the much-needed digital, and information literacy competencies, so their students can take full advantage of the Knowledge Economy and Industry 5.0, thereby becoming empowered global citizens.
Renee Hobbs, founder of the Media Education Lab at Rhode Island University, and one of the world’s leading authorities on media literacy education, encourages the research community to “develop meaningful tests for new teachers to measure their ability to implement digital and media literacy instructional practices into the curriculum”. In doing so, she stresses the importance of instruments in measuring teacher competencies in media literacy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has opened the floodgates to a deluge of disinformation, inaccurate reporting, and fake news everywhere, followed up by exponential growth and democratisation of Generative AI and Synthetic Media. Comprehensive information literacy programmes can help people spot fake news and false content. However, limited resources, lack of sustainability of information literacy programmes, and the mere fact that governments play a role in leading these programmes are issues that have to be considered. While the Government’s crackdown on fake news and false information is a much-needed initiative, perhaps it is more important to go back to the root of the problem: the lack of digital, media and information literacy among people. At the community level, holistic information literacy is important in addressing alcohol and tobacco addiction, eating disorders, bullying and violence; it is also important in building 21st-century life and job skills.
Teachers need to continue teaching about biased reporting, verifying information, identifying synthetic media, and finding ways to gather evidence through accurate data, not subjective opinions. In this context, teachers play a role in empowering students not only by knowledge transfer, but also by teaching them how to critically evaluate information, process verification, access the credibility of the source, and responsible use of digital media. There is a strong lack of trained teachers with digital, media and information literacy backgrounds as of now, and this is an area that educators and trainers need to focus more on.
The mission is to empower educators and institutions to integrate information literacy components into their curricula and impart it as a critical everyday life skill. Regular dialogues need to be conducted through capacity-building programs such as workshops, seminars and webinar series, conduct research and consultancy work to inform pedagogies and policies, and run campaigns on integrating information literacy in educational curricula. This will provide opportunities for educators to discuss and address critical issues such as cyberbullying, hate speech, misperceptions, and information disorder in digital media. And teachers in higher education institutions must further empower students with advanced competencies to understand and articulate ethical issues surrounding the creation, purpose, and selective amplification of information on Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning driven digital media.
Ms. Lai Cheng Wong is a media and communication educator with more than 15 years of combined work experience in publishing, media, corporate communication and policy advocacy. She is currently engaged in a Media & Information Literacy Boot Camp project, supported by the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur and UNESCO MIL Alliance.