The digital landscape is constantly changing and information is more accessible than ever, making media and information literacy (MIL) essential. With a wide array of perspectives, technologies, and platforms, individuals must not only access and evaluate data but also account for the impacts of race, gender, AI, location, and language.
As part of a special issue for The Journal of Media Literacy, guest editors Neil Andersen, Spencer Brayton, and Natasha Casey are seeking to explore the relationship between the fields of media literacy and information literacy including how they have developed and ways they are converging. The plethora of terms, approaches, and overlapping frameworks from cross-disciplinary fields present an overwhelming challenge for teachers and librarians. The issue will strive to provide an easy and accessible way to identify the intersections of these fields.
For this special issue, I’m teaming up with good friends Doug Belshaw and Laura Hilliger to explore how we might define the future of media and information literacy in theory and practice. We’ll conduct this research in the open using the Tao of WAO podcast as an opportunity to hold focus groups openly online, while also sharing blog posts, and canvassing the commons.
In this blog post I’ll share a revised version of our proposal and ask for feedback on how we might organize this work. Please feel free to leave comments and feedback through any channels that work best for you. We’ll fold this into the final product.
The Crucial Need for a Progressive, Transdisciplinary Approach
Traditional media and information literacy models typically focused on building basic skills including recognizing reliable sources and verifying facts. While these abilities continue to be essential, the changing environment requires a more expansive and progressive perspective, encouraging people to critically assess information, understand its context and look out for potential biases.
Transdisciplinarity is a research or educational approach that seeks to challenge disciplinary boundaries to create a holistic perspective that enables inputs across scientific and non-scientific communities. A transdisciplinary lens allows one to construct meaning in more authentic contexts where disciplines intersect, combine, and work together.
As the boundaries between disciplines blur and the multifaceted nature of information dissemination becomes evident, a transdisciplinary approach transcends traditional silos of knowledge. It involves the collaborative integration of insights from diverse fields such as sociology, psychology, technology, cultural studies, and more. This approach is not confined to the mere acquisition of skills but delves deeper into understanding the socio-cultural contexts, power dynamics, and ethical dimensions that underpin media and information consumption. By embracing a transdisciplinary, progressive approach, we can equip individuals with the tools to navigate an increasingly complex digital landscape, fostering critical thinking, empathy, and a holistic understanding of the interconnected world we inhabit.
It can be a challenge to not break this wicked problem down into silos, but in order to start to make sense of this, we propose the following four areas of inquiry.
Race: Challenging Biases and Cultivating Cultural Sensitivity
Race has been a longstanding issue in media and information representation. A progressive MIL approach involves teaching individuals to recognize and challenge stereotypes, implicit biases, and systemic inequalities embedded in media content. This includes understanding the impact of racial bias on news reporting, representation in entertainment media, and the portrayal of marginalized communities. By embracing diverse narratives and perspectives, individuals can develop a more holistic understanding of the world and counter the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes.
Gender: Deconstructing Stereotypes and Promoting Inclusivity
Gender representation and inclusivity are crucial aspects of MIL. A progressive approach entails dissecting the gender stereotypes prevalent in media and information, from advertising to news coverage. It also involves recognizing the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of gender identities beyond the binary spectrum. By encouraging critical analysis of gender narratives, MIL can empower individuals to challenge societal norms, promote inclusivity, and support gender equality.
AI: Navigating the Intersection of Technology and Information
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is reshaping the way information is generated, curated, and disseminated. In a progressive MIL framework, individuals must not only understand how AI algorithms influence content distribution but also grasp the ethical implications of biased algorithms. This involves equipping individuals with the tools to recognize AI-generated content, discern deepfakes from genuine information, and comprehend the broader societal implications of AI-driven media manipulation.
Geographic Location & Language/Localization: Bridging Global Divides
Media and information are often tailored to specific geographic regions and languages, leading to the digital divide between different parts of the world. A progressive MIL approach seeks to bridge this gap by fostering an understanding of local media landscapes and the challenges faced by non-English speakers. This includes promoting multilingual literacy, encouraging cross-cultural understanding, and critiquing media’s impact on local communities.
In Practice: Nurturing Progressive Media and Information Literacy
Implementing a progressive approach to media and information literacy requires a multi-pronged effort from educators, policymakers, and technology platforms.
- Education. Schools and institutions should integrate MIL curricula that address the four focus areas, encouraging critical thinking, empathy, and a nuanced understanding of media’s role in shaping society.
- Policy. Governments and regulatory bodies must collaborate with tech companies to ensure transparency in algorithms, combat misinformation, and promote unbiased content distribution.
- Tech Industry. Technology platforms should design algorithms that prioritize diverse perspectives, combat misinformation, and provide users with tools to verify information authenticity.
- Community Engagement. Grassroots initiatives and community organizations can organize workshops, discussions, and campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of progressive MIL.
Making it happen
The future of media and information literacy requires a paradigm shift towards a progressive approach that addresses the complexities of our modern world. By focusing on race, gender, AI, geographic location, and language/localization, we can empower individuals to navigate the digital landscape with discernment, empathy, and a commitment to fostering a more informed and inclusive society.