UNESCO IITE held a webinar “Media and Information Literacy and Emerging Technologies”

On 25 April 2023, the second webinar was held within the series of webinars organised by the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education and its partners under the common title “Harnessing Technology to Transform Education”. The webinar aimed to discuss the development and promotion of media and information literacy (MIL) in the context of the rampant development of frontier technologies that are radically changing the media environment. The issues of updating the thematic landscape of MIL education were also raised, which should help educators in solving the task of forming critical and skilled citizens of the digital world.

The webinar was moderated by Tatyana Murovana, UNESCO IITE, who noted that algorithmic and automated search engines, digital platforms and services have taken over the processes of information generation, curation and packaging, dissemination, filtering and recommendation of information. New methods of computing and machine learning have enabled tracking of users’ actions and moods, data mining, profiling, behavior engineering, and many others. It requires rethinking and updating the media and information literacy education to make it more relevant to the modern media environment.

The main part of the webinar was opened by the presentation of Ms. Dorothy Gordon, Chair of the UNESCO Information for All Programme and a member of the UNESCO IITE Governing Board, who noted teachers are facing the serious challenges in the context of the increasing use of new technologies in classroom and beyond. Ms. Gordon emphasized that the introduction of smart educational content, flexible curricula and personalized learning challenges educational institutions to implement a data privacy policy that respects the rights of students and teachers. This task confirms the relevance of the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence adopted by UNESCO Member States in 2021. She also noted the need for rethinking of media and information literacy, digital health and digital well-being in light of the increasing potential of advanced technologies to negatively impact mental health, promote cyberbullying and misinformation. “It requires that MIL is integrated in the teaching of all subjects even as it is also taught as a separate subject… Media and Information Literacy must become the foundation of educational curricula,” said Dorothy Gordon.

“Media Literacy in the Age of Neural Networks: First Observations” was the title of the presentation by Mr. Ivan Pechishchev, Associate Professor at Perm State University, an expert of the How to Read Media project. In his speech, he noted several problems in understanding the essence of artificial intelligence technologies (AI), which prevent their comprehension and integration into pedagogical practice: excessive expectations and a blurred idea of ​​their structure, the ease of creating content using neural networks, and the emergence of new meanings generated by artificial intellect. Among the possible solutions the expert pointed out the development of critical thinking, the role of which is extremely important at the stage of the first interaction with technologies and the content created with their help, the study of the principles of operation of generative neural networks and the mastering of new tools to identify objects created using AI.

Ms. Gulnar Asanbayeva, Regional Media Literacy Adviser of the Internews in Kazakhstan, presented the result of her reflections on the demystification of algorithms in the process of teaching media and information literacy. She stressed the importance of incorporating algorithmic literacy into MIL education programs in order to raise awareness of the use of algorithms in online applications, platforms and services, to strengthen knowledge of how algorithms work and the ability to critically evaluate algorithmic decisions, and to develop skills to deal with algorithmic operations. All this can help educators and students understand how digital platforms and devices mediate information interaction between a person and the world, how AI works in search engines and social networks, how digital platforms are integrated into the data industry and the advertising industry, and what social effects are provoked by ubiquitous distribution and usage of algorithms.

Ms. Tatyana Golubtsova, head of the House of Media Literacy of the Karaganda region, media trainer and journalist, shared her experience in using AI technologies in game-based MIL education. She and her team actively use the capabilities of AI to generate images and texts for the learning games development. That allows them to practically experience the advantages and limitations of the technologies. Ms. Golubtsova noted that the AI tests the tasks it receives for the presence of conflict-sensitive content: the topics of war, nationality, religion and language, suicide, violence and hate are ignored by it. The specifics of the databases which AI was trained on can cause stereotypes, outdated or false data to be introduced into the materials created by the technology. Therefore, all generated information must be carefully checked. However, despite the limitations, AI is already widely used in the gaming industry for redrawing images, creating storylines, technical optimization of large and complex interactive scenes, creating musical themes and chat bots. All these possibilities can be used in teaching and learning processes more widely.

The main part of the webinar ended with a speech by Ms. Maral Aitmagambetova, the co-head of the House of Media Literacy of Pavlodar region and media trainer, who spoke about the role of Internet technologies in promoting conspiracy theories and disinformation. She paid great attention to the essence and negative impact on the individual and society of conspiracy theories and false information, giving specific examples from social networks that have become widespread in the Central Asia. In her speech, Ms. Aitmagambetova showed what features and capabilities of new communication technologies contribute to the spread of content that can radicalize and reduce critical perception of information.

The webinar gathered participants from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The presentations of the experts aroused keen interest of the participants, who not only asked questions, but also made remarks and comments. Links to useful sources on the topics discussed were published in the webinar chat, including publications by UNESCO and its Institute for Information Technologies in Education. As a result of the discussion, the participants came to a common opinion that literacy in the field of the artificial intelligence-based technologies should become an integral part of media and information literacy education.

The recording of the webinar is available at the YouTube channel of UNESCO IITE.