UNESCO IITE organized the session on new civilizational dimensions of media and information literacy in Bangkok

UNESCO IITE, in partnership with the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC), organized the plenary session “New Civilizational Dimensions of Media and Information Literacy” within the 27th AMIC Annual Conference held on June 17-19, 2019, in Bangkok, Thailand. The three-day conference featured the theme “Are you human? Communication, Technology and New Humanism” was hosted by the Chulalongkorn University.

Among the topics for discussion during the different plenary and parallel sessions were Communication, Technology, and New Humanism; Communication, Human Rights, and Democracy; Asian Communication Theories and Research Agenda; Understanding Post-humanism: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, & Dataism; Gender and Media; Mindful Communication; Cyber wellness and Media & Information Literacy;  Social Media and Social Good; Communication in a Post-truth Era; Risk, Disaster, and Humanitarian Communication; and Health and Wellness Communication.

The topic of the conference is increasingly relevant today, when the global use of digital media and ICT network applications as well as rapid technological advancements in big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other emerging digital technologies have fundamentally changed the information and communication space all over the world. New issues have arisen, such as the challenges with the ownership of and using data, trust and privacy, human dignity and autonomy, increasing automation in decision-making processes, accountability and transparency of algorithms, etc. The situation is compounded by the fact that only a dozen technology giants have a dominating role in the regulation and developments of the technology.

The technological revolution and transformation of media environment also pose challenges for media and information literacy (MIL) education which is aimed to provide people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and competences that are needed to access, search, critically assess, use and contribute content wisely in order to successfully work and live in digital era. The core of MIL is a holistic approach including both rational, emotional and cultural awareness reflecting the values of different civilizational approaches rather than technical skills. However, within the conventional MIL education new technology implications are less debated while the potential of MIL is not being fully realized.

In this context, UNESCO IITE organized the plenary session that was intended to encourage discussion about the sociocultural challenges associated with the technological advancements in artificial intelligence and other evolving digital technologies, and MIL education’s response to enhance the public understanding in the field and to stimulate a creative search of new MIL-solutions.

The session chaired by Mr. Tapio Varis, UNESCO Chair in Global E-learning and Professor Emeritus of the University of Tampere (Finland), included presentations from the following experts:

  • Ms. Tatiana Murovana, Programme Specialist, UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education
  • Ms. Dorothy Gordon, Member of Governing Board, UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education
  • Mr. Mohamed El-Guindy, Cybersecurity Expert, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the British University in Egypt, Faculty of Law; TV Presenter, Alkahera Walnas
  • Mr. Yuriy Chernyy, Assistant Professor, Moscow State Pedagogical University; Head of the Centre, Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Tatiana Murovana in her presentation addressed the potential of MIL education in fostering a sense of human metal and behavioral autonomy that is threatened by the new capabilities of data-driven advertising technologies and increased automation of decision-making. These threats are being explored by a number of academics, including Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger who coined the terms “techno-social engineering” –  i.e., “processes where technologies and social forces align and impact how we think, perceive, and act”, and Shoshana Zuboff arguing that “behavior modification” implemented with digital technologies has become a cornerstone of the modern information and political economies, that she called “surveillance capitalism”. People should be trained to resist these phenomena and media and information literacy could be a solution. In that perspective Ms. Murovana presented the UNESCO IITE activities on reconceptualising the MIL-related set of competencies and attitudes in order to train people on how to manage their attention, behavior and data, how to “hack”, or at least identify and minimize the damage of algorithmic biases, personalization effects, filter bubbles and echo chambers.

Addressing the “persuasive technologies” industry, Mr. El-Guindy spoke about being “hooked”, the “scrolling dopamine loop” and the “digital skinner box” models and how they had made smartphones fill psychological needs. He called on universities and media associations to play a more active role in implementing ethics and legal frameworks for communications smart technology to save society from an Orwellian future. He stated that communication research programmes should promote “ethically aligned” design.

Ms. Gordon made inspiring and motivating speech on what kind of technological future we all want to live in. She underlined that the profit motive behind the technologies leads us to the situation where we lose our humanity. In this context, society should both take control over the choice of technologies to be used in social and educational systems and start doing a better monitory of societal impacts of technology, argued Ms. Gordon. She also underlined that people were going to the new technological environment with no skills and no tools to understand what they are getting to.

The session was concluded by the presentation of Mr. Chernyy who introduced the approach to MIL education developed by the UNESCO Chair on Media and Information Literacy and Media Education of Citizens, based in the Moscow State Pedagogical University. He reported that the scope of the Fourth industrial revolution and the MIL competences connected with these technologies is being actively entered into the process of training undergraduates, of the professional development of high school teachers and professors of the University. Thus, the three key audiences – future teachers (pre-service teacher training), the practicing teachers (in-service teacher training) and those engaged in teacher professional development (training for trainers) are covered by the MIL education.

AMIC’s annual conference is regarded as the premier event on Asian communication media and attracts eminent international speakers and participants from the communication media industry as well from the academe. About 250 participants of more than 20 countries from all over the world attended the event.

The recording of the plenary session is available: