In this episode, Laura, Doug and Ian reflect on the season and share their takeaways from guests who shared insights during Season 8.
Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!
Doug Belshaw: [00:00:21] Welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society, and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I’m Doug Belshaw.
Laura Hilliger: [00:00:31] And I’m Laura Hilliger. This podcast season is currently partially unfunded. You can support this podcast and other we are open projects and products at https://opencollective.com/weareopen.
Ian O’Byrne: [00:00:44] And I’m Ian O’Byrne. This season focussed on navigating the future of media and information literacy. A collaborative project for the Journal of Media Literacy involving wide ranging conversations on themes such as race, gender and AI. Our key question this season has been how might we define the future of media and information literacy in theory and practice?
Laura Hilliger: [00:01:08] Right. And in this episode, we’re going to go back and take a look at what we’ve learned. So in episode one, we established our intent to explore new media literacies. And over the season our thinking has evolved. We’ve gained loads of insights through our various conversations into how digital and media literacies are increasingly relevant in a networked society. We’ve talked about a bunch of different definitions of literacy, literacies and their implications for power and access in digital spaces. And now we’re going to unpack a bit and show the progression and the depth of this conversation by having a chat about things we’ve already chatted about. So it should be fun. Shall we start by going through and just giving a brief overview of the other episodes?
Ian O’Byrne: [00:01:59] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Um, so one of the first episodes that I was on is an episode titled literacies for Our True Selves. I had a discussion, you know, in this work, I was thoughtful of my own privilege and perspective. And so it was important for us to bring in international voices. So I reached out and identified some scholars that I’m friends with. So I had a great talk with David, Jackie and Stephanie. Um, and so in the in the discussion, some things that stuck out to me and those of you that are regular listeners, you’ll remember this episode. David explored the potential of video games to think about new languages and thinking about research. Um, David was working on a on a hinted at a project to transcend traditional concepts of video games and application and learning and research. Jackie is a university teacher of English. Jackie was heartened by her critique of limitations of pre-established curriculum and the and as always, the need to connect learning to students lives and that this learning could be a tool for cultural change rather than just picking up the use and practices of language, most specifically in this standard academic English. And then Stephanie talked about the changing nature of literacy, especially as educators create their materials. Stephanie talked a lot about the significance of social networking and the role of hashtags in our communities online. And then a little bit about tracking information.
Doug Belshaw: [00:03:47] And then in episode three, which was literacies around the world, we spoke with Roz Hussin. So we knew Roz from the work we did on the web literacy map for Mozilla about a decade ago, and she has been splitting her time between the US and Malaysia. And she spoke to us actually from her parents house in Malaysia. And she was talking a lot about mobile learning. So seeing how, to some extent, they’ve been life saving tools for groups of people like indigenous groups, how even though they might not have the traditional kind of reading and writing text based literacy skills, they can use smartphones document things, which enables them to fight for land rights and adapt to the challenges in their environment. And she also talked a lot about kind of having to adapt to new literacies. She gave some great anecdotes. She talked about rapid refocusing and data security and just gave some really interesting examples from Southeast Asia.
Laura Hilliger: [00:04:48] Right. And then in episode four, which is called Lenses on Literacies, we talked to Helen Beetham, and that was a very philosophical and wide ranging conversation, talking about the implications of AI and machine learning technologies for language and education, the potential that those technologies have for levelling the playing field for non-native English speakers. She talked about whether or not we’re creating the right criteria for academic contribution to AI and machine learning technologies, and she raised some concerns around English as being the the main language in AI models and what AI is going to do to the workforce and to labour movements. So check that episode out as well, because that was just a very short overview.
Doug Belshaw: [00:05:39] And then episode five, which is the one before this episode six, we had Dr. Kay Oddone and she is in Australia, so she is the course director and lecturer for the Master of Education Teacher Librarianship program at Charles Sturt University. And she was talking about the challenges and opportunities presented by generative AI in education. She talked about, as she would do, about the vital role of teacher librarians and how important they are when it comes to things like media literacy and information literacy, and just the balance between adopting new tools whilst also upskilling people. So people aren’t just having to to learn at the spur of the moment, especially for younger people and through the kind of the common thread throughout all of that was her advocacy for more open access to information. So here we are now in episode six, and I guess it’s our job to reflect on the similarities and differences between what our guest talked about, think about some overarching themes, and then actually try and answer the key question about how might we define the future of media and information literacy in theory and practice? So Laura and Ian, any any ideas?
Ian O’Byrne: [00:06:57] One of the challenges mean. One of the things to keep in mind is that we view this as a, you know, for the most part, a research project where the three of us have done a lot of work together, but then also individually thinking about these questions in these contexts. We wanted to reach out to as many people as possible through some snowball sampling, some direct snowball sampling, to figure out who’s out there that we could talk to. So we didn’t talk to every possible voice that we could. Just thinking about time and space and opportunity. But the voices that we did speak to brought up some very interesting themes. One of the first themes is the historical context of technology and literacy, how we can learn a lot about the future by thinking about the past, and think about how historically we’ve had interesting relationships as as societies with technology and how this and also literacy practices shape our current understanding and use of digital tools. But then also. How these shifts might influence the current literacy practices and integration of technology and learning. What does that all mean to the two of you?
Laura Hilliger: [00:08:23] I mean, I always think that it’s interesting to think about the history of media technology, because a lot of people, when they’re starting to talk about digital literacies or web literacies, information literacies, they’re sort of talking about a time that started in the 1990s. But media literacy is a is a theme that historically has come with every major shift in the way that human beings communicate. So there are examples from history that show us how how society changed because, for example, the printing press was invented, for example, the the telegraph being invented. And so every kind of communicative technology has changed society in some way. And by looking at those examples, we can start to kind of pull apart what what the internet is doing has done and will be doing in the future. So I really like the idea of making sure that we keep historical context in mind. And because in this season we’ve talked quite a bit about like different lenses on literacy from a geographical perspective, from a gender perspective, a race perspective. And then from the AI perspective, I think it’s important to look at the the history of these literacies also through various lenses. So, you know, the history of, you know, the the way that literacy has spread in one part of the world is not the same as in another part of the world. And so when we’re thinking about those contexts, I think we should be very kind of hyper aware of the, you know, the the movement and the diversity of literacy practices both now and in the past.
Doug Belshaw: [00:10:02] Yeah. And there are some things which I think Roz and Helen in particular talked about. So Helen said that she’s always interested to think about how things could have been different, because it gives us the hope that it could be it could be different again. Um, and also she was talking about how. Even when we’re talking about AI or any kind of technology, it’s always quite European and North American centric. And so that kind of has hard coded into it certain assumptions around literacy practices and what’s appropriate in a particular situation. And I was talking to Laura earlier today about a book I’m reading about common sense and how appeals to common sense are actually quite different in different parts of the world, because what constitutes common sense is different because of cultural situatedness. And I was thinking about the time when I was writing my thesis. So I, I submitted that around digital literacy in 2011, 2012, and then working on the Mozilla web literacy stuff in like 2012, 2014, and how really that was the time when everyone was coming into social networks and how that really changed literacy practices, not just because it was people reading and writing differently, but just because the context was different. And I feel now, as we found out with that episode with Helen and to some extent with K as well. The difference now in terms of literacy practices is a lot focus on. I just like everything is. But what does it mean to read and write and participate in a world with, with I?
Ian O’Byrne: [00:11:36] Yeah. I mean it’s really interesting. So that first theme talks about, you know, the historical context of technology and literacy. And in my academic babble that makes sense. But to to explain it to my daughter who is eight, I would say, you know, we can learn a lot about the future by thinking about the past, and we can think about what has happened before us. The challenge is we have seen these situations, you know, my advisor famously said in the foreword for the introduction, for a text about new literacies, that this will change everything. And we’ve had questions about what has it really changed. So we want to be thoughtful about as we see new technologies. And I was listening to a podcast yesterday talked about how, as you said, Doug, AI is the new hotness. Well, a lot of the blockchain things and blockchain bros now, they’re the ones that are on the AI hype train. So you see this, you know, this this almost like these digital ambulance chasers that follow this around. So it’s important to figure out what really makes sense here. I saw.
Doug Belshaw: [00:12:48] Laura’s face as you said digital ambulance
Laura Hilliger: [00:12:49] Really?
Laura Hilliger: [00:12:52] Yeah I really like that. That metaphor. That’s that’s good.
Doug Belshaw: [00:12:57] I feel like there should be the name of this, this episode.
Laura Hilliger: [00:13:02] We’ll just change the name of the podcast.
Doug Belshaw: [00:13:05] Digital ambulance chasers. Laura, give us another theme that came out for you.
Laura Hilliger: [00:13:12] Well, I think I mean another theme which we’ve sort of touched upon already because we’ve talked about how literacies and literacy practices have often, at least in our, our English dominated world, been from the perspective of North American and European scholars. And I think that there’s a theme here around the diversification of knowledge itself, and that there’s this tension between how I standardises outputs, because the data that it’s reading, what it’s reading from, is not a complete set of data. There’s a lot of people in the world that do not have. Maybe they don’t use technology the way that that some of us do. Maybe they’re not writing on the web, or maybe the models are just simply not looking in a at a full data set. And so there’s this need to kind of understand how I standardise things and to try to preserve cultural diversity and the nuance of information in literacy practices. And then there’s, you know, there’s an exploration that needs to take place about how technology can is contributing to a monoculture and how it could be used to actually, like push back against monoculture. So, so that we can really get diverse voices, diverse perspectives, and actually create a conversation that that is as as various and diverse as the as the number of people who are thinking about this stuff, which is not just the three of us, obviously.
Doug Belshaw: [00:14:51] So in in the second episode, just to kind of illustrate this point, some of the students that you spoke to, the postgraduate students that you spoke to, they pushed back at you a little bit around this because you, I think, maybe went in as I would have done with some assumptions about maybe language and cultural hegemony. I can never say this word hegemony. Um, and they pushed back a little bit on that in terms of like how to get on in the world and English as a dominant language and all that kind of stuff.
Ian O’Byrne: [00:15:27] Yeah, this is one of those things that really stuck with me. There’s a number, first of all, spending more time with the two of you, that is the most important thing. But, um. One of the pieces that really is going to stick with me in this research. You know, once again, bringing it back to my daughter, explaining this to an eight year old as a language and literacy researcher and instructor, especially one in digital spaces. I look at and let me just state for the record, I’m a white, cisgender male. I live in the US. I was born in the United States, educated in the United States, and I’m relatively proficient with standard academic, English speaking, writing and reading it. And so I look at the the next, you know, contingent of users that are going to be coming online are non-native English speakers. And as a as a critical scholar, that is wonderful to me. And so I would dream of having all of these different cultures and identities and languages online and a place where everyone can flourish. And in the discussion, and this is not new. This comes up often in language, you know, in thinking about second language acquisition in different contexts, is that some of the, the, the, the participants said, you know, no, we don’t want that. We want to be able to speak and read and connect using standard academic, academic English. Now, Lisa Delpit says that, you know, English, standard academic English is the language of power. It is the dominant narrative, the dominant discourse that’s out there. And so it’s it’s a it’s an interesting tension where I, as a white, cisgender male, as an academic, as a scholar, I’m saying I dream of a place where we all can speak and connect and have our individual cultures and spaces and registers and and dialects online, and others don’t entirely want that. And so that’s one of the things that I’ve been trying to come to terms with is how do we make sense of that tension and what do we possibly do about it?
Doug Belshaw: [00:17:45] I think that’s the point about literacy and power is a really important one. And I remember banging on about this in some in some workshops and some presentations I did in the years after the, the work I did on my thesis and the web literacy map. Because really, when we’re talking about literacy, the reason that people put the word literacy after stuff a lot. I remember Greg Mcverry sending me a photograph of a book which was called Vegetable Literacy. The reason that people put literacy after stuff is because there’s a power in you deciding what counts as literacy, what counts as a literate person, what counts as literate behaviours. And so if you can point to stuff and say that’s a literate behaviour in this domain that I’m talking about, then you’re defining that and therefore you somehow control who the community is around that. And and it’s interesting when we’re talking about language, we as native English speakers think that, oh, we should be creating a more diverse internet. But obviously, if you’re sitting in a, in a world where you don’t have very much money or power or whatever, then this is your this is your way to get that power. It’s your way to, to get that influence and stuff. So there is definitely a balance to be had here. Laura and I have been talking about this in terms of the international cooperative movement as well, and to what extent cooperation between different co-ops and different countries could be a form of outsourcing and a form of exploitation. Actually, no, it wasn’t Laura. It was with John was talking about this morning and Laura, what have you got anything you want to say about that before we move on to the next theme?
Laura Hilliger: [00:19:26] Yeah, I think it’s really interesting as well because I am bilingual. And Will Wilhelm von Humboldt said sometime when he was alive in the 1800s, he said that you could never truly understand a culture until you were fluent in its language. And I learned German as an adult, and I’m fluent in German now, and I definitely think that that is true. You can’t understand a culture until you speak its language. So if we are thinking about different cultures coming online and thinking about creating or or having a more diverse online space where people can communicate in their own languages, what is that going to do to the actual culture of the internet? And how how might the culture of the internet change? And what does that mean for literacies? Because I think I mean, I’m sure that every, not every but many, many languages have their corner of the internet where you can find information in those languages. But my experience with German, for example, is that the German language internet does not have nearly the amount of information that the English language internet has. And so there’s a there’s a piece of literacy there for me, when I am trying to understand a German concept and having to actually translate literally between languages to to get further in the concept while also keeping two distinct cultural identities in mind. So there’s literacy practice practice there as well.
Doug Belshaw: [00:20:59] That that’s just reminded me of the controversy just before the pandemic, um, around Wikipedia in different languages, because obviously Wikipedia has the same articles about the same things, but in different languages. And therefore, because they are in different languages, they are going to be slightly different anyway. But some of them are quite starkly different. And I remember, I think Ryan Merkley was at the Wikimedia Foundation when he was doing some work on disinformation, and they had to intervene, I think, in, in stuff about the Balkans, because there was massive disinformation campaigns happening in certain languages of Wikipedia, and because there wasn’t the expertise, maybe from the Wikimedia staff. They couldn’t we couldn’t police it. They couldn’t didn’t have the right editors or whatever. So, yeah, these literacy practices aren’t just linguistic. They have an impact on the information that people are consuming on, on the web and therefore what the beliefs that people are having. And right now, as we’re recording this, there’s a whole moral panic going on about the information that young people are getting under 30 years old on TikTok and about how it’s so pro-Palestinian and whatever. And I think that’s as much a generational difference as it is a media literacy difference as well. And let’s move on then. So that’s the second of our seven themes that we’ve pulled out. The third one is around kind of the intersection of different literacies. So again, something which I’ve been banging on for years and years that we shouldn’t be talking about single literacy, we should be talking about multiple and plural plural literacies which interact with one another and change over time. So we talked about we said that the themes of this this season were going to be around race and gender and geography, and I and there definitely are differences in different areas. So Rose for example, gave that, you know, gave the story of walking down the street and her friend ordering her bubble tea and it being delivered into her hand, and also the time when she was almost arrested by a policeman for doing tai chi at sunset. And usually these would be cool stories that people say. But because Rose has got a background in in information literacy and media literacy and web literacy, she understands these as literate practices, how you have to get up to speed with things quickly, how for her, as a as a woman interacting with a man at sunset, that’s a very different interaction than maybe a different kind of gendered person would have, for example. And we intentionally talk to different people around the world. So we spoke to Kay, who’s in Australia. We spoke to Rose, who’s in South East Asia. We spoke to Helen, who’s in the UK, who has done a lot of work in Europe, and we spoke to the students in South America. Ian’s obviously in the US. Laura is from the US but living in Europe and I’m in the UK, so we didn’t cover Antarctica and we didn’t cover maybe, I don’t know Africa, but we have covered.
Laura Hilliger: [00:24:10] A lot of other places.
Doug Belshaw: [00:24:12] We did try and get people to come along from Africa, but they couldn’t make the last minute. But in terms of these intersection intersections of literacy, and what I’m interested in in particular is how different systems around literacy practices affect how they operate. So delving into Kay’s example. So Kay gave the example of how the teacher librarian is a really important role in Australian schools and and how they have master’s programs and whatever. And that means that there’s a dedicated person whose job it is to really hold the hands of teachers and students as they kind of get into these new technologies and new literate practices. That is not the case in other parts of the world. There isn’t that role or the role is more informal, or in some places it’s meant to be the parent, or in some places it’s meant to be some other specialist. So I think that those systemic issues impact literacy practices. And then in different situations, you’ve got all of these literacies intersecting with one another and impacting on one another, so that not only are the practices different, but the policies therefore have to be different around the practices as well. So I’ve just started some work around systems thinking. And so for me this is fascinating in terms of how literate practices as a system work within, say, a geographic area or a sector or something like that.
Laura Hilliger: [00:25:44] Mm hmm. And I think that ties ties back to the cultural question as well, because the system is going to be different depending on the culture. That is the, you know, the dominant control of that system, especially geographically. And so how these how literacies intersect. You know, when some of the, like, the English speaking internet, for example, when, when that is like the the main information landscape for people who where English is not a first language and potentially have different offline literacy practices and how that all kind of ties together, there’s there’s lots to explore there.
Ian O’Byrne: [00:26:24] So when we think about this theme as a reminder for the audience, you know, we try to wear two hats in this. We tried to be researchers, but also think about dissemination and blogging and the podcast and reaching out and having discussion. And so putting on the researcher hat. We went into this thinking, okay, we what are the areas that we don’t know a lot about or we want to know more about, or trying to put this big question into different buckets to make it easier to, to study. And so we thought about AI and race, gender and international components. And what was one of the interesting things is that as we would reach out to folks to interview them, they would say, no, I don’t want to speak to that. You know, we say, we want you to talk about AI. And they say, I don’t want to talk about AI. I don’t know anything about it. And they their thought process about these spaces and about, you know, the internet and media literacy was far more fluid. I would say that ours is also equally as fluid. But to make sense of the research, we try to put things into buckets. And so, you know, it was a reminder that when we work online, there is a lot of noise. As an internet researcher, one of my first projects was to look at online information and think about the dispositions that we use as we interact with the attitudes and aptitudes or the habits of mind, the soft skills as we work online. And I was only a I was only able to explain a little bit of what was happening, and that was originally labelled as a critique from people reviewing my work. But then later on scholars said, well, no, actually you did a good job. You recognised that there’s just a lot of noise out there happening, and you’re trying to make sense of that noise. Um, and so in this research, we followed the same the same process. We followed the same habit of mind and trying to see the, the, the, the, the connections that exist across these spaces and try to get little vantage points, little glimpses into what’s happening.
Laura Hilliger: [00:28:42] Yeah, we we definitely shifted our plan at the beginning. Right. Because we had thought up these four lenses and we initially you know, the the series is six podcasts long. The first one was designed to be an intro. This one is designed to be a reflective. So we had these four separate episodes. And originally we were thinking that we would focus one on gender, one on race, one on geography and internationalism and one on AI. And we found out in the very first episode that it is impossible to to focus specifically in those lenses when talking about literacies, because it’s a transdisciplinary field and they cross over each other left and right, and there’s there’s no way to talk about talk about one without talking about all of the other ones. And so that was a really interesting I mean, we shifted immediately and said, okay, like we need to sort of rethink this, redesign this when people were saying, no, I don’t want to focus on just that lens. I can’t. And that was like one of the things that I thought was most impressive from the earliest episode was that those students, they weaved all four of our themes together and talked about literacies from this holistic perspective.
Ian O’Byrne: [00:29:55] And one of the things that I think I’m allowed to say, that one of the ideas that I’ve been banging on or cracking on lately, I don’t know if I’ve used that appropriately. I think I could say that is this notion of transdisciplinarity. I’ve been thinking, you know, to to once again to explain to my daughter it’s thinking about, you know, we go into this trying to think about our different silos and think about what is media literacy, what is information literacy, what is gender, what’s critical feminist pedagogy like? What are these different components? And a transdisciplinary lens is. At giving ourselves space and freedom and latitude to think about these, these silos or these ideas or these verticals as just a starting point, but then really get lost in the information, get lost in the noise, and figure out what is normally happening in these spaces. And think we came across some really interesting provocations through this work.
Doug Belshaw: [00:30:55] Yeah. And I think when you’re talking there about noise, first of all, I’m very impressed that you’re doing critical feminist pedagogy with the eight year old daughter. And when we’re talking about noise on the internet, there is I think there’s increasing amounts of noise. And if you’re a teenager, you talked about your daughter there and my, my daughter’s 12, my son’s 16 going on 17. And there’s there’s different. You know, when we think about pedagogy, i.e. teaching kids in particular and they they evolve and they mature at different ages. And so my son is actually at a really key age now in terms of, you know, looking to his peers instead of his parents, whereas that happens usually with girls at a, at a younger age. So the noise is, well, how do you sort that out? And as Stephen Downes says, learning is a form of recognition. And literacy is often a form of pattern recognition. So you actually have to be immersed in the noise and have a guide to be able to see where the patterns are in the noise. You don’t learn things by not being exposed to stuff. And we still see people saying that, you know, mobile phones shouldn’t be allowed in schools and we shouldn’t use technology for assessment and all this kind of stuff. And you think, well, how are people going to be able to act in the world if they can’t use technology? We can see how empowering it is, because we’ve already had the example from Roz and of indigenous groups not even being able to read and write, but being able to use technology to make a meaningful change in their environment. And that is highlighting and being able to see that amongst all the noise and all the things that are happening, if I use this tool and I use do this thing, this good thing will happen as a result. And I just wanted to to make sure that we’re we kind of put that message forward for anyone listening to this that the, the answer to the question of, oh my goodness, this is really noisy and confusing isn’t to shrink back from it, but to embrace it, be a mentor and help guide people through it, even if you haven’t got all the answers yourself.
Ian O’Byrne: [00:33:02] So our next theme is interesting because it often because it almost adds a counterpoint to a lot of the things that we’ve already talked about. And one of the themes that was very strong in the data and in our discussions was this notion of critical awareness and empowerment, and empowerment is a thorny subject. It’s a wicked problem to think about, especially in digital spaces. One of the things that we are seeing is that there is need to highlight the importance of fostering critical awareness about among the users of these technologies and enabling them to better, better educate them to question, understand and potentially reshape interactions with digital tools. Obviously, that, once again, is a wicked problem because we’re thinking about educating and empowering individuals and advocating for them. But at the same time, we have tools that are developed by corporations and people, and there’s a lot of money and power behind it with moving fluid terms of service. But at the same time, within this theme, we had this idea of empowering users to engage with technologies in in ways that they are creative and they have autonomy and they are knowledge constructors and creators rather as opposed to just consumers. So we’ve it seems like, you know, back in the day when I was working with you all on the web literacy work, we were thinking about how the internet has really a reader writer nature to it. And all. Technology, for the most part, can can have this dichotomy of reading, reading and writing. And we’re we’re back at that and we’re thinking about how can we use these tools so that people understand what the tools are really doing with their data, with with our identity, with our view in the world, but then trying to create spaces and, and fight for people or advocate for people so that they can be knowledge constructors and creators and be creative individuals rather than just consumers of content.
Doug Belshaw: [00:35:11] He mentioned the word literacy work. The web literacy work underpins program from Mozilla called Web Maker, and I remember being so inspired by Mitchell Baker, who was at that point. I think she’s now the CEO, but that point was the chairperson of Mozilla and involved in the early days when it came out of Netscape and she talked about going beyond elegant consumption. And we see a lot of that these days. You know, I’ve already mentioned TikTok. There’s Instagram, whatever. Like people doomscrolling staring and scrolling at screens, looking at other people’s very stylised lives and whatever. And essentially, I don’t know if you remember that scene in Wall-E where there’s just a fat human sitting on a chair where they don’t have to walk. It just kind of goes around. They’ve got a screen in front of them, and Big Tech really ideally wants us like that, wants us just consuming stuff all the time, wants our attention and doesn’t really care about us as human beings. And I feel like our job as educators and researchers and people who just care about humans is to push back on that and say, look, there is a critical element of this. There is an element of empowerment so that we decide what is human flourishing or individual people decide what is human flourishing for them, and then use those tools, those literacies, to be able to to get to that level of human flourishing that they want, rather than just us fitting into what the machine wants or big tech.
Laura Hilliger: [00:36:37] I think that’s actually a really good segway into the next theme, which is reframing academic and intellectual contributions. And I say it’s a good Segway because the thing is, is that the work that we’ve done in this space for years and years and years was about education, right? Yet not digital education, not, you know, teaching people hard skills, although that sometimes was part of it. But the true meaning of education is self actualisation and helping people become who they are so that they can participate in society in a meaningful and impactful way. At least that’s my opinion of it. And if we think about the way that information is easy to read and write on the web nowadays, how media literacies have evolved over the past 20 years, there’s really something to advocate here, advocate for, which is like we need to re-evaluate what constitutes a intellectual contribution, what constitutes an academic contribution, because human beings all have the capacity for thought. They all have the capacity for interesting perspectives for idea making to be creative. As Ian said a few minutes ago. And I think that as people become more literate using technologies, what they’re offering to the world is something that only they can offer. There’s a unique offering that each human being has, and if they put it out there into the world, then we don’t know what the impact of that offering will be. So there’s there’s work here to to connect different kinds of people so that we can make the world a better place for everyone, because you never know where the good idea is going to come from. Right? So it’s a. Sorry. Go ahead. Doug.
Doug Belshaw: [00:38:29] No, I was going to say Kay talked about this as well. She talked about how we need to make sure that the people who are developing platforms in the future are aware of the implications of that, and that is a form of intellectual and academic debate. That’s why it’s always been important that we have people from the humanities in technology. But as you say, Laura, we need to think about what those contributions are. It can’t be, you know, if you’re working in a fast paced tech environment where people are building products, we can’t wait for 18 months, two years for the peer review cycle to come around for you to get the go ahead on whether or not you’re going to do this small thing. So there are different ways in which we can contribute to the world, even the way that we’re doing this, this podcast series, and then weaving that in with the manuscript and then submitting that to JML, like that is a different way of doing things as well. And I think we have to, to think we can’t be completely beholden to the old ways of doing things, nor should we throw the baby out with the bathwater just because there’s new technology available. But it’s always going to be a synthesis of what’s possible and what works, and try and always create new ways of doing stuff. Mm.
Ian O’Byrne: [00:39:43] One of the challenges in this is that we have to think about the current context, especially as it applies to media information. Lit. We’re not sometimes as academics, as educators, we talked about we talk about these things in the aether, but we are living in our students are growing up. Our youth are growing up in a massive online disinformation war, a misinformation war. And so we’ve talked about this in some of our behind the scenes discussions about how, for the most part, many of us don’t share as much as we used to, or we used to be very prolific on Twitter or, or whatever it will be called tomorrow. And now we’re not. And so a lot of that is by design. So those of us that would want to be more academic or speak truth to power, a lot of those voices are silencing themselves. And then the, the, the bad behaving individuals, the misinformation, the disinformation, they’re getting more legs under them. Um, and one of the things is Martin Weller once indicated, you know, it’s it’s never been more risky to operate in the open, but it’s also never been more vital to operate in the open. And so there’s the need for us to make our work. Make my work. Academics need to make their work more approachable and more accessible and and speak up. And so when you have someone that is, um, you know, in my humble opinion, spreading trash, misinformation, disinformation, hate, um, there is the need for others to say, well, actually, no, that’s not truth. That’s not, you know, that’s not what science would suggest. That’s not what you know, we’ve learned throughout history. So, you know, we have people that are actively uh, and it’s well, well funded, it’s well organised that they are pushing back. They’re trying to silence other individuals. And it’s all, as Doug would say and has said in this podcast, it’s all about power. And so those of us that educate, we need to speak up and speak out. Yes, there’s a lot of harm. Yes, there’s a lot of risk. But we have to have questions about whether or not we want to be conscious and aware and vigilant as we engage in networked publics.
Doug Belshaw: [00:42:10] Definitely agree with that. And just for the sake of time, let’s move on to theme six, which kind of builds on on that, which is about equity and accessibility in technology. So we’ve already talked about different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and we’ve discussed that a little bit. But I remember the bit with Helen Beetham talking about how open I and probably other tech companies who are involved in AI chat bots. They’ve been paying people in Kenya about $2 an hour to annotate outputs of the early models that they created, and then those things are getting embedded in every single part of the world that we live in, either explicitly because people are saying, I’m building this with, you know, AI, or it’s just kind of in the in the background all the time. And I think I’ve mentioned I might have mentioned this in the first episode, or certainly in one of the episodes of the example of if you ask an AI tool like Midjourney or Dall-E or whatever to create an image of people in a group situation doing like a group selfie, the smile that they do is an American smile, which is quite recognisable if you’re not American, and certainly if you’re Russian. People who don’t tend to smile that much because it’s like not culturally the same as America or smiling in different ways at different time periods or whatever, and how that kind of thing, although it doesn’t seem that important, becomes a homogenisation of the world. Also today, literally the day that we’re recording this, I saw that Adobe is selling fake AI generated images of violence in Gaza, in Israel. So literally it’s labelled as AI generated on the site where you can buy images and it’s like a destroyed street in, in, in Palestine. And when you look at it, it looks like an American street. I’m like a slightly destroyed American street, but kind of like Middle Eastern ized a bit. And that’s because that’s what the model’s been trained on. But depending on your background, you might not even notice that. And if it hasn’t been labelled as fake or AI generated, you start just believing what what you see. And you don’t question these things because you haven’t got the, the, the literate behaviours and maybe your cultural background predispose you to believe a certain thing. But certainly in terms of the equity and accessibility angle, it’s a really a balance between the speed of the technology moving forward and the things that it’s being trained on and the literate practices which are being embedded within it.
Ian O’Byrne: [00:44:48] We have a lot of opportunities through our use of technology. If we really think about equity and accessibility, we think about we’ve talked a lot about language. We’ve talked a lot about different languages or different dialects. You know, we have a lot of individuals that are striving readers and writers that struggle with making sense of content. We’ve seen some programs out there that will raise and lower Lexile level or reading levels for to help individuals. There’s the opportunity to present information in different formats and different medium and different modes. So can instead of looking at a long research paper, I can look at a two minute YouTube video. So there’s opportunities to make sense of it. So we can sort of, as Laura said before, level the playing field. But we also have a lot of individuals that are hearing impaired or vision impaired. And it’s almost like we’re thinking about that amusement park where there’s that, that, that, you know, that point at the beginning of the line where it’s like, you have to be this height to ride the ride. We’re setting up this, this space where you have to have a certain number of faculties and proficiency in the language and stuff like that, just to survive, you know, to succeed online. So to wrap up our different themes here, one of the things that was key to us, and we hope that it continues, is that this is a wicked problem. This is a thorny subject, but more discussion is necessary. We need to. The role of conversation and community is ever more important. As we’ve highlighted a couple times in this discussion that we reached out to individuals online and we had snowball sampling, sampling to canvass our communities. There was much more discussion that is necessary. We’re hoping that you listen to these pieces and listen to these discussions and read our blog posts and the publications and push back. There is much more community dialogue that’s necessary. We need people to speak up to help shape the future of literacy, so that a multiplicity of voices are heard and incorporated into current, existing, and also future frameworks. As we make sense of what’s happening here.
Doug Belshaw: [00:47:16] And we need to make sure that just in the same way that a lot of people in the early days of the web learned how to build stuff by right clicking on other people’s websites, looking at view source, and then seeing how something was built. We also need to build that into the development of literacy frameworks themselves, because in my experience, what happens, whether it’s a media literacy framework or an information literacy framework or a digital literacy framework or 21st century skills, it’s presented as a fait accompli by some think tank or organisation. And they kind of there might be a report with it, which kind of goes into a little bit of detail about how it came together. But I want version numbers, I want like how it came together, what decisions were made, who they talked to, like whether they tried to have a diverse range of voices, how long it took and what things they decided not to pay attention to all those kinds of things because those decisions are as important as the final thing. And also that then needs to be iterated. It’s not like, oh, I created a framework, now it’s going to sit there for all time. This needs to be iterated and built upon, a bit like the web literacy map that we work that we did. So I’d love to see that view source within literacy frameworks. And I’d also like to see it versioned. And I’d like to see an understanding of multiple different kinds of literacies. And I’d also like to explicitly see people talk about co-construction about it not just being this group of people who talk to lots of people in interviews, but instead people coming together to co-construct them in a particular domain.
Laura Hilliger: [00:48:58] So what you’re saying is you would like think tanks, corporations and academics making frameworks to work openly.
Doug Belshaw: [00:49:06] Absolutely. Yeah.
Ian O’Byrne: [00:49:08] I mean, a wise person once said digital literacy is a condition, not a threshold. And this this work is ongoing. There’s much more work that needs to happen. But also this needs to be a community effort. It can’t be something that one, you know, corporation puts a lot of money into. And then all of a sudden they decide one day that they’re going to switch gears and they don’t care about that anymore and move on. There is a need for humans, digital citizens to realise the importance of value this and have more discussions and and make it known what they will stand for and what they will not.
Doug Belshaw: [00:49:47] Absolutely. And we’ve we’ve all had experience of people funding stuff to the hilt and then just pulling the plug and that that shouldn’t happen. But on the other hand, if it does happen a bit like an open source project, it should be possible to fork it and to take it in a different direction with the community. And that’s usually not possible because things aren’t haven’t been worked on in the open or they’re not openly licensed or whatever. Anyway, we should wrap up given time. Let’s try and answer this key question then. How might we define the future of media and information literacy in theory and practice? Laura, do you want to go first?
Laura Hilliger: [00:50:24] Well. I’m going to read from the pad because we tried to synthesise definition here. And my request to listeners is please tell us what’s wrong with it. The future of media and information literacy could be defined as a dynamic, inclusive, and critical field that not only equips individuals with the skills to use and understand digital tools, but also encourages them to engage with these tools in ways that enrich personal and societal well-being.
Doug Belshaw: [00:50:57] Yeah, so in practice, that would mean creating educational environments that foster critical thinking, collaboration, and the ability to navigate and shape the digital landscape thoughtfully. And it would also include addressing the ethical implications of technology and its impact on society.
Ian O’Byrne: [00:51:17] So as we think about this question, how might we define the future of media and information literacy in theory and practice? One of the challenges is that we often when we move high tech, we lose high touch and we forget what it means to be a human being. So in theory, this would involve an ongoing interrogation of what it means to be literate in a digital world, considering how technologies evolve and how they intersect with human values and societal structures.
Doug Belshaw: [00:51:44] So in classic researcher style, more research is necessary, but then more research is always going to be necessary because the world changes as we all interact. The world is a noisy place, and as the world changes and evolves and new technologies come on board, we have to do the work again and again, partly because the first time no one listens, but also because, like Heraclitus said, you can’t step into the same river twice because the river’s changed and you’ve changed.
Laura Hilliger: [00:52:15] Thanks for listening everyone!
Doug Belshaw: [00:52:18] Cheers for now!
Ian O’Byrne: [00:52:19] Thank you!