A powerful media and information literacy project from UNESCO

UNESCO has entered the digital literacy fray by publishing what they call five laws of media and information literacy.  While they don’t use the phrase “digital literacy”, it’s clear that they’re addressing that field’s concerns.

I’d like to summarize their offerings, then reflect on their strengths and challenges.  tldr: it’s impressive.

This literacy (they call it “MIL”) draws on and synthesizes multiple literacies, including, but also going beyond, information and media literacy:

UNESCO multiple literacies

Note that it breaks “news literacy” out from “media literacy”.  Also be sure to catch the importance of freedom of expression, turned into “freedom of information literacy”.  That’s a brave move for a global organization, since not every nation or other political actor shares that latter value.

The centerpiece is what they call the “five laws of media and information literacy”, summarized in this helpful infographic:

UNESCO's five laws of media and information literacy

Law 1 is about multiple information platforms and venues, seeing them as “equal in stature” to each other.  People should use those channels for “critical civic engagement and sustainable development.”

Law 2 identifies users – all users – as creators, not just consumers, and emphasizes gender equality.

Law 3 reminds us that information can be biased.

Law 4 sees every person as a potential learner and information consumer – even if not everyone thinks they are.

Law 5 argues that digital – sorry, media and information literacy – is a major curriculum, and even offers a definition: “access, evaluation/assessment, use, production and communication of information, media and technology content,” with associated  “knowledge, skills, and attitudes”.

They have a curriculum for teachers (pdf), which goes into some detail about topics ranging from “Representation in Media and Information” to “Digital Editing and Computer Retouching”.  I’m impressed that they include this key pedagogy: “Learning how to Learn”.

Beyond curriculum and pedagogy, this UNESCO team is very ambitious, offering:

a comprehensive strategy which include preparation of model Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Teachers, the facilitation of international cooperation, development of Guidelines for preparing national MIL Policies and Strategies, articulation of a Global Framework on MIL Indicators, setting up a MIL University Network, articulation of and establishment of an International Clearinghouse on MIL in cooperation with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and provision of Guidelines for Broadcasters on Promoting User-Generated Content and MIL.

They also have a social media campaign, a university network (“The UNESCO/UNAOC-MILID Network”), two online classes (one from Athabasca), and a program targeting global youth.

So, some thoughts.

The emphasis on respecting all people as holders of knowledge with the capacity to express it is bold, and welcome.  A nice echo of #HortonFreire.

The inclusion of users as producers is also welcome.  It matches my understanding.

Emphasizing freedom of expression is another bold move, given the increasing unpopularity of that right worldwide.  I wonder if UNESCO will get pushback.

This is the most global digital literacy initiative I’ve seen.  Check the pages linked above for examples, like the translation of many documents into multiple languages, or the non-US/non-Anglophonic-centric nature of the universities in UNESCO/UNAOC-MILID Network.  (Which might explain why I’ve heard so little about it in the States)

Law 4 fascinates me, almost like a koan.  What does it mean to recognize that people are information consumers, producers, and learners, when they might not know that they are?  Is this an argument for compulsory schooling, or for a kind of Socratic/Freudian pedagogy, or…?

I don’t know where this initiative is going, frankly.  It’s an official UNESCO initiative, but it’s hard for an outsider to know what that means in practice. Their list of face-to-face events ends in 2016, so perhaps MIL is digital only now.  Will the university network take off?  What’s the budget?  Where has it received traction?  How does one get involved?

I’d like to hear from any participants, as well as from members of the digital/media/information literacy world.

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16 Responses to A powerful media and information literacy project from UNESCO

  1. There is a long and winding history of this initiative. One of the players is the IFLA Information Literacy Section (which I am on the Steering Committee for) but only one of many! You don’t mention GAPMIL, which is a pretty robust network of activities, including a North American chapter having a meeting in June 2017. Unfortunately, I will wholeheartedly admit the website is not the easiest to navigate and find out what’s what.

  2. Mark Wilson says:

    I enrolled in the Athabasca U course, increasing participation by 25%. The site has been up a year and a half. Perhaps your mention will encourage enough people to create a small cohort.
    I’m currently taking another AU course, Learning to Learn Online, to see how they use the Canvas LMS. Interestingly, the AU/UNESCO MIL course uses the Moodle LMS.
    Sigh, another issue I always point out to educators: your ‘academic freedom’ can create chaos for students with multiple platforms, standards and methods of assessment.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      was just thinking to take a look —

    • I always find this “chaos” argument a little weird. Many people happily use a wide array of very diverse web sites every day…why is it proposed that diversity with the LMS or other web platforms poses some fundamentally more intense problem? That’s not been my experience with students that I teach or for the organization that employs me. Sure, it takes a bit to understand a different interface, but it’s common to do so and most discount that bit of early friction in other aspects of life and browsing/using.

      • Probably because our desires take us to multiple platforms, and their differences are a cost we’re willing to pay. Think about the huge complexity of many gaming platforms, for example.
        But for education we’re in a different mental state, something like a requirement.

    • Mark, how is that AU course, Learning to Learn Online?

      • Hi Bryan
        LTLO is OK. The focus is on posting to Padlets and the single discussion forum per module. In the discussions there are hundreds of posts on multiple topics across weeks of time. That is chaos. The certificate is earned by passing the five multiple guess quizzes, nothing else required.
        The Unesco course is like being the only anthropologist exploring a long forgotten desert city. Lonely and arid with a handful of posts from years ago. That said, it offers a much richer set of opportunities for analyzing and creating digital information media. The certificate is earned by passing the nine quizzes (the first was filling words from a list into a paragraph), nothing else required.
        I can’t imagine many young people slogging through either course, we have a ways to go before digital media information literacy is widespread.
        Best Regards

  3. Doug Belshaw says:

    Bryan, I hate to disagree, and perhaps I’m a bit jaded (see http://literaci.es/view-source) but this looks like the *opposite* of something that’s ‘powerful’. In fact, it’s like every other ‘umbrella’ framework I’ve ever seen – trying to claim ownership of several domains at once, and then not having the expertise, backing, or finance to pull anything off.

    I’d point people towards Mozilla’s efforts which, admittedly, I led for a few years, but at least you can see where it came from, and know that there was input from around ~100 people globally: https://learning.mozilla.org/web-literacy

    • fabionascimbeni says:

      I tendo to agree with Doug. Apart from the Mozilla Web Literacy framework, interesting work can be found by Jisc in the UK and lately by the European Commission’s Joint research Centre in Seville with their DigComp, and the new (still unpublished) DigCompEdu, a DL framework specifically for educators. I believe these framework are less general than the UNESCO one that – probably because it’s UNESCO? – seems to want to take everything into account, with the risk of losing depth.

    • Doug, I’m glad to see you here, as the world’s leading digital literacy guru.

      I agree with some of your critique. As you say in the “view source” piece, and as I hinted in this post, the backing behind this effort is hard to discern, as are the next steps they hope to take.

      But I’m not sure I follow the rest. What’s wrong with it being an umbrella, beyond the difficulty in determining its material support?

      I do I like the Mozilla one.

      Why I said powerful:
      1) The emphasis on freedom of expression is a huge deal, especially for a UN body. Recall that the UN has, at best, a mixed rep on freedom of speech. And we’re living in a global era where that civil right is waning (cf Freedom House research).
      2) Users as producers is *still* a big deal. In our NMC research we found a clear majority of folks surveyed said this wasn’t happening. And at least one critic of our work sneered at users as producers, finding the report “predictably excited” and arguing that this approach verged on racism and sexism. I disagree, obviously, but that view is out there, at least in the US, and may will grow.
      3) “respecting all people as holders of knowledge with the capacity to express it” is still radical pedagogy in many places worldwide.

  4. VanessaVaile says:

    Bryan, tweeted tagging Maha Bali and Vance Stevens for their input.

  5. Maha Bali says:

    Socratic/Freudian? Not familiar with that merger… can you explain?
    (thanks for sharing this, and thanks to Vanessa for tagging me)

    • I was thinking of teacher as a kind of therapist, helping students see things about themselves that they normally couldn’t perceive. That’s the Freudian side.
      The Socratic is using that questioning technique to drive learners more deeply into their own thinking.
      Combining the two is definitely one practice.

      Now, is that what UNESCO is thinking of? I can’t tell, and they haven’t replied yet.

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