On Tuesday, 4th February, at UTS in Sydney, a Meetup was held by UTS Engage to reconsider the concept of digital literacy.  There were two speakers – Heidi Julien, Professor of Information Science at the University at Buffalo; and Amelia Johns, Senior Lecturer in Digital and Social Media at UTS Sydney.

Heidi Julien reflected on the huge importance placed on digital literacy, that it doesn’t really warrant.  UNESCO have stated that information and digital literacy “contributes to sustainable world peace”. The burden of world peace is one that is now placed on the shoulders of educators and librarians! This burden is often reinforced by librarians who make lofty claims about the importance of digital literacy and see themselves as the gatekeepers of digital literacy, while frequently not having experience or expertise in teaching.

Information seeking processes are situational, social and embodied as part of a dynamic process.  People believe what they have been brought up to believe, not always remembering where they got their information, and so their internal biases are difficult to overcome.  Social conformity also impacts our search processes and so while information/digital literacy is important, it’s insufficient on its own as a basis for widespread change.

Digital literacy is increasingly important for most careers, and so is an important part of our lives but it’s not a magic bullet that will fix social and economic inequity.  Ultimately Ms Julien had a lot of challenges and questions for us but not a lot of answers.

Amelia Johns spoke second, presenting research findings on misinformation and hate speech on social media, looking specifically into social media output surrounding the recent bushfires.

Digital literacy was added to the primary and high school curriculum to equip students with tech skills, but then social issues like trolling and online bullying were added to the curriculum under the guise of digital citizenship as an example of another social issue teachers are charged with fixing.  The challenge is that research has shown that trolling is done by digitally literate people; these highly digital literate people use their skills to promote hate speech and misinformation to create “information disorder”. They don’t share misinformation because they believe it’s true, they share it to get attention.

Ms Johns then went on to discuss preliminary findings from their research which suggested that those who did not believe in the #ClimateEmergency provided links from less respected sources.

Dana Boyd’s article “You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You? and Ted Talk “What Hath We Wrought” were given as suggested “further reading” as was the new book “Why We’re Polarised” by Ezra Klein.

Finally, we had a Q&A session which was recorded here.

To read another summary of this event head to LinkedIn.


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