Saturday, June 20, 2020

Digital literacy means knowing when to switch off

Photo by K I L I A N 📷 on Unsplash
I noticed an interesting quote on Twitter:
Digital literacy is also about knowing when not to use technology. Being digitally skilled is not simply about embracing everything digital, it is about developing an awareness of both the opportunities and the challenges of using digital media in our work, studies and leisure time. It involves becoming more aware of how digital devices, platforms and apps collect and sell our personal data and deciding where we draw our own red lines. Few of us ever read the terms and conditions but we can all learn some basic warning flags and be able to say no to certain offers. You can say no to cookies on sites you are unlikely to visit again, you can use browsers and search tools that don't track you, you can avoid overloading your mobile with hundreds of apps that you hardly ever use and so on. We also need to learn when to switch off and when we should rely on other skills and methods. Learn to cope with boredom and silence without immediately reaching for your mobile for a quick fix.

Beetham's quote comes from a thread that also mentions a report from Project Information Literacy on students' attitudes and strategies towards the way algorithms filter and monitor the content we see in our digital devices, The algorithm study. The study shows that students are generally well aware of the influence of algorithms and how their news feeds can be manipulated. They are aware that the major platforms harvest and sell personal data and although they take measures to counteract this they find these platforms irresistible. It is indeed hard to avoid using Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook but the key is to be able to make informed choices and know how to limit your exposure. Sadly the students surveyed had acquired their digital strategies from friends rather than in class and most reported that the influence of algorithms was seldom, if ever, discussed in the classroom. The report's main message is that educational and media organisations need to do much more to counteract the way algorithms are forming our society.
Most, though not all, know that data-driven platforms, if left unexamined and unchallenged, threaten representative democracy and the cultivation of informed and engaged communities. Together, these findings reveal a growing global epistemological crisis. As many students assert their authority as learners and first-time voters, educational and media organizations need to do more to teach “algorithm literacy” within and beyond formal education. Ultimately, journalists and media organizations need to check the unchecked power of algorithms and the social problems they expose and exacerbate for students, faculty, and society.
Students seem increasingly skeptical about the reliability of the information they find on the web and see the digital literacy training that they have received in school and university as outdated and inadequate. The report recommends the following measures:
  • Use peer-to-peer learning to nurture personal agency and advance campus-wide learning. 
  • The K-20 student experience must be interdisciplinary, holistic, and integrated. 
  • News outlets must expand algorithm coverage, while being transparent about their own practices.  
  • Learning about algorithmic justice supports education for democracy. 
The digital monster we have created is soon out of control, especially as artificial intelligence becomes increasingly sophisticated. Over-dependence on digital media makes us open to manipulation. How we deal with this requires action at all levels from government to the individual but the education system has a particularly vital role to play.

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