Open Access
UNESCO and AU's Media and Information Literacy Course


Open Access
UNESCO and AU's Media and Information Literacy Course

Unit 1 – Media and Information Literacy (MIL): An Introduction


Communication has always been central to human existence. In prehistoric times, people spoke by imitating birdsong, scratched information on walls, horns, stones, and shells, and sent messages by beating on drums, bells and gongs. As time went by, humans developed sophisticated oral communication through speech, song, oratory, and verse. Writing implements and symbolic systems became more complex, resulting in manuscript and print cultures. Transmission technologies like the telegraph, telephone, underwater cable, radio, and satellite, and the internet whisked messages around the world in record time. The image technologies of the camera, film and television added a vibrant, visual component to human communication. Most recently digital and nano-technologies have delivered previously unimagined communication tools into the hands of everyone, even small children.

Most of these technological advances have occurred with the last century, indeed many within the last twenty years. The changes in information and communication technologies (ICT) have been so fast and unevenly distributed that some people are faced with more and more information every day, while others are still starved for information. Yet, the societies in which we live today are driven by information and knowledge.

a lego clown juggling lego piecesThose who have access to media and ICTs cannot escape the role they play in our personal, economic, political and social lives. Together, the number of television and radio stations, newspapers and magazines, mobile phones, internet sites and social networks, books, libraries, arhcives, billboards, and video games determine much of what we learn about ourselves and the world around us.

Media and other information providers are central to democracy, cultural dialogue and good governance, both as a way to promote democratic debates and diversity and as providers of information and knowledge. However, information providers such as public broadcasters, libraries and archives often suffer from controls and limitations placed on them by government. Mass media and other information providers are often commercialized and can contribute to stereotypes, discrimination, misinformation, and exclusion of certain social groups and opinions from public debate.

If the media are to support democracy, citizens need to understand how to use them critically: that is, how to interpret the information they receive -- including the media’s use of metaphor and irony. Media consumers need to understand how stories and events are framed to suggest certain meanings. As citizens, people need specific competencies (knowledge, skills and attitudes) to engage with the media. The ultimate goal is for citizens to be active participants in political processes and governance, in large part by making effective use of the resources provided by media, libraries, archives and other information providers.

Media and Information Literacy (MIL) offers the necessary set of competencies for citizens to negotiate the complex web of media messages and information sources now available to them.

This course is built on three pillars: critical thinking, self-expression and participation. This unit will consider the relatively new concept of MIL, asking such questions as these:

*What is information? *What are the media? *Why learn about them? *What is their importance?  *What is media literacy?  *What is information literacy? *What is media and information literacy?

Let’s start with a simple exercise. Without doing any research or reading, write down what you think MIL is all about. Make sure to save or keep your definition of MIL in your notes for reference as you go through the course.

When you work on your definition, consider the individual words in the concept separately: 1) media, 2) information, and 3) literacy.

Media literacy (ML) and information literacy (IL) are part of one another. They have differences and similarities, but they overlap in many areas. Together, they include all the skills, knowledge and abilities that we think of when we think of library literacy, news literacy, digital literacy, computer literacy, Internet literacy, freedom of expression and freedom of information literacy, television literacy, advertising literacy, cinema literacy, and games literacy.

After having read the three sections of Unit 1 listed above, take a few minutes to look at some of the definitions provided in this unit for these concepts. Now compare the definitions that you wrote earlier with the definitions of the list. Are your definitions close to one or more on the list?

You are not required to memorize definitions. However, it is crucial that you understand what media and information literate people should know (knowledge) and be able to do (skills) as well as the attitude they should have towards information, media and technology. The list below summarizes the competencies (knowledge, skills and attitudes) of media and information literacy.

Media and information literate people should be able to:

a) Understand why media and other information providers are important to development and democratic societies;

b) Know what media and other information providers should do to support development and democracy;

c) Recognise a need for information;

d) Locate and access information needed;

e) Carefully evaluate or judge information and the content of media and other information providers;

f) Organise information;

g) Use and share information based on moral principles or accepted standards of social behaviour;

h) Use information and communication technology skills to access, produce and share information and media content;

i) Interact with media and other information providers to freely express themselves, share their culture and learn about other cultures, and participate in democratic and development activities.

We hope that you will have acquired these by the end of the course.

Suggested Activity

Take some time now to think about your own goals for the course and write down for yourself a plan for creating a journal that will document what you have learned, and how you might blog on the internet.

a. Your Goals should include the things you want to know and be able to do once you have completed the course. You can have as many goals as you like. They belong to you and should help you in reflecting back on your experience in the course. The goals should place you as an active learner and might look like the following statement: “By the end of the course, I want to know about the connection between freedom of expression and women’s rights,” or “By the end of the course, I want to feel comfortable searching for and then evaluating the usefulness of information online.”

b. Blogging is something you will learn how to do in this course. It allows you more space than the few sentences that you might write in a text. In a blog, you can expand on your ideas and opinions.

Photo credit: media stacking by Will Lion CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Check out the Course Glossary.

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