Sonia Livingstone (LSE, UK) is the keynote speaker in the next session I'm liveblogging from the feature conference of Global Media and Information Literacy week in Kaunas. As usual, I have the caveat that these are my impressions as she spoke. The overall session is entitled MIL empowering active engaged communities and participation in city elections but Livingstone focused on her current thoughts about Media Literacy (she talked about Media Literacy rather than MIL throughout). She talked about the all-encompassing nature of media, and that this made a key question - how do people communicate through and with media in their lives. There was an ever widening group of stakeholders, some of whom are not aware of the existing work in media literacy (let alone information literacy, I would add). This has led to one-shot campaigns from companies or government agencies who want to show they are "on board" with media literacy.
In terms of policy, media literacy has been seen as a policy of last resort: she thought that there tended to be discussions and calls for legislation to start with, with calls to educate for media literacy following on.
Livingstone stressed that she obviously in favour for media literacy education, but she saw challenges. Firstly, education was an investment (including investment in teaching training and assessment), and in many or all countries inadequacies in education systems was identified, and seeing education as the "solution" was problematic. It was unclear what agencies and people would deliver education for media literacy for those outside formal education; which private and public sector organisation would be involved. Secondly, the rhetorical aim for education is democracy and equality, but in fact education is inequal in terms of takeup etc. and in some cases by its structure it fosters inequality.
Then there were also digital challenges. Firstly, digital grows at exponential rate, with more things expected of people (e.g. understanding the way search engine algorithm works, understanding how to protect your privacy on a smartphone). This was a great deal to teach, especially when even experts struggle to explain these matters coherently. "We can only teach people what they can learn" - she gave examples such as understanding the detail of Terms and Conditions. She felt that there needed more transparency in the design of the digital environment, before it became easier for people to learn about this. Secondly: postponing the benefits. Livingstone felt people were too obsessed with the negatives that needed to be battled before the positive things can happen. Then there was sustainability - too many small scale underfunded ventures "start up culture without the venture capitalists". Thirdly there was the lack of robust evidence and evaluative base for media literacy, which she felt would involve research such as randomised controlled trials. Livingstone also felt the need for cost-benefit analysis.
She then moved on to talk about the problem of making individuals responsible for solving media literacy challenges that governemnts etc. cannot solve. This can lead to a blame culture, with calls for people to be dutiful and to fit in, with media literacy as a moralising discourse.
Livingstone ended with suggestions for the positive. Firstly this would involve working with others and making more realistic plans for what could be changed. Secondly, charging the whole variety of agencies that could be working for media literacy to get more involved and think what they could be doing to improve transparency. Thirdly to bear in mind goals of empowerment and critique, so that citizens are empowered to propose new solutions and to protest, not just be dutiful citizens.