AI Digital Literacy: Strategies for Educators in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

It's time to revisit the phrase "Digital Literacy" in the age of AI.

Here’s how we can introduce AI tools with integrity.

We know it’s not enough to simply hand a child a computer or smartphone and say, “Hey, you got this.”

But in a world that’s increasingly reliant on the Internet and AI for day-to-day activities, our children need active guidance. We need to teach them how to be digital citizens.

According to the Pew Research Center, a full 49% of babies and toddlers under age three interact with smartphones. 90% of children under five watch television, 64% use tablets, and 36% of children under eleven regularly use voice-activated assistants.

Yet families and schools still struggle to navigate the ever-changing waters of digital literacy and digital citizenship. Toss in AI—yet another “unknown”—it’s easy for families just to give up.

However, we need to reframe this changing landscape as an opportunity. An opportunity to reassess our relationship with technology. Together, as educators, parents, and publishers, it’s time for us to intentionally build on proven best practices. To collaboratively, and proactively define a new digital ethics, literacy, and citizenship.

If we get it right, we have a chance to create a more human-centered learning environment. An education that truly prepares students for the twenty-first century.

Digital Literacy and Citizenship in a World of AI, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Spaces

Digital literacy 2.0 is an essential component of every child’s education. 

Over the last few decades, being digitally literate generally meant the same thing across the board. Western Sydney University states it succinctly. “Having the skills you need to live, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information is increasingly through digital technologies like internet platforms, social media, and mobile devices.”

Meanwhile, digital citizenship, according to Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, is “the ability to navigate our digital environments” in a safe, responsible, active, and respectful way.

So, let’s build on these previous models. AI citizenship and literacy will be the collection of skills, knowledge, and attitudes that enable a person to:

  • function effectively in an AI-driven society
  • thrive as a consumer, creator, worker, and citizen
  • and use AI and other technologies safely and ethically (adapted from LinkedIn and aiEDU)

5 Best Practices for Growing AI Citizenship and Digital Literacy

So, what does this look like in practice? And how can we adapt to the shifting landscape and empower the next generation of creators? Well, we’ve boiled it down to five main things.

Building AI Familiarity:

AI literacy, like digital literacy, requires familiarity with essential tools, skills, and language. Children and adults alike should spend time experimenting with a variety of AI tools, exploring their strengths and limitations, and growing their toolkit of best practices for prompting the AI. We need to encourage children and adults to develop and refine their creative thinking and analytical judgment about delegation. Knowing when to rely on AI tools, and when you’ll need to complete or review something yourself, will be at least as if not even more critical than knowing which tools to use in the first place.

MAINTAINING Adaptability & Flexibility:  

Continued professional development, learning, skill-building, and personal growth is rapidly becoming a cultural norm in modern society and the modern workforce. As new tools, technologies, and software continue to roll out, children and adults alike will need to be able to learn, stretch, navigate, and adapt to an ever-changing digital landscape, explains Karin Cross-Smith, president of Heretto. In an era of 24/7 AI-enabled access to expertise, students now jump into a world made for life-long learners.

PRACTICING Workforce Development Futurism:

Chris Dede writes on Harvard.edu that educators need to question what roles AI will take over and how we need to teach students accordingly. “We should be preparing students–and ourselves–to work with AI and do the things that AI can’t do in particular circumstances,” he explains. Common Sense Media strongly advocates playing the role of futurist and having these discussions directly with students (and ourselves):

  • Ask students what they think AI is doing to reshape the job market and what skills they think they’ll need.
  • Create a project-based assignment that lets students research this tech that will surely shape their lives. 
  • Talk about the impacts of new technologies—including AI—on societies in history and today.
  • Explore AI solutions to problems in their communities.

These questions help model for students the kind of proactive, reflective thinking they’ll likely need to succeed in the AI era. Responses are likely to direct students towards more creativity and ambition, and roles as empowered architects, curators, and agents of change.

Understanding Credibility and Bias:

Universal access to information now goes well beyond search. With many of us now turning to AI applications for help with research and creating new content, children and adults alike will need to be able to identify “hallucinations” (inaccurate or inappropriate AI outputs). AI-generated results are fast, but they still need to be checked for accuracy, integrity, and bias.

This means people still need to cross-check AI-generated results with multiple sources and evaluate information for bias and credibility. Students will also need new tools for identifying and challenging misinformation. Especially as we’re now in an age where any text, image, audio, or video can be generated by artificial intelligence.

Ultimately, adults and children alike need to be aware of the ways in which AI models are responsive to and reproducing human biases. We need to avoid perpetuating or even exacerbating existing problems when AI applications fail to be culturally responsive. People need to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to ensure the output is reflective of our true diversity.

Shifting Definitions of Authorship and Creativity:

Cultural definitions of what does and doesn’t count as creative, original work may change in the coming years. Even our valuation of creativity and originality may shift, as new conversations about permission and property play out in the media and the law.

In fact, we are already seeing a shift in younger generations towards an emphasis on collaborative creation and ownership. In the meantime, however, parents, educators, and students are well-served by continuing to have ongoing conversations with children about intellectual property, plagiarism, and the import of academic integrity. We also encourage anti-plagiarism measures like using authenticity-check apps and getting to know students’ work in class during formative assessments.

Rethinking Digital Literacy with AI

As we stand at this technological crossroads, it is time to reflect on what it truly means to embody AI citizenship. Educators play a pivotal role in shaping the next generation’s understanding of AI and its impact on our lives. So, let’s empower them with the right tools. By embracing this responsibility, we can pave the way for a future where AI is harnessed for the greater good, nurturing a society that thrives on knowledge, ethics, and a deep sense of humanity.

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