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Why Artificial Intelligence (AI) Literacy Should Be Integrated into Digital Literacy

Artificial Intelligence


The rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), from a concept in a sci-fi novel to a staple of our everyday lives, has been nothing short of mind-blowing. In the blink of an eye, we've grown accustomed to interacting with Siri and Alexa and allowing Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and others tell us what we like. Even as I type these words the AI tool on this platform is offering to do this for me, and to do it better.

The world of education is embracing AI too. A new poll—AI Chatbots in Schools—reveals that nearly 50% K-12 teachers and students use generative AI, like ChatGPT, at least weekly.

At the same time, this poll finds,

 Most K-12 teachers, parents, and students don’t think their school is doing much about AI, despite its widespread use. Most say their school has no policy on it, is doing nothing to offer desired teacher training, and isn’t meeting the demand of students who’d like a career in a job that will need AI.

This brings us to the topic of AI Literacy. Though the Department of Education has yet to adopt a formal definition for the term or propose guidelines for teaching it, a bill sitting in Congress —the “Artificial Intelligence Literacy Act of 2023”— defines AI Literacy as “the skills associated with the ability to comprehend the basic principles, concepts, and applications of artificial intelligence, as well as the implications, limitations, and ethical considerations associated with the use of artificial intelligence.”

It also makes this bold statement in its findings:  "AI literacy will become as important as digital literacy is today."

Really? We still haven't convinced all schools that digital literacy is important today.

wise owl in computer

So in order to avoid having to push another heavy boulder up a steep hill, we believe it's wiser to integrate AI literacy into digital literacy. After all, according to Media Smarts, digital literacy is:

A wide variety of ethical, social and reflective practices that are embedded in work, learning, leisure and daily life.

So, as AI becomes embedded in our everyday lives, it's only logical to embed AI literacy to into digital literacy, not to position it as a stand alone curriculum that schools will have no place for. Since AI touches so many different facets of our lives and our children’s lives, each equally and increasingly important, we need to help students understand it in context.

Cyber Civics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Literacy

Over the past few years we’ve integrated AI lessons into our comprehensive middle school digital literacy curriculum for the reasons stated above. When developing our AI lessons, we prioritized adhering to the fundamental principles of Cyber Civics. Our curriculum is:

  • Sequential. Lessons are scaffolded in a way that help students make sense of a complex digital world.

  • Hands-on. Lessons always include a teacher led, hands-on activity that allow students to interact, discuss, and debate—in real life!—with their peers.

  • Developmentally-Appropriate: Lessons meet students where they are.

AI Literacy lessons embedded in the Cyber Civics curriculum include:

Algorithms Are Everywhere! Since it’s impossible to understand AI without knowing what an algorithm is, the engaging activity in this lesson teaches students what they are and how they work.

What is AI? AI is essentially a group of algorithms that can modify themselves or create new algorithms—even problem-solve!—in response to learned inputs and data. In this lesson, students discover how AI can perform tasks that historically required human intelligence.

Using Generative AI Responsibly. Since generative AI (think ChatGPT, DALL-E, Gemini, etc.) has raised all sorts of educational concerns (from students using them to cheat or to write their essays), this lesson shows them how to use it responsibly and ethically.

Anatomy of a Results Page. AI generated content is popping up more frequently at the top of our search engine result pages (think of Google's “AI Overviews” powered by Gemini). This lesson explains how these conversational answers to queries work and why they are not always accurate.

Algorithms Are Awesome. Or Are They? Students learn how data informs algorithms that provide recommendations on everything from what videos to watch next, what news to read, what music to listen to, what to buy, and who to be friends with.

Help! I’m Trapped in a Filter Bubble. While online personalization has its benefits, many people don’t like being told what to think, like, or buy. This lesson takes advantage of inherent adolescent skepticism by showing them how they can take control of what they share online.

The Future of Creativity: AI & Art. This lesson, which falls within our copyright unit, explores how generative AI tools—particularly image generators like OpenArt, Midjourney, and DALL-E—have raised important concerns about copyright and art. Students grapple with ethical questions about this intersection.

Your Brain on Tech: This lesson takes a closer look at persuasive technologies as students explore how AI is being used to help tech companies capture and hold on to our attention.

What’s AI Got To Do With News? AI is playing an increasing role in the spread of misinformation and disinformation. In this lesson, students discover how to detect when AI is being used, and they learn about “deepfakes”—audio or visual content that uses generative AI to mimic a person’s likeness or voice.

Don’t Label Me. As students have previously learned, AI trains on data. In this lesson, they explore what happens when and if this data is biased—in favor of one thing over another.

Don’t Let That Photo Fool You. This lesson helps students recognize when an online image has been altered or completely generated by AI. It also explores reasons why images are edited and generated, and what tools they can use to investigate questionable images.

When Facetune Goes Too Far. Students explore the role AI plays in our exposure to perfected images. The lesson encourages students to imagine possible solutions to the pressure of conforming to narrow and unrealistic beauty standards.

Sextortion and AI. The FBI recently issued a warning about the serious problem of sextortion. To make matters worse, cases are emerging in which generative AI is being used to produce explicit images—called “deepnudes”—of victims that are then circulated online. This lesson addresses these sensitive, yet important, topics.

Are You a Maker or a Taker Now? Our final lesson in Cyber Civics challenges students to consider how they use technology, including AI technologies, now and will in the future.

We hope you will ask your school or your children's school to include Digital and AI literacy in their curriculum. It's too important not to.

Diana Graber

Diana Graber is the author of "Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology." She is also the founder of Cyber Civics and Cyberwise.


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