FCC’s positive new plan for digital literacy & Net safety

By Anne Collier

This morning Elmo of Sesame Street helped Julius Genachowski of the FCC launch the child- and family-empowerment part of the FCC’s universal broadband plan (trying to understand Mr. Genachowski’s job, Elmo asked, “So you’re the chairman of the Funky Chicken Club?”). But before Elmo joined him, the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman spoke of the “four pillars” of broadband Internet for US families:

* Digital access – “every child should have broadband access,” Genachowski said, and one of every 4 kids is missing out. “Anything less than 100% access is not good enough,” because “every child must benefit from digital opportunities and do so safely.”
* Digital literacy “doesn’t just mean teaching children basic digital skills” (though that’s important, too, he said), “but also teaching children how to think analytically, critically, creatively” and to “teach media literacy.” He said that both digital and media literacy skills are particularly critical, given how much time the average child spends a day in and with digital media. “This is not just a good idea,” he said, “it’s increasingly a job and citizenship requirement”….
* Digital citizenship – Genachowski said the FCC plan is not just about giving children access and teaching them how to use the tools, but also teaching them how to be responsible community members, which gives them “the ability to participate in a vibrant digital democracy” (I’d argue in democracy, not just the digital kind; we adults keep thinking in this binary, delineating virtual/real, online/offline, digital/non- way). He also acknowledged the challenges to this effort, including online “anonymity,” which masks the impacts of their online behaviors on others.
* Safety – The FCC chair mentioned first the risk of online harassment, saying “43% have been cyberbullied, and only 10% have told someone.” He also referred to distracted driving and inappropriate advertising. My connection to the event’s live video streaming was a little sketchy, so the fact that I didn’t hear a reference to “predators” in the mix could’ve been due to my connection; but his starting with cyberbullying was an important high-level acknowledgement of the findings of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, which some attorneys general have sought to discredit (see this for examples and a link to the ISTTF report). Schools often turn to law enforcement as their authority on Internet safety, so fears not grounded in research which are generated by senior law enforcement officials and published in their Web sites could be an obstacle to 21st-century learning and universal broadband adoption.

Though the plan is positive, Genachowski acknowledged children’s experiences with media certainly aren’t always: “Parents are asking themselves whether they should be embracing new technologies or worrying about them. The answer is we have to do both,” he said, as EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet reports.

To help parents and schools, he announced a “digital literacy corps to mobilize thousands of technically-trained youths and adults to train non-adopters,” my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid reported in CNET; a plan to get public libraries “more broadband capacity”; “a national dialog” in the form of FCC-hosted town meetings around the country; a new section of FCC.gov for kids and parents; and an interagency working group on online safety (something I’ve been hoping would happen for a while), which certainly includes the Federal Trade Commission and its pioneering work on virtual worlds and free, well-written Netcetera booklet.

“Let’s focus on what parents can do” in helping their kids have positive experiences with digital media, “not on what they can’t,” Genachowski concluded. Exactly, Mr. Chairman. Last July ConnectSafely made exactly that point in “Online Safety 3.0: Empower and Protecting Youth”: “To be relevant to young people, its intended beneficiaries, Net safety needs to respect youth agency, embrace the technologies they love, use social media in the instruction process, and address the positive reasons for safe use of social technology. It’s not safety from bad outcomes but safety for positive ones.”

Related links

* “Multimedia in the Classroom – The Future Is Here” a video in which New Jersey middle school teacher Marianne Malmstrom (as avatar Knowclue Kidd) describes and illustrates what a powerful teaching tool machinima (like animated video, cinema+machine, or moving screen capture) is for young new-media producers and sharers (Generation Video?)
*I Need My Teachers to Learn,” a musical plea for 21st-century learning from students’ perspective, written, performed, and produced by educator and tech integration specialist Kevin Honeycutt
’21st-century statecraft’ at home and school,” which I blogged because inspired by Secretary of State Clinton’s vision for Internet freedom and call for creating “norms of behavior among states.” She got me thinking about how we need to start here at home, in homes and classrooms, promoting and modeling norms of good behavior online as well as offline, something that the FCC, FTC, and Department of Education are now addressing!
* How to teach Net safety, ethics, security? Blend them in!
* The full text of Chairman Genachowski’s speech

Leave a comment