Why Teach The Web?

:: mozilla, TeachTheWeb, english

By: Andre Alves Garzia

Digital Inclusion

There is a lot of talk about digital inclusion in Brazil and in general people are supportive about it but we don’t always stop to think about why it is important. There are those that think that digital inclusion is only a way to add value to your resumé so to become a more interesting hire, I disagree with this notion because I believe that digital inclusion goes way beyond professional opportunities.

For a real digital inclusion we need to talk about a bit about web literacy. In Portuguese we have two distinct concepts to use when talking about literacy. We call alphabetization the techniques of reading and writing and literacy the social practice involving those techniques. Someone who is alphabetized might not have literacy the same way an knowledgeable person might not be wise. The current web situation is similar to an old epoch when alphabetization was not wide spread and literacy was even less accessible. A time where scribes had domain over technique and common folk where unable to preserve their voices to future generations. The great majority of people experience a disconnected situation regarding their web usage, they are able to use part of the web but are unable to truly understand what is happening behind the scenes and they do not possess the techniques to put their own creations online.

The Web is the only mass communication media where the public is able to distribute their own content.

While on TV, radio and press, the democratic and accessible distribution of content is not possible. On the Web such distribution is a cybercafe away. Even without your own computer, you can still interact and benefit from the Web from libraries, schools and cybercafes. Teaching people how to use the Web both as readers and content producers is an essential factor for participation in the 21st century. Imagine living in a world where people knew how to read but only 10% of the people knew how to write. This is the kind of world we live now regarding Web usage. Knowing the basics about writing is important even if you don’t have aspirations of becoming a bestseller author immortalized in classic collections for the next couple centuries. In this brief article we’ll talk a bit about some interesting consequences of web literacy.

Consumers Become Content Producers

From the moment people realize that there is a Web beyond Facebook and YouTUBE, a whole new world of opportunities appears. Stuff such as understanding that not all online content is true (aka understanding about credibility online); learning to spot when the content might be harmful to you or your machine (aka understanding about security, privacy, scams, etc); discovering new content sources and opportunities for online learning and going through the infinite number of new possible human relationships established all around the world because on the Web physical distance no longer matter as much as it did in the physical world.

This all becomes possible once the users understand more about the working and usage of the World Wide Web. Once they learn how to make the Web then we have even more magical consequences:

A Web made by everyone for everyone!

The Web starts to look more like the people producing the content. The Web is a kaleidoscope that takes form from collective action. The people who were only consuming media now start producing content and their voices, experiences, wishes, start to shape a part of the Web. This is how we build a more diverse World Wide Web.

Local Content

Once everyone is placing their voices online we start to have more local content. Sometimes what is relevant for you, your neighborhood or your social group, is not what is being broadcast on the TV or Radio. In a community of web makers, local content rises up and instead of simply consuming content produced elsewhere, we start seeing things closer to us which affect our daily lives.

Local content is primordial for online civic participation. From claiming your rights to denouncing irregularities, from advertising your new business or even telling stores about the local folklore. Creating local content is not only about the present but also about the memory preservation of the region. It is about what happened, what is happening, and what we want to happen.

Only when people place their voices online that the rest of the world can listen to what they have to say.

Creating Your Own Solutions (aka DIY)

Someone who knows how to cook doesn’t need to go out everyday to eat or depend on someone to prepare their food. Someone who knows how to make web stuff doesn’t necessarily requires third-party systems to build and distribute their content or hire a web designer every time they want to place something online. Knowing how to cook has not eliminated the restaurant business just like knowing how to do web stuff will not eliminate the jobs of professional web developers and designers.

Solving little problems is an important part of being the master of your own online fate. Its about agency and being able to craft something that solves your needs. Solving simple tasks such as:

  • Crafting a small contact page for your company intranet;
  • Building that gallery page with photos and videos of the new family member and inviting your friends to the party;
  • Advertising your own business and establishing a web presence;
  • Creating a simple online form to schedule clients on your new beauty saloon;

There are uncountable issues/tasks on our daily lives in which the solution may pass through building a simple creation on the web.

Even in situations where it is necessary (or desired) to hire a web professional, you will be in a much better position to discuss the situation, and its requirements, if you understand how the web works. Its like going to a car mechanic knowing how engine works. It is a really different experience than going there without any prior knowledge.

Opportunities for Life Transformation

The web holds more potential for generating opportunities than any other mass media communication channel or knowledge repository available. Online courses are a way to improve your resumé and get your first job. Common interest groups might be the beginning of a new business opportunity. Many couples met online for the first time. We can’t tell what opportunities will be available to everyone but we can tell that everyone that decides to jump in the web discovers a whole new world.

Its like learning to read and write and then being able to read books, send instant messages, understand contracts and leave tales for future generations. The Web contains a fountain of knowledge, an archipelago of possible relationships and interconnections that no other medium has. Its on your computer, your smartphone, your neighborhood cybercafe, your school lab and on TV. The possibilities of the Web can’t be summarized on a simple article because the Web is our own creation and like us it is in constant mutation and evolution.

Teach It Forward

The coolest thing is that people can learn a lot about the web from each other. There is no need for bachelor courses (nothing against bachelor courses, they are great), you just need to sit together with someone who knows a bit more than you and exchange experiences and knowledge. The informal learning system created by Mozilla known as Webmaker teaches the Web using informal learning workshops and participatory processes where mentors work side by side with learners teaching and learning new concepts. Today, you may be a learner at an event, tomorrow, you might be mentoring a new participant. Passing knowledge forward and creating an informal distributed learning network is like building a Web out of people, linking each other through their knowledge sharing. There is no better way of learning the Web than acting like it.

Join the Webmaker events in your region or host your own. If there is a Maker Party near you be sure not to miss it. Keep an eye for the Mozilla Clubs which are spaces where these informal workshops happen on a recurring basis. Our learning method known as Teach Like Mozilla can be adapted and used in the most diverse contexts. There are many cool initiatives happening all around the world. You can be a part of it and help us build a Web made by everyone and for everyone.

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

You can reach out to me on Twitter, or Mastodon, or Secure Scuttlebutt