Technology & Science·Analysis

Dan Misener: Merit badges for online privacy? Mozilla soon might give you one

On Friday, the browser boy scouts at Mozilla will unveil their Web Literacy Standard, a set of online tools to help explain internet privacy and how the digital world really works. It promises to be a great tool for teachers and learners alike, Dan Misener says.

Maker of public-spirited Firefox browser wants to set new standard for web literacy

German web users attend a Crypto Party, a workshop on digital self-defence organized by the Pirate Party in Berlin earlier this month. Later this week, Mozilla, the company that developed the Firefox browser, plans to unveil its own online workshops and standards around web privacy. (Thomas Peter / Reuters)

Growing up, I was never a Scout.

I never earned merit badges for canoeing, or pioneering, or fire safety.

But soon, I may be able to earn badges for "web mechanics" or "online privacy." Not from Scouts Canada, but through a series of projects by Mozilla, makers of the open-source Firefox web browser.

This Friday, the Mozilla Foundation plans to unveil a beta version of its Web Literacy Standard.

Basically, it's a list of skills and competencies they believe are important for anyone who wants to read, write and interact with others on the web.

We often talk about "digital literacy" or "web literacy" -- especially in the context of children and formal education -- but it's not always clear exactly what those terms mean. Mozilla wants to clarify.

According to project lead Doug Belshaw, there's great work going on in the field of web literacy. He points to online tools, programs in libraries and schools, and informal education through non-profit groups.

"There's so many fantastic groups doing some awesome work," he says, "but it's all in silos and it's not joined up."

Belshaw wants the Web Literacy Standard to be "something [these groups] can use as a sense check. Something which they can align their work with, and know that they are building up towards something that is bigger than their organization."

A tool for teachers

An alpha version of the standard was published earlier this year and lists a number of web competencies. Some are technical, such as learning HTML, CSS, scripting and remixing web resources. Others focus on soft skills in areas like credibility ("critically evaluating information found on the web") and privacy ("examining the consequences of sharing data online").

Belshaw hopes the standard will be useful to a wide audience, including both teachers and learners. Teachers can use it as a guide when developing curriculum or designing classroom activities.

And for learners, he says, "it gives them a map. It gives them some kind of chart for their progress. They can see what it is that they need to do to get better."

Moreover, the project ties in to another Mozilla initiative, called OpenBadges, which Belshaw says "attempts to credential all those skills which fall between the cracks."

Through its Webmaker initiative, Mozilla already offers badges like "Hyperlinker" and "Div Master."

At this point, it's difficult to tell how effective Mozilla's efforts will be.

Personally, I'm optimistic about projects like this, especially when they have the potential to help teachers build better courses, or give learners a useful roadmap for becoming more web literate.

At Spark, we regularly hear from teachers and parents hungry for resources about online literacy.

But creating new standards is tough, and I suspect the success of Mozilla's standard will hinge on how widely it's adopted.

Belshaw hopes collaboration will help.

"This is a beta, which means that we're putting it out there for public consultation," he says.

"We want some feedback, and we want people to have a look at it to say what's good, what's bad, and what could be changed, and it is very much a community-focused project."

Personally, I look forward to earning my "online privacy" badge.