Programmers, Educators Collaborate for a More “Participatory” Web

May 20, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Students

Last month, Mozilla, Facebook, and the Family Online Safety Institute partnered with the MacArthur Foundation to host a series of events that promote digital literacy under the banner “Project:Connect.” The kickoff event was a daylong hackathon—a coordinated time for developers, programmers, and educators to collaborate on software or web-based projects.

The Project:Connect hackathon specifically encouraged participants to create social apps, badging programs, and learning curricula, all charged with the responsibility of promoting a more “participatory” web. The goal of the event was to design new ways for youth to become active members of their worlds—both online and offline. The event was held May 9, and sponsors awarded $48,000 in prizes to winners.

“Our goal today is both to launch the broader set of activities to have a core set of people in New York who really get this work and to begin to create the first set of apps and curriculum of programs that we can put on the Family Online Safety Institute platform for good sites so people can see that these are thing to try to also develop and create,” said the MacArthur Foundation’s Director of Education Connie Yowell.

One of the judges for the event included Cynthia Germanotta, mother of Lady Gaga and cofounder of the Born This Way Foundation. Germanotta explained why events like the Project:Connect hackathon are so crucial for kids today. “Youth live online so it’s important for them to understand how to use it wisely and productively and for good,” she told Jessica Roy of the New York Observer’s Betabeat blog. “The earlier you can make that happen, the better.”

Germanotta and her fellow hackathon judges awarded prizes to both technical and nontechnical teams in the following three areas:

  • Social tools for social good: enabling people to create a “culture of kindness” that enhances civic participation
  • Social tools that enable control of information: helping people control their personal information and manage online privacy and security
  • Social tools that enable literacy: helping people build, access, and understand components of the Web.

Winning projects included Cyberstoop, which connects teens who are looking for free WiFi with businesses that donate connectivity or loan technology, such as laptops or iPads. This program placed in the “social good” category, and allows teens to search locally by ZIP code or neighborhood. Other projects, such as the “control of information” category winner That Could Be Your Sister, focused more on creating online communities that support and nurture young people to be engaged members of society who care about promoting social good instead of being apathetic bystanders. For a full list of hackathon winners, check out this recent blog post by technology journalist Larry Magid.

Winning social tools will also be featured on the Family Online Safety Institute’s A Platform for Good, a site dedicated to helping parents, teachers, and students “connect, share and do good.” “It is a shared belief among the event sponsors, Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) being one of them, that technology can advance a dialogue about what it means to participate responsibly in a digital world,” said Project Manager at the Family Online Safety Institute Nicole Le in a recent post on the Platform for Good blog.

According to Yowell, last week’s event will be followed by a series of others held at museums and libraries across the country, all of which will encourage and develop civic engagement and digital literacy in youth and their families.

Executive Director of Mozilla Mark Surman described why events like these are part of Mozilla’s mission to cultivate a richer online environment. “The beauty of the Web is that when you want to make it better, you don’t have to sit back and wait for someone to fix it for you. You can build it yourself,” he said. “We’re thrilled to come together with such great partners to help people make the Web what they want it to be.”