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TechTank

Why the U.S. needs its own Get Online Week

Stuart N. Brotman

This month saw the U.S. celebrate two annual events—Crochet Week and National Bubble Week. Over in Europe, the focus was digital and much more impactful. From March 14-20, the seventh annual Get Online Week took place with a wealth of activities aimed at reducing the digital skills gap and promoting jobs that utilize information and communication technologies (ICT).

Get Online Week raises awareness about online identities, cybersecurity, ICT skills, and available tools so that European citizens can become more confident Internet users. Here are some examples from individual countries that illustrate the various approaches that were taken with bottom-up planning within local areas:

  • In Ireland, a program for marginalized citizens who may have limited access to the Internet and computers (e.g., senior citizens, people with disabilities) was organized to teach participants how to use the Internet safely.
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  • In Estonia, public workshops were conducted to provide information about secure, high-quality public online services. In partnership with the association of Lithuanian banks, a number of activities were organized: webinars on financial literacy and data privacy, e-banking services, and direct meetings with experts in public libraries and schools.
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  • In Italy, a project called Pane e Internet (PeI) established networks devoted to digital competence and inclusion activities. These networks were coordinated by municipalities and based around local libraries, schools and other entities. PeI also organized digital culture events devoted to safe Internet and digital literacy courses.
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  • Albania’s Institute of Science invited high school students from different districts of the country to a presentation about digital jobs and platforms that offer training opportunities in online social networks.
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  • After the success of the coding workshop last year, Germany invited young students to learn coding. Latvia also targeted youth with various workshops on cybersecurity, e-commerce skills and employability. Croatians worked on their media literacy through audio and video production in collaboration with student and public media.
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  • Young people in Poland learned how to use social networks and other online services to build their professional image. Adults learned where and how they can buy goods and services online, and where they can find information on their consumer rights.
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  • In Hungary, the Comnet Foundation organized a roundtable discussion with ICT experts, teachers, system administrators, web designers, and online marketing specialists to promote ICT careers.
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  • Similar Get Online Week activities were organized in Denmark, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, UK, Cyprus, Portugal, and Romania.

Given the common set of digital use issues on both sides of the Atlantic, the U.S. has much to learn from what is now an extensive track record of success for Get Online Week. The design of Get Online Week is also well suited to adaptation by individual states and large metropolitan areas. With our states and cities acting as 24/7 digital laboratories, we could stimulate collective teaching and learning about improving the Internet.

The European model for Get Online Week is based on extensive public-private partnerships for events, which makes budgets manageable and the programmatic activities both workable and measureable. This is another aspect that deserves emulation at home, too.

In an age of hacking, cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying, a U.S. Get Online Week would be an opportune time to organize local conversations about identifying and combating these Internet safety threats. The digital divide has become less about broadband network availability—now ubiquitous in all 50 states and the U.S. territories—and more about gaps in digital literacy, skills, and trust.

Celebrating crochet and bubbles had a good long ride, but it’s time to devote significant national attention to online activities that affect our lives more profoundly as students, workers, consumers, and citizens. An American Get Online Week is a concept ripe for launching next year.

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