Mozilla.org Mozilla's Doug Belshaw says web literacy involves "anything you access through a web browser."

As part of its ongoing mission to “build a better Internet,” free software foundation Mozilla released the beta version of its web literacy standard Friday, complete with digital merit badges for things like online privacy and HTML coding.

According to its wiki, the standard includes all the skills and competencies people need to “read, write and participate” on the web. Project lead Doug Belshaw said it’s part of Mozilla’s goal of closing the gap between those consuming content online and those producing it.

“Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet,” he said. “And you can’t effectively shape your experience on the web unless you’re literate.”

OK. But what exactly does web literacy mean?

“We’ve tried to define it as broadly as possible,” Belshaw said. “We’re going to say anything you access through a web browser constitutes web literacy.”

The standard began in 2012 as an outgrowth of Mozilla’s WebMaker project, a suite of tools aimed at teaching people to make web content, ranging from animated .gifs to simple web pages. The organization wanted to clarify precisely what skills needed teaching, and the idea of a standard was born.

Belshaw hopes the standard, as a kind of ad-hoc curriculum, will help unite companies, organizations and educators working on web literacy, including sites like DIY.org and Codecademy.com.

“This is a way of co-creating a map with the community,” he said. “So instead of them feeling like they have to do the whole deal, they can focus very much on their part, knowing there’s a map of the territory out there.”

So far, that map includes 16 different competencies grouped under three themes: exploring, building and connecting. It includes everything from online privacy and security, to community etiquette and coding with HTML and CSS.

“It’s not just about coding,” Belshaw stressed, although he said it is time to move away from the idea that programming is something done exclusively by programmers.

“You’ve got to know what’s going on under the hood,” he said. “If you look at the source code of a website, it shouldn’t just be gibberish. That’s a 21st century literacy.”

The literacy standard is tied to another Mozilla effort called OpenBadges, an open-source certification platform. Anyone can issue a badge, and the data contained in it will tell others what someone had to do to earn it, and offer evidence of their skills.

“That could be a link to a transcript or anything that goes on the web,” Belshaw said. “For example, if someone has a badge for public speaking, you could actually see them in action on YouTube.”

The OpenBadge system is an example of one of the competencies included in the literacy standard: credibility. It gives users the skills and the tools to evaluate how trustworthy online information is.

“It’s about creating a web where people can check the veracity the thing that’s just been put in front of them,” Belshaw said.

In keeping with its open source principles, the literacy standard is far from complete. Friday marked the unveiling of the beta version, and the next step is to get as much feedback as possible before the official standard is launched in October.

After that, the sky’s the limit, Belshaw says.

“It might sound like a huge amount of hubris, but this is the way stuff gets changed,” he said. “We have no idea what it would be like in a world where six billion people know a little bit of code.”

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