Connected literacy

To be empowered in the connected home, we will need to learn certain skills and competencies so that we can fully read, write and participate in these technologies.

Building on web literacy

Over the last few years, there has been a lot of research and advocacy around the skills required to be literate on the internet. Notably, this web literacy is not just about "learning to code," but rather how to become a critical consumer, contributor and participant online.

As a champion of user empowerment on the web, the Mozilla Foundation developed the Web Literacy Map to better define these skills and create curricula and programs to foster them.

Web Literacy Map

Mozilla's Web Literacy Map1

The Web Literacy Map contains three main elements:

  • Reading on the web is a critical skill for engaging content online. They can be viewed as “exploring,” or “navigating the web.” Just as traditional reading requires knowledge of the text and concepts of print, reading online requires a basic understanding of web mechanics.
  • Writing on the web enables one to build and create content to make meaning. New genres that blend texts and tools have emerged on the open web and are often referred to as making. Learning through making involves constructing new content.
  • Participating on the web includes connecting with the communities that share, build, and sustain meaningful content online. A healthy online community requires knowledge of how to create, publish and link content, and an understanding of security in order to keep content, identity, and systems safe.

Today as connectivity enters everyday objects and our physical environment in new ways, we'll examine how web literacy can offer a framework for understanding the skills and competencies needed to be empowered in the connected home and generally with IoT.

Some of these will have a direct counterpart for the home, some might not apply at all, others yet are likely to at least lead to better questions. Let's go through them one at a time.

Reading the connected home

The reading strand of web literacy is about navigation, web mechanics, search, credibility and security.

Here we look at those elements in more detail to see if they yield interesting questions or areas of research for the home:

  • In a connected environment, it will be important to recognize common visual cues in digital services and connected objects. Maybe there will standardized symbols or indicators on the objects in your home that explain what's happening to your data, what's expected of you, and how to turn the objects on and off.
  • A user will want to read, evaluate and manipulate the data in their home. This entails an understanding of the role algorithms play in creating and managing content, and even creating and modifying those algorithms to suit local needs.
  • Search will take on different nuances in the connected home. How will you find real-time or time-sensitive information about and in your home? How will you discover information and resources to help you navigate your home, to fix things and solve problems effectively? Perhaps search will even encompass datasets from the neighborhood or city.
  • No doubt users will have to compare and contrast information from a number of sources. Maybe a smart thermostat gives one reading while the connected windows tell you another. How will you read that information, compare sources and make informed judgments? How will you know which manufacturers or service providers to trust? How will you investigate those sources further given the affordances of connected physical objects?
  • What are the ways to protect yourself from scams and phishing in your connected home? Where will you manage your accounts and logins securely, not to mention knowing how to encrypt your objects properly?
  • Lastly, how will you be able to access your objects preferences and settings to ensure you have the level of security you desire?

Writing the connected home

The "writing" strand of web literacy is about composing, remixing, designing, coding/scripting, and accessibility.

Again, we'll look at each element for some potential insights:

  • How will you identify content and data that you can modify? What will be the techniques and conditions needed to combine this data to create something new? How will you properly cite and reference original content or other data sets and services?2
  • What options will you have to change the style and layout of your connected environment? What mechanisms can you use to improve your user experience through feedback and iteration? What will you be able to make and generate that can be used in an environment-agnostic way, say for example when you move between homes or into other settings?
  • In the connected home, APIs will be quite important. How will you query APIs and how will you build on top of them? How will you learn about and apply scripting frameworks effectively?
  • There will also be repercussions in design. How will you evaluate different interfaces and understand what will best suit you or others you are caring for? How do you improve accessibility for your loved ones through the usage and maintenance of your home?

Participating in the connected home

The "participating" strand of web literacy is about sharing, collaborating, participation, privacy and open practices.

Taking a closer look:

  • In your home, how will you create and use a system to distribute content to others? How can you contribute to and find content for the benefit of others? What techniques will we use to elicit peer feedback, as well as understand our desired audiences to make relevant contributions ourselves? Importantly, how will you identify when it is safe to contribute content?
  • Collaboration in your home is also interesting. This could be doing a chore together, or doing something together for entertainment, etc. How will you choose what platforms and tools to use for the particular collaboration at hand? How will you co-create?
  • What will be the notifications that you'll configure to keep up-to-date with your collaborators, or with the communities you care about? How will you develop and articulate shared expectations and outcomes? Or work towards a shared goal using synchronous and asynchronous tools?
  • These skills tie directly in with privacy as well, including knowing how to advocate for privacy as a value and a right in the networked world.
  • To be literate in connected spaces, you'll want to explain the ways in which unsolicited third parties can track you across devices and environments. How will you control metadata shared online, or identify the rights retained and removed in user agreements? Also, there will definitely be a need to manage online identities.
  • Perhaps essential in all of these skills in an understanding of how and why to advocate for healthy ecosystems and things that work for you, on your terms.

As connected homes come online, these might be some of the skills and competencies required to be empowered in these new environments. These questions might also provide interesting avenues of design and technical research, as well as considerations for future lesson plans and courses.

1. See Mozilla Web Literacy Map: learning.mozilla.org/web-literacy
2. As an example, what would the reference look like for a digital artwork in a connected picture frame like the Electric Object?

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