Raising digitally savvy, responsible citizens
By Zam Karim
Tuesday March 8, 2011
One company is working to turn websurfers into critical thinkers and responsible Internet users.
Contrary to popular belief, Wikipedia may not be the best place for anyone looking for verified information online to surf to.
Instead he or she should go to the source, such as the official ministry websites for whatever information they want, according to Dr Abu Hasan Ismail, CEO of Prestariang Systems Sdn Bhd.
This is one of the questions in the company's IC Citizen Certification programme for netiquette (short for Internet etiquette), which surprisingly many have failed to answer correctly.
The programme—touted as offering the world's first certification in training and examination that promotes appropriate use of the Internet—was developed in response to the growing need for more responsible and safety-conscious digitally-savvy citizens.
"With the increasing number of news reports around the globe headlining the consequences of not using the Internet appropriately, we believe there is a need to teach Web users to think, as well as understand the ethical consequences of their choices when they are online," Abu Hasan said.
He said this involves teaching users to be critical thinkers, who are able to analyse the information they see online, to not take everything at face value, and to always delve further into what is true and what is not.
Take Wikipedia, for example. The facts on the free online encyclopaedia are gathered from various sources—known as crowd sourcing—and may not have been verified for accuracy or validity, he said. It is a good place to look, but the user should not stop there; he or she needs to dig deeper into the information that has been found.
The Internet is a useful source of knowledge, yes. It has become ubiquitous in societies and allows people to collaborate on so many levels. But like everything else, the Web has its negative side.
"These would be hackers and phishing schemes, plagiarism, cyberbullying taken to extremes where the victim is mentally scarred or commits suicide, and other dark corners," said Abu Hasan. "Never assume that an action, however small, in cyberspace will not reverberate in the physical world."
The IC Certification programme teaches people the consequences of throwing caution to the wind while in cyberspace.
Abu Hasan said that a common analogy for the Internet is that it is a highway. And Internet users are car drivers using the highway to get to their destinations.
Just like a real-world highway, he said, there are rules to follow. "The driver should learn all the rules before he can be on the road," he added.
The programme imparts an Acceptable-Usage Policy (AUP), which lays down rules of acceptable behaviour—or netiquette—for society, that must be adhered to when operating digital devices and on the Internet.
It is a two-day course made up of several modules - e-Access, e-Literate, e-Rules, e-Safety, e-Interaction & Collaboration, e-Enterprise, and e-Accountability.
It also covers basic computing and teaches wordprocessing, spreadsheet use, report presentation, and other applications, as well as how to protect against spyware, hackers, phishing schemes, identity theft and cyberstalkers.
At the end of the course, the participants will take an exam; they must answer 45 questions in 60 minutes.
Several successful pilots of the programme have been done nationwide in institutions of higher learning and several government agencies, and it is being marketed overseas as well, according to Abu Hasan.
"We have partnered with the US-based Certiport Inc, one of the world's leading IT education companies," he said.
"Certiport will not only help us market the programme through its network of 12,000 centres in 130 countries, but will also help Prestariang fine-tune the course to better comply with world-class standards."
"Our partner was at first surprised to see a certification course in netiquette, and told us it is a first. And it's being developed in Malaysia," Abu Hasan added.
According to him, although netiquette is a global issue and the certification programme was developed with that in mind, Prestariang is still tinkering with it to make it even more suitable for various societies.
One bugbear is pornography. It's a big issue in some countries, but not elsewhere. The programme would need to take such things into consideration.
Prestariang is also working on translating the programme into other languages, such as Arabic. Currently, it is available in English and Bahasa Malaysia.
Also, Abu Hasan would like to reiterate that although the programme sounds like it is targeted at the youth, it isn't. "It is relevant to parents, teachers, employers... everyone and anyone, in fact," he said.
He said it will help the younger generation learn to make good and ethical decisions, as well as how they should behave online.
It will also assist parents and teachers to understand current trends in the digital world, so that they can be more effective mentors to the young.
"Today's youth are natural collaborators and more tech-savvy than their parents, but that does not mean parents should leave their kids on their own in cyberspace.
"If it is wrong in the real world, then it is also wrong in the digital world. Parents must monitor their children's activities online, and equip themselves for the task," Abu Hasan said.
Now's the time
Abu Hasan believes that this netiquette programme is important because the country is striving to increase its broadband penetration rate.
One of the initiatives by the Government is that one million laptop computers be given free to poor students in secondary schools throughout the country, especially those in the rural areas.
And with the Government's guarantee that Malaysia will not censor the Internet, there is a need to prepare the people for cyberspace.
"If the students go online without knowing the full consequences, there may be problems," Abu Hasan said, adding that the students would benefit from attending a netiquette programme before getting the computers.
"It would be a good move and the Government would be acting proactively," he added. Abu Hasan declined to say how much the course would cost per participant. "It's being discussed now," he said.
What the IC Citizen modules teach:
e-Access TEACHES netizens how to participate responsibly in an electronic society. Also highlights the various digital inclusive programs and touch points, such as libraries, schools and community broadband centres.
e-Literate FOCUSES on how to use technology innovatively. Shows how technology can be used to find and aggregate credible resources and materials. Other topics include online discussions, chatrooms, online forums and blogs.
e-Rules IT IS vital for netizens to know the legal rights and restrictions gover-ning technology use. This module helps them understand the legal implications and consequences of digital moves they make, such as installing pirated software, engaging in plagiarism and intellectual-property infringement.
e-Safety PROTECTING one's Internet devices is not only a matter of personal responsibility but also necessary for the protection of the e-community. Topics cover antiviruses, firewalls, software patches, data backups, preventing identity theft, and more.
e-Interaction & collaboration Mobile phones, e-mail, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have changed the way we communicate and interact. This module educates netizens on how to behave in the social network and other online platforms.
e-Enterprise ONLINE transactions are becoming the norm, and everyone with ac-cess to the Internet should know his or her rights when buying or selling goods or services online. This ensures they recognise scams and unscrupulous sellers or buyers.
e-Care NETIZENS need to be aware of the physical dangers that are inherent in overusing technology - such as Internet addiction, carpel tunnel syndrome, poor posture, repetitive strain injuries, sleeping pat-tern disorder, eye strain, tendonitis and musculoskeletal disorders.
e-Accountability TEACHES netizens about the privileges and rights of all users on the Web and the behaviour expectations that come with these. It is easy now to locate and download material from the Internet. However, netizens must know what is appropriate and inappropriate, and what is legal and illegal.