The Web’s founder calls for action, so where is education?

Sir Tim Berners-LeeThe creator of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, one of the giants of our time, just looked back on the Web’s twenty-five years of history and is not entirely pleased.  That’s because the Web is built deeply into everyday life, and is under threat:

Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it…

Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture.

Which threats?  The list includes: surveillance by security agencies; obsolete copyright laws and overreach by IP owners;  balkanization of the Web by corporations and by nations.

Sir Tim and the Web We Want group are calling for a digital bill of rights, a kinda of Magna Carta for netizens (not aristocrats).

All of which is terrific, and I support it.  But my question now is: where is education?  How are colleges, universities, K-12 schools, and cultural heritage institutions responding?

  • Will the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) call for strengthening the open Web, and ask its member faculty for support?  Will the National Education Association (NEA) ask its K-12 teachers for the same?
  • Will the United States Department of Education present thoughts for this digital bill of rights?
  • The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is keenly committed to linking liberal education to good citizenship.  Will they ask participating campuses to help students learn the emerging world of digitally-based politics?
  • Will educational technologists and academic computing leaders help their communities participate in, and defend, the open Web?
  • The threat list I mentioned above is very familiar to some of us.  Will educators learn it, and who will help them?

I can mention other organizations, and I leave that as an exercise for the reader, should you be so interested.  That’s not the point, really.  The main thing is for the vast sector of education – teachers, support staff, administrators, students, education policymakers – to reflect on the Web after 25 years, and to see if they really want it to continue.

Do you think we will?

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8 Responses to The Web’s founder calls for action, so where is education?

  1. Jim Groom says:

    I’ve been writing a lot about this in more oblique ways recently. In particular, how universities abdicated their early role in defining web culture. Seems to me so many who claim to champion the open web are rather defeatist when it comes to education having any role in helping preserve an open web. I, for one, think it has to be built into the curriculum, it has to be part of what we do, and that’s why Domain of One’s own is far more compelling than anything elseout there. period. While folks chase the MOOC tail or give away iPads, at UMW we are trying to model the simple fact that students and faculty can become theri own, independent node on the open web. A domain, a few open source applications and voila! The web’s not dead, it’s just fighting tooth and nail with a broader malaise around what’s possible in higher ed.


  2. “it has to be built into the curriculum” – great idea.
    And bravo to Domain of One’s Own!


  3. redbaiters says:

    What’s interesting is that according this TechDirt article HTML 5.1 may very well have DRM built into the standard, which serves to qualify a lot of Berners-Lee recent campaigning for a “free web.” The implications of DRM backed into our browsers is chilling, at least according to the quotes in that TechDirt article:

    A Web where you cannot cut and paste text; where your browser can’t “Save As…” an image; where the “allowed” uses of saved files are monitored beyond the browser; where JavaScript is sealed away in opaque tombs; and maybe even where we can no longer effectively “View Source” on some sites, is a very different Web from the one we have today. It’s a Web where user agents – browsers — must navigate a nest of enforced duties every time they visit a page. It’s a place where the next Tim Berners-Lee or Mozilla, if they were building a new browser from scratch, couldn’t just look up the details of all the “Web” technologies. They’d have to negotiate and sign compliance agreements with a raft of DRM providers just to be fully standards-compliant and interoperable.

    Some real web gothic, right there 🙂


  4. msolpersson says:

    What idealistic thinking Berners-Lee has when he says: “Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture.”

    This sits up there with world peace, free education for all and a world with no poverty!

    Personally, I think and work with a large majority of educationalists that view the open web as open enough – the politics driving it is not a concern for many. It’s like opening a tap and expecting clean water to flow – not thinking about how it gets to you in the first place. I think the view of access to the internet in education has been similar to this up until now. We need to shut the water off to suddenly discover that we need, want and can’t live without it and then ask Qs about how to get it back 🙂

    Thanks Bryan for your thoughtful and thought provoking posts!


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