Creating a Digitally Fluent Workfoce

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation hosted a panel discussion on April 1 titled, Public Policy for Innovation in the Digital Age: Creating a Digitally Fluent Workforce. Educators, technology policy experts, researchers, students and professors attended this fifth event of the Public Policy for Innovation in the Digital Age series, which featured speakers from Google, Microsoft, The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

Panelists discussed the importance of improving the role of digital literacy and computer science in the K-12 curriculum. They discussed the collaboration between the private sector, the public sector, K-12 schools and institutions of higher education to create innovative programming to address the digital literacy gaps. Additionally, panelists discussed digital fluency in the workforce, and the strong demand for computer science and technology skills in the job market today. The panelists defined digital literacy along a spectrum. Basic knowledge and safe usage of technology is at one end of the spectrum, while the other end is defined by innovation, in which innovators utilize computer programming skills and algorithmic thinking to create in the digital space.

Sarah Holland, Senior Public Policy Analyst at Google, described digital literacy as a universal skill that now applies to virtually everyone. She noted that it requires leveraging existing technology to create and advance new technology. Holland said that digital literacy also means using the internet safely and responsibly, “…security is only as good as the end user, and it is important for people to have basic skills to protect them from malware…they need to know how to use technology in an ethical and responsible way.”

Dr. Jane Margolis, Senior Researcher at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, discussed the significant lack of diversity in the field of computer science. She noted that the underrepresentation of women and people of color in the computer science field stems in part from racial and income inequality. “Relatively few African American and Latino/a high school students receive the kind of institutional encouragement, educational opportunities, and preparation needed for them to choose computer science as a field of study and profession,” she said in her 2011 book Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing, and underscored during her comments on the panel. Margolis’ research showed that many schools were “aglow” with technology and computers, but lacked teachers with the training to instruct computer science. This “technology-rich and curriculum-poor” environment can be created when money gets “thrown” at schools without appropriate companion efforts to integrate it meaningfully into the curriculum.

In response, Dr. Todd Ullah, Ed. D., Administrator of Instruction at LAUSD, discussed how digital fluency is a key piece in LAUSD’s strategy to make content accessible to all learners. “The LAUSD district has 80,000 employees, 545,000 students, and is the largest unified school district in the country…what happens in LA has an impact nationally,” said Ullah. The LAUSD began the Common Core State Standards to re-define education in the classroom. The standards encourage students to base arguments on evidence, and to look at claims and defend them across disciplines. As part of the District’s efforts to integrate technology into instruction and incorporate 21st century skills, it has launched the Common Core Technology Project. The Project is a new 1:1 tablet initiative that aims to provide devices to every child in the district.

Lori Harnick, General Manager of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Microsoft, discussed Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, which enables engineers to volunteer to teach computer science in high schools alongside in-class teachers. Started in just several schools in Seattle, the program now has almost 300 volunteers teaching across the U.S. Harnick said that schools have seen very high interest and excitement for computer science programming.

However, there are still major barriers to instituting more computer science courses in public school curricula. Harnick explained that today only 19 states and Washington, D.C. count computer science courses for math and science credits. This means that even if students are taking AP computer science courses, those courses are not fully counted towards graduation. The panelists agreed that education policy has to recognize the importance of computer science in the K-12 curriculum.


New Framework Debuts for Preventing Technology-Facilitated Exploitation of Children

The Digital Economy Task Force– sponsored by Thomson Reuters and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) –released its report on the emerging digital economy and recommendations for policy makers, financial institutions, law enforcement and others to encourage its growth while preventing the sexual exploitation of children and other criminal activity. Task force leaders, including Vice Chair John Villasenor of the Brookings Institution and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, released the report at the National Press Club on March 4 and then presented the findings to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on March 5.

The Digital Economy Task Force (DETF), which includes leading experts from government, the private sector, academia, and think tanks, was formed to help address a vitally important question: How can we foster the many benefits that today’s information technologies can offer, while simultaneously preventing those same technologies from being misused to exploit children?

Co-chaired by Ernie Allen, President/CEO of ICMEC, and Steve Rubley, Managing Director of the Government Segment of Thomson Reuters, the DETF worked to identify a regulatory framework that fosters the growth of the digital economy, including digital currencies and alternate payment systems, while addressing anonymizing technology and the growth of “deep web” marketplaces that allow illegal commerce, including money laundering, narcotics, weapons, stolen goods, human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, and more.

“The digital economy and anonymizing technology hold great promise and societal value, from offering financial tools to the world’s unbanked, to protecting dissidents and journalists from unjust government reprisal,” said Rubley. “But these benefits are clouded by those who use the digital economy to commit illegal acts. While these are complicated issues, we believe that a regulatory framework can grow the digital economy – and confront those who seek to exploit it for illicit purposes.”

Recommendations from the report include: bolstering research into the intersection of the digital economy and illegal activities; increasing investment in law enforcement training and investigative techniques; enhancing cooperation between governmental agencies; the promotion of a national and global dialogue on policy; and more.

“The central challenge is Internet anonymity. There is an emerging ‘dark web’ that enables users to pay for their illegal transactions using digital currencies,” said Allen. “There is a difference between privacy and anonymity. We simply cannot create an environment in which traffickers and child exploiters can operate online with no risk of being identified unless they make a mistake.”

The DETF aims to educate the public and work collaboratively across stakeholder groups, including government agencies, law enforcement, corporations, academia, public and non-profit agencies, as well as key industry players. Task force members were selected from organizations including, but not limited to:

  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Bitcoin Foundation
  • The Brookings Institution
  • Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA
  • Mercatus Center at George Mason University
  • The Tor Project, Inc.
  • United States Secret Service

The DETF launched in August 2013 and developed working groups to address the sweeping impact of these technologies from fostering financial inclusion to combating illicit activities. The focus areas for these groups included safeguarding human rights, regulation, inter-agency coordination and law enforcement.

DETF members John Villasenor, Ernie Allen, and other international experts will speak on the topic of “Preventing Technology-Facilited Exploitation” at the next event in the UCLA Luskin Center hosted Digital Tech series.


When Should The Authors Of Anonymous Online Reviews Be Revealed? Yelp Challenges A Court ‘Unmasking’ Order

Written by John Villasenor, featured on Forbes

On February 6, Yelp filed an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court challenging an order to provide information about the authors of allegedly defamatory reviews. The case, Yelp, Inc. v. Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Inc., is one of many in recent years that are forcing the courts to balance the First Amendment rights of anonymous online reviewers against the right of businesses to pursue defamation claims.

Yelp v. Hadeed concerns a set of negative reviews on Yelp that Hadeed believes were not authored by real customers. Hadeed filed a complaint in July 2012, and then subpoenaed Yelp to produce documents containing the “full name, gender, birth date, IP address, or email address” of the authors of the reviews in question. In seeking to compel Yelp to produce the documents, Hadeed invoked a Virginia “unmasking” statute that addresses anonymous communications that “may be tortious or illegal.”

You can read the rest of the article here.


Q&A: John Villasenor, UCLA professor at the intersection of technology and policy

UCLA professor John Villasenor is an electrical engineer who teaches in the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Luskin School of Public Affairs. He is also a widely published writer on the intersection of technology and public policy, having written columns about drones, privacy and intellectual property, among other topics.

In an edited Q&A, UCLA Today’s Mike Fricano recently asked Villasenor how he became an expert in the public policy aspects of technology and why engineers should be part of that conversation.

To learn more, Click Here.

Crowdsourcing, Paywalls, and the Future of News: Event Recap as part of the Innovation in the Digital Age Series

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation hosted a panel discussion on January 7 titled “Crowdsourcing, Paywalls, and The Future of News.” Journalists, web developers, policy experts, students, and professors attended this fourth event of the Public Policy for Innovation in the Digital Age series which featured speakers from Slate and The New America Foundation, the Los Angeles Times, Allvoices, and the Southern California Public Radio (KPCC). Panelists discussed the policy issues that accompany an increase in informal news reporting, reactions to the use of paywalls, and social media’s impact on the changing landscape of news reporting.

Slate’s Future Tense Editor, Torie Bosch, described paywalls as a fine balance between finding new revenue streams and continuing to make content available for a majority of the news audience. Paywalls don’t always work, she explained, and news companies have to adapt different models. For example, in 2014 Slate will be rolling out a new membership plan with a small monthly fee that offers perks (such as ad-free podcasts) without eliminating the available content for other users.

Russ Stanton, Vice President of Content at KPCC, believes that in an ecosystem in which the news is no longer free, technology will keep people in the loop. Most people have access to Google, which with a quick search, demonstrates how to get around a paywall or offers an alternate source for an article.

“Information wants to be free — it doesn’t mean it should be, but it wants to be,” said Dean Schaffer, producer at Allvoices. He believes that the most critical information will inevitably reach wide audiences, which is a good thing for information sharing, and a problem for companies instituting paywalls. Los Angeles Times political writer James Rainey agrees. Access to content should not be a problem in the future. Rainey comments that even articles published behind the Times’ paywall get picked up from other sources and re-published.

The panelists also addressed the growing phenomenon of crowdsourcing news and discussed its benefits and drawbacks. Rainey described foreign correspondents’ often-limited access during violent events, and stressed the importance of social media for witnesses to provide on the ground reporting. But, he commented, news should not become solely dependent on eyewitness accounts.

Schaffer also talked about the need for professional oversight. He stated that there should be a differentiation between everyday people gathering information and data, and the creation of high quality content that requires skilled reporting and analyses. There should be an educational partnership between journalists and non-professional contributors to teach best practices, Schaffer said, to avoid reporting false information.

Additionally, as far more “common people” take on reporter roles, they take the same risks as professional journalists, but lack the same legal protections. Rainey described accounts of protest participants that film events claiming to be the press, but facing legal action, are unable to protect their footage and face serious consequences. The panelists agreed that this lack of legal protections has become a big issue, but were unable to conclude how this policy gap should be addressed.