An analogy that I’ve started to really enjoy exploring when it comes to web literacy is cooking.

Everyone knows how to eat (consume), but fewer people know how to cook (produce).

It’s a useful analogy to me as well because as a software engineer, I have to actively avoid the temptation of thinking that to create a web literate planet you’d have to create a bunch of mini computer scientists. You can teach people how to cook without inflicting years of a culinary arts degree upon them.  There’s a sweet spot between “I like to eat fried eggs” and “I understand the difference in solidification-temperature between egg whites and egg yolks based on their protein structures”, and in that sweet spot you can fry your own eggs and they taste damn good.  That’s the sweet spot we need to achieve with web literacy.

I also really love it as an analogy because when people ask me to teach them how to cook something, my first response is always: well, what do you want to make?

Teaching someone to cook something that they’re going to enjoy eating, and will likely make again, not only provides them with all sorts of incentives for taking the time to learn it, but you’d be surprised how quickly they start riffing their own recipes.  “I wonder if this curry would taste good with sweet potato instead of pumpkin.”

It would be silly to teach cooking by starting with the basics in a breadth-first approach.  “Today we’re going to learn to stir things.  Then tomorrow we’re going to learn how to preheat an oven.”  Instead, a project-driven approach creates a learning experience almost accidentally.  You learn how to chop vegetables because it’s a necessary skill to make that salad you want to make.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that cooking should be a completely chaotic learning experience, and nor should teaching web literacy.  For example, all sauteeing classes, whether learning how to make a traditional chinese stir fry from a Chinese Culture class, or a vegetarian stir fry from an Animal Ethics class, should teach some degree of safety about hot oil and pans.  And there’s definitely a lot of transferrable learning between knowing how to make a traditional chinese stir fry and knowing how to make a vegetarian stir fry.

So a lot of these first few weeks are going to be about figuring out some of these vague categories, like “sauteeing” or “chopping”, in the web literacy world.  But it’s going to be important to remember that these skills should be informing an end product that has value to the producer — I don’t want a bunch of chefs who know the effect of PH level on baking soda, I want someone who can make me a tasty breakfast.  And preferably not burn down my house while they do it.