Tackling Digital Literacy and Unemployment: California's Social Gaming Approach

There is a group of people who are challenged by a fundamental problem: lack of access to the Internet in their homes, coupled with the inability to engage in our information economy since they lack basic digital literacy skills.
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On Sunday, the New York Times featured an article "The New Digital Divide," which discussed the lack of access to high-speed Internet for many Americans. High-speed Internet access is still a luxury to many, and in a world where the technology industry is building for the fastest speeds, the Internet that some of us know is not a reality for others. Without proper access, we are not including all digital citizens.

Yet, there is a group of people who are challenged by an even more fundamental problem: lack of access to the Internet in their homes coupled with the inability to engage in our information economy since they lack basic digital literacy skills. In an economy that demands you find a job online and possess at least limited online skills, we are leaving millions behind.

California, playing host to some of the highest unemployment rates in the country and with a poverty rate growing three times faster than the population, is beginning to tackle this issue. A project launching this Wednesday in its beta stage, JobScout, will serve as California's foray into tackling digital literacy in the state of California, and hopefully, serve as a model that can be expanded nationwide.

JobScout is like many of the start-ups launching on a daily basis in Silicon Valley, except for the fact that many of its users do not even know how to use the Internet yet. A project that has been supported and seed funded by the California State Library, JobScout is a platform that provides an interactive online environment that uses game design to teach job-hunting skills and the digital literacy basics that are necessary for finding employment. Users will be able to get support in the pilot phase at nearly 140 pilot sites at library branches in California, including locations in Los Angeles County and San Jose. The libraries, a place of resources and community for many potential users, will provide entry points and guidance for new users.

Users earn badges for lessons completed and can track success and progress. Characters greet users as they enter and complete lessons. A job aggregator lets users know of the latest jobs available in their area that meet their interests. A resume builder function enables users to create a resume and print it to submit. A variety of resources for job hunting are contained in one database, streamlining the job seeking process.

The basics of the Internet that are second nature to some are thoroughly covered: Opening and using email, submitting a query on a search engine and using Facebook and LinkedIn to create profiles and find job opportunities. While the content is geared towards users finding, applying to and acquiring jobs, the lessons teach skills that reach far beyond their immediate goal.

The system's do-it-yourself methodology and technology that learns with the users as they use it will provide an educational experience parallel to other platforms that have proven successful online. A variety of online initiatives, whether Khan Academy for math and sciences or Code Academy for the advanced Internet user who wants to pick up programming skills, have proven that self-paced and enjoyable online learning experiences are the future of education, regardless of the subject.

True access includes the appropriate infrastructure, access points, hardware and digital literacy skills to be a participant in our online community. In an era of development and companies focusing on "social," inclusion is critical.

The platform launches this Wednesday with a live demonstration online and can be found at jobscout.caltrail.com.

Disclosure: JobScout is a project of which my company is partnered in a joint effort with the LINK AMERICAS Foundation. It is part of the iCalifornia campaign, a partnership of dozens of organizations and state agencies in California including the California Technology Agency.

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