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Dark Classrooms and Bright Minds: Internet Governance Education During a Pandemic

As we face another surge in the Delta variant within the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional face-to-face schools of Internet Governance continue to be forced to rethink their typical programs and adapt their modalities of delivering Internet Governance education. Everyone from the administrators, educators and the participants needed to adapt to the new reality of online learning and the various digital platforms with its associated cost and benefits. As lights dimmed in the classrooms, a need to rethink how we provide a glimmer of hope for the students committed to the educational journey to learn about essential elements of Internet Governance is a priority.

The Virtual School of Internet Governance (VSIG) back in September 2020 became a reality as a direct result of the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. The North American School of Internet Governance (NASIG) was forced to cancel its 2020 programme, and its 2021 programme scheduled in Seattle, Washington will be a virtual event in October. The founders of VSIG, Alfredo Calderon (Puerto Rico) and Glenn McKnight (Canada), decided that a MOOC or Massive Open Online Courseware using MOODLE was the preferred online tool for the creation of the course. VSIG would be a short and long-term solution that would offer the bright minds of students anywhere an opportunity to join the various cohorts and learn the basics and earn a certificate upon successful completion of the course. MOODLE provided all the necessary features, including online and offline access to the course content, certificate of completion, student administration, communication tools, student discussion forums, course quizzes, content management, secure live online sessions with an embedded video conferencing tool Big Blue Button, and more.

Since the fall of 2020, VSIG has been delivered to more than 400 participants. An online course representing 39% from Africa and 33% from Asia and a balance participation from Europe, Latin America and North America. Due to the success and future plans of the founders and its’ Advisory Council in the Fall of 2021, the school continues to grow. Courses in English and the addition of a Spanish version will be launched this fall. Plans for additional courses in French, Portuguese, Russian, Bengala, Hindi and Chinese. All of these courses adhere to their mission of providing free and multilingual education to everyone, anywhere, and without connectivity limitations.

As members of the IGF DC Coalition of Schools of Internet Governance a series of video interviews of schools from around the globe to understand how they adapted to the new reality took place. Many issues were faced by the schools beginning in the winter of 2020 and have continued unabated in 2021. The issues they addressed directly included: fee structure for the online course, fundraising, technical choices of online platforms, stability and security, administration and facilitation of the sessions as strictly online events. Other issues need to be addressed as to the variance in end-user connectivity speeds, coordination of speakers across time zones, captioning for students with different languages and persons with disabilities.

In several schools, the traditional interaction of the students and the guest speakers changed the dynamics of their programs and the overall experiences. The critical piece that a national or regional school provides is the local experiences on the prevailing issues, i.e., internet shutdowns, media and disinformation, privacy, human rights, DNS Abuse and much more. The interviews with the school’s organizers made a strong point of following a process of rethinking and resetting their approaches and launching their programs as Virtual events and following the normal process of fellowship selection, fundraising and recruitment of speakers. See the interview playlist of school reps who reflected on their adaptations in 2020 and future plans.

In closing, we invite the community to join us as potential sponsors, participants or guest lecturers to help continue to offer a free and multilingual program accessible to anyone from everywhere. Details at www.virtualsig.org

Co-authored by Alfredo Calderon, Dean, and Glenn McKnight, Info Officer, Virtual School of Internet Governance(VSIG)

By Alfredo Calderon, Dean of Virtual School of Internet Governance (VSIG)

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