The Virtual School on Internet Governance
Filling the Gaps in Internet Governance
Filling the Gaps in Internet Governance
The COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt when it rolled across the globe a little more than a year ago, including in-person meetings and schools. Two men, Glenn McKnight, Ph.D., and Alfredo Calderon, MA.Ed. & MA.Sc., quickly envisioned how the crisis could affect students of Internet Governance (IG) around the world. Internet Governance refers to the rules, policies, standards and practices that coordinate and shape global cyberspace. McKnight and Calderon mobilized to create a solution.
“When we started this it was a ‘Eureka!’ moment,” says McKnight, Virtual School of Internet Governance (VISG) Co-Founder and Chief Information Officer. “We were seeing that ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) meetings weren’t going to happen—and we had a strong idea of the history and science of epidemics. We saw this thing wasn’t going to last only a year. In the interim, tons of people needed holistic, virtual training in governance.”
He and Calderon co-founded VSIG, a comprehensive, free, online capacity-building program that anyone can use. It was, at first, a response to the COVID-19 crisis, but VSIG quickly became an opportunity to create a new model of IG learning.
“We had participated in face-to-face Internet Governance forums all over the world,” says Calderon, VISG Co-Founder and Dean of Students. “And my experience was that there were a lot of panels and a lot of people talking; an overload of information. We understood that there were people in the community who wanted to get engaged with Internet Governance but didn’t know how, or what it was all about.”
VSIG developed a series of guided modules that take students through topics that include the history of the Internet, legal issues, human rights, and economics, as they pertain to IG. They bring in expert speakers to address each cohort of approximately 120 students. Since VSIG launched in the spring of 2020, there have been four cohorts. The teachings are translated into French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Perhaps even more importantly, VSIG makes the language of IG understandable.
Recalling his first ICANN meeting, Calderon speaks of the confusion he felt, even as a chemistry professor of more than 30 years with multiple masters’ degrees. “I was a newcomer listening to all these acronyms and I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. And I had a technical background!” he says. “I wanted to get involved so that what everyone was saying could be translated into layperson’s language.”
VISG students, the majority of whom join from Asia and Africa, in addition to Europe and the Americas, use a platform called MOODLE—a secure, closed, online platform that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. MOODLE allows students to read, watch, and download videos from their computers or cellphones, and, most importantly, interact with one another and share best practices.
“The goal is to create an environment and a platform for students to meet each other and help each other,” says McKnight. “If I’m doing work on child safety online in Ghana and maybe another person is doing it in Indonesia, we can get to know each other and exchange information.”
Many of VSIG’s students are professionals in their fields, whether they are lawyers, IT professionals, or government officials. And some also may have been ICANN fellows, ISOC members, or attended other schools of governance. For those who wish to formalize their learning, VSIG offers a certificate, earned by mastering a series of quizzes after each module. Upon completion there is a graduation ceremony.
“We take pride that we’ve created a platform that encourages community and inclusion”
“In emerging economies in Africa and parts of Asia, our students really value being among their peers. In their communities, they may not feel like they’re speaking the same Internet Governance language. We take pride that we’ve created a platform that encourages community and inclusion,” says McKnight.
VSIG’s commitment to the .ORG community is the foundation of their offering. VSIG provides their training modules at no cost to participants, so raising funds through individuals and corporate sponsorships is very important.
“We had an initial discussion with Paul Diaz, PIR’s Vice President of Policy, and he was so supportive. Thanks to him, we were able to approach other sponsors and speakers,” says McKnight. “This would have not happened without the dedication and belief PIR had in us. When one person puts their foot in, others follow.”
Both Calderon and McKnight find great satisfaction in seeing their students go on to play an active role in IG. “I have a mentee who is now invested in dealing with and commenting on policies within ICANN,” says Calderon. McKnight recalls a student from New Delhi who has a Ph.D. Through VSIG, the individual gained a new understanding of IG. “For the first time he sees a roadmap and where he can get on the on-ramp. He understood where he could find his way.”