Former California Education Secretary Bonnie Reiss appears in the first of a series of digital literacy videos posted on YouTube. California Technology Agency

To promote the digital literacy executive order that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger enacted last year, the state’s Office of Information Technology has released a series of YouTube videos featuring California’s technology leaders answering questions about the importance and impact of residents being digitally literate.

“It’s exciting,” said Rachelle Chong, special counsel for advanced information and communications in the Office of the State Chief Information Officer. Chong is overseeing the digital literacy initiative. “We’re just trying to use a 21st-century technique on a 21st-century idea.”

The term "digital literacy" refers to residents of all ages being just as familiar with technology and using a computer as they are with reading and writing.

Rachelle Chong, special counsel for advanced information and communications, Office of the State Chief Information Officer 


Photo: Rachelle Chong, special counsel for advanced information and communications, California Office of the State Chief Information Officer


Chong said that California is among the first states to employ an executive order and create an official action plan for expanding the population’s knowledge of the technical world — a plan that has already started being applied to schools, libraries and the work force.

“The K-12 schools are already integrating computer training into the curricula,” said Chong. And school librarians are working on putting the best of that curriculum on one public website, like iTunes U, for other teachers both statewide and across the nation to use.

With the California unemployment rate at 12.2 percent, work force agencies have already started incorporating a program to teach job applicants how to upload their resumes online, utilize websites like Monster.com and get a free e-mail, Chong said.

“The harder question is how to get the employers to train their workers,” she said. Currently many employees work on a “just-in-time” basis, she said, meaning they are sent to a workshop to learn a new skill just in time for a project. But Chong said the work force is now starting to understand the value — both financially  and time-wise — in teaching these skills as part of an initial training program.

“It’s just starting a dialog with the work force folks,” she said.

A council, advisory board and other organizations will meet on a biennial basis to oversee the various projects across the state, which have been initiated by federal funding and grants from foundations.

This year, California was one of a dozen states chosen for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Online Education program grant, which will increase bandwidth in public libraries to 1.5 Mbps — a huge improvement for most libraries, which tend to have outdated equipment and limited resources.

Also, the federal broadband stimulus fund awarded California a significant public computer center grant to provide upgrades to about 80 public safety agencies in Los Angeles and 26 upgraded public computer centers throughout Monterey County.  The upgrades will be completed within the next two years.

To get the younger population excited, the state has incorporated programs where teenagers are trained on computer usage and repair, and then in turn have a public service obligation to train others as a community service requirement.

The YouTube videos, hosted on the Office of the State Chief Information Officer’s YouTube channel, are one of the tools being used to educate the public, and hopefully a younger audience about California’s initiative.

 “This is, I think, the first time the state has advocated digital literacy in such a direct way,” said Chong. “This is really leading-edge. We’re thinking outside the box. We’re having some fun with it.”

Lauren Katims Nadeau  |  Contributing Writer