Friday, May 11, 2012
So I think the number one task has to be to really create spearheads, nuclei of change where we can really demonstrate that something really different can be done – something not improvement, but radically different. Papert, S. (2000) Keynote Address at CUE Conference. Palm Springs, CA.
Monday, February 20, 2012

What is webmaking?

Mozilla is building a generation of webmakers. We are defining webmaker literacies. We are building pathways for people to learn webmaking by webmaking. But what the heck is webmaking? What is our vision really all about?

The initial list of webmaker skills starts to pave the way for our definition of webmaking, but I think there needs more context and nuance here. Lots of smart people are working on a more public facing brand/definition around webmaking so there’s that to look forward to, but in the meantime I wanted to log my thoughts on what (I think) it is and what it isn’t.  

Webmaking is not just coding. 

We are seeing a number of teach-to-code initiatives popping up which are certainly compelling and we hope to work closely with many of them moving forward. But when we say webmaking, I think we are talking more broadly, more at the literacy level. Our ultimate webmaker curriculum suite will have coding in it in some capacity (or again, we’ll point people to all the great stuff emerging), but it will have a much broader set of skills as well. Even just glancing back at the current iteration of the webmaker skills, we can see some of the foundations of coding in the Building column (and some HTML-y stuff in one chunk of Authoring) - but there are 4 OTHER COLUMNS! Even with this 101 content, we are aiming at higher level competencies and literacies that people can use to shape their pathway forward, not dictate one path for them to go down. If they decide to be coders - great! - but they will hopefully be better coders because of the full range of skills they’ve developed and honed along the way.

(NOTE: MichelleL dives further this as well on her blog

Webmaking is not a static thing.

Webmaking is made up of a set of hard skills like HTML, CSS, etc., but a host of ‘softer’ skills like collaborative making, awareness of the open web, etc. The softer skills, as evidenced by the controversial category name, are fluid and personal. We know they are not static. But with webmaking, even the hard skills are not static. Things evolve fast, new technologies and standards come out everyday. So its important to teach people enough of the hard skills to know enough to build what they want to build but we also need to teach them how to refresh those skills, stay up on current developments, contribute to the evolution. 

Webmaking is (can be) about jobs.

Webmaking skills are real, job relevant skills and not just for future web developers, but people across many disciplines. Journalists, filmmakers, scientists, business professionals, doctors, teachers…most of these skills are relevant. Through the Open Badges work, we’ve talked to a lot of employers about what they are looking for and in addition to the basic digital skills, they want people that know how to collaborate, innovate and think critically. All webmaking skills! Again, its about arming people with the range of skills needed so that they can shape their own pathway and excel.

Webmaking is understanding, building and innovating. 

We want to help webmakers not only learn basic skills, but use those skills to build things that matter to them (in fact, we’d prefer it if they learned the skills BY building the things), and by actually innovating around the initial skills so that they are leaving their mark and making the web better for webmakers to follow.

Webmaking is about capitalizing on the affordances of the Web.

Personally I think webmaking should include being prepared for and able to capitalize on the affordances of the web. When you look at things like learning - the Web opens up the possibilities for learning (open ed courses, learning games, collaborative discussions, wikipedia, etc.) but simply having an internet connection is not going to necessarily help people take advantage of these options and learn more. They need to understand how to find and evaluate these opportunities, how to participate and share information, etc. This is a hugely important piece of webmaking to me. 

Webmaking is about empowerment.

It is a high-paced, information-saturated world out there and it is very easy for people to just be consumers - to simply take things in and accept everything at face value. Part of webmaking is empowering them to take control, to realize that things (the Web for one) are not immutable, to develop and assert their own voice, to question information, to remix things and channel inner creativity, etc. 

Webmaking is a way of life.

We want to prepare people for participation and contribution in today’s (and tomorrow’s) digital society and global economy. Webmaking skills can set up an approach to life in general that fosters not only looking-under-the-hood, embracing failure, tinkering and remixing, but also participation, citizenship and action. These are not just life skills but ultimately a way of approaching life. 

Again, this is my personal opinion of webmaking. While I know that many Mozilla colleagues would agree with a lot of the above, we also need to scope it to a clear and concise definition that we can all get behind. As I mentioned, that work is in progress so more to come on that.

I am also not trying to imply that we think we can teach everyone all of this, but I think our concept of webmaking should be this far reaching. We should want to change the world (or more to the point, give people the tools to change their own worlds) and with that as a guiding principle, we will build more thoughtful, powerful and holistic learning experiences. 


Thursday, February 9, 2012

(Working) Learning Design Principles

I posted a braindump a few weeks ago on things that felt like important considerations for our learning offerings. I’ve built on that list a bit more and presented it on the Learning Community call today. We got some great feedback and are looking for even more insight as we continue to evolve this list. These are important to get (mostly) right before we get too far down the road of developing our learning content. The current principles are listed below and the working document can be found here.

One thing to note: there are definite crossovers between these - overlaps which I think makes sense. If we do this right, there should be a diversity of deliverables and options but with a thread of a consistent feel or approach throughout. People should get a feel for what Mozilla learning is like/about and that feeling should carry throughout all of the different pathways we provide.


Learning to make by making. Less yak, more hack.

  • Built around tools and making exercises that ‘help teach’
  • Learning is a byproduct of making

Hacking on things they care about at the core.

  • Authentic, interest-based learning
  • Meaningful making vs. arbitrary tasks
  • i.e. stories for journalists

More pathways == better. Avoid (even “fight”) one prescribed way to learn.

  • Leverage existing content and pathways. 
  • Balance self-driven options, authority/faciliated options, peer options
  • Ultimately: choose your own adventure approach 
  • Offer/support multimedia options (online, offline, synchronous, asynchronous, etc)
  • Support various levels / entry points (age, skill level, learning types, etc)

Support / encourage the “social”. 

  • Encourage social interaction, collaboration, peer learning and sharing
  • Leverage peer assessments and mentorship

Build in fun / play. 

  • Explicit fun in cases where it makes sense, but also implicit
  • Promote / support interest-driven exploration and tinkering
  • Capitalize on intrinsic motivations already existing
  • Support both:
    • Fun (pure enjoyment) vs Play (tinkering, messing around)
    • Might be two separate principles?

Embed assessments in the learning and learning in the assessments.

  • Be innovative about assessment - honor the nature of the learning experience / making
  • Authentic and relevant assessments built into the learning experience
  • People should be able to learn more through taking the assessment as well as assessing other people’s work

Support graceful degradation - Fail well.

  • Help users when they get stuck
  • Build in trial and error as much as possible
  • Congratulate people for failing; congratulate people for trying alternative methods

Give recognition.

  • Legitimize this learning - make it count beyond the learning experience
  • Build in badges

Design for extensibility / scale beyond ourselves.

  • Make it easy to run events around learning content - event kit + plug and play content
  • Modularity
  • Mentorship and teach the teachers
  • Nurture a community that can run itself

Reveal the universe.

  • Show people everything there is to learn and how - let them see where they fit into it and where they can go.
  • Recognize that not everyone wants to get to the same point you do

Produce consumer grade web experiences and software.

  • High quality, authentic experiences
  • Build experiences that feel like Mozilla

Again, more context on some of these can be found in my previous post.

What’s missing from this list? Are there other principles that we should consider? Again, here’s the working document - feel free to add thoughts directly to the etherpad


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mozilla Learning Roadmap

We’ve all been talking a lot about the Mozilla Learning goals and vision (from Mark Surman here and Michelle Levesque here as a couple examples). We have general consensus on what we ultimately want to get to: comprehensive learning pathways around a core set of web literacy skills. Modularized learning content for webmakers, distributed through our various programs like Popcorn, Open News and the Hive. This is a very ambitious - and awesome - vision, and now comes the fun part: where do we start? what are the incremental projects we need to do to launch ourselves towards this vision? 
We know most of the things that we need to build (and are already building in some cases): 
  • a definition of a core set of web literacy skills 
  • a set of generalized curriculum and tools around these skills that provide people with ways to learn and develop each skill. This may involve pulling together existing resources like those from Hackasaurus and the Hive, as well as developing new curriculum/tools to fill in the gaps.
  • a Mozilla badge system built around the skills and curriculum, plugging into the Open Badge Infrastructure
  • pilots of that learning offering (including curriculum + tools + badges), tailored for filmmakers, journalists and teens, delivered through Popcorn, Open News and the Hive respectively.
  • an event kit to walk people through how to run learning labs or hackjams around our learning content
  • an online destination place for our content on
  • community space for facilitators/instructors to support them in using our learning material
  • what else? what’s missing from this list?
The next step is to throw all of these projects and pieces out on a roadmap, which we’ve started here: (You’ll see much more detail in Q1/Q2, as we are all very anxious to dive into everything!) Now we need your help on taking this the last mile. We plan on talking about the roadmap on the next few community calls - including today’s Learning Community call and next Tuesday’s webmaker call -  to get feedback and insight from the broader group and community. 

So please join us on those calls and in the meantime, insights/suggestions/critiques/ideas are most welcome through comments here. 
I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity. Joi Ito: Innovating By the Seat of Our Pants, New York Times
Friday, January 27, 2012

Learning to make by making…

Mozilla is doing a bunch of thinking and work around creating learning offerings for webmaking and web literacy. We are working on defining what we think the core set of web literacy skills are - including both harder skills and the ‘softer’ or more social skills. And we are developing curriculum, assessments and pathways for people to learn those skills. All of this is new and evolving daily, but there are some things/principles/assumptions that I feel are important to guide our work:

Learning making by making (or Less yak, more hack).

Learning experiences should be be hands-on, immersive activities that are focused on the making part, where the learning happens almost as a by-product. Let people get their hands dirty and learn through the process of trial and error, tinkering, exploring and building. This one is pretty core to everything we do, and many of the other principles/assumptions discussed below feed from this one. We won’t have lectures or long textbooks to read - instead expect to see more lightweight, modularized, immersive activities or experiences which can stand on their own but are also rich with opportunities for learning. A note: with this approach, its important to explicitly tell the learners what they’ve learned after (and in some cases, during) the experience to make them aware and foster self-reflection and metacognition. This is where the Mozilla badges will play an important role. Keep reading for more on that.

Hacking on things that they care about as the core.

Where possible, the thing in the middle that people are building or hacking on should be something that they care about and is relevant to them. For example, for a journalist, that thing might be a story that she has written. It’s probably safe to assume that she cares about the story, has some emotional attachment to it and its success, feels a sense of ownership, can envision how to make it better, etc. So taking that story and having her build it out in HTML and CSS is going to help her learn HTML/CSS much more quickly and deeply than if she just did random one-off tasks. This model isn’t always going to work in all cases, but its important to focus on activities that are meaningful to the learner. 

Have fun.

It’s hard to downplay the power of fun for motivation and deeper learning. Therefore, we are approaching our curriculum and design with a sense of playfulness and fun. I don’t necessary think that explicit fun has to be a part of everything - there are a lot of learning experiences, like the journalist one mentioned above, that can be implicitly and intrinsically fun and motivating and where possible, we want to foster that. But there are many other cases where explicit/extrinsic fun can really draw people in and lead to a lot of learning. Therefore, things like missions, role-based challenges and mini-games will definitely have a place in our overall learning content offering.

Learn together.

One of the key affordances of the Web is that it connects us to other people - allows us to share things and riff on them together. Webmaking is inherently a social activity as well. The success of the early web and HTML was that it was so easy to view source, copy other people’s code and build on it/from it. So these learning experiences should allow for, and maybe even strongly encourage, social interaction, peer learning and mentorship. 

Embed assessments in the learning and embed learning in the assessments.

We want to ensure that people are learning and we want them to be aware of what they’ve learned too. So assessment is important. But this doesn’t mean we need to force people through artificial multiple choice exams. If we are doing the stuff from above right, namely trying to make the learning experience meaningful and/or fun, then the assessments should follow the same model. Assessments should be embedded into the learning experience where possible. They should allow for people to leverage work they’ve already done (i.e. linking to your github account to demonstrate that you know how to code). We want to avoid authority-required assessments, but instead focus on peer assessment and self-assessments as much as possible. Here’s the kicker - people should LEARN during the assessment process. Whether its from the experience of doing the work required for the assessment, or being the assessor, there is an opportunity to encourage more learning here.

Get/Give recognition.

OF COURSE we are building badges into our learning offerings. While there is an element of eating our own dog food, our webmaking content is a perfect use case for badges. It’s informal, interest-driven learning that will include many job-relevant skills. And then there’s the whole self-awareness/metacognition thing I previously mentioned. Oh and some motivation thrown in to the mix as well. Thus, learners will earn badges as they interact with our content, take assessments, build things, etc. We haven’t decided the specifics yet, but its possible the smaller incremental badges will level up or aggregate into a Webmaker master type of badge.

Allow for extensibility

There are two levels here: extensibility on the individual learner level and on our entire learning offering level. On the learner level: webmaking is creative and personal - therefore these learning experiences cannot be overly scaffolded or constrained. We need to leave room for individual (or group!) experimentation. We need to be flexible to let the learner adapt things as they go, or choose their own adventure, if you will. On the higher level: We know a lot about webmaking but 1) we don’t know everything, 2) we don’t know how to speak to everyone and 3) it changes all the time. Therefore, we should design our learning offerings in a way that people can both pick it up and use it in their own contexts, but also BUILD ON IT. This should support everything from localization to something much bigger, like a more traditional open source model.

Reveal the universe.

This ties into some of the points made above, but it is important to give the learner a sense of everything there is to learn, and where they fit into it. We may handle this through a set of badges and/or a learning map that can illustrate what a particular learner has achieved/mastered and what’s next or what’s left for them. We have to provide the pathways to mastery for those that want them, while also allowing people to jump around as well. The key is that they have a picture of the learning universe and can make choices about how to explore it.

It may be helpful to reiterate that while I think many of these principles are important for all kinds of learning, we are working with a very specific set of content - webmaking - that potentially lends itself better to some of these approaches than other content. We are also very clearly rooted in the informal learning space, which ultimately gives us more flexibility (but it is important to me to still build in some rigor around effectiveness and accountability as well).

Just some of the things I’m thinking about right now. Would love to hear other suggestions/ideas.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Learning, Freedom and My Job

While I was off making a human and getting him through the first 12 weeks of his life, the Mozilla Foundation has been up to some pretty cool stuff. 

Back in November 2010, some of us met in Barcelona to explore the idea of hacking and learning. What would happen if we took the hacker way of thinking and applied it to learning and education? What assumptions would get turned on their heads? What would we CHANGE? What would we TEACH? I didn’t work for Mozilla at the time so I am not sure how much of this was foreseen and how much was a surprise, but the energy, inspiration and output was incredible. Mozilla had really tapped into something special. 

A lot of projects spun out of that time together, including the Open Badges project, which obviously I have been closely aligned with since (see every blog post before this :)). But in addition to these projects, there was this lingering sense that Mozilla had more to say. More to do.

Well, now we are saying it. And we are doing it. 

This year we are building a Mozilla learning offering around web making and web literacies. We will be defining and developing a core set of web literacy skills. We will build curriculum and learning pathways around these skills. And that learning and skill development will be recognized by Mozilla badges. It’s Mozilla as a digital/web literacy evangelist. Mozilla as a learning provider. Mozilla as a badge issuer. Mozilla as a game changer.

With this refocus and my return from maternity leave, I now have the opportunity to work with an amazing group of folks to build this together. We make up the MoFo Learning Group and we can haz awesomeness. 

VERY excited about this work. 2012 is a BIG year. Welcome back to me!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Open Badge Infrastructure (#3)

First post of 2011! What better way to ring in the New Year than a post about the 3rd (and final) piece of the badge system - the open badge infrastructure. I have already (briefly) talked about the assessments and badges, but there is a bigger piece that extends beyond our pilot and even our own definition of badges (hint: the badge infrastructure). As I have discussed before here and here, an alternative form of assessment and certification are necessary because learning is happening all around us, all across the Web and other experiences and yet none of that learning ‘counts’ or is transferable to other contexts. Assessments and associated badges can help us with this by providing a mechanism to demonstrate and capture the learning wherever it happens and then carry the evidence with us back to recruiters, formal institutions or our peer community.

Yeah yeah yeah, I have said all of this before, but the key part that I have not yet addressed is the ‘wherever it happens' piece (hint: that's where the open badge infrastructure comes in)… A lot of my day-to-day work lately has been mapping out an assessment/badge plan for the School of Webcraft, a set of P2PU courses on web development. And that’s really cool and important because it is a free, accessible and open path to learning and its also a peer learning environment - all of which are relatively unchartered territories as far as assessment and certification goes. And through these focused efforts we will learn a bunch, potentially (hopefully) provide more incentives for P2PU learners and even provide a model for other people to work from. All good and critical things, but they are still isolated. If we only build our system, we are not supporting learners much better than any individual institution does.  If someone chooses another perfectly legitimate path, it won’t ‘count’ because they can’t get the proof or evidence (degree, badges, etc).

So what are the options?  Well, we could work to design/vet/support badges that cover everyone for every type of learning and every skill/topic and manage all of the badges centrally… Hopefully that concept seems as ridiculous to you as it does to me. Who are we to try to do that? The beauty of the world we live in now is that again, learning is happening everywhere and that everywhere changes and grows constantly. So a truly valuable badge system is one that supports badges from that everywhere. It should support badges from any issuer, collect those badges to a persistent identity (for each individual) and allow the badges to be shared out back into the everywhere. It must be open so that every need and path can be captured and demonstrated and the learner remains in control. This is the open badge infrastructure. And Mozilla is building it.

The open badge infrastructure will support badges issued by anyone across the Web, and allow an individual learner to collect these badges (from those anyone), store them to a single identity and then carry them with them and share them across contexts. Said in plain(er) English, if I am taking a few courses at P2PU and I am also using a series of OER materials in another context that is issuing associated badges, I can collect badges from these independent issuers, have all of the earned badges connected with my open identity, and then I can take those badges with me to interviews, back to my formal institution or post on this blog or LinkedIn profile to demonstrate my learning and skills for various audiences.  This infrastructure is critical to truly support learning across the Web.

Now obviously this is idealized somewhat. In order for ‘every need and path’ to be supported, there would need to be badge issuers at every step. We can’t control who issues badges but we can provide the infrastructure to support anyone who wants to. So we are. And eventually, if and when the value is apparent, sites/providers/communities will want to have badges. And if it is truly open, learners could even create or suggest badges along the way.

Open scares a lot of people. I have heard a colleague say (paraphrasing): “Everyone loves open education until they consider education being truly open.”  Wait, ANYONE can issue badges? It could get messy! There might be a lot of badges?! There might be ‘bad’ badges! And people might game the system! True. All things to watch closely. But a centralized or closed system WILL NOT solve our problems, and in fact will simply recreate the ones we already have by only supporting a small subset of the learning that is occuring, putting the power to decide what ‘counts’ in a small number of hands, created prescribed learning paths, demotivating learners…and so on and so on.

Besides, I seem to remember a similar case in the early days of the Web. Wait, ANYONE can create a website? It could get messy! There might be a lot of websites?! There might be ‘bad’ websites! Then we had Google and various services that help us find, rate and share websites that are credible and/or are valuable/relevant/interesting to us.  Maybe we will need something like that for badges, we don’t know yet.  But just as a closed and controlled Web would have never resulted in the explosion of creativity, expression, transparency and access that we value and depend on today, a closed badge system will never reach full potential. Open badge infrastructure FTW!

It goes without saying that Mozilla, ambassador of the open web, is the right entity to be building this open badge infrastructure. There is a team already cranking away to open up badges and take this thing the the next level. They built a prototype in Barcelona and haven’t looked back. More to come over the next few months!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010
btw, every study of peer review among students shows that students perform at a higher level, and with more care, when they know they are being evaluated by their peers than when they know only the teacher and the TA will be grading Cathy Davidson