March 31, 2015 § 3 Comments
Last December in Portland, I said that Mozilla needs a more ambitious stance on how we teach the web. My argument: the web is at an open vs. closed crossroads, and helping people build know-how and agency is key if we want to take the open path. I began talking about Mozilla needing to do something in ‘learning’ in ways that can have the scale and impact of Firefox if we want this to happen.
The question is: what does this look like? We’ve begun talking about developing a common approach and brand for all our learning efforts: something like Mozilla University or Mozilla Academy. And we have a Mozilla Learning plan in place this year to advance our work on Webmaker products, Mozilla Clubs (aka Maker Party all year round), and other key building blocks. But we still don’t have a crisp and concrete vision for what all this might add up to. The idea of a global university or academy begins to get us there.
My task this quarter is to take a first cut at this vision — a consolidated approach for Mozilla’s efforts in learning. My plan is to start a set of conversations that get people involved in this process. The first step is to start to document the things we already know. That’s what this post is.
What’s the opportunity?
First off, why are we even having this conversation? Here’s what we said in the Mozilla Learning three-year plan:
Within 10 years there will be five billion citizens of the web. Mozilla wants all of these people to know what the web can do. What’s possible. We want them to have the agency, tools and know-how they need to unlock the full power of the web. We want them to use the web to make their lives better. We want them to be full citizens of the web.
We wrote this paragraph right before Portland. I’d be interested to hear what people think about it a few months on?
What do we want to build?
The thing is even if we agree that we want everyone to know what the web can do, we may not yet agree on how we get there. My first cut at what we need to build is this:
By 2017, we want to build a Mozilla Academy: a global classroom and lab for the citizens of the web. Part community, part academy, people come to Mozilla to unlock the power of the web for themselves, their organizations and the world.
This language is more opinionated than what’s in the Mozilla Learning plan: it states we want a global classroom and lab. And it suggests a name.
Andrew Sliwinski has pointed out to me that this presupposes we want to engage primarily with people who want to learn. And, that we might move toward our goals in other ways, including using our product and marketing to help people ‘just figure the right things out’ as they use the web. I’d like to see us debate these two paths (and others) as we try to define what it is we need to build. By the way, we also need to debate the name — Mozilla Academy? Mozilla University? Something else?
What do we want people to know?
We’re fairly solid on this part: we want people to know that the web is a platform that belongs to all of us and that we can all use to do nearly anything.
We’ve spent three years developing Mozilla’s web literacy map to describe exactly what we mean by this. It breaks down ‘what we want people know’ into three broad categories:
- Exploring the web safely and effectively
- Building things on the web that matter to you and others
- Participating on the web as a critical, collaborative human
Helping people gain this know-how is partly about practical skills: understanding enough of the technology and mechanics of the web so they can do what they want to do (see below). But it is also about helping people understand that the web is based on a set of values — like sharing information and human expression — that are worth fighting for.
How do we think people learn these things?
Over the last few years, Mozilla and our broader network of partners have been working on what we might call ‘open source learning’ (my term) or ‘creative learning’ (Mitch Resnick’s term, which is probably better :)). The first principles of this approach include::
- Learn by making things
- Make real shit that matters
- Do it with other people (or at least with others nearby)
There is another element though that should be manifested in our approach to learning, which is something like ‘care about good’ or even ‘care about excellence’ — the idea that people have a sense of what to aspire to and feedback loops that help them know if they are getting there. This is important both for motivation and for actually having the impact on ‘what people know’ that we’re aiming for.
My strong feeling is that this approach needs to be at the heart of all Mozilla’s learning work. It is key to what makes us different than most people who want to teach about the web — and will be key to success in terms of impact and scale. Michelle Thorne did a good post on how we embrace these principles today at Mozilla. We still need to have a conversation about how we apply this approach to everything we do as part of our broader learning effort.
How much do we want people to know?
Ever since we started talking about learning five years ago, people have asked: are you saying that everyone on the planet should be a web developer? The answer is clearly ‘no’. Different people need — and want — to understand the web at different levels. I think of it like this:
- Literacy: use the web and create basic things
- Skill: know how that gets you a better job / makes your life better
- Craft: expert knowledge that you hone over a lifetime
There is also a piece that includes ‘leadership’ — a commitment and skill level that has you teaching, helping, guiding or inspiring others. This is a fuzzier piece, but very important and something we will explore more deeply as we develop a Mozilla Academy.
We want a way to engage with people at all of these levels. The good news is that we have the seeds of an approach for each. SmartOn is an experiment by our engagement teams to provide mass scale web literacy in product and using marketing. Mozilla Clubs, Maker Party and our Webmaker Apps offer deeper web literacy and basic skills. MDN and others are think about teaching web developer skills and craft. Our fellowships do the same, although use a lab method rather than teaching. What we need now is a common approach and brand like Mozilla Academy that connects all of these activities and speaks to a variety of audiences.
What do we have?
It’s really worth making this point again: we already have much of what we need to build an ambitious learning offering. Some of the things we have or are building include:
- Basic badges and credentials
- Fellowship programs
- Firefox Student Ambassadors
- MDN website
- Hive Learning Networks
- Mozilla Clubs (formerly Maker Party)
- David Humphrey’s class at Seneca College
- Webmaker app
We also have an increasingly good reputation among people who care about and fund learning, education and empowerment programs. Partners like MacArthur Foundation, UNESCO, the National Writing Project and governments in a bunch of countries. Many of these organizations want to work with us to build — and be a part of — a more ambitious approach teaching people about the web.
What other things are we thinking about?
In addition to the things we have in hand, people across our community are also talking about a whole range of ideas that could fit into something like a Mozilla Academy. Things I’ve heard people talking about include:
- Basic web literacy for mass market (SmartOn)
- Web literacy marketing campaigns with operators
- Making and learning tools in Firefox (MakerFox)
- MDN developer conference
- Curriculum combining MDN + Firefox Dev Edition
- Developer education program based on Seneca model
- A network of Mozilla alumni who mentor and coach
- Ways to help people get jobs based on what they’ve learned
- Ways to help people make money based on what they’ve learned
- Ways for people to make money teaching and mentoring with Mozilla
- People teaching in Mozilla spaces on a regular basis
- Advanced leadership training for our community
- Full set of badges and credentials
Almost all of these ideas are at a nascent stage. And many of them are extensions or versions of the things we’re already doing, but with an open source learning angle. Nonetheless, the very fact that these conversations are actively happening makes me believe that we have the creativity and ambition we need to build something like a Mozilla Academy.
Who is going to do all this?
There is a set of questions that starts with ‘who is the Mozilla Academy?’ Is it all people who are flag waving, t-shirt donning Mozillians? Or is it a broader group of people loosely connected under the Mozilla banner but doing their own thing?
If you look at the current collection of people working with Mozilla on learning, it’s both. Last year, we had nearly 10,000 contributors working with us on some aspect of this ‘classroom and lab’ concept. Some of these people are Mozilla Reps, Firefox Student Ambassadors and others heavily identified as Mozillians. Others are teachers, librarians, parents, journalists, scientists, activists and others who are inspired by what we’re doing and want to work alongside us. It’s a big tent.
My sense is that this is the same sort of mix we need if we want to grow: we will want a core set of dedicated Mozilla people and a broader set of people working with us in a common way for a common cause. We’ll need a way to connect (and count) all these people: our tools, skills framework and credentials might help. But we don’t need them all to act or do things in exactly the same way. In fact, diversity is likely key to growing the level of scale and impact we want.
Snapping it all together
As I said at the top of this post, we need to boil all this down and snap it into a crisp vision for what Mozilla — and others — will build in the coming years.
My (emerging) plan is to start this with a series of blog posts and online conversations that delve deeper into the topics above. I’m hoping that it won’t just be me blogging — this will work best if others can also riff on what they think are the key questions and opportunities. We did this process as we were defining Webmaker, and it worked well. You can see my summary of that process here.
In addition, I’m going to convene a number of informal roundtables with people who might want to participate and help us build Mozilla Academy. Some of these will happen opportunistically at events like eLearning Africa in Addis and the Open Education Global conference in Banff that are happening over the next couple of months. Others will happen in Mozilla Spaces or in the offices of partner orgs. I’ll write up a facilitation script so other people can organize their own conversations, as well. This will work best if there is a lot of conversation going on.
In addition to blogging, I plan to report out on progress at the Mozilla All-Hands work week in Whistler this June. By then, my hope is that we have a crisp vision that people can debate and get involved in building out. From there, I expect we can start figuring out how to build some of the pieces we’ll need to pull this whole idea together in 2016. If all goes well, we can use MozFest 2015 as a bit of a barn raising to prototype and share out some of these pieces.
Process-wise, we’ll use the Mozilla Learning wiki to track all this. If you write something or are doing an event, post it there. And, if you post in response to my posts, please put a link to the original post so I see the ping back. Twittering #mozacademy is also a good thing to do, at least until we get a different name.
Join me in building Mozilla Academy. It’s going to be fun. And important.
March 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
What’s happening at the Mozilla Foundation? This post contains the presentation slides from our recent Board Meeting, plus an audio interview that Matt Thompson did with me last week. It provides highlights from 2014, a brief summary of Mozilla’s 2015 plan and a progress report on what we’ve achieved over the past three months.
I’ve also written a brief summary of notes from the slides and interview below if you want a quick scan. These are also posted on the Webmaker blog.
What we did in 2014
- Grew contributors and ground game. (10,077 active contributors total.)
- Prototyped new Webmaker mobile product
- Expanded community programs by 3x
Mozilla’s 2015 Plan
Mozilla-wide goals: grow long-term relationships that help people and promote the open web. By building product and empowering people. Webmaker+ goal: Expand participation in Webmaker through new software and on the ground clubs.
Building Mozilla Learning
By 2017, we’ve built Mozilla Learning: a global classroom and lab for the citizens of the web. Part community, part academy, people come to Mozilla Learning to unlock the power of the web for themselves, their organizations and the world.
2015 Mozilla Foundation goals
- Deepen learning networks (500 cities)
- B uild mass appeal learning product (250k Monthly Active Users)
- Craft ambitious Mozilla Learning and community strategy
Q1 Mozilla Foundation highlights
- Major victory in US net neutrality, with Mozilla getting 330k people to sign a petition.
- Launched Webmaker app at Mobile World Congress. Strong interest from partners, possible link to Orange FirefoxOS launch in Africa and Middle East.
March 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
The mobile Web is experiencing a watershed moment: over the next few years, billions of first-time users will come online exclusively through their smartphones. Mozilla believes it’s critically important these users find a mobile Web that’s open and invites creativity.
This was our rallying cry last week at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, where mobile technology leaders from around the globe discussed the industry’s future. It was encouraging to hear our rallying cry echoed by others: the GSMA, for example, dedicated significant time and floor space to promoting digital inclusivity.
As a first-timer to MWC, I was really proud of how Mozilla showed up. We unveiled a partnership with French mobile provider Orange, which can equip millions of users across 13 African countries with a Firefox OS smartphone and six months of data and voice service — for just $40. We announced a simple smartphone for first-time users that we’ll release with Verizon in the U.S. next year. And we debuted the beta Webmaker app, a free, open source publishing tool that makes creating local content simple.
Personally, I participated in two panels: One on digital inclusion and one on the power of connected citizens in crisis situations. These sessions gave us a chance to double down on our stance that access alone isn’t the answer — it’s only the first step.
While I disagree with many of their tactics, I was happy to see people like internet.org throwing out a vision for connecting everyone on the planet. But they are really missing the boat on literacy, skills and creativity. Most people will get connected at some point over the next 10 years; the real risk is people not getting the know-how they need to truly unlock the potential of the internet and make their lives better. We were able to effectively get that message across at MWC.
One of the highlights from the panel discussions was meeting Kartik Sheth from Airtel of India. He talked about Airtel’s onboarding program, which introduces people to the internet by focusing on specific content they really want (a Bollywood music video, for example). Then, they educate users about what services the internet offers and what data costs through that process (e.g. introducing people to YouTube and helping them understand that watching a music video doesn’t cost that much in data). This may sound simple, but it’s actually the kind of “ambient web literacy” that we really need to be thinking about. It has the potential not only to give people very basic internet knowledge, but also to help us avoid what I’m starting to call “the Facebook Effect.”
Of course, Mozilla is committed to web literacy at a much deeper level than just basic onboarding. We spent a good deal of time talking with people at MWC about our growing Learning Networks and Clubs. Our Clubs feature curricula that can be remixed and reimagined, and are held in diverse languages and venues. We met with a ton of people ranging from phone carriers to international agencies aimed at empowering women. And these people expressed interest in helping Mozilla both grow these networks and distribute the Webmaker app.
I left MWC energized by these sort of conversations. Feels like more momentum than ever. If you want to be a part of it, it’s worth checking out Webmaker.org/LocalWeb. This site includes a bunch of the research and partnership opportunities we talked to people about in Barcelona, as well as a link to the Webmaker app beta.
February 15, 2015 § 3 Comments
Don’t wait for permission. If you have an idea that excites you, a thing you want to prototype, a skill you proudly want to share, an annoying bug you want to fix, a conversation you want to convene: don’t wait for someone else to say yes. Just do it!
This is useful (and common) advice for pretty much any endeavor. But, for Mozilla and Mozillians, it’s critical. Especially right now.
We’ve committed to building a more radical approach to participation over the next three years. And, more specifically, we ultimately want to get to a place where we have more Mozilla activities happening than the centralized parts of the org can track, let alone control.
How do we do this? One big step is reinvigorating Mozilla’s overall architecture of participation: the ways we help people connect, collaborate and get shit done. This is both important and urgent. However, as we work on this, there is something even more urgent: keeping up the momentum that comes from simply taking action and building great stuff. We need to maintain momentum and reinvigorate our architecture of participation in tandem in order to succeed. And I worry a little that recent discussions of participation have focused a little too heavily on the architecture part so far.
The good news: Mozillians have a deep history of having a good idea and just running with it. With the best ideas, others start to pitch in time and resources. And momentum builds.
A famous example of this is the Firefox 1.0 New York times ad in 2004. A group of volunteers and supporters had the idea of celebrating the launch of Firefox in a big way. They came up with a concept and started running with it. As a momentum built, Mozilla Foundation staff came in to help. The result was the the first high profile crowd-funded product launch in history — and a people-powered kickoff to Firefox’s dramatic rise in popularity.
This kind of thing still happens all the time today. A modest example from the last few weeks: the Mozilla Bangladesh community’s participation at BASIS. Mozilla volunteers arranged to get a booth and a four hour time slot for free at this huge local tech event, something other companies paid $10,000 to get. They then organized an ambitious program that covered everything from Firefox OS demos to contributing to SuMo to teaching web literacy to getting involved in MDN, QA and web app development — they covered a broad swatch of top priority Mozilla topics and goals. Mozilla staff helped and encouraged remotely. But this really was driven locally and from the ground up.
Separated by 10 years and operating at very different scale, these two examples have a number of things in common: the ideas and activities were independently initiated but still tied back to core Mozilla priorities; initial resources needed to get the idea moving were gathered by the people who would make it happen (i.e. initial donations or free space at a conference); staff from the central Mozilla organization came in later in the process and played a supporting role. In each case, decentralized action led to activities and outcomes that drove things forward on Mozilla’s overall goals of the time (e.g. Firefox adoption, Webmaker growth, SuMo volunteer recruitment).
This same pattern has happened thousands of times over, with bug fixes, documentation, original ideas that make it into core products and, of course, with ads and events. While there are many other ways that people participate, independent and decentralized action where people ‘just do something’ is an important and real part of how Mozilla works.
As we figure out how to move forward with our 2015+ participation plan, I want to highlight this ‘don’t wait for permission’ aspect of Mozilla. Two things seem particularly important to focus on right now:
First: strengthening decentralized leadership at Mozilla. For me, this is critical if we’re serious about radical participation. It’s so core to who we are and how we win. To make progress here, we need to admit that we’re not as good at decentralized leadership today as we want or need to be. And then we need to have an an honest discussion about the goals that Mozilla has in the current era and how to build up decentralized leadership in a way helps move those goals forward. This is a key piece of ‘reinvigorating Mozilla’s architecture of participation’.
A second, and more urgent, topic: maintaining momentum across the Mozilla community. It’s critical that Mozillians continue act on their ideas and take initiative even as we work through these broader questions of participation. I’ve had a couple of conversations recently that went something like ‘it feels like we need to wait on a ‘final plan’ re: participation before going ahead with an idea we have’. I’m not sure if I was reading those conversations right or if this is a widespread feeling. If it is, we’re in deep trouble. We won’t get to more radical participation simply by bringing in new ideas from other orgs and redesigning how we work. In fact, the more important ingredient is people taking action at the grassroots — running with an idea, prototyping something, sharing a skill, fixing an annoying bug, convening a conversation. It’s this sort of action that fuels momentum both in our community and with our products.
For me, focusing on both of these themes simultaneously — keeping momentum and reinvigorating our architecture of participation — is critical. If we focus only on momentum, we may get incrementally better at participation, but we won’t have the breakthroughs we need. If we just focus on new approaches and architectures for participation, we risk stalling or losing the faith or getting distracted. However, if we can do both at once, we have the chance to unlock something really powerful over the next three years — a new era of radical participation at Mozilla.
The draft participation plan we’ve developed for the next three years is designed with this in mind. It includes a new Community Development Team to help us keep momentum, with a particular focus on supporting Mozilla community members around the world who are taking action right now. And we are setting up a Participation Task Force (we need a better name for this!) to get new ideas and systems in place that help us improve the overall architecture of participation at Mozilla. These efforts are just a few weeks old. As they build steam and people get involved, I believe they have the potential to take us where we want to go.
Of course, the teams behind our participation plan are a just a small part of the story: they are a support for staff and volunteers across Mozilla who want to get better at participation. The actual fuel of participation will come from all of us running with our ideas and taking action. This is the core point of my post: moving towards a more radical approach to participation is something each of us must play a role in. Playing that role doesn’t flow from plans or instructions from our participation support teams. It flows from rolling up our sleeves to passionately pursue good ideas with the people around us. That’s something all of us need to do right now if we believe that radical participation is an important part of Mozilla’s future.
February 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
I’ve talked lots about our Mozilla Learning plan for the next three years. If you haven’t seen it, there’s a new summary of the overall plan here: https://blog.webmaker.org/2015_plan. I also did a talk in Portland with an overview:
Of course, three years is a long time. And the the scope of the Mozilla Learning plan is very broad: everything from basic web literacy to more advanced web development to growing the next generation of Mozilla leaders.
In this post I want to zoom in to lay out more detail about the Webmaker parts of this plan. What are we working on over the next 60 days? What will the Webmaker world look like April 1? How will it take our first step towards the overall plan? And what does success look like for 2015?
At a high level, the Webmaker side of our 2015 plans is focused on two things: relationships and reach. We want to build and deepen relationships with more people — Webmaker users, mentors, and future leaders. And we want to extend those relationships into more places. Our specific goals are to reach 250,000 active Webmaker users by the end of the year and to be active in 500 cities with ongoing learning network.
In the immediate term, we’re focused on testing out the theories we have about how we meet these goals. This includes testing out our thinking on Webmaker clubs and finding ways to get users more engaged with the online side of Webmaker.
- For Learning Networks, our Q1 goals are:
- Test new Webmaker Clubs model in 20 cities
- Retain volunteer mentors recruited last year. Make sure they stay engaged (goal: 4K).
- Increase the number of Hive cities to 10.
- For Learning Products, our Q1 goals are:
- Increase Webmaker for desktop and mobile monthly active users to 5% of monthly unique visitors (current = 2.07%)
- Signal our emphasis on mobile, with the Webmaker app beta launches at Mobile World Congress (Mar 2 – 5)
- Start exploring early ways we might include webmaking directly into Firefox by prototyping 5 Firefox for Making concepts
Of course, these are just our top six priorities. There is alot more going on. Which raises the question: what are you working on and what do you think is important? I’m interested in hearing more from you. Please post your reflections using #webmaker on Twitter, to the Planet Webmaker aggregated blog or get in touch.
February 1, 2015 § 1 Comment
What is radical participation? I asked this question early last month. Since then I’ve collected comments from my blog and from dozens of conversations. The result was more — and better – questions. Like:
- Do we need radical new approaches, or a return to our roots? (Axel, Greg)
- Can we use ‘the promise of impact’ to draw in the best contributors? (Ian)
- How do people do *new* things under the Mozilla banner? (Ian + others)
- Can we make participation in core product work easier? (Lawrence, Gregory)
- Does staff vs. volunteer binary limit us? Other models to consider? (Mark)
- What’s the best way to get new contributors aligned and effective? (Elio)
- Is there ow hanging fruit we can fix (e.g. contribute.mozilla.org)? (Martin)
Responses have been positive: the consensus is that Mozilla needs to double down on participation. However, the meatier part of my interactions with people have been around more specific questions like the ones above.
These questions feel like a good place to dig in. I’m going to tackle a few of them in follow up posts over the next couple of weeks. If there is a question that interests you, I encourage you to dig in on your own blog.
January 26, 2015 § 13 Comments
Mozilla needs a more creative and radical approach to participation in order to succeed. That is clear. And, I think, pretty widely agreed upon across Mozilla at this stage. What’s less clear: what practical steps do we take to supercharge participation at Mozilla? And what does this more creative and radical approach to participation look like in the everyday work and lives of people involved Mozilla?
This post outlines what we’ve done to begin answering these questions and, importantly, it’s a call to action for your involvement. So read on.
Over the past two months, we’ve written a first draft Mozilla Participation Plan. This plan is focused on increasing the impact of participation efforts already underway across Mozilla and on building new methods for involving people in Mozilla’s mission. It also calls for the creation of new infrastructure and ways of working that will help Mozilla scale its participation efforts. Importantly, this plan is meant to amplify, accelerate and complement the many great community-driven initiatives that already exist at Mozilla (e.g. SuMo, MDN, Webmaker, community marketing, etc.) — it’s not a replacement for any of these efforts.
At the core of the plan is the assumption that we need to build a virtuous circle between 1) participation that helps our products and programs succeed and 2) people getting value from participating in Mozilla. Something like this:
This is a key point for me: we have to simultaneously pay attention to the value participation brings to our core work and to the value that participating provides to our community. Over the last couple of years, many of our efforts have looked at just one side or the other of this circle. We can only succeed if we’re constantly looking in both directions.
With this in mind, the first steps we will take in 2015 include: 1) investing in the ReMo platform and the success of our regional communities and 2) better connecting our volunteer communities to the goals and needs of product teams. At the same time, we will: 3) start a Task Force, with broad involvement from the community, to identify and test new approaches to participation for Mozilla.
The belief is that these activities will inject the energy needed to strengthen the virtuous circle reasonably quickly. We’ll know we’re succeeding if a) participation activities are helping teams across Mozilla measurably advance product and program goals and b) volunteers are getting more value out of their participation out of Mozilla. These are key metrics we’re looking at for 2015.
Over the longer run, there are bigger ambitions: an approach to participation that is at once massive and diverse, local and global. There will be many more people working effectively and creatively on Mozilla activities than we can imagine today, without the need for centralized control. This will result in a different and better, more diverse and resilient Mozilla — an organization that can consistently have massive positive impact on the web and on people’s lives over the long haul.
Making this happen means involvement and creativity from people across Mozilla and our community. However, a core team is needed to drive this work. In order to get things rolling, we are creating a small set of dedicated Participation Teams:
- A newly formed Community Development Team that will focus on strengthening ReMo and tying regional communities into the work of product and program groups.
- A participation ‘task force’ that will drive a broad conversation and set of experiments on what new approaches could look like.
- And, eventually, a Participation Systems Team will build out new infrastructure and business processes that support these new approaches across the organization.
For the time being, these teams will report to Mitchell and me. We will likely create an executive level position later in the year to lead these teams.
As you’ll see in the plan itself, we’re taking very practical and action oriented steps, while also focusing on and experimenting with longer-term questions. The Community Development Team is working on initiatives that are concrete and can have impact soon. But overall we’re just at the beginning of figuring out ‘radical participation’.
This means there is still a great deal of scope for you to get involved — the plans are still evolving and your insights will improve our process and the plan. We’ll come out with information soon on more structured ways to engage with what we’re calling the ‘task force’. In the meantime, we strongly encourage your ideas right away on ways the participation teams could be working with products and programs. Just comment here on this post or reach out to Mitchell or me.
PS. I promised a follow up on my What is radical participation? post, drawing on comments people made. This is not that. Follow up post on that topic still coming.