Mozilla as teacher

September 12, 2011 § 29 Comments

We need to teach the world to code. Not just future engineers and web developers (although this is essential). But also teachers, journalists, filmmakers, artists, scientists and curious kids. These are the people who make much of the web. They need to understand code.

This has been the premise behind much of what we have done with Mozilla Drumbeat: people who make stuff on the internet are better creators and better online citizens if they know at least a little bit about the web’s basic building blocks. Even if they only learn a little HTML, the web gets better.

This premise has been most explicit in Hackasaurus and School of Webcraft. Hackasaurus invites teenagers to learn the basics of HTML by remixing and making web pages, embracing the idea that that web is infinitely rewriteable. School of Webcraft offers study groups where people can learn more advanced web skills.

While less explicitly educational, similar learning is happening in other Mozilla Drumbeat projects. For example, MoJo‘s fellowship program is all about bringing open web skills and thinking into newsrooms. It includes a learning lab with weekly guest lectures from mentors like Chris Heilmann and John Resig. And our partnership with the Bay Area Video Coalition introduces young filmmakers to the web as a canvas for their work, using tools like Popcorn to show what HTML5 can do for budding filmmakers.

Of course, ‘teacher’ isn’t quite the right word for the role Mozilla is playing in all of this. Everything we’re doing is about learning through making and collaborating on the web. Everyone involved is teaching each other. But the point remains: Mozilla can — and should — be a driver of learning code. And in many ways, it already is — a global community of passionate experts constantly sharpening our skills through hands-on collaboration, learning what we need from each other as go.

As we reviewed Drumbeat projects over the summer, the idea that teaching and learning about code is central to what we’re doing became clear. Our review also raised the question: could this idea of ‘Mozilla as teacher’ be a central part of what our community is about over the long run?

Personally, I think the answer is yes. As I said in previous post, I believe Mozilla has an opportunity to become the most important technology learning and research org on the planet: a whole new kind of learning institution based on the principles of the web.

Obviously, this is something much bigger than the few educational programs we’ve started in the last 18 months through Mozilla Drumbeat. But we do have the building blocks. School of Webcraft, Hackasaurus, Open Badges, Popcorn, MoJo, etc. all have elements that could be rolled into a much bigger, more ambitous vision for gettting people to teach each other to code.

I have some concrete ideas on how this might work, spinning what we’ve started with Drumbeat into something bigger. Also, I’m thinking through how we connect a ‘Mozilla as teacher’ persona with a ‘Mozilla as inventor’ persona. I’ll post on these things soon.

In the meantime, I’m wondering how this theme of ‘Mozilla as teacher’ resonates with people? Does the general idea feel right? Is there a different and better way to express it?

§ 29 Responses to Mozilla as teacher

  • deimidis says:

    I think that the idea is perfect and a great way to help our mission. I’m not sure with «teacher», I don’t know if «spreader» exists in english. Or like you said, a repository (but ths sound impersonal)

  • alinamierlus says:


    I really like the idea of webmaker (Mozilla as a community of webmakers) you exposed in last posts. I’m also very positive about the new community members that entered in Mozilla through Drumbeat (I think that we can learn a lot from them, but we also help them by spreading Mozilla’s culture: open technology, multi-local / multilingual communities, open meritocracy etc.).

    And I also believe that Education is fundamental to get more people play with the “web building blocks” and advance the Mozilla’s mission. Still, I don’t see the “Mozilla as a teacher” the right naming for the org. As you say, among the learning community, we also have the innovation community, the localization community and peers inventing new things for the web – mostly using code.

    In my personal vision, I would take the best from a teacher (the ability to inspire and empower) and I would see Mozilla more as a “reference tech. organization” for other learning/media institutions. Inspire them through our community of peers, empower them through open technology and tools we are building. And offer a different/agile learning repository. But that’s my own vision.

  • Ken Saunders says:

    Mozilla as mentor seems most appropriate.

    I do agree with the role. I’ve learned a lot from Mozilla from writing (basic) code, learning why an open and accessible (to all) Internet is essential, the importance of web standards, the potential harm of propriety formats and lock-ins, and much more, plus I continue to learn.
    But the majority of what I learned wasn’t from a well structured central source, it was/is from interacting with other Mozillians and in many different communities, from blogs, newsgroups, irc, forums, and so on, over several years.

    I think that Mozilla has been on the right track starting with Drumbeat and continuing to expand outward but staying fairly organized.

    My opinion for moving forward is that is very important for Mozilla to have and be a hub for these educational resources and projects so that there’s always a starting point, and so that there’s a place to return to for more opportunities and further learning.

    Keeping it fun, hands-on, and exciting is helpful too.

    • msurman says:

      Lot’s of people have said ‘mentor’ is better. On first blush, I agree. Especially if we say ‘Mozillians as mentors’ — imagining a global community of people helping each other learn.

      I still wonder if teacher is better as a marketing term, or at least to galvanize a conversation. People immediately get what you mean even if they aren’t in the education and learning space. I suspect I wouldn’t have gotten so many helpful reactions to this post if I’d called it Mozilla as mentor :).

      In any case, I’m going to do a follow up post on exactly this topic, likely called ‘Mozillians as mentors’. Coming soon.

      • Ken Saunders says:

        I suppose that mentor seems like (and may be) a friendlier, perhaps even more modest word. I’ve had many mentors who were also my friends, but few teachers that were.

  • Perfect timing on this – I’ve seen a number of initiatives recently that share your focus. Here in the UK two stand out: Raspberry Pi (an attempt to create an extremely cheap, hackable microcomputer for classrooms) and Young Rewired State (an organisation dedicated to getting kids / teenagers together to hack on gov data and so forth). If you haven’t already met Emma Mulqueeny (@hubmum) who runs YRS, I’d be happy to introduce you!

  • davidbruant says:

    Even though I agree on the overall idea, I would like to refine it. Before even educating the world on code, I think we should be educating people on how the web works (read the “true stories” at the beginning of ).

    On famous quote of Mitchell Baker is “The average consumer does not know the difference between browser, Internet and search box.”. I think this is still true in Sept 2011. Before thinking about code, we need to make people understand the architecture of the web, that information is flexible, flows, that when they send some information over the wire, they hand control over their data to the server they send the data to (Facebook? Google?).

    By teaching how information flows in a computer and the web, we can make people understand how different it is to search on Google (which has access to google searches) and to browse with Chrome (which has access to the entire browsing history, potentially even in private mode!!)

    By teaching the distributed nature of the web, we can make people understand that unlike TV and Radio, they can easily be providers, creators, makers. Unlike with TV and radio, they can collaborate and create together.

    And after having spent 30 minutes on that (because it does not require more!), then we can spend 20 minutes to teach the basics of HTML (it does not require more than that!)

    Also, coding in HTML, CSS, JS and putting your work on a server is different from the rest of coding. Someone who writes a(n “offline”) C program has pretty much the same “power” than someone who draws on a paper or a whiteboard. Coding “for the web” is very different from coding at all in that “coding at all” does not necessarily have a dimension of sharing.

    Teaching people how to code is one good thing to empower them as creators. Teaching people how the web works beforehand will empower them as users.

    As a concrete example, I have a friend who yesterday told me she switched from HTTP to HTTPS on Facebook “because it’s more secure”. I asked whether she knew how it was more secure. She didn’t know, so I told her. And now she knows that when she uses a public wifi and HTTP, potentially anyone could see what information is going out of her computer.

    I think that teaching people how to code without giving them a correct understanding of the web architecture and how information flows in computers and the network would not be enough. In any case, Mozilla would be one correct organisation to fill this role.

  • […] to Mozilla as teacher Posted on September 13, 2011 by laura Inspiration for this post is: Mozilla as teacher by Mark SurmanWhen I read the first line of Mark’s post “We need to teach the world to code,” I was […]

    • msurman says:

      Posted this in response to Laura’s blog above, putting here for the record:

      Totally agree with all of this. Teaching the world to code — and, as you say, convincing people that a little coding isn’t as complicated as they might think — is an end goal, not a marketing slogan.

      The first step for almost all people is internet literacy. That’s central the architecture that I want to lay out (probably 2 blog postings from now). We’re starting w/ Hackasaurus, but what we learn there will certainly be something we extend to lots of audiences. So we haven’t backed off on internet literacy.

      The one thing I do want to back off on for now is that social marketing is the way to tackling basic internet literacy. When we dug into that, we went almost no where. For my money, p2p teaching of even this most basic stuff will be the way we scale and have impact. Like helping your artist friend upload a picture.

  • OpenMatt says:

    +1 that “Mozilla as mentor” may be a better frame than “Mozilla as teacher”

  • Wil says:

    David Bruant I am ur woman! Love to learn the basics.

  • James Manson says:

    I think learning how to use web technology, or any new technology has to be something folks are driven to do. There has to be a value proposition, a connection between learning something new and what benefit will be received for the individuals time investment. As one fellow mentioned above, most internet users don’t know the difference between a browser and a search engine, but if you asked them they’ll tell you that they have all the knowledge they need find answers to their questions on the web.

    So I’m not sure the question is “how do we teach/educate users” it’s “how do we make learning new information more valuable”. For beginners, and users new to the world of web development, Mozilla might function less like a teacher and more like a guidance counselor showing users how “valuable” the new knowledge of coding can be; then where to find more resources. From the backend, supporting a site like the Khan Academy in the creation of a series of videos would no doubt be a great start in getting a wide range of first time coders learning basic skills (such sites already have the goal of educating youth and helping teachers, why not help them expand the scope?). In this way Mozilla can still maintains its core modus operandi as an “inventor”, but also support and promote those individuals and organizations that have complementary goals of enhancing education.

  • Greg Wilson says:

    Jon Udell made a list of the seven things he thinks people need to know in order to think like the web: I did a different list (aimed at scientists who want to write-enable the web): I can’t speak for Jon, but after 14 years, I think these can only be taught by example: we have to show people how to do things (even little things), then say, “Now here’s the big picture that what you just did is an example of.”

  • Doug Belshaw says:

    Mark, this is a *great* idea as the Open Education space needs some thought leadership! I’m not sure ‘teacher’ is the right term, but it’s a good place to get the ball rolling.

    I currently work for JISC infoNet ( in the UK and am supporting the OER3 programme which starts soon ( Strand 4 of this is about Open Educational *Practice* after two successful programmes about creating, sharing and repurposing Open Educational Resources.

    I’d be very interested in hearing more about this – hopefully at the Mozilla Festival in London in November? 🙂

  • […] of “inventor”. In a recent blog post, Mark Surman wanted to find out whether “Mozilla as teacher“ resonates and what other terms might be […]

  • […] post is part of a response to Mark Surman's "Mozilla as Teacher". In the first part I suggest that "Mozilla as educator" may be a better framing, in this I discuss […]

  • Ross Gardler says:

    Like other commentators I much prefer “mentor” teacher. Teaching trends to be a one way process, mentoring is two way. You also refer to Mozilla as the inventor. This is great, but someone needs to bring those inventions to the masses. I’m not sure if you picked the word inventor rather than innovator deliberately, but mentoring people who are innovating with the Mozilla inventions sounds really attractive to me (not that little old me matters 😉

  • […] Mozilla-land. Mark Surman continued his recent spurt of blog posting with his discussion of ‘Mozilla as Teacher‘ which spurred a few people to respond and also announced the launch of Mozilla Open Badges […]

    • msurman says:

      Posted this reply on Juksie’s blog:

      The internet literacy step totally needs to be in there. As I said in my response to Laura, we’re trying to work this out now in Hackasaurus (still nascent), knowing it leads to something bigger. In fact, it’s likely bigger than ‘learning to code’ in some ways.

      I’m imagining something like a ladder: basic literacy and tinkering at the base (e.g. hackasaurus) moving eventually to mastering code and inventing things at the top (e.g. a master class program we haven’t create yet). I’m going to blog about these ‘steps’ 🙂 soon, but want to lay out some of the base thinking first.

      On the Book of the Web question you asked, you can find what we did here:

      Personally, I think we did an okay job at identifying some of the things people need to know (e.g. how to read a URL) but totally failed to come up w/ compelling ways to deliver as social marketing. IMHO, hands on stuff like Hackasaurus is going to be more successful in the short term than social marketing.

  • […] Mozilla as teacher « commonspace. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  • What you’re saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I also love the images you put in here. They fit so well with what you’re trying to say. I’m sure you’ll reach so many people with what you’ve got to say.


  • […] Post #3: We need to teach the world to code. Or, more specifically, we need to mentor web makers on a massive scale, giving them new skills to make their corners of the web more creative, participatory and open-ended. We need a big community of mentors to do this. […]

  • Hey Mark,

    In theory I believe folks need to learn to code, or at least learn to code to appreciate how the web works and how it is malleable and hence feel empowered to create their own web…So given that I believe this, I am a little uneasy with the goal being teach the folks to code as I see coding as yet another literacy like reading, writing, computing that we haven’t succeed in teaching to the masses, especially the underprivileged. I now believe that we haven’t succeed because by focusing on developing folks ability to master the literate tool (e.g. reading) we haven’t focused enough on what one does with the tool-which is communicate.

    I think we need to focus on creating desirable spaces and learning contexts where the key modes of communication for the space/learning context require folks learn to code to participate in a conversation in which they want to engage. In this way folks learn how to use the literacy tool of coding and understand its context of use.

    I think Myspace was great example of this. There was a period where everyone on Myspace learned basic html in order to customize their page. The desire to control the presentation of one’s identity motivated everyone to learn html-even girls. Of course when the masses moved to Facebook the need to communicate via html was reduced and consequently fewer youth code, male and female.

    I have seen this in our own work with the Digital Youth Network. When we created an environment where the ability to create videos, songs, etc was a valued social capital students put in hours learning these media skills. However, when they graduated middle school and attended high schools that didn’t value media creation as a social capital then the same student who had spent 3 hours a night making media ceased to spend 45 minutes.

    Our challenge is to create an ecology where coding has social capital because it enables a person to enter a conversation they want to enter.

  • […] CSS properties into the curriculum outline just so that I could make a demo that only semi-sucks.We need to teach the world to code at least a little bit, but how much code does a person need? How do we define the absolute […]

  • Yolanda says:

    Very interesting project, i have teaching web desing for a long time and it´s time to use free code apps, I want to belong to this new achievement. I live in Spain and here there are few people who are confortable with Internet and design. I want to participate!!! thank you

  • […] Lehrer? Interessiert Menschen vom Benutzern des Internets zu Machern des Internets zu bewegen? Die Mozilla Webmaker-Initiative versucht das Verständnis von Webtechnologien zu erhöhen und der Welt das Programmieren beizubringen. […]

  • […] came up in the debate about ‘Mozilla as teacher’ vs. ‘Mozilla as mentor’ in response to one of my recent posts. Ken Saunders […]

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