Creating a web literate planet (summary)

October 5, 2011 § 28 Comments

I want to us create a web literate planet. One where almost everyone — filmmakers, teachers, scientists, artists, bankers — understands what’s going under the hood on the web. Can take things apart. Remix them. Express what they want the web to be. Since starting Mozilla Drumbeat 18 months ago, I have seen that there is a thirst for this.

This thirst shows up partly in ideas: people calling out for web literacy, and in particular for a world where everyone knows at least a little code. Douglas Rushkoff is an example:

When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but to write. And as we now moved into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them.

I experience this thirst even more viscerally when I look at the web makers, including my 11 year old son. He posts video game commentaries online everyday. He craves creating things on the web. Yet, increasingly, he bumps up against the black box of YouTube, unable to take it apart, understand it or reconfigure how it works. He is not fully web literate.

As outlined in a number of posts recently, I believe Mozilla can play a leading role in creating a web literate planet. Concretely, I think Mozilla can — and should — build out a major P2P learning initiative that teaches web skills and web literacy to coders and non-coders alike. We should also take an active role building up the whole ecosystem of orgs emerging around web literacy and innovative, web-like learning.

With the aim of focusing (and firing up) a conversation on these ideas, I’ve written a summary of all my posts so far here. My major points have been:

Post #1: Our biggest achievement in the first 18 months of Drumbeat has been carving out a new way for Mozilla to work: teaching and building things with people I call ‘web makers’. The next thing we should do is build on this particular aspect of Drumbeat.

Post #2: The people I am calling web makers are teachers, filmmakers, journalists, artists, scientists, game makers and curious kids who a) want to be part of what Mozilla is doing and b) are making things using the open building blocks that are the web.

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.

Post #4: We’ve noticed something: impressive learning happens when people get to make something new and innovative. If we want to drive learning, we also need to build a lab where people are invited to tinker, make and invent future pieces of the web.

Post #5: At the foundation of all this, we need a P2P pedagogy built around friendship and passion for a particular topic or interest (e.g. hip hop). Our mantra might be: people learn at Mozilla by building exciting things on the web with their friends.

Post #6: To make this concrete: we need a clear simple Mozilla learning program that anyone can dive into, no matter their age or skill level. This starts with the best bits of Drumbeat: Hackasaurus, School of Webcraft, MoJo, etc.. And is wrapped in a system of Mozilla badges that recognize the most skilled and generous community members.

What I am proposing is building a global P2P learning institution, tinkering lab and web skills certification system into the core of Mozilla’s work. Which raises the question, doesn’t this already exist? Partly yes, but mostly no.

Lots of people teach about computers. Few people teach about the web. For school age kids, the bulk of the focus remains on basic office apps and watching out for cyberbullies. And, for adults, the most popular out of school tech programs still continue to be things like the MCSE and Cisco Academy. Technical, but not very webbish, and certainly not at all helpful to the web makers.

Similarly, many people talk about educational innovation on the web. Few are trying build web-like learning experiences where making, tinkering and collaboration are at the core. You can see this in the myriad of e-learning and open educational resource sites that simply present videotaped classroom lectures. They aren’t even aiming a P2P pedagogy that works like the web.

Luckily, there are pioneers who are pushing forward on both web literacy and p2p pedagogy. Projects like Code Academy, Young Rewired State and CodeNow are teaching people great web coding skills. And people like Howard Rheingold, Cathy Davidson, Philipp Schmidt, Katie Salen, Dave Humphrey and everyone in MacArthur’s broader digital media and learning community are building learning experiences that work like the web. These are Mozilla’s allies, people we can both learn from and support as we build out a broader ecosystem around all of these ideas.

For now, we have a question: should Mozilla go big in learning? And how? The role we can play in teaching web skills and web literacy at a massive scale is clear, at least to me. And there is huge potential to contribute more broadly to learning innovation with things like Open Badges. But, as we deliberate on where to go next with Drumbeat, are these the right places to focus our energy?

PS. If you want to read more detail, I’ve posted all of my posts on this topic on a single page here.

§ 28 Responses to Creating a web literate planet (summary)

  • Mulqueeny says:

    To answer your question: should Mozilla do this? Oh yes very much so. Please do! I have only come to realise the extent of the gap between what is taught and what needs to be known over the last few years, through Young Rewired State and also through working closely with governments and orgs as they embrace Open: businesses, data, platforms, borders etc.

    Much has been said, many many many many times over the years about ICT and education, but we have already lapped ourselves on this one – it is no longer just ICT, but all subjects that can only move forward and be learned, shared and explored fully with a good dollop of understanding computational thinking and digital nous.

    In my own personal view, this challenge is so great that whilst current best efforts by the dedicated relative few will probably do a good enough job over a very long time – but actually I don’t think the next generations (or even this) have time for this. It is not too melodramatic to say that worldwide power balance will change, favouring the educated. This has always been true.

    Having the infrastructure, network, understanding and ethos of Mozilla focused on this from the very top of the organisation all the way through to its various worldwide digits is such an important moment in the future of education. Not only education of young people and people not yet born, but immediate learning for those already graduated and working.

    Open Badges was a great start and I am very definitely not the person to begin to start recommending the ‘how’ Mozilla achieves the aims laid out here – but the collective knowledge will help steer. You have many outliers, including us, we can help you get this right.

    Good news indeed.

    • This is a fantastic blog post, Mark. I wish that every child were learning Scratch or another elementary form of computer code from the beginning, even if they were not going on as programmers. Understanding how things works is essential, and code is one of those skills that you don’t just learn, you build upon and get better and better at.

      I should mention that one of the participating fields in HASTAC is called Digital Humanities or, more recently, Public Humanities or Public Digital Humanities. It means that all the kinds of content that humanists make–history, literature, understanding new media, critical thinking about media, philosophy, the arts, music, and interpretive social sciences such as cultural anthropology or political theory–are given not only digital archives and multimedia forms of interactive communication but are made available to the larger public. Some in Digital Humanities think you should not even be allowed to be part of this field unless you do your own coding. I have very strongly opposed that because I do not believe you promote anything by making an entry requirement, and I don’t think you necessarily have a great project if the subject-matter expert also has to be the expert coder. HASTAC believes in a method called “collaboration by difference” where we work on project teams where we not only share expertise but we respect, profoundly, those areas and skills that are different from our own. A basic way of doing that is knowing enough about one another’s skills (even on an elementary way) to be able to participate fully in a design challenge.

      This is almost the opposite of either lock-box thinking where you isolate yourself within your own domain—and it is the opposite of pre-packaged thinking. It’s really understanding enough about code (in this case) to be able to ask the right questions, to probe, to participate even if your own code is not sufficiently current to be able to contribute to the development yourself. I don’t know that everyone in the world is capable of being or interested in devoting the time to being a great programmer. But I know that everyone should have the basics to understand what it is, how the system works, and, maybe most important, why it is important for all of us to work to keep the web as open as possible. Not everyone can be a professional programmer but everyone should be an ardent champion of the web.

      That’s not the same thing that you are saying, Mark, but it might well be one way in which HASTAC contributes to the Drumbeat mission of creating a world of “web makers.” Here’s an analogy from politics: not everyone is an elected official, but we need everyone’s informed, concerned, and attentive participation to ensure elected officials thrive in ethical, productive ways. It’s about democratic participation on different levels, in order that the end result–a stronger web, stronger web makers–flourishes in our schools, in afterschool programs, online, through peer-learning, and everywhere else.

      Thanks for all you do. You are inspiring, Mark. We at HASTAC are so happy to be part of this initiative and to support it by bringing in what may be surprising support from the humanities and arts communities. I don’t believe the web is just for techies—that is the misconception we have to dispel. This is for all of us, but only if we are invested in it’s being a genuine resource for the larger human community and fighting and educating ourselves to make sure that continues and prevails.

  • Absolutely Mozilla should go big in Learning (you already have, why stop now). My very unbiased view is that Mozilla is functioning as a catalyst for the development of our social consciousness. Maybe it sounds a little over-the-top, but I’ve seen how people respond to the P2P events and programs you’re organizing. There’s a definite cognitive shift happening because of our maker culture, the web and our ability to connect with each other through time and space. Skills acquired through P2P initiatives aren’t just tangible skills like coding, you’re spreading something far more valuable than *just* web skills.

    To answer the question of “how”, I would just point to the programs you’re running already. It seems that you have already found the successful methods of teaching and learning and you just have to keep doing that. Mozilla has to continue to create programs and activities focused on specific groups of people. As you create and modify programs for various target audiences (eg journalists need something a little different than filmmakers), you should pay attention to what works for who, what doesn’t work and then modify, change, grow, learn. Get it wrong a few times, that’s part of learning.

  • Pixelh8 says:

    As always when it comes to getting kids to code count me in 🙂 I have spent the last five years doing this and have run workshops and after school clubs across the uk for thousands of students. So tell us what I can do to help.

  • Doug Belshaw says:

    Hi Mark,

    I think the answer a resounding “yes!”

    Two reasons:
    1. The commodification of the web means that providing and supporting open software is no longer enough. Teaching people how to reclaim the web is the logical next step for an organization with Mozilla’s guiding principles.

    2. There’s a real opportunity here for a technology-infused programme of learning (credentialised via open badges) based from the ground up on participatory pedagogies such as those espoused by Howard Rheingold.

    I’d add Connectivism (especially the work of Canadians Stephen Downes and George Siemens) to your list. You might also want to have a look at Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic learning. 🙂

  • Yes, yes, yes! I see two broad areas in which Mozilla could be helpful:

    1. Helping to create free and open social media learning platforms that educators worldwide can use — a bulwark against the increasingly for-profit and proprietary platforms.

    2. Helping educators learn to use these platforms for a more learner-centric, project-centered, collaborative, inquiry-based pedagogy.

    In regard to better learning platforms, I’d love to see Big Blue Button improved to the point where it has equivalent or better functionality than Blackboard Collaborate and Adobe Connect. I would love to use an open platform, but Big Blue Button isn’t there yet. Mozilla could focus the efforts of developers and fairly quickly bring us a synchronous tool that would enable multiple, high-quality audio and video streams, text chat, screen sharing, collaborative whiteboard, slideshows, and recording. In regard to asynchronous social media, I’d love to see Mozilla build on the work of the Social Media Classroom (, improving the functionality, user interface, and how-to-use-it materials for educators. Offering free or inexpensive hosted instances would be a huge pluss.

    In regard to providing manuals or other materials regarding best practices, Mozilla could help show the world that scaling what Freire called “the banking model” of education (i.e., it is the student’s job to receive the body of knowledge that educators deliver and “bank” it in their brains, rather than learning how to learn and understanding underlying principles). The Khan Academy, Open Educational Resources, TED, YouTube have provided a fantastic wealth of multimedia material, but learning does not consist solely of absorbing what others have produced. The kind of collaborative learning that Connectivism experiments, HASTAC educators, P2PU and others have pioneered could be vastly aided by handbooks, how-to materials, communities of practice that Mozilla could catalyze.

  • […] for a while, but a good source of both free and paid opportunities to learn new skill sets. # Creating a web literate planet (summary): Along the same lines, Mark Surman explains some of the efforts he’s helping to lead with […]

  • Mimi Ito says:

    Thanks for initiating this conversation Mark. It’s been so great to have you are a partner in the digital media and learning work. I would also add my voice to the enthusiastic “yes” chorus. Having key players the tech sector recognize that they are already in the business of driving learning has been a big win for us. Social media and online resources are the dominant learning platform for young people today, though many educators don’t see them as such. I have believed for many years now that we need to be exploring new models of public education that are keyed to our networked society, and that organizations like Mozilla, Internet Archive, Wikmedia, CC are the obvious places to start to build this vision in alliance with the sectors we traditionally associate with public education. Seconding other suggestions in this thread, I think the shared vision here are supports and platforms for learning that are open, end-to-end and bottom up scalable in nature, dedicated to the public interest and public knowledge and not purely market driven in nature.

  • Please, please—an open source Blackboard that emphasizes collaboration, not surveillance! That would be marvelous for educators and for the open web movement.

  • Can I add my voice to the open source learning network chorus?

  • The role of Mozilla has always been to promote and preserve the openness of the web. It was done in a belief that the web, and the internet beneath it, was the most important, revolutionary, inspiring thing to happen to humanity in generations. It was in danger of being subsumed by commercial or governmental control, and Mozilla’s presence in the marketplace went a long way to save it.

    Today the battle over open standards is mostly won, and the internet has become the dominant platform of the 21st century: economically, politically, culturally. It’s the place where we will decide the shape of the rest of our lives. To be illiterate in that platform is to be disenfranchised from the 21st century.

    Asking if Mozilla should go big in learning could be really asking, “Do we believe that what we have helped to build is important enough that everyone should know how to really use it?”

    The answer is obviously yes.

  • Leon Cych says:

    Having just come from the pre Mozilla Festival pub meetup in London I would wholeheartedly agree. What seems obvious to me is that the “social inflections” around learning to code and web media in particular are a powerful motor for educational change and a great template for co-creative learning. As someone who puts out a lot of tendrils into different social spaces on the web and who works in education I think the model is quite exciting. My agenda for this would be to create sustainable funding models for this to happen between people. Much like the TeachMeet and Purpos/ed movements in the UK which Doug Belshaw has already mentioned. For me there are four or five elements to help this model of learning along its way. The first is the use of mentors in the process – not only outside of institutions but inside as well. Just as enlightened organisations are taking place in the Mojo project it might be very interesting to but in a partnership with forward thinking schools – at present schools do have systems like this in the UK but funding and sustainability issues raise their head often – put in a series of what I would call ‘Plugin Partnerships” at local level to get appropriate funding for elements of the model and you have a more sustainable localised solution. The model of Hackdays and rapid protoyping around elements of social need in education is a very inspiring one. This kind of fits in the recent TedXLondon agenda of Education Revolution at the Roundhouse but the trouble was everyone was inspired but nowone had anywhere to go to connect up afterwards. Oraginisations like and Mozilla seem to be inhabiting this space and bringing new models to learning. So my answer is yes a thousand times let’s make it happen and let’s extend it to real engagement with learners at local and global levels.

  • Leon Cych says:

    And to answer Howard – the problem with the wonderful resources at the Khan Academy YouTube et al are that they are a “push” model of education – an archival – retrieval model and yes – even the Khan stuff is a black box – this is how the teacher sees it – or how I see it. What is more useful is to enable students to remodel their own learning and repurpose their own media so they can be fluent at reflecting on how they learn through that media. So yes, throw out models, but give overe the learning to those who are open to it – more open learning pump primed by mentoring and expertise virtual or face to face.

    This is where the highest values is. There need to be pathways for multiple models and peer to peer learning/ reflection where people can model it back to each other. At scale and in a highly localised fashion tp meet the needs of each community. So teaching coding is one thing teaching awareness of digital identity and how these techs roll out to affect people socially is another. And I believe one is the key to the other.

    The value lies in what I call the “social inflection” behind the process of learning through making media.

    Less “consumption” and more “production” and “reflection” and “discourse”. This has been the way education has been for a long time. Khan is discovering it doesn’t quite work the way it should through real life encounters and through praxis that this “is” how it works.

    That is why Mozilla is in exactly the right space for learning – I wouldn’t call it education. Look at the success of such things as Minecraft in recent years and a whole host of other examples. So paradoxically even though web development and a low floor to entry on coding is important the paradox here is the authenticity of locality which drives the learning. The uniqueness of place and community and how that focal point can be reconfigured and augmented by the tech. In some ways you could abstract the process from this wonderful notion and apply it to so many other areas. The epistemologies behind it are something we’ve had for a long time it’s just the social protocols that need changing perhaps… (Hopefully this time without the typos)

  • Helen Turvey says:

    So… there is something (I am not sure what) that I don’t feel comfortable about the ‘learning’ here. I am not sure exactly how to express it, but I feel (as a consumer of Mozilla) that I want leadership from you in helping to keep to keep the web open, and giving me tools to be able to control that myself. This is not exactly learning, more facilitating (through badges/hackasaurus etc…). I don’t want to ‘come to you’ or see you as a ‘place of learning’ – more the underlying champion, who will support me do those things myself.

    You use phrases like: who wants to be part of what Mozilla is doing – I want Mozilla to help me do what I do. And: people learn at Mozilla by building exciting things on the web with their friends – I want to learn in my web space – and again – Mozilla to support me.

    Your proposal:

    What I am proposing is building a global P2P learning institution, tinkering lab and web skills certification system into the core of Mozilla’s work

    I love the P2P learning institution – but again not convinced Mozilla is that – I would rather use Mozilla tech/standards and even badges (i.e. this is open web etc…) than go to Mozilla for this. I don’t want a world of Mozillians – I want independent creative thinkers. The thing that creative commons did well – was licence *your* work – integrate it into *your* institution – use *our* tools.

    Mozilla for me, is not Ubuntu (a place where everything is wrapped up for me), Mozilla is a doorway to my world online – I like that feeling, I trust it. Chatting to some colleagues about this, someone pointed out: if you do your job well – I will be unpacking the web and playing with it – without even noticing you are there – you are my gateway.

    What am I missing?

  • Absolutely! This should be a core focus for Mozilla. But I believe there also needs to be an additional educational effort aimed at senior school district administrators. (Teachers are usually not the problem). Largely out of ignorance, too many districts value a warped vision of “safety” over educational effectiveness when it comes to the web.

    A local K12 district in San Jose blocks this very blog along with all wikis, blogs, web forums and social network sites because they are “unregulated”. Discussions such as this one are deemed dangerous simply because anyone can participate. The superintendent, administrators, curriculum directors and teachers in the district can’t see this discussion from computers on the school LANs.

    Blogs and forums are the very on-ramps to the web. They are easiest places for newcomers to begin creating web content. We need to educate the educators and bring them into the 21st century and onto web.

    In the US, at least, we know who these people are, We need to enlighten about 17,000 district superintendents, and their senior staff. We need to convince them that an Open Web is an essential educational asset, not a threat.

  • davidillsley says:

    I agree a lot with what you say about web literacy, but, I’m a little nervous about some of the other parts.

    It’s clear that learning, education, teaching are broad terms which mean different things to different people. To me, Mozilla has a huge opportunity to facilitate tech learning in a way which scales, and which takes advantage of technology innovation and the multiplier effect a community can generate. Facilitation can be understood pretty broadly, and I’d have no worries about a pretty broad reading.

    I would worry about taking on a mission of explicit education or teaching which I think could quickly focus resources on small localised projects, rather than broad global projects which is where multiplier effects can take hold.

    Frameworks, platforms, hosting for courses and technology and coding playgrounds like coupled with a strong notion of identity, challenges and achievements sounds great.

    I am really confused by “Mozilla wants to spread web culture and skills at a massive scale by being the biggest, most innovative tech learning org on the planet.” as I don’t see “being the biggest” at anything as being a good goal. Being the most innovative, sure. Getting the most bang for the buck, or being the most effective, sure. By “being the biggest”?

  • […] Creating a web literate planet – Commonspace […]

  • […] also hoping to tune into some talks and sessions expanding on the recent spate of blogposts from Mark Surman about Mozilla ‘going big’ in education and the idea of a ‘web literate […]

  • Cable Green says:

    Yes – Mozilla should (1) go big in learning, (2) take an active role building up the ecosystem of web literacy orgs and (3) push the development of open badges.

    Creative Commons (CC) is similarly interested in empowering global citizens — creators of culture, education, science, research, data – with tools and knowledge of how to share. I definitely support Mozilla in its efforts towards a world where everyone can contribute, remix and participate in an affordable, high-quality, web literate education.

    CC is ready to help integrate open licenses into all web literacy curricula, so others can revise, remix, reuse and redistribute. Like software, openly licensing content is important so others can improve on existing works.

    We’re also analyzing how best to expand public knowledge of open licensing and OER by creating educational content and applying badges to those lessons. In that regard, Mozilla and CC might collaborate to create a “School of Openness” hosted at P2PU following the innovative “School of Webcraft” model.

    Cable Green
    Director of Global Learning
    Creative Commons

  • Craig Morrison says:

    I think this a worthy goal which Mozilla is well placed to work towards. Before Mozilla could spread Firefox it first had to explain to a significant number of people what a web browser was and that it was an interchangeable tool rather than a fixed part of their operating system.

    Mozilla could not only be used to expand it’s developer program beyond web professionals to “web makers” but also spread awareness of the prerequisite information. We can and should make the web less intimidating as well as satisfy curious minds. Many people view the web exclusively as a tool of consumption and not creation (except in the limited ways encouraged by social networks). I believe replacing this limited mental model of what the web would not only lead some people to engage with the web on a deeper level, but also give others the understanding they need to work more effectively in supporting roles with technical and creative professionals, and “web makers”.

  • […] making things on the web. It starts to look like the beginnings of a more participatory, empowered, web-literate planet—and that’s a pretty darned good strategy for protecting the […]

  • […] For Mozilla and other free speech advocates, this drive is about creating a “web-literate planet. It’s about enabling anyone and everyone to understand what ‘s “under the hood” on the Net and about enabling individuals to be able to build upon, understand, and manipulate the “operating system of our lives.” […]

  • msurman says:

    FYI, for people who were following or commenting on this thread, I just posted a follow up here:

    This rough cut 2012 plan pulls in alot of the ideas from comments people made here. Would really appreciate follow up comments on the new post.

  • […] For Mozilla and other free speech advocates, this drive is about creating a “web-literate planet.” It’s about enabling anyone and everyone to understand what’s “under the hood” on the Net and empowering individuals to build upon, understand, and manipulate the “operating system” of our lives. […]

  • […] my Google Reader feed over the past year by the following individuals: Bud Hunt; Tony Bates; Mark Surman; Andrea Zellner; and Doug Belshaw.  […]

  • […] GCSE is in development Leading tech firms launch programmes in London to inspire youngsters A post about learning by the Mozilla Foundation Keri Facer, Manchester Metropolitan University – ‘BBC Micro […]

  • […] my Google Reader feed over the past year by the following individuals: Bud Hunt; Tony Bates; Mark Surman; Andrea Zellner; and Doug Belshaw.  […]

What’s this?

You are currently reading Creating a web literate planet (summary) at commonspace.


%d bloggers like this: