How do we get depth *and* scale?
July 16, 2014 § 9 Comments
We want millions of people learning about the web everyday with Mozilla. The ‘why’ is simple: web literacy is quickly becoming just as important as reading, writing and math. By 2024, there will be more than 5 billion people on the web. And, by then, the web will shape our everyday lives even more than it does today. Understanding how it works, how to build it and how to make it your own will be essential for nearly everyone.
The tougher question is ‘how’ — how do we teach the web with both the depth *and* scale that’s needed? Most people who tackle a big learning challenge pick one path of the other. For example, the educators in our Hive Learning Networks are focused on depth of learning. Everything the do is high touch, hands-on and focused on innovating so learning happens in a deep way. On the flip side, MOOCs have quickly shown what scale looks like, but they almost universally have high drop out rates and limited learning impact for all but the most motivated learners. We rarely see depth and scale go together. Yet, as the web grows, we need both. Urgently.
I’m actually quite hopeful. I’m hopeful because the Mozilla community is deeply focused on tackling this challenge head on, with people rolling up their sleeves to help people learn by making and organizing themselves in new ways that could massively grow the number of people teaching the web. We’re seeing the seeds of both depth and scale emerge.
This snapped into focus for me at MozFest East Africa in Kampala a few days ago. Borrowing from the MozFest London model, the event showcased a variety of open tech efforts by Mozilla and others: FirefoxOS app development; open data tools from a local org called Mountabatten; Mozilla localization; Firefox Desktop engineering; the work of the Ugandan National Information Technology Agency. It also included a huge Maker Party, with 200 young Ugandans showing up to learn and hack with Webmaker tools.
The Maker Party itself was impressive — pulled off well despite rain and limited connectivity. But what was more impressive was seeing how the Mozilla community is stepping up to plant the seeds of teaching the web at depth and scale, which I’d call out as:
Mentors: IMHO, a key to depth is humans connecting face to face to learn. We’ve set up a Webmaker Mentors program in the last year to encourage this kind of learning. The question has been: will people step up to do this kind of teaching and mentoring, and do it well? MozFest EA was promising start: 30 motivated mentors showed up prepared, enthusiastic and ready to help the 200 young people at the event learn the web.
Curriculum: one of the hard parts of scaling a volunteer-based mentor program is getting people to focus their teaching on the most important web literacy skills. We released a new collection of open source web literacy curriculum over the past couple of months designed to solve this problem. We weren’t sure how things would work out, I’d say MozFestEA is early evidence that curriculum can do a good job of helping people quickly understand what and how to teach. Here, each of the mentors was confidently and articulately teaching a piece of the web literacy framework using Webmaker tools.
Making as learning: another challenge is getting people to teach / learn deeply based on written curriculum. Mozilla focuses on ‘making by learning’ as a way past this — putting hands-on, project based learning at the heart of most of our Webmaker teaching kits. For example, the basic remix teaching kit gets learners quickly hacking and personalizing their favourite big brand web site, which almost always gets people excited and curious. More importantly: this ‘making as learning’ approach lets mentors adapt the experience to a learner’s interests and local context in real time. It was exciting to see the Ugandan mentors having students work on web pages focused on local school tasks and local music stars, which worked well in making the standard teaching kits come to life.
Clubs: mentors + curriculum + making can likely get us to our 2014 goal of 10,000 people around the world teaching web literacy with Mozilla. But the bigger question is how do we keep the depth while scaling to a much bigger level? One answer is to create more ’nodes’ in the Webmaker network and get them teaching all year round. At MozFest EA, there was a session on Webmaker Clubs — after school web literacy clubs run by students and teachers. This is an idea that floated up from the Mozilla community in Uganda and Canada. In Uganda, the clubs are starting to form. For me, this is exciting. Right now we have 30 contributors working on Webmaker in Uganda. If we opened up clubs in schools, we could imagine 100s or even 1000s. I think clubs like this is a key next step towards scale.
Community leadership: the thing that most impressed me at MozFestEA was the leadership from the community. San Emmanuel James and Lawrence Kisuuki have grown the Mozilla community in Uganda in a major way over the last couple of years. More importantly, they have invested in building more community leaders. As one example, they organized a Webmaker train the trainer event a few weeks before MozFestEA. The result was what I described above: confident mentors showing up ready to teach, including people other than San and Lawrence taking leadership within the Maker Party side of the event. I was impressed.This is key to both depth and scale: building more and better Mozilla community leaders around the world.
Of course, MozFestEA was just one event for one weekend. But, as I said, it gave me hope: it made be feel that the Mozilla community is taking the core building blocks of Webmaker shaping them into something that could have a big impact.
With Maker Party kicking off this week, I suspect we’ll see more of this in coming months. We’ll see more people rolling up their sleeves to help people learn by making. And more people organizing themselves in new ways that could massively grow the number of people teaching the web. If we can make happen this summer, much bigger things lay on the path ahead.