Building an Academy
March 31, 2015 § 16 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.