Planet Webmaker

Supporting Youth Leadership In Digital Spaces

Webmaker Blog

Fri Dec 02 2016 18:36:36 GMT+0000 (UTC)

As the Internet becomes more embedded in our daily lives, Mozilla believes we need to broaden participation to make it a more inclusive, open platform and experience for all. Mozilla supports this belief by fueling new approaches to digital learning through initiatives such as Hives, Clubs and Gigabit cities.

During our November community call, we highlighted efforts across our network that focus on developing youth as leaders – on and offline.

Mozilla’s Hive Chicago and Hive NYC worked together to facilitate a Q&A style panel discussion that focused on supporting young people’s development as they work to change social issues that matter to them. Call curators and special guests included:

  • Rita Geladze, Educator’s Camp, NYC
  • Vanessa Sanchez, Yollocalli Arts Reach, Chicago
  • Eva L., Youth organizer, Black Lives Matter Chicago
  • Chrystian Rodriguez, Network Manager, Mozilla Hive NYC
  • Hana Sun, Portfolio Strategist, Mozilla Hive NYC
  • Kenyatta Forbes, Community Manager, Mozilla Hive Chicago

Linking Youth Leadership, Mentorship & Digital Spaces

The Q&A style panel discussion revealed a common thread that the panelists’ own paths to youth leadership began in programs that had one-on-one adult mentors who encouraged and supported their growth. For Rita and Vanessa, leadership development started at summer camps, clubs, and other local organizations. Chrystian had a teacher who introduced him to resources that connected his passion for the arts with online media as a method for developing his own political consciousness. Eva’s mother brought her to social movement events throughout her childhood, supporting her positive sense of identity and confidence as a young black woman.

Taking advantage of these introductory pathways, digital spaces are an opportunity to challenge and push for youth engagement and leadership as change agents. Youth voices can be shared far and wide online, and add a vital, underrepresented perspectives to conversations that could not be possible without a healthy internet.

Adults can do a lot to ally themselves with young people and support them in sharing their voices and stories online to impact issues that are important to their communities. It’s a mentor’s responsibility to encourage youth to think through and express their thoughts in an impactful, inspiring way. Digital spaces–which provide opportunities for deep reflection, expression and call to action–can be perfect outlets for adults and youth to work together and harness the potential of these online environments.

A few tips on positioning yourself to support youth in a positive manner were discussed during the call. For example, Vanessa shared a great tip about not tokenizing youth for one’s own benefit, but working alongside them and validating them as people with their own lived experiences. Acknowledging young people’s experiences is also key, according to Chrystian, who reminds us that experiences are different from person to person, regardless of age. Eva added that allowing youth to make their own mistakes and learn along their journey is especially important to validating their identity and respecting their experiences.

There is a lot to improve upon as we head into the future, with youth looking to adults for guidance and mentorship both on and offline. Mozilla Learning will continue to serve local and global communities by acting as a connector for digital resources and networks. We hope you’ll join us to build a more inclusive, open Internet for all.

You can watch the entire community call below to learn more about each guest’s ongoing work. You can also add your thoughts to the etherpad here.

How to create a sustainable web presence

Doug Belshaw

Wed Nov 23 2016 11:40:54 GMT+0000 (UTC)


In the preface to his 2002 book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined Dave Weinberger writes:

What the Web has done to documents it is doing to just about every institution it touches. The Web isn’t primarily about replacing atoms with bits so that we can, for example, shop on line or make our supply chains more efficient. The Web isn’t even simply empowering groups, such as consumers, that have traditionally had the short end of the stick. Rather, the Web is changing our understanding of what puts things together in the first place. We live in a world that works well if the pieces are stable and have predictable effects on one another. We think of complex institutions and organizations as being like well-oiled machines that work reliably and almost serenely so long as their subordinate pieces perform their designated tasks. Then we go on the Web, and the pieces are so loosely joined that frequently the links don’t work; all too often we get the message (to put it palindromically) “404! Page gap! 404!” But, that’s ok because the Web gets its value not from the smoothness of its overall operation but from its abundance of small nuggets that point to more small nuggets. And, most important, the Web is binding not just pages but us human beings in new ways. We are the true “small pieces” of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.

In the fourteen years since Weinberger wrote these words, we’ve come to an everyday lived experience of living in a blended physical/digital world where things don’t always have stable, predictable effects.

As a result, those of us with the required mindset to deal with the impermanence of technologies are constantly riding the wave of innovation on the web, experimenting with different facets of our online identities, and learning new skills that may be immediately useful, or perhaps put to work further down the line.

On the other hand, those with the opposite - a deficit mindset tend to flock to places of perceived stability. Places that, in internet terms, have ‘always’ been around. These might be social networking platforms such as Facebook which 'everyone’ uses, search engines like Google, or email providers such as Microsoft. This attitude then seeps into the way we approach our projects at work: we look to either repurpose the platforms with which we’re already familiar, or create a one-stop shop where everything related to the project should reside.

I’d argue that we should use the medium of the web in the way that it works best. That is to go back to the title of Weinberger’s book, as 'small pieces, loosely joined’. Although I don’t claim any originality or credit for doing so, I want to use my own web presence as an example of this approach.

 1. Canonical URL

The one thing that those with a deficit mindset do get right is that you should have a single place to point people towards, one place that serves a focus of attention. For me, that’s

As you can see, at the time of writing, this serves as an introduction to my work, as well as providing links to my other places and accounts online. This approach would work equally well for a project, or for an organisation.

Note that I control this space. I own (well, rent) it and that I can make this look however I want, rather than having to follow templates from a provider.

 2. Horses for courses

This blog post that you’re reading is on a separate blog to my main blog. I use this one for anything relating to digital/new literacies and, as such, provide a way for those interested in this aspect of my work to get a 'clean’ feed, without the 'noise’ of my other work.

While you can get a similar effect by creating categories within, say WordPress-powered blogs, in my experience separate blogs work better. It also means that if one blog goes down for whatever reason, and is inaccessible to your audience, you still have another place that you can publish.

I also try to experiment with new technologies when creating different blogs, as it means that you have to work with different affordances, and develop different skills, as a result of using various platforms. Just like when you speak a foreign language there are idiomatic ways of saying things, so outlets and platforms have their own peculiarities and nuances.

 3. Going with the flow

Product Hunt

New outlets and platforms come out on a weekly basis. Some gain traction, some don’t. Over time, it becomes easier which of those featured on Product Hunt are likely to gain mass adoption. There’s a whole other post around Open Source versus proprietary solutions, and free versus paid.

As you can see from the above screenshot, Product Hunt today features Telegraph, a new blogging platform similar to Medium, from the makers of [Telegram]( (a messaging service I already use). So, of course, I’ll explore that and sign up for an account. Then, when I’m ready to start a new blog I’ll have it in the toolkit.

On the other hand, Telegraph may prove to be a place to which I syndicate my posts. By that, I mean more than just sharing the links on social networks. As I do with many of the other posts I write, I’ll import this post into both Medium and into LinkedIn. After all, I’m in the business of trying to get as many people to see my work as possible.


There’s more to be written on this subject, but I hope this serves as a primer to getting started with a 'small pieces, loosely joined’ approach to having an online web presence. Whether it’s for you as an individual, for a project you’re working on, or for your organisation, it’s an approach that works like the web!

Image by Paulo Simões Mendes

Comments? Questions? I’m @dajbelshaw on Twitter, or you can email me:

Results from the 2016 Round 1 Pilot Period

Webmaker Blog

Thu Nov 17 2016 14:00:29 GMT+0000 (UTC)

The 16 weeks between May 16 and September 4 were very busy for the nine Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund grantees. During that period, gigabit-related applications were developed to advance the internet and to help educators and students realize the potential power of gigabit internet connectivity. Applications were created with impacts ranging from increasing reading comprehension to understanding the environmental impacts of wastewater in architecture to creating virtual reality worlds to engage learners immersively. Some of the most significant outcomes can be found on the infographic below.


The most encouraging result of these projects was the fact that they all plan to continue to the next phase of development, scale and expansion to new communities, both within our Gigabit city network and beyond. You can read more about each of the grantees and learn how to get involved on our new website. While the second round of Mozilla Gigabit funding has officially closed, stay tuned for our next announcement of new grantees coming in early January 2017.

Remembrance Day

Geoffrey MacDougall

Fri Nov 11 2016 13:18:32 GMT+0000 (UTC)

Both my grandfathers fought in WWII.

My maternal grandfather, Jack, was a Lieutenant in the armored core, training soldiers how to pilot tanks. He then studied at Khaki College while helping oversee the return of soldiers back to Canada. Led to a career in the early days of the airline industry, retiring as the VP, Travel for Ford Canada. He volunteered helping travelers at airports till the day he died.

My paternal grandfather, Al, was a safety inspector and mechanic in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He stayed in the military through the 60s, stationed in Germany and other places. Then retired to a career as a long-haul truck driver. He could recite the service numbers of everyone he worked with over 25 years. On his 80th birthday, he went down to the Ministry of Transportation, passed the mandated old-age test to renew his trucker’s license, took one step out of the door, paused, then turned around and handed it back in voluntarily.

Jack’s role overseeing the trip home for 1,000s of soldiers meant that the war played itself out again on the other side of his desk. He heard the story of each soldier’s personal, lived experience as they sat getting their paperwork together. The story that stayed with me was what happened to the men who literally kicked down the doors of the concentration camps, not knowing what was on the other side. Most of them returned home to asylums.

The thing I would ask them–if they were around today–is when did they know? When did they realize the rules of normal civility no longer applied? When did it become apparent they had to fight? These things don’t happen at once. They happen by inches, over years. At what point do you acknowledge it and change your response?

Much has been written about fascism in the last few days. I want to believe this country is stronger than that. But I’m having a very hard time knowing how to gauge my response. I wish I could ask them for guidance.

Neither of my grandfathers took pride in what they’d done. They didn’t see it as a service. They saw it as a necessity; a posture distinct from much of the rhetoric that will cross our screens today. One that I feel is more honourable–not to just to those who lived through it–but to the horrific reality of war.

That’s why my wife and I pause at 11am. Why we treat this day with reverence. Why we tell our daughters about their great-grandfathers and grandmothers on both sides. Not to celebrate, but to remind ourselves we can never let it happen again.

Filed under: Uncategorized

How to use a VPN to ensure good 'digital hygiene' while travelling

Doug Belshaw

Wed Nov 09 2016 15:57:39 GMT+0000 (UTC)

I travel reasonably often as part of my work. One trend I’ve noticed recently is for hotels to provide unsecured wifi, without even so much as a landing page. While this means a ‘frictionless’ experience for guests connecting to the internet, it’s also extremely bad practice from a security point of view.

Unsecured network

Unless you know and trust the person or organisation providing your internet connection, you should proceed with caution. Your data are valuable - the business model of Facebook is testament to that! Protect your digital identity.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a way to route your traffic through a trusted server. You could run your own, but the usual way is to pay for this kind of service to ensure there are no bandwidth bottlenecks. A nice little bonus to using VPNs is the ability to make it look like you are based in another country, meaning you get access to content that might be restricted in your own country.

I’m still a fan of iPREDator but it can be cumbersome to set up. That’s why I’m currently using TunnelBear as it’s super-simple to configure, works across all of my devices, and they promise not to keep any logs of your activity (which could be shared with the authorities, etc.)

 Getting started on iOS

I’m not going to screenshot every step, but I’m sure you can figure it out.

1) Download TunnelBear from the App Store.

TunnelBear iOS app

2) Open the app and sign up for a new account. You could use a throwaway email account like Mailinator if you’re willing to keep setting up new accounts, I guess.

3) Allow TunnelBear to change the VPN settings for your device.

Add VPN configuration

4) Once these VPN settings are installed, you don’t actually have to use the app, as you can connect by going to Settings → General → VPN and toggling the switch to ON.

VPN toggle

When this toggle switch is on, all of your traffic is being routed through the VPN.

There’s also TunnelBear apps for Mac and Windows, and a one-click install process for Chrome and Opera web browsers. This is great news for users of Chromebooks (like me!)

Chrome extension)

I’d recommend setting up TunnelBear (or whatever VPN you choose) before travelling. That way, you don’t have to connect to an unsecured wifi network at all. For more advanced users, there’s Tor and the Tor browser, based on Firefox. This works slightly differently, bouncing your traffic around the internet, and is actually what I use on Android for private browsing.

Comments? Questions? I’m @dajbelshaw or you can email me:

Digital literacies have a civic element

Doug Belshaw

Tue Nov 08 2016 14:34:19 GMT+0000 (UTC)

My ‘Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ (thesis / book) looks like this:

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

Unlike some other people who seemed to need a subject for their latest blog post or journal article, this wasn’t something I just sat down and thought about for half an hour. This was the result of a few years worth of work, and a large meta-analysis of theory and practice.

The elements that most people seem to take issue with when looking at the above diagram are 'Confident’ and 'Civic’. The top row, the four 'skillsets’ seem to pose no problem, but people wonder how they can teach the bottom four 'mindsets’ - particularly the two just highlighted.

The latest episode of the Techgypsies podcast by Audrey Watters and Kin Lane does a great job of explaining the Civic element of digital literacies. I’ve embedded the player below, or click here. Listen to the whole thing as it’s fascinating, but the bit that we’re interested here starts at about the 20-minute mark.

Audrey and Kin use the 'scandal’ around Hillary Clinton’s private email server as a lens to show how poor our understanding of everyday tech actually is. What I thought was particularly enlightening was their likening the 'learn to code’ movement to standard IT practices. In other words: “oh, this is too hard for you? well, just leave it to us and we’ll sort it out for you”. In other words, passive, uncritical use of technology is fine unless, you know, you’re a 'techie’.

In learning organisations, in businesses, and in families, there are practices built upon technologies that need to be learned. As Audrey and Kin outline, although it’s entirely unsexy, an understanding of difference between POP, SMTP, and IMAP would have meant people could have seen the email 'scandal’ as entirely a non-event.

What I really appreciated was Audrey’s reframing of this kind of thing as a social studies issue. We shouldn’t have to have separate classes for this kind of thing any more. Instead, our society should have a baseline understanding of how the tech we use every day works. That also applies to web domains, and to the way that data flows around the web.

Of course, a lot of this is covered in Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. Not all of what we need to know pertains to the 'web’, of course - which is where the Essential Elements of Digital Literacies come in. They’re plural, context-dependent, and should be co-defined in your community. As well as raising awareness of the latest shiny technologies (e.g. blockchain, AI) we should be ensuring people are comfortable with the tech they’re using right now.

Questions? Comments? I’m @dajbelshaw or you can email me:

Help Us Teach the Web in Your Language

Webmaker Blog

Fri Nov 04 2016 18:40:29 GMT+0000 (UTC)

This November we are kickstarting a campaign to localize the Offline Icebreakers teaching kit and we need your help! Head over to this website to get started.


Following the success of the campaign to localize the Web Literacy Basics I teaching kit last year, we are excited to continue this effort in our November campaign. This time, however, we are trying something new.

The Offline Icebreakers module has six different activities that help students learn about the web in an interactive way without requiring an internet connection. We hope to have this module localized in 12 languages (and we welcome other languages as well), namely Bengali (বাংলা), Dutch (Nederlands), Filipino (Pilipino), German (Deutsch), Gujarati (ગુજરાતી), Hindi (हिन्दी), Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), Portuguese (Português), Spanish (Español), French (Français), Swahili (Kiswahili) and Swedish (Svenska), by the end of November.


In this campaign, we want our local Mozillian communities to take charge. You get to choose how you want to localize the activity – as a Github page, a Thimble project or a Google Document. You can choose whatever tool you are comfortable with and work with it to create a localized activity in a format that you think would appeal to your community. You can choose to collaborate with others in your community and engage them in this effort as well.

If you love to teach our curriculum in your community, or are experienced at translating content, or just want to help spread our curriculum, we can use your help. You can find out more information about this campaign and how you can contribute by checking out our website. We value your contribution and enthusiasm, and to show our gratitude we are offering a special reward to the first 20 participants to submit at least three or more fully localized activities.

Thanks in advance for helping us bring important web literacy skills to more communities in more countries around the world. We are incredibly appreciative of your contributions!

Community Spotlight: Andrew Brennen

Webmaker Blog

Thu Nov 03 2016 22:49:34 GMT+0000 (UTC)

Because Mozilla believes that young people must be empowered to speak to, and shape, key social issues, the Learning team proudly serves as connector for influential leaders who use web literacy and 21st Century skills to enhance opportunities for youth to be active agents of positive change.

Andrew Brennan at Student Voice’s SXSWEDU panel earlier this year.

Andrew Brennan (far left) at Student Voice’s SXSWEDU panel earlier this year. Photo provided by Andrew.

This month’s community spotlight is on Andrew Brennen, who in his junior year of high school  co-founded Student Voice, a for-students-by-students nonprofit organization to integrate student voices into the global education conversation. Andrew is now a sophomore in the Robertson Science Leaders Program at Chapel Hill in North Carolina majoring in Political Science, and serves as the National Field Director for Student Voice. Andrew recently presented his work on a Mozilla Learning Community Call about youth activism and Student Voice is a fellow partner with Mozilla through the Letters to the Next President 2.0 campaign. Learn more about Andrew and his work.

We were so inspired by his work and his experience forming networks that have an impact on youth voices that we interviewed Andrew to learn more. Here’s what he had to say:

Who or what originally inspired you to stand up as a leader at a young age?

Like most people, I know my original inspiration came from a teacher. In this case, my AP Government teacher in high school. Ms.Mckenzie made learning fun through a variety of hands-on and group activities, a relief for a fidgety high school student like me. But her real value came from the support she provided me OUTSIDE the classroom. She knew when I came to school and didn’t seem right. She checked up on me to see how I was doing in other classes. She pushed me towards extracurriculars like Speech and Debate, and she encouraged me to apply for the US Senate Page Program my junior year of high school. This support gave me the confidence I needed to take my learning outside of the classroom and take some risks. Ultimately, this led to the creation of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team and many great experiences in high school.

Where did the idea for Student Voice originate? What fueled your passion to turn the idea into reality?

Student Voice as an organization started when a small group of students started weekly #StuVoice Twitter chats. The goal of these chats was to capture the energy of students all around the country who were wanting more of a say in their education. These chats were by all accounts a success. Groups like the Iowa Student Learning Institute began collaborating with groups like the Houston Independent School District Student Congress. Students in California advocating for stronger policies to support their classmates with learning disabilities were connecting with experts in DC who could support their efforts. These chats were creating a digital community around the concept of student voice.

But we knew this was not enough. We knew that we weren’t going to be able to capture the voices of ALL students on these chats; the limitations were obvious. So in January we embarked on a national tour effort with the goal of visiting students in their communities to talk about their schools. We have since visited 20 states, over 50 cities, and have conducted well over 200 roundtable discussions with private, public and charter high school students all across the country.  

The critical energy behind this work is driven largely by our status as students. We don’t like feeling powerless to improve our education system, and we observe that sometimes, to keep equity front and center, it takes students themselves to speak out.

Andrew speaking with a student about her college transition process and her plans after graduating high school. Photo provided by Andrew Brennan.

Andrew (right) speaking with a student about her college transition process and her plans after graduating high school. Photo provided by Andrew Brennen.

What resources benefit young people who want to become leaders in their communities?

Start as locally as possible. Too many people overlook the good they can do right now in their community. Look at local community development organizations or see how you can get involved with a local advocacy organization or nonprofit. This is where young people can truly make a difference. Speech and debate, as well as Youth in Government programs are also great places to start building a network.

Student roundtable in Providence, RI at a Student Voice Summit. Photo provided by Andrew Brennan.

Student round table in Providence, RI at a Student Voice Summit. Photo provided by Andrew Brennen.

How can people get involved in Student Voice?

You can email our Director of Partnerships at or me at

You can learn more about Student Voice here and keep up-to-date with Andrew’s work on Twitter.

Supporting Youth Leadership with Digital Skills

Webmaker Blog

Wed Nov 02 2016 21:36:51 GMT+0000 (UTC)

As Mozilla strives for a healthy Internet that is inclusive and equitable for all, we’re fueling new approaches to learning through Mozilla Hives, Clubs and our Gigabit cities. Through these efforts and along with our network members, we’re supporting youth empowerment and youth voice, and as a results we’ve seen dozens of amazing stories, projects and experiences that inspire us to keep moving forward.

This month, we continue to rally youth to get involved in important local, national and global issues while building web literacy and 21st century skills.

Letters to the Next President Remix in Thimble

Letters to the Next President 2.0: We’ve partnered with the National Writing Project (NWP_ and KQED to support youth voice in advance of the next United State Presidential Election on November 8th. Through the Letters to the Next President 2.0 campaign, we’re encouraging young people, aged 13–18, to research, write, and make media to voice their opinions on issues that matter most to them. Mozilla created a few remixable activities that connect youth voice, civic engagement and web literacy skills, such as this Thimble letter template and this candidate quote project. For those outside of the U.S., learners can remix the projects for any local, regional, or national cause.

Mozilla Learning Community Call with Mozilla Science Lab

Mozilla Learning Community Call: Wednesday, November 16 2:30pm PST/ 5:30pm EST/ 9:30pm UTC

Join Mozilla Hive Chicago, Educator’s Camp, and other special guests to discuss youth leadership and empowering young people to get involved in local, national and global community issues that matter to them.

Guests include:

  • Andrea Hart –City Bureau– Chicago IL
  • Jackie Moore – Level UP IRL – Chicago IL
  • Vanessa Sanchez – Yolocali/Pop Up Youth Radio – Chicago IL
  • Eva L.- Youth Silent Protest Organizer, Chicago IL
  • Rita Geladze – Educators Camp, Hive NYC

Mozilla Curriculum Workshop: Thursday, November 17 7am PST/ 10am EST/ 2pm UTC Join us for a conversation and workshop about exemplary digital youth leadership practices, projects, and programming. Along with special guests, co-hosts Amira Dhalla and Chad Sansing will examine what makes successful programs work, and will prototype teaching and learning materials that encourage their development.

My big dumb #MozFest fail

Matt Thompson

Tue Nov 01 2016 16:23:13 GMT+0000 (UTC)

A few days ago I did one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done at work: I accidentally sent a personal tweet through an official work account followed by 2.8 million people. :/

I was at the Mozilla Festival, prepping notes in an etherpad for a session I was helping to organize. I was distracted, signed in with the wrong credentials, hit the wrong button and — what?! ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod  — suddenly realized I had just shared my geeky etherpad link with a potential audience of nearly 3 million (yes, million) twitter account followers.


I knew something was up when a lot of people immediately showed up in that pad. Like… a lot. 20, 30, 50 folks streaming in all at once. “Strange game!” someone wrote. “What is this?!!!” Most had never seen an etherpad before (if you’re not familiar, it’s a simple collaborative writing and editing tool, like Google Docs). It’s basically just a blank sheet of paper posted on the web, one that anyone can read and write on — and the twitter users who had suddenly arrived there were (understandably) confused.

“What is this????”
“о чем это???”
“Make America Great Again!!!!!”

The pad was overflowing with random ether-noise and flotsam, with people all writing and remixing and talking over top of each other. I explained at the top of the pad that the link had been tweeted in error, and apologized for the mistake — but of course…. it’s an etherpad! People erased my message and just wrote over top of it. It filled with a cacophonous rainbow-colored torrent of ether-junk, a bubbling petrie dish of speech that pulsed and warbled and mutated all over itself.

It could have been worse — there are worse things to share out than a blank etherpad. But I was, of course, freaking out. As Mozilla staff, we take pains to ensure all our users (including twitter followers) have great experiences. So: I hit the red alert button. I sent panicky notifications to colleagues, found someone with the power to delete the tweet (something I lacked the credentials to do myself), and within about 20 minutes of my mistake, it had been erased, ensuring it wouldn’t confuse any more followers — a relatively small number of whom had actually seen the tweet.

My pulse slowly returned to a saner level.

BUT: there was still one issue remaining —
what to do about that etherpad?

No one new was arriving, but there were still a dozen or so users splashing around in it —  with various weird memes, random You Tube videos, Cyrillic script and U.S. election slogans swirling. It was strange and unpredictable in there. I wanted to ensure none of those users ended up having a negative experience, so I filed a bug with I.T. to get the pad deleted.


But then, a funny thing happened: the trolls got bored and drifted away. The maelstrom of people shouting over top of each other quietened. Soon there were just a tiny handful of people left, and they started to… well… actually talk to each other.

“This looks really cool, it has a lot of potential,” one of the users wrote.

They’d never seen an etherpad before, and were intrigued by its open, geeky charm. A couple others started chatting about a problem they were having with their computer, offering each other advice. They were connecting. And helping each other.

“But… it’s our first etherpad! <3”

When I explained that the pad was going to be deleted soon, they were sad and didn’t want to leave.

NOOOOOOO!!!! :((((

— Why? Do you guys like it here? 

Yeah. People are actually alive on it :3. It’s sad to see them fade.

This lead to me explaining they were welcome to start their own pad and keep talking, or use it whenever they wanted. Which they did.

#fail –> teachable moment

Thinking about it afterward, it felt fitting that the whole thing happened at the Mozilla Festival, a gathering of people dedicated to protecting and growing the human potential of the Internet — with a big emphasis on web literacy and open collaboration. My dumb fail had prompted a teachable web literacy moment all its own. These folks had encountered a new tool, experienced a brief moment of connection, and come away with a slightly different understanding of what you can do on the web. And the whole experience felt like it contained many of the core ingredients of the internet itself in 2016:

  • noise / random weirdness / people talking over top of each other
  • trolls
  • dank memes
  • русский
  • Trump slogans

And, occasionally, when we’re lucky:

  • learning
  • new tools and possibility
  • fortuitous accidents / serendipitous encounter
  • brief moments of real human connection

“You mean, I can just type on this thing?!”

For me, as old school and antiquated as etherpad can now seem, it still contains a bit of web magic — and it was nice to see others discover some of that for the first time. Etherpad feels like a throwback to Doug Engelbart‘s original vision of what digital spaces are for: collaboration. He imagined interfaces that had two mouse pointers, not just one — because the whole goal was “people working together in a shared intellectual space.”

In a world of increasingly managed, read-only experiences, the fact that etherpads are so wide open to anyone to just write and edit on is a beautiful encapsulation of fragile trust and care, and of the multi-vocal nature of the web (and world) itself — what my lit professor would call “polyglossia,” multiple voices sharing a space.

My #MozFest 2016 moment

It’s not something I plan on doing again any time soon. (Or ever, ever again. Promise.) But I came away a little grateful for the accident. It felt like a very #MozFest moment.

“Jordan,” “qqmberdino” and “Bertha,” whoever, wherever you are — I hope you’re awesome, and still happily etherpadding in some corner of the web somewhere.

Piloting 21C Skills and other Badges

Webmaker Blog

Wed Oct 26 2016 13:43:07 GMT+0000 (UTC)


Making All Learning Count: Competency-based Education

In the 21st century (21C), learning can take place anytime, anywhere, at any pace, and with the learner at the center. This is something we at Mozilla know well. One of our goals is to provide people with open access to skills, tools, and resources needed to use the web to improve their lives, careers, and organizations.

Competency-based learning has emerged as one way to make anytime anywhere learning “count.” While learners’ traditional progression towards mastery has been measured by credit hours or “seat-time” in traditional educational settings, competency-based learning empowers learners to demonstrate mastery regardless of how and when the learning occurs. It also identifies learning targets at a more granular level than the course-level grading system. This enables afterschool providers and other community partners who already provide valuable learning experiences to both continue their work and recognize learning so that it counts toward learning pathways.

In collaboration with the Afterschool Alliance, Mozilla Foundation has worked with three statewide afterschool networks in Maryland, Oregon, and Michigan in a project funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation. These three networks are piloting 21C skills and other badges in afterschool programs to gain a deeper understanding of what is needed to help informal learning become formally recognized for college and career-readiness. The lessons learned from this pilot will be shared and taken to scale with other statewide afterschool networks and afterschool initiatives.

This blog post provides a spotlight on pilot progress in Maryland, Michigan, and Oregon, all of whom participated along with other state networks at the Competency-Based Education & Digital Credential Design Meeting.

Michigan After School Partnership (MASP)


One of 30+ states to legislate policies in support of competency-based learning pathways, Michigan has eliminated seat-time requirements to move away from traditional transcript models of education. Instead, Michigan has built out a statewide badging program that draws on both in-school and out-of-school providers for rigorous and relevant content. Badges, aligned with high quality after school enrichment opportunities, are helping high school students demonstrate proficiency in Michigan’s college and career readiness standards.

Michigan After School Partnership (MASP), in partnership with the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Education Innovation & Improvement and Career and College Ready initiatives, has focused on piloting STEM competencies for high students in a Renewable Energy Summer Camp and in the Eastern Michigan University’s 21st Century Community Learning Center’s Bright Futures middle school program. They also used badges as a STEM endorsement of the Michigan School Age Youth Development Credential for professional development credentialing for youth development workers. Michigan is now working to collect more data to inform badging policies and to refine the state’s badge system rating rubric as a way to ensure quality assessment.

According to Mary Sutton, executive director of MASP, statewide success in Michigan depended on cultivating strong relationships with several key offices within the Michigan Department of Education. Partnerships with the office of improvement and innovation and the education technology/data coordination and curriculum /instruction units were crucial to making things happen and opening additional doors for including afterschool as a valid component in competency-based learning conversations.

Maryland Out of School Time Network (MOST)


Maryland Out of School Time Network (MOST) worked first with Wide Angle Youth Media (WAYM) and then with Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF) to develop digital badges that recognize both technical and workforce skills in Baltimore. MOST convened an advisory committee which included key stakeholders from the Baltimore City Public Schools, the University of Baltimore, and the Maryland State Department of Education, as well as representatives from ed tech companies familiar with badging and student information systems.

“We know may young people are acquiring both technical and 21st Century skills in their classrooms and from informal learning experiences,” says Ellie Mitchell, Director of the Maryland Out of School Time (MOST) Network, “however, employers who provide internships and summer employment programs often are unaware that students have these skills. Digital badges help translate the potential of students to future employers and raise the bar on the kinds of experiences that are offered.”

Working with Baltimore City Public Schools, WAYM identified three skills badges that reflected workforce-oriented and technical skills that were already being measured through a proven and tested rubric that the organization had previously used. Together, both organizations aligned criteria and evidence in the badges with National Media Arts Standards and Common Core State Standards.

In addition, Digital Harbor Foundation developed an additional four STEM-focused technical skill badges. Together with DHF, MOST has launched its 21C skill badges and have offered them to anyone in Maryland who wants to try to earn them. They are also working with Digital Harbor Foundation on badges that will lead to college credit with colleges in Baltimore County.



OregonASK partnered with the Technology Association of Oregon Foundation, Concentric Sky (a tech start-up based in Eugene OR), Business Education Compact, Umatilla School District, Equal Access to Education, and the Northwest Council for Computer Education to build a badge system to identify pipeline for STEM workforce in Oregon. OregonASK works with hundreds of programs throughout the state, and Mozilla Clubs are an opportunity to engage youth with critical content and create meaningful ways of building program efficacy and student engagement.

In the Umatilla School District, OregonASK helped to develop middle school web clubs to prepare students to participate in a tech-based innovation economy and while earning badges for skills learned. OregonASK has worked to create digital literacy pathways that connect afterschool and traditional school opportunities, particularly those that address learning in informal science programs.

In all three of these pilots, it’s clear that partnerships and persistence are critical in making afterschool count towards competency-based education. The use of micro-credentials to measure afterschool learning are part of growing number of badging efforts across the country. Look for a compendium of these promising practices to be released shortly.