Update: For the latest information on the Web Literacy standard work, head to http://mzl.la/weblitstd
One of the awesome things about my role at Mozilla is that I get to talk to extremely smart people about interesting things. Today I had the opportunity to talk to Audrey Watters, whose writing and thinking I greatly admire. And when she speaks, I listen. We caught up via Skype to talk about the Web Literacies framework and white paper I’ve been working on: http://mzl.la/weblit.
By way of context, before going any further you should go and read this post by Erin Knight, Senior Director of Learning for the Mozilla Foundation (aka my boss). In it she talks about our vision for an ‘open standard’ for Web Literacy:
In addition to all of the flashy tools, content and branding we’ve been launching over the last year, we’ve also been doing some considerable ‘underbelly’ work to define the thing we are ultimately after: a generation of web literate people.
I think this is important work for more reasons than just enumerating the things that Mozilla cares about or may provide learning pathways and badges for, but as a definition that we, as in the royal we of the web world, can all get behind and all teach to.
In 2013 we want to work with other organisations, interested groups, and individuals who are interested in helping people not only be able to elegantly consume, but write parts of the Web.
Recommendation 1: It may be better to talk of ‘scripting’ than ‘programming’ in a Webmaker context
Another problem with JS is that you don’t know what you don’t know. If you don’t know what JS does then why would you want to learn it? We need, therefore, to surface great examples and allow users to ‘look under the hood’ of web pages, much as we do with X-Ray Goggles for HTML and CSS. Although I forgot to mention it during the call, I think we’re on the right track with the not-yet-released semi-official hackagame.org where you can use the Thimble interface to hack the classic game Pong.
Recommendation 2: Show learners epic things they can do with Web-native tools
Although Audrey is a big fan of the visual programming environment Scratch she talked of giving learners tools ‘that real programmers use’. As an aside, I’ve always found it really disingenuous that some educators add a lot of structure to learning activities and try to make learning ‘easier’ by making the tools available less powerful. After all, it’s highly unlikely that the educators themselves learned in anything other than a fairly ‘messy’ way.
Part of the problem is that we don’t really have a pedagogy around Computer Science (CS) which makes a lot of this suck-it-and-see. I thought Audrey showed real insight when she talked of those who are highly skilled in programming often being highly self-motivated. These people can make great teachers, but (in both our experiences, I think) often don’t. Certainly a lot of the online places you can learn to code seem to be overly-structured and focus on procedural, rather than conceptual, stuff.
At the end of the day, the procedural stuff (especially around syntax) can be learned through tinkering. It’s the conceptual stuff, arguably, that’s the most important.
Recommendation 3: Give learners industrial-strength tools and don’t overly structure what they can do with them
Audrey also mentioned lots of other stuff that would turn this into an epic post. She talked about the importance of real project-based learning, where the learner decides what they’re learning, not the teacher/website. She mentioned why Webmaker as a ‘brand’ is important as it focuses on the Web rather than the (sometimes) closed ecosystems of native apps in the mobile space. And, interestingly, Audrey talked about the importance of users understanding the politics of ‘Open’ and why it matters.
Note to self: talk to Audrey more.