I spent last weekend at the Mozilla Festival at Ravensbourne College in Greenwich, London. The main reason I decided to give up a weekend with my family to attend yet another conference was because it wasn’t just another conference. Although I felt slightly out of my depth on the technical front (I’m no programmer) I’m excited about Mozilla moving into the education space.
Of course, being Mozilla, they’re not perpetuating the same old paradigm and are, in the words of CEO Mark Surman, ‘going big’ on learning. If you haven’t seen their Open Badges architecture (and the associated DML Competition) you haven’t been paying attention. Education is driven, for better or for worse by assessment, so providing alternatives for the latter allows us to more easily change the former. I’m certainly fully signed-up for evangelising and exploring badges, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve read my main blog recently!
But back to the Festival. It’s difficult to sum up how an event makes you feel: it’s of course possible to list and describe, as I shall below, the sessions and what happened, but portraying the well of positivity is difficult. “More hack, less yack” was the order of the day, with a distinctly Californian can-do attitude taking over that particular corner of the Greenwich Peninsula for three days. It’s also tough to explain how, in what I’m increasingly realising is Mozilla’s modus operandi, the whole event was extremely well-organised yet allowed for flexibility and spontaneity. Saturday and Sunday ostensibly started at 9am, yet didn’t start until around 9.45am on Sunday. But still, everything was fine and no-one panicked. Awesome.
Another example of the can-do yet laid-back approach of organisers and delegates was exemplified in the first session I attended on Saturday. It was on paper-based prototyping, which I’d seen briefly on Friday at The Hive session for teenagers. For whatever reason, the person who was supposed to be leading the session didn’t appear. At other conferences where something similar has happened one of two things has happened: either delegates wait around for someone to come along, or they simply leave. There must have been around twenty-five people in the session and I didn’t see one of them leave. Given we had a stack of paper, I suggested we start with a paper aeroplane competition. And we just made things up from there.
I went to a couple of sessions relating to badges, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. I knew most of the stuff discussed at the first session, stepping in to help Carla Casilli (@cc_open) and Brian Brennan (@brianloveswords) explain the concept to those encountering it for the first time. The second was more enlightening in the sense that it was more of a case study of how one organization, the Digital Youth Network (DYN), have thought through how to introduce a badge ecosystem in their work with teenagers. There’s a couple of PDFs they put up on the screen that I’ll be chasing them to make available online.
On Saturday afternoon I attended a session entitled: ‘Open, Participatory and Fun: Working the Mozilla Way’. Gervase Markham (@gerv) facilitated this session in a way in alignment with these principles, getting us to think through in groups what makes for successful projects. As it turned out, our group focused on a non-web idea of an ‘internet-free zone’ in rural France. Gerv steered us towards the following things that he suggested every project needs (and which I’ll be talking with Andy Stewart for soon to check that we’re on top of for Purpos/ed):
- Written, archived, searchable, asynchronous discussion (e.g. mailing list, newsgroup or forum)
- Work product storage and versioning (e.g. source code management system or wiki)
- Information and announcements (e.g. website or blog)
- Problem/task tracker (e.g. issue tracker)
We were reminded that every project has a ‘presumed level of knowledge’ and that it is our job to enable meaningful participation. Amen to that.
Two more sessions. First, I went to ‘HTML5 and Other New Technologies Explained for Humans’ which was an exteremely well-attended presentation by Christian Heilmann (@codepo8). He not only presented using HTML5 but explained it in a way I could understand and potentially use. The ‘grab bag’ for the session is available here. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the extremely enthusiastic but ultimately-unsuccessful session on the Storify API I attended afterwards – which is a shame as I really like (and use) Storify.
I still haven’t mentioned the amazon barista-created coffee, the Firefox walk-around mascots, the amazingness of the venue or the people I bumped into. Oh well, this semi-braindump will have to suffice for the time being…