Category: Mozilla (page 2 of 9)

Why I still believe in badges [DMLcentral]

My latest post for DMLcentral is up. Entitled Why I still believe in badges, it’s a response to a comment by a Philosophy professor (who will remain anonymous) that Open Badges are merely a way that for-profit companies can get a slice of the action in Higher Education.

A quotation from the article:

While badges could, potentially, be used for nefarious purposes, it’s my belief that the open, distributed architecture of the code and community means that we can seek to improve our education both inside and outside the walls of institutions. This is not about ‘disrupting’ education for the sake of it or for private profit. This is about providing another way of doing things to promote human flourishing.

You can read the whole thing at DMLcentral. Please do comment over there (I’ve closed comments here).

Does Open Education and the Open Web need ‘defending’?

Over in the Mozilla Webmaker Google+ community it’s the final day of our online discussion as part of Open Education Week. Today’s prompt asks: Do we need to protect the Open Web and Open Education? If so, who or what from? How do we do that?

My short answer to this would be yes we do need to protect Open Education and the Open Web. We need to protect them from commercial, proprietary providers looking to profit from creating silos. How do we do that? I’d argue by innovating in ways that are different from those looking to make a quick buck.

It’s obvious, but worth stating: I’ve no problem with people charging for services. The issue is more to do with the overall landscape. If all you’ve got is shiny silos from which to choose, it’s a frustrating pseudo-choice. Openness proposes and provides a different way to do things than following the logic of the market.

The problem is that ‘Open’ is an ambiguous term and seems to have become the latest fad. Martin Weller points out that in many ways ‘Open’ is the new ‘green’:

The old “open vs. proprietary” debate is over and open won. As IT infrastructure moves to the cloud, openness is not just a priority for source code but for standards and APIs as well. Almost every vendor in the IT market now wants to position its products as “open.” Vendors that don’t have an open source product instead emphasize having a product that uses “open standards” or has an “open API.

As Audrey Watters has eloquently stated, the fight is now who gets to decide what counts:

This battle involves the ongoing struggle to define “what is open.” It involves the narratives that dominate education – “education is broken” and “disruption is inevitable,” for example – and the “solutions” that “open” purports to offer. It involves a response to the growth of corporate ecosystems and commercial enclosures, built with open source technologies and open data initiatives. And all of this, I would argue, must involve politics for which we shouldn’t let “open” be an easy substitute.

As the term ‘MOOC’ (Massive Online Open Course) has shown, you can’t have it both ways: if a term includes enough ambiguity and flexibility to be widely adopted, then those who originally defined it no longer have control over the definition. It’s out in the wild. Like a virus, the definition mutates over time.

It’s not the word ‘Open’ we need to protect, it’s the spirit behind it. We’re fighting a losing battle if we expect a word to mean the same thing for all eternity. Instead, as a community we should create, sustain and release new terms to help shed light on the things we believe to be important and hold dear.

Finally, as Audrey reminds us in the quotation above, to align yourself with an agenda of Openness is a political statement. As such we should be prepared to get our hands dirty and fight for what we believe.

Image CC BY-NC-SA John Carleton

What does working openly on the web mean in practice? [UK Web Focus]

It’s Open Education Week. In addition to facilitating a discussion on behalf of Mozilla, I’ve got a guest post on Brian Kelly’s blog entitled What Does Working Openly on the Web Mean in Practice?

Here’s a preview:

Working open is not only in Mozilla’s DNA but leads to huge benefits for the project more broadly. While Mozilla has hundreds of paid contributors, they have tens of thousands of volunteer contributors — all working together to keep the web open and as a platform for innovation. Working open means Mozilla can draw on talent no matter where in the world someone happens to live. It means people with what Clay Shirky would call cognitive surplus can contribute as much or as little free time and labour to projects as they wish. Importantly, it also leads to a level of trust that users can have in Mozilla’s products. Not only can they inspect the source code used to build the product, but actually participate in discussions about its development.

Go and read the post in full. I’d be interested in your comments (over there – I’ve closed them here to encourage you!) 🙂

Bonus: The web is 25! Remix this

Image CC BY-NC Glen Scott

On the link between Open Education and the Open Web

I’m currently moderating a discussion as part of Open Education Week on behalf of Mozilla. In today’s discussion prompt I asked:

What do you see as the link between Open Education and the Open Web? Does the former depend on the latter?

It’s a question that depends on several things, not least your definition of the two terms under consideration. Yesterday, in answer to the first discussion prompt, I used Mozilla Thimble to make this:

Open Education means collaborating, sharing and working in ways that benefit students and fellow educators.

The above would be my current (brief) definition of Open Education. But what about the Open Web? Here I’m going to lean on Mark Surman’s definition from 2010:

Open web = freedom, participation, decentralization and generativity.

That last word, ‘generativity’ is an interesting one. Here’s part of the definition from Wikipedia:

Generativity in essence describes a self-contained system from which its user draws an independent ability to create, generate, or produce new content unique to that system without additional help or input from the system’s original creators.

As an educator, I believe that the role of teachers is to make themselves progressively redundant. That is to say, the learner should take on more and more responsibility for their own learning. Both teachers and learners can work together within an Open Educational Ecosystem (OEE) that is more than the sum of its parts.

The more I think about it, this is how the Open Web is similar to Open Education. Both are trying to participate in a generative ecosystem benefitting humankind. It’s about busting silos. It’s about collaborating and sharing.

Does Open Education depend upon the Open Web? No, I wouldn’t say it that strongly. Open Education can happen without technology; you can share ideas and resources without the web. However, the Open Web significantly accelerates the kind of sharing and collaboration that can happen within an OEE. In other words, the Open Web serves as a significant catalyst for Open Education.

What do you think? What’s the relationship between Open Education and the Open Web?

Join the discussion!

Open Education and the Open Web (#openeducationwk)

This week is Open Education Week 2014:

Open Education Week is a series of events to increase awareness of open education movement. The third annual Open Education Week takes place from March 10-15, both online and offline around the world. Through the events and resources, we hope to reach out to more people to demonstrate what kind of opportunities open education has created and what we have to look forward to.

Mozilla is playing a role, through a week-long online discussion entitled Open Education and the Open Web. There’ll be a new question to prompt conversation each day in our Google+ Webmaker community.

What does it mean to participate on the open web? How can we encourage others to take agency over the opportunities the open web provides? This discussion led by Mozilla’s Doug Belshaw will explore the participatory culture of the web, why it matters, and what we can do to protect and cultivate it.

Today’s prompt is simple. We’re just asking people to introduce themselves and respond as to what ‘open education’ looks like in their context.

You should join us. It’s totally fine to dip in and dip out. Take the first step:

Click here to join the Mozilla Webmaker Google+ community

Image CC BY mozillaeu

What’s new with Open Badges?

Those keeping track will know that last year I moved teams within the Mozilla Foundation. I moved away from the Open Badges team to focus on (what is now) the Web Literacy Map. Despite this, I still have close ties to the Open Badges team. In fact, I’m currently helping design Webmaker and Web Literacy badges.

The big news at the start of 2014 on the Open Badges front is that there’s a new Badge Alliance to grow and develop the wider ecosystem. The Badge Alliance is a non-profit organisation to be led by Erin Knight, co-founder of the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI). Over the next few months she’ll be joined at the Badge Alliance with a few members of the current Open Badges team. There’s more detail in Erin’s blog post.

Happily, Mozilla will continue to develop and nurture the open source technical stack behind the OBI. The next milestone is the release of BadgeKit in the next few months. This should remove any remaining friction from issuing Open Badges. For more on BadgeKit be sure to follow the blogs of Sunny Lee and Chris McAvoy. And, as ever, you should also follow Carla Casilli’s posts on badge system design.

If you want to keep up with what’s going on with Open Badges in general, the easiest thing to do is to keep tabs on the Open Badges blog. The weekly ‘Badger Beats’ in particular is a useful round-up of news from the world of badges. There’s also a good deal of conversation within the Open Badges discussion group. This is a friendly forum for those planning to dip their toes into the water for the first time.

Having joined Mozilla in 2012 to work both on the Open Badges project and (what’s grown into) the Web Literacy Map. I’m delighted that the former has been incubated with such success. I’m also pleased that the latter is to underpin both the next iteration of Webmaker and Mozilla’s aims to create a more web literate planet.

If you’d like to get involved with Mozilla’s work to create a better web then we’d love to have you onboard! The easiest way to get involved with the two projects I’ve mentioned is to join their respective weekly calls. The Open Badges community call is every Wednesday, and you can join us for the new #TeachTheWeb community call every Thursday.

Questions? I’ll do my best to respond to them in the comments below.

Image CC BY-NC-SA RSC Scotland

Weeknote 06/2014

Last week I was in Toronto for a Webmaker workweek. It was a little different so I’m going to eschew the usual bullet points for a more image-based review.


After assembling on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, the #TeachTheWeb team came together to ensure we could get started as soon as possible. We discussed the semantics and nomenclature around Webmaker resources and Michelle walked us through a potential production cycle:

#TeachTheWeb production cycle

Next, we put up all the scrum tasks for the workweek:

Scrum wall

…and then we played dodgeball on trampolines. Obviously.

Dodgeball on trampolines


As is often the case when you get people face-to-face, we spent a good chunk of the day ensuring that we were on the same page. This involved some wrangling around semantics, mental models and what’s in and out of scope for the team and #TeachTheWeb in general.

#TeachTheWeb Doge

Happily, we moved many scrum tasks from ‘To Make’ to ‘Making’:



We were ready to hit the ground running and started off with a plan for the infrastructure that will support #TeachTheWeb courses. Laura gave the context of conversations she’s had with P2PU (who we may be employing to build this out).

#TeachTheWeb platform whiteboarding

We discussed this plan with Brett and the UX team, and agreed a way forward.

Kat and Karen did a great job of scoping out a teaching kit for remix:

Kat & Karen's planning for a remix teaching kit

The final part of the day was focused on scoping out the rest of the stuff we need to do this week. Things like assessment, badges and metrics/evaluation.


There was a bit of finishing off to do in the morning before the first demos at lunchtime. I did some preliminary thinking about badging, Kat and Karen continued their work on the teaching kit for ‘Remixing’, while Michelle and Laura interacted with other teams to make sure we’re all on the same page.


We got questions and feedback from everyone who took their turn to have explained to them the production cycle and ideas for Laura and Michelle made the necessary changes and then started planning out what the rest of 2014 will look like.

For a while we’ve been talking about some kind of bookmarklet that allows people to tag resources they find around the web. Just as you might bookmark something with Delicious or pin something to a Pinterest board, so webmakers could use the MakeAPI to surface resources related to specific parts of the Web Literacy Map. I was delighted when Atul stepped up to have a go at it, and so I created a ‘canonical’ list of tags to help with that.

In the evening we went tobogganing, courtesy of Geoffrey MacDougall. Which was epic.



Some people couldn’t stay for the entire week, so Chris brought forward the demo sessions from Friday morning to last thing on Thursday. It was great to see how much progress had been made on things that were just ideas earlier in the week. In particular, the UX team had some really interesting ideas about how a new ‘Explore’ tab could work. You can read more about that on Cassie McDaniels’ blog.


Bobby Richter and the rest of the AppMaker team have been doing some amazing work with making mobile webapp development a reality. Karen and I worked on getting towards finishing a first draft of a new Webmaker whitepaper.

Afterwards, Jon Buckley had suggested we all go to the Backyard Axe-Throwing League. I wasn’t great at it, but it turns out some of my colleagues (including JP and Luke) are alarmingly good:


Not everyone could stay until Friday because of other commitments, so the opening circle was noticeably smaller. We took the opportunity to have the kind of meetings face-to-face that are more difficult even over a video connection.

I headed to the airport around 3pm with Laura and Paula then managed to sleep for some of the overnight flight home. 🙂

3 things I’m looking forward to at the Webmaker workweek

Tomorrow I’m heading off to the icy wastelands of Toronto for a Webmaker workweek. As with everything at Mozilla, we’ll be planning and working in the open. You can see what we’ll be up to on this wiki page.

I’m helping the multi-talented Kat Braybrooke wrangle the Web Literacy Content ‘scrum’, but here’s what I’m looking forward to more generally.

1. Being F2F with colleagues

Working remotely is great, but virtual interactions differ markedly from embodied ones. I feel this acutely when I meet offline those I’ve only ever known online; it’s like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with one explaining the other.

We’ve quite a few new shipmates, but one I’m looking forward to meeting in particular is fellow Englishman Adam Lofting, our new Metrics Lead. We’re going to try and figure out (if and) how we can measure users’ development of web literacy. I think it will tie in nicely with the upcoming OpenHTML research project we’re doing with Drexel University.

2. Creating the Web Literacy Map user experience (UX)

Although this will mainly be led by the radiant Cassie McDaniel, I’m excited to see the ways we can weave the Web Literacy Map throughout the Webmaker site. Laura ‘super productive’ Hilliger has already produced an ‘if that then this’ demo, so I’m interested in how we can iterate towards a delightful UX for interest-based pathways to learning.

One thing I do think we need to do is to carefully consider the (visual and verbal) language we’re using. We’ve moved from Web Literacy ‘Standard’ to ‘Map’ and so we’ve got infinite scope for cartographic metaphors. 🙂

3. Thinking through the wider webmaker ecosystem

Webmaker (big ‘W’) is Mozilla’s offering in a wider webmaker (small ‘w’) ecosystem. Brett Gaylor‘s team has done a great job of creating innovative, open, stable tools; now we need to connect them more concretely to other people who are doing awesome stuff.

Happily, because Brett’s team has created a Make API this should be easier than it otherwise would have been. In practice, it means people can pull content out of Webmaker and we can pull in OERs and other openly-licensed content. Win.


Doge Canada

My apologies, Kat. I take it back: Canada is not a frozen wasteland. 😉

 Main image CC BY Roland Tanglao

The Web Literacy Standard is dead (long live the Web Literacy Map!)

I spent a good chunk of 2013 working with colleagues and a community of stakeholders creating a Web Literacy Standard. The result is testament to the way Mozilla, as a global non-profit, can innovate on behalf of users. I’m delighted with what we created.

Until recently, the literature and language in the field of Web Literacy has been relatively undeveloped. This is important, because although it doesn’t always seem like it, words are hard:

This seems to be a problem for anyone trying to explain the unfamiliar. If you invent new words, few people will know what you’re talking about, but if you make analogies using existing words, you bring along all their context, whether you want to or not.

In early 2013 we wanted to avoid creating just another ‘framework’. Why? Although we wanted to be more descriptive than prescriptive, we still didn’t want people to just pick-and-choose the bits they liked. Instead, we wanted to co-create something more holistic. That’s we chose to call what we were creating a ‘Standard’. The idea was for the community to come together to build something they felt they could align with.

And that’s exactly what we did. We created something that, while not perfect, we can feel a justifiable pride about.

A problem we’ve encountered is that because words are hard and dependent upon context, ‘Standard’ can have negative connotations – especially in North America. So after announcing the first version of the Standard at MozFest we, as a community, started to have a discussion as to whether ‘Standard’ was a word we wanted to keep.

The result of that consultation is that we’ve decided to move away from ‘Standard’ to describe what we’re doing here. While we could fight a valiant crusade on behalf of the term, it doesn’t seem like a battle that’s worth our time and effort. It’s better to focus on winning the war. In this case, that’s ensuring the newly re-titled Web Literacy Map underpins the work we do around Mozilla Webmaker. After all, we want 2014 to be the year we move beyond the ‘learn to code’ movement and focus on a more holistic understanding of web literacy.

We decided on Web Literacy ‘Map’ because we found that most of the language we used to describe what we’re doing was cartographic in nature. Also, it means that our designers have a lot more scope around visual metaphors! It’s going to be (and, importantly, look) – amazing!

Announcing the Web Literacy Standard (specification)

On-stage at the Mozilla Festival on Saturday, Brett Gaylor and Chris Lawrence announced a number of updates and additional features of

One of these, I’m delighted to report, was the Web Literacy Standard specification – something I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year with Carla Casilli and an awesome community of stakeholders.
Web Literacy Standard specification

Here’s the short (not-quite-tweet-length) description:

The Web Literacy Standard: a map of the territory for the skills and competencies Mozilla and community think are important to get better at to more effectively read, write & participate on the Web.

So what can you do with it in practice?

  • Issue Open Badges that align with it (using the ‘alignment’ metadata field)
  • Tag stuff with headings from the competency grid
  • Write curricula influenced by it.

If you know other languages, please do help with the localisation work for this and other parts of Webmaker. Finally, please do join us every other Monday as we seek to improve this. Further details here.

PS I wrote up MozFest.