Webmaker Planning Season: “We know we’re winning if…”

It’s planning season over at Mozilla, and Executive Director Mark Surman is leading a discussion on their next year of Webmaker programming.

On the Webmaker mailing list, Mark continues the discussion in a number of threads. One line in the thread ‘2013 plans: audience‘ stood out where he wrote:

“We know we’re winning if: more and more people use, expect and demand the technical and creative freedoms offered by open technologies. We want 5 million users, 1 million webmakers and 25,000 mentors by 2014. (<–this still feels a little unambitous)”

I’d like to explore the qualitative aspects of the question regarding ambition. I think this is an important question to get right because of how core it is to telling the Mozilla portion of the Webmaker story.

I love the work Doug Belshaw is doing on defining web literacies! From the current wiki version of the web literacy white paper he’s working on:

“At it’s most basic, ‘literacy’ is the ability to read and write something. As we’re focusing on Web Literacies the ‘thing’ that we’re reading and writing is the web. In addition to this, however, as people become more literate we expect them to think critically and be able to look at the world from more than one perspective. For someone to be ‘literate’ they have to be aware that they are literate and be accepted within a wider community of literate peers.”

This actually got me wondering about other definitions of ‘literacy’ which led me to discover something interesting.. the UNESCO definition of literacy. UNESCO is of course the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. They define literacy as:

“the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”

If we want to discuss ambition, the UN isn’t a bad place to start. 🙂 I kept digging and found some other interesting things.

The UN’s ‘Official Source of Literacy Data’ sounds useful.

UNESCO’s ‘vision of literacy’ seems very compatible with Mozilla’s emerging vision of web literacy.

UNESCO has something called the ‘Education for All Movement’ that publishes a yearly ‘Global Monitoring Report’. The focus of their 2006 report was on literacy.

Chapter five of this report entitled ‘Why Literacy Matters’ seems highly relevant to this discussion. The opening blurb:

“This chapter explores the case for literacy,especially for youth and adults. It summarizes the foundations of the right to literacy through a review of international agreements, noting that literacy is both a right in itself and an instrument for achieving other rights. The chapter then reviews the broader benefits that result from literacy, in human, economic, social and cultural terms. Since literacy is a key outcome of education, it is difficult to separate the right to literacy from the right to education or the benefits of literacy from those of education.”

Here’s a link to the 11 page pdf for chapter 5. Definitely check it out, and for fun pretend every instance of the word ‘literacy’ is actually ‘web literacy’:

One thing that’s clear while reading this document is just how much research has gone into the impact of literacy!

Which begs the multi-million dollar question: What is the impact of web literacy specifically?

Given that the development of the web platform is a moving target, the impact of web literacy itself becomes a bit of a meta question relating to how we as a civilization deal with accelerating technological change. This isn’t just Singularity stuff.. this is who of humanity gets to benefit from the Singularity stuff. But I digress…

What’s striking to me about UNESCO’s education initiatives is how steeped they are in old paradigm thinking regarding education. Their 2013 report, in progress, is titled ‘Learning and Teaching for Development’ and lists curriculum, assessment, and achievement as priorities. Very 20th century. (They’d probably love it if FirefoxOS came bundled with a proprietary MOOC.)

While UNESCO acknowledges the importance of digital literacy, they lack the understanding and expertise to develop the metrics necessary to measure it.. let alone inform the UN’s policies impacting digital citizenship. This expertise must come from the bleeding edge where maker culture is rapidly prototyping the future of learning.

Moving forward, I think comprehensive research around web literacy along measures of socioeconomic impact should be a priority. This task is perhaps too big for Mozilla to take on alone, but potential for partnerships in this endeavor abound.. and the UN’s data on global literacy (linked above) might be a strong starting point for exploration.

All of this probably doesn’t help us come up with metrics for Webmaker success in 2013, but would certainly help frame it as an impactful initiative that makes the case for an Open Web more tangible to the world at large.

Sooo.. here’s my take on ‘how we know we’re winning’ at Mozilla!

We know we’re winning if:

  • More people see technology that doesn’t ‘work like the web’ as either fundamentally broken or unfinished prototypes of web technology. (Qualitative..)
  • Webmaker is used as a tool that expresses learning beyond web literacy. (Potentially hard to quantify.)
  • Webmaker becomes a channel that amplifies Mozilla’s ability to mobilize responses when the Open Web is being threatened. (Quantifiable!)
  • Webmaker development bridges the literacy gap with the Mozilla Developer Network and then swallows it whole! (Raawwwrrr!!)
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