Each week, mind-blowing guest speakers join our Mozilla Webmaker Community calls for your questions, rabble-rousing and debate.
Audrey Watters is a prolific education technology writer, researcher and “recovering academic.” She recently kicked off a fascinating research project for Mozilla, aimed at answering:
What’s the best way to teach web-building to anyone? For example, should Mozilla develop a tool to help the world learn HTML5?
Audrey has been asking educators and ed tech developers what they think Mozilla’s role should be, at an educational, philosophical and technological level.
Without exception, everyone I talked to identified a dire need to improve web literacy. Whether it was elementary school teachers, college professors, hobbyists or entrepreneurs, everyone talked about a huge gap in our collective knowledge base around how the web works…. There’s still this sense of the internet as a series of tubes, and the web as a series of documents you can deliver through those tubes. –Audrey Watters
Some key questions and takeaways from the discussion:
- Learners want to solve real problems and make real stuff. Not feel like beginners/outsiders.
- There’s a lot of resistance to building a tool that’s de-contextualized or separate from the “real” web.
- Learners need to make something quickly. With a takeaway that’s personally meaningful to them.
- What do we really need to build? A community or a curriculum? A product or a process?
- How can we learn from the successful past examples? Hypercard was arguably one of the most popular, user-oriented entry-level programming tools ever — even though real programmers hated it. Hobbyists and amateurs liked it. The professionals didn’t.
Mozilla’s David Ascher dug into the Hypercard analogy:
What made Hypercard powerful is that normal people were able to use it build really useful things…. The holy grail is something that doesn’t require people to learn the entire stack that “real developers” use, but at the same time, has real utility on a day to day basis. –David Ascher
Mark Surman tried to tease out the balance of giving learners access to “real” code — not toys — while still lowering the barriers to entry, providing scaffolding, or useful constraints that help you to make something meaningful quickly:
“The difference between then and today is: we now have a nearly universal platform people can use to consume, create and build: the web. We want to make tools that help people make stuff on the web. They may be scaffolded or supported, but what comes out is still the web.
This is the difference between what we’re trying to build versus Hypercard, Scratch, etc. There may be constraints that make it easier, but what comes out is still “real” code, the real web. –Mark Surman
Stay tuned for some further upcoming fireside chats with Audrey. In the mean time: