Tag Archives: literacy

Boundless learning: the continuum of web literacy

There are a lot of people who think that our educational system is broken. I tend to think of it as problematic rather than broken—because it still works for some people, just not everyone. Wouldn’t it be great to have a system that works for more people in new ways?

A look back to look forward 
Here’s how we may have arrived in this confusing spot regarding education, a spot that is overripe for reimagining. The web.

The web is limitless. And its limitlessness has revealed to us the profound limits bound into earlier systems of knowledge measurement. Let’s use an example. Books were a previous primary yardstick. And we thought that all of them gathered together in the form of libraries constituted a window onto the edge of knowledge.

The lure of the past
But with the rise of the web in the last few years, we’ve realized that that was a false limitation. Libraries, even spectacularly large ones, that previously seemed like they contained all the information in the world are competing against an ever-growing, easily accessible accumulation of knowledge from around the world. The last Encyclopedia Brittanica—for years considered the gold standard for reference to be found in a printed set of thirty-two bound volumes at the cost of $1395—is now dwarfed by a free site on the web. That free site? Wikipedia. Over four million articles can be found on Wikipedia; it contains over twenty-nine million pages. That’s just one site on the web. And interestingly enough, it’s a site to which many editors contribute but that no one person “owns.”

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“The web has allowed us to see that the world is significantly more complex and interesting than we thought it was.” (2012, Weinberger) Indeed, the web mirrors much of our world in that it:

  1. contains massive amounts of information,
  2. has a distributed ownership model, and
  3. a large part of the information found on it is entirely free.

A new model for learning
Thanks to a lot of people who recognized the value of the web (and who like teaching and tinkering and sharing) learning can now happen and is now happening anywhere and everywhere. So, how can we break free from the limited thinking that chains us to book learning and formal academic levels? Can there be alternative methods of information dissemination?

The learning continuum
Let’s agree on this: learning is a process. There is no endpoint.  But what does this mean for education? That there is no cap to the amount of knowledge we can accumulate. And now because there is no endpoint, we need to rethink how people might find their way through this glut of information. We need something to fill in the space of what was there previously—or at the very least to find a way to acknowledge the new learning spaces that we’re beginning to see.

The last printed Encyclopedia Brittanica was published in 2010. It’s now 2013. The world has not stopped amassing information in that interim. So, we must become comfortable with the idea that there are volumes of knowledge that we’ll never know. It’s simply not possible to do that anymore; it’s not possible to put edges or boundaries on learning opportunities. This is where badges can provide their greatest value: as guideposts in an increasingly complex knowledge universe. Badges can be issued on an atomic level. We can start to acknowledge the primary elements  that constitute a basic level of knowledge.

I’m hesitant to even use the word level here. Due to its requirement for contextual definition, the idea of educational levels often leads straight to a bizarro world where levels are spoken about as if they’re universal, but their implementation reveals that they are most distinctly not universal in application.

Let’s just say that there are continua of knowledge and as a whole we are on them. To quote my colleague, Doug Belshaw, from our in-progress web literacies* white paper, “Literacy is a condition to be obtained not a threshold to cross.” The key to that statement centers on the idea of conditions: we are continually moving through and across boundaries of knowledge. This is one of the beauties of the web—and of life. In general, the boundaries we experience have been created and defined by us in the development of our society. Badges let us reimagine what those boundaries are and where they might appear. Thus, we can move ever closer to aligning our ability to acknowledge all of the learning now possible with the web’s vast capacity for increased knowledge acquisition.

Learning pathways 
Right now we’re focusing on what a web literacy standard might look like and how it might be implemented. A significant portion of this thinking will include developing potential learning pathways. Along those lines, we will be thinking through the framework’s ‘Beginner’ and ‘Intermediate’ levels before considering ‘Pre-Beginner’ and ‘Advanced’. Taking this approach will allow us to produce multiple touchpoints and signposts along the way to web literacy. We’ll use those touchpoints and signposts to develop a web literacy badge system that accommodates various learning pathways, builds upon the web literacy framework, encourages continued community badge creation and aligns with Mozilla’s Open Badges Infrastructure.

The honor of your presence is requested
There are many ways that you can participate. Here are just a few:

  1. Join our weekly web literacy standard community call on Thursdays 8am PST / 11am EST / 4pm GMT. Here’s a canonical etherpad agenda that includes dial in information.
  2. Visit our continually updated wiki.
  3. Continue to read and respond to these posts.
  4. Share your ideas about what might be useful indications of learning.
  5. Begin to imagine a world where web literacy is an easily understood literacy with badges that communicate where someone might be on that arc.

We’re gathering together with you at the forefront of our understanding of what web literacy is and we’re aiming to map out a workable future. We’re pretty excited and we’re really glad you’re here.

* It’s worth noting that we’re distinguishing between our earlier work with web literacies and our new efforts for a web literacy learning standard.

Flickr image CC by mikeedesign

Much more soon.
carla [at] mozillafoundation [dot] org

Co-constructing a framework of web literacy and badges

Two weeks ago on Thursday we held our first web literacy framework / standard conversation. We, along with interested and influential folks, are thinking through what a web literacy standard might look like and how it might be implemented.

You can read more about our first gathering on this etherpad and check out our recorded interaction here—but before you fall too much in love with that pad or deck, take a gander at this etherpad, too. Because we held another web literacy online gathering just yesterday. (By the way, if you haven’t introduced yourself in the web literacy group of the webmaker list, please do.)

Participants at both of these public interactions began to think through and converse about some of the many complex questions surrounding this effort. Things like, what do we mean by the term “standard,” and what about people who are educationally or socially underserved, or those folks who are not even on the internet? While we don’t have answers to all of these questions, we do anticipate that this communication opportunity will spur a number of lively conversations and perhaps some complex philosophical and sociological inquiries, as well. Of course we want to talk, but more importantly, we want to listen, too.

Questions we’re asking
In essence, we’re asking a number questions and we’d like your thinking on them. Here are a few that we’ve been obsessed with lately.

  • What are the basic, intermediate and advanced skills that are essential to becoming a productive participant of the web?
  • How many are necessary to produce useful competencies?
  • What are the related outcomes associated with those skills and competencies? In other words, what might those skills and competencies get you in an applied setting?
  • Can we build assessments that support and acknowledge those skills and competencies?
  • Can we build APIs that allow you to begin to use these skill and competency assessments right on your own site?
  • How can badges be designed that accurately represent those skills and competencies?
  • What sorts of badges make sense in a distributed system like this?

And another question that’s close to my heart:

  • What goes into a badge framework that will encourage other individuals, organizations, educational institutions, etc. to build upon our web literacy badges efforts so that together we construct a viable, meaningful, and valuable network of activities, assessments and badges?

Definition of terms
A lot of this work is contingent upon us reaching some universal agreement about what we mean when we talk about web literacy.* In order for us to make any headway with the development of a standard, at the very least we’ll need to be aligned in our understanding and use of this term. Also, you may hear us talk about a standard and a framework somewhat interchangeably: we’re focused on building a framework from which a standard will emerge. Our approach for the web literacy badges works similarly: we aim to construct a conceptual framework that encourages other organizations and individuals to form their own badge system nodes in this network. While we’re still figuring out how all this gels, we’re forging ahead with designing a web literacy badge system that derives its excellence from a variety of  committed, web-literacy-standards-aligned issuers contributing to it. I’ll explore this idea in detail in future posts.

Systems thinking
One of my favorite posts that I’ve written on badge system design is Building Trust Networks, Creating Value. If you have questions about how we see this all coming together, you’ll find a number of answers there. In short, that post reviews the ways in which trust networks may evolve in the Open Badges ecosystem. It also purports that a system will function at its best if trust grows right along with it: trust that is both internal to the system as well as external to the system. A slightly different way of saying that is that a system will become more resilient if trust becomes and integral aspect of its network effect. The hallmarks of a successful system include resilience and flexibility: we’re working to build those into our web literacy badge system.

How we’re getting there from here
We’ve been considering what web literacies might look like. We’ve released a preliminary set of badges based on low level achievements that can be accomplished using one of our tools. We have a killer team assembled to begin tackling incremental assessment, creating activities that are both informative and inspirational, designing badges that act as guideposts to the standard they represent, and devising possible pathways for people to get from one skill or competency to another.** We’re analyzing the best ways to make this an open standard; imagining ways that an API might be able to be useful for things like those incremental assessments.

An invitation
Over the next few days we’ll be roughing out a lightweight roadmap; there you’ll find specific dates and goals. And exciting next step will be to hold regular weekly calls to publicly investigate, evaluate, and scrutinize this work—this most definitely will be a group effort. You’re invited! Please make a point of joining us for our inaugural weekly meeting on Thursday, Feb 28 at 08:00 PST / 11:00 EST / 16:00 GMT. I’ll post more specific dial-in details when they’re finalized. Dial-in info can be found on the Web Literacy Standard Community etherpad.

We’re excited to have you join us on this journey. Together we will co-create a new web literacy standard, develop badges that reflect that standard and begin to define pathways that lead to rewarding educational, social and personal experiences.

* A quick and appreciative nod to individuals who have been ruminating on digital literacy, digital divides, and technological literacy for years.
** A foundational badge pathways post is coming within a few days. This is a lynchpin concept.


More soon.

Web literacies: something serious, something funny and something fun.

We ran our first online gathering last week during which we sought to begin the process of co-creating a web literacy standard. You can read more about that on Erin Knight’s blog here and Doug Belshaw’s blog here. And while I want to delve into that effort in detail, right now I just want to share some thoughts about ideas related to web literacy.

Something serious
Directly related to those ideas, I’d like to suggest that if you haven’t yet visited the Webmaker google group, please do. There are some extremely interesting conversations and intimations happening there about things like Internet accessibility, worldviews and what those sorts of things might mean for web literacy. These big questions are right up my alley. As a firm believer in context driven language, communication and interaction, I’m convinced that these are excellent areas of inquiry. What does it mean—in practice—to develop a standard that may or may not pertain to several billion people? And how can we ensure that our co-defined thinking allows room for growth, modification, interpretation but remains strong enough to withstand rigorous assessment and investigation? We are going to be discussing some of this again next Thursday at 9am EST. Please join us.

Something funny
We’re asking, can you help us build this from a close-in standpoint while recognizing a need for a top level view as well? In a recent online back and forth with Brian Brennan, gentleman coder and the original and chief software architect of Open Badges, he made a coding joke. A joke that I did not get—because despite what I know, I do not know many of the nuances of coding. In total, it was this, “I’d tell you a UDP joke but you might not get it.” This was succeeded by the following comment, “!!!NERD JOKE ALERT!!!” Once explained (see Something fun), these few sentences are actually pretty funny.

Why are we talking about this, aside from how it nicely illustrates what a funny and informative (and badass) programmer Brian is? It serves to show that it’s possible to be on the spectrum of web literacy—even to be quite advanced on that spectrum—and yet still have plenty of things to learn. Web literacy in short: many levels, not all required for success. Now let’s contrast this degree of literacy with the literacy level of people who are only peripherally on the web because they don’t have things like a solid internet connection, or they live in a place where there isn’t a dependable communication infrastructure, or maybe their lives are full enough or complicated enough without the web.

How does this tie into badges? In a very interesting way. First let’s acknowledge the new folks that we’re excited to have join our team to help answer that question. They include Jess Klein, Atul Varma and Chloe Varelidi. Together we’ll be building some exciting new activities and incremental assessments, the outcome of which will result in web literacy badges and their associated pathways. That’s right: this all leads back to my old friend, badge system design.

Something fun
So, someday soon, knowing things like the difference between UDP and TCP and how that manifests itself on the web may prove to be one aspect of a web literacy pathway. And because we’ve gotten this far without yet learning the difference between them here’s Brian’s verbatim explanation of UDP and TCP. Please note that he communicated this through an informal online exchange so it’s a less standard explanation than Brian might otherwise deliver—but it sure does get the point across.

“UDP doesn’t guarantee order of packet delivery, or delivery at all. TCP ensures order and integrity, but incurs overhead because every packet has to be acknowledged. So UDP is suitable in an environment where it’s acceptable for things to come out of order and where the client can ensure integrity. BitTorrent is a great example of this. I associate it with shoveling data out a window while saying ‘yo I don’t give a FUCk’.”

If you’ve ever heard of or used Pirate Bay or torrents, you’ve actually come into contact with UDP. And since you’re reading this right now and it’s all arrived on your computer in one intelligible piece, you’ve also come into direct contact with TCP.

Congrats, you’re on your way to becoming even more web literate! Now we just need to develop a distributed badge system that indicates that knowledge so you can share that with other people. And friends, I’m here to say that we’re on it.

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Much more soon.
carla at mozillafoundation [dot] org

Webmaker, games, and learning

Chloe Varelidi has been playing around with a small team thinking through how to make games hackable, free and open source. This work makes me happy. Somewhat relatedly, Greg Wilson has just written a terrific blog post about web literacy and why we need to provide pathways and tools that provide for creativity. What ties these two things together and loops in where we’re headed with Webmaker Badges is their open ended, non-deterministic approach to learning. I believe that games and game design should be deeply integrated with Webmaker.org. Why? For a number of reasons I’ll discuss here but perhaps most importantly it’s because games are typically fun. True, they’re not always fun but when they are, they can act like mental catnip.

Games present a number of opportunities for learning and tie in really beautifully with a variety of potential learning objectives, as well as outcomes.

There are a few books that point to games being effective teaching and learning tools—surprisingly tools that can have quite a positive impact upon personal perception and well-being (see Reality is Broken). And there are a number of research studies that are being focused on games. But the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that what makes games great is the way that they provide immediate feedback, thereby diminishing the negative charge that usually rides shotgun with failure. We’re taught to avoid failure and still, failure is a quotidian occurrence. We might more commonly refer to failure as making a mistake. Yet, learning to develop resilience in response to failure (an ability that tends to make people feel happier and helps them thrive) can be quite helpful. Games can help us to do just that.

It may seem obvious that games and learning go hand in hand but here are a few reasons why I see them as intertwined. Games generally do not hit you over the head with what they’re teaching you. Nor do they often tell you why they’re teaching you something. Heck, they don’t even tell you that they’re teaching you anything at all. They don’t always provide instructions; this means that a player must discern how to play them. As Mario Herger said at the CalTech Entrepreneurs Forum: Venturing in Serious Games for Simulation, Education, and the Enterprise, “They don’t come with a 200 page manual telling you how to use them.” Players must use their own judgment about what’s important and what comes next. This also means that a player typically makes a lot of mistakes about those things—and that’s perfectly okay. In fact, it’s expected that the player will make mistakes. Mistakes are built in to the process. Intentionally. How many other activities have the user’s mistakes planned for and built into the process?

Perhaps what games teach more than anything is the value of persistence. If failure is anticipated, so is persistence. Extra lives anyone? I’d also argue that games teach the value of a community as well. What’s the use of playing a game if you can’t share it with someone else? Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement because there are games meant to be played entirely by yourself. Solitaire is one of them. But even within solitaire you play until you absolutely can’t play anymore. And then you start again. Resilience.

Do we learn in games? Most certainly indirectly and directly as well. As mentioned earlier, we can come to understand persistence, social and moral values, community, the concept of multiple possibilities, how to assess options, the importance of planning, soft skills, hard skills—this list could go on and on and we could examine each property endlessly. But for now, let’s just consider the ways in which games provide multiple pathways to achievements despite numerous and difficult obstacles: we like a challenge.

So, what does all of this mean for Webmaker.org? A lot. There’s a huge opportunity for us to leap into the gaming boat; to set up a few challenges of our own. To ask people to not only play games, but to code games, to design and test them. Because developing a game for someone else puts you inside the mind of that someone else and encourages you to anticipate that person’s next move. And the move beyond that. And this is the nexus of playing and learning. How can you make something fun and compelling and difficult enough to excite people but easy enough for folks to win every once in a while. This is precisely what we’re aiming to do with Webmaker.

How might Webmaker Badges fit into all of this great potential? I’m guessing that some of this may appear obvious to you and I’d love to engage on that point. My next post will address how we might best integrate these two protean elements but in the interim, if you have ideas, send them my way.

Reference
McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

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Much more soon.

Mozilla Open Badges: the ecosystem begins to take shape

08/01/12: Updated, see bottom of post.

A lot has been happening in the Open Badges world: we’ve been attending and speaking at conferences (ePIC, Gamification Summit, OSCON, ISTE); developing new outreach efforts; having fantastic conversations with significant potential partners; facilitating discussions about the future of alternative credentialing at CGI America; thinking through web literacies, skills and competencies; and working on developing Mozilla webmaker badges based on those web literacies. (And we’re also working on developing an “OBI compliant” tag for use on partner sites. Fun!)

As I’ve been traveling around and thinking through these issues, rationalizing different versions of assessment criteria, hacking through what folks mean when they mention 21st Century skills, I’ve felt the need to put a few things into a more visual representation. The first is how I see the development of Open Badges understanding happening. It’s fairly anecdotal and yet useful to begin talking about where the level of public understanding resides and where opportunities still exist. (Speaking of understanding Open Badges, if you’re not following us on Twitter at @OpenBadges, now is the time to start. And if you’re not joining our weekly Open Badges community calls (you missed a great one last week on validation), now is the time to start.

Impression of public understanding of Mozilla Open Badges

This graphic presents a pretty DML / Mozilla -centric view but it’s one I believe accurately represents how much we’ve accomplished in bringing the public up to speed in a relatively short time period. That said, I will also note that we have quite a way to go until the term “Open Badges” (and not just digital badges) can be used and understood in common speech.

A prime differentiator, and one that tends to get lost in cursory understandings of digital badges, is the idea that an Open Badge carries with it its own credentials: it’s evidence based documentation. Additionally, an Open Badge is a sort of diplomat that can freely cross disciplinary & institutional boundaries. From a systems standpoint, no Open Badge lives alone: each one resides in a larger badge ecosystem. As the ecosystem gains breadth, questions arise about the depth and rigor of each badge—as compared to the current understanding of social, professional, and academic currencies. Many, if not all of the questions of validity will be addressed through not only the methods by which each Open Badge is created but also by the community that develops around it. Endorsers will play a significant role in linking an ecosystem together as will Issuers & Displayers, but then so will “consuming” organizations like employers, academic institutions, community groups, etc.

But, in the interest of making this a briefer post with other pretty graphics about the concept of validation and trust networks I just referenced to come later (I promise—they’re already done), here’s an initial take on dividing up the academic world into traditional vs. non-traditional, accredited vs. non-accredited as it currently stands.

Traditional vs. non-traditional, accredited vs. non-accredited

Obviously, this is an abbreviated, highly selective version of that world but I would love to hear your responses to not only where you see you/your organization appearing on this graph, but also your thoughts on the validity of it. It would also be great if you felt the desire to talk about the future of this system and whether or not this approach will retain its validity or if we’ll need an entirely new one after Open Badges enters common parlance. Additionally, if this is an omniscient take or if there are different visions for each of the three primary players: earners, issuers and displayers.

And of course, I would love it still more if you would let me know your thoughts on where we’ve been, where we’re headed and what we have left to do. Thanks!

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More soon.

UPDATE 08/01/12: After discussing this on the Open Badges community call, I’m even more torn by the dichotomy imposed by combining traditional & formal and non-traditional & informal (not to mention the extreme mental shorthand with which I’ve written this post). It’s possible to have traditional pedagogical techniques performed in informal settings. Consequently, I’m reworking this second graphic to include the subtleties that are lost when traditional & formal and non-traditional & informal are so unceremoniously combined.

As I mentioned in a few emails to those of you who wrote responses to this post, there will most definitely need to be a series of these graphics to articulate what we’re saying when we talk about Open Badges and its ecosystem. Lenses, layers, and conceptual frameworks are all still very much in process: I’m working on graphically representing all of these and I appreciate all the community participation I can get. Thanks!

Learning, coding, systems of power, and Mozilla

Starting this summer, we’re aiming to help create a group of webmakers. Building on Mozilla’s Manifesto—to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the web—we’re rationalizing a set of core skills, developing learning objectives and outcomes associated with those skills and offering opportunities to try them out. This effort aligns extremely well with the development and promotion of #5 in our mission list: “Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.”

What’s a webmaker?
What do we mean by webmaker? Someone who contributes to the web but also someone who understands the web and its inherent power. Our focus is on moving people toward doing rather than perceiving but both are required. Experimentation is where we’re headed. Guiding people toward understanding the software that constitutes the web so that they can make more informed and educated decisions about not only how they interact with the web, but how they interact with the systems that lead to the power of the web. Yes, systems as we’ve been discussing in previous posts. (Avoiding the complex discussion of Foucault’s systems of power for now, thanks.)

Code is political
Code is political. While that may seem to be a polemical statement, it’s one that serves to inform the currently omnipresent drive to teach people to code. Code is enveloped in systems of power—systems of power that will increasingly play large roles in people’s lives. Understanding that you can create as well as consume seems a fair balance. More people having a literacy is something to be desired, not shunned or disdained. (More info here: Lawrence Lessig’s Code is Law)

What do we mean by literacy?
Traditional literacy lifts people out of poverty, modifies their worldviews, opens up new vistas and provides new opportunities for further enrichment, whether they be social, political, professional, or ideological. If you want your own proof, just search with this combination of terms “literacy and poverty.” Who’s to say that digital literacy won’t accomplish similar things? In the vein of the scientific method, why not test it out?

Literacy itself is a complex term that encompasses a broad spectrum. In our case, literacy is a basic communication skill, akin to numeracy or traditional language literacy. We’re not aiming to make everyone into Joycean code experimenters pushing the boundaries of language and comprehension, nor are we aiming to move everyone toward Hemingway-esque brevity and conciseness, but if some of you decide those pathways are for you, all the better. At least you’ll be moving forward with a broader understanding of what’s possible. And you will be making the decision for yourself, not having it handed to you by some faceless mega-corporation.

Our initial take on web literacy skills is bouncing along as an ongoing experiment (sounds familiar, right?). In the same vein as iterate often, we’re out there trying things on, seeing what feels right. Working with other organizations to leverage their understandings of web literacy and expand upon our own.

What we’re interested in doing with webmaking is shining a light into a place you may not have considered looking before. Showing you that that place is not full of monsters, is not incomprehensible, but is instead simply the exact same world you’ve been experiencing all along just translated into another language. Learning to code is a deciphering of sorts—a decoding of symbols. It offers a different lens through which to view the world.

Opportunity
This new knowledge lens may significantly alter the way you perceive the world; it’s hard to say how it will affect you. Perhaps that unknown quantity is precisely why Mozilla believes learning to code is something everyone should be afforded the opportunity to learn how to do. The operative word in that sentence is opportunity.

Knock, knock, knock.