#Mozfest Reflections

TL:DR version: Mozfest was a crazy, cool conference that challenged my ideas of what professional learning can look like.

Last weekend I had one of those “Holy crap, I get to do this for work?” opportunities; I was invited to the Mozilla Festival at Ravensbourne College of Design in London. Just take a look at the interior space we had at our disposal:

Amazing, right? Nine floors, all with open floor plans for making, learning, sharing, and teaching each other. I spent most of the time on the sixth floor, where we were working the Teach the Web/Build the Web strands (facilitated by the remarkably smart and energetic duo of Laura Hilliger and Kat Braybrooke), but I was pretty intrigued by the Open Badges work on the seventh floor and the Make the Web Physical group on floor two. I would have needed seven or eight clones to have even a chance at glimpsing all that was on offer.

Before the conference began, I worked with Christina Cantrill and Paul Oh from the National Writing Project, along with Stephanie West-Pucket from the Tar River Writing Project at Eastern Carolina University, to propose and plan for sessions and scrums; Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and Chad Sansing joined us at the festival. The session I ran was nominally on intersections of remix and coding, using illustrations from comic books to to code the emotional content of stories people told about how they got to Mozfest. I say nominally because the intent and plan isn’t quite the way it worked out. I don’t think the session went badly, as far as it went; however, I don’t think it ended up being a great fit for Mozfest. The results produced were interesting and led us into a good conversation about ways to support student writing, but there seemed to be less energy than I’d hoped involved in the endeavor. Of course, it was also at the end of the day on Sunday, and if everyone else was as tired as I was, that could be a contributing factor.

The make I led as part of the Digital Storytelling scrum was more successful. In case you’re reading this and wondering what a scrum is, read the Scrumfest etherpad. The task was to create a set of annotated videos of digital stories that could be used as a teaching resource for anyone interested in making a digital story. At the Saturday morning lightning talk (a 1-minute description of the task given to all the people in the Teach/Make the Web group), I got some good responses from people who work with digital storytelling. Philo Van Kemanade of Popathon appreciated that I identified as a problem the fact that many first attempts at digital storytelling aren’t all that great, and liked that my make was trying to address this issue. Tom Wills and I had a great conversation about his work with NovaraMedia and ways of helping newbies learn to craft effective journalistic reports. Chad Sansing added a load of possible videos for annotating to the scrum’s etherpad, and Khin Tye learned how to annotate videos using Popcorn and created an annotated version of “Unlocking the Truth.” While the remaining tasks in the make were left incomplete, I’d say that the great conversations and connections made this a success.

While my session and the scrumming kept me mostly on the sixth floor–which, frankly, is where the coolest people were, anyway 🙂 –I did have a chance to sneak down to the second floor and attend Ricarose Roque‘s super-cool session on combining Scratch and puppets wired up with Makey Makeys. Both of these were things I’d wanted to learn more about for ages, so I was psyched to get the chance to learn about them through playing and making. What was even cooler was that one of the other participants in the session, Marc Grossman, found me later in the afternoon and gave me a great tutorial on Scratch; having taught it in after-school programs for the past 5 years, he was a patient and thorough teacher and I am definitely in his debt!

Steph and I also had the chance to attend part of a session Doug Belshaw led focused on badges and the new Mozilla Web Literacy Standard. I think Steph and I were both hung up on the use of the word “literacy,” as the way the standard represents web literacy is strictly skills-based; we are both accustomed to thinking of literacies as more complex than a set of skills. An understanding of literacy as an “identity toolkit” (to use James Paul Gee’s term) never isolates “skills,” but instead situates them within social contexts. We only had a few minutes to ask Doug about this, but he reported that a white paper he’d written would be forthcoming that explained why these “meta aspects” (as he named them) ended up being removed from the final version of the standard. I look forward to reading it.

One of my regrets is not having the chance to hang around the badging people more, but at least I had the chance to earn some badges. Jeannie Crowley from Bank Street created a set of badges for each of the scrumfest’s make strands, and I earned ones for Low Fi, Remix, and Digital Storytelling. So that made me happy.

I feel a little like this post is a disjointed jumble (unlike Chad’s coherent reflection on his take-aways from Mozfest), but I think that’s because Mozfest was so unlike any other conference (or, indeed, any schooling/learning experience) I’ve been lucky enough to attend. It challenges so many assumptions about professional learning that I’m still trying to process it and turn it into ways that the Northern California Writing Project might use to expand our work with teachers and students in our service region. With time and experimentation, I hope to come to some more clarity. For now, I’m just grateful that I was able to be part of Mozfest.