Dec 14 2015

MozFest London 2015 – Creative Chaos, Tech, and Network Building

Guest Post, Hive NYC, MozFest, Mozilla, Web Literacy


This is a guest post by Zac Rudge, who leads teen digital media education at the NYC Parks Computer Resource Center program. This is a reflection of his experience at MozFest, and links to a variety of tools that could be of use to educators.

Zac Rudge participating in the Voices of Diverse Leaders Pathway at Mozfest 2015

Zac Rudge participating in the Voices of Diverse Leaders Pathway at Mozfest 2015

Day 1 Friday Nov 5

Once I had got myself kickstarted with a coffee (or three, jet-lag is real!), day one showed just how participatory MozFest is. Out of 1700 participants at the conference, 400 of those were both participant and facilitator – people were there to share their knowledge, as well as learn from others. Day one was focused on facilitator training and orientation, and network building between facilitators (who hailed from all walks of the tech community, and from a huge diversity of nations). After the training, to officially kick off the festival and to close out the day, facilitators showed off their weird, wonderful, and techy projects in a huge science fair. By the end of the day I had started to get a feel for what MozFest is all about – creative chaos, technology, and building relationships.

Day 2 Saturday Nov 6

I am more project manager/developer than tech, so sometimes it is a little tricky to come at some of the more tech pieces of the puzzle. Despite this, I found many a piece of technology (and people!) that could be valuable to NYC Parks CRCs, where I work, and the NYC tech education community.

Things kicked off on a less tech front, with an excellent participatory workshop run by the Allied Media Projects team of Diana Nucera and Morgan Willis entitled ‘We start with listening’. They facilitated a great activity which brought out the importance of listening, and the subtleties required when working together. It went a little like this: 1) Get everyone in a circle, and on the count of three, everyone just make a noise, any noise. As you can imagine this started with absolute chaos, but somewhat miraculously participants started to come together, forming a beat, and even melodies. 2) After step 1, and a brief reflection, the exercise was repeated, with a marked difference in feeling, with everyone just that little bit more aware of other actors, 3) After stopping, and reflecting, on step 2 we did the same thing, but not looking at each other. The difference was palpable, but in reflection some found the third time more difficult, while others found it easier, saying it allowed them to listen in more closely – this reflected the diversity in ways of working that participants had. The workshop got to the crux of the challenge in finding a balance between having no role in an organization or project (and being chaotic), and having too defined a role (and having no control or creative outlet). It was a thought provoking way to start the MozFest experience.

The next session I supported Robin Baskin McNulty and Kimberly Scott, of Arizona State University to run their session. Robin and Kimberly run a great program supporting underrepresented young women to explore STEM based learning, check out a write-up of their program here.

After grabbing a lunchbox I headed over to catch computer science education innovator and artist Don Miller of NYC Department of Education share his experiences and strategies on teaching CS in schools. With the roll-out of CS For All in NYC, it was great to hear some of Don’s thoughts on the value, challenges and successes of teaching computer science in schools. One key takeaway from Don’s session was the necessity of assessing each school individually, and matching resources to each school according to this assessment – there is no silver bullet. Don also shared a great platform, with many excellent ‘unplugged’ activities for teaching computer science – Csunplugged.com

That night I went to dinner with a few tech geniuses. Max Richman was interested in place based stories and data science. In terms of new learning for me at MozFest, it was all about data science and open science. Beyond data science though, there were people like Christine Zhang and Aaron Williams trying to make sense of, and tell stories, using data: Data Journalism. Christine, one of Mozilla’s 2016 Fellows, was just about to move to the LA Times to “To tell meaningful news stories with data, and to use open data and open-source tools to empower her readers to ask their own questions.” Aaron, who is at the San Francisco Chronicle, showed me some of his pioneering work bringing data-visualization to mobile devices.

Day 3 Sunday Nov 8

Saturday kicked off with a presentation on the intersection of technology and sustainability, with reference to the newly announced ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (for those that don’t know these took the place of the Millennium Development Goals). The project, called The Open Seventeen, aims to, “use open data to verify progress towards the goals at a local, regional, or global level. Such tracking can be done with the help of “crowdsourcing”, which accelerates the analysis of large amounts of data, such as images or documents, thanks to collective efforts on the internet.” The project, huge in scope, is an ambitious attempt to encourage voluntarism, and crowdsourced data analysis through open science methodologies, to hold global and local actors to account in relation to the seventeen sustainable development goals. The platform they are using, Crowdcrafting.org is well worth a look, and offers a way for individuals all over the world to both create projects, but also join and support others’ projects. Other open science platforms showcased were Sagebase.org, https://www.zooniverse.org, and https://experiment.com/.

On a different track, I sat in with Mauritzio Gioli, social innovator extraordinaire. Mauritzio, aside from being a charismatic presenter and fundraiser, is a leader in the movement to meld technology innovations and social justice. He is working on a platform to encourage, market, and resource social innovation online: StexFGiving. After Maurizio’s session I felt a little hope, perhaps with intelligent folks working on these issues at this level we might just create a little good?

The next session I went to built on that feeling. Ikem Nzeribe, a musician, writer, and developer from Manchester, started his presentation by outlining his experience as a man of color working in tech, “Every time I walk into a tech space … I don’t know, there’s always a ripple that comes back to me, emotionally… When a wave comes you gotta duck.” With the current discussions around race, inclusion, and class in the world of tech, his opening statement struck to the heart of the matter. From here he stepped back, looking at the lack of diversity within tech communities, but also the ways that technology is used within communities of color – namely the role of the producer in Hip Hop and electronic music. Ikem sees Hip Hop and electronic music as a way to engage in technology discussions, particularly with young people of color. He doesn’t want to just teach these young people what he knows, or make them like him, he wants to work with them on what they are interested in and support them with tools (both technical and analytical) to assist them to better understand and engage with their world – so they can create their own pathways, not emulate those already trodden. According to Ikem, ‘The role of producer is highly prized in black communities. Technology is an interface into code in these black communities … Hackerspaces have to reflect the interests of those communities within which they exist.” Ikem’s work resonated strongly with me, and reminded me of people like Tahir Hemphill who are working in the same interest driven, but deep diving space, in NYC.

Currently, in NYC, I am working with Ariam Mogos of Global Kids, supporting the Young Innovators Squad supporting youth to make tech or digital media projects, present their work, network with each other and interact with industry specialists. So it was a pleasure to participate in and support Ariam with her workshop exploring youth leadership, and how to encourage it within our own organizations. These questions are crucial and ever-present in any youth development work – how are we including young people in decision making? How can we support young people to take ownership of ideas and actions? What are the different models we can use for this? Check out the specially designed wiki for this workshop here.

Coming back from MozFest, I’m not sure exactly what parts I will ‘implement’ into my everyday practice, but simply knowing that these things exist, and that there are communities all across the world working to advance these issues through technology, invites me to consider whether I am in fact part of something, perhaps even part of a movement? I think this is what Mozilla is working to develop, and I am grateful for having been able to take part. I am grateful for both the opportunity to learn about these technologies, but also for the opportunity to build and strengthen networks – networks which are the crucial piece in making any of these technologies valuable. Thanks to the Hive NYC team for making the trip possible!

Extra things, platforms, and new ideas:

  • Makewaves, secure social media for schools. Makewaves is a community of thousands of schools sharing their creativity and raising achievement with badges: https://www.makewav.es/
  • We Charge Genocide: We Charge Genocide is a grassroots, inter-generational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago.
  • HarassMap: “We are working to engage all of Egyptian society to create an environment that does not tolerate sexual harassment. All our activities are geared towards encouraging bystanders and institutions to speak up against harassers and have a zero-tolerance attitude towards sexual harassment.”

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