Nov 20 2012

Of Educators and Youth – Hive NYC MozFest Recap

MozFest, Mozilla, Teaching Resources

What happens when you get a bunch of activated educators in one room to consider how best to help youth gain crucial digital literacy skills, while also creating the materials and resources for others to teach those skills?

This question was at the core of our efforts at MozFest 2012, and in the weeks and months leading up to it, we worked to design and plan opportunities that would connect educators with designers, developers and youth and set a goal of creating 10-15 new prototypes and resources. We’re pretty proud with what evolved–new connections made, new skills earned, new materials developed, and a general excitement about a burgeoning community of those who want to help create a generation of webmakers.

We were responsible for three key initiatives heading into MozFest. One was to help shepherd a few Hive NYC projects that have web-based technologies or webmaker concepts baked into their project outcomes. Another was to begin laying the framework for a global community of webmaker-makers to come together and co-develop platforms and resources to support learning the “4th R.” Finally, we helped organize the Coding for Teens strand, comprised of discussions and workshops deemed “youth-friendly” by session organizers.

Hive NYC Across the Pond

We brought educators and youth from four Hive NYC member organizations to iterate on some of their recently-funded projects that embody webmaker tools and concepts:

  • Global Action Project, to elevate their Media History Timeline from a paper-based workshop to a fully interactive web-based resource
  • REV-, to adapt their “Pop Squad” model to training youth to learn how to become peer-educators around Popcorn Maker
  • MOUSE, to create a suite of engaging media/activities/illustrations/games that highlight webmaking as a core literacy for their network of 4000+ educators and youth participating in MOUSE Squad
  • WNYC Radio Rookies, to develop DIY video templates using Popcorn Maker that others can use to create their own videos – here’s a sample.

We also co-planned a youth laboratory experiment that was specific to MozFest and aimed to engage attending youth in a variety of activities. The goals were to create something that welcomed visitor participation, involved the collection of media (photos, video, etc.) and also served as a method to create a youth-friendly narrative about all that is “webmaker.” Thus, The Superheroes of MozFest was born.

What worked:

  • We always love an opportunity to bring Hive members together in meaningful ways, to deepen our understanding of each other’s organizations and start to identify possibilities for working together in the future.
  • Our members (adults and youth) gained a richer understanding of Mozilla’s Webmaker mission.
  • We got to make and build prototypes with lots of help from ReMos and other developers! MOUSE started to create simple metaphors for complicated web concepts (See SEO Battle Thimble project) and got some great ideas for developing webmaking badges for their youth. Radio Rookies created a new DIY video about how to use X-Ray Goggles. And Global Action Project developed an exciting first draft of the Media History Timeline using Thimble and Popcorn – several folks contributed popped versions of pop culture media that represented important/cathartic moments in their lives.

BEOFRE: Media History Time – Analog

AFTER: Media History Timeline – Web-ified

What didn’t work:

  • We might have given the Hive NYC youth a chance to lead sessions, or schedule more time for them to network and work alongside their peers – other youth attending the festival.
  • The cross-program activity, Superheroes of MozFest, turned out great, but didn’t garner as much audience participation as we’d hoped for. Too much awesome being offered and not enough hours in the day!

Hacktivate Learning

We joined forces with Laura Hilliger, and with about 75 people on the 6th floor, we began Saturday morning as an open forum where educators from across the globe pitched some of the ideas and goals they had and hoped to work on during the course of the weekend. We outlined nearly all of those pitches on the Hacktivate Learning Tumblr. There were representatives from The National Writing Project, The Tate Gallery, Beyond Access, Hive Fashion and others–some who had never tried any of the Mozilla Webmaker tools and had yet to understand what could be made possible by utilizing them, and others who hoped to make specific connections or create more-defined projects to further their mission. They were all open to working together and learning together.

All morning, introductions were made, small groups were formed, engaging discussions were underway and things got built, like this Teachers Handbook about Open Schools for Open Societies led by Chad Sansing, this Hive Fashion Thimble project that lets you remix a T-shirt design online, and this awesome Thimble project that aims to teach your grandma how to make a webpage:

Created by David Bruant and Brigitte Jellinek and illustrated by Julia Vallera

The afternoon on Saturday was open for people to either continue in their workgroups, or to attend other sessions at MozFest. We reconvened on Sunday morning and worked towards building things to showcase at the closing Demo Party.

Robert Friedman from the Adler Planetarium (Hive Chicago member) shared the following thoughts post-MozFest with his peers:

#MozFest was not like any conference I have ever been to before. It had a maker faire vibe that took the emphasis away from “experts imparting knowledge,” and promoted the attendees as “active and equal participants” in        webmaking and both physical and digital hacking.

One of the most important revelations that I had while at the event was realizing (or remembering) that I was a hacker (gasp)… and that all of us in the Hive are hackers too. Hacking gets a bad rap in pop culture and  media because it is usually linked to destructive and illegal behavior on the internet. But when I was a practicing scientist, hacking meant experimenting with materials and technology (physical or digital), building a quick-and-dirty prototype, and engaging in the process of creation and design. A “hack” was not always pretty, didn’t always work and was surely never polished, but it was innovative and taught you something new.

We also asked participants to join our Hacktivator community and to complete this short Thimble project to create a profile: Complete yours and tweet the published link to us @hivelearningnyc to be added to the gallery! Or simply sign up here.

Check out our Tumblr for more live updates from MozFest.

What worked:

  • Our open format enabled attendees to build-their-own agendas, and to self-select the projects that interested them most.
  • Productive discussions and connections led to more great prototypes and resources, and we attracted a broad range of skill sets and levels of webmaker expertise.
  • The space acted as a thematically driven hang-out and meeting area.
  • The curated mix of formal sessions and open-ended workshops.

What didn’t work:

  • Not enough days! People seemed torn to work on their projects or attend other sessions.
  • Not having deeper integration of youth in the space – we need to balance space for educators with co-mingling with youth.
  • As it was our first try, we messed up plenty but will learn greatly from the little failures and missed opportunities.

Coding for Teens

Leah helped organize sessions on the 7th Floor, that ran the gamut from MaKey Makey (physical computing) to Meemoo (animated GIF comics), and lots of fun activities in between. More to come on the learnings from that effort as well as a recap of the pre-MozFest event that marked the launch of a new partnership between Mozilla, Nesta and Nominet Trust aimed at helping to spread digital literacy in the UK.

We’ll continue to process all that is MozFest and build on the momentum from the event as we head into a year of more code parties, more Hive Learning Networks developing in cities worldwide, and more educators working together to build tools and content to help youth make the web.

Thanks again to everyone who traveled from near and far to participate. We so appreciate your positivity, your enthusiasm, your willingness to collaborate and experiment and document. We hope you’ll continue to help us Hacktivate Learning!

In the meantime, here is some additional recommended reading re: MozFest 2012.

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