Young DigitalMe reporters describe how learners were decoding it for themselves at the Mozilla Festival
You may have seen #MozFest! onTwitter and elsewhere, and wondered what it was. Well, I can reveal that it was an amazing, weekend-long event, run by Mozilla as a part of their open source ethos to help anyone, with or without a technical background, to become a webmaker, and not just a consumer. This was the theme of Mozilla Festival.
Last year, only one young reporter covered #MozFest! with the DigitalMe team, but the event organisers thought this wasn’t enough, so this year eight of us went! (Check out our videos from the weekend.)
There was so much information available, and excitement in the atmosphere, that, not wanting to miss out on anything, we all busied ourselves throughout our two days there. We were attending sessions, and interviewing participants, the passionate people running the sessions and even Mark Surman executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, and we simply couldn't not enjoy the free drinks, popcorn and buffet on offer.
To put it simply, if you didn’t go to #MozFest! you missed out! Not only was the event a constant buzz of technology being taught like I’ve never seen it in a high school, the #MozFest! young reporters also got to run their own session. As a global event, it attracted people from across the world, all enjoying the openness, innovation and opportunity of the internet that Mozilla is encouraging. Many new opportunities to get involved were available, including the launch of Webmaker badges (a scheme that supports learners gaining web-construction and coding skills) and of the 1.0 version of Popcorn Maker. This interactive, free web app is an easy way to remix and share videos, creating a story like never before.
The young reporters’ session was run by me, Helen Westgarth, Rebecca Cawthorne and Greg Newark – all teenage reporters with varying degrees of experience in both broadcast journalism and, of course, coding and web design. We started off by explaining a bit about our journeys as reporters, and the dos and don’ts that we've learned over the years. Then we got active and made the attendees become honorary reporters. They had to plan and then do an interview, choosing everything themselves with only the advice of the reporters to go on. Despite their nerves, they were naturals, not only getting through it with no mistakes but adding their own style to perfectly! The session was a success and, just like everything else at this event, a new experience.
The festival as a whole was irresistible to anyone who is interested in the future of the internet, with talks on 3D, Scratch, Khan, Thimble, and badging to name a few. On top of everything you could possibly want to know about using the internet in a constructive way, there were also a few added bonuses, such as the impressive Mozilla blimp that could be seen from all the floors of the Festival, and a Firefox mascot running around!
Fireside chats in 'a place of innovation and design'
Mozfest is a place of innovation and design, which is why I thought I’d give myself an enjoyable introduction to ‘fireside chats’ – the discussion and experimentation of new designs or projects – by visiting the session on Scratch animation and Thimble HTML design. The introduction to animation software and HTML usage made me automatically assume that it would be full of people under the age of 25. Much to my delight this wasn't the case.
Walking into the fireside chat, which to my dismay did not involve an actual campfire, the first thing that stuck me was the sheer number of MacBooks in such a small space. The second was the complete concentration and unmistakable joy on the faces of everyone involved.
HTML design wasn’t something I knew very much about before the session and I’d only used Scratch a couple of times before, but this workshop really inspired me to give it a go. I’m extremely glad I did. The interactive sessions gave step-by-step instructions to allow everyone to learn the basics and the aim of the session was for everyone to make an animated birthday card on a website for Mozilla’s 8th birthday. After a quick how-to, we were left to our own devices. Around the room there were many strange ideas for the card: anything could be made, from a cat wearing a hat, to a pirate version of the well-loved Scratch icon. The possibilities were endless.
Thimble was even better, I could design a page in a way that I wanted and was then able to share it with anyone, meaning that if I wanted I could make cards for my friends and share them over Facebook! The tuition to Thimble was great as I went from someone who knew nothing about HTML design to someone who could make my own page, albeit simple.
For schools and colleges this is a useful teaching tool. My school does have an old version of Scratch installed, but never to my knowledge have we been taught how to use it. With this software there are so many possibilities, both as a way to showcase work and also to explain subjects more simply for younger audiences!
Web design is a new industry that holds many future job prospects for students as the world migrates online. A fundamental skill we need to know is how to design HTML, and I don’t think there is any way as simple to do so as Thimble. Schools need to embrace this software to allow their pupils to be able to flourish in the digital world.
'We want to move people from using the web to making the web'
Like many of you out there, I have a tendency to just get lost in the internet, forever scrolling and blindly consuming the information presented (I also blame – and thank – the web for being my chief agent of procrastination). Mozfest 2012 sees this constant and abundant web consumption as an issue and used it to inspire the weekend's activities.
"We want to move people from using the web to making the web" was the slogan and aim that #Mozfest! carried for the whole weekend, which was full of exciting new technology and innovative ways to engage future generations of web makers. But it was more than a slogan. The event managed to captivate an eclectic mix of people from all over the globe, and with computer competency ranging right across the spectrum.
Now I would place myself near the bottom of that spectrum, despite achieving an exponential grade at GCSE ICT. Before going to #Mozfest! I didn't realise what we were capable of doing using the internet. It's not just about status updates – from next door, sisters, aunties, boyfriends, daughter's best friend who, and I quote, "is bored", information that has made my day and will allow me to sleep tonight – and it's not just watching cats doing funny things.
No matter how tech savvy you were or, in my case, thought I was but clearly am not, #Mozfest! was a learning opportunity for everyone. I accepted an invitation by DigitalMe to talk about Open Badges – a way of utilising the internet to digitally accredit skills. I'm not going to lie; I was pretty clueless on what badges were in this context. But after a bit of homework, and chatting to a few people at the festival, I now consider myself an Open Badges demigod! The new S2R Medals are good examples of the way badges can be used. These are being incorporated into the Supporter2Reporter network. You can find out more about Mozilla Open Badges here.
Now I, like many my age, am a confused person with regards to qualifications. One minute you're told traditional academic subjects are the only way to succeed in education, then you are told to go and do a diploma, because it is contemporary, modern and teaches skills for life, but after a few million spent, and a year, they die out. Badges are not another qualification to replace previous ones; they go hand in hand with other qualifications and, hopefully, will be recognised by employers, colleges and universities.
Badges can be awarded for almost anything from "Top Reporter", for completing ten stories on the S2R network, to "Chatterbox" for regularly updating blog posts. In times of austerity and when jobs are scarce, Given the right publicity and support, badges could prove extremely helpful for young people, not just on the Supporter2Reporter network but also right across the web, and then the world of work. But #Mozfest! also left us with an unforgettable flavour – the coffee was to die for!
Helen, Becca, Courtney and the entire Mozfest Young Reporter team have engaged in DigitalMe projects, such as Supporter to Reporter (S2R), LS Live and the Young Presenter programme for London 2012 over the past four years. After gaining skills and experience in reporting and blogging through these projects, they now form the DigitalMe Youth Team who regularly attend events, fulfil reporting briefs, feed into project development and help with the management of networks across DigitalMe projects.
See also "Remaking the web with with Wizards of Moz!" by Tony Parkin