Chris Drage visited Barcelona to check out open source at Mozilla Drumbeat

Mark SurmanMozilla's Mark SurmanThe first-ever international Mozilla Drumbeat Festival was held in Barcelona during two days in November. Entitled "Learning Freedom and the Web", it attracted more than 400 educators, learners and inspired folk to reinvent education, the web, and lifelong learning as we know it.

Wikipedians, digital librarians, educators and their collaborators gathered to discuss how to make the web a more open and participatory place, as well as promoting the Open Web, mass collaboration and open content. The ethic of Drumbeat was: learn something by building something.

Participants were encouraged to lend their skills, learn something new and enjoy the experience. As Graham Brown-Martin evangelist for mobile technologies in education and the founder of the Handheld Learning Conference put it, en route to Barcelona: “I'm really looking forward to meeting new disruptive thinkers and people passionate about the radical improvements for learning and equality of access that can and are being driven during this period of global disruption with low cost or no-cost technologies."

The call to arms from executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, Mark Surman, was:  “The invitation is for participants to become very engaged in building, making and doing things, which is totally in the spirit of what Mozilla is attempting to do here.”

There were numerous ‘learning spaces’ alongside the main venue, each filled with activities and problem-solving sessions based on particular themes and outcomes. Participants were invited to move about the spaces and sample what was going on and encouraged to contribute, throughout the festival.

Here’s a taster of what was available:
The Peer Learning Lighthouse (PLL, check it out on the Drumbeat wiki) believes that one of the key means of addressing the 'broken model' of education is through creating communities of learners who learn from one another and who use social technologies to build them. They encouraged people who are interested in, or frustrated by, copyright laws to develop a global school of copyright and identify and overcome the obstacles facing educationists using open education resources. Arduino had a group building and programming floor robots and creating learning spaces through them.

The PLN is concerned with how libraries and museums become producers and creators of content and how teachers can use the open web to teach, while its Peer Learning Lab tackled the problem of many people creating open content but not many actually using it. It identified attribution as one of the stumbling blocks. Thus a start was made in developing web-based tools to solve the problem.

The Local Learning Lab attracted representatives from libraries spanning four continents and tried to analyse what it means to read in the 21st century and mapped out a visualisation of what a 21st century library should be. The Open Content Studio's aim was to make it easier for teachers and self-learners to find educational material that they can modify and share. Its pledge is to develop a global course catalogue and help people behind the most commonly used open courseware platforms to improve their software.

Badge Lab’s mission was to design and encourage the use of ‘badges’ and other tools to recognise informal online learning. Parallel to this concept is the need to develop a secure, online 'backpack' that puts students in control of their credits, degrees, and learning materials.  Ruth Schmidt of Doblin Inc, a company focused on improving innovation for more than 30 years, explains the concept of badges: “...rather than thinking of them as pure assessment tools, think of them as a record of ‘something I have achieved or done’.

Badges can be evidence for oneself and the external world of capability – 'What I know, what I have done, how the community perceives me.' They are far more varied than a grade on a report card which tends to be about 'How I accomplished certain things in a specific classroom.' For example, a constellation of badges can provide information for the person attaining them on how their range of capabilities relate and make sense together and are a far more poignant means of telegraphing to other people the pathways the person has taken to arrive somewhere”.

The ‘badge’ concept is being formed  and is interesting as it far more three-dimensional than a simple grade or qualification, and should result in the type of evidence that so many businesses and service providers are crying out for when appointing suitable candidates for roles or posts in their organisations.

One of the most vibrant and stimulating spaces at the festival was hosted by HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, pronounced "haystack"). The co-founder, Cathy Davidson (professor of English at Duke University and John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies) is committed to the creative development and critical understanding of new technologies in life, learning, and society.

At the festival HASTAC was looking in detail at four key areas in need of development: collaboration, syllabus building, assessment, and publishing (including peer review). The group also had interesting ideas on how open learning and peer-to-peer assessment can transform traditional higher education and formal learning principles.

'Know that we are going to build a solid future together'

Mark Surman in his summing up at the end of the two days said: “We have made plans and planted many seeds here and it is easy to leave the festival with a bright glow and not know how to make those seeds grow. The challenge is to take forward what has been achieved and know that we are going to build a solid future together.”

If Drumbeat achieved anything then it was to begin to identify what teachers and students really need and what is lacking in the current education system. It is not just about scrapping the whole fabric of the current higher education system and building it anew but about fostering choice so that education can be crafted in whichever way is appropriate, whether it’s self learning at home or the traditional university experience.

Perhaps Cathy Davidson summed it up best by a new twist on a well-travelled aphorism: “If your classroom can be replaced by a computer screen, it should be.” One thing is  certain – if the enthusiasm, energy and commitment shown at Drumbeat 2010 is anything to go by then the future of ‘web developed’ education looks bright!

Mozilla Drumbeat Festival
Pics by homardpayette @flickr

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