Mozilla Academy Thoughts

Most of this post will be much easier to understand if you view Mark’s recent talk at the Next Billion in London, skim or reread Mark’s posts, and the Wiki.

Thoughts on messaging

One thing that strikes me is the balance b/w inclusivity and having an opinion. To me, it feels off-kilter for the long-term adoptability of Mozilla Academy. We’re idealists, I know, but it can be off-putting and if we’re thinking of the billions of FBers, it may hamper us.

Some specific examples:

  • “Freedom Fighters”Vernacular in our context vs mass context. We idealists believe we’re resisting accepted social structures that are outdated in the modern world, but I don’t think most people view the “old” world as oppressive or illegitimate.

“a person who is part of an organized group fighting against a cruel and unfair government or system”– Webster’s definition of “Freedom Fighter”

I’ve talked about structural crises before – the societal movement from agriculturally-based to industrial-based to digitally-based societies – to me the “freedom fighter” vernacular is too heavy handed, as it ignores culturally validated complacency as well as fear that is associated with structural change. People resist structural change, sometimes for hundreds of years, because they are unable to adjust as quickly as other people want them to. Or, they simply don’t want to / don’t believe it. Can we speak in a voice inclusive of these viewpoints? Is that setting the bar too high?

  • the Romans – Mark uses the Romans as an example of how powerful, effective communication can lead to strong empires. I think it’s a good analogy, but I also think there’s a note about “propaganda” lost in our messaging. Are we, as idealists, vocalizing our own propaganda? We are definitely bias…
  • the move from country to city – this analogy feels non-inclusive to me as it underscores an opinion that one way of life (city) is better than another (country), it reiterates a rejection of traditionalist ideas. While it might be true at an economic level, the personal level is the piece that speaks to people. This article on ambition and relationships in relation to human happiness articulates my internal conflict.
  • Compulsory education – In passing, Mark uses this as a societal innovation, but it would be good to consider it’s weaknesses (and what we’re doing about it) in the messaging. One could argue that our educational structures increasingly ignore psychological understandings of how learning works. See the unschooling movement (and next point).

Missed opportunity: Compulsory Education for the 21st Century

Mark says that the 3rd piece, digital literacy, is in his opinion the most important piece (I agree), but he stops short of vocalizing the connection to “being educated”. Your view is relative to your experiences, cultural background and social position, so technical skill acquisition can lead to the expansion of those perceptions by widening your network of influences. It’s a powerful and objective argument in educational theory, and could be simplified for mass appeal + understanding.

He touches ever so lightly on our pedagogy, but this is another place where this community is quite strong. Mozilla Academy as a beacon of learner-centric, production oriented learning is, IMHO, another strong selling point.

Messaging in short

I think the current messaging is powerful for kindred spirits, but potentially weak for mass appeal. Maybe that’s ok, intentional even, but I wanted to point it out. Obviously, as one can see from the other documentation that exists on this topic, the vision is considering the above points, so that’s just a messaging thing.


Mark also spoke about looking backwards and how people will think about the personal computing devices. Whether they’ll understand that they can do anything vs see their device the way people see televisions – this is another opportunity to weave in the educational value for society writ large. Increasingly our connections proliferate our lives. Governmental/Capitalist intervention is using ICTs as mechanisms of control – how can this aspect be brought in (in a balanced inclusive way)? I think convenience plays a big role here, so when I say “mechanisms of control” I don’t mean it intentionally negatively.

Common Approaches (on Curriculum)

For years I’ve been pushing a model of remixable, customizable curriculum. I’ve worked with folks across the community to integrate this model, and it’s been somewhat successful (e.g. everyone seems to be sold on the modularity as a non-negotiable, Mozillians are trying to use our pedagogy, etc). Yesterday, Robert Friedman and I talked about the layers of Mozilla Curriculum as being:

  1. Value Proposition Layer : The learning objectives and curriculum themselves
  2. Presentation Layer : Culture & Practice of teaching with that curriculum (in specific contexts)
  3. Mechanics Layer : the platform(s) that allow for modularity and customization outside of the example contexts we provide

Those three things likely need to be presupposed with the Web Literacy Map and Open Leadership Map as well as across the board components. Potentially, there are other competency and skill “maps” that need to sit on top of these two meta frameworks (e.g. Web Literacy for Science or Open Leadership for News). What we haven’t done is establish across the board components for that modularity, but I think a working group here might make that easier. For me, it’s been difficult to issue any sort of directive on “required” components because I’ve worried about innovation being stymied once we create such a framework. The Web Literacy Map contains enough flexibility to overcome this and what we’ve been talking about around Open Leadership is getting there too (assuming you think of these things as “a work in progress”) . How can we systematize curricular components with enough flexibility?

There’s a delicate balance between just enough and too much structure, and I think that conflicts will arise if we are too strict in our common approaches with such a diverse set of people/programs/topics.

The Academy Governance Model

“Highlighting value propositions through use cases (personas) helps clarify the vision / idea, makes others excited and wanting to participate) could be the start of both the development and structural strategy.” Mark’s “aha” moment from a recent workshop

There’s a lot to be learned from formal education, especially if you look at the all-to-familiar formulaic academic areas in tandem with our audience(s). Formal universities have Colleges, Departments, Subjects. Most develop pathways and curriculum separately from the “university” as a whole (but inform one another via their bicameral governance structures), and the “all to familiar” bit is the accepted standard of what is and is not a University Department (culturally defined).

If we start to think about the specific personas who would benefit from Mozilla Academy, we might be able to remix University structures to help us facilitate both the innovative development of specific Mozilla Academy “departments” (defined and built by personas in niche areas) as well as a meta framework and governance structure for what the Academy as a whole is and how it functions.

Currently, the working groups indicate a move towards a bicameral governance structure, but the “common approaches” note seems to pull away from that (with a step towards unicameral structures?). Stepping back from the working groups defined there and my questions around common approaches, I wonder whether it would be worthwhile to think about how bicameralism might (or might not) invite radical participation.

As always, it’s an open conversation so feel free to push back or share your thoughts here in the comments, in a responsive post or on Twitter.



Mozilla Academy Thoughts

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