Lessons I’ve Learned Since Joining Mozilla

This is a guest post by Sam Dyson.

It’s been one year since I became director of the Hive Chicago Learning Network in February 2013. Four months later, through a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, we became the newest learning network to be stewarded by Mozilla, joining Hive NYC and Hive Toronto. I’d love to share some of what I’ve learned since then.

Mozilla has several core values that I’ve come to admire.  Here are a few.

Doing good is part of our code. This pithy phrase seen on T-shirts and billboards captures the essence of what board chair, Mitchell Baker, describes as Mozilla’s mission to protect the tools and ideals of a web that empowers people to “know more, do more, and do better.” As you can see in slogans like this, Mozilla is proud of its identity as a values-driven non-profit.

“Let’s share what we know.” This simple logo from the earliest days of the World Wide Web captures the spirit of one of Mozilla’s core convictions.

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The Internet is among the most powerful inventions for the exploration, creation and sharing of new knowledge, making it one of the world’s most valuable resources for good. Commitment to use the web for sharing what we know explains why “teach” is now one of Mozilla’s four pillars—build, empower, teach, shape—announced at the October 2013 Mozilla Summit.

Working in community. Like many of you out there on the interwebs, I was first introduced to Mozilla via Firefox. What I’ve since learned is the remarkable way Mozilla creates its software: it mobilizes a community of volunteers to write the very code that makes its applications run. More than a company, Mozilla is a global community of passionate contributors—a network—with shared principles and tools to generate solutions to complex problems. That community-powered model describes much of the networked problem solving happening within Hive Learning Networks.

Working in the open. Even if you have only a passing familiarity with Mozilla, you’ve probably heard terms such as open source, open web, open badges. Clearly, we see special significance in the word open.  So…

What does “open” have to do with it?

What do the ideals of the open web have to do with the goals of Hive Chicago? For that matter, what do we mean by open in this context? And what would it mean for Hive to be an openly networked community?

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Drawing again from Mitchell Baker’s introductory remarks at the 2013 Mozilla Summit, to be open means to be:

Knowable–it’s being transparent; you can see it and understand it

  • This is manifested in our everyday experience through the open government movement toward greater transparency, or in the building blocks of the web where you can “view source” to look behind the curtain and see how things were made.

  • For learning opportunities in the Hive to be knowable to Chicago’s youth, making opportunities visible is only a first step. We must make them accessible, reachable, obtainable, understandable. Learning opportunities within our open network must be knowable to be of any value at all.

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Interoperable–having shared approaches that present opportunities to play and innovate

  • Because there’s an open, agreed upon standard for compatibility on the road, Toyota drivers don’t have to use Toyota gas stations. Despite the many varieties of cars and gas stations that exist, there is interoperability among them. But even in the presence of shared approaches, there is still plenty of room for innovation and experimentation. On the web, thanks to shared principles and standards, interoperability enables users and developers to play and innovate. The innovation space remains open.

  • For Hive, interoperability emerges from the fact that connected learning provides the standard for what highly engaged learning looks like. The shared vision that has emerged from connected learning results in interoperability across the varied contexts in which our diverse member organizations serve teens. That enables our collaborations to be so aggressively cross-disciplinary.

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Ours–open to everyone; we define it

  • Communities feel like ours when we have a voice and can make an impact within them. Similarly, the tools that power the web are ours when they are not only made for us but also by us—hence the importance of a community of contributors who are building the web we want. For the internet to be ours, people should know how to write the web and not just read it.

  • Like the web, the Hive enables a shift in learning from participation to contribution, from consumption to production. Youth and educators identify the Hive as ours when they have the power to shape it, and when they don’t have to ask permission to participate. Just as being web literate gives us the agency to shape our online experiences, the Hive gives young people and adults the agency to shape their own learning in ways that transform the Hive itself.

A natural evolution in learning

As the Hive movement grows, where do the principles of connected learning and the work of Mozilla unite? The fact is that there has long been a connection between these two related efforts. Both have been shaped by many of the same forces, namely how people are exploring, creating, and sharing in the digital age. And there are explicit linkages as well, for example through connected learning’s “openly networked” design principle.

Connected learning is the natural and necessary evolution in learning. Evolutions such as this require catalysts to spark them and contexts to sustain them. While web literate communities provide the necessary context to sustain connected learning in the age of the internet, the global Hive Learning Networks will continue to provide that catalytic spark to activate the potential of connected learning and to empower people to know more, do more, and do better.