Teaching the fourth ‘R’: a fireside chat with Cathy Davidson

January 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

Join us for a virtual “fireside chat” with author Cathy Davidson:
Wednesday, Feb 1  |  9am PST / 12pm EST / 5pm UTC
Sign up on Lanyrd here

How do we teach the web?

You’ve heard of “the three ‘R’s:” reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

But author and noted academic Cathy Davidson says the 21st Century demands a fourth: “algoRithms,” as in the underlying threads and logic that shape our digital lives.

More than just “teaching people how to code,” Cathy sees “algorhtmic thinking” and webmaking as a vital antidote to the passive, assembly line model that still dominates most traditional education.

“Algorithmic thinking:” iterative, process-oriented, constructive

As Cathy argues recently in the Washington Post and in her most recent DML blog post:

We need to reform our learning institutions, concepts, and modes of assessment for our age.  Now, anyone with access to the World Wide Web can go far beyond the passive consumer model to contribute content on the Web….  That Do-It-Yourself potential for connected, participatory, improvisational learning requires new skills, what many are calling new “literacies.”

Like other literacies, algorithmic thinking is foundational, “a set of rules that precisely defines a sequence of operations.” She sees it as the opposite of the “bubble-thinking” ingrained through decades of highly standardized, multiple choice tests. “It provides an alternative to fact-based mastery and proposes, instead, iterative, process-oriented, constructive, innovative thinking.”

What is marvelous about algorithmic thinking and Webmaking is that you can actually see abstract thinking transformed into your own customized multimedia stories on the Web, offered to a community, and therefore contributing to the Web.  Algorithmic thinking is less about “learning code” than “learning to code.”  Code is never finished, it is always in process, something you build on and, in many situations, that you build together with others.   Answers aren’t simply “right” guesses among pre-determined choices, but puzzles to be worked over, improved, and adapted for the next situation, the next iteration.

Webmaking as art, craft and engineering

Cathy has become an increasingly active part of the Mozilla community. She was a driving force at the 2010 Mozilla Festival on “Learning, Freedom and the Web,” and is one of the lead organizers of the “Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition,” run in conjunction with Mozilla’s Open Badges software.

Cathy’s work at Duke University’s “HASTAC” initiative focuses on the intersection between the humanities and technology. Her interdisciplinary approach feels very Mozilla-ish, especially as we continue to reach out to new audiences and spaces:

The 20th century’s division into “two cultures”—with the human, social and artistic disciplines on one side and the scientific and technological on the other—makes no sense in the world of Webcraft.

In fact, algorithmic thinking is so much about process, invention, and customizing that, in some circles, there is still a healthy debate about whether writing code is an art form, a craft, or engineering.  Is it thinking or doing?  Is it writing or making?  Is it theory or practice?  The answer is “all of the above.”

Join us Feb 1

We hope you’ll join Cathy and moderator Mark Surman on Feb 1 to chat about how Mozilla can build on these ideas to create a more web literate planet. See you there.


Mozilla seeks School of Webcraft manager to change the world

April 27, 2011 § 3 Comments

This new job posting just went live. Please circulate and shout from the rooftops. This is an amazing opportunity for the right candidate.

Product Manager, School of Webcraft
Mozilla & Peer 2 Peer University

Learn more or apply now.


  • Wake up every morning focused on making the School of Webcraft awesome. 
  • Shape the School of Webcraft’s overall curriculum goals and learning map. Identify and help deliver the skills web developers need in today’s world.
  • Own the School of Webcraft user experience. Be an advocate for users. Make sure the learning process is clear and feels good for learners.
  • Promote industry acceptance and recognition for the School of Webcraft.
  • Identify the key skills and competencies web developers need, and work with P2PU and Mozilla staff to implement badges and certification to recognize them.
  • Link with internal Mozilla partners (like the Mozilla Developer Network) to drive content development.
  • Link with other organizations and initiatives working on web developer training and curricula (like OWEA, Opera, WaSP).
  • Co-ordinate with Peer 2 Peer University staff, provide input on the online platform technology roadmap, assessment models and badges to support learners and learning outcomes.
  • Enable community participation. Work with the course and curriculum coordinator to identify and support volunteers with leadership potential in the School of Webcraft community.
  • Outreach to the web development community. Speak at developer conferences, engage with related networks, etc.
  • Work in the open. Share and document work through regular blog posts and other public media.
  • Drive regional expansion into new communities. Spread School of Webcraft to new locales and languages.
  • Manage the course and curriculum coordinator.
  • Metrics. Help set metrics for success and evaluate whether we’re reaching those goals.


  • Has a web development background. Speaks web developers’ language.
  • Understands the industry perspective. Comfortable communicating with employers.
  • Passionate about web skills training and curriculum. Has some experience with learning and educational innovation.
  • Excellent communication and community-building skills. Comfortable with a peer learning environment that’s all about community participation.
  • Passionate about open source. Understands and loves the open web.


  • This position reports to the P2PU Executive Director.
  • Full time Mozilla employee with full benefits, on an initial one-year term.
  • The position is not bound by location. Open to remote work.
  • The job requires some travel, within North America and internationally.

About the School of Webcraft


  • The School of Webcraft is a joint venture between Mozilla and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU). Together we’re building a grassroots learning community focused on web development based on open standards.
  • Our mission:
  • The problem: Web developer training is expensive, out of reach, and out of touch with how the internet is evolving.
  • The solution: Peer learning powered by mentors and learners like you. Self-organized study groups that leverage existing open learning materials, with a smart social layer over top.
  • The goal: Make web developer training free, open and globally accessible. Offer skills and certification that build careers around the open web.

Learn more or apply now.

Best Hackasaurus event ever

April 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

The design jam's drawing and paper prototyping station

75 kids. From as young as 11 all the way to pre-College age. Building stuff in the controlled chaos of a mini-maker festival. Becoming experts, teaching each other, and using Hackasaurus tools to learn about how hacking and the web connect to topics they’re already interested in.

Mini design challenges and maker jams for kids

That’s what happened at the New York Hall of Science last week. Check out Jess Klein’s thorough and thoughtful post for a detailed account. It’s our most successful and well-attended Hackasaurus event to date.

And thanks to some stellar work from Mozilla’s Atul Varma and Dan Mosedale, it’s now easier than ever for participants to share their hacks. Using a new easy screen-sharing add-on, learners can post their hacks directly to the Hackasaurus Flickr stream with the touch of a button. Adding Lady Gaga’s face to your Facebook log-in page — and recording it for posterity — has never been simpler.

"i hacked facebook to put lady gagas face on it :)" -- One of the hacks shared using the new easy-share functionality.

What did we learn?

  • Start with stuff participants are already interested in. The event was framed less around “teaching kids to hack,” and more around a specific design challenge. Namely, creating representations of learners’ carbon footprint on the planet, which was part of a larger unit they were already working on.
  • Use existing communities and event structures. Working with the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) “My Carbon Footprint” project allowed the Hackasaurus team to provide an experience for a readymade audience, instead of building from scratch.
  • Use embedded assessment. Atul’s new self-guided missions are a great example — it’s always immediately clear whether what you’re doing is working and on track. Just like in a video game. (Jess will say more about this later.)

Students help prototype exhibits about climate change for the Virtual Hall of Science, the kickoff project of My Carbon Footprint.

  • Create a maker space and divide it up into stations. So that kids can self-select and focus on the aspect they’re most interested in.
  • Make sure kids come away with shareable artifacts. That’s why the new easy-share functionality is so important. Many kids don’t have their own Facebook or email accounts either, so easy sharing is crucial.
  • Build in opportunities for kids to teach their parents. When parents came by to pick up their kids, the kids got to teach their folks. Cool huh?
  • Mix digital and analog materials. For a range of different experiences. Draw some stuff that can be digitized and incorporated into web pages. Get your hands dirty. Bridge the physical and digital.
  • Have food. Duh.

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