The best way to start to discover this site is with the page describing its mission. Mozilla’s web literacy blog describes itself as an attempt to cultivate a global network of leaders who teach and learn the skill of participating in the digital world. The image on the page indicates that this effort is directed towards children. Keeping the most recent chapters of “Net Smart” in mind, we can see Mozilla trying to push forward in real time, giving people opportunities to contribute to real-world products (an example of crowdsourcing). It also reaches out to teachers or would-be teachers to try and help educators by giving them avenues through which to teach. I checked out Teaching Activities and jumped into the first page which was entitled Web Literacy Basics (Teaching Kit). Interesting to note that the second one – Ping Kong – is actually a game with cutouts that you paste around the room (it attempts to help kids learn how the Internet works). Neat that they dont even use a computer! I think this is a smart way to engage kids that may be uncomfortable with the computer at a very young age, and gives them information that can help their understanding of how the Internet works – information that could easily be glossed over by kids that are just interested in social media and YouTube. The other game is about hunting the “Kraken” – an activity that uses the web to uncover clues about whether the Kraken is real or not. This goes directly to our discussion of crap detection two classes ago – in fact, part of the learning objectives are to help kids “compare information from a number of sources to judge their trustworthiness”. Looking through the other teaching activities, you can see several of the entries are broken up into categories that include “Reading the Web”, which seems like an activity that is based mostly around reading and learning about a particular topic (example: password security, what the Internet is), “Writing the Web, which is more of an activity and “Participating on the Web”, which is kind of a combination and also encourages sharing the work with others. Not all of the categories are constructed the same way and some of the activities at least appear to be pretty complex, although they are broken up by age ranges. I’m going to try one for younger kids and one for older kids. The first activity I chose is one for beginners called “Erase All Kittens“, described as an open source platform game that teaches kids to code and create on the web, using HTML and CSS. It starts with kind of a joke video about kitten GIF’s and how they took over the Internet world, then disappeared. The player has to find them. You move the kitten using the arrow keys and have to use other keys to manipulate the landscape, like pressing the E key to extend the ledge you are on to make it to another ledge. It’s pretty cool – in order to extend the text, you actually have to change the HTMP source code content page – staying within the “tags”. The rewards are finding kitten GIFs that are pretty cute. We also have to change “div” tags, explaining the one with the slash and without. It also explores HTML headings, etc – all in a fun way that forces you to learn how to write code in order to get your kitten through the maze. I also explored an Intermediate teaching kit based on the idea of how to create stronger passwords. It includes a couple of videos that explain why passwords matter, one on password reuse (which I watched because I am constantly being asked to change my password at work). Amazingly, the average online user has about 50 online accounts, but we (of course) dont use different passwords for everything. The video explains that when one account gets hacked, the hackers have your user name and email address and your password and can use those passwords to get into any other account that uses the same passwords. As the video says “it can turn an inconvenience into a disaster”. The page provides a home page to help people pick “passphrases” which are more effective than passwords. (By the way this is offered in multiple languages, including Esperanto, Finnish, Catalan, Maori and Turkish – as well as more common foreign languages). Under the activity page, it provides an automated password generator and examples of visual cues that can help you remember them. I am struck by how comprehensive the activities, advice and information is when it comes to trying to communicate a relatively simple concept: password strength. It’s available in multiple languages and communicated through web games, generators, cartoons, videos, etc – even a comedy skit!! While the website provides a guide, goals, assessment guidelines and discussion questions for teachers, it also provides tons of tools that can be used, allowing teachers to be very flexible when it comes to how they want to use the material. I also explored the Leadership Opportunities page. I jumped into the page about Mozilla Clubs and checked out questions about organizing. This is clearly in the infant stages – several of the options (like organizing in classrooms, on campus and at a library are still “coming soon”). The ones that have links lead you to a PDF guide that gives a broad brush of why you should start a Club and its potential benefits, as well as some ideas for activities, discussions and ice-breakers. It is not as comprehensive as the teaching/learning modules, but still provides some good information. Lastly, I went to the Tools, which included X-Ray Goggles and Popcorn Maker, which I have some experience with as well as Thimble and Appmaker, which I don’t. I played around with Thimble for a while and was impressed again at how simple it is (just like X-Ray Goggles, although Popcorn Maker was a little tougher.) Interesting to recognize that these activities are all about teaching you the inner workings of the Internet as opposed to just providing a fascinating (yet creative) pastime. I can easily see how a young person could start participating in these activities and be led deeper and deeper into the digital world, increasing their understanding and level of comfort in online literacy without even knowing it. (below is courtesy of XRay goggles)
What’s interesting to me is that Mozilla is pushing what should be the next wave of evolution in our kids’ education. Speaking to my son, who is in the 6th grade, he told me that while he uses Chromebooks every day, he only uses them to jump to online sites that provide exercises for those specific classes, like TenMarks and Achieve3000. They also use Google Docs to send paperwork back and forth. However, he says they have never explored how the Internet works in a way that is laid out by the Mozilla teaching units. He said he expects to learn more in his Tech Lit class, but it is only offered in one semester – in his case, the last semester of the year. My daughter, who is in 5th grade, also uses Chromebooks every day but she also has a computer class. Unfortunately, it’s only for 40 minutes a week. As part of that class, however, she does exercises with code at a site called code.org that includes games that are somewhat similar to the exercises offered by the Mozilla site. They utilize cartoons and video games along with simple directions to guide kids through a rudimentary understanding of how code directs what they see on the screen. This basic form of digital literacy is critical in my opinion, but as my daughter explained to me, she still doesn’t see how that part of the online world connects to what she sees in social media or youtube. It’s like it’s two different things. I think trying to link those two worlds up should be a goal of digital literacy education going forward. My wife and I have often wondered why, if everything we do will soon require some degree of digital literacy, why our educational system continues to treat computers like an optional class while subjects like dinosaurs and ancient Egypt are still focused on each and every year. Don’t get me wrong, those things are interesting, but they have far less to do with life in the 21st century that proficiency on the computer does.