What do we want? Web literacy, now!


Mozilla’s Open Badges

Is the web of the future a weird and wild place, chaotic and slightly frightening; or is it a happier place where strangers collaborate to teach and learn from one another? A bit of both, says the Mozilla Foundation’s Mark Surman, when he spoke to ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN writer Georgia Gilson about his glass-half-full predictions for the Internet of next year and the next decade.


Collaboration, community and knowledge-sharing were the hot topics during our recent interview with Surman, who will be speaking at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN in December. As the Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, the largest social enterprise in the world, this came as no surprise. With over 20 years of experience as a technology activist and social entrepreneur, working alongside the public and private sectors, Surman and his colleagues have the experience to inform what is a broad vision for the future of online learning and their ‘ideal Internet’.


“An ideal Internet is one where everybody is not just a consumer of information but also a creator,” says Surman – a philosophy that underpins the work of the Mozilla Foundation, which sees the improvement of digital literacy worldwide as the great challenge of this decade and the next.



Mozilla Foundation Executive Director Mark Surman

From entrepreneurs to designers, doctors to plumbers, Surman believes everybody needs to know how to be a maker of the web, and with the number of people in the world online set to increase by over 3 billion in the next years, this target to ensure digital skills are as important as reading, writing and maths is an ambitious one.


So how will they pull this off? By ‘building community-focused learning on the web,’ Surman says. With the attitude that anybody can be a teacher of something, for someone, it has been a focus for Surman and his team to put in place systems for people to build their teaching skills. They’ve also come up with a way to introduce some order to the chaos that can ensue when open source learning allows for anybody to teach and learn: Mozilla’s accreditation badges, also known as Open Badges.


To those in the e-learning sphere, these badges are not a totally new concept. But making the accreditation system open source, for anybody to use for their own purpose, is a breakthrough. Especially for newcomers to developing online content, receiving recognition for their skills on- and offline, and being able to display the badges across platforms and ensure that they are verified, is essential to incentivising teachers in online learning communities.


Surman also spoke about adapting education content to fit the online landscape and opposes the act of simply trying to convert traditional teaching pedagogies into an online world. Like trying to put a square peg into a round hole, it just doesn’t fit and get the best outcomes for learners:


“The diversification and democratisation of teaching is a trend that we’re starting to see happen. We need traditional teachers … MOOCs have a role to play there. The real opportunity is that there are other ways to learn,” says Surman, who believes creators of online learning materials are still largely caught up in the traditional institution paradigm, but ensuring web-based platforms continue to inspire can help improve creation of learning materials over time.


Looking forward to OEB 2014, Mark says he’s expecting to meet many people at the event – participants and other speakers alike – who are enthusiastic about e-learning and knowledge-sharing, and perhaps even keen to collaborate on some of the projects that Mozilla is working on.


With OEB celebrating its 20th birthday this year, rather than looking back, we are looking forwards. What are Surman’s web society predictions?


“The next couple of decades hold both great potential and great peril. What’s exciting at 20 years of ONLINE EDUCA – really what I’d love to see people dig into at the event – is that we either can continue to build opportunity out of what the digital world has brought us, or actually entrench power and make things worse.”


Mark Surman will be giving a keynote speech at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN, 3 – 5 December, 2014.


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