Posted & filed under Blog, In The News

Reblogged from Cathy Davidson’s post at

On July 17, 2012, something unusual happened.   Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker and Mozilla Foundation Executive Director Mark Surman introduced me as the sixth member of the  Board of Directors of Mozilla.  I am honored beyond words—and excited about what’s ahead.  Like the other Board members, I am doing this because I believe in Mozilla’s commitment to innovation and to the openness of the Internet as a public good.  But what’s so unexpected about this appointment is that, unlike the other Board members, I’m not a prominent technology inventor, entrepreneur, or business leader.  I’m a professor, originally an Englishprofessor, a digital humanist and historian of technology (what used to be called “history of the book”).  Universities often bring in business people to help lead them.  It rarely works the other way around.  When it does, it’s news.  And we’re all hoping it might be a tipping point.  We believe that, in 2012, technology and educational leaders need to be working together as part of an international movement on behalf of the open web.   We need to make sure that the next generation values the web and contributes to it.

Equally important, we need to make sure formal education is transformed to recognize, appreciate, and reward all the web-based skills that students bring to learning and have to offer to the hierarchical, top-down forms of formal education.  Peer learning and collaboration–key components of webmaking–are crucial life skills and have the potential to transform education, K-graduate school, if only educators can reimagine their role and that of their students in the shared project of learning together.    [NB: This paragraph was added as a response to Jade Davis’s comment below.  Jade knows this is what I believe–she was a student in FutureClass, described below, and a HASTAC Scholar.  I didn’t see that this fundamental principle was not adequately represented here and I’ve added this because of her contribution, a great example of “collaboration by difference” in action.]


Cathy Davidson participated in a virtual conversation with Mitchell Baker and the rest of the Mozilla community on June 6, 2012.
Watch the webcast here:


Personally, I’d like to see web literacy made a basic part of the DNA of every education, from preschool to graduate school.  I believe that will happen but it will take an alliance of educators, parents, business leaders, policy makers, and all of the Mozilla community.  We’re at a crucial moment in the history of education and in the history of the internet.  Everyone knows something big has to happen.  People have been dazzled by apps of every kind–and they should be.   It’s amazing to see all the possibilities at our fingertips in one smart phone, including in impoverished parts of the world where mobile devices have surpassed conventional wired technologies in terms of popularity.   Educators now are all dazzled by MOOC’s (Massive Online Open Courseware) and schools are rushing to have their star lecturers taped and available digitally, for free, online.   That’s terrific too; it is good to want to share the benefits of costly education for free.  And some of the MOOC’s are also extremely good at challenge-based, engaged teaching and learning methods too.   But apps and MOOCs are not making young people literatein all the ways that the web can work to help us reorganize our lives effectively and powerfully.   The reason is this: apps and MOOCs still have someone else designing the products (whether commercial or free).  True web literacy is also web making.  The key feature of the web is that it was designed with an open architecture that can let anyone with access contribute for free.  You don’t need to download what someone else created.  You can Do It Yourself.

Mozillians know this.   They have, together, created the Mozilla Firefox Browser–the free and open source browser that, against all odds and all predictions, now has almost one-quarter of the world’s usage share of web browsers.  According to Wikipedia, as of July 2012, Firefox is “the third most widely used web browser.  The browser has had particular success in IndonesiaGermany and Poland, where it is the most popular browser with 66%, 48% and 47% of the market share respectively.”   Most people outside the Mozilla community do not understand that the code to this powerful browser is free and open source.  They do not know about the powerful Mozilla developer community that, together, makes the web better for all of us and invites contribution from anyone who has the skills and desire to contribute to that global mission.  “We are an open community of developers building resources for a better web, regardless of brand, browser or platform.  Anyone can contribute and each person who does makes us stronger.  Together we can continue to drive innovation on the Web to serve the greater good. It starts here, with you” (source:    To repeat:  most people beyond the open source community do not know about this powerful, collaborative movement.  They cannot defend the Web if they don’t understand this powerful Mozilla slogan:  “It’s the Web.  You drive.”

I have spent the last year on a book tour for a trade book called Now You See It:  How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century.   Besides media and Internet webinars and text interviews, I’ve made 66 face-to-face visits to schools, universities, businesses, technology firms, and organizations charged with assessments and accreditation.  Sometimes I give a lecture, and often I also do workshops.  What everyone wants to know is what can we do to make our kids–and ourselves–thrive in the digital future.   What I like to say is that the single most important thing we can do is transform our systems of education from the old industrial model into an open web model of learning which teaches responsible, creative, fun, dedicated, skilled, collaborative contribution.  We need a paradigm shift.  “It’s a Webby world.  You learn.  You drive.”

Learning by doing at the Digital Media and Learning Conference


Media analyst Clay Shirky likes to say that “institutions tend to preserve the problem they were designed to solve.”   We have inherited educational systems designed to retrain farmers to be assembly line factory workers and shopkeepers to be corporate bureaucrats.  Everyone knows we no longer live in that world.  We need to transform our institutions of education for an open source world.  That’s deep.  Powerful.  A movement.  It requires Mozillians to provide an example of what works, how, in what fashion.  And it needs educators willing to lead major institutional changes to support this new way of working together.

I have been arguing that web literacy is the fourth literacy, as important to our era as reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Just as you need to learn good writing skills and critical reading skills even if you do not plan on being a professional journalist or novelist, so should you be learning the basics of webmaking even if you will not eventually be helping to write the next iteration of the Firefox browser.  You can learn enough HTML and CSS to build your own website in a semester-long introductory college course, on the model of the first-year rhetoric or language courses.  You learn HTML and CSS and build your own website.  In order to figure out what kind of website yours will look like, you have to engage with all the profound issues of the web:  privacy, for example.   How much do you reveal?  Who do you want to see your website?  And who will own the data you put up on your website? More to the point, being invested in yourwebsite should make you be invested in the importance of a web that youcan drive.  We need to inspire the next generation of web advocates and web activists.

Although we now have seen that money may not “trickle down,” education definitely does.  If universities required basic HTML and CSS–the building blocks of webmaking–soon there would be high school AP classes in it.   And then smart middle school kids would be learning.  And because of great Mozilla products like ThimbleX-Ray Goggles, and Popcorn even younger kids could learn too.   With Summer of Code and other projects, we can make a movement towards universal web literacy:  all it requires is that technology leaders, educators, business leaders, policy makers, parents, and kids themselves work together to learn the basics to thrive in the 21st century world.

* * *


Storming the Academy photo by Samuel Huron


I met Mark Surman three years ago when he contacted me as the cofounder of the nonprofit HASTAC (“haystack”: Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), a network of about 9500 people now dedicated to “learning the future together.”  I and a team at Duke University are responsible for administering the HASTAC network and maintaining our Drupal-based website.   HASTAC is dedicated to translating the principles of open source community to education, and the Mozilla Manifesto has long been one of our guide posts.  HASTAC (joined by our HASTAC partners based in California) administers the annual Digital Media and Learning Competitions, originally supported by $2 million a year in grant funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and joined, this year, by the Gates Foundation as well.   Mozilla is part of this year’s Badges for Lifelong Learning Compettion:

Mark also invited some HASTAC leaders to participate in Mozilla’s Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona called “Learning, Freedom, and the Open Web.”   We put on two days of hands-on Storming the Academy workshops (  I also brought five of my students from FutureClass, a student-designed, peer-learning seminar in webmaking, web literacy, and web organizing.   When bandwidth failed out in the plaza in Barcelona, my students came up with a “Low Tech Social Networking Site”–a flip board with post it notes that allowed people to “tag” themselves and then connect with others.  It became a hub for the Festival and a great example that web literacy is a habit of mind, a mode of action, and not just a technology.   Hack Education:  Think.  Make.  Connect.  Act.  Create.  Program.  Build.  Do.  Be.  Believe.  Learn.  Share. Repeat. 


FutureClass in Barcelona, Spain at “Learning, Freedom and the Web,” Nov, 4, 2010


As an official Mozillian now, I see my role as learning everything I can from my astonishing Mozilla colleagues, continuing to be inspired by the awesome Mozilla community, and contributing to the Mozilla goals of keeping the web open for innovation and contribution.   I also see my role as doing my best to inspire educational leaders to rethink the basics of how we teach and how we learn, as well as to make web literacy a basic skill.  In the next year, Mark Surman and I will be writing some op-ed pieces championing the fourth literacy.   And I will be helping to plan activities for the upcoming Mozilla Festival 2012 (Nov. 9-11 in London).

One goal that I hope we can all pursue together, as Mozillians, is to transform learning–and, I hope, to use the Mozilla model of open yet highly skilled and effective collaboration (with a powerful enough browser to claim nearly a quarter of the world’s usage) as a model for a transformed system of education worldwide.  Mozilla  works.  There’s no standardized A, B, C, D, “None of the Above” test at the end of an innovation challenge that tells you whether you know how to code.  That’s the old model.  The learning model we are striving for is about thinking, doing, learning, and making.  Part of that goal is to educate the next generation of developers and programmers.   But there’s an equally important and even bigger ambition that goes far beyond programmers: we need to make everyone a supporter of the web.   We need to educate people about the web so we can ensure a new generation of web advocates and partisans, who understand what the web means to the world and who realize what a loss it would be to live in a world without a web that is open to innovation and participation by everyone.

Mozilla is inspiring.  I hope as a Mozillian to contribute my part to spreading web literacy and to communicating to the general public how the Mozilla mission for an open, innovative web can continue to inspire the ways that we learn the future together.

Leave a Reply

(will not be published)
Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

Follow Cathy