How Mozilla’s Making It a Whole Lot Easier to Teach Web Literacy

November 13, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy

Where do you go if you want to get better at your web skills? How do you even know what's important to learn? Or what’s important to teach your students?

Mozilla is making finding the answers to these questions a whole lot easier.

Experts like Cathy Davidson have been arguing for some time that web literacy should be part of education for all students, yet we rarely identify exactly what that means. We’ve written about efforts to teach coding in class, but digital literacy is more than just computer programming. So what exactly should be included in a comprehensive digital literacy education? What skills merit the use of teachers’ limited classroom time? There has been no definitive answer, until now.

The Mozilla Foundation, known for their pioneering Firefox web browser, has been providing important leadership in this arena. Their Webmaker authoring tools, many of which are reviewed by Common Sense Education, are designed to “help people everywhere make, learn and play using the open building blocks of the web.”

You've likely heard about the Mozilla Festival (#MozFest) held in London last month and the innovations that are expected to emerge from the annual tech event that aligns educators, designers, and experts eager to help build a better web. But the most exciting and practical concept to materialize, from our point of view, is the standard for web literacy.

Mozilla’s Doug Belshaw defined the fluid standard as “a map of the territory for the skills and competencies Mozilla and community think are important to get better at to more effectively read, write & participate on the Web.” It was designed, in part, over regular hour-long community calls, where anyone was invited to participate, and the first version was finalized at the Mozilla festival.

I say “first version” because Mozilla has made it clear that the standard is destined and designed to change along with the web itself. “The Web Literacy Standard isn't an end-all be all, but a pathway for those who want to teach important web skills,” explained Mozilla on its wiki page. “As the web continues to change and grow, the Web Literacy Standard will grow and change with it.”

The standard comprises three key units: exploring, building, and connecting. From there, it diverges into several subcategories, like coding or web mechanics, which are further defined and unpacked into three or four specific constituents.

The hope is that educators will now have an outline to follow when teaching digital literacy, and can compare their own curriculums against Mozilla’s standard.

Mozilla decided to create this new framework for several reasons: existing web literacy frameworks were not comprehensive enough, and organizations working to improve web literacy were working separately. One of Mozilla’s goals for this new framework is to help connect these groups with a unified list of goals.

“Most of us who count ourselves as ‘web literate’ reached that level more by luck than by judgment and while that can be an enjoyable journey, it's also an extremely long and meandering path,” organizers write on the new standard’s wiki. “We sought to remedy this by providing a single, co-constructed resource that anyone can align with”

“It's a noble effort,” author and technology speaker Cory Doctorow writes at Boing Boing, “and it's meant to be a baseline for people who want to develop teaching programs, curriculum, and identify web resources that will aid in promoting web literacy.”

While this all sounds great in theory, you're likely wondering how to integrate the standard into your everyday teaching practice. As Mozilla suggests, comparing your own lesson plans against it is a great place to start. And if you are in need of classroom supplements, many sections of our own curriculum cover the specific areas Mozilla outlines.

Lessons like “Rights, Remixes, and Respect,” are apt for covering the “Remix” section of the standard, which encompasses creating something new on the web using existing resources and identifying openly-licensed work. During the lesson, students work to define key concepts, like appropriation, copyright, and fair use. They also delve into the legal and ethical debates surrounding copyright, and consider the multiple perspectives involved when using others’ material.

“Softer skills” included in Mozilla’s standard, such as security and privacy, are also covered in several lessons aimed at kids of different ages. Lessons like, “Keep It Private,” for grades K-2, and “Scams and Schemes” for students in grades 6-8 both aim to help students understand the importance of creating safe passwords and being careful when sharing information online.  

You can follow our blog for updates on this new standard, but there are other ways to participate too. To make a more direct impact on future adaptations and changes to the standard, join in on the next community call held on November 18. The calls are held biweekly on Mondays at 11 a.m. EST, and the call information can be found on the Mozilla Web Literacy Standard wiki page.