Why Mozilla Thinks You Should Teach Your Students How to Hack

November 26, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Literacy, Technology Integration, Tools

Mozilla recently unveiled Popcorn Maker, a free online video editing tool that allows users to remix, mash-up, and share web video. For example, users can annotate videos with information like Twitter feeds, maps, or the current weather forecast. The new tool is designed to expose students to the building blocks of the web, and encourage them to be active media creators rather than passive consumers.

“Until now, video on the web has been stuck inside a little black box,” said Mozilla’s Director of Popcorn Brett Gaylor. “Popcorn Maker changes that, making video work like the rest of the web: hackable, linkable, remixable, and connected to the world around it.”

Last year, Mozilla launched Popcorn.js, a HTML5 Javascript library for developers that enables users to create interactive, time-based media using video, audio, and other web content. Developers used the framework very creatively, including in the NPR and PBS 2012 election coverage to allow users to make their own satirical campaign ads. This latest reincarnation of Popcorn, however, makes the interface accessible to anyone, not just developers.

Through an interactive tutorial, users can gain a clear understanding of how to add “events,” such as Googlemaps, Twitter feeds, images, and popups, to a video they uploaded to YouTube.

Co-founder of and learning lab shepherd for the Knight-Mozilla project Kate Hudson created one example of how tools like Popcorn Maker can enrich content directly in the classroom. Her demo added copy of the text below a video of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, enabling students to read along as they watch. Users can highlight certain phrases to expose a modern-day translation of Shakespeare’s vernacular, turning age-old colloquialisms such as “golden round” into “crown.” The demo also includes a list of terms and definitions for students to scroll through, providing an interactive, yet comprehensive, way to read the Bard. If only this kind of thing existed when I was in high school!

Popcorn Maker is just one facet of Mozilla Webmaker, which also includes the code editing program Thimble and the easy-to-use website hacking resource X-Ray Goggles, or “Hackasaurus” as it’s commonly called. All of the Webmaker tools are extremely user-friendly and would work easily in a classroom setting. As the website maintains, the three together create a kind of “superhero utility belt for webmaking.” Also, check out these resources for educators on "tools for teaching webmaking."

One of the most exciting aspects of these resources is that they completely debunk the aura of complexity that often surrounds the prospect of creating a website, and encourage students to give it a try themselves. The main goal of Mozilla Webmaker has always been to inspire a community of creators who make the web, rather than use it. As Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker said, “Moving people from consumption to creation is Mozilla’s goal,” and, with the help of programs like Popcorn Maker, this can only become easier and easier for students to do.