We recently started of with this initiative called Community Speaks. This is an initiative in which every week, we would be interviewing one Staff/Community contributor at Mozilla. Every week, the team would be getting in details of the person who would be interviewed and Mozillians can send in the questions they want the the person to answer. These would be moderated by the team and selected questions would be answered by the person being interviewed.
This week, as we started off with this initiative, we are proud to have with us, Doug Belshaw.
Doug is Web Literacy Lead for the Mozilla Foundation. In this role he works on the Web Literacy Map and Webmaker badges as part of the #TeachTheWeb team. Prior to this, Doug evangelised Open Badges for Mozilla, having come across them in 2011 during his time working in Higher Education. Doug started his career as a teacher and then Senior Leader in English schools.
Below is the excerpt from the interview with Doug Belshaw.
Q. From a History teacher at High school, to the Web literacy lead at Mozillla, how was your journey?
Doug: Hi Shreyas, thanks for inviting me to do this. I find other people’s questions about my life a great chance to pause and reflect on who I am and what I’m doing. I don’t think we get enough of a chance to do that in our normal, busy, working days.
To answer your question, it’s been a fairly indirect, meandering journey. My first degree was in Philosophy and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do afterwards. My father was a teacher, and he encouraged me to do my teacher training. I ended up loving it and then moving into Senior Management as Director of e-Learning of a large (3,000 student) academy.
Teaching while being a senior leader and doing a doctorate is tough, and it came to a point where something had to give. In the end, I decided to finish writing my thesis while working in a non-teaching role in Higher Education. It was during this time that I found about Mozilla’s (then) new Open Badges project. I started finding out more about it, showing up to community calls, and telling others.
To cut a long story short, I was eventually invited to be a judge for the DML competition around Open Badges. There was a job going on the Open Badges team and I was invited to apply for it. The rest is history. ;-)
Q. Of course it wouldn’t have been a been a bed of roses even though you make it seem easy, what were the difficulties and challenges you faced and how did you overcome it?
D: I guess the main shift was moving from a education-focused organisation where I was interested in technology, to work for a technology-focused organisation where I’m interested in education.
Working from home has also been more of a challenge than I expected. It’s better and worse than I thought it would be at the same time. Better because I see a lot more of my family than I thought was possible with a full-time job. Worse, because my home is now my workplace and there’s always things to do! It’s difficult to separate the two. Something that’s neither better nor worse is the way that I interact with colleagues. Interacting primarily online rather than face-to-face is sometimes good, sometimes bad, but certainly different.
Q. Was the transition from a teacher(a person who interacts a lot with students) to leading one of the projects for an organization like Mozilla(a job that would require you to sit behind the desk) difficult? What do you miss the most?
D: Well first of all it’s worth saying that I don’t sit behind a desk a lot. I try to vary where and how I work. So, for example, although I have got an office that’s separate from the house, I don’t always use it. In fact, associating different tasks with different places can be beneficial and focus the mind. I’ve started using a DIY standing desk while I’m on calls, and I’m writing this in the armchair next to the bay window in our bedroom. Other places I work include coffee shops, our dining room table, and the library!
I do miss teaching, but not necessarily teaching in the context of formal education. The hours were crazy, and there was a lot of bureaucracy and ‘jumping through hoops’ that you had to do. It used to really frustrate me when you couldn’t do things that you knew were in the best interests of students.
But, yes, I do miss interacting with young people at a formative stage of their lives. While I might have a shallow impact on a global scale, when I was a teacher I could have a much deeper impact on a local scale.
Q. List out 5 things that you like at Mozilla
D: Oh… where to start?
The community – without which we wouldn’t be ‘Mozilla’
How talented and committed my colleagues are.
The way we are treated equitably, as people who are acting out of the best intentions for Mozilla.
Travelling. I wouldn’t have said this last year when I was doing too much, but I do enjoy meeting new people and seeing new places.
Working in an open way. It’s such a refreshing change from how I’ve been forced to work in previous organisations!
Q. Open Badges was a project that you worked on. How did the concept of Open Badges come into existence? Where do you see the future of Open Badges?
D: Well I wasn’t there right at the start, but I understand that the idea behind open Badges began at the Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona in 2010. Mozilla, P2PU and some other folks came together to re-imagine credentialing on the web.
I found out about in 2011 when Mozilla was testing the idea with a P2PU course. Looking back, it was such a simple (yet brilliant) test and paved the way for everything that’s followed. The technology behind it is impressive, but that hasn’t been the biggest stumbling block. That would be how long it takes people to realise that the way things are is necessarily not the way they have to (or should) be.
Excitingly, Open Badges is such a big thing that there’s no need for me to go out and evangelise it on behalf of Mozilla. In fact, while the technical work will continue at Mozilla, there’s a newly-formed non-profit Badge Alliance headed up by Erin Knight (co-founder of Open Badges) that’s working on growing the ecosystem.
What’s next for Open Badges? Well, I suppose once BadgeKit is launched and it’s easier for organisations to create and issue badges, we’ll see them being used instead of – or as well as – certificates, diplomas and the like. It’ll take a while before people use them really innovatively in important settings, I suppose. That’s the nature of innovation!
Q. Your current project is the Web literacy map. Could you brief us about the general concept of drafting a Web literacy map? Also, what is the status of this project as of now?
D: Yes, I’m really excited about the Web Literacy Map. Just as my experience as an educator drew me to the revolutionary potential of Open Badges, so I think there’s some exciting work to be done around Web Literacy.
The original idea was to come up with a Web Literacy ‘Standard’ – and, in fact, I started working on that with the community while I was on the Open Badges team. We quickly realised that ‘Standard’ was the wrong word, however, and what we were actually doing was provided a map of the territory of web literacy that others could use.
Right now we’re at version 1.1.0 of the Web Literacy Map. As it currently stands, the competency layer is relatively mature and stable, but we need to do some work with the skill layer underpinning those competencies. Working with the community to produce this has been such as successful experience that the competency layer of the Web Literacy Map will soon be used to form the UX (user experience) of webmaker.org/explore.
Q. Having been involved with Mozilla, there sure would have been some awesome moments where even though you did something small, you might’ve felt really happy and consider it as your personal achievement. Could you tell us about one such instance?
D: It’s difficult to point to something that’s a personal achievement because almost everything I do is in collaboration with a colleague and/or the community. However, something I’ve been very pleased with recently is a new prototype that Atul Varma and I have been working on.
It’s called the WebLitMapper. Just as you’d use a bookmarklet to add things to social bookmarking sites like Delicious, Diigo or Pinterest, you can add resources relevant to the web literacy to the WebLitMapper. The tags you use are from the competency layer of the Web Literacy Map.
I mentioned it in a meeting a couple of months back and some people thought it was a good idea while others were skeptical. It turns out that, after testing and iterating with the community, it’s something that people teaching the web really value. So I’m very pleased about that.
Thanks a lot Doug. We would like to thank you for spending time to answer our questions. We are indeed proud to have you as our very first member under the “Community Speaks”. Kindly let us know if you have any suggestions/tips/wishes for us.
D: I’d like to thank all the Mozillians around the world for their efforts, especially those in India who seem to be doing such a great job at teaching the web!
Thanks very much for inviting me to be the first in this series. I’m very much looking forward to further contributions to ‘Community Speaks’. :-)