Mozilla Education is a Mozilla initiative (under Mozilla Foundation auspices) to help grow a new generation of Mozilla contributors by working with students and educators around the world; it is based on and grows out of efforts at Seneca College and elsewhere. Mozilla Education is part of a larger movement (exemplified by the "teaching open source" project) to promote the teaching of free software and open source technologies and development practices in academic settings. Mozilla Education also connects with an even larger movement to promote participatory, student-led learning based on open educational resources.
This document briefly reviews the history of the Mozilla Education program, puts in the context of related efforts within Mozilla and elsewhere, and proposes a set of activities for 2010 along with some thoughts on the long-term place of Mozilla Education within the Mozilla project.
The Mozilla Education program grew out of activities by Prof. David Humphrey at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada, to teach Mozilla technologies and development practices in the classroom (as opposed to, for example, simply having students do Mozilla-related independent projects or work as Mozilla interns). This work was initially supported by in-kind donations of time by Mozilla employees in the Toronto office (e.g., to do classroom lectures and mentor students).
Based on the success of the courses, the Mozilla Foundation then made a series of grants to Seneca College to provide Dave Humphrey release from regular teaching duties in order to spend more time developing the Mozilla courses and promoting their use in other academic institutions. In 2009 these activities were then formalized as the Mozilla Education initiative under Mozilla Foundation auspices (as described in the original Mozilla Education plan). Since then Mozilla-related courses and student independent projects have spread to about a hundred students at 13 schools with 10 professors (as described in the Mozilla Education 2009 progress report).
Context and assumptions
As discussed in the 2009 plan, Mozilla Education exists within a larger set of activities around "open education", "open educational resources", and related attempts to reform (or, as advocated by some, replace) the present formal educational system and its associated institutions. This larger world of open education efforts provides both a unifying vision of decentralized participatory student-driven learning (one that is congruent with the ideals of the Mozilla Manifesto) and a vibrant group of potential supporters and partners.
More directly relevant to Mozilla Education are other efforts to teach FOSS technologies and practices in colleges and universities, for which the Teaching Open Source project serves as a central focus. These other efforts provide additional test cases for introducing FOSS into the classroom, with resulting insights and resources that can be leveraged in the context of Mozilla Education.
In particular, others' experiences confirm the hypothesis that the institutions most interested in deeply integrating Mozilla (and other FOSS) technologies and practices into their formal curricula will be those specializing in practical education (and to a certain extent liberal arts insitutions), with much less likelihood of making inroads with leading research institutions with large computer science programs.
At the same time, the complexity of the core Mozilla code base and the increased focus on an aggressive release schedule put a premium on having a full-time dedicated group of Mozilla core developers, and limit the opportunities for students (or part-time volunteer contributors in general) to make significant contributions to the core Mozilla code. This makes it more attractive for typical student contributors to focus on other development-related areas (e.g., build and release engineering, QA and testing, etc.), on technical areas less driven by release schedules (e.g., Mozilla Labs projects), and on non-technical areas such as marketing and evangelism.
During 2010 we want to focus on continuing and expanding activities that have shown past success and expanding them in a scalable way consistent with the assumptions discussed above.
The three major objectives are to
- help attract and grow potential core Mozilla contributors through a combination of
- Seneca-style efforts to integrate teaching of Mozilla technologies and practices into academic curriculums
- efforts to encourage Mozilla-related senior projects and independent study, for those schools not amenable to more intensive Mozilla-related instruction
- help attract and grow other contributors through a combination of
- cross-school and (where appropriate) cross-disciplinary projects that leverage and build on Mozilla-related technologies (or technologies of interest to Mozilla)
- (optionally) one or more design challenges modeled on and supplementing related efforts by Mozilla Labs and others
- serve as a bridge between educational institutions and Mozilla by providing
- a dedicated point of contact for educators and students interested in working with Mozilla
- a way for Mozilla people to learn about Mozilla-related education activities and (if desired) obtain assistance in reaching out to academia and working with educators and students
- a Mozilla Education web presence (e.g., on www.mozilla.org) to be a central portal for links to Mozilla-related information of potential interest to students and educators
Attracting and growing core Mozilla contributors
The following activities are proposed for 2010 in pursuit of the objective of growing full-time core Mozilla contributors (i.e., people who are good candidates for employment at the Mozilla Corporation or Mozilla Messaging):
- Continue to promote the Seneca approach to schools that are most likely to be receptive to it, and in particular try to target schools interested in teaching topics like quality assurance through automated testing, continuous integration, and other software engineering practices needed in large-scale projects like Mozilla. The set of targeted educators and institutions includes those in the Mozilla Education contacts list.
- For research-focused institutions, reach out to and encourage professors to have students do Mozilla-related senior projects and independent study, either based on self-generated ideas or based on tasks previously identified as being good student projects. The overall approach will be modeled on that taken by Greg Wilson of the University of Toronto in his undergraduate capstone open source projects (UCOSP) initiative.
We will also use the Mozilla Education web presence to promote student internship opportunities at the Mozilla Corporation and Mozilla Messaging.
Attracting other Mozilla contributors
The following activities are proposed for 2010 in pursuit of the objective of engaging students to contribute outside the context of the core Mozilla codebase:
- Sponsor at least three projects in 2010 that can each serve as a focus for engaging larger groups of students:
- continuation of the Processing for the Web project
- a new project around tools for analyzing and/or rewriting code, leveraging existing work by Taras Glek and others (e.g., Dehydra and Pork) and done in loose cooperation with the GCC project or others
- at least one other new project in an area yet to be determined (e.g., student assistance with analyzing and visualizing Test Pilot data, as proposed by Jinghua Zhang)*
- Start at least one new Mozilla Education design challenge project in 2010, if (and only if) there is a suitable problem (e.g., one that doesn’t overlap with planned Mozilla Labs challenges) and funding can be found.
We will also use the Mozilla Education web presence to cross-promote Mozilla Labs design challenges to the students involved in Mozilla Education activities, and will work with Labs and others to promote Mozilla Education projects to others in the Mozilla community.
Connecting Mozilla and academia
The following activities are proposed for 2010 in pursuit of the objective of providing a bridge between educational institutions and Mozilla:
- Formally designate Dave Humphrey as an official Mozilla representative to the academic community (e.g., in the context of the governance structure for activities modules).
- Establish a more formal Mozilla Education web presence (e.g., as a top-level page www.mozilla.org/education and sub-pages thereof) to provide an up-to-date and comprehensive set of links to Mozilla-related information of potential interest to students and educators.
- Sponsor a series of informal events (e.g., modeled on the "brown bag" series) to inform the Mozilla community of noteworthy Mozilla-related activities in academia and provide students an opportunity to present their work.
Mozilla Education in the long term
As noted above, in the past few years Mozilla Education has moved from an informal program of cooperation between Seneca College and the Mozilla Toronto office, to a semi-formal initiative under Mozilla Foundation auspices. If Mozilla Education activities continue to expand then it may make sense to further formalize Mozilla Education within Mozilla.
The following is a possible future structure for Mozilla Education as a service function for the Mozilla project and the various Mozilla organizations:
- dedicated funding (e.g., in the form of a multi-year grant to Seneca College) for Dave Humphrey's role as a full-time Mozilla Education lead
- additional funding for 0.5-1.0 FTE within Mozilla (as either a single person or committed portions of multiple people's time) to assist with Mozilla Education activities and support the various groups within Mozilla organizations involved with them
- additional dedicated budget to support institutions, educators, and students involved in Mozilla-related educational activities (e.g., for travel or other scholarships, event sponsorhip, design challenges, etc.)
- formal working relationships for coordination with the various Mozilla groups involved in educational-related activities (e.g., Mozilla Labs, evangelism, etc.)
- Mozilla Education web presence as designated channel for Mozilla-related news and information specifically targeted to students and educators