Mark Surman on Open Eduction and the Open Internet
Article and photo by Stephen Downes
This is a summary of Mozilla CEO Mark Surman's talk at Open Education Global in Banff April 24 (today). It is a paraphrase with lots of direct quotation, but shouldn't be taken as word-for word literal. All errors are my own.
We need to help 5 billion people over the next 5-10 years become web literate.
Three quotes from great Canadian thinkers: "We are trying to do today's job with yesterday's tools and yesterday's concepts." "We drive into the future looking only into our rearview mirror."
- classrooms are organized around how monks talked.
The experience of living in a small town as the only punk rock kid shaped me. And we lived in the media culture hegemony, and also we lived in a time of very conservative politics with a daily fear of nuclear war. What punk rock showed me was that we could play a role in shaping the world we want. And I was a photocopier kid - a big part of punk culture was cutting things up and remixing them. Records, guitars, and a scene: this idea of our media, our ability to produce it, and a community. It's an ethos very different from the television world we grew up in.
The last 40 years has been technology that lets us reshape our world. When I got a tape recorder that I could record on, that was radical. These technologies and freedom inspire me. And I couldn't but help myself when the modem came along. And when Mosaic came out in 1994, I said that's what I want to work on.
Second Canadian: Harold Innis. "The Roman Empire and the city states were essentially products of writing." They could issue edicts and laws. How do we build the world we're trying to build? There's a connection between power and words, power and communication, and what we're trying to do is shift that, and make communication more open.
Mozilla: it says in our incorporation documents: "we exist to guard the open nature of the internet." Best job I ever had. That's what drove m to work on the Cape Town declaration. We said it can't just be OERs, it can't just be open content, it has to be learning, it has to be participation.
So I would argue that we have a common ethos around that idea. And I see Mozilla as being the David that can take on the Goliath with those ideas. And so we have won a number of battles, we have a lot to celebrate. Firefox itself is a big victory - we went from 98% Internet Explorer domination, and Microsoft was determining where the internet was heading. Firefox was a huge victory in shifting that. That was 10 years ago, we haven't won much lately. Reference to Sunday New York Times advertisement for Firefox 1.0 (I contributed to that: SD)
There is a shift, even in mainstream, toward seeing publishers as expensive and in the way. By contrast we have organizations like Lumen, David Wiley's company, getting traction and VC money. Similarly you've heard lots over the last few days, more and more public money has gone into ensuring that learning resources are open. For example, $2 billion for OERs in colleges.
Those victories don't just limit themselves to this room. We have those dollars to people who aren't having this conference explicitly. Eg. local tax grant in Missoula. We have people around the world coming to OERs and open learning, and doing real stuff. We see a bias toward action. Lots of victories, lots to be proud of.
We have won many battles... but we are losing the war.
We are losing the battle for openness, the open web, and in transforming education. These - Pearson - are the kind of people are going to win. They may shift from selling textbooks to capturing analytics and selling data, but they're still winning. Mozilla isn't anti-business but we're against oligopolies. I'm more afraid that this is going to be Pearson - 'Classroom'. As much as I use Google every day, it's increasingly a company that controls vast parts of the internet. India - Google is effectively a monopoly with Android in smart phones. But unlike Windows and IE, they control the OS, they control the money, they're taking over the carrier layer - this is a monopolist with an intent to take complete vertical control over our internet lives. That is losing the war.
How many think Uber is the good guy? We don't think of them as relevant, but it is likely the next big monopolists. Their goal and intent is to become the monopolist in the area of physical motion - to know everything about us, everything about the movers. That is then cloaked ina positive aspect of creating a new type of work.
"Millions of Facebook users don't even know they're using the internet." People don't even know what they're using. They don't really know what the affordances are in any of the most basic ways the way we know. There's a massive gap between the general purpose computers we have in our pockets and what people think they have.
We're seeing the growth of the empires that will shape humanity with a new set of values for probably the next few hundred years. The centre of that empire is pretty limited - it comes from Palo Alto, it comes from Silicon Valley. It's not that diverse a place. Its not the kind of empire I want to see. I don't want to see empire.
Fork in the road.
Do we want 'the next Steve Jobs' or do we want Edward Snowden. Do we want creativity and freedom, or control and a lack of agency. Are we going to choose openness, or are we going to choose the Matrix.
William Gibson, third (sort of) Canadian: "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed." The future I have committed to is a future where everyone has the know-how to be internet citizens in full. That's where we want to go - how do we win the war?
Most of the people in the room used Mosaic, most were online before 2000 - the internet soon will be 5 billion people - that's where the battle for open will play out).
Three things we are doing:
First, web literacy. The challenge we have is to help 5 billion know how to wield that general purpose in computer in their pocket. We try to put it into Firefox, we try to put it into everything we ddo (cf Doug Belshaw's competency map). Participation, using the open web, is a bit part of this.
Second, we need to commit to learning and not just to open educational resources. That's what I took from my early work in Shuttleworth to what I'm doing now. The language we use to talk about our approach to pedagogy is: learn by making, make stuff that matters (that's a key idea OER brings to the table, we can work on real material that is stuff we need), do it together (social for us has to be a part of a radical open pedagogy).
Third, think of ourselves as bigger than just those of us around a single table, bigger than just this room - think of ourselves as people who want to take this open road (you are invited to Mozfest in November).
A movement, a different approach to learning (web literacy), can help us go down the open road if we do it ambitiously enough.
We've been doing this at Mozilla. Eg., the Maker Parties. We've had teach-ins,. to have people teach digital literacy to those around them. And this year we want to rally people to move litreracy on a massive scale - we don't know how to do that. Mozilla Academy? We will put whatever resources to bear on this, and help people do this. There are 300 organizations that make the Maker Parties happen - we want to do this together, get on the ball, and move it a lot faster.
This is important. We are at a Gutenberg moment. We are at an early phase in internet technology. What gets written today will determine the future.
Q. I'm struck by the fact that there are many Davids. How do you unite the Davids.
A. You have common cause though you have many approaches. 'Open' has been the rallying cry. But in that rallying we have become inward focused. The concept of 'open' isn't something that will get into the water necessarily. The key is to think practically, do things that will help people, rather than be evangelical. That may be a rallying point, but still around our ideas.
Q. Net neutrality - where the telcos are trying to determine what speed you will have and more. Steve Jobs was a master at creating beautiful golden cages. You cannot have OER and openness within a closed hardware environment.
A. Another hour-long talk. In general, in building this movement for openness, Mozilla very public takes a much more pragmatic approach on whether everything has to be free. Of course we all know all of the pieces we wish were there, they're not even not there is an way even open-advocates can live in an all-open world. Eg. should we be implementing the DRM standard in HTML 5. Of course we're against that. But if we don't implement it and the other three browsers do, then millions of our users won't be able to watch videos.
Which road do we choose, in order to remain relevant, and still keep a principled stance? Hardware and net neutrality are very important in that. Hardware is the biggest vector for network surveillance (I should have added Sczchen to the core of the new empire, on the hardware level). And it's a big question about how companies like Facebook play into net neutrality - Facebook is marketing itself in India as the free internet, don't bother with the rest of it.
Q. I can't help but think about Aaron Schwarz. Will civil disobedience become an appropriate response?
A. It already is. We don't hope what happened to Aaron will happen to others. But people like Anonymous - it's a tricky think to know what appropriate civil disobedience is. There may be reaal criminals in there. We don't all have the same agenda. Tricky questions.
Q. Would the internet be different if we had women making it?
A. Yes. And we need more of that. Mitchell Baker is a champion for women in technology and as leaders. But we're still very male-biased. We do need to have gender as an issue as we build, we're not as aggressive as we want to be yet, but it has to be a part of what we think.
Q. The web literacy is the closest thing to what I mentioned yesterday as digital citizenship. Who are the right people to engage on this?
A. We are thee stakeholders to first engage. Many great conversations here, eg., talking with Cable (Green) about getting a course on web literacy. And Cathy saying one way to do it is immersion. This is a good group of people to try to get some of those approaches into the mainstream.
There's a lit of other stakeholders we think about. The right part of business, for example, even some of the goliaths - eg., the phone companies, who have a set of interests counter to the core Silicon Valley values. Eg. they want people to make and consume local content.
Q. It's very common for us to conflate the web with the internet. To what degree is Mozilla interested in non-web parts of the internet.
A. As an activist, conflating the web with the internet is now a problem in my view. We think of the web as the human interaction layer, at least for now. The rest of the web isn't really usable by people. But increasingly not. We contrast the web with what's happening on the smart phone right now - the web is open, iOS and Android are much more bundled and controlled. But we have to pick our battled.
Q. Read-write-communicate has me thinking about openness - are you making the same pitch to other segments of the internet? Is it the same pitch?
A. he answer is, I'm about to. I'm trying to figure out a crisper pitch. This is spring training. I'm taking this to Quartz, and giving them the same pitch. The same in OE Africa in may. To see who we can bring along with us.
Q. I don't like your metaphor with the word 'battle' and the word 'war'. Cf. Hal Plotkin. He was entertaining us and also warning us with an example from the U.S. establishing a so-called 'free university' which failed because people became too militant.
A. Many people don't like those metaphors. I think we're too passive. Let's see if we can find a middle.
Q. Facebook is bringing free 'mobile internet' to people which is Facebook(+Google+Wikipedia)-only - internet.org
A. They're kind of BS. But they will be influential BS. Even at the board level, we talk about, do we play with internet.org or not? I've been into these sorts of discussions for years - the old Internet Advisory Council in Canada. It's companies saying "we will solve the problem of access." It's an exceptionally simplistic view. People will get access. The market will take care of access anyway. They want to be seen as on the forefront of solving that problem, and to capture customers while they're at it, with monopolistic strategies. But if we help internet.org where half the peopel only have Facebook, that's a bad outcome.