In June 2017 I had the opportunity to participate in a pitch competition in Austin, TX. The competition was hosted by Learn All the Time, an amazing organization that supports out-of-school time programming in the greater Austin area. A lot of great local organizations came out to pitch project ideas, and one of the things on the table at the competition was the Internet Health Prize, which included a trip to MozFest in October.
That June evening it was warm and humid (so, typical Austin weather) and an October in London seemed very far away (temporally, geographically, and meteorologically). But I was fortunate enough to win the Internet Health Prize after delivering a pitch about misinformation curriculum I’ve been developing for teens. And MozFest arrived before I knew it.
It was my first time at MozFest, but not my first time in London. Having the opportunity to return to one of my favorite cities on the planet and participate in both MozFest and MisInfoCon London was, and continues to be, an incredible experience. And, I was able to travel to the festival with an entire crew of amazing folks from Austin.
At both events the ultimate value was, for me, in the connections I forged and the ideas I heard. My MozFest experience in particular was as much about what was happening between and even around sessions as it was about the content and experiences I had during sessions. Many of the conferences I’ve attended in the past have felt very destination oriented — you go from session A to session B to listen to content. MozFest was messier, and often richer. Content, experiences, and connections spilled over into the entire day and the entire venue, and I felt like I was learning and sharing regardless of whether or not I was in a session at the time.
I presented three times at MozFest, which was both rewarding and somewhat exhausting. I’m glad I had the chance to jump in the deep end at my first festival, though, and each presentation experience helped me experience MozFest in a slightly different way and gain some new insight into what the festival was all about. The science fair event on Friday night, which kicked-off the festival, was probably my favorite event. I basically talked about my curriculum non-stop for a few hours and met people from all over the world who were working on similar projects, or were just interested in what I was doing. The event also provided an opportunity for various friends to come up and photobomb me or surprise me with some much needed water.
On Saturday and Sunday I led sessions on my curriculum. Though these sessions were less chaotic than the science fair, the conversations were rich and the ideas were plentiful. Everyone I met at MozFest was smart and passionate about their work, and I wanted to provide spaces for sharing and conversation in my sessions, as well as a welcoming space for people who are interested in collaborating on efforts to tackle the misinformation crisis.
My Sunday session was geared specifically towards fellow librarians, and it was really valuable to have both an international perspective and the perspective of librarians who work with very different types of patrons. At one break out discussion group I was able to engage with librarians who worked with patrons ranging from elementary school children to senior citizens in both America and the UK. Part of the conversation centered around how you have difficult discussions about misinformation with adults.
What I tried to do in my sessions, and what I appreciated about MozFest as a whole, is the willingness people had to engage in thorny, complex topics, whether it was a session on unpacking Mozilla’s Information Trust Initiative to a an activity demo on ways to blend improv with STEM activities. Most of the sessions I attended didn’t “solve” an issue, but they did provide space to reflect and explore, opportunities to connect, and forward momentum to continue working and iterating on projects and ideas.
Over the past month I’ve stayed in touch with people I met at MozFest and have been inspired by pursue new areas in my own work. I may have left London a month ago, but the energy, connections, and momentum of the festival itself haven’t stopped yet.