Crafting Collaboration

Making connections catalyzes communities across time, distance, and networks

Chicago Architecture Foundation Minecraft camp in action in the ArcelorMittal Design Studio. Photo courtesy Hive Chicago

In the summer of 2015, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) offered local youth a Minecraft summer camp focused on urban design. Summer camp “counsellors” Gina Grant, professional game designer Joshua Engel, and Edgar “Edge” Quintanilla ran the camp, and then Gina and Edgar brought a microcosm of that camp experience to the Youth Zone at Mozfest 2015.

Dorine Flies, a Mozilla Foundation Community Manager at ionCube Ltd. who stewards the UK-based Encouraging Programming in Kids (EPIK) program, serves as a lead-organizer, or “wrangler,” for the YouthZone at MozFest. This past summer she contacted me to nominate the CAF’s Minecraft work for inclusion on our teaching activities page .

Capturing curriculum from MozFest is an important goal for us — one we’re trying to address more deeply and meaningfully every year. Documenting and sharing all the intense teaching and learning that goes on at MozFest is a challenge, but one we need to take up and meet. There is so much value in the face-to-face work that happens at MozFest; we need to surface it and make it replicable and remixable throughout our leadership network to define and encourage a kind of remote participation that goes past one-off activities. Publishing curriculum curated from MozFest sessions makes improves access to our network and its learning.

MozFest is an incredible event. It is special, but it should be special because it lets us gather and deploy the best community-created curriculum possible, not just because of its architectural, temporal, and face-to-face magic. One way to defeat its sometimes air of exclusivity is to make its content as open and replicable as possible, especially when it comes to content relating to teaching and learning.

Back to the story at-hand: once Dorine put us in contact, Gina and I worked through a series of revisions, migrating the original activity into our newer curriculum template. Once Gina and her CAF colleagues had worked through a few iterations of the project in the new template, we published it on our teaching activities page, closing the loop on this project nearly 11 months after MozFest 2015.

The loop is definitely a virtuous one. CAF, as a community member of Hive Chicago and the YouthZone at MozFest, delivered a great session based off of local programming. Dorine, working as a space wrangler and community manager, kept CAF’s work in mind and forwarded it to me to help CAF iterate on their curriculum for publication by Mozilla. Our production team helped us all get the curriculum up on /activities. A month or so out from MozFest 2016, we can look back at the process and use it to help us get ready to curate, co-design, and share even more from this year’s festival. This kind of global, worldwide triangulation for collaboration gives us the chance to make MozFest more open than ever before.

Here are some takeaways and ideas for iterating on the process from my perspective as a curriculum developer:

  • Be ready to help. Have some time set aside to lend a hand when a partner organization needs it to parse your curriculum template or work through revising copy. It’s not enough to say, “If you do this, we’ll publish that.” Collaboration should be relational, not transactional. Your collaborators should trust you to contribute, as well. In this case, Gina and the CAF handled the revisions without much assistance, but if you’re serious about co-design as outreach, you’ll eventually be mentoring people on how to migrate text into a webpage. You have to be ready to put time and care into collaborating with community members. It’s not a privilege to publish with you; it’s a privilege for you to work with such invested community members.
  • Go where your contributors are. For this project, we worked mostly through email and Thimble. It worked, but I wonder if there were better ways to collaborate or how we might meet next time. In looking back, I should have asked Gina and CAF if they prefered to work another way. Video meetings would have allowed for a synchronous review of the curriculum and helped us put faces to names better than emails did. You should make sure to ask after your contributors’ preferred channels of communication and work there with them.
  • Understand your role. Different collaboration and different project will ask you to do different things. Sometimes you’ll be working on content together; other times you’ll be coaching contributors on how to migrate a file to this platform or that. There will certainly be times when you’re asking for help or learning more from your partners than they’re learning from you. Take some time to think through — and ask — what your role should be. Listen to meet your contributors’ needs. Manage your service to them and the project more than you try to manage people or things to turn out just the way you want. When you’re curating and co-developing curriculum, diversity is an asset. You want the most people possible to see themselves in what you and your network have to offer. You’re here to help and to elevate contributions, not to strike out copy or put ideas down. While it probably makes sense to suggest something like a curriculum template for contributors who want to show up in that way, it doesn’t make sense to go in thinking of yourself as the expert on what your contributors created.

As you get ready to attend MozFest 2016, or as you scope out the schedule from afar, let us know how to help you capture curriculum from your session or from a session you’d want to attend. Tell us what you want to see come out of this year’s gathering in terms of remixable instructional material, and we’ll do our best to team-up and repeat this process of catalyzing collaboration across time and distance throughout our network.


Have questions about how CAF is using Minecraft as a tool to explore the built environment and urban planning contact education@architecture.org or follow @chiarchitecture.

Have an idea for a new piece of curriculum or a suggestion about improving an old one? Contact Chad, curriculum developer at the Mozilla Foundation.

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