Digital Skills on the Path Forward

Web literacy workshop for service members, veterans, and their families

On August 5th and 6th, a team from the Mozilla Foundation had the opportunity to facilitate a web literacy workshop in partnership with RP/6, a non-profit focused on connecting service members, veterans and their families with resources and services to develop a clear plan for their path forward post-military service.

Mozilla’s team mission was to create a 2-day workshop geared towards technology-related careers for participants who are transitioning from the military service and adjusting to civilian life.

This blog post narrates short stories and reflections about the people, the space, the curriculum, and the methodology. The objective is to share reflections, lessons learned and key takeaways with those who are wanting to replicate this workshop in their local settings.

Story #1. The Location

The workshop was held in Lakewood, Washington, a small-sized city located in the Pacific Northwest next to Tacoma and Seattle. Lakewood’s economy is highly dependent upon on the military bases in the area. It also boasts one of the few true International Districts in the South Sound along South Tacoma Way and Pacific Highway, with Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Latino and other influences. Seattle also has a thriving tech industry, with many tech companies and startups headquartered in the area.

Story #2. The People

Over 50 attendees from active military personnel, veterans, and family members from all ages, skill levels, and backgrounds. Regardless of the size and diversity the audience remained engaged and participated throughout the entire workshop. What did we do to meet the needs of this large and diverse audience?

First we had a lead instructor who is a content expert and highly skilled in teaching a group with diverse skills and knowledge. In addition we had 5 facilitators who helped lead small group activities and floated among the table groups to answer questions, troubleshoot and support the lead facilitator. Having the right mix of facilitators with complementary skills and knowledge was key for participants and allowed the lead to focus on the primary goals of workshop.

We also planned extra activities and provided self directed tutorials to manage the varying degrees of expertise and learning ability. This allowed us to maintain an adequate pace, ensuring that the less experienced individuals did not get left behind, or the more advanced participants were not disengaged.

We asked for feedback throughout the workshop from the first to the last module. By listening to the real time feedback we were able to be agile and adaptive to people’s needs, perceptions and different learning styles. It was critical to understand and pay close attention to our audience which helped us connect with learners on a deeper level, and allowed us to make tweaks along the way.

Story #3. The Curriculum

Understanding our audience: their culture, their hopes, their media, their symbols and traditions, was key to customizing training activities to better meet their needs. A pre-workshop survey and working hand-in-hand with RP/6 staff was critical to planning.

The agenda created for this workshop combines both analog and virtual activities in accordance with Mozilla’s learning model: learner-centered, project-based, and open-sourced. Our model emphasizes the importance of interactions and face to face activities to enhance the understanding of the web as a human platform.

The activities were specifically designed for RP/6 audience in order to learn the basics of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and GitHub while exploring web development as a professional path and the required digital skills. For this audience, having Mozilla staff who could articulate and engage in a discussion about the different information technology job opportunities other than being a developer was important.

We also adapted curriculum based on the audience. As an example Hack the News, an activity to remix a website using X-Ray Goggles, is usually done using the New York Times website but for this workshop we used the Seattle Times and the Tacoma’s News Tribune instead.

Also, the Homework Excuse Generator which works as an introduction to HTML & Thimble, was adapted as the Military Leave Excuse Generator.

Participants were able to choose one of the three options to work on Github: a resume, a bucket list or a business frontpage.

Story #4. The Learning Space

Having enough physical space equipped with Internet access and audio/visual equipment for both analogue and online activities was critical. An RP/6 board member generously donated a great space with windows at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom for the workshop.

When setting up the layout for our workshops we focus on creating a learning space where peer to peer learning is enhanced, and computers are tools alongside shared materials. We organize small group seating around tables where participants are more likely to interact with each other and focus less on the stage. This distribution helps change the perspective, promote peer collaboration, and collective thinking over individual learning.

Story #5. The Feedback and Takeaways

During the workshop the facilitators collected informal and formal feedback using different channels: online surveys, group verbalizations and individual conversations. We learned that 100% of the attendees would recommend this workshop to others.

Receiving these comments is not only rewarding to the facilitators, but also provides us with information to improve the curriculum and experience for all.

Examples of comments received from post-workshop survey:

Most valuable parts of workshop

Being able to physically do the activity while being taught, the wandering instructors (awesome peeps!) and, the group activities that gave living examples.”

“Github, Thimble, Basic Concepts of Web Literacy and being able to explain them to others.”

“The interaction with the staff, the learning speed at which you demonstrated was excellent, and the passion and energy was amazing.”

“This training opportunity was amazing. The information provided was useful and well thought out. What a great organizations to provide free training, food and computers. All the instructors brought something different to the table. This workshop has allowed me to open my mind to new career opportunities that I had not previously considered. I would recommend this training to everyone. It had the right combination of learning styles to accommodate everyone’s learning style.”

What I will do in next 6 months

“Teach others how to do this because it’s very useful in terms of computer coding and possibly even making a career out of Thimble.”

“I will teach my children what I have learned”

“I’ll be using these over the next 6 months for school. I am currently in Health Informatics Integrated Technology, and Database Management Degree plans.”

“I will be using the skill learned to develop my website, to include posting my resume online.”

Takeaways for improvement

The feedback we received will help us improve the 2-day workshop. Our takeaways include:

  • Be intentional in making the connections between the analog (i.e. Tag tag Revolution) with the relevant digital activities (Thimble project).
  • Slow, even demos win the day and give people the option to move on if they like.
  • Use GitHub for collaborative workflow, communication, and project management and provide examples.
  • Structure curriculum to build towards a larger project over the course of the workshop.
  • Incorporate demo time or a share-around for final projects that could be presented by participants at end of workshop.
  • Develop scripts for facilitators that includes common, foundational language for exercises when dividing into smaller groups.