Further Down The Road: Testing Mozilla’s New Web Literacy Activities

photo by Davis Erin Anderson

My colleague Molly Schwartz and I kicked off a new series of Web Literacy trainings at METRO last week. As part of our grant with Mozilla Foundation, we pilot-tested a new round of activities to help learners better understand the ways in which the environment of the web impacts the information we ask for and receive. We also tested a new badging platform as part of this work.

What follows is a short conversation Molly and I had regarding our work together on this second training. Check out our thoughts on our first training.

Davis: Hey hey, Molly! Earlier this week, we hosted our second New Web Literacy Tools for Learners workshop. This time, we focused on writing the web.

Molly: …which means it was time to dive into the tags and tools we use to display content on web browsers. We focused on the basics of HTML, CSS, and content management systems. We built on the lessons we covered in the first session about “reading the web” and focused on how people can put their ideas out there for others to access and share.

Davis: Yep. I think this felt like a pretty big departure from what we covered in the first part of this series, which described how the internet works as a system. Clients, routers, modems, cables…. the whole shebang. For one thing, no coding was required.

We started this week’s workshop with a spectrogram so that we could both evaluate how our participants viewed coding as a web literacy skill, as well as how comfortable they felt writing or understanding an html document. We also asked their level of comfort with CSS and content management systems. As predicted, we had a nicely mixed group, when it came to experience levels with these concepts.

Molly: Then, especially because we wanted the lessons of this session to extend beyond HTML and CSS, we moved into Tagging 101. We went through a few activities that demonstrated how content has to be tagged, with opening and closing tags, so that web browsers know how to display it. This is a fundamental concept for building web pages in HTML and CSS, but it also applies to Python, Ruby, Javascript, or anything else people might be curious to go on and explore.

Then we had our first badging question. Unfortunately that took up way more time than anticipated. The system hasn’t been very intuitive for our participants.

Davis: It’s true — and I remain flummoxed by the process of getting learners set up to earn badges. The login process has yet to go smoothly. The time we took to get everyone set to earn their first task ate into our break and set us behind overall.

I also learned that it’s not possible to provide html snippets via the text field in the badging system, so that was a course correction right there. We asked our learners to take screen captures and submit photo evidence. I think that was a good pivot, but that was another time suck.

Molly: Yeah, that was really resourceful of you! And I think people enjoyed doing screen grabs of their code.

Since the badging ended up going a little long, we cut down on part of the Building Basic Web Pages exercise. In this session we were going to have participants interview each other and work in pairs to create an “About” page for their personal website. We just had people write their own stories, but the cool thing was that they seemed really eager to mark up their content in HTML and see what it looks like displayed in a browser. We ended up using the “Try It” tool on the w3c schools websites, which was great because people got the immediate satisfaction of seeing their HTML markup rendered on the page. I had a little trouble explaining how FTP (file transfer protocol) works and how people could post their HTML files in the future. This is something it would be cool to iron out and create an exercise around in the future.

Davis: I was struck by how deep our participants wanted to get in their html skills! As soon as they had a chance to try it for themselves, they had a lot of questions about marking up their biographies. I thought that was a great sign.

Molly: I noticed that people were pairing off and working together. I was really encouraged by how people with more HTML experience were helping out people who were just getting started, but everyone seemed engaged. It reminded me how fun it can be to learn to code! All our participants needed was an introduction and some tools, and they were off. Then there was more badging and your final session on databases and CSS — basically the other elements of web pages that make them work at scale.

Davis: So things were a little rocky with the badges, but I thought your activities went really well. We decided to cap the session off with a new activity called Web Builders, which was very hands-on. If I had to go back and do this again, I might plan a few more presentations within the activity. I think it would have been helpful to present more on how databases, html files, css files, and code work together to produce large scale websites. I think I’ll go back again and figure out which concepts are best done in groups with worksheets and which might be better as presentations.

I am reminding myself that trying new things is often a risk. It’s a cliche, but: nothing ventured, nothing gained. That is definitely my story for this week! I’m looking forward to part 3 on Tuesday, when we test out the new Safety First! lesson plan. I can’t wait to see how that goes!

Read our experience teaching part 1 and part 3 of this workshop. Slides for all three workshops are available at the link.

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Davis Erin Anderson

Davis Erin Anderson

program manager at @mnylc

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