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Mozilla Bigs Up ‘Digital Literacy’ at MozFest 2012

Mozilla Foundation launches new projects aiming to teach children how to code

On by Max Smolaks 0

This weekend, over a thousand open source enthusiasts descended on Ravensbourne College in London, to take part in an annual celebration of all things Mozilla.

The main focus at this year’s Mozilla Festival was on inspiring younger computer users to become creators of the Web, not just the consumers of it.

The Mozilla Foundation launched several new projects at the event, including media remixing tool Popcorn Maker, Mozilla Webmaker badge programme, and the UK Digital Makers fund, created in partnership with IT charity Nesta and the Nominet Trust – the social investment arm of UK’s domain registrar.

Doing it for the kids

Mozilla, best known for its popular Firefox browser, is a global, non-profit organisation dedicated to making the web better. And the Mozilla Festival isn’t your average conference – the focus is not so much on the speakers as on creation and collaboration, gaining new skills and setting the agenda for the year ahead.

This year, the main theme of the event was teaching young children the skills they need to participate in creating the Web applications of tomorrow. Today, learning how to code is “critical”, said Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation. He called for greater “digital literacy”, and compared its importance to numeracy and standard literacy.

According to research by YouGov, the majority of children in the UK want to learn how to write computer code and create online games, but lack the opportunities to gain the necessary skills. With this in mind, Mozilla, Nesta and the Nominet Trust have launched the Digital Makers programme - a £225,000 fund that will support projects which teach young people (ages 4-18) how to contribute to the Internet.

The fund is now open for expressions of interest from organisations and individuals who want to help inspire the next generation of Digital Makers. Applications will be accepted up until 17 January 2013.

“By equipping children and young people with the necessary skills early on, we can help them not just to use and consume digital technologies but also to create them – to be Digital Makers.  The payoff for them will not only be more opportunities for learning and fun, but also more opportunities in a jobs market where these skills will be in ever greater demand,” commented Geoff Mulgan, chief executive at Nesta.

The Webmaker badges, launched at the Festival, are part of another initiative intended to inspire young people to code. Since the weekend, users who create projects on Webmaker.org can earn digital badges, to provide a lasting record of their achievements.

As for the new applications, Mozilla Festival saw the launch of the Popcorn Maker – a free web app that enables users to borrow pieces of the Web and remix them to create new multimedia artefacts.

Essentially, Popcorn Maker helps users add live content such as maps, Wikipedia pages, SoundCloud files or Twitter feeds to any video, transforming it into a new kind of interactive media. Is already being used by professional video producers around the world, and could pave the way for new, experimental forms of content.

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Max Smolaks
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