July 23, 2012
Listening to a Mozillian

On Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting a local Mozillian (a Mozilla community member) in my home city. I live in Victoria, BC, which is home to a small but passionate tech community. Despite this, I often feel like where I live and what I do are often very separate. So it was with a lot of pleasure that I met with Emma Irwin for lunch to debrief on the #Mozparty event she ran this summer. Emma lives in Sooke, which is near Victoria, but commutes in for her job. We ended up covering a lot of ground, and also discussed her plans to hold a popcorn event this fall (yay!) and about how to build the Webmaker community generally.

I should also say that Emma is a Mozilla Rep (or Remo). The Mozilla reps program “‚Ķprovides a simple framework and a specific set of tools to help Mozillians to organize and/or attend events, recruit and mentor new contributors, document and share activities, and support their local communities better.” This was a learning experience for me - I’ve had the pleasure of knowing some Mozilla reps from previous Mozilla events, but this was the first time I was meeting another Mozillian “in the wild” so to speak. I wasn’t at an event, I wasn’t at an office, I was privileged to speak with someone who was volunteering their valuable time towards the same mission that I’m employed to serve. Emma is a busy mother, with a full time job, who has volunteered for many other causes, and was choosing to spend an increasing amount of time with the WebMaker initiative. Listening was important here :)

My colleague Benjamin Simon had created a simple form and asked me and my co-workers to poll people who had hosted events. Emma had a blast running her event - she had a few great volunteers help her - their blogs are pretty great testaments to the fun and learning that participants got out of these events. She also had a lot of suggestions of how things can get better.

Here is what Emma had to say:

How did she see her webmaking experience level before the event? Emma has been a developer for about 12 years, so she has a very advanced level of web literacy. She is also frequent volunteer and community organizer. She works for Royal Roads University as a developer - she isn’t an instructor but has many colleagues who are. Royal Roads offers a lot of distance learning so the subject matter is in the air she breathes. Note: I think we could tweak this section of our survey to better indicate how people self identify - an instructor, developer, artists, etc.

How helpful did they feel our projects/tools were (or did they use something else)?
Very helpful - Emma had been following the Hackasaurus project before it was folded into the webmaker initiative, so was familiar with X Ray Goggles and based her event around that. She used this as a starting point, and moved to Thimble afterwards

Did they feel like their guests learned very much?
Yes - Emma felt everyone learned quite a bit.

What could be improved with materials/explanations/tutorials?
X-Ray Goggles:
The decision to remove the publishing functionality from X-Ray Goggles for the summer campaign was hard on Emma’s event. They simply weren’t prepared for it, so had to scramble a bit to explain to their kids. The reasons why were understood, but hadn’t been well communicated.

Emma reported that almost everyone felt the tooltips were too close to the mouse - they confused the kids. She felt they should be in one place - almost all kids struggled with this.

She also felt there were way too many comments in the projects. They didn’t make sense to her learners - they were too meta and the number of them distracted her impatient participants (who were 9-14 years old).

The different methods that webmaker.org and Thimble displayed projects was also confusing, and sometimes took away from the event. Since projects were only sorted by difficulty within webmaker.org, she found herself accidentally asking a kid to do a project out of their league. All kids love Zombies but that particular task was actually hard. They were moving fast and would have rather been troubleshooting something else.

What could be improved with materials/explanations/tutorials?
Emma found the reference material she found on P2PU helpful, but that it was bit “scattered”.

What could be improved with the event platform?
Emma had already filed a bunch of bugs on the event platform (note: I tried to find Emma’s bugs on Bugzilla and the Webmakers issue tracker and couldn’t - makes me wonder where she filed them and suspect our process for that could be much better). She could not, and still doesn’t think she knows how to, edit an event she has submitted. update:As Emma notes, she filed her bugs here, and it looks like they were quickly fixed. She didn’t know this, though, so seems there is some disconnect there.

Anything else?
A few other very helpful insights I gleaned from this rock star contributor:

Emma told me that #1 challenge to hosting the event was explaining it to people. Whether it is explaining “hacking” to explaining the nomenclature of the events, ie a “kitchen table is this. A pop up is that”, to webmaking generally - every single step of the process involves an explanation. We should try, when we can, to just use plain speak. Emma has been working through these issues on her blog.

Emma led with the XRay goggles - and based on some slides that the Hackasaurus team had published, she remixed these for her local event. See her remixed slides here. This gave her a way to spin the event to her local context, her volunteers, etc. She had confidence rolling into the event because she had actually taught with the XRay Goggles before and had given a lot of thought as to the best way to explain them.

Emma had actually taught with the XRay Goggles in schools - it struck me that this was a great event type - the school visit. She shows up with her laptop, gives some fun slides, and they hack for a bit. Though she reported principals and other teachers being uncomfortable with allowing her into a classroom to teach kids how to hack…

Something notable she reported is that when she described her job (a programmer) lots of kids lit up and asked how they could do that. Emma is obviously proud of her work and enjoys it, and this resulted in the kids showing an interest in that as a career. She has anecdotal reporting that the kids were doing the activities at home.

Finally, one thing Emma noticed was that her age range was too broad - she had kids from 9-14, and found that the younger ages trailed off at one point or another during the day. She’d have closer age ranges, such as 11-13, for next time.

Speaking of next time - I’m pretty excited that Emma has another event coming up, this time using Popcorn. Luckily I’ll be able to attend, so if you are like Emma and I and live in the Victoria area, please come by!

5:13pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZZWBQyPyUBSX
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