Mozilla Webmaker Part 1: Easily Teach (and Learn) Web Skills

Image courtesy of Flickr user Joe Mabel.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Joe Mabel.

Mozilla, the software community that produces free Web browser Firefox, has a useful new website, Mozilla Webmaker. It has a collection of tools and resources, including an entire section geared towards teaching. Users of the site can create their own projects and post them on the site, remix existing projects, or are free to simply use existing projects. In this post, part one of my Mozilla Webmaker series, I’ll explain why you might want to think about assigning a Web-based project that involves coding or other content creation skills, and explain why Mozilla Webmaker is a great option for instructors. Stay tuned for the second and third posts, about Webmaker’s Web learning tools available, and how to use available projects and how to make your own.

Why Assign a Non-WordPress Web Project?

WordPress logoAcademic Technology Blog contributor Evan Cordulack wrote at length on the reasons why you might want to assign a Web-based assignment. Non-WordPress projects have students learning the basics of programming and content production instead of the skills learned via a CMS-based (content management system) project like a course blog. Evan identifies the drawbacks of a CMS assignment in this post — the gist is that they limit the amount of creativity that you need in order to make something with the Web.

The CMS makes a lot of decisions for you, via design, appearance, and form of a site — which is part of why WordPress is such a useful tool. However, using WordPress for course projects means that both faculty and students tend to know and learn a lot less about how the Web works, and less about the decisions that go into making a website.

Another post of Evan’s about this topic covers the reasons for re-thinking the CMS-based assignment, and offers some ideas for how to think through the kind of Web assignment that you might want to include in a course. If you’re interested in having students produce Web content, keep in mind that the CMS assignment limits the ways that you can teach students how to understand content. Content isn’t just a collection of images, videos, and text, but is also very much about more subtle design elements — the way that those elements appear on the screen, typefaces and fonts, and the orientation of your elements. These latter things are controlled fairly strictly by W&M’s WordPress installation.

Ultimately, the CMS-based assignments probably make for a more visually appealing final project, but that polished look comes at a price.

Enter Mozilla Webmaker as a Web-Learning Resources

Evan’s last post in his series about Web-based projects offers some alternatives to the CMS-based assignment, like using existing javascript libraries and other feature-based projects, as opposed to entire sites or archives. If you don’t know what a javascript library is, that’s okay. The point is that it does often take some extra knowledge and time to think up and follow through on this kind of student project.

However, as we all know, Web-based technologies develop very quickly.  Even since Evan published those posts on our blog less than a year ago, there are some new tools and resources available that can help out. Mozilla Webmaker is one such collection of tools and resources.

Webmaker is designed to not only teach students, but to teach educators technology skills as well. Many of the projects available require no special knowledge of the Web in order to teach them, but you’ll learn along with your students. Mozilla’s objective with this resource is to help instructors as well as students improve their digital literacy. I think that this is an excellent point of view, as some faculty and instructors (sometimes myself included) are hesitant to use new technology in the classroom, and a big hindrance to teaching Web skills or more demanding Web projects is a perceived lack of those skills.

For Next Time…Webmaker Tools and Projects

The next two posts in this series cover Webmaker’s tools and the projects available on the Webmaker website. All tools and projects are available for free via Mozilla.

About Kim Mann

Kim Mann is the editor and a writer for the Academic Technology Blog. She earned her BA in English from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her MA in American Studies from William & Mary in 2009, and her PhD in American Studies at the College in 2014. Her research is on technology, the interface, and the body in mid-twentieth century science fiction.