Over the past months, we’ve done a lot of experimenting. The question we asked ourselves was: how do we sustain local efforts to teach the web?
With over 40 pioneering educators and activists the world over, we’ve been doing thoughtful tests and open reflections on this topic. Thanks to this process, the Mozilla Clubs model is coming into focus.
In this blog post, I’d like to share two strategies that are emerging and converging for clubs:
- Peer-to-peer learning communities, exemplified by P2PU
- A networked ground game, exemplified by the Obama Campaign
What is a peer learning community
In a previous post, I shared my understanding of what peer learning is:
- Learning by making. — It’s experiential, transformative. The world is your classroom and laboratory, so learn by participating, applying.
- Learning together. — It’s social, collaborative. Everyone has something to learn and something to teach. We are networked and helping each other succeed.
- Learning openly. — It uses and creates open content, open technology. And it also implements open practices. Reflect in the open and share back, so that others can build on your learning.
- Learning across difference. — It’s a rejection of assimilation. Peer learning is inclusive, participatory. Diversity matters. There are many pathways.
- Learning with a purpose. — Set a goal. Be driven by a change, whether its personal, for your neighborhood or something bigger. The process matters, so harness that power for good.
Peer learning can happen in all sorts of settings. In the Mozilla context, we typically talk about peer learning when thinking about “end learners.” For example, in a workshop or a Maker Party, the facilitator encourages participants to work together. Peer learning is a method to improve events and make them participatory.
Now, there’s another kind of peer learning. If you have a group of professionals and they are learning together, it’s called a “professional learning community” (PLC).. PLCs learn together over a longer period of time to gain professional experience and hone their craft.
PLCs are becoming a best practice in school systems. You have the school administration, teachers, and also external stakeholders learning together. They are all aligned in the PLC to improve their shared institution but also their individual, professional practice.
This isn’t just for educators. It’s a model that all kinds of peer groups can use—be they for coders, designers, architects or ballerinas.
For example, I’m on the Open Coalition mailing list, which is a group of professional “open movement” community builders from projects like Wikimedia, Creative Commons, Open Knowledge and Mozilla. We use the list to learn from and with one another. We’re an informal PLC.
The P2PU Model
For me, one of the most interesting examples of a peer/professional learning community in action is P2PU.
P2PU is a group of educators and learning activists. They are dedicated to learning about and improving their practice.
To do that, the P2PU PLC (too many acronyms!) experiment and reflect out loud. They mentor other groups as a way of deepening and sharing their best practices. They write reports that synthesize what they learned, and they run online courses to support their knowledge and experimentation even more.
What I admire about the P2PU community is that they are committed to the principles of peer learning. Openness, inclusion, making, collaborating—these are all a strong part of how they operate. We can learn a lot from them.
How peer learning applies to clubs
Educators and web activists around the world are interested in teaching web literacy. We are already connected, doing campaigns and local events and sharing what we’re doing.
Nevertheless, we could better understand ourselves as a peer learning community. We are committed to a shared cause, but we also want to improve our daily practice and hone our craft.
Laura Hilliger is thinking out loud about what this craft entails. She’s asking: how does one teach the web well? What competencies do we want to improve ourselves and to help others to be more confident with?
We can leverage peer learning—learning from each other as fellow educators and activists—to try things out together and to improve our daily practice. We can use the “make-first” approach, as Chris Lawrence describes not only in how we teach our end learners, but in how we learn together as peers.
As Mozilla Clubs gain more frequent and regular communication among each other, we can better understand ourselves as a large, open peer learning community. We can help each leader set personal learning goals. We can support each other in experimenting and reflecting in the open, and we can help each other improve our craft.
This is how I see us applying peer learning at a “professional” level—we’re testing, building and reflecting together, as a community of practice. Even how we design the clubs model is happening in this way!
With Mozilla Clubs, we can get better at being a peer learning community of open educators and web activists. In this way, participation in our community becomes valuable to each member. It also becomes a compelling reason for more people to join.
What is a ground game
The other strategy that’s coming together with clubs is a “ground game.”
In community organizing, we can understand this to be people meeting and doing things in-person, in specific places, around a shared cause.
A good ground game takes into account local context: who is organizing it, for whom, in what setting, what are the local opportunities and challenges?
We know the world is a diverse and beautiful place. And even within a single city, there are so many different local realities. A ground game must be able to adapt and be relevant to the people in the room.
And all the while, activities on the ground must tie back to something bigger than the room they are in.
To motivate and mobilize, we have to think about action at different levels. We have a global cause, which can be contextualized to a specific region or language or issue. This can also flow in the other direction, where locales inform a larger region and contribute back to a global mission.
For our community that teaches the web, we understand ourselves as participating in i) a global network and ii) a local context.
But where does this local contextualization come from? Who is responsible for understanding the global mission and adapting and interpreting it locally, as well as surfacing insights and successes from each place? This is where we can learn a lot from the Obama organizing model.
The Obama Model
In 2008 the Obama election campaign did a lot of innovative things. A group of internet-era campaigners, nicknamed The New Organizers, updated their ground game.
In an election, you want to get people to vote for your candidate. That is a very binary goal. But the path there requires a network of volunteers that can teach and mobilize millions of people towards this shared goal. That is a very different beast.
The New Organizers knew there is power in place. Local activists will always have an advantage in knowing what their community cares about, where to find them and how to speak to them. The campaign’s job was to recruit and empower these activists to do just that.
This involved two important tactics:
- A distributed volunteer leadership structure.
- Intentional on-boarding.
Central to the campaign was the ability to recognize and up-level volunteer leaders. These were people who were passionate about the cause and maybe already doing aligned actions. Through the support and on-boarding of the campaign team, they became agents of more impact.
Volunteer leaders learned how to adapt the national issues into locally relevant talking points. They could strategize for how to engage local constituents based on general patterns. And they could surface local opportunity and insights to the rest of the network.
Importantly, when the campaign was starting, the team didn’t rush to growth. Instead, they had a “slow build.”
They took their time to identify and on-board volunteer leaders. They did tests and practice events. They help workshops where volunteer leaders learned from one another and built confidence. The organizers moved slowly, expanding their community’s capacity leader by leader, so that when the campaign hit its stride, it could activate and absorb new volunteers more readily.
How the ground game applies to clubs
This “slow build” is exactly what we are doing with Mozilla Clubs.
We realize the potential in our community is with volunteer leaders—practitioners who are able to reflect on their learning and successes, as well as identify and on-board more local leaders.
By investing in a small group of volunteer leaders (“regional coordinators”), we will grow our capacity first person by person. We will have a better sense of what works at a local level, what are the resilient approaches and practices, and how our mission is understood and adapted in different contexts.
Right now, we are on-boarding the first cohort of regional coordinators. It’ll just be about 10 of us to start with. But we will build together, as a peer learning community, so that we can put the ground game in place.
Starting with a small cohort, we’ll refine the patterns and practices that sustain learning. We will see case studies of how the organizing model is made locally relevant. Globally, we will be a large peer learning community. And we’ll also have smaller, local peer learning communities connected and experimenting in a place.
Once this is ready, we can invite more people to join.
We know what success looks like
The good news is that we know what success looks like. Mozfest uses exactly this model of peer learning community + ground game.
From 25+ Space Wranglers recruiting and mentoring 500+ session facilitators, we already know what this kind of network organizing looks like for Mozilla. We just want to expand it from one event to a sustained community.
It is an experiment. We will make mistakes and learn tons. But by mashing up two important strategies—peer learning communities and a networked ground game—I think we have a very unique and exciting approach to learn and teach the web together.
Images: “Barack Obama in Onawa” by IowaPolitics.com – Barack Obama in Onawa. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons., #MozSekolahSUB by Mozilla Indonesia, Digital Learning Retreat by HiveLearningNYC, DSC_0193 by Imran476, Friday morning, MozFest’ by Knight Lab, IMG_9060 by Jessy Kate Schingler.