Blog Post

Mozilla To Develop Three HASTAC-Sponsored Learning Tools

Barcelona, Spain.   November 5, 2010.   At the closing ceremony of the first international Mozilla Drumbeat Festival on "Learning, Freedom, and the Open Web," Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker announced that five projects previewed at the Festival had been selected for further development by Mozilla, including three presented at HASTAC's "Storming the Academy" tent.  Mozilla will take these projects forward from the prototype stage and for six months will feature them on the newly designed Drumbeat homepage (    Two of the HASTAC projects were proposed by one of HASTAC's founders, Professor Anne Balsamo (University of Southern California), as part of her ongoing work on the technological imagination.  The third was prototyped by students in FutureClass, the peer-led tutorial on collaboration that Professor Cathy Davidson organized at Duke University.  Five members of FutureClass accompanied Davidson and the HASTAC@Duke team to Barcelona and ran a three-day schedule of activities, demos, apps, and sessions as part of the "Storming the Academy" programming. 


During the three days of the Festival, many new tools, apps, wikis, and other projects were prototyped or worked on collaboratively and brought to fruition.   A Badge Lab was assembled from many volunteers and dedicated others to prototype badges that could gather information available publicly about a user and award a badge to the user to authenticate his or her past contributions, a way of instantly credentializing members of the open source and other contributor communities based not on external forms of credentials (such as college degrees) but on past contributions to the web.   Video Lab also prototyped a remarkable new tool that can be used to transform any video into a website, pulling in data from the web, and also translating the video content simultaneously on the page, all generated from open content on the web.   For a full list of these activities, see     For the full Storming the Academy tent schedule, visit:     HASTAC was the only organization representing the world of formal, higher education to be invited to be a community partner in this inaugural Mozilla Drumbeat event.


"We could not be more thrilled by our participation in the Drumbeat Festival," said Davidson, a cofounder of HASTAC and the principal administrative director of HASTAC's day-to-day operations, which are based at Duke University.  When Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg (of UCHRI) first began gathering together colleagues like Balsamo, Ruzena Bajcsy, Kevin Franklin, Larry Smarr, John Seely Brown, Kathy Woodward, Tara McPherson, Julie Klein, and many others across the humanities, arts, engineering, and computational sciences to begin HASTAC's mission of transforming, reforming, and "storming" the academy with lessons modeled on the open web, they looked to the Mozilla Manifesto for inspiration.  "It is truly thrilling that Mozilla not only invited HASTAC to participate in this first international festival but helped provide scholarships for some HASTAC staff and for the FutureClass students so we could serve as community partners.  The excitement, enthusiasm, and collaborative spirit across the world of educators and open source and open web developer community was ideal.  And to have three of our projects chosen by Mozilla as worthy of support--including one student-initiated project--is beyond our dreams."


HASTAC, as a network of networks, is dedicated to three intertwined goals:   creative development of new technologies for learning and research; critical thinking about the role of technology in society; and new forms of participatory peer-learning and collaboration inspired by the open web.   "We called ourselves the 'Mozilla of Higher Education' long before we had any connection with Mozilla," Davidson jokes.  "It was great to hear others using the same designation for us.  It is also exciting to be a conduit between the digital media and learning community and the open web learning communities.   Together, we are a powerful alliance and we hope we can have an impact on policy.  We all have to work to keep the Web an open learning space for humanity and the future."


HASTAC administers the annual $2 million Digital Media and Learning Competitions sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Initiative.   One aim of the Mozilla Festival was to connect the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) open web developer spirit more closely both with learning programs for young people and with formal education as well.  


The three HASTAC-sponsored projects that will receive extended developer attention from Mozilla are:


(1) Minority Voices in the Cloud/Crowd:   Anne Balsamo's work on the technological imagination stresses that many of the digital tools upon which we have come to rely heavily embody some of the hierarchical assumptions of society more generally.   In the HASTAC tent, she ran a performance and critical session called "Storming the Crowd/Cloud" to illustrate how minority opinion--fringe views, decentered views, eccentric views, unconventional views, or views by those who are not primarily in power (including feminist views or those by people of color or who are not in dominant cultures worldwide)--can be "in the fine print" rather than central in tag clouds and other ways of representing "the crowd."   With Mozilla Foundation, she will work towards developing a new way of representing minority opinion and of reminding/educating users of visualization tools of de-centralized data that emerges from their searches.


(2)   The Classroom Organizer:    In her session on "Storming the Syllabus," Balsamo posed the question of what digital tools could help those of us required to teach large two-hundred person classes to break through the normal lecture format.   She noted that she does not lecture, even in large required classes on "Introduction to Culture and Technology" but there is no current tool that allows her to rearrange a large class into small groups.  Using the slow "unconference" process during a fifty or even a hundred-minute class period is unproductive and even demoralizing, since more time is spent on organizing than on thinking and working together.  With Mozilla Foundation, she will work on a tool that almost instantaneously allows students to organize by interest-group, preference, or another specialized method in order to pursue a project or an idea in a small group setting.   


(3)  The Classroom Attention Barometer (CAB):  FutureClass at Duke University has been responding to the challenge of finding new, interactive ways of learning in a co-located classroom, including the large lecture classroom.   One method that FutureClass came up with arose from class discussions on attention and feedback.   Most feedback devices simply record thumbs up or thumbs down assessments of faculty performance, creating an antagonistic relationship rather than finding ways that those in a class can participate, along with the professor, in a meaningful experience.   FutureClass posited the idea of a device that every student could log into at the beginning of the course that would allow them to indicate moments of their most engaged and intense attention.   The professor could either have this information broadcast live or, if superimposed onto a time-stamped recording of the class, could be viewed later.   Research shows that no one pays attention to a lecture or even a performance uniformly.  Where is attention greatest?   The device could be used for real-time feedback, subsequent reshaping of a lecture, or could eventually have other components added, such as windows (also timestamped) where students could post ideas, questions, other resources, or engage in (moderated or unmoderated) social networking among themselves.   A prototype of the original CAB was developed by Sam Iglesias, a recent Duke alum who is auditing FutureClass, and Andrew First (Pratt School of Engineering, Duke, 2010), a friend, now working at Google, who is not part of the class itself.  It was previewed in the Storming the Academy tent at the Drumbeat Festival by Iglesias and Nick Bruns, a senior at Duke.  FutureClass will work with the Mozilla developers to incorporate additional features into CAB. 


Running the Storming the Academy tent at the Drumbeat Festival were Cathy Davidson (John Hope Franklin Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English at Duke), Mandy Dailey (Executive Project Manager for HASTAC and the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition), and Nancy Kimberly (Project Manager for HASTAC and the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition) plus five students from FutureClass:  Nick Bruns (Duke 2011); Robert Curtis (Duke 2012);  Jade Davis (Ph.D. student, Dept of Communications, University of North Carolina); Sam Iglesias (Duke alum, 2008 and Duke MBA, 2010); and Whitney Trettien (Ph.D. Student, Department of English, Duke). A sixth student,  Mary Caton Lingold (Ph.D. Student, Department of English, Duke), worked very hard contributing to the FutureClass success in Barcelona but was unable to accompany the group.  Other Storming the Academy sessions were run by Anne Balsamo (University of Southern California) and Trebor Scholz (New School). 


All of the Storming the Academy sessions, all of the apps and demos, and all three of the tools that Mozilla will help to develop come out of extended discussions not only of how to build tools but of the role of tools in learning and in the need to consider cultural issues in tool development.  In other words, all three exemplify core HASTAC values.   HASTAC has pledged to keep its network informed of the progress on the development of these tools and others that may grow out of this partnership dedicated to "Learning, Freedom and the Open Web."


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For anyone interested in the Mozilla Foundation's work on keeping the Web an open resource for us all, a great starting place is the Mozilla Manifesto, excerpted below:

The Mozilla Manifesto  (


Mozilla Manifesto:  Principles

  1. The Internet is an integral part of modern lifea key component in education, communication, collaboration, business, entertainment and society as a whole.
  2. The Internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible.
  3. The Internet should enrich the lives of individual human beings.
  4. Individuals' security on the Internet is fundamental and cannot be treated as optional.
  5. Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.
  6. The effectiveness of the Internet as a public resource depends upon interoperability (protocols, data formats, content), innovation and decentralized participation worldwide.
  7. Free and open source software promotes the development of the Internet as a public resource.
  8. Transparent community-based processes promote participation, accountability, and trust.
  9. Commercial involvement in the development of the Internet brings many benefits; a balance between commercial goals and public benefit is critical.
  10. Magnifying the public benefit aspects of the Internet is an important goal, worthy of time, attention and commitment.