Happy Holidays!

New revised version, love to get your take, and thanks again for everyone’s fabulous comments so far. They have been extremely helpful.

Barcelona, Fall 2010:
Learning and the Web. Two powerful forces of change converge in a public square. Their dimensions are unpredictable, and many of the outcomes of their convergence will be unintended, but this experiment is not entirely uncontrolled. Like Doc and Marty McFly in Back to the Future, the team has calculated the likely conditions, wired in all the right connections. When lightning strikes, we’ll be ready.
Learning: The natural process of acquiring knowledge and mastery.

Change rumbles like a seismic wave from the basements of the ivory tower, and the schoolhouse down your block. The demand for access to both existing and new models of learning is rising as uncontrollably as the average temperature throughout the globe. The traditional educational ecosystem is edging toward collapse. Fifty million university students in 2000 will grow to 250 million by 2025. The graph of educational costs is a hockey stick–headed straight up. Four hundred million children around the world have no access to school at all. No country in the world has a plan to fix this.
Meanwhile, informal learning–the kind we do all day every day, as long as our eyes are open and we’re not in school–is going through a Cambrian explosion in hackerspaces, libraries, museums, basements and garages all over the world. “How to” is one of the top searches on Google. YouTube hosts millions of videos that can teach you to deliver a baby or solve a Rubik’s cube. An entire generation of Web geeks is functioning more or less self-taught, because traditional curricula can’t keep up with the skills they need.
Which brings us to the second vector, arcing overhead–an invisible mesh of electrical signals that connect the people in this square to each other and to the world. Otherwise known as the web.

The Web: a system of languages, standards, and practices held in common that allow people to invent, access, connect, and bend things in the digital world.

Since its birth 25 years ago in a nuclear research lab in Switzerland, the web has grown beyond the grasp of the most hyperbolic metaphor and the expectations of the most rabid futurist (not that they don’t try). It’s more than fulfilled the promise that Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Caillou wrote in introducing their creation: “The World-Wide Web was developed to be a pool of human knowledge, and human culture, which would allow collaborators in remote sites to share their ideas and all aspects of a common project.” Today, 240 million unique sites are accessed by 1.75 billion people around the world; 35 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, the most popular video site, every minute. The creation of wealth, beauty and human connection is ongoing on an unprecedented scale.

As more and more of us live, work, create, socialize, shop, bank, and, yes, learn online, the web gets stronger. Today the architects of the web are increasingly drawing the parameters of private and public life, and often for corporate profit rather than public benefit. The very principle that makes the web so vast and so powerful–the open structure, held in common, that allows anyone to access and contribute–is under threat as never before. The response is to assert our freedom.

Freedom: the intellectual, creative, political, or economic ability to access, create and remix knowledge–basic to learning, and the basis of the web.

Beyond the realm of hackers, programmers and developers, who are the natural allies of this kind of freedom? Who else believes in openness, innovation, sharing, remixing, participation by all? Who can be convinced to fight for it?
There are many possible answers to that question: journalists, artists, filmmakers, political activists. But the decision to start the Drumbeat by rallying the avant-garde of teachers and learners was by no means arbitrary. There is alchemy in the meanings and meetings of Learning, Freedom, and the Web.
LearningXFreedom: Education is civilization. Human culture can neither perpetuate or evolve without it. “Learning” is education plus freedom. It challenges authority by putting the learner first. Result: accelerated evolution.

FreedomXWeb: The Web requires freedom: transparent, remixable, innovative, accountable, public domain. View Source means you can see how it’s made and get your hands dirty fixing it.

WebXLearning: Their fundamental shared missions: To connect people across time, place, all barriers; to make available all human knowledge.

LearningXFreedomXWeb Learning gets more agile, more active, more participatory, more like the web. The web discovers its public mission and its place in human history. Everyone gets to invent their own end to the story.
Beautiful future(s), but a lot of hard work. Which is fortunate, because working and creating together is, generally speaking, the best way to form relationships, to build communities, and even to learn.

So here’s the complete Drumbeat formula for catching lightning: throw together educators and techies, both committed to innovation in the public interest; guzzle coffee, snarf tapas, chat and make friends; but also actually make stuff using open-source technology. The design brief is to develop new tools and practices that can supplement, optimize, and/or replace the traditional trappings of the education system, from diplomas and textbooks to lectures and lesson plans–the better to serve learners’ needs for learning, socialization, and accreditation in open-source fashion. And amidst the code sprints, why not write a wish list too: What tools remain to be developed to allow learners of all ages to form the questions that are most salient to them, find the answers they need, build skills, and present themselves for a community’s stamp of approval? What allies and teams need to be formed to make these things happen?

And thus, if successful, the agenda of two days becomes the manifest of a much greater voyage: A call for all those who care to spread Webcraft literacy, to learn by making stuff together, to keep the Web free by making it ourselves, to shape society through more democratic design, to pull learning out of the 15th or 19th century and into the 21st, to find strength in diversity, and to think critically about–and tell joyful stories about–all this doing and building and learning and making and sharing, the better to get more people involved.
So lightning struck the clock tower, two worldviews faced each other in a public square, and Drumbeat was born.
Or in the opening-night words of Mark Surman, director of Mozilla Foundation and Drumbeat’s visionary, as he shouted over the crowd, cheeks shining with sweat, in the high, echoey atrium of Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art, “The future of the web and future of learning are intertwining. People here are creating that future.”

2 Responses to “Revised: Intro to Drumbeat Book”

  1. Jade says:

    I love the quote from Mark! It is perfect.

    Like Doc and Marty McFly — This seems a bit out of place
    “Change rumbles like a seismic wave” — this automatically made me thing of “seesmic” since it is related to the web but that might just be me.

    It is information heavy, which is a good thing. However, it might be helpful to have something that unifies it. Right now it still feels a little bit disjointed. I love the last paragraph. I don’t know if it would be possible but if you could weave the imagery you have of a voyage and a storm (the lightening striking) throughout, it might make the narrative a bit more cohesive and bring it all together.

    Example: Say voyage and storm get introduced in the opening paragraph.

    Then when you get here: “Everyone gets to invent their own end to the story.” could be something like “Everyone gets to create their destination” (but something better than that, obviously).

    I’m excited to see everything once it’s together. Keep it up! :D

  2. Bryce says:

    Excellent essay. I’m really looking forward to this next book. What are your plans for it? You know, release date, formats, publisher, audience, whatnot.

    A few minor quibbles.

    1) “Informal learning” can happen at school. In fact I suspect that it’s as much a part of education as the actual curricula.

    2) I’m not sure about your use of the word “vector”. It seems to be used as a synonym for force, which isn’t correct. “Vector” describes anything with both magnitude and direction.

    3) “Otherwise known as the Web” is a sentence fragment, but the bigger problem is that, as a dramatic reveal, it feels a bit forced.

    4) It might help to add a bit of context. That is, I don’t see a place where “Drumbeat” is explained to be an open technology conference. I’d also like to see the relationship between concept:”Drumbeat” and concept:”Learning, Freedom, and the Web” made explicit.

    Hope that’s helpful.

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