One week after Open Education 2010 conference and the Drumbeat Festival both wrapped up in Barcelona and I’ve finally cleaned off my desk enough to write about it, just in time to discuss some negative comments that are going around.
I had a lot of fun at the Drumbeat festival. I met a lot of interesting people, showed my work to many interested people, and the “festival” structure of the event (part-conference, part-un-conference, and part-makerfaire) encouraged a lot of mixing and interaction I would not have experienced at a traditional conference where I would have been sitting with other wiki people getting past the narcissism of small differences all too common to such highly-focused gatherings.
There has been some talk over the past week about all the things the conference was not. It was not a pure un-conference open to all, it was not multilingual, it was not a revolution. I understand the disappointment that gives rise to these criticisms. The intersection between education and technology can be both an exciting and a depressing place to work.
Technology is rapidly changing how we communicate and store information but institutions in general, and educational ones in particular are slow to change and even slower to re-engineer their basic principles of operation to incorporate outside changes. No conference was going to resolve this systematic tension, nor would it have been wise to pretend to solve it by excluding everyone with money or everyone with business-friendly leanings.
What Mozilla did instead was facilitate a discussion between parts of the community that don’t often come into contact with each other. While the Open Education conference held earlier in the week had a number of interesting talks, I did not meet the wide spectrum of people there that I did during the Drumbeat festival. This was a hugely useful to me in my work. I got lots of different perspectives on what I’m doing, learned a lot about what else is going on in the field, and made some great connections for future collaboration.
Would I have liked more of a multilingual focus? Sure! I run a language instruction non-profit, and spent the opening night of the conference showing everyone how easy it is to make Catalan lessons. I’d love for people to focus on language all the time. But I respect how hard it was just to get everyone into the same space and get everyone excited about working together.
More than anything, that is what I see Mozilla Drumbeat doing. They pull us together, they get us moving, they beat the drum. It is even in the name! It is great work and work that Mozilla is uniquely positioned to do.
Everyone seems to agree that lots of great people went to the festival and everyone had some great interactions there. To me those are signs Mozilla is doing their job well and making these productive meetings of cultures more commonplace. Getting us together is what drummers are for and you can’t blame them for the structural tensions that cause us to have different viewpoints and priorities when we get there.