Dispatches from #Mozfest

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From Armando Somoza, Director of The Academy at UAP
My first experience at #MozFest was a fascinating first encounter with an “Open Conference” model.  Unknowingly, I have been groomed to believe the “conference” experience should be one with sessions with defined beginning and end times, structured discourse around predetermined topics, and clear workshop agendas. My entire world turned inside out!  #MozFest defined a new paradigm of gathering people to have powerful discourse about important topics that are sourced from those participating in the community.  At first take, I felt excluded and lost.  I had no idea what “Tracks” or “Space Wranglers” were, and I felt like I was missing valuable opportunities to learn and contribute to great conversations.  I wandered around to various spaces eavesdropping and glancing over shoulders.  I joked with a few other first time MozFest participants that it felt like I was invited to a house party where other participants were actively dancing to music they all knew and were sharing in festive exchanges, but that I was standing in the kitchen trying to find my “in.”  I had difficulty finding my entry point and then it all changed.
The catalyst for the shift was ignited on Saturday when we hosted our office hour session called “Hacking the NYC Dept of Ed with the Arts.”  We wrote out our title on a large post-it and waited to welcome conversation.  At first we couldn”t find a place to meet and nobody was stopping by to engage in conversation. Then Rafi Santo stopped by…ka”boom!  The 2hr conversation that followed, through the span of 4 floors in Ravenbourne, took us through topics including Hive”s vision on creating a collective impact space to maximize efforts between organizations to bring about real change, celebrating shared experiences and building trust between organizations, Marx, negotiating the real challenges of the “Digital Divide” and strategies on serving students from under-represented communities…and much more. I was starting to hear my “music” play at the party!

Sunday was the most powerful experience. We gathered in groups to discuss Hive”s five-year plan and vision statement: “We imagine a time when connected learning is ubiquitous in Hive cities across the globe, empowering educators and unlocking opportunities for all youth.”  Hive”s four goal realms are: Mobilize, Create, casino online Catalyze, and Grow.  I met with an awesome group at the Catalyze table.  We began with general conversation around partnerships and then we went for a ride.  Through collective visioning, the sharing of core values, and an enthusiastic investment in the community we share, we began to envision of introduction of critical discourse around race, gender, class, sexuality, etc to supplement the amazing work already happening at MozFest. We titled our concept #codeswitchdigital and the idea of proposing a new track in MozFest took life.  More importantly, I created great friendships with colleagues from various backgrounds and roles in the MozFest community.  It felt like the DJ at the house party finally introduced a playlist full of all my jams and it allowed for more people to come out of the woodwork!

The epiphany hit in the moment of wrapping our conversation that MozFest not only embraces its core values, but intentionally models them for all of those who participate.  I was inspired to see the philosophy of “working open” held with integrity, honored as foundational pedagogy, and valued as an authentic approach to gathering talented and passionate people.  I learned that MozFest creates open space where passionate minds gather to engage in powerful discourse, hack technical solutions, and define the future of the field.  #Awesome.