The first week of Ascend has been a flood of information, and we’re learning as we go, but there’s a lot of catching up to do!

We’re each creatively multitasking to make contributions while learning different aspects of programming.

What’s great about the Ascend Project is that we’re all taking in the energy of the space, solving problems as they arise, asking questions, and taking care of business, as individuals and as a team. We are students. We are teachers. We are innovators. We are cheerleaders. We are friends. As Mozillians, we can fulfill each of these roles, and more! We can plan our goals, equip ourselves with the tools to succeed, and carry onward with the thoughtful support of our team.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a jam-packed schedule as I do with Ascend. I’ve become accustomed to independent projects, and my schedule has always been flexible. Making the 9 to 5 schedule each day has made me feel a little more sleep-deprived, but every time I walk to the office, I feel a rush of inspiration about the new day. In one short week, I have learned so much, and each day brings new challenge with new hope.

So far, I’ve learned how to use Vim, debugged the Evil Snowperson’s photo theft, explored the command line prompts, researched various topics for presentations, explored Mozilla’s latest innovations, solved problems with my classmates, contributed to the Etherpad, participated in several teaching moments, identified some bugs, and started designing an HTML page with Webmaker’s Thimble! Here’s the draft of my page (which I’ll need to improve when I can).

On Friday this week, we had an amazing Maker Party, where we paired up and researched resources from Mozilla Webmaker to teach back to the class.

Candida and I were tasked with exploring web navigation, and we were both quite intrigued by the concept of Filter Bubbles. Our curiosity about online tracking and “user customization” facilitated an amazing project where we deconstructed how websites often filter their feedback to the user, based on what the user has already done in the browser.

We asked everyone to use the same search engine and search for the same terms, and we found out that different people saw different search results!

When you type a search into a search engine like Google, the results you see will often be narrowed and focused based on your geographic location, other websites you have visited, and certain efforts made by companies to prioritize their search results over other results. It turns out that companies pay a lot of money to improve their chances of being near the top of the list in a search engine!

However, we discovered many ways for users to customize their settings so that they can see exactly what their connection is doing, and so that websites cannot track them. Several Ascenders presenting in our Maker Party (Thank you, Jessica, Peri, and Sofie!) encouraged us to utilize resources like the Mozilla Lightbeam add-on, The Tor Project, and private browsing.

When Candida and I presented to the group, I really appreciated that our talk about “escaping the filter bubble” related so well to the wisdom shared by our classmates in their presentations. We also had a wonderfully enriching discussion about net neutrality and writing to Congress!

During our presentation, a question arose: “Why would someone want to escape the filter bubble and see the web without customization?” Candida shared her compelling wisdom about how important it is to be aware of the impacts of our online activities, and how corporations respond to what we do online. There’s a lot of money, privilege, politics, and power involved, but it’s up to us to be informed about the outcomes of our decisions. Thank you, Candida! Your words continue to inspire us!

The internet is a vast, open resource, full of so much knowledge and wonder! When we can browse as independent users without the invisible restrictions imposed upon us by third parties, the doors to learning are wide open. That’s what open source education is all about!

If you’re looking for a search engine that doesn’t track you, try DuckDuckGo.com for more privacy!

Eli Pariser has also created a very helpful set of resources for escaping the filter bubble!