Weeknote 07/2017

This week I’ve been:

Next week it’s half-term in our part of the world, so I’ll be spending a good chunk of it with my family.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Weeknote 06/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Fighting off more attacks on my websites. It would seem that it’s not just this site, but the web is in a bit of turmoil at the moment. I’m not sure why, but I’ve learned a lot about securing WordPress and how .htaccess files work…
  • Replacing the back-end of my Discours.es blog with WordPress, related to the above (and the fact that Ben Werdmuller has moved on from working on Known)
  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #245 was entitled ‘The Long and Winding Road’.
  • Travelling to and from Geneva, Switzerland. As part of Safer Internet Day, I ran three 90-minute sessions for 72 students each in Years 10 and 11, and then for just over 90 in Year 12. Afterwards, I presented to, and had a bit of a chat with, around 20 members of staff. The resources I used can be found in this post.
  • Listening and advising in a critical friend role for a client. I very much enjoy these sessions, as they’re almost as beneficial for me as they are for those who pay me to help them!
  • Discussing potential work with people and organisations in Ireland, London, Gateshead, Nairobi, and Toronto.
  • Switching to Brave, a web browser created by the company headed up by ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich (you know, the guy who invented JavaScript). Firefox is almost unusable on Linux for some reason, it’s so slow. Brave is great, and cross-platform. It has lots of tracking protection and privacy features built in by default.
  • Securing sponsorship of a new offering from me and my colleagues at We Are Open. This will launch next Wednesday, so stay tuned!
  • Making final preparations for the Open:2017 conference next week.
  • Enjoying my ‘Doug day’ on Friday by going out for a walk with my wife (and a pub lunch) in the snowy hills of Northumberland. I had to squeeze in a bit of work, but most of Friday was spent outdoors, which is good.
  • Writing:

Next week, I’m working from home on Monday and Tuesday before travelling to London on Wednesday for meetings in the afternoon. I’ll then be at the Open:2017 conference on Thursday and Friday.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email me: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Safer Internet Day 2017 resources

Ironically enough, it was due to having to fix my hacked (and re-hacked) sites that has led to me posting these resources towards the end of Safer Internet Day 2017. Still, better late than never.

Today, I’ve been at the International School of Geneva, at the invitation of Richard Allaway. I ran three sessions with Years 10, 11, and 12, and then an after-school session with staff. You can find the slide decks I used below:

Many thanks to all involved — I had a great time, and some of the discussion was really thought-provoking!

Weeknote 05/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Somewhere in amongst the tsunami of links in Issue #244 was some information about privacy, productivity, and… deranged cannibal hamsters.
  • Getting confirmation of work in Calgary at the beginning of May. If everything comes off, I could have a two-week working trip that covers both east and west Canada!
  • Planning activities and input for Safer Internet Day next week. I’ll be working with staff as well as students in Years 10, 11 and 12 at an international school in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Catching up with Sheryl Grant about Open Badges, finishing her PhD, and more. She was the main author of a report that came out this week entitled Promising Practices of Open Credentials: Five Years of Progress. I’m looking forward to reading it next week!
  • Flying to Jersey to work with staff at Victoria College around digital learning. I’m delighted that they’ve been able to appoint a Head of Digital Strategy for Easter, so that was  my last trip. My final report, after working with them for six months, outlined how far we were able to shift the overall staff baseline digital competency due to some intensive training.
  • Putting together proposals for potential clients after initial 30-minute meetings.
  • Attending the Open Recognition Alliance community call, although the hotel wifi stopped working halfway through, so I had to bail…
  • Registering for the Thinking Digital conference in May. I count it as part of my CPD as I always meet interesting people and learn lots of new things.
  • Curating and sending out Badge News Issue #003 on behalf of We Are Open Co-op.
  • Agreeing to facilitate (with my co-op colleagues) more sessions at the Open:2017 conference in a couple of weeks’ time.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 74 of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast with my co-host, Dai Barnes. This episode was entitled  ‘A Safer, More Private Internet (Part 2)’ and followed up from last week’s discussion about Data Privacy Day. Next Tuesday is Safer Internet Day, so that was our main focus.
  • Sending out my monthly Dynamic Skillset newsletter. I wrote a lot of newsletters this week…
  • Restoring this blog after it was hacked sometime on Thursday. I had in place the usual precautions, but I’ve now added Wordfence after being recommended it by Reclaim Hosting (who were incredibly fast at responding to my cries for help on Twitter)
  • Writing:

Next week I’m in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday, then I’ve got a few meetings on Wednesday. On Thursday I’m planning and writing, then on Friday I’m doing anything other than work. If the weather is OK I might go up a mountain, but it’s probably still too early in the year.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Against mass consumption of ‘already certified’ credentials

I joined the Open Badges movement early. I’d just spent 27 years in formal education and, as a teacher, had seen the Procrustean manner in which it operates. It was clear that something different was needed, something more responsive to the needs of learners.

Over the past six years, at Mozilla and afterwards, I’ve watched  individuals and organisations attempt to variously: derail the Open Badges movement; extend and extinguish it; and entrench the status quo. Some of this has been deliberate, and sometimes because people literally don’t know any better.

I’ve spent time, both in my work on digital literacies and Open Badges, explaining the importance and power of local context. With the latter, we’ve got a powerful standard that allows local colour and relevance to be understood globally. And yet. People want to pick things off the shelf. They want to be told what to do. They want a recognised brand or name on it — even if they know that doing this means a less than perfect fit for learners.

In a seminal article about information literacy in the wake of the Trump election victory, Rolin Moe bemoans the way we act like sheep:

So rather than develop localized standards, with librarians and instructors working in collaboration with those seeking information, developing together shared social standards for knowledge in their community, colleges and libraries have ceded control to content publishers, who impose their hierarchical understanding of information on passive consumers, leaving institutions to only exhibit and protect the information.

Likewise, with credentialing, we’ve got a situation where even though the tools to do something radically different are available, people seem content to do as they’re told, going cap in hand to the existing powers that be. It reminds me of the early days of the Internet, when many of us were telling anyone who’d listen to us about an amazing digital network where you could publish things which were then accessible by anyone in the world. Cue stunned silence, dismissal, and inaction.

That’s not to ignore, of course, the millions of badges that have been issued by tens of thousands of people and organisations. That’s great. But what frustrates me from where I sit in Europe is our continued kowtowing to existing brands and the highly-credentialed. I actively want something better than what we’ve got now. Reinforcing that through badges doesn’t help with that.

Bizarrely, given our general rejection in the post-war era of the church and the state, what we’ve got is an unhealthy reliance on educational institutions and awarding bodies.

By and large the institutions remained fundamentally elitist, and the capacity to validate social knowledge continued through the hands of the established order… Open access to these institutions served merely to coordinate mass consumption of already certified objects, presented in what Oliver Gaycken calls a “decontextualized curiosity,” where learners are treated as users meant to view information items from an established list without understanding why or how any of it relates to the projects of building knowledge in a given discipline.” (Moe, ibid., my emphasis)

If we have a landscape full of ‘alternative credentials’ provided by the incumbents, then, I’m sad to say, this may all have been for naught. For me, Open Badges is a movement that goes beyond digitising your degree.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that formal educational institutions are adopting badges. However, apart from the Open University and perhaps Deakin University (who span out a new  business), I haven’t seen any real innovation in digital credentialing from within the system. But then, of course, institutions aren’t incentivised to do anything else but capture a larger slice of the status quo pie:

Schools and libraries are not conduits of a knowledge society, but appendages of a knowledge economy. Instead of teaching students critical thinking, they have stoked decontextualized curiosity. Rather than develop students’ wisdom and character, they have focused on making their students’ market value measurable through standardized testing.

Why, in a world that (for better or worse) is atomised and individualised, do we have standardised testing? It’s a bizarre way to worship the false god of meritocracy.

I’m not for ‘disruption innovation’ for its own sake, but I do think we need to re-capture the decentralising and democratising power of Open Badges. If you’re reading this and from an organisation (however small!) that wants to recognise and promote particular knowledge, skills, and behaviours in the world, then why not grab the bull by the horns? What are you waiting for? Do you really need ‘permission’ from those doing well out of the current world order?


At the start of the year, I started curating the bi-weekly Badge News on behalf of We Are Open Co-op. I’d assumed that I must have been missing all of the blog posts and discussions from educators about ways they were thinking about alternative credentialing. However, in the research and curation I’ve been doing for this new weekly newsletter, most articles I come across are from vendors.

Back in 2004, during my first year of teaching, I presented on how Bittorrent and decentralised technologies were going to change the way that educators collaborate and share resources. Instead, we waited until shiny silos came along, places where our attention is monetised. I hope we’re not making the same mistake again with credentialing.

I’m going to keep plugging away. I’ve always said this was a 10-year project, so I’m going to keep encouraging and enabling people until at least 2021. If you’re up for the challenge, please do get in touch. Local ecosystems of value are hard, but hugely rewarding, to create. Let’s roll our sleeves up and get to work.

Image CC BY-NC-ND  Okay Yaramanoglu

Chapter 3 of my new audiobook on productivity is now available!

I’m right in the middle of creating an audiobook entitled #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity (v2). It’s a side project that I’m aiming to have finished by mid-2017. I’m pleased to announce another chapter is now available!

Chapter 3 is concerned with the third of the three ‘pillars’ of productivity: Exercise. This chapter explains why exercise is crucial to a holistic and sustainable system of productivity. You should be able to finish listening and start implementing straight away!

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 1 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.

Buy now for £3

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)

Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

Weeknote 04/2017

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’ll be working from home on Monday and Tuesday, and then heading back to Jersey to work with Victoria College.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Experimenting with push notifications

One of the advantages of reading Hacker News regularly is being exposed to the blogs of pretty technical people. Naturally, they’re the kind of people who are likely to be the first to implement new technologies.

Recently, I came across a blog that had a pop-up from the address bar. It asked me if I’d like to turn on ‘push notifications’ for new posts. I’m used to Google Calendar, Slack, etc. asking for these kinds of permissions, but it was a first for a blog.

After a bit of investigation, it would seem that implementing this myself in a manual way would involve more than just a half-hour tinker. It was then that I came across PushCrew, a service that offers a WordPress plugin. Configuration couldn’t have been simpler.

For the last couple of weeks, visitors to this blog have seen the following notification:


So far, 29 people have opted-in. Given it’s likely the first time most visitors have seen this kind of thing, I’d expect these kinds of numbers.

Hopefully, this is a useful development for people. I’m happy to experiment with it for a while, and gain your feedback. It’s free for up to 500 subscribers, so it’s not costing me anything for the foreseeable future

To me, it’s a half-way house for people who, with the best will in the world, are never going to subscribe via RSS, don’t want blog post emails  cluttering up their inbox, and who might miss updates via social media. It’s also cross-platform, and built on web standards.

Let me know if you think this is useful (and if you’re thinking of adding it to your own blog!)

Image CC0 Frank McKenna

The Flatter Organisational Structure Of The Future

My third of three posts for The Nasstarian has now been published. Entitled The Flatter Organisational Structure Of The Future, it’s a look at organisations that do very well because of less organisational hierarchy (and bureaucracy).

Here’s an excerpt:

The three examples below are primarily from the world of technology: these are fast-moving organisations who can’t let layers of middle-management get in the way of getting a product or service to market. What I hope this overview of flatter hierarchies inspires you to do is to think carefully about your next re-organisation. Instead of shuffling the deckchairs, could you instead introduce one of these approaches?

Click here to read the post in full!

Note: I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to comment on the original post.

Weeknote 03/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Ill. Mostly over last weekend, really, but I felt pretty rough on Monday. Just a cold (I can’t pretend it was ‘flu’ given I always get my shot) but I was glad to get rid of it!
  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter. Ostensibly it’s about education, technology, and productivity, but really it’s me trying to make sense of the many and varied things I’ve ready over the past week. Issue 242 included many things, including why ‘screen time’ is a useless concept.
  • Supporting a webinar, the second of a series from We Are Open Co-op and Educators Co-op. This one was on designing an effective badging website, led by Steve Regur, with help from Laura Hilliger and me. You can catch the recording and a short write-up via this post.
  • Travelling for the first time in 2017, this time to Jersey. I’ve got plenty coming up over the next few weeks…
  • Working with staff at Victoria College on their digital strategy. The staff are lovely there, they really are.
  • Reading more of Deep Work by Cal Newport and starting Luc P. Beaudoin’s Cognitive Productivity. I’m more impressed with the former than the latter.
  • Announcing a BADGE BOOTCAMP  in London on February 15th. Spread the word!
  • Making changes to, and launching the WordPress version of, our new church website. Straightforward stuff, but just takes time.
  • Putting the final things in place around upcoming trips to Geneva and Rome with new clients.
  • Sending out Issue #002 of Badge News, a roundup of news for the Open Badges community.
  • Writing:

Next week I’m working from home, setting up my new laptop (which should arrive on Monday) and then heading to London for BETT. I’ll be there on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. If you’ll be there, send me a tweet! (@dajbelshaw)

I earn my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I, or the co-op I’m part of may be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email addresses below:

Image CC0 Tomo Nogi