Category: Education (page 4 of 55)

Does Open Education and the Open Web need ‘defending’?

Over in the Mozilla Webmaker Google+ community it’s the final day of our online discussion as part of Open Education Week. Today’s prompt asks: Do we need to protect the Open Web and Open Education? If so, who or what from? How do we do that?

My short answer to this would be yes we do need to protect Open Education and the Open Web. We need to protect them from commercial, proprietary providers looking to profit from creating silos. How do we do that? I’d argue by innovating in ways that are different from those looking to make a quick buck.

It’s obvious, but worth stating: I’ve no problem with people charging for services. The issue is more to do with the overall landscape. If all you’ve got is shiny silos from which to choose, it’s a frustrating pseudo-choice. Openness proposes and provides a different way to do things than following the logic of the market.

The problem is that ‘Open’ is an ambiguous term and seems to have become the latest fad. Martin Weller points out that in many ways ‘Open’ is the new ‘green’:

The old “open vs. proprietary” debate is over and open won. As IT infrastructure moves to the cloud, openness is not just a priority for source code but for standards and APIs as well. Almost every vendor in the IT market now wants to position its products as “open.” Vendors that don’t have an open source product instead emphasize having a product that uses “open standards” or has an “open API.

As Audrey Watters has eloquently stated, the fight is now who gets to decide what counts:

This battle involves the ongoing struggle to define “what is open.” It involves the narratives that dominate education – “education is broken” and “disruption is inevitable,” for example – and the “solutions” that “open” purports to offer. It involves a response to the growth of corporate ecosystems and commercial enclosures, built with open source technologies and open data initiatives. And all of this, I would argue, must involve politics for which we shouldn’t let “open” be an easy substitute.

As the term ‘MOOC’ (Massive Online Open Course) has shown, you can’t have it both ways: if a term includes enough ambiguity and flexibility to be widely adopted, then those who originally defined it no longer have control over the definition. It’s out in the wild. Like a virus, the definition mutates over time.

It’s not the word ‘Open’ we need to protect, it’s the spirit behind it. We’re fighting a losing battle if we expect a word to mean the same thing for all eternity. Instead, as a community we should create, sustain and release new terms to help shed light on the things we believe to be important and hold dear.

Finally, as Audrey reminds us in the quotation above, to align yourself with an agenda of Openness is a political statement. As such we should be prepared to get our hands dirty and fight for what we believe.

Image CC BY-NC-SA John Carleton

What does working openly on the web mean in practice? [UK Web Focus]

It’s Open Education Week. In addition to facilitating a discussion on behalf of Mozilla, I’ve got a guest post on Brian Kelly’s blog entitled What Does Working Openly on the Web Mean in Practice?

Here’s a preview:

Working open is not only in Mozilla’s DNA but leads to huge benefits for the project more broadly. While Mozilla has hundreds of paid contributors, they have tens of thousands of volunteer contributors — all working together to keep the web open and as a platform for innovation. Working open means Mozilla can draw on talent no matter where in the world someone happens to live. It means people with what Clay Shirky would call cognitive surplus can contribute as much or as little free time and labour to projects as they wish. Importantly, it also leads to a level of trust that users can have in Mozilla’s products. Not only can they inspect the source code used to build the product, but actually participate in discussions about its development.

Go and read the post in full. I’d be interested in your comments (over there – I’ve closed them here to encourage you!) 🙂


Bonus: The web is 25! Remix this


Image CC BY-NC Glen Scott

On the link between Open Education and the Open Web

I’m currently moderating a discussion as part of Open Education Week on behalf of Mozilla. In today’s discussion prompt I asked:

What do you see as the link between Open Education and the Open Web? Does the former depend on the latter?

It’s a question that depends on several things, not least your definition of the two terms under consideration. Yesterday, in answer to the first discussion prompt, I used Mozilla Thimble to make this:

Open Education means collaborating, sharing and working in ways that benefit students and fellow educators.

The above would be my current (brief) definition of Open Education. But what about the Open Web? Here I’m going to lean on Mark Surman’s definition from 2010:

Open web = freedom, participation, decentralization and generativity.

That last word, ‘generativity’ is an interesting one. Here’s part of the definition from Wikipedia:

Generativity in essence describes a self-contained system from which its user draws an independent ability to create, generate, or produce new content unique to that system without additional help or input from the system’s original creators.

As an educator, I believe that the role of teachers is to make themselves progressively redundant. That is to say, the learner should take on more and more responsibility for their own learning. Both teachers and learners can work together within an Open Educational Ecosystem (OEE) that is more than the sum of its parts.

The more I think about it, this is how the Open Web is similar to Open Education. Both are trying to participate in a generative ecosystem benefitting humankind. It’s about busting silos. It’s about collaborating and sharing.

Does Open Education depend upon the Open Web? No, I wouldn’t say it that strongly. Open Education can happen without technology; you can share ideas and resources without the web. However, the Open Web significantly accelerates the kind of sharing and collaboration that can happen within an OEE. In other words, the Open Web serves as a significant catalyst for Open Education.

What do you think? What’s the relationship between Open Education and the Open Web?

Join the discussion!

Open Education and the Open Web (#openeducationwk)

This week is Open Education Week 2014:

Open Education Week is a series of events to increase awareness of open education movement. The third annual Open Education Week takes place from March 10-15, both online and offline around the world. Through the events and resources, we hope to reach out to more people to demonstrate what kind of opportunities open education has created and what we have to look forward to.

Mozilla is playing a role, through a week-long online discussion entitled Open Education and the Open Web. There’ll be a new question to prompt conversation each day in our Google+ Webmaker community.

What does it mean to participate on the open web? How can we encourage others to take agency over the opportunities the open web provides? This discussion led by Mozilla’s Doug Belshaw will explore the participatory culture of the web, why it matters, and what we can do to protect and cultivate it.

Today’s prompt is simple. We’re just asking people to introduce themselves and respond as to what ‘open education’ looks like in their context.

You should join us. It’s totally fine to dip in and dip out. Take the first step:

Click here to join the Mozilla Webmaker Google+ community

Image CC BY mozillaeu

Re-imagining the Where, When, and How of Educational Practice [DMLcentral]

My latest post for DMLcentral is up. Entitled Re-imagining the Where, When, and How of Educational Practice, it’s an attempt to cover briefly three topics:

  1. The role of money in education
  2. ‘Disruptive’ innovation
  3. The DML conference 2014

I think my favourite paragraph is this one:

The priority here in education, formal or informal, should be upon facilitating learning, not finding ways to use the latest technology that comes along. While there’s an undoubted thrill in, for example, finding ways to use something like Google Glass, we as educators shouldn’t feel pressure to do so merely because it exists. We should focus on creating learning environments that integrate technology use, not throw the baby out with the bathwater in the name of ‘disruption.’ Education isn’t broken, it’s just being systematically defunded in order to let private providers ‘save the day.’

I’d really appreciate your comments – whether you agree with what I’ve got to say or not. I’ve closed them here to encourage you to comment on the original post.

Image CC BY The Knowles Gallery

Where I’ll be at BETT (#bett2014)

After a few years of absence, I’ll be at BETT again this year. I’m arriving at lunchtime on Thursday and speaking three times on Friday. However, given my busy schedule over the coming weeks, I can’t stay for the (usually excellent) TeachMeet on the Friday evening.

Where I’ll be and when on Friday (24th January 2014):

If you want to say hello, ping me on Twitter (@dajbelshaw). Want to discuss something specific? Email me and we can have coffee (doug@nullmozillafoundation.org).

(N.B. I’m not interested in promoting products via my blog/social media and I don’t currently have access to pots of funding!)

Image CC BY-NC-SA Ian Usher

A Hacker News for education?

I visit Hacker News every day. It’s a great resource of technie-related things – not just code stuff but things that people who work in that kind of area are likely to be interested in.

I’ve created something similar: http://ednews.meteor.com


Eight years ago, Will Richardson tried to create a ‘Digg-like site’. For whatever reason, it didn’t work in the medium to long-term. But his reasoning still stands:

[Th]is is all stemming from a bigger burr in my brain of late that has to do with the seeming randomness of all of the really great work that people in this community are starting to create. It’s just feeling like it’s all over the place, and that if we could in some way get our collective act together, we could start creating an incredibly valuable resource. I know it’s all about small pieces loosely joined, but wouldn’t it be great to point the newcomers to one spot that was a clearinghouse for all of this work? Not to mention the value it would have to us old timers in terms of bringing people in. I mean all of a sudden, it seems like everyone has a wiki, and most all of them have great intent and good content. But there’s also a lot of duplication of effort, and more importantly, dis-connection, at least that what it feels like to me.

Yes, these days we have Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and many other social networks. But if the tech community find value in Hacker News (and they do!) why not one for education? I know there’s sites like Spigot but, while I find them useful, they’re not community-contributed links.

If there’s interest and it gains some traction, then I’ll work together with a few folks to deploy it to its own server/domain. 🙂

Try it! Add some links of your own: http://ednews.meteor.com

PS Let me know in the comments what you think (and if you have any problems with it!) I came up with the idea literally just now and did a quick search to see how I could deploy something today!

Why would I send my child to secondary school?

You don’t have to believe in the lazy education is broken meme to think that there’s something wrong with the way we educate young people. As someone who worked for seven years as a teacher and senior leader in schools I’m not just some guy who has a view on education: I’ve seen what it looks and feels like behind the scenes in both ‘outstanding” and ‘failing’ schools.

I want to make it clear that nothing I’m about to say has anything to do with the role, status or professionalism of teachers. As I’ve said many a time, most teachers I’ve ever come across do a fantastic job and are dedicated and hard-working. My target here is, specifically, the English education ‘system’ (if we can even call it that).

It’s also important to bear in mind that I’m not talking about my own choices as a parent here, but rather me qua parent. The question I’m asking isn’t “should I homeschool my child?” but rather, “how should we as a society educate young people?” It’s a symptom of our age that the former is always assumed whenever I bring it up. Individualism and the logic of the market seems to pervade everything these days.

I’m also going to be setting aside the purpose of education for the moment. Going into any depth here would make this into either an inordinately long post, or a series of posts. That’s not my aim and, in any case, I spent a couple of years exploring that question with Purpos/ed.


Secondary school is a huge waste of time. I mean that literally.

Let’s do the maths.

Many secondary schools I’ve taught in divide the day into six 50-minute lessons. Children go to school five days per week so that’s 5 x 6 x 50 = 1500 minutes (or 25 hours) in lessons. However, in terms of learning time, once we’ve factored in changeovers, settling, the costs of task-switching and routine tasks/admin, that’s probably down to 5 x 6 x 30 = 900 minutes (or 15 hours).

The way that people get better at things is through formative feedback. In other words, someone gives you timely advice on a thing you’ve just done and shows you how to improve it. That could be how to write persuasively or how to swing a tennis racquet. In a class of 30+ children formative feedback happens less often that we’d all like.

So, going back to the calculations, the learning that takes place in 15 hours per week with a 1:30 ratio could probably take place a lot more quickly and accurately with a 1:1 or 1:5 ratio. I’m well aware that the research on class sizes shows that numbers have to be cut dramatically to make a difference but with these kinds of ratios Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development starts kicking in on a regular basis. My son’s footballing skills came on a lot more during 16 hours in a small group during half-term than they would have done in 16 one-hour lessons within a large group over four months.

We can, and I believe should, organise learning differently. We could have smaller learning groups for 20 weeks per year and the other 20 weeks could be the equivalent of apprenticeships – putting those knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours into action. Or each week could be divided into two. Or they could do one week on, one week off. There’s many permutations.

I know I’m likely to get some pushback in the form of how important a role schools play in terms of socialisation. I get that. But I think it’s important to realise that, as parents, we seem to have outsourced learning and socialisation and conflated it with reliable babysitting to allow us to go to work. We’re missing the point by tinkering around the edges.

Having worked in schools with extremely poor pupil behaviour, I realise that this, too, is likely to be another objection. But then, behaviour is the responsibility of those who construct the environment as well as the actions of the individual. If we organised learning differently, in re-imagined spaces, then we’d probably get different kinds of behaviours.

In short, instead of asking what we need to do with schools to perpetuate what we’ve already got, perhaps we should be thinking about the society we want to create for our children when they grow up. All I’m asking for is a rethink. There’s no point in adding epicycles. Iteration is all well and good but, to begin with, you have to be heading in the right direction.


If you haven’t already read Will Richardson’s book Why School? I’d recommend it as a short read that fleshes out some of the points I’ve made above. Also, Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Animate on Changing Education Paradigms is a must-see on just how crazy the system has become. Once that’s whetted your appetite, then dive into Prof. Keri Facer’s marvellous Learning Futures. 🙂

Image CC BY-NC-SA donnamarijne

How transferable are coding skills to other domains? Why is learning a little code important? (#teachtheweb)

This is a post for the Mozilla Webmaker MOOC called #teachtheweb. You can get involved here!


There’s a tendency that we all at various times either demonstrate or resist. In ascertaining the value of other people’s thoughts, innovations or opinions we ask for evidence of impact. But when it comes to our own thoughts, innovations or opinions, we believe evidence to be unnecessary because it’s self-evident.

So it is with learning new skills. Those without the skills ask questions about the value of obtaining them (“where’s the evidence?”), while to those with the skills it just seems obvious. And then there’s the perennial question about ‘transferability’. Just what counts as something being a ‘transferable skill’ anyway?*

To me, innovation comes at the overlap of two or more circles of a Venn diagram. It stands to reason, therefore, that the more circles there are on your Venn diagram, the more chances there are for overlap.

Learning a new language is like making your Venn diagram of skills three-dimensional. And by ‘a new language’ I mean things like HTML, JavaScript and Python just as much as French, Spanish and Chinese. These languages are new conceptual tools, new ways of looking at the world. Learning to play a musical instrument and understand mathematical abstraction/notation also falls into this camp, I reckon.

As a Pragmatist, I like the description William James gives of the world as a “bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion”. There is no way that we can have an objective or neutral view of the world, so the more lenses we can use to view it, the better.**

I’m (at best) currently an average wrangler of HTML and CSS, and a beginner with JavaScript. But the computational thinking I’ve developed through learning these from a reasonably young age (and before that messing about with a BBC Micro) have stood me in good stead for seeing the world differently.***

Why do we need to see the world differently? Well, because the problems that we face as a society are increasingly complex. We need people who speak many languages – including those of machines – to be able to solve them. We don’t need a society of pure programmers any more than we need a society of pure linguists or musicians. What we do need are people who know a bit of each.

That’s why I think learning a little code is important.


* I kind of discussed this in this blog post.

** I love the HTML Hunting in the World Around You challenge in P2PU’s School of Webcraft as an example of this.

*** I’m currently re-learning French through Duolingo.

Profit: the purpose of education? [GETideas.org]

I had the good fortune to bump into Lucy Gray at the DML Conference in Chicago back in March. She asked if I’d write something for GETideas.org, “the community for education leaders”. Slightly belatedly I’ve duly obliged and the post below is now published on the site.

I believe education to be public good, as something that profits the children’s mind, body and soul – not as something that should lead to financial profit for large corporates. I want teachers to do things in the classroom with an eye on my children’s learning and development, not on making sure they can pass a performance review in order to meet their mortgage payments.

Schools can, and probably should, be run in line with some business principles. But allowing schools to ‘go to the wall’ (as has been suggested in some quarters) because of the vagaries of the market sounds horrendous. Schools are places where human interactions should take place, not financial transactions.

Read the post in full here: Profit: the purpose of education?

Many thanks to Lucy for the invitation to contribute! 🙂

css.php