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Preparing for ‘Story Hack’

Tomorrow, I’m helping facilitate Story Hack, a kind of book sprint at Gateshead Central Library. It’s part of a series of events funded by Arts Council England called STORY MODE:

Story Mode is a series of events that actively explore the role that Libraries play in their communities via a critical engagement with contemporary creative digital practices and how this activity can enable Libraries to grow in capacity and profile.

It presents new ways of working by presenting experiences and approaches from local, national and international practitioners. Story Mode events will connect Libraries to current engagement practices in contemporary visual, digital and narrative arts.

We’ll be using Sourcefabric’s Booktype platform to collaborate on during the day. Facilitators have been asked to curate relevant Creative Commons-licensed (or public domain) text for remixing, as well as to prepare a short, 15-minute talk about their work.

In terms of the focus of the day, we’ve been given the following prompt:

The advent of collaborative online platforms for journalists, writers and visual artists has had a profoundly disruptive effect upon the nature of traditional media and how we access it. This situation raises more questions than it answers. Questions like: Do digital platforms have the same aura and appeal as physical media? Does the truth matter anymore? Who should we give our attention to and why?

Thankfully, my network is filled with professionally-generous people. The following are just 10 of those whose work I can confidently and openly share with others in relation to the above prompt:

In terms of my own work, I’m going to use five links to describe what I’ve worked on over the last five years:

  1. http://neverendingthesis.com
  2. http://digitalliteraci.es
  3. http://openbadges.org
  4. https://learning.mozilla.org/web-literacy
  5. http://weareopen.coop

I’m going to learn a lot tomorrow, and see myself as much as a participant as I am a facilitator!

Image CC BY-NC Thomas Hawk

Weeknote 09/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #248 was entitled ‘Don’t Block That Chain’.
  • Travelling to and from Rome, Italy to work with St. George’s British International School. The weather and the staff were both lovely, and you can check out the slides I used for my keynote here. I took a few photos when wandering around the centre of Rome in the evening and have started reading SPQR by Mary Beard as a result of my trip!
  • Recording and releasing Episode 77 of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast with my co-host, Dai Barnes. This episode was entitled  ‘Edtech, learning, and ‘real life’, and we discussed innovation, digitisation, missions, manifestos, learning as ‘procrastination’, fitness devices, female digital assistants, and more!
  • Introduced to the rest of the Ontario Mathematics Leadership Network team before heading out to do some work with them in Toronto right before the Creative Commons Global Summit.
  • Meeting with a couple of potential new clients to discuss future work. I do like it when people say they’d like to “give me a pretty free hand”. It shows trust.
  • Presenting (virtually) to a gathering of the  ACODE network on the future of Open Badges in Higher Education. It was late evening for me and early morning for them. The slides I used are here.
  • Curating and sending out Issue #005 of Badge News, the new bi-weekly newsletter from We Are Open Co-op for those interested in keeping up-to-date with what’s happening in the world of Open Badges.
  • Going to the doctors for a check-up. My blood pressure is 110/70, which is bang in the middle of ‘healthy’.
  • Taking Friday off as a ‘Doug day’. I haven’t had one for a few weeks, and I woke up with a sore throat and runny nose. I played, read, walked, and went out for coffee. It did the trick, I’m right as rain today!
  • Sending out the February edition of my monthly Dynamic Skillset newsletter.
  • Writing:

Next week I’m helping facilitate a ‘Story Hack’ at Gateshead Libraries and running a thinkathon for the NCCA in Dublin, Ireland (with Bryan Mathers). I’ve also got some research and writing to catch up with.


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

Is it the end of the traditional resume? [opensource.com]

Bryan Mathers and I have a post published at opensource.com. It was commissioned by Concentric Sky, who are the organisation behind Badgr.

An excerpt:

At the moment, we’re treating Open Badges in a similar way as traditional credentials, placing value solely on the destination rather than on an individual’s current journey. A single, big, showstopper badge shouldn’t necessarily trump a badge pathway showing a relevant trajectory. We should recognize that traditional credentials recognize activity that occurs on a very uneven playing field. Some people, for various reasons, have had a relatively smooth path to where they currently stand. Others, with less-prestigious traditional credentials, may be a better fit but do not come from such a privileged background.

Click here to read the post in its entirety.


Note that our original title emphasised the power of making credentials more transparent by bringing together open source, Open Badges, and open pathways.  As ever with these things, we were at the mercy of the editor.

Coming up with a manifesto to underpin my work

I don’t talk about my limited company very often on this blog. That’s mainly because when people pay me to do some consultancy for them, they want me to do the work. Dynamic Skillset Ltd. is just who their finance department pays, and the name of an organisation that occasionally appears on my slide decks.

While things are going well and I’m perfectly happy with current arrangements, it’s time for me to belatedly write a mission and manifesto for Dynamic Skillset. That’s for a couple of reasons.

  1. It’s just a good thing to do: it means I’ll know with confidence what I should say ‘yes’ to, and what I should probably decline.
  2. Writing a mission statement is something I advise all organisations to do if they haven’t already got one — so it’s a bit disingenuous for my own not to have one!

It was working at Mozilla that convinced me of the power of the organisational mission and manifesto. The idea is that everyone’s work is tied to the mission, and both new and current work can be tested against the Mozilla manifesto. In fact, the work I led there around the Web Literacy Map is actually linked to from the manifesto itself. I can remember being in meetings where someone would come up with an idea, only for it to be shot down with the (quite legitimate) response, “how is this moving forward the open web?”

So, missions and manifestos are extremely powerful. The mission ensures that you’re laser-focused on what the organisation was set up to do. For charities and non-profits, this is likely to be about making the world better in some way. You can see some examples here. For publicly-traded companies, it’s providing a financial return for shareholders. The mission is the ‘why’ of your organisation.

The reason you need a mission and a manifesto is because there are many ways to arrive at the same destination. The guiding principles of how you go about achieving your mission is what your manifesto is for. It needs to be specific enough to allow you to choose one course of action over another, but not so specific that you need to update the manifesto too regularly. There has to be some, what I would call, ‘productive ambiguity’ in there.


A manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual’s life stance. (Wikipedia)


In early 2017, I changed the strapline at dynamicskillset.com to read ‘helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology’. I’m happy with that. It seems like a decent enough mission. What I need to do now is come up with a manifesto. Note that I’m not plucking this out of thin air — I do think about this stuff, but just haven’t written it down before now!

Given that it might take a few iterations to get this right, please note that what follows may not be up-to-date if you visit this page after February 2017.

  1. Share openly — The open sharing of ideas and resources contributes to the development of a more progressive and inclusive society.
  2. Teach digital skills and literacies — No individual is born knowing how to use digital tools. Therefore, the effective use of technology is something that has to be learned.
  3. Embrace change — Change is in the fundamental nature of things, so adaptation is an important mindset to adopt.
  4. Trust, but check — Collaboration and teamwork is built upon trust. This, along with many things, cannot be measured using a spreadsheet.
  5. Encourage diversity in credentialing — People are more than their job history and academic achievements. Alternative credentialing systems can allow for more democratic environments that represent individuals in a more holistic way.
  6. Evangelise for stronger privacy and security — Privacy and security are related, but different concepts. We should care about privacy for the same reason we put curtains on our windows, and security for the same reason that we put locks on our doors.
  7. Go open source wherever possible — Open source software, hardware, and governance are ideal states that can encourage stable, inclusive platforms for innovation.
  8. Respect difference — Most people work best in different ways, at different times, and in different places than the 9-5 office based job.
  9. Discover what motivates peopleMoney, and other forms of financial compensation, are less effective than other incentives at encouraging desired behaviours.
  10. Focus on learning — Education is to learning what management is to leadership.

It’s not perfect by any means, and as soon as I hit publish I’ll probably think of other things and different ways of saying the above. However, after being prompted by the latest issue of Emma Cragg’s newsletter, I thought I’d better get something written…

Weeknote 08/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Hanging out with my wife and children a bit more as it’s half-term for them.
  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #247 was entitled ‘Cloudy with a chance of co-ops’.
  • Discussing a potential addition to my Toronto/Calgary stops in Canada in a couple of months’ time.
  • Drafting an article for DML Central. It got plenty of attention, including comments from Mimi Ito. It’s looking like I’ll need to re-draft / refocus it.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 76 of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast with my co-host, Dai Barnes. This episode was entitled  ‘Educational Solutionism’ and we discussed ‘evidence-based’ educational policy, side-effects of intervention, worldviews, platform co-operativism, and whether parenting makes a difference.
  • Presenting to an edtech company on blockchain technologies. You can check out the slides I used here.
  • Spending Thursday to Saturday in East Lothian, Scotland on a short break with my family. Our youngest has recently learned to cycle with confidence, and our eldest got a mountain bike for his birthday, so we spent enjoyable hours getting very muddy on a circular route! While we were there we also visited Hailes Castle, which brought out my inner History teacher…
  • Writing:

Next week I’m in Rome working with an international school, then I’m working from home on a book proposal, presenting (virtually) to an Australian Higher Ed conference, preparing for a thinkathon in Dublin, and meeting various people for potential upcoming work.


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 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?


Postscript

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

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