Page 2 of 178

Weeknote 24/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’m spending Monday to Wednesday at home with my family making sure I’m ready for my trip to the US. I’m arriving in Denver on Thursday, keynoting on Friday, running a pre-conference workshop on Saturday, attending ISTE on Sunday, then flying back to facilitate an event for Digitalme in London!

3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web [DML Central]

3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web

My latest post for DML Central has now been published. Entitled 3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web, it’s an attempt to unpack a phrase I use often. It features a couple of great images from Bryan Mathers — one inspired by a Tim Berners-Lee quotation at the start of the post, and the other a visualisation of the ‘four freedoms’ of Free Software.

Read the post here

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

Weeknote 23/2016

This week I’ve been:

  • Refreshing my Dynamic Skillset website during the time I had to myself while my family were away in Devon visiting my inlaws last weekend.
  • Sending out Issue #218 of Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely focused on education, technology, and productivity. Many thanks to 9Sharp for sponsoring this week’s issue! (Note: I’m looking for sponsors for July and September)
  • Recording and releasing Episode 53 (‘Wild Sleep’) of the Today In Digital Education podcast, my weekly podcast with co-host Dai Barnes. We discussed the end of average, wild ideas, kids and online privacy, being human, encryption through the ages, Internet trends, getting a good night’s sleep, and more! You can discuss TIDE in our Slack channel.
  • Unproductive on Monday. I did a bit of work but, for some reason, I was all over the place. I took some time to get myself sorted, and was back to my usual productive self by Tuesday!
  • Spending Tuesday and Wednesday in London working with City & Guilds. I usually stay in an aparthotel when I’m down there, but this week stayed at a Premier Inn and managed to sleep for 11 hours!
  • Having lunch with the inimitable Graham Brown-Martin who, as ever, was on fine form. Bryan Mathers joined us at Pizza East in Shoreditch as we talked about western cultural imperialism, edtech, and the dark web.
  • Catching up with Nate Otto about the (positive!) future of the Badge Alliance.
  • Helping Digitalme with preparations for their June 28th event around digital credentials for employment. It’s invite-only, so if you haven’t received an email yet, you’ll have to watch the livestream!
  • Voting in the EU Referendum to remain in the EU. Ever since being a teacher I’ve requested a postal vote as it just makes life easier. Weareopen.coop have also been using Loomio to vote on a couple of things: pricing for orgs/causes we believe in, as well as deciding on our toolset.
  • Ordering new business cards courtesy of moo.com. As I don’t give them out like confetti, I’ve again gone for the more expensive, square ones. One side has my avatar, the flip side uses the colours from my newly-refreshed website, looking like the image in this tweet (note the weareopen.coop logo!)
  • Eating a lot of dates combined with 100% chocolate as I’m not consuming refined sugar this month.
  • Working on a post about how Open Badges ‘work like the web’ for DML Central. It will go live on Monday but you can see a preview here. Thanks to those who gave me feedback, and to Bryan Mathers for creating a couple of illustrations for it!
  • Meeting for a ‘critical friend’ session with Eylan Ezekiel. Find out more about what these are here.
  • Scoring applications for the sixth and final DML Competition about playlists for learning.
  • Starting to write the report of last week’s Cambridge English workshop. I’ll have to finish it last week as I had childcare duties, cutting short Friday’s working hours.
  • Watching the first match of EURO 2016 football tournament between hosts France and Romania. In fact, I’m writing this while watching it!
  • Writing:

Next week I’m working on our church’s website on Monday, down in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, working from home on Thursday, and then starting to plan my Badge Summit keynote for a couple of weeks’ time.

Improving the style and content of dynamicskillset.com

Last April when I became a consultant, I threw together a website at dynamicskillset.com using GitHub Pages and bootstrap. I even created a video to show others how to do so. However, I wasn’t happy with it, so a couple of months ago replaced it with this holding page featuring an image from Bryan Mathers:

Dynamic Skillset placeholder

Today, while the rest of my family is away visiting relatives during half-term, I got a chance to mess about for long enough to create this:

New Dynamic Skillset website

I’m really pleased with it. The DNS is still propagating away from GitHub back to Reclaim Hosting, but you should be able to access the live version here in the meantime. Once that is done, you’ll be able to access via dynamicskillset.com as usual!

Weeknote 22/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week: My wife and children are in Devon until Sunday, so I’ll probably end up working this weekend. I’m working from home with City & Guilds on Monday, and then in London working from their offices on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ve got a report to write and bits and pieces to sort on Thursday, and then I’m very much looking forward to taking Friday off…

Availability: I’ve got a few days free in June and July. I’m then on holiday in August and will have a lot more availability in September.

Newsletter sponsorship: I’m currently looking for a sponsor for my Thought Shrapnel newsletter for the months of July and September. It goes out to over 1,100 people who have signed up for updates around education, technology, and productivity. Get in touch if you, or someone you know, might like to sponsor it!

Some thoughts and recommendations on the future of the Open Badges backpack and community

Recommendation Theater

Intro

Back in January of this year, Mozilla announced a ‘continued commitment’ to, but smaller role in, the Open Badges ecosystem. That was as expected: a couple of years ago Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation had already spun out a non-profit in the form of the Badge Alliance.

That Mozilla post included this paragraph:

We will also reconsider the role of the Badge Backpack. Mozilla will continue to host user data in the Backpack, and ensure that data is appropriately protected. But the Backpack was never intended to be the central hub for Open Badges — it was a prototype, and the hope has forever been a more federated and user-controlled model. Getting there will take time: the Backpack houses user data, and privacy and security are paramount to Mozilla. We need to get the next iteration of Backpack just right. We are seeking a capable person to help facilitate this effort and participate in the badges technical community. Of course, we welcome code contributions to the Backpack; a great example is the work done by DigitalMe.

Last month, digitalme subsequently announced they have a contract with Mozilla to work on both the Open Badges backpack and wider technical infrastructure. As Kerri Lemoie pointed out late last year, there’s no-one at Mozilla working on Open Badges right now. However, that’s a feature rather than a bug; the ecosystem in the hands of the community, where it belongs.

Tim Riches, CEO of digitalme, states that their first priority will be to jettison the no-longer-supported Mozilla Persona authentication system used for the Open Badges backpack:To improve user experience across web and mobile devices our first action will be to replace Persona with Passport.js. This will also provide us with the flexibility to enable user to login with other identity providers in the future such as Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook. We will also be improving stability and updating the code base.

In addition, digitalme are looking at how the backpack can be improved from a user point of view:

“We will be reviewing additional requirements for the backpack and technical infrastructure gathered from user research at MozFest supported by The Nominet Trust in the UK, to create a roadmap for further development, working closely with colleagues from Badge Alliance.

Some of the technical work was outlined at the beginning of the year by Nate Otto, Director of the Badge Alliance. On that roadmap is “Federated Backpack Protocol: Near and Long-term Solutions”. As the paragraph from the Mozilla post notes, federation is something that’s been promised for so long — at least the last four years.

Federation is technically complex. In fact, even explaining it is difficult. The example I usually give is around the way email works. When you send an email, you don’t have to think about which provider the recipient uses (e.g. Outlook365, GMail, Fastmail, etc.) as it all just works. Data is moved around the internet leading to the intended person receiving a message from you.

The email analogy breaks down a bit if you push it too hard, but in the Open Badges landscape, the notion of federation is crucial. It allows badge recipients to store their badges wherever they choose. At the moment, we’ve effectively got interoperable silos; there’s no easy way for users to move their badges between platforms elsewhere.

As Nate mentions in another post, building a distributed system is hard not just because of technical considerations, but because it involves co-ordinating multiple people and organisations.

It is much harder to build a distributed ecosystem than a centralized one, but it is in this distributed ecosystem, with foundational players like Mozilla playing a part, that we will build a sustainable and powerful ecosystem of learning recognition that reflects the values of the Web.

 

Tech suggestions

I’m delighted that there’s some very smart and committed people working on the technical side of the Open Badges ecosystem. For example, yesterday’s community call (which unfortunately I couldn’t make) resurrected the ‘tech panel’. One thing that’s really important is to ensure that the *user experience* across the Open Badges ecosystem is unambiguous; people who have earned badges need to know where they’re putting them and why. At the moment, we’ve got three services wrapped up together in badge issuing platforms such as Open Badge Academy:

OBA venn diagram

One step towards federation would be to unpick these three aspects on the ecosystem level. For example, providing an ‘evidence store‘ could be something that all badge platforms buy into. This would help avoid problems around evidence disappearing if a badge provider goes out of business (as Achievery did last year).

A second step towards federation would be for the default (Mozilla/Badge Alliance) badge backpack to act as a conduit to move badges between systems. Every badge issuing platform could/should have a ‘store in backpack’ feature. If we re-interpret the ‘badge backpack’ metaphor as being a place where you securely store (but don’t necessarily display) your badges this would encourage providers to compete on badge display.

The third step towards federation is badge discoverability. Numbers are hard to come by within the Open Badges ecosystem as the specification was explicitly developed to put learners in control. Coupled with Mozilla’s (valid) concerns around security and privacy, it’s difficult both to get statistics around Open Badges and discover relevant badges. Although Credmos is having a go at the latter, more could be done on the ecosystem level. Hopefully this should be solved with the move to Linked Data in version 2.0 of the specification.

Community suggestions

While I’m limited on the technical contributions I can make to the Badge Alliance, something I’m committed to is helping the community move forward in new and interesting ways. Although Nate wrote a community plan back in March, I still think we can do better in helping those new to the ecosystem. Funnelling people into a Slack channel leads to tumbleweeds, by and large. As I mentioned on a recent community call, I’d like to see an instance of Discourse which would build knowledge base and place for the community to interact in more more targeted ways that the blunt instrument that is the Open Badges Google Group.

Something which is, to my mind, greatly missed in the Open Badges ecosystem, is the role that Jade Forester played in curating links and updates for the community via the (now defunct) Open Badges blog. Since she moved on from Mozilla and the Badge Alliance, that weekly pulse has been sorely lacking. I’d like to see some of the advice in the Community Building Guide being followed. In fact, Telescope (the free and Open Source tool it’s written about) might be a good crowdsourced solution.

Finally, I’d like to see a return of working groups. While I know that technically anyone can set one up any time and receive the blessing of the Badge Alliance, we should find ways to either resurrect or create new ones. Open Badges is a little bit too biased towards (U.S.) formal education at the moment.

Conclusion

The Badge Alliance community needs to be more strategic and mindful about how we interact going forwards. The ways that we’ve done things up until now have worked to get us here, but they’re not necessarily what we need to ‘cross the chasm’ and take Open Badges (even more) mainstream.

I’m pleased that Tim Cook is now providing some strategic direction for the Badge Alliance beyond the technical side of things. I’m confident that we can continue to keep up the momentum we’ve generated over the last few years, as well as continue to evolve to meet the needs of users at every point of the technology adoption curve.

Image CC BY-NC Thomas Hawk

Weeknote 21/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week: I’m volunteering from tomorrow at Marra Camp with my son’s Cub Scouts pack for the Bank Holiday weekend. The rest of my family will then be in Devon for half-term at the inlaws’ while I split my time between London, Cambridge, and home.

Do only yogurt-knitting vegans start co-operatives?

weareopen.coop

(image CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers)

Despite the best efforts of the London Underground to crush us into submission before we even started, weareopen.coop had a great first planning session at Ravensbourne in London today. John Bevan and Bryan Mathers were there with me in person, and Laura Hilliger joined us via the magic of appear.in from her home in Germany.

We’d come up with lots of questions in our pre-planning meeting, as well as some aims for things we’d like to get out of the day. You can see our planning Hackpad here.

Principles

Once we’d all arrived and we’d figured out the tech to allow Laura to participate fully (which involved my ever-handy Sony XRS-11 bluetooth speaker) we dived straight into the principles by which we want to work. John, Bryan and I worked on a nearby whiteboard, while Laura took a photo of the piece of paper she worked on:

weareopen.coop - principles (whiteboard)

weareopen.coop - principles (paper)

Riffing off Laura’s three-part structure, we formulated three questions to answer:

  1. What do you do?
  2. How are you different?
  3. What do you create?

The answers to these are on the hackpad, but I’ll share where we ended up after much discussion around the second point:

  • Nimble / Limber / Acrobatic
    • Experimental
    • Bold
    • Curious
    • Improv
    • Disciplined
  • Participatory
    • Collaborative
    • Co-operative
    • Share all the things
  • Co-operative character/spirit
    • Solidarity
    • Surplus, not profit
    • Anti-individualist
  • Knowledgeable
    • Considered
    • Competitive
    • Illuminating
  • Connected
    • Old/new ways of doing stuff
    • Inclusive
    • Eclectic

We particularly liked the notion of being ‘acrobatic’ (although without using the metaphor of a circus). There’s something about it that suggests discipline with flexibility.

Bryan + Laura

Toolsets

We spent some time both ‘silent hackpadding’ and discussing the questions we’d come into the day focused on, but this led quickly to considerations around tools. From that we found that a really nice metaphor emerged around tools in a workshop.

Tools in a workshop

We used the improv approach of ‘Yes, and…’ to build out the metaphor. For example, tools both old and new sit alongside one another in a workshop; there’s times when you need to ‘sharpen your saw’; and there’s times when you know you haven’t got the right tool for the job, so you have to borrow one from a neighbour.

Thinking of our own tools, we had a back-and-forth about what we should use to collaborate. The tension was between wanting to use Open Source technologies wherever possible, and recognising that clients will not always have the skills or motivation to sign up to a new platform. In the end, we decided to abstract away from specific tools to think about the type of technologies we need:

Those with an asterisk* come with a one-click install process via Sandstorm.io.

Telling the story

Bryan had to head out at lunchtime, so Laura, John, and I dug into setting up Loomio and helping tell our story through a basic pitch deck. We used The Writer’s Journey, which is a modified version of The Hero’s Journey:

After about 45 minutes of hacking and a spectacular brain dump from Laura, we ended up with this. We need to get really clear on our single product for new clients: the Thinkathon. This is a one-day facilitated thinking session that helps clients untangle problems, provides them with a ‘shopping list’, provides clear next steps.

Doug + Bryan

Next steps

A combination of factors meant that we ended up about 4½ hours of time together today. Still, that was enough to get a significant amount of work done towards building weareopen.coop. Things we need to do next include:

  1. Updating the website
  2. Creating a compelling description of the Thinkathon
  3. Setting up the tools we’ll use amongst ourselves and with clients

We’re open for business right now. Part of any new venture involves building the plane while you fly it; the difference is that we’re sharing that building openly. Get in touch if you think we can help you: hello@nullweareopen.coop

The problem with ‘grit’

If you’re an educator, parent, or in any way interested in the development of young people, it’s been impossible to escape the term ‘Grit’ in the past few years. The Wikipedia article for Grit defines it in the following way:

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.

The article goes on to mention the origin of the term:

The construct dates back at least to Galton, and the ideals of persistence and tenacity have been understood as a virtue at least since Aristotle.

Finally, and tellingly:

Although the last decade has seen a noticeable increase in research focused on achievement-oriented traits, strong effects of Grit on important outcomes such as terminal school grades have not been found.

So why is this such a buzzword at the moment? I’d argue that it’s an advanced form of victim-blaming.


Almost all of the research cited by proponents of Grit was carried out by Angela Duckworth. As this post by Iowa State University points out, “an analysis of 88 independent studies representing nearly 67,000 people shows that grit is really no different than conscientiousness.”

However, Grit is far from a neutral term, and no mere synonym. It has been appropriated by those on the political right with books such as Paul Tough’s How children succeed : grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character effectively saying poor kids just need to try harder. This is obviously incredibly problematic, and the reason I see Grit as a form of victim-blaming. The attitude from proponents of Grit seems to be that poverty is a self-education problem.

Fascinatingly, a recent Washington Post article digs further than just the etymology of the term to discover why the term was popularised:

My longitudinal analysis shows that the conversation originated in the late 19thcentury, and was never focused on “at-risk” children. Instead, grit was understood as an antidote to the ease and comfort of wealth, which produced spoiled children who lacked the vigor of their ancestors. The remedy was to toughen them up. While some families took this cause seriously (elite boarding schools in the early 20th century proudly advertised their Spartan living conditions), the easiest way to impart grit was through literature. The celebrated Horatio Alger books were written and sold as instructive tools to teach middle and upper class children about the virtues that came from struggling against hardship.

Now, of course, society is all too quick to embrace the grit narrative and apply it to poor and minority children. The irony is that these kids were traditionally seen as already having grit! It was the louche upper classes who needed a kick up the backside.

The clincher for me, and the final nail in Grit’s coffin, is that the data supplied as ‘evidence’ for the importance of Grit is fundamentally flawed. Returning to the first article:

The most well-known data source on grit is based on West Point cadets who complete basic training at the United States Military Academy. According to one paper describing these cadets, those with above-average levels of grit are 99 percent more likely to finish the training than cadets with average levels of grit. However, Credé says the original data were misinterpreted. His analysis shows the increase in likelihood is really closer to 3 percent, rather than 99 percent.

“It’s a really basic error and the weird thing is that no one else has ever picked it up. People just read the work and said, ‘It’s this massive increase in people’s performance and how likely they are to succeed.’ But no one had ever looked at the numbers before,” Credé said.

Given that schools (in the US at least) are now measuring ‘Grit’ and ‘Joy’ levels in their cohorts, I think it’s time to push back on such blunt instrument. Let’s stop poorly-researched, damaging buzzterms being used as a stick with which to beat the under-privileged.

Image CC BY Daniel X. O’Neil

Beyond ‘low-hanging fruit’: why I’m no longer an Open Badges evangelist

TL;DR: Open Badges have hit a tipping point and no longer need my ‘evangelism’. This is to be celebrated. What’s needed now is the dynamic and differentiated use of the technology to effect real change. This is why I’m continuing my work with organisations as an Open Badges strategist and change-maker.

Low-hanging fruit

Almost exactly five years ago, I stumbled across a pilot being carried out as a collaboration between the nascent Mozilla Learning team and P2PU around Open Badges. It’s fair to say that this discovery, made while I was doing some research in my role for Jisc, altered the course of my professional life.

As an educator, I realised immediately the immense power that a web-native, decentralised, alternative accreditation system could have. I carried out more research, talking about Open Badges with anyone who would listen. This led to me being invited to judge the DML Competition that seed-funded the badges ecosystem and, ultimately, to being asked to work for Mozilla.

I’m not going to turn this post into a blow-by-blow account of the last few years. This is a time for looking forward. That’s why I’m happy to say that, as of today, I no longer consider myself merely an Open Badges evangelist, but an Open Badges strategist. I’m interested in working with people and organisations who are looking to implement Open Badges in new and interesting ways.

What do I mean by that? Well, here’s a few examples:

  • Building badge-based ‘playlists’ for learning (with an emphasis on diversity and co-creation)
  • Developing new extensions and ways of using the standard in informal learning contexts
  • Scaffolding participation and activism through badges that ‘nudge’ positive behaviours in individuals and groups

One way of looking at this is to use Ruben Puentadura’s SAMR model, which I cite in my book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies:

SAMR model

There’s some interesting preliminary work I do with clients around ‘Augmentation’ but, as quickly as I’m able, I try to get them to think about the top two tiers of the pyramid.

If you’re an organisation looking for mere ‘Substitution’, then Open Badges ecosystem is now developed enough for you to do this by yourself. It’s never been easier to use one of the many badge issuing platforms to simply digitise your existing credentials. There’s documentation around how to get started all over the web, including the Open Badges 101 course that Bryan Mathers and I have curated during our time working with City & Guilds.

I’d challenge organisations and, in particular, universities, to go beyond what they’ve been able to do for the last few hundred years, and think about how to do true 21st-century credentialing. This is a situation where forward-thinking businesses, charities, non-profits, and institutions are in a strong position to drive not only organisational change, but societal change. The nature of hiring and onboarding, for example, can be entirely changed and revolutionised through a fresh look at how we demonstrate knowledge, skills, and behaviours to others.

Over the next few months, I’m looking to build on my doctoral thesis and the work I’ve done over the last few years, to help clients identify, develop, and credential digital skills. If you think I may be able to help you, then please do get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Image CC BY Ian Carroll

css.php