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#BelshawBlackOps16 Pt.1 has started!

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ll be away for the month of August, camping with my family around Europe. I’m back online in September.

That means no personal email, no social networking, no blogging, no weekly newsletter, and no podcasting.

Consultancy-wise, I’ve still got some capacity from September so I’ll occasionally be checking work email to interact with new and existing clients. I hope you have a great summer (northern hemisphere) / winter (southern hemisphere)!

Email: /

Image CC BY-NC-SA freeflo

Weeknote 30/2016

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #225 of Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely focused on education, technology, and productivity. This one featured what learning looks like, augmenting humans, and the psychological benefits of writing.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 59 (‘LA Love’) of Today In Digital Education, my weekly podcast with co-host Dai Barnes. We discussed alcohol, web ethics, encrypted chat apps, what learning looks like, typing, privacy, the dark web, team formation, and doing small things with great love. This is the last episode until after the summer break, but you can always discuss TIDE in our Slack channel!
  • Spending the first half of the week in Los Angeles. I keynoted and participated in the Corona-Norco Unified School District’s Summer Institute on Digital Badging. My slides can be found here and I used Periscope to livestream/record my presentation (skip to around 03:45).
  • Taking Audrey Watters and Kin Lane out for lunch at a Mexican restaurant near their home in Hermosa Beach. It was so good to catch up with them, and we ate all the things while putting the world to rights…
  • Driving around LA in a Dodge Charger. Its 3.6 litre V8 engine is a bit more powerful than our Toyota hybrid back home, let’s put it that way!
  • Meeting Steve Ruger and others from Educators Co-op. Not only were they great people, but it’s so encouraging to see another education-related co-operative flourishing.
  • Working on case studies (to be used externally) and short videos (to be used internally across the City & Guilds Group) for Digitalme.
  • Submitting one of three proposals We Are Open Co-op have planned for the Mozilla Festival (closing date: Monday 1st August)
  • Booking the Eurotunnel and our first campsite in France for Team Belshaw’s month-long adventure in Europe!
  • Meeting Tony Venus from The Tech Partnership about overlapping areas of interest (digital skills, badges)

Next week I’ll be on holiday. And the week after that. And the week after that. And, er, the week after that…

Weeknote 29/2016

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #224 of Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely focused on education, technology, and productivity. This one featured childhood memories, tethered beings, and the myth of productivity.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 58 (‘Tethered Cretins’) ofToday In Digital Education, my weekly podcast with co-host Dai Barnes. We discussed barefoot adventures, squabbles about education, Pokémon Go, childhood memories, big data for porn, tethered communism, open organisations, culturally contrived ignorance, and more! You can discuss TIDE in our Slack channel.
  • Working one day with City & Guilds Group in London. This was my last day working Group-wide as I’ve switched to working directly with Digitalme (a recent acquisition they’ve made). I updated the Open Badges 101 course that Bryan Mathers and I created and recorded some short video clips to be used internally.
  • Attending the Web Science Institute’s Ethics Symposium in London. It was an excellent event with some top-notch speakers. I was delighted to get the chance to speak in depth with leaders in the field and look forward to following that up. Many thanks to Anni Rowland-Campbell for the invitation!
  • Starting work on some case studies around Open Badges for Digitalme while working from home. I spent some time digging into Sussex Downs College‘s Ufi-funded project, and created a graphic of their employability skills-related badge system.
  • Feeling old as I watched my son’s achievements be recognised in his first school leavers’ assembly. We have a three-tier system in Northumberland, so he’ll be moving up to middle school in September.
  • Helping Sarah Horrocks, Director of London CLC, through our ongoing critical friend sessions. I’m genuinely excited for the work we’ll be doing together (potentially through We Are Open Co-op) next academic year.
  • Drafting a few session proposals for the Mozilla Festival which is at the end of October 2016. The closing date is the end of July, so get yours in!
  • Creating some thinkathon proposals for potential We Are Open clients.
  • Putting up our tent and new awning to get ready for our epic month-long camping trip in August.
  • Packing and getting ready for my brief trip to Los Angeles to speak at the Corona-Norco Summer Institute on Digital Badging.

Next week I’m in California until Wednesday night, then working from home with Digitalme on Thursday and Friday. After that, it’s packing time! As I’ve already said, I’ll be under canvas and away from everything apart from occasionally glancing at work emails during August.

Weeknote 28/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’m in London from Monday to Wednesday, doing some critical friend work on Thursday and Friday, and then flying to California on Saturday for some work the week after.

[INCOMING] #BelshawBlackOps16 Pt.1

Since 2010, I’ve taken a personal digital hiatus for a least one month each year. This involves abstaining from social networks, personal email, and blogging in an attempt to be more mindful about my existence in the world.

This is a quick note to say that I’ll be away for the entire month of August. I’ll be spending all (or nearly all) of it camping around Europe with my family. The plan is to spend lots of time with my wife and two children, slow down, read, play, and be a different kind of person than I am for the rest of the year.

I’ll take the second part of my digital hiatus in December, after experimenting with the August/December approach last year and it working well. Taking two months together is a little too much, I’ve found. A month in the summer (sunshine! family!) is great, and a month in the winter (Christmas! Seasonal Affective Disorder!) is regenerative.

On our camping trip I’ll be taking minimal tech, but I will be taking my iPad and smartphone, so I’ll still have access to my work emails. Get in touch if you want to discuss working with me in September and beyond! I’m spending the next couple of weeks finishing up existing work for clients, travelling to California for some work with the Corona-Norco schools district, and tying off other loose ends.


Image CC BY-NC-SA Tim Britton

New blog theme

Dai Barnes reminded me on the latest episode of TIDE just how annoying pop-ups are. That led to me thinking more generally about my blog and how I wasn’t happy with the theme I’ve used here for the last six months.

As a result, I searched for a new, clean theme. I think I’ve found it in a lightly customised version of Rams. I ensured the sidebar was the same colour as my consultancy website, and that I used the same fonts.

I think it’s looking pretty good!

Weeknote 27/2016

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #222 of Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely focused on education, technology, and productivity.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 56 (‘Brave Metaphors’) of Today In Digital Education, my weekly podcast with co-host Dai Barnes. We discussed positive news, metaphors, badges, exercise, credentialing, Evernote, Douglas Rushkoff, Brave, Ecosia, Codemoji, Obama, cognitive potential, and more! You can discuss TIDE in our Slack channel.
  • Suffering from delayed jet lag. I was fine last week, and then ended up going back to bed on Monday morning after getting breakfast for the kids. Funny how these things work…
  • Chilling out on Tuesday and spending time with the family. I read things I’d been queuing up to read, and did some admin I’d been putting off for a while.
  • Buying a roof box for our upcoming family camping trip around Europe. I’ve planned out a rough route that takes us down past Lyon, into Italy and Lake Como, down past Nice and into Spain, visiting Barcelona and San Sebastián, and then back home via the west coast of France. Fortunately, we’ve got the whole of August to do that…
  • Working with City & Guilds from their London office on Wednesday. I also got to have a pleasant drink and a chat in the sunshine outside the British Library with John Potter from UCL.
  • Getting the DNS sorted out so that the We Are Open Co-op site could go live. Many thanks to Laura Hilliger for doing the majority of work on that!
  • Speaking at the Festival of Skills event on Thursday and Friday. I think it’s fair to say that there were less people there than expected. Still, I got a bit of a tan, got to hang out with the Digitalme guys, and got to talk about both Open Badges and the work Bryan Mathers and I have done with London CLC!
  • Honoured to be mentioned in the same bracket as Audrey Watters in this glowing post from Ben Wilkoff. I was particularly enamoured with this paragraph:
    • “They are philosophers in the best sense of the word: they offer a distinct viewpoint on learning that sets them apart from many of those around them. Although they are part of a broader blogging and academic community, they are not of it. They are both reaching further and creating more. And it is in this act of creation that I am most inspired.”
  • Writing:

Next week I’m working from home on Monday, down in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then back home on Thursday and Friday. The latter are the only days I’ve got any capacity until September, really — unless I re-jig things around my trip to California in a couple of weeks’ time.

Weeknote 26/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week: I’m taking a long weekend, then working from home on Tuesday, in London with City & Guilds on Wednesday, then at the Festival of Skills on Thursday/Friday.

How to use metaphors to generate badge-based pathways

Participants busy doing activity

A few days ago in Denver I co-facilitated a pre-ISTE workshop around badge pathways with Ian O’Byrne and Noah Geisel. Thanks to the power of the web, Bryan Mathers joined us remotely from his man shed back in London! It was a three hour session, with a wide range of participants, from those who had only just heard about Open Badges, to those who had started to design badge systems for their particular context.

Watch Ian’s archived Periscope recording of this session (~40 mins)

As part of the workshop, I used an approach from a couple of weeks beforehand when working with a client. It worked really well both times so, I wanted to document it so that you can benefit too! Many of you will have done similar kind of ‘human-centred’ design processes before, but for some it may be new.

As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “we look at the present through a rear-view mirror” and, as a result, “march backwards into the future”. In terms of badge system design, this means that we’re often constrained by what we’ve seen and experienced ourselves as both learners and teachers.


The aim of this activity was to help people break out of the constraints and they didn’t even realise they had before getting started with designing badge pathways.

I’m a big believer that, consciously or unconsciously, we live a lot of our life through metaphor. We have mental models that help us make sense of the world and our place in it. One of these is what it means to ‘progress’ at something. While as educators we would freely admit to learning as being a messy affair, when it comes to demonstrating, mapping, or visualing ‘progression’ we tend to default to linear approaches.

Education may be linear but learning isn't

5-step overview

  1. Prepare – Before you begin, ensure you have lots of post-it notes and pens (e.g. Sharpies) that will show up clearly. You’re welcome to use the illustrations from this post so long as you credit them (as I am!) CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers. He has other images you may also want to use at
  2. Input – Spend five minutes explaining how education may be linear, but learning certainly isn’t. Move on to explain that as educators we tend to stand on one side of the river, inviting students to walk across stepping stones. If they fall in, well they have to start again. Move on to describe the Trivial Pursuit model (pre-defined chunks of learning, but can be done in any order) and Constellation model (user entirely in control of pathways through ecosystem – make their own sense)
  3. Scribbling – Explain that participants will be expected to come up with as many metaphors as they can which could be used to demonstrate progression. One per post-it Take examples from the room in terms of what people are interested in. For example, if someone is into photography, they might use the ‘aperture’ settings on a camera as a metaphor. If someone drives a lot, they may use GPS as a metaphor. It could be as simple as a flight of stairs or a maze. Ensure that participants feel that it’s quantity, not ‘quality’ that counts, and that any suggestions will be accepted.
  4. Grouping – Depending on the confidence / cohesion of the group, you may want to first get them to compare notes where they’re sitting. The important thing to do now is to get those post-it notes up on a wall in a place where everyone can stand around. The post-its should be placed at random. Go through each one, reading it aloud, clarifying where necessary. Explain that the group will now spend time grouping the post-its together, however they think best. There are no right/wrong answers, just whatever they feel goes together.
  5. Classification – Once activity begins to slow, give participants a little more time, then go through each cluster of post-its, asking what each has in common. For example, one might have various metaphors that all involve there being a single destination, but multiple ways to get there. You’re then looking for a single word or phrase that will sum up the cluster. Write this on a different coloured post-it (if possible) and move onto the next cluster. As you go along, encourage people to move post-its, if they see fit.

Badge Pathways

Next steps

Once this activity is finished, you should have around five words or phrases that relate to different types of badge pathway. The group’s next activity could then be to come up with a subject to go with that metaphor. For example, if one of the pathways was ‘Surprise’ or ‘Discovery’ (perhaps the metaphors included peeling back the layers of an onion) then they could pair this up with building a badge pathway about taking care of online privacy. There are infinite possibilities!

Facilitator notes

  • It’s important to ensure participants feel that they are in a ‘safe space’ so they can share ideas without being criticised. One way of doing this is to encourage everyone to use, “Yes, and…” as a way of responding to one another.
  • You’ll need more post-it notes than you think! Factor in around 20 for each participant for this activity, just be sure you’ve got enough.
  • It’s worth modelling the behaviour you want to see by doing the activity with participants. You could go around different tables writing down a couple of examples on each. This helps those that may be a little stuck (or lacking inspiration).
  • Ensure you give enough time to do this activity without rushing. While it’s important to inject pace when appropriate, if it feels like a march towards an inevitable conclusion, participants are likely to be less forthcoming.
  • Be as inclusive as possible. There are some people who, because they’re underconfident or sceptical, may add ‘jokey’ suggestions. Don’t ignore these, but include them in the clustering. For example, in the pre-ISTE workshop, there were quite a few around alcohol and drug use/misuse which we repurposed as ‘self-care’ or ‘looking after each other’.
  • Encourage participants to take photographs. This means that when you transition back to seats, you can take the names of the five or so badge pathways with you quickly and easily.

Illustrations CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers


Do you like this example of working openly? You’ll love! Follow us on Twitter or come and hang out in our Slack channel. All welcome!

My ebook, ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ is now pay-what-you-want (including nothing!)

As I promised when first making it available for sale, I’ve steadily reduced the price of my ebook, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, until it is now effectively zero. I’ve given people the option of paying if they’d like to, but other than adding an email address at checkout, it’s free of charge.

For those not familiar with the origin of this book, it started life as my doctoral thesis, which I then updated and re-wrote in less academic language. People bought into it as I was writing using the OpenBeta process I devised (this was before Leanpub existed!). The earlier people bought into the writing process, the cheaper it was. They got updates all of the way up to version 1.0.

Once it was ready for general consumption, I sold it at full price (£7.99) and then steadily decreased the price around every six months. Although I don’t think it’s ‘dated’, I did have the idea of what George Siemens called the ‘half-life of knowledge’ in his 2006 book Knowing Knowledge. Another reason was that the financial aspect of the book was to motivate me to continue working on it: writing for an already-established audience is a great motivator!

I’ve been delighted that my ebook has been used as a core text in colleges and universities worldwide, including (quite awesomely) the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. University libraries have also ‘stocked’ it, making use of Creative Commons license I released it under.

So, what’s next? I haven’t really decided, really. I was planning to write a book including classroom activities for improving digital literacies but, for whatever reason, my heart wasn’t really in it. I’m still keen on doing work in the new literacies space, but am thinking of what kind of format would help people most. Perhaps a drip-feed email series? A series of webinars? A course? I don’t know. If you’ve got ideas, please do let me know.

All that remains is to thank those (hundreds) of people who believed in me enough to invest in the book before it reached v1.0, for those (500+) people who have bought it since, and for those who have given me feedback since it was published. If you’ve got comments / suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

If you’d like to use the ebook with your students, you might find the accompanying wiki helpful. It includes the hi-res diagrams I used, as well as space to be able to critique the contents with your students. For a great recent example of this in a Masters-level setting, check out this page on the wiki!