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On CC0

There’s a lot to unpack in this post by Alan Levine about his attempts to license (or un-license) his photographs with Creative Commons Zero (CC0). The way I think about these things is:

  • Standard copyright: “All Rights Reserved” — I do the innovation, you do the consumption.
  • Creative Commons licenses: “Some Rights Reserved” — I have created this thing, and you can use it under the following conditions.
  • CC0/Public Domain: “No Rights Reserved” — I have created this thing, and you can do whatever you like with it.

I’m not precious about my work. I donated my doctoral thesis to the public domain under a CC0 license (lobbying Durham University to ensure it was stored under the same conditions in their repository). My blog has, for the last five years at least, been CC0 — although I’d forgotten to add that fact to my latest blog theme until writing this post.

For me, the CC0 decision is a no-brainer. I’m working to make the world a better place through whatever talents and skills that I’ve got. While I want my family to live comfortably, I’m not trying to accumulate wealth. That’s not what drives me. So I definitely feel what Alan says that he’s “given up trying to be an attribution cop”.

I care about the commons, but want to shift the Overton window all the way over to a free sharing economy, rather stay fixated on copyright. To me, things like Creative Commons licenses are necessary to water down and mollify the existing extremely-litigious copyright industry. If I’ve got complete control over my work (as I do) then I’ll dedicate it to the public domain.

An aside: if you’re theory of change involves obligation, then you’re better off using the CC BY-SA license. Why? It means whoever uses your work not only has to cite you as the original author, but they must release their own work into the commons.

CC BY-SA

The thing is that despite this all being couched in legal language (which I’m very grateful to Creative Commons for doing) I’m never, in reality, going to have the time or inclination to be able to chase down anyone who doesn’t subsequently release a derivative work under an open license.

In my experience, reducing the barriers to people using your work means that it gets spread far and wide. Not only that, but the further it’s spread, the greater your real-world insurance policy that people won’t claim your work as their own. After all, the more people who have seen your work, the greater likelihood someone will cry ‘foul’ when someone tries to pass it off as their own.

RSS Feed and CC0 license at dougbelshaw.com/blog

So I’ll continue with my policy of licensing my work under the CC0 license. Not only does it mark out my work as belonging to a community that believes in the commons, but it’s a great conversation starter for people who might be commons-curious…

Image via CC0.press (just because you don’t have to attribute doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t!)

I’ve just released Chapter 1 of my new audiobook on productivity

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve written and recorded Chapter 1 of my new audiobook on productivity. Ostensibly, it’s a second version of my book from six years ago: #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity.

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.

Chapter 1 is concerned with what I deem to be the most important of the three ‘pillars’ of productivity: Sleep. As I say in the introduction to the chapter, it’s a funny place to start as it’s literally the opposite of ‘getting things done’. However, that’s why it’s so important — as you’ll see!



Buy now for £1

(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!

Why It’s Time to Let Go of ‘Meritocracy’ [DML Central]

My latest post for DML Central was published yesterday. Entitled Why It’s Time to Let Go of ‘Meritocracy’, it’s an attempt to explain why a belief in something most people see as unproblematic can actually lead to unforeseen issues.

A sample:

Building an education system around ‘meritocracy’ as it is commonly used post-Thatcher may be a function of those in power being so privileged that they are not in a position to see their own privilege. Those who have never witnessed people having to work three jobs to keep their family afloat may not understand why parents can’t do more to coach their children through an entrance examination.

Click here to read the post in full.

I’ve closed comments here so that you can add yours to the original post. I’d be keen to hear your thoughts!

3 things we need for the next big frontier in Open Badges and digital credentials

Just less than a year ago, I wrote a post entitled Why the future remains bright for Open Badges. There had been some turmoil in the ecosystem, and the ‘horses’ looked like they were getting spooked. I used Gartner’s hype cycle as a ‘convenient hypocrisy’ to explain that, at that point in time, the badges community was on the downwards slope towards the Trough of Disillusionment.

Right now, I think we’re coming out of that trough. We’re beginning to see people and organisations looking beyond individual badges towards connected credentials. There’s also renewed interest in badges as creating local ecosystems of value. Not only is LRNG continuing to expand, but the RSA is actively exploring ways in which badges could connect learning experiences across towns and cities.

For me, the key thing about the web is identity-at-a-distance. When I’m in front of you, in person, then the ‘three-dimensionality’ of my existence isn’t in question. There’s something about the bandwidth of in-person communication that is reassuring. We don’t get that when projecting a digital image of ourselves.

As an educator, I think the great thing about Open Badges is that they are packaged-up ‘chunks’ of identity that can be put together like Lego bricks to tell the story of who a person is, and what they can do. The trouble is that we’re used to thinking in silos, so people’s (understandable) immediate reaction is “can I put my badges on LinkedIn/Facebook/somewhere else I already have an account”. While the short answer is, of course, “YES!” there’s a longer, more nuanced answer.

This longer answer pertains to a problem, which like invasive advertising as a business model, seems almost intractable on the web. How do we demonstrate the holistic, yet multi-faceted nature of our identities in online spaces?

I helped set up, but then withdrew from, a group of people looking at ways in which we could use blockchain technology with badges. The trouble is, as Audrey Watters so eloquently pointed out in The ideology of the blockchain, that the prevailing logic when both technologies are used together is be to double-down on high-stakes testing. I’d rather find a way that recognises and fits human flourishing, rather than reductively retro-fitting our experiences to suit The Machine.

3 things we need to move forward

As I often mention during my presentations, the problem with linking to a particular venture-capital backed social profile (even if it’s LinkedIn) is that it shows a very two-dimensional version of who you are.

1. Progression pathways

What we need is a platform (ideally, decentralised and built upon interoperable standards) that allows individuals to display the badges they have, the ones they want, and — through an online dashboard — a constellation map of paths they can follow to employment or levelling-up their skills.

I’m not mentioning particular vendors in this post, but I feel that there are several platforms that are moving towards this model.

2. Granular permissions

Something else which would help on the identity front is the separation of badge display from badge evidence store. In the same way that YouTube allows you granular permissions over who has access to your videos, so platforms should allow you to make your badges public, but, if required, restrict access to linked evidence.

The only examples of this I’ve seen are people taking this into their own hands, by ensuring that the web address for the evidence going into the badge is under their own control. For example, if you put evidence in Google Docs, you can make that URL be entirely private, shared with specific people, publicly accessible, or fully searchable.

3. Long-term storage

We’re at the stage now where there are large enough vendors within the badges ecosystem to be ensure the long-term survival of digital credentials based on an open metadata standard. However, individual vendors come and go, and some ‘pivot’ towards and away from particular platforms.

For individuals, organisations, and institutions to be confident of establishing their long-term identity through badges, it’s important that the demise or pivot of a particular vendor does not unduly effect them.

The best way to do this that I’ve come up with is for there to be a non-profit explicitly focused on ‘deep-freeze’ storage of digital credentials, based on a sustainable business model. I know that there were conversations with the Internet Archive when I was at Mozilla, and there’s definitely a business opportunity using Amazon Glacier or similar.

Next steps

I often talk about solutions that ‘raise all of the ships in the harbour’. It’s relatively straightforward to build a platform that extracts the most amount of money out of customers. That’s a very short-term play. Open Badges is an open metadata standard that connects everyone together.

These three suggestions will allow the Open Badges ecosystem become an even more flourishing marketplace of digital credentials. For employers, it means they are not forced to use chunky ‘proxies’ such as degrees or high school diplomas when they’re looking for a particular combination of skillsets/mindsets. Educational institutions can return to being places of learning rather than examination factories. And, perhaps most importantly, individuals can show what they know and can do, in a flexible, holistic, market-responsive way.


New to Open Badges? Bryan Mathers and I put together this community course to help you get up-to-speed with the basics.


I consult on identifying, developing, and credentialing digital skills as Dynamic Skillset, which is a part of We Are Open co-op. I’m looking to partner with organisations looking to use Open Badges as the ‘glue’ to build learner identity on the web. With my We Are Open colleagues, we’ve already got one City Council exploring this, and we’d like to talk to more forward-thinking people.

Get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com / doug@nullweareopen.coop

Weeknote 40/2016

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #231 of Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely focused on education, technology, and productivity. It featured links on intellectual attractiveness, secretive empires, and productivity tips. Many thanks to Makers Academy for sponsorship!
  • Recording and releasing Episode 63 (‘Is EdTech a Discipline?’) of Today In Digital Education, my weekly podcast with co-host Dai Barnes.  This week we discussed whether or not EdTech is a ‘discipline’ (main topic) as well as examinations, how to remove profane posts from Twitter, creativity in children, competency-based hiring, and more! You can join the community to discuss this episode of TIDE in our Slack channel!
  • Working out of Campus North on Tuesday this week (I had to be at home on Monday). They finally got around to giving me some laptop stickers!
  • Meeting with my We Are Open co-operative co-founders on Wednesday for our October ‘Co-op Day’. We discussed lots of things, recorded here. I’ve updated our website, and Laura’s written a post about the workshops we plan to run.
  • Announcing a version two of my #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity ebook from a few years ago. I’ll be refactoring it as an audiobook with six parts. In effect, it’s an entirely new offering, but using the existing ‘brand’. Details here, if you’re interested!
  • Pimping myself in the name of business development. Although I’ve got plenty of ‘leads’, I haven’t got loads of work right now. That’s either a huge moral failure on my part, or just ups and downs of being self-employed. Either way, I quite enjoy being able to feed my family (OK, it’s not quite that bad) so do keep an eye out for me…
  • Writing:

Next week I had blocked out three days for a client, but it looks that will have to be punted to later in the month. So more business development, I guess…

Image CC BY-NC Q Thompson

My CC Superheroes

As part of the Creative Commons certification project that We Are Open have been involved with, a request is going around with the #CCquest hashtag to name your ‘CC superheroes’.

The idea is to tag five people who are ‘defenders of the commons’:

What are the virtues of someone who is an advocate for Creative Commons? How does what they do support the philosophy and spirit of The Commons? Think about what it takes to become this kind of person, and how we might wrap that into the Certification project.

It would feel like cheating to name three of the five as my co-operative co-founders (Bryan Mathers, Laura Hilliger, and John Bevan) so I’ve cast my net wider. Even so, it took me all of about three seconds to think of the people I’d mention! Do bear in mind, however, that these are five people out of perhaps ten times as many who I could have mentioned.

  • Alan Levine — it’s entirely fitting that Alan is a member of the #CCquest team, as in the 10 years I’ve known him, he’s been a living, breathing example of the power of working and sharing openly. An inspiration.
  • Audrey Watters — a tireless advocate of all things open, especially in education/technology, an important critic of the ‘Silicon Valley narrative’, and someone who tolerates bullshit less than anyone I’ve ever known.
  • Cory Doctorow — I’ve only met Cory a couple of times in person, but seen him speak many, many times. He’s one of the most eloquent speakers I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing, and his work actually goes even wider than ‘open’, encompassing the totality of our lives online.
  • Jess Klein — I had the great privilege of working with Jess at Mozilla, and still find it difficult to explain the range of her talents. She’s a designer, but also an educator, a facilitator, and a prototyper. And she does all of this in the open. Check out the Open Design Kit she recently helped put together!
  • Jim Groom — a legend in his own lunchtime, I rely on Jim’s company, Reclaim Hosting for this blog and my other presences on the web. He’s the force behind the monumental ds106, tells it like it is about making a living in the open, and great fun to be around, to boot.

Who are your CC Superheroes?

Image CC BY-NC-ND giuliaduepuntozero

Weeknote 39/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’ll working from home and particularly looking forward to our monthly ‘co-op day’ on Wednesday 5th October. We’ve got lots to discuss and plan!

Quality Mountain Days 3 and 4: Lake District

As I mentioned last time, to get onto the Mountain Leader course, I have to get 20 ‘quality mountain days‘ under my belt. Given that I often work away, and I’ve got young children, it can be difficult to get away at the weekends. I’m going to have to be a bit more disciplined about this if I want to get on the course before the end of 2017!

Since last time, I’ve started using the Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps app. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty great. If, like me, you buy a new (paper) Landranger map, you get the digital download of the map through the app included. One of the features of this is the ability to plan a route in the app.

Friday (QMD 3)

I drove over to the Lake District on Friday morning. Google Maps didn’t seem to recognise ‘Helvellyn YHA’ so I just typed in ‘Helvellyn’, planning to course-correct when I was closer to my destination.

What actually happened was that Google Maps took me to the other side of Helvellyn. When I drove back (adding half an hour to my journey) I couldn’t see the road up to the hostel. As a result, and as you can see from my actual route, I started from a car park in Glenridding.

The other difference between my planned route and what I actually walked is that I decided to return to the hostel via Striding Edge. This isn’t a route I’d do by myself if the weather was bad, but as it happens it wasn’t very windy and the sun was shining!

I re-created the route when I got back to the hostel and it estimated that it took 3 hours 10 minutes. In fact, it took over four hours. I’m not entirely sure how the OS Maps app can quote a shorter amount of time for a route that’s 50% longer (see below!)

QMD 3 as planned QMD 3 (actual)
QMD 3 (elevation)

Here’s a few photos from Friday:

QMD 3 (01)
QMD 3 (02)
QMD 3 (03)

Saturday (QMD 4)

After a couple of beers and dinner with fellow hostellers, I slept well and was up at 7am ready for my next day of walking. I’d planned to go up to the top of Gowbarrow Fell, Little Mell, and Great Mell.

However, this wasn’t feasible given the amount of bracken on the steep ascent on the east side of Gowbarrow. Instead, I pressed on, and took a slightly different route up Little Mell Fell. It was hard work.

This is the actual route I took as I discovered the feature in the OS Maps app that records your route via GPS. I decided to skip going up Great Mell Fell and head back via High Force and Aira Force. That was a pleasant end to my walk.

QMD 4 as planned   QMD 4 (actual)
QMD 4 (elevation)

Here’s some photos from Saturday:

QMD 4 (01)
QMD 4 (02)
QMD 4 (03)

I’ll probably spend another couple of days in Lake District, and then move onto mountains in Scotland and Wales. Given that the Lake District is less than two hours away, these will be longer trips…

Discipline in the field of edtech

I’m always wary on the rare occasions I’m in any form of disagreement with Audrey Watters. It usually shows I haven’t read enough or perhaps have grasped the wrong end of the stick. However, in Disciplining Education Technology, to me she asserts something that I certainly don’t feel is true:

Education technology is already a discipline; education technology is already disciplinary. That is its history; that is its design; that is its function.

Perhaps this perspective is a function of my geographical location. The edtech sector is tiny in the UK, and the closest that educational institutions seem to get to ‘edtech’ is employing learning technologists and technicians. Again, I may be wrong about this; it may be just invisible to me. However, it seems to me that if edtech is indeed already a discipline, it’s almost entirely US-focused.

Martin Weller, also UK-based, gives reasons (my emphasis) for embracing the idea of a ‘discipline’ of edtech:

  1. “[I]t allows us to bring in a range of perspectives. One of the criticisms of ed tech is that people come in from one discipline and are unaware of fundamental work in a related one. So the Ed Tech discipline might well have components from psychology, sociology, education, computer science, statistics, etc. This would help establish a canonical body of texts that you could assume most people in ed tech are familiar with.”
  2. “As well as establishing a set of common content, Ed Tech can establish good principles and process in terms of evaluating evidence.”
  3. [I]t creates a body against which criticism can push. When a subject becomes a discipline, then it is not long before you get a version of it prefaced by the word “Critical”. Critical Educational Technology sounds fine to me, and could sit alongside Practical Educational Technology to the mutual benefit of both.”

An additional point I’d add is that formalisation and scaffolding creates career paths for people, rather than them having to reside in the spaces between other disciplines. Look at the field of Design. There are schools within the discipline, there are career paths, but there are also consultants and freelancers who are seen as part of the bigger picture 

As a UK-based consultant who sees edtech as my ikigai, you’re often seen as ‘outsider’ unless you’re in Higher Education or work for a vendor. Work in schools and colleges is also often looked down upon. Bringing everyone together and establishing norms, processes, procedures, and ‘canonical knowledge, could  make it easier for people to move in and out of various organisations and institutions. It would certainly make funding easier.

Of course, the $64,000 question is who gets to decide what constitutes the discipline? I’d hate to see that discussion locked up in expensive academic conferences sponsored by vendors, and/or happening in paywalled academic journals. Perhaps paradoxically, open educators are exactly the kinds of people in the best position to push for a discipline of edtech.

I’m definitely in alignment with Audrey when she talks of the importance of a ‘radical blasphemy’ against the establishment of orthodoxy. My concern is that, currently, this orthodoxy isn’t explicit. What we’ve got is an implicit  orthodoxy predicated on vague notions of terms such as ‘edtech’ and ‘open education’. As I’ve already argued, I think we can move towards more productively-ambiguous notions, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of edtech as (what Richard Rorty would term) a ‘dead metaphor’.

Perhaps the crux of the problem is with the word ‘discipline’. It certainly has negative connotations, and focuses on control. Given that ‘field’ is a near-synonym, I’d suggest that perhaps we use that instead? I’d very happy introducing myself to people by saying that I “work in the field of edtech”.

Perhaps we need an unconference…

Weeknote 38/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’ll be in Newcastle on Monday, working from home Tuesday/Wednesday, speaking at the launch of Badgemaker in Glasgow on Thursday, and then heading up a mountain to get in two Quality Mountain Days on Friday/Saturday.

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