Tag: Education (page 1 of 23)

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

Caring doesn’t scale, and scaling doesn’t care

Last night I had a really enjoyable dinner and thought-provoking conversation with Sirkku Nikamaa, her husband Mark, and Dr Mike Martin. We talked about many and varied things, including social reproduction, elite performance, and the current state of the English education system.

On my way home, I saw that my former Mozilla colleague Geoffrey MacDougall had tweeted a question which led to a short exchange:

Both the conversation over dinner and the subsequent Twitter conversation reminded me of a short video clip that Graham Brown-Martin shared featuring Prof. Keri Facer:

The problems we face in trying to change the education system are at least threefold:

  1. Parents want the best for their kids and they often believe this is through gaining credentials that are the results of high-stakes testing.
  2. Politicians want to impose their worldview on the next generation of the electorate through the education system.
  3. The filters we use (e.g. elite university admissions) to separate out people into social roles are extremely narrow and confining.

I was struck that I didn’t really have an answer to Geoffrey’s question about teaching subjects and skills that I usually equate with a private school education. Nor did I have a response to Mike’s question about how to scale something like the Oxbridge tutorial system.

At the end of the day, it’s difficult to scale almost anything that makes a really profound impact on people’s lives. I’m the person I am today because of supportive parents who are my biggest fans, because of a really interesting History teacher I had growing up, an inspiring university lecturer, a former boss who believed in me. The list goes on.

The purpose of this post isn’t to provide answers, but to point out that I’ve now come across a number of people who have had an elite education who are genuinely interested in how others can receive the same. The problem is, of course, that caring doesn’t scale, and scale doesn’t care.

Image CC BY-NC Macroscopic Solutions


The title of this post comes from an O’Reilly article. It’s unrelated, unless you’re a developer.

Open Badges location extension

I’m delighted that, thanks to some help from Kerri Lemoie, the Open Badges extension for geolocation that I proposed is now available for use. It was simple enough to do the initial coding following the following the example using JSON-LD but Kerri (and Nate Otto)

Details of how Open Badges extensions work can be found in this post I wrote for DMLcentral. It explains how version 1.1 of the specification allows for great things through extensions.

At the time of writing, the following extensions are now available:

  • Apply Link — provides a URL allowing potential badge earners to apply for an opportunity specified by a badge issuer.
  • Endorsement — allows a third party to publicly acknowledge the value of a badge designed, assessed, and issued by a particular issuer.
  • Location — allows for the addition of the geographic coordinates associated with a badge.
  • Accessibility — allows for the addition of content for people with disabilities.
  • Original Creator — provides a way to track the origin of a badge when one organisation creates it for another.

I’m really pleased with all of this and delighted that the Open Badges ecosystem has a bright future!

Image CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers


If you’re interested in designing badge systems and think I might be able to help, please do get in touch via my consultancy, Dynamic Skillset. I have reduced rates for third sector organisations such as charities, non-profits and educational institutions.

The TIDE is high…

#TIDE podcast

Earlier this year, my good friend Dai Barnes and I decided to start podcasting again. I’m delighted to say that, even after a planned summer break, we’ve continued to meet on a weekly basis to record episodes of Today In Digital Education (TIDE).

It’s purposely long-form, coming in at between an hour and an hour and a half. That gives us an opportunity to really dig into some of the things that have come onto our radar around education, technology, and everything in between.

Along with putting together my weekly newsletter, I find recording TIDE with Dai a wonderful opportunity to think out loud. It looks like hundreds of people agree with us, people who subscribe via their favourite podcast app, including iTunes or Soundcloud.

Why not check out the latest episode? For those reading this on my blog, I’ve embedded it below. If there’s nothing there because you’re reading this via RSS/email, you’ll need to click here.

Have a listen and tell us what you think! We’re always open to feedback. 🙂

A Decentralized System for Education and Assessment

A few months ago I wrote a post for DMLcentral entitled Peering Deep into Future of Educational Credentialing. In it, I was looking at the possibilities of the blockchain technology that underpins Bitcoin.

More recently, I’ve been looking at Ethereum, ‘crypto-fuel’ that can create new, autonomous systems and so I asked on Twitter:

I looked further into the website Gordon suggested: A Decentralized System for Education and Assessment. It’s an interesting, if slightly technocratic and techno-solutionist, read. Here’s a flavour:

The long term goal is the foundation of a fair, just, and meritocratic society, in which individuals, regardless of personal factors, have the freedom to learn and grow with each other, judged solely on individual achievements. The society would function on a ruleset unalterable by any malicious centralized power, categorizing the skillsets of each individual and giving others the information necessary to place those individuals within society. This provides the basis for a society based on action and fact, with each individual serving their best role in the larger whole.

I emailed Jared, the guy behind the site asking how I could help (I’d already submitted a pull request to make a minor update to the site). He replied that the work “is still very preliminary” with the two big decisions currently being:

  1. What kind of channel to set up for primary communication
  2. Which platform to build on (Ethereum, Eris Stack, Forking bitcoin or tendermint?, etc)

He’s open to other ideas, too, with the best place to discuss all this on this subreddit. I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to jump into the conversation there.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Bryan Mathers

Radical participation: a smörgåsbord

Today and tomorrow I’m at Durham University’s eLearning conference. I’m talking on Radical Participation – inspired, in part, by Mark Surman’s presentation at the Mozilla coincidental workweek last month.

My slides should appear below. If not, click here!

I was very impressed by Abbi Flint’s keynote going into the detail of her co-authored Higher Education Academy report entitled Engagement Through Partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. In fact, I had to alter what I was going to say as she covered my critique! Marvellous.

After Abbi’s keynote I was involved in a panel session. I didn’t stick too closely to my notes, instead giving more of a preview to what I’m talking about in my keynote tomorrow. As ever, I’m genuinely looking forward to some hard questions!

Scaffolding Web Literacy Through Learning Pathways [DMLcentral]

Scaffolding Web Literacy Through Learning Pathways

My latest post for DMLcentral is up. Entitled Scaffolding Web Literacy Through Learning Pathways, I discuss the difference between training and learning, as well as ways in which we can scaffold the development of web literacy.

Read the post here

I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to comment over there. It’s a great encouragement to hear your thoughts – however brief! 🙂

Indie Tech Summit: On raising the next generation [VIDEO]

On U.S. Independence Day this year I was in Brighton (England) for the Indie Tech Summit. The focus was on discussing sustainable & ethical alternatives to corporate surveillance. Aral Balkan, the organiser, invited me to speak after we had a long discussion when I crashed the Thinking Digital closing party and I wrote this blog post.

All of the videos from the Summit are now up, and the Indie Tech team have done a great job with them. Here’s mine:

(not showing? click here or here)

The slides I used can be found on Slideshare and a full verbatim transcription of the talk is on this page.

I’d be interested in your reaction to what I have to say in this talk, especially if you’re involved in formal education in any way (educator, parent, etc.)

Announcing Maker Party Newcastle 2014

I’m delighted to announce that we’ve confirmed the date for this year’s Maker Party Newcastle! Building on the success of previous ones held at the Centre for Life, this year we’ll be at Campus North, home of the Ignite100 startup accelerator on Saturday 13th September. Many thanks to Lyndsey Britton and Lauren Summers for their help in making this happen.

Sign up here: http://bit.ly/makerpartyncl14

Maker Party Newcastle 2014

Maker Parties are for everyone, but given Ignite100’s links with Code Club, we’ve decided to make it relevant to the new English primary school computing curriculum. Children of all ages will be welcome, but if you’re a teacher – or aged between 7 and 11 – it will be particularly relevant!

We’re looking for mentors to help out with this event. The most important qualities are enthusiasm and a willingness to be a co-learner. Some rudimentary HTML and CSS skills would be a bonus. Extra points for JavaScript!

If you’re based in the North East of England, please do share this widely with your networks. 🙂

Questions? Please direct them to doug@nullmozillafoundation.org.

Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation [DMLcentral]

Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation

My 20th post for DMLcentral has now published. Entitled Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation, my aim was to point out a fundamental problem with the way we ‘pay’ for our technology (i.e. through user data) and how that applies to education.

I’d love your comments on it – I’ve closed them here so you can do so over there!

Click here to read the post

 

css.php