Tag: learning (page 2 of 10)

Some Thoughts on Interest-based Pathways to Learning. [DMLcentral]

I’ve been waiting a while to have this published so I’m really glad that my latest article for DMLcentral is now up. Entitled Some Thoughts on Interest-based Pathways to Learning I look at ways in which learning can be driven by interests rather than compulsion – at least for informal education. It’s definitely linked to my last post about online peer assessment.

Please do leave comments over at DMLcentral. I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to do just that!

Time for a NICE-r kind of education?

Teaching may be as much of an art as a science, but there’s stuff that we know works in education. Whilst context definitely matters there are things – like timely, formative feedback – that can be done well no matter where you are and what situation you’re in.

To my mind, we should have something like the NHS Evidence website for things relating to pedagogy. It could provide answers to questions like:

  • Where’s the evidence for using tablet computers in education?
  • Where can I find out more about different forms of assessment?
  • Is there a sound research basis for giving homework?

The NHS Evidence website is provided by NICE – the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. We have nothing similar for education. Although health is as much of a political football as education, at least they’ve got a research basis.

If there’s no political will to separate politics and education, perhaps it’s time for a non-profit to do this kind of stuff? Or perhaps they are and they need more publicity?

BYOD and cross-platform tools for learning.

I had a really interesting conversation on Twitter with Fraser Speirs and Dave Major this morning about ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) and cross-platform tools for learning. You can see that conversation ‘storyified’ here.

I’ve blogged before about why a ‘mixed economy’ of device is best for educational institutions and I’d like to expand upon that briefly with three main points:

1. Learning is something that happens in the brain of learners. You might be able to give them consistency of device and platform but you can’t guarantee that they will have the same experience. Therefore, using that as a reason to go with one particular device is problematic.

2. Educators need to focus on activities rather than tools. One of the examples that Apple advocates often give of the superiority of iPads is GarageBand. It’s an awesome application, but it’s not a learning activity. I’d be really interested in discovering which learning activities can only be carried out on one type of device. I suspect you won’t find any.

3. What we do in classrooms is linked to, but should not be driven by, market forces. We can only buy and use what’s available, but we don’t have to be taken in by the rhetoric of companies. After all, they’re in it to make money. How the world turns out is much more in the hands of educators than anyone else.

Remember that. 🙂

Image CC BY Domenic K.

What we’re up to with Mozilla Webmaker (Open) badges.

Update: I don’t think I make it clear enough in this post that this is an example of Mozilla ‘eating it’s own dogfood’. We’re using a Mozilla-developed technology (Open Badges) for a particular purpose (to badge Webmaker skills). Hope that makes sense!

Mozilla Webmaker Badges


I work for the Mozilla Foundation as part of the Learning team. More specifically, I’m part of the recently-created Open Badges subset of that team. In practice, however, there’s enough cross-pollination to make the boundaries between sub-teams very hard to see.

Mozilla wants to create a generation of webmakers. As it states at webmaker.org:

The goal:help millions of people move from using the web to making the web. As part of Mozilla’s non-profit mission, we want to help the world increase their understanding of the web, take greater control of their online lives, and create a more web literate planet.

That web literacies piece is at least half of my time as Badges & Skills Lead. But what does that mean in practice?

It means a lot of Skype calls . That’s for sure. Oh, and more Etherpads than you can stick a shake at. 😉

Mozilla Webmaker Badges

The Open Badges ecosystem is a new way of signalling and credentialing achievements on the web. You can see me attempt to explain it quickly and concisely in this video.

What we’re trying to do as a Learning team is to identify Web Literacies, Competencies and Skills that can be badged. We’re organising these into ‘constellations’ as my colleague Chloe Varelidi so eloquently puts it – learning pathways that allow learners to follow their interests.

Webmaker badges mindmap

(click on image to enlarge)

Chloe’s post has more gorgeous visuals than mine, but the mindmap I above (made using XMind) gives a widescreen view of what we’re trying to do:

  1. Granular skills badges are awarded for micro-achievements whilst using, for example, Mozilla Thimble (e.g. adding three <p> tags)
  2. The granular skills badges count towards accumulative Web Skills badges (e.g. HTML Basics)
  3. These Web Skills badges collectively count toward Web Competencies badges
  4. In turn, these (after peer assessment) lead to the awarding of one of five different Web Literacies badges

We’re going to be iterating this in the open, because that’s how Mozilla rolls. So we’ll have some Web Skills badges ready for the Mozilla Festival 2012 (London), with Web Competencies badges in place for the DML Conference 2013 (Chicago).

At the same time as all of this, Jess Klein has been working on the user experience (UX). She’s got a great idea for what she calls Webmaker+ (inspired by Nike+) which would provide a dashboard for learners within their Open Badges backpack. She’s working on the first sketches (including the one below) which you should definitely go and take a look at:

Mozilla Webmaker Badges dashboard

The dashboard would suggest badges to learners as well as show them various analytics and data about what they’ve achieved so far. The inspiration here is (to my mind) Khan Academy’s knowledge map and Duolingo’s learning pathways.

I think it all looks awesome. I hope you agree. 🙂

Top image CC BY-NC-SA Chloeatplay

Dashboard image by kind permission of Jess!

Informal learning, gaming, and #openbadges design

Burnout Paradise

One of my favourite games for the PlayStation 3 is Burnout Paradise. Apart from the racing and being able to take down cars in spectacular ways, one of the reasons I love it is because it’s a non-linear game.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that after a (very) lightweight introduction, the whole map is open to the player. You’re guided through the mechanics of the game as you play it, and you can choose what you want to do next. If you just want to drive around, that’s fine. In fact, there’s ‘challenges’ to complete (smashing through billboards, etc.) if that’s all you want to do. By driving around you actually discover some of the ‘formal’ challenges like races as well as the auto repair shops.

Burnout Paradise - map

Every now and again, either through winning races or completing stunt challenges you’ll unlock a new car. But you still have to go and find it and take it down. And there’s also the ‘stealth’ achievements you unlock unexpectedly. It’s a compelling, very rewarding game in its own right, never mind being able to play live online against other human opponents!

Recently, within the Mozilla Learning team we’ve been discussing the non-linearity of badge systems and how interest-based learning can be scaffolded and assessed. Obviously the assessment is ultimately going to lead to Open Badges, but a few of us feel that we can’t merely replicate the existing structures found in formal education. There’s not much point in using badges if the learning design still talks about a ‘101’ class or uses a Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced approach.

The question has come up, as it always does, about pre-requisites. There’s no getting away that some learning is built upon prior knowledge, the argument goes. That’s certainly true, but there’s ways of motivating the learner to want to undertake that prior learning. That way is by appealing to their interests.

As with anything new, the easiest way to get at what we can do is through metaphor. In this case, I think that a video game serve as a very useful model for what we want to do. Start with the player (in this case the learner) and scaffold experiences around them.

Does that make sense?

Beyond the Textbook?

A couple of days ago I noticed #beyondthetextbook emerging on Twitter. It turns out that this hashtag related to an gathering sponsored by Discovery Education in Washington D.C.

My (remote, somewhat helicopter-like) contribution, was pretty much summed up by the following:

The problem isn't the textbook. The textbook is a symptom of a problem around *assessment*. #beyondthetextbook

After reading Audrey Watters’ post about the gathering (as well as those by others), I’d like to expand up on that and highlight some thoughts from others with whom I’m in agreement.

Trojan textbooks

I want us to weigh classroom practices, power, authority, politics, publishing, assessment, expertise, attribution, and the culture(s) of the education system. I would argue that the textbook in its current form — and frankly in almost all of the digital versions we’re also starting to see now — is tightly woven into that very fabric, and once we tug hard enough at the “textbook” thread, things come undone.

(Audrey Watters)

The textbook is easy to talk about. It’s a physical thing that people have known as students and, for some, as educators. The trouble is that, just as with any technology, it’s difficult to separate the thing from the practices that surround the thing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with textbooks – especially if you define them as Bud Hunt does as “A collection of information organized around thoughtful principles intended to provide support to instruction.” I’m not so keen on the word ‘instruction’ (I’d substitute ‘learning’) but like his basis in ‘thoughtful principles’.

Getting assessment right

One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of badges for lifelong learning is that assessment is broken. I don’t mean ‘broken’ in the sense that a bit of a repair job would fix. I mean structurally unsound and falling apart. Liable to collapse at any moment. That kind of broken.

It’s a problem I felt as a classroom teacher. It’s an issue I had to deal with as a senior manager. It’s evident in my sector-wide role in Higher Education. The hoops through which we’re asking people to jump not only don’t mean anything any more, but they don’t necessarily lead anywhere.

To me, that constitutes a crisis of relevance. So when we’ve got textbooks solely focused on providing content in bite-sized chunks in order to allow people to pass summative tests, then we’ve got a problem. A huge problem.

But let’s be clear: the problem is to do with the high-stakes assessment. It’s akin to the current attacks on the efficacy of teachers. The problem isn’t with (most) teachers, it’s with what you’re asking them to do. Likewise, with textbooks, it’s not the collecting of information in one place – it’s what people are expected to do with that information.

Open content and the blank page

I’ve seen many state their belief that the best kind of textbook is the blank page. By that, they mean that textbooks should be co-constructed. I certainly can’t argue with that, but we must always be careful that we don’t substitute one form of top-down structure with another.

Back in 2006 I wrote a couple of posts on my old teaching blog. One covered the idea of teachers as lifeguards, and other focused on the teacher as DJ. In the former I talk about the importance of teachers ‘knowing the waters’ so that they can allow students to explore the waters, growing in confidence (but be there when things go wrong). In the latter I discuss the similarities between teachers and DJs around ‘tempo’ and ‘playlists’.

Both the lifeguard and DJ analogies work with textbooks, I think. The difficulties are always going to be around time and competency. It’s all very well for those new to the profession, willing to burn the candle at both ends to remix the curriculum and create their own textbooks to move #beyondthetextbook. But that’s a recipe for burnout.


As usual, I’ve more questions than answers, but if I have one contribution to the #beyondthetextbook debate it’s that our current use of textbooks is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. It’s difficult to debate nuanced things online, and even more so via Twitter.

I think we need a renaissance in blogging – and the kind of blogging where we reference other people’s work. If we’re going to debate problems in education, let’s do so at length, with some nuance, and in a considered way.

Thanks for reading this far. I’d love to read any comments you have below!

Connected Learning: a new model of learning.


If you’re an educator, if you’re a student, if you’re a parent – in fact, if you’re someone who walks around with their eyes open, you’ll have noticed something. Educational experiences in school and educational experiences outside of school are very different.

So far, so obvious. But what can we do about it?

I’m currently in San Francisco at the MacArthur-funded Digital Media and Learning initiative’s annual conference, #DML2012. As regular readers will know, I blog for DMLcentral and am a big fan of DML’s work.

Today, DML launched an ‘interest-powered, peer-supported, and academically-oriented’ model of learning called Connected Learning. Having been privy to some of the development behind this, I’m excited by the possibilities it affords.

Connected Learning is based upon open networks with a shared purpose to help learners produce things. It’s focused on answering the following questions:

  1. What would it mean to think of education as a responsibility of a distributed network of people and institutions, including schools, libraries, museums and online communities?
  2. What would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding youths’ active participation in public life that includes civic engagement, and intellectual, social, recreational, and career-relevant pursuits?
  3. How can we take advantage of the new kinds of intergenerational configurations that have formed in which youth and adults come together to work, mobilize, share, learn, and achieve together?
  4. What would it mean to enlist in this effort a diverse set of stakeholders that are broader than what we traditionally think of as educational and civic institutions?

This is a great time to get involved, if you’re interested. Go here for more information: http://connectedlearning.tv

Not only is it a great model, but educational legends such as Mimi Ito and Mitch Resnick are behind it – and will be participating in weekly webinars!

(for more on my involvement in the DML Conference, head over to my conference blog and/or follow #DML2012 and @dajbconf on Twitter)

My mobile learning article for the Guardian Teacher Network

Whilst I was enjoying the sun in Malta and Gozo last week the Guardian Teacher Network published an article I wrote entitled How to use mobile devices in the classroom. It’s a piece I wrote originally in the wake of the #govephonehome debacle and then edited for publication a couple of months ago. It links to the lesson plan and presentation that regular readers of this blog will already have seen. 🙂

I wouldn’t have used the image included in the article as I think it displays the opposite logic to the position I’m arguing; it posits a negative whilst I’m espousing a positive. I suggested the photograph above but am at the mercy of editors!

I’m speaking at the Guardian Innovation in Education event next month. There’s still tickets left and the website features an interview with me here.

Image CC BY mortsan

What did we learn during a ‘semester of learning’ on #openbadges over at P2PU.org?

Open Badges and Assessment

Seven weeks ago I proposed a ‘semester of learning’ about Mozilla’s Open Badges. This was originally going to be hosted on an installation of BuddyPress, but eventually resided at P2PU.org in a group called Open Badges and Assessment. It attracted a diverse mix of people, most of whom I’d never encountered before (I love it when that happens!) Many of use are continuing the conversation at a new HASTAC group.

In a similar way to a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) the semester of learning was an informal affair where participants (of which there were 84 altogether) could be as active as they want. Again, as with MOOCs, many were content to listen in upon what others were talking about. Others played a more active role. I’ve archived the study group, but it will remain available indefinitely on P2PU.org for your perusal.

Things tailed off slightly towards the end, for two reasons. The first was that I was in the last couple of weeks of my thesis, so was spending all of my spare time on that. Secondly, the conversation moved from being in a niche area to being much more mainstream (via Twitter, etc.) with the launch of the DML Competition

As a taster of what went on in the semester of learning here’s some comments from the beginning and towards the end.

Week 1

There are key questions around ensuring quality for these badges to take hold. If they are to become something valuable on a CV for example then a prospective employer needs to be able to ascertain the level & rigour involved in the aquisition of the badge. (Dan Stucke)

I’m really impressed by the scope of this Mozilla project. I must admit, I signed up merely because I am interested in looking at ways for developing badges in a high school context, so to see this scale up in such a monumental way is pretty inspiring.

The potential for a new standard in qualifications that learners continue to build upon is very interesting. For example, my own degree and teaching qualifications are relatively old compared to everything I have learned since, and even though there is no formal recognition of my increased learning over the years, save a few references from previous employers, I’d say the undocumented skills I have now make me a far more qualified person than I appear to be on paper. I think the case studies from the open badge system framework draft make this point quite well. (Jackson Bates)

My main worry about the badges appraoch is that it will only be a kind of add-on to the normal educational modle. What I’m mainly interested in doing is entering into direct confrontation with the university as it currently exists. I want to fight with the university, offer an alternative to it, and fundamentally challange the values at work in the university. I’m worried that a badge just isn’t going to cut it, that it won’t be taken seriously enough or that it will only be taken seriously as an add-on to a “real” university education. (Thomas Gokey)

Week 6

Every time a new educational fad erupts it seems to be polarizing, which seems to hold true in the conversations surrounding the dml announcement.  Instead of talking about whether we agree or disagree with the movement a better topic would be, what can these badges do for education, specifically assessment?

I am excited to see what comes of the research grants for the badges.  Will we start giving badges instead of end of course assessments/exams?  Would that be a good thing?  How would it work?

Yes of course it would be messy, but what if students had to obtain specific badges to pass into the next grade or to receive a high school diploma?  Would it motivate students to complete their coursework or would it only further increase dropout rates?  At any rate it is obvious that we would have to get the buy in of students to pull this off effectively…. (AndiStrack)

In the twitter about the grants, people expressed concern that there would be a proliferation of badges of dubious value. Nobody can stop that from happening and it would not be desirable. Our organization plans to categorize and rank badges by difficulty. We think our website that lists the badges will get substantial traffic just as our lists of open textbooks have done. (Jacky Hood)


I found P2PU.org a fantastically easy way to setup a study group and would certainly do so again. I think that the semester of learning helped point people towards certain resources that they may not otherwise have seen and, perhaps more importantly, engage with other people they may not have come across. It was great to see, given some of the superficiality and shallow reading evident from those reacting in various backchannels during the announcement, that those who were part of the group were committed to going away to think and read.

What did we learn? Well, I think I can speak on behalf of us when I say that talking of ‘badges for lifelong learning’ sounds simple but actually contains a lot of nuance and hidden complexity around assessment. I’m very much looking forward to continuing the conversation both on Twitter (using the hashtags #openbadges and #dmlbadges) and within the new HASTAC group.  🙂

Responding to some criticisms about ‘badges’ for lifelong learning

Grumpy Gorilla

As I mentioned in ‘Badges’ for Lifelong Learning: Reframing the Debate, whilst most people have been very enthusiastic about the concept of badges to credentialise lifelong informal learning, there have been a number of criticisms around the idea. It might help if you go and read that post before you read this one. 🙂

Most of the issues, it would seem, that people have around the ideas of an alternative credentialing system in education revolve around how it is implemented. I’m fairly sure that there’s not too many people who think that the current status quo is serving us well. As far as I understand it, the idea being proposed by Mozilla, HASTAC, et al. is for badges to augment, not replace what we’ve already got in terms of assessment systems: it’s credentialing things that are usually fairly intangible.

I came across a thoughtful and considered response to the potential issues around #openbadges and, perhaps more importantly, #dmlbadges in this post by @timothyfcook via Scoop.it. I think it’s worth quoting Tim at length:

This phrase “badge friendly” is the kicker, because it entails that certain things are not badge friendly. What these things are is certainly open for debate, but it is likely that skills/experience that are more creative and require qualitative analysis will present difficulties. Additionally, skill sets that are unique, constantly in flux, or in progressive fields will be difficult to credential in a standard fashion. If certain things are left out of the badge system, does it lose its credibility? For a new system to be wholly accepted, its accrediting process needs to offer equality and completeness.

That brings me to the second question, the problem of standardization. Although the university system is downright awful at providing an acceptable standard of quality among college graduates, it doesn’t exempt this new idea from the same critique. The problem with traditional college degrees is that the type of new institutions grows and changes too rapidly, while the grading standards varies wildly between schools, or even programs within schools. An “A-” at M.I.T. is different from an “A-” at Dryer University. Meanwhile, grading standards have been falling across the country, as schools are increasingly valuing student retention and graduation rates over academic rigor.

Meanwhile, the only real standard for valuing a student’s overall college experience is the prestige of their alma mater. If student Jack studied Creative Writing at the University of Iowa that means something, but if student Jill studied it at the California University of Pennsylvania that doesn’t mean much… yet Jack and Jill both have the same “badge”, they both have a B.A. in Creative Writing.”

This brings me to the final question, which may actually offer some solutions… If this is supposed to operate as a truly “open” educational accreditation system, outside the boundaries of the traditional institution, what will the student assessment process look like? There has to be a full-proof method for awarding these badges to students who have met the requirements. Those who have written on the subject describe a hybrid system. Some of the time badge approval will be granted by compensated experts, we know them as teachers. Other times, however, badges can be granted through a peer review process. This possibly is the scariest, but also most powerful component of the new badge system. This peer review process, in many ways, is the best hope it has to revolutionize the process and create a truly “open” accreditation system.

Tim suggests four ways to make badges work:

  1. “Appeal to our selfish need for self-preservation or our dignity: constantly remind students that, when they are reviewing the work of their peers, they are reviewing their own work. This only works if peer assessment is actually not quite peer assessment, but only done by students who have already received the badge in question.”
  2. “As mentioned, badge-issuers should always be people who have already completed the badge. This way, they will not only have incentive to uphold the quality that badge represents, but they will also know the content really well and act as capable critics.”
  3. “In addition to the social mechanism that could ensure quality assessment from peers, there needs to be a system that would ensure a good quantity of assessors. Simple: after your first badge, for every new badge you are awarded, you are required to assess the badge application of 3 (or more) students, offering them written feedback and a decision. This way you ensure a large and consistent pool of potential assessors.”
  4. “Finally, in order to ensure un-biased quality assessments from peers, each badge-applicant should be assessed by at least 3 peer assessors.

There’s some great ideas in what Tim has suggested, although I’m not entirely sure that completing a badge yourself is a necessary and sufficient condition for being able to assess somebody else’s. What I think Tim does show is that:

  • criticisms of badges apply to the potential implementation of any system
  • standardisation of badges is not necessarily a good thing (it’s perhaps using outdated thinking about ‘grades’)
  • the peer-to-peer element of badges is important, and potentially revolutionary

What do you think? Have you explored openbadges.org and dmlcompetition.net? How could badges work in your context?