Tag: Technology (page 1 of 14)

More on the mechanics of GDPR

Note: I’m writing this post on my personal blog as I’m still learning about GDPR. This is me thinking out loud, rather than making official Moodle pronouncements.


‘Enjoyment’ and ‘compliance-focused courses’ are rarely uttered in the same breath. I have, however, enjoyed my second week of learning from Futurelearn’s course on Understanding the General Data Protection Regulation. This post summarises some of my learning and builds upon my previous post.

This week, the focus was on the rights of data subjects, and started with a discussion about the ‘modalities’ by which communication between the data controller and processor, and the data subject take place:

By modalities, we mean different mechanisms that are used to facilitate the exercise of data subjects’ rights under the GDPR, such as those relating to different forms of information provision (in writing, spoken, electronically) and other actions to be taken when data subjects invoke their rights.

Although the videos could be improved (I just use the transcripts) the mix of real-world examples, quizzes, and reflection is great and suits the way I learn best.

I discovered that the GDPR not only makes provision for what should be communicated by data controllers but how this should be done:

In the first place, measures must be taken by data controllers to provide any information or any communication relating to the processing to these individuals in a concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible form, using the language that is clear and plain. For instance, it should be done when personal data are collected from data subjects or when the latter exercise their rights, such as the right of access. This requirement of transparent information and communication is especially important when children are data subjects.

Moreover, unless the data subject is somehow attempting to abuse the GDPR’s provisions, the data controller must provide the requested information free of charge.

The number of times my surname is spelled incorrectly (often ‘Bellshaw’) or companies have other details incorrect, is astounding. It’s good to know, therefore, that the GDPR focuses on rectification of individuals’ personal data:

In addition, the GDPR contains another essential right that cannot be disregarded. This is the right to rectification. If controllers store personal data of individuals, the latter are further entitled to the right to rectify, without any undue delay, inaccurate information concerning them. Considering the purpose of the processing, any data subject has the right to have his or her personal data completed such as, for instance, by providing a supplementary statement.

So far, I’ve focused on me as a user of technologies — and, indeed, the course uses Google’s services as an example. However, as lead for Project MoodleNet, the reason I’m doing this course is as the representative of Moodle, an organisation that would be both data controller and processor.

There are specific things that must be built into any system that collects personal data:

At the time of the first communication with data subjects, the existence of the right to object– as addressed earlier– must be indicated to data subjects in a clear manner and separately from other information. This right can be exercised by data subjects when we deal with the use of information society services by automated means using technical specifications. Importantly, the right to object also exists when individuals’ personal data are processed for scientific or historical research or statistical purposes. This is, however, not the case if the processing is carried out for reasons of public interest.

Project MoodleNet will be a valuable service, but not from a scientific, historical, or statistical point of view. Nor will the data processing be carrierd out for reasons of public interest. As such, the ‘right to object’ should be set out clearly when users sign up for the service.

In addition, users need to be able to move their data out of the service and erase what was previously there:

The right to erasure is sometimes known as the right to be forgotten, though this denomination is not entirely correct. Data subjects have the right to obtain from data controllers the erasure of personal data concerning them without undue delay.

I’m not entirely clear what ‘undue delay’ means in practice, but when building systems, we should build it with these things in mind. Being able to add, modify, and delete information is a key part of a social network. I wonder what happens when blockchain is involved, given it’s immutable?

The thing that concerns most organisations when it comes to GDPR is Article 79, which states that data subjects have legal recourse if they’re not happy with the response they receive:

Furthermore, we should mention the right to an effective judicial remedy against a controller or processor laid down in Article 79. It allows data subjects to initiate proceedings against data controllers or processors before a court of the Member State of the establishment of controllers or processors or in the Member State where they have their habitual residence unless controllers or processors are public authorities of the Member States and exercise their public powers. Thus, data subjects can directly complain before a judicial institution against controllers and processors, such as Google or others.

I’m particularly interested in what effect data subjects having the right “not to be subjected to automated individual decision-making” will have. I can’t help but think that (as Google has already started to do through granular opt-in questions) organisations will find ways to make users feel like it’s in their best interests. They already do that with ‘personalised advertising’.

There’s a certain amount of automation that can be useful, the standard example being Amazon’s recommendations system. However, I think the GDPR focuses more on things like decisions about whether or not to give you insurance based on your social media profile:

There are three additional rights of data subjects laid down in the General Data Protection Regulation, and we will cover them here. These rights are – the right not to be subjected to automated individual decision-making, the right to be represented by organisations and others, and the right to compensation. Given that we live in a technologically advanced society, many decisions can be taken by the systems in an automatic manner. The GDPR grants to all of us a right not to be subjected to a decision that is based only on an automated processing, which includes profiling. This decision must significantly affect an individual, for example, by creating certain legal effects.

Thankfully, when it comes to challenging organisations on the provisions of the GDPR, data subjects can delegate their representation to a non-profit organisation. This is a sensible step, and prevents lawyers become rich from GDPR challenges. Otherwise, I can imagine data sovereignty becoming the next personal injury industry.

If an individual feels that he or she can better give away his or her representation to somebody else, this individual has the right to contact a not-for-profit association– such as European Digital Rights – in order to be represented by it in filing complaints, exercising some of his or her rights, and receiving compensation. This might be useful if an action is to be taken against such a tech giant as Google or any other person or entity. Finally, persons who have suffered material or non-material damage as a result of an infringement of the GDPR have the right to receive compensation from the controller or processor in question.

Finally, and given that the GDPR applies not only across European countries, but to any organisation that processes EU citizen data, the following is interesting:

The European Union and its Member States cannot simply impose restrictions addressed in Article 23 GDPR when they wish to. These restrictions must respect the essence of the fundamental rights and freedoms and be in line with the requirements of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In addition, they are required to constitute necessary and proportionate measures in a democratic society meaning that there must be a pressing social need to adopt these legal instruments and that they must be proportionate to the pursued legitimate aim. Also, they must be aiming to safeguard certain important interests. So, laws adopted by the EU of its Members States that seek to restrict the scope of data subjects’ rights are required to be necessary and proportionate and must protect various interests discussed below.

I learned a lot this week which will stand me in good stead as we design Project MoodleNet. I’m looking forward to putting all this into practice!


Image by Erol Ahmed available under a CC0 license

Destroying capitalism, one stately home at a time

This week, I spent Monday evening to Wednesday evening at Wortley Hall, near Sheffield, England. It’s a stately home run by a worker-owned co-op and I was there with my We Are Open colleagues for the second annual Co-operative Technologists (CoTech) gathering. CoTech is a network of UK-based co-operatives who are focused on tech and digital.

We Are Open crew

The ‘not unattractive’ We Are Open crew (Bryan, John, Laura, Doug)

Last year, at the first CoTech gathering, we were represented by John Bevan — who was actually instrumental in getting the network off the ground. This time around, not only did all four members of We Are Open attend, but one of us (Laura Hilliger) actually helped facilitate the event.

Wortley Hall ceiling

The ceilings were restored by the workers who bought the hall from a lord

I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I was delighted by the willingness of the 60+ people present to get straight into finding ways we can all work together. We made real progress over the couple of days I was there, and I was a little sad that other commitments meant I couldn’t stay until the bitter end on Thursday lunchtime.

Wortley Hall post-its

People dived straight in and started self-organising

We self-organised into groups, and the things I focused on were introducing Nextcloud as a gap in the CoTech shared services landscape, and helping define processes for using the various tools we have access to. Among the many other things that people collaborated on were sales and marketing, potentially hiring our first CoTech member of staff, games that could help people realise that they might be better working for a co-op, defining a constitution, and capturing the co-operative journeys that people have been on.

Wortley Hall - CoTech landscape

This diagram helped orient ourselves within the landscape we share

There was a lot of can-do attitude and talent in the room, coupled with a real sense that we’re doing important work that can help change the world. There’s a long history of co-operation that we’re building upon, and the surroundings of Wortley Hall certainly inspired us in our work! Our co-op will definitely be back next year, and I’m sure most of us will meet at CoTech network events again before then.

Wortley Hall plaque

Each room at Wortley Hall has been ‘endowed’ by a trade union to help with its restoration

The CoTech wiki is available here. As with all of these kinds of events, we had a few problems with the wifi which means that, at the time of publishing this post, not everything has been uploaded to the wiki. It will appear there in due course.

Wortley Hall artwork

All of the artwork was suitably left-wing and revolutionary in nature

Although there are member-only spaces (and benefits), anyone – whether currently a member of a worker-owned co-op or not – is also welcome to join the CoTech community discussion forum.

Decentralised technologies mean censorship-resistant websites

As I write this, I’m in an apartment in Barcelona, after speaking and running a workshop at an event.

On Sunday, there was a vote for Catalonian independence. It went ahead due to the determination of teachers (who kept schools open as voting centres), the bravery of firemen and Catalan police (who resisted Spanish police), and… technology.

As I mentioned in the first section of my presentation on Wednesday, I’m no expert on Spanish politics, but I am very interested in the Catalonian referendum from a technological point of view. Not only did the Spanish government take a heavy-handed approach by sending in masked police to remove ballot boxes, but they applied this to the digital domain, raiding internet service providers, blocking websites, and seizing control of referendum-related websites.

Yet, people still accessed websites that helped them vote. In fact, around 42% managed to do so, despite all of the problems and potential danger in doing so. By way of contrast, no more than 43% of the population has ever voted in a US Presidential election (see comments section). There have been claims of voting irregularities (which can be expected when Spanish police were using batons and rubber bullets), but of those who voted, 90% voted in favour of independence.

People managed to find out the information they required through word of mouth and via websites that were censorship-resistant. The technologists responsible for keeping the websites up despite interference from Madrid used IPFS, which stands for Inter Planetary File System. IPFS is a decentralised system which manages to remove the reliance on a single point of failure (or censorship) while simultaneously solving problems around inefficiencies caused by unecessary file duplication.

The problem with IPFS, despite its success in this situation is that it’s mainly used via the command line. As much as I’d like everyone to have some skills around using terminal windows, realistically that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon in a world of Instagram and Candy Crush.

Instead, I’ve been spending time investigating ZeroNet, which is specifically positioned as providing “open, free and uncensorable websites, using bitcoin cryptography and bitorrent network”. Instead of there being ‘gateways’ through which you can access ZeroNet sites through the open web, you have to install it and then run it locally in a web browser. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, and the cross-platform functionality has an extremely good-looking user interface.

I’ve created a ‘Doug, uncensored’ blog using ZeroNet. This can be accessed via anyone who is running the service and knows the (long) address. When you access the site you’re accessing it on your own machine and then serving it up to — just like with bittorrent. It’s the realisation of the People’s Cloud idea that Vinay Gupta came up with back in 2013. The great thing about that is the websites work even when you’re offline, and sync when you re-connect.

As with constant exhortations for people to be more careful about their privacy and security, so decentralised technologies might seem ‘unnecessary’ by most people when everything is going fine. However, just as we put curtains on our windows and locks on our doors, and sign contracts ‘just in case’ something goes wrong, so I think decentralised technologies should be our default.

Why do we accept increased centralisation and surveillance as the price of being part of the digital society? Why don’t we take back control?

Again, as I mentioned in my presentation on Wednesday, we look backwards too much when we’re talking about digital skills, competencies, and literacies. Instead, let’s look forward and ensure that the next generation of technologies don’t sell us down the river for advertising dollars.

Have a play with ZeroNet and, if you want to really think through where we might be headed with all of this, check out Bitnation.

Image CC BY-NC-ND Adolfo Luhan

Digital myths, digital pedagogy, and complexity

I’m currently doing some research with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC for their parent organisation, the Education Development Trust. As part of this work, I’m looking at all kinds of things related to technology-enhanced teacher professional development.

Happily, it’s given me an excuse to go through some of the work that Prof. Steve Higgins, my former thesis supervisor at Durham University, has published since I graduated from my Ed.D. in 2012. There’s some of his work in particular that really resonated with me and I wanted to share in a way that I could easily reference in future.


In a presentation to the British Council in 2013 entitled Technology trends for language teaching: looking back and to the future, Higgins presents six ‘myths’ relating to digital technologies and educational institutions:

  1. The ‘Future Facing’ Fallacy – “New technologies are being developed all the time, the past history of the impact of technology is irrelevant to what we have now or will be available tomorrow.
  2. The ‘Different Learners’ Myth – “Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net generation –they learn differently from older people”.
  3. A Confusion of ‘Information’and ‘Knowledge’ – “Learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet, today’s children don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it.”
  4. The ‘Motivation Mistake’ – “Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.”
  5. The ‘Mount Everest’ Fallacy – “We must use technology because it is there!”
  6. The ‘More is Better’ Mythology – “If some technology is a good thing, then more must be better.

The insightful part, is I think, when Higgins applies Rogers’ (1995) work around the diffusion of innovations:

  • Innovators & early adopters choose digital technology to do something differently – as a solution to a problem.
  • When adopted by the majority, focus is on the technology, but not as a solution.
  • The laggards use the technology to replicate what they were already doing without ICT

In a 2014 presentation to The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS) entitled Technology and learning: from the past to the future, Higgins expands on this:

It is rare for further studies to be conducted once a technology has become fully embedded in educational settings as interest tends to focus on the new and emerging, so the question of overall impact remains elusive.

If this is the situation, there may, of course, be different explanations. We know, for example, that it is difficult to scale-up innovation without a dilution of effect with expansion (Cronbach et al. 1980; Raudenbush, 2008). It may also be that early adopters (Rogers, 2003; Chan et al. 2006) tend to be tackling particular pedagogical issues in the early stages, but then the focus shifts to the adoption of the particular technology, without it being chosen as a solution to a specific teaching and learning issue (Rogers’‘early’ and ‘late majority’). At this point the technology may be the same, but the pedagogical aims and intentions are different, and this may explain a reduction in effectiveness.

The focus should be on pedagogy, not technology:

Overall, I think designing for effective use of digital technologies is complex. It is not just a case of trying a new piece of technology out and seeing what happens. We need to build on what is already know about effective teaching and learning… We also need to think about what the technology can do better than what already happens in schools. It is not as though there is a wealth of spare time for teachers and learners at any stage of education. In practice the introduction of technology will replace something that is already there for all kinds of reasons, the technology supported activity will squeeze some thing out of the existing ecology, so we should have good grounds for thinking that a new approach will be educationally better than what has gone before or we should design activities for situations where teachers and learners believe improvement is needed. Tackling such challenges will mean that technology will provide a solution to a problem and not just appear as an answer to a question that perhaps no-one has asked.

My gloss on this is that everything is ambiguous, and that attempts to completely remove this ambiguity and/or abstract away from a particular context are doomed to failure.

One approach that Higgins introduces in a presentation (no date), entitled SynergyNet: Exploring the potential of a multi-touch classroom for teaching and learning, is CSCL. I don’t think I’d heard of this before:

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a pedagogical approach where in learning takes place via social interaction using a computer or through the Internet. This kind of learning is characterized by the sharing and construction of knowledge among participants using technology as their primary means of communication or as a common resource. CSCL can be implemented in online and classroom learning environments and can take place synchronously or asynchronously. (Wikipedia)

The particular image that grabbed me from Higgins’ presentation was this one:

CSCL

This reminds me of the TPACK approach, but more focused on the kind of work that I do from home most weeks:

One of the most common approaches to CSCL is collaborative writing. Though the final product can be anything from a research paper, a Wikipedia entry, or a short story, the process of planning and writing together encourages students to express their ideas and develop a group understanding of the subject matter. Tools like blogs, interactive whiteboards, and custom spaces that combine free writing with communication tools can be used to share work, form ideas, and write synchronously. (Wikipedia)

CSCL activities seem like exactly the kind of things we should be encouraging to prepare both teachers and young people for the future:

Technology-mediated discourse refers to debates, discussions, and other social learning techniques involving the examination of a theme using technology. For example, wikis are a way to encourage discussion among learners, but other common tools include mind maps, survey systems, and simple message boards. Like collaborative writing, technology-mediated discourse allows participants that may be separated by time and distance to engage in conversations and build knowledge together. (Wikipedia)

Going through Higgins’ work reminds me how much I miss doing this kind of research!


Note: I wrote an academic paper with Steve Higgins that was peer-reviewed via my social network rather than in a journal. It’s published on my website and Digital literacy, digital natives, and the continuum of ambiguity. I’ve also got a (very) occasional blog where I discuss this kind of stuff at ambiguiti.es.


Photo by Daniel von Appen

The Flatter Organisational Structure Of The Future

My third of three posts for The Nasstarian has now been published. Entitled The Flatter Organisational Structure Of The Future, it’s a look at organisations that do very well because of less organisational hierarchy (and bureaucracy).

Here’s an excerpt:

The three examples below are primarily from the world of technology: these are fast-moving organisations who can’t let layers of middle-management get in the way of getting a product or service to market. What I hope this overview of flatter hierarchies inspires you to do is to think carefully about your next re-organisation. Instead of shuffling the deckchairs, could you instead introduce one of these approaches?

Click here to read the post in full!

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

The importance of working ‘open’ in education and business

I’m pleased to say that two closely-related articles I’ve written about working ‘open’ have been published over the last few days.

As of this month, I’ve started writing for The Nasstarian, a new blog from Nasstar, one of the UK’s largest managed IT service provders. They’ve given me free license to write about things of interest to their readers. The first one I’ve written for them is about the ‘unexpected benefits’ of working open for businesses.

My latest DML Central article takes this approach and focuses in on what this means for education. I’m indebted to Bryan Mathers for the wonderful ‘elevator’ image, and to Matt Thompson and Laura Hilliger for comments on an earlier draft.

Comments are closed here to encourage you to add your thoughts to the original articles! Thanks for supporting my work!

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…

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

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 Future of Work: Trends and Toolsets

Last month I wrote a report for a client about the future of work. In my contract is a clause that says that, apart from anything commercially sensitive, my work for them is shared under a Creative Commons license.

I’m therefore sharing a much shorter version of the 23-page report I researched and wrote for them. There was some really interesting stuff I turned up in my research around organisational structure, culture, and retention, but that section was too intertwined with the client’s plans to be able to easily and effectively separate out.  


Introduction

“Your best practices won’t save you.” (John Cutter)

The main trends around the future of work seem to be broadly twofold:

  1. Empowering individuals and teams to make their own decisions around technology
  2. Democratising the process of deciding what kind of work needs to be done

4 Kinds of Work in the Future

These two mega themes (taken from ‘uber empowered’ quadrant of the above Harvard Business Review digram) can be broken down into four, more practical, sub-themes:

  1. Demise of hierarchies
  2. Re-thinking the location of work
  3. Workplace chat
  4. Mission-based work

The following posts in this series expand and explain each of the above points. The original report made some recommendations for the client. Given I don’t know your context, I’m going to refrain from appending a conclusion to this series.


1. Demise of Hierarchies

After predictions of its demise, the traditional office structure is crumbling. Only 38 percent of companies in a recent survey say they are ‘functionally organized’. For large companies with more than 50,000 employees, that number shrinks to 24 percent. (Bloomberg)

Holocratic Organization

(image taken from this post)

The buzzterm at the moment is around holacracy, an approach in which “authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy”. This governance model has been adopted by Zappos, Precision Nutrition, and (until recently) Medium.

Self-organising is taken to its extreme, or logical conclusion, with Valve, the company best known for the Half-Life game series and ‘Steam’ store. Their handbook for new employees explains that they hire people rather than roles, meaning people are “hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work [they] could be doing.” Hiring, firing, and new projects are all managed via a completely flat structure.

Metaphors are important in organisational structure, and many futurists use the idea of the network to explain their ideas. Esko Kilpi, for example, states that “the architecture of work is not the structure of a firm, but the structure of the network. The organization is not a given hierarchy, but an ongoing process of responsive organizing.” In a post examining why employees become disengaged, Stowe Boyd coins the term ‘circumvising’ to explain the shift from ‘supervising’ to a form of work where, “instead of a manager you report up to and who directs the work of those below, the social context…will constrain and support the worker from all around.”


2. Rethinking the Location of Work

Skills for Success in a disruptive world of work

(image taken from this post by Tanmay Vora)

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. (Winston Churchill)

One trend of recent years that is universally slated in both the popular press and by futurists is that of open-plan offices. According to Stowe Boyd,

More than 40% of the respondents to a recent Berkeley survey reported that workplace acoustics make it harder for them to do their job, while other factors, like lighting, air quality, seating, etc, were rated as making it easier to work.

The assumption is that open-plan offices enable more serendipitous connections to take place. However, this is often at the expense of ‘deep work’ as noted by Cal Newport in his recent book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. It often leads to more introverted employees using headphones in order to concentrate and feel more comfortable.

Home working solves some of these problems and, indeed, many organisations have a ‘remote working’ policy, meaning some (or all) of their employees are based from wherever they happen to live. This, of course, requires a certain type of worker, with particular expectations around flexibility, availability, and digital skills. Implementing this kind of policy without training and explicit expectation-setting (for both office-based and remote workers) can lead to unnecessary misunderstanding and anxiety.


3. Workplace chat

Slack colours

So this is one megatrend: the widespread adoption of tools based on the chat design metaphor across the board in personal and work life. Chat is the new normal for communication, displacing both email and social collaboration tools. (Stowe Boyd)

The hot new technology that everyone is talking about is Slack, a ‘workplace chat’ tool with APIs meaning it integrates with everything. It is already a billion-dollar business, and this is for at least two reasons. The first is a desire for employees in most organisations to get out of their inbox. Another is that it supports the move away from a static org chart and is more responsive to the true power dynamic within organisations.

There have been many posts about the relative merits of workplace chat apps. Most futurists believe that adopting such tools is not a panacea to current workplace problems, but rather a way to demonstrate in a concrete way how teams can interact in a different way. For example, the theory of social crowding suggests that workplace chat is at its most effective when used by small teams of less than 10. This ensures that those who are doing the chatting are also the ones doing the work.


4. Mission-based work

Life cycle of a brand

Today, all companies need a constitution. No company should operate on implicit cultural rules that are based in a shadowy way on oligarchic myths. (Stowe Boyd)

Often cited as a something particularly important to ‘Millennials’ (those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000), futurists see mission-based work as key to ensuring employee fulfilment at any age. Loyalty these days is often to the job rather than to the organisation — so long as the job matches the ‘mission’ that the employee feels is central to their existence.

Graduates are queuing up to work for brands who match their outlook on life, often foregoing higher salaries elsewhere to do so. Recent research from Gallup included a survey of almost 50,000 business units which showed that employee engagement is a key indicator of business success. This is an important trend to consider.

Further reading

I put together an epic Google Doc of links and images to help with my research for the original report. You can access that here.

Banner image CC BY-NC-SA Daniel Foster


Questions? Ask in the comments and I’ll go into more detail about any of the above.

If you’d like my help in a consultative capacity, please get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

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