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.
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:
Riffing off Laura’s three-part structure, we formulated three questions to answer:
What do you do?
How are you different?
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
Share all the things
Surplus, not profit
Old/new ways of doing stuff
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.
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.
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.
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:
Updating the website
Creating a compelling description of the Thinkathon
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
“Your best practices won’t save you.” (John Cutter)
The main trends around the future of work seem to be broadly twofold:
Empowering individuals and teams to make their own decisions around technology
Democratising the process of deciding what kind of work needs to be done
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:
Demise of hierarchies
Re-thinking the location of 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)
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
I first stumbled across Open Badges in mid-2011. I immediately thought the idea had revolutionary potential, and began evangelising it to anyone who would listen. Happily, this led to me being asked to fly to San Francisco to judge the DML Competition that initially seed-funded the ecosystem. There, I met Erin Knight in person, and subsequently accepted a position on the badges team at Mozilla.
It’s hard enough building a start-up. So you can imagine what happens behind the scenes when you’re trying to build a brand new global ecosystem. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. From what I understand, things got even tougher after I moved teams at Mozilla to focus on web literacy work in late 2013. My former colleagues formed the Badge Alliance, initially funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
While I was aware of some of what went down at the end of 2014, it’s only been later in small group conversations that I’ve been able to fill in the gaps. All was not what it seemed in badge land. Politics and personalities threatened to shipwreck the nascent badges community. It was a delicate balance: people deserved to know some of what was going on, but negative press could have unduly ‘scared the horses’.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to be the one to write the post that Kerri Lemoie published this week to coincide with this weekend’s Mozilla Festival:
In the couple of days since Kerri’s post I’ve seen some chatter on social networks. Some people seem to be worried about the long-term viability of Open Badges. Not me. For two reasons.
1. Open Badges is a open source project
The first is that Open Badges is, as the name suggests, an open source project. The great thing about this development model and approach is that, ultimately, it belongs to everyone and no-one. There are occasions when a person, group, or company might assume leadership. However, — but that can (and does) change over time. If there’s ever a time when a significant enough group within an open source project disagree with the direction it’s heading, they can fork the project.
2. The Hype Cycle predicts what’s happening
The second reason comes courtesy of Gartner Hype Cycle. It’s a way of understanding the “maturity, adoption and social application of specific technologies”:
According to Gartner’s 2015 education report (paywalled, but there’s a summary here), Open Badges is right at the top of the Peak of Inflated Expectations. As tends to happen as technologies mature, Open Badges is likely to slide into the Trough of Disillusionment in 2016. This is to be expected. In fact, according to Gartner, it’s necessary in order to reach the Plateau of Productivity.
Now look again at the hype cycle diagram. At the start of the Slope of Enlightenment it reads ‘Second-generation products, some services’. Over the last few months there’s been some discussion about pairing Open Badges with the blockchain technology underpinningBitcoin. Back in March I wrote a post to that effect, there have been some noises in the Google Group, and (excitingly) and MIT have just launched a similar-sounding project.
So I’d say the future remains bright for Open Badges. It has experienced the growing pains as any truly innovative technology will suffer. 2016 might be rough for the community.
However, we should bear in mind that the hype cycle can describe a full 10 years from conception to mainstream. If that’s true of Open Badges then we can expect full adoption to happen around 2021. So, between then and now, there’s a bunch of us who need to roll up our sleeves, and do the work.
This stuff is too important to be a mere ‘bridging technology’. For some of us it could be some of the most significant work we do in our careers. Open Badges is what we make it. Let’s get on with building the future!
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.
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. 🙂
TL;DR: we use Apple’s regular product launches as a sense-check to cope with the myriad of technologies in which we could invest our time and attention.
Yesterday was another Apple product launch. Since the passing of Steve Jobs they feel less and less like the Wizard of Oz showing us behind the curtain, and more like another tech company wheeling out incremental updates while their competition catches up. This time, both Microsoft and Adobe shared the stage with Tim Cook and co, for goodness’ sake.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled and pixels pushed about Apple’s ‘culture of innovation’ and it’s ‘design-led principles’. People argue that you can get better value for money with other devices. Others (including me) worry about vendor lock-in. And so many people in my Twitter timeline yesterday were tweeting during the event that the features and products Apple were launching have been available on other systems for years.
But I think this is to miss the point. If you’ve got five minutes to spare, Steve Jobs explains why this is irrelevant in his answer to a question at WWDC 1997:
The point is that market leaders make opinionated choices. They put the user first and make decisions based around what’s useful for the user.
Conservation of attention
I’d argue that Apple’s product launches are now cultural artefacts. They’re included in regular news items along with world disasters and briefings about national politics. Rather than considering this as ‘entertainment news’ I think it’s perhaps more instructive to see Apple’s product launches as attention conservation devices.
Let me explain.
In the not-so-recent past, it was entirely possible for people to choose not to pay attention at all to consumer technology. It could just ‘not be for them’. They wouldn’t even feature on the technology adoption curve. People like this used to live out their lives without giving a second thought to things that others (including me) would happily choose to consider during every waking moment.
Nowadays, without a smartphone and a social network account, you’re quite likely to feel like a social pariah. As a result, you’re forced to pay some attention to consumer technology. But there’s so much of it! Thankfully, there’s an organisation that you can pay a lot of money to in order to provide a small, continually-updated, fully-supported product line that will ensure you have all of the technology you need in your life.
My favourite manufacturer, as I mentioned on the TIDE podcast this week, is actually Sony. The difference between Apple and Sony is that the latter doesn’t tell people what to pay attention to. They provide a multitude of options to fill almost any niche. I can imagine Apple’s designers having far fewer user personas than other organisations — if they use them at all.
If I were an academic I think I’d do some more research into this area. For instance, Apple’s never put a Blu-Ray drive into one of their machines, choosing instead to phase out physical media. As a result, they’ve done extremely well and have tied this in with developments around app stores and new/easy ways to pay for digital good. However, the mojo only lasts as long as their products are fashionable and people agree with the opinionated judgements they’re making.
Attention is a zero-sum game: we’ve only got so much of it and once it’s gone, it’s gone. By providing regular, timely, opinionated updates about the state of the field in which they’re leading, Apple not only get to make massive profits, but are the world’s de facto ‘innovation department’ — even if they didn’t invent the technologies they’re showcasing.
I don’t want terrorists threatening the peace and stability of where I live any more than the next person. But I also don’t want a situation where a government I disagree with has the technology to hunt me down and kill me with drones.
As Vinay states in that article:
Developing robotic combat capabilities will have three effects. Firstly, it will enable governments to successfully fight insurgencies abroad… Secondly, those combat robotics capabilities are very similar technologically to the capabilities required to control and oppress the domestic population… Finally, use of these technologies in foreign wars will force those who wish to do battle with the US for their political autonomy to strike at the US civilian population, as there will be no effective way of combatting US foreign policy in the field.
Our liberties are being slowly eroded and chipped away in the name of convenience and the ‘war on terror’. And, right now, I (and many other people like me) feel pretty much powerless to stop it.
The latest issue of FE Week features a supplement from City & Guilds. I’m currently spending pretty much all my time consulting with them at the moment, so I was delighted to be asked to collaborate with Bryan Mathers on this article as well as another (which I’ll post tomorrow).
It goes without saying that this is a time of unprecedented change in Further Education. This is perhaps most evident in changes around funding but, in addition, an increasing drive towards data-informed decision making means the whole landscape is changing. At times such as these, it’s easy to feel powerless and it’s tempting to fall back on what we know – the tried and tested. However, as Darwin pointed out:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” (Charles Darwin)
Change is part of life. Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes slowly. On some occasions it’s imposed, and at other times it happens organically. However change happens, we should be ready for it and use it to our advantage. In other words, depending on our stance towards it, the uncertainty that change provides can be viewed as either a problem or as an opportunity.
Particularly during times of change, technology is often presented as a panacea, a cure-all to the problems we’re facing. For example, there are possibly hundreds of solutions promising to ‘fix’ your issues around:
However, by itself, technology rarely provides a holistic solution or way forward. Rather, it is people and culture that drive change within organisations. Human agency remains key.
Technology is useful. There are certain affordances it provides that can greatly help us. These technologies are often those that we consider commonplace. For example, we (and especially students) take for granted the use of free instant messaging apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Instagram – or video conferencing tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime. As the author and educator Clay Shirky states, “communication tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”
We don’t have to jump on the latest shiny technology, trying to retro-fit it into learning and teaching practices. Doing so is rarely beneficial. Instead, we should use increasingly-mature technologies to streamline and/or extend the core mission of educational organisations. One such example of this might be Open Badges. This is a global, interoperable system that allows for the trusted issue, exchange, and display of digital credentials.
There are many FE colleges – particularly in the North-East of England and Scotland – who have begun experimenting with Open Badges. The technology itself includes a built-in audit trail making verification easier, but the crucial difference between those using badges successfully and those not at all is organisational culture and people’s mindsets. Those places set up to embrace change understand that colleagues require at least two things to be successful when integrating any new technology:
1. Space to breathe – can colleagues ‘play’ with technologies without fear of an impact on their workload or professional identity?
2. License to innovate – will colleagues be sanctioned for stepping outside the status quo?
One of the most valuable things that educators can be given is time to reflect on their practice. For example, thinking about ways in which Open Badges can be used in a local context often acts as a ‘trojan horse’ for much wider professional conversations. At City & Guilds we’re using Open Badges as a conversation starter to think about the way we issue qualifications and credentials beyond 2015. All of us are faced with a changing landscape, and we can choose to spot opportunities as well as identify problems.
There’s no doubt that, whether it’s learning analytics, big data, badges, communications technologies, or something else, there will always be technological determinists as well as doom-mongers. Happily, the future is not fixed, it’s wide open. We can choose to adopt a playful, yet professional, stance towards technology – recognising it as a strand of equal weight with culture and people.
Back in 2012 I remember coming across an ingenious service for sending data between mobile devices using sound. I promptly forgot about it until recently when I re-discovered Chirp.io.
There’s existing apps for Android and iOS, along with a Google Chrome extension. It’s great for things like:
quickly sharing a photo with a friend
sharing contact details
sending a link to a class set of 1:1 devices.
Chirp is kind of a like a super-simple version of an overly-engineered protocol such as Bluetooth.
During my lunch break today, after a brief exchange on Twitter, I went along and met Patrick (the founder) and Richard (CEO) to pitch Open Badges to them. It seems like such a great fit: issuing badges using a chirp!
They were excited about the idea and want to explore it further so I’m using this post as a reference to point people towards. There’s an SDK for Chirp, they’re about to launch a web-native version, and if you join their crowdfunding campaign (as I’ve done) you get an equity stake in the company!
I’m closing comments here to discuss the potential of Chirp and badges in the Open Badges Google Group. Join in the conversation!
There’s no TIDE podcast this week, so I thought I’d record a blog post today. Here’s the abstract:
We’re at peak centralisation of our data in online services, with data as the new oil. It’s a time of ‘frictionless sharing’, but also a time when we’re increasingly having decisions made on our behalf by algorithms. Education is now subject to a land grab by ‘software with shareholders’ looking to profit from collecting, mining, packaging, and selling learner data. This article explores some of the issues at stake, as well as pointing towards the seeds of a potential solution.
The Code Acts in Education blog I mention in the introduction to this piece can be found here and Ben Williamson is @BenPatrickWill on Twitter.
Comments (once you’ve listened!) much appreciated. I’ve still got time to re-work this… 🙂
Kramer, A.D.I., Guillory, J.E., Hancock, J.T. (2014) Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United Sates of America. 111(24).