Tag: Twitter (page 1 of 11)

My #TwitteratiChallenge blog post

Last week, Tim Jefferis was kind enough to tag me in his #TwitteratiChallenge blog post. The rules and guidance for this can be found at the bottom of that post. I’m going to follow them in spirit rather than letter. 😉

Cory Doctorow

1. @doctorow
Writer, blogger, activist. If you want a reply, use email. Blog suggestions here: http://www.boingboing.net/suggest.html 0BC4 700A 06E2 072D 3A77 F8E2 9026 DBBE 1FC2 37AF

I’m not into celebrities and fandom, but I must admit to being in awe of Cory Doctorow. His novels are deeply thought-provoking, he surfaces important stuff through BoingBoing and his Twitter feed, and (perhaps most importantly) inspires me to keep on fighting the good fight for free and open source technologies.

Audrey Watters

2. @audreywatters
writer @hackeducation (http://hackeducation.com ), ed-tech’s Cassandra, author of The Monsters of Education Technology. Elsewhere: http://aud.life

We need more people like Audrey Watters in the world. Indefatigable and unwavering in her critique of the excesses of edtech, she’s a beacon of light and source of strength for many in the community.

Vinay Gupta

3. @leashless
Beyond good taste and evil. Global resilience guru. What do you do after it all goes wrong? And what about the poor, for whom it’s never yet been right?

My brain almost melts every time I get the chance to talk to Vinay Gupta or read his blog. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and gets me thinking about stuff I’d never even considered before.

Josie Fraser

4. @josiefraser
Social & Educational Technologist. Digital literacy, identity & community; staff & organisational development; open education; making change happen.

I’ve known Josie Fraser for around 10 years through shared interests in educational technology and digital literacies. She’s currently Digital Strategy Lead at Leicester City Council but has been involved in so much important work across Europe.

Oliver Quinlan

5. @oliverquinlan
Research tech in schools & write about learning futures. Opinions expressed mine alone. Book ‘The Thinking Teacher’ out now: http://bit.ly/thinkingteacher

Saying that Oliver Quinlan is one of the most reliable and dependable people in my network might sound like I’m damning him with faint praise but, given the level at which he works (Oliver is a multi-talented and award-winning, teacher, researcher, author, and thinker), it’s one of the highest recommendations I can give. His gentle and quiet facade hides a razor-sharp and questioning mind.

Want to join in? Consider yourself tagged! 🙂

My Twitter ads verdict: a waste of time and money

Update: The excellent comments on this post have made me realise that I proved exactly nothing in this experiment due to the poor way I set it up. Thanks all! Will try to do better next time.

I mentioned on Friday that I was going to experiment with Twitter ads for my book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. I said I’d report back on my findings.

Well, it’s a pretty stark message: either I’m doing something fundamentally wrong, or they’re a complete waste of time and money.

Here’s my results after spending $50 on three promoted tweets:

Twitter campaign overview

As you can see, not exactly stellar results.

So how did that translate to sales? Remember, I said that, “After Gumroad’s commission and the 10% discount, I need less than 10 additional people to buy my ebook to break even.”

According to my Gumroad statistics, I didn’t even sell one additional copy:

Gumroad customers

As the person who bought my book yesterday bought it at the undiscounted rate, I’m chalking that up as an ‘organic’ sale (i.e. they didn’t purchase it as a result of the advertising).

Happily, sales are going reasonably well anyway. They fluctuate each week, but are never zero. I think I’ll just let things continue as they are and not throw good money after bad. 😉

Experimenting with Twitter ads for my ebook

This morning a tweet from Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC technology correspondent, caught my eye:

Looking back through his timeline took me to a Facebook page for the ‘BBC Tech Tent’ where Rory discussed the BBC team’s experiments with Facebook and Twitter ads.

That got me thinking.

I played around with Twitter analytics when it launched and found it pretty fascinating. However, I started to become a bit too obsessed with ‘engagement’ and put it to one side. At the end of the day, I’m not actually that bothered how many people follow me. It’s all about the exchange of ideas and having a rich information environment.

What this morning’s activity did do was give me a nudge down the path of trying out Twitter ads. I been considering it for a while and so decided to bite the bullet and set up three promoted tweets. They will show in people’s timelines over the weekend and all point towards my ebook, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies:

Promoted tweets

As you can see, I’ve set up three different promoted tweets with the same image but slightly different text and calls to action (Learn / Order / View). I’ve put $50 in the pot  – $25 split between Saturday and Sunday – and limited the target audience to English. Specifying areas/localities to target is mandatory, so I went with UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. For some reason I couldn’t specify India?

This is an experiment. Would I like more people to read my book? Absolutely. But it’s not just about that. The main thing here is playing with Twitter ads so I know how (if!) they work. After Gumroad’s commission and the 10% discount, I need less than 10 additional people to buy my ebook to break even. I’ll let you know the outcome. 🙂

Curate or Be Curated: Why Our Information Environment is Crucial to a Flourishing Democracy, Civil Society [DMLcentral]

Curate or Be Curated: Why Our Information Environment is Crucial to a Flourishing Democracy, Civil Society | DMLcentral 2014-10-24 08-02-37

My latest post for DMLcentral is up. Entitled Curate or Be Curated: Why Our Information Environment is Crucial to a Flourishing Democracy, Civil Society it’s a slightly longer post than usual. My aim is to get educators to think about their own information environment and that which they’re promoting to their students:

The problem with social networks as news platforms is that they are not neutral spaces. Perhaps the easiest way to get quickly to the nub of the issue is to ask how they are funded. The answer is clear and unequivocal: through advertising. The two biggest social networks, Twitter and Facebook (which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp), are effectively “services with shareholders.” Your interactions with other people, with media, and with adverts, are what provide shareholder value. Lest we forget, CEOs of publicly-listed companies have a legal obligation to provide shareholder value. In an advertising-fueled online world this means continually increasing the number of eyeballs looking at (and fingers clicking on) content.

Click here to read the post.

I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to leave them on the original post. I look forward to your feedback!

PS You might also be interested in Ian O’Byrne’s response to the post.

Twitter, algorithms, and digital dystopias


My apologies for the long post. I’m channeling my inner Mark Twain when I say I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.

I woke up this morning to a couple of great links shared by John Johnston on Twitter. Don’t Be a Platform Pawn by Alan Levine led me to Frank Chimero’s From the Porch to the Street and then onto a post about The Evaporative Cooling Effect which, in turn, cites this paper.  The other link, Waffle on Social Media took me to a post called Community Services which led to What’s a Twitter Timeline?

What did we used to do before Twitter?

The first time I came across John would have been in the 2004-5 academic year, I reckon, when I started blogging. This was a pre-Twitter time, a time when Facebook and YouTube had only just been invented. We used RSS readers like Bloglines, and Technorati (then a blog search engine) a was a big deal. Back in those days it was easier to sort the signal from the noise as I could literally follow everyone’s blog that I wanted to read. As you would expect, this number grew exponentially over the years and, by the time Google Reader shut down, the number of unread articles I was faced with numbered in their thousands. This, I believe, is what Clay Shirky calls filter failure.

So, although I know of people (like Stephen Downes) who are notable exceptions, we collectively swapped our RSS readers for easier-to-manage, and less guilt-inducing social streams such as those provided by Facebook, Twitter, and (later) Google+. These services made it more acceptable not to keep up – and provided a way, in the form of Like, Favourites, and +1’s, for the most popular content to bubble to the surface.

I’m not being facetious when I say that Twitter had a helping hand in me landing my last three jobs. In particular, the 2009 interview where I mobilised my followers to show the panel how powerful the network can be remains my all-time favourite example. But Twitter has changed since I joined it in 2007.

How we are now

What’s so problematic about all of this, of course, is that whereas we used to be in charge of our own reading habits, we’ve outsourced that to algorithms. That means software with shareholders is dictating our information environment. I have to admit that sometimes this works really well. For example, although I’d prefer greater transparency around the algorithm that powers Zite, it consistently surfaces things that I care about and otherwise would have missed. Other times, and especially in the light of Twitter’s changes to the way favourites are used, it makes me more wary about using the service. And don’t even get me started on Facebook.

I’m at the point where I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. It’s so useful for me in terms of keeping my finger on the pulse of the sectors I’m involved in. However, especially at this time of year, I can become overwhelmed and I can’t see the (human) wood for the (technological) trees. Frank Chimero pretty much nailed it:

This may be overstating or overthinking the situation. Twitter is just a website. Yet, I can point to many opportunities, jobs, and (most importantly) friendships that sprung from it. Some married friends met on Twitter. It’s tempting to give an importance to the service for those of us who joined early and were able to reap these benefits, but that doesn’t mean Twitter needs to stick around forever. It matters. Or mattered. To me, I’m unsure which just yet.

How we might be in the future

During the height of the Web 2.0 boom, there were a plethora of services vying for attention and users. People jumped between these based on a small pieces, loosely joined approach. The thing that tied everything together 10 years ago was your domain name, which was your identity on the web. Nowadays, even I link to people’s Twitter accounts rather than their domains when I’m blogging about them.

It’s all very well saying that other social networks will come along to take their place, but will they? Really? In an age of megacorps? I’m skeptical. So perhaps we need a different approach. Something like Known, perhaps, or a service we can own and install ourselves that allows us to personalise our online experience rather than monetise it for shareholders. It’s heartening to see that the publication of The Circle by Dave Eggers seems to have made us question the sprint towards a digital dystopia.

As a parent, the mindset that goes with social networking concerns me. One thing I notice every year when emerging from my yearly (and grandly-named) Belshaw Black Ops period is how shallow my thinking is when I’m doing so in tweet-length morsels. It’s easy to think that I’m ‘doing it wrong’ and that I should use different services, but  what I think we need is a different approach. Perhaps I should be advocating POSSE, as championed by the Indie Web Camp folks. This stands for Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. However, it seems a touch reactionary rather than future-facing. People don’t comment on blogs like they used to, so I’d miss out on a boatload of interaction with people from around the world.


Twitter is a company listed on the stock exchange. So is Facebook. And Google. Pinterest will be soon. In fact, every successful social space is, or is likely to end up being a monolithic corporation. As such, they need to provide shareholder value which, given the web’s current dominant revenue model, is predicated on raising advertising dollars. Raising the kind of money they need depends upon user growth, not necessarily upon serving existing users. After all, if they’ve provided the space where all your friends and contacts hang out, you’re kind of locked in.

OK, that’s enough. I’ll end this overly-long post with a quotation from Jesper, the author of Community Services:

Social media has come to symbolize, for me, the tyranny of having to appear relevant, visible and clean to everyone else, the inability to define my own boundaries and the uncertainty about what’s going to happen tomorrow to the fundamental structure of this tool that I’m using – all the while someone either makes money off of me or adds to the looming amorphousness trying to stay afloat.

You don’t have to share these fears, but that’s why I’m writing this on hosting space I pay for myself on a domain I own myself. Not because I relish absolute control over every bit. Not because of personal branding. Not because I am a huge nerd (I am a huge nerd because I write these kinds of articles and quote Douglas Adams in them). I do it because it’s the worst alternative, except for all the others.

Image CC BY-SA Jennie

Software with shareholders (or, the menace of private public spaces)

TL;DR: we’re using software with shareholders and interacting in private public spaces. We can do better than this.


I live in Morpeth, Northumberland, a lovely market town in the north-east of England. It’s the kind of place that still has a vibrant high street and plenty of stuff going on. Somehow or other it’s survived the hollowing-out of places that seems to have accelerated since the 2008 economic crisis.

Offline private public spaces

Within Morpeth is a small shopping centre called Sanderson Arcade. It’s got shops like Marks & Spencer and Laura Ashley, piped music and a friendly, retro vibe. To help with this they employ men called Beadles, ostensibly to welcome people, give directions and lend an Edwardian air to the place. If you pay attention, however, the Beadles wear earpieces and both look and act a bit like bouncers. It’s then you begin to realise that one of the main reasons that they’re there is to keep out the riff-raff.

I’ve got no particular problem with Sanderson Arcade nor with the Beadles. I would be interested to see what would happen if a group wanted to stage a protest there. I guess they’d invoke the fact that it’s a private space pretty quickly. Still, there’s other places in Morpeth you could go to protest and still be seen and heard. Sanderson Arcade isn’t the only place people go, and the other spaces are owned communally. That’s what our taxes are for.

Online private public spaces

The problem comes when we apply what I’ve just described as a lens through which to understand what we do online. I suppose that, yes, we’re surveilled on CCTV within offline public private spaces. People can track what we purchase. We can answer survey questions about our shopping habits and lifestyle. But that’s where we hit the limits of the analogy. Online private public spaces are very different.

I came across this today. It’s the latest in a long list of examples demonstrating the amount of data Facebook collects on its users. And it’s not as if everyone is unaware that Facebook, at its very core, is a scary privacy-loathing service seeking to track as much about you as possible.  Once it has that information it sells it to the highest bidder. I like to think Google’s slightly better in this regard, but if I’m honest that’s only because I use Google’s services more than Facebook’s.

Almost every space in which we interact with other people online is a private public space. For me, Twitter and Google+ are prime examples. In the past we’ve been reassured by Google’s mantra of “don’t be evil” and how people in Iran and Egypt used Twitter to rise up against their oppressors. The reality is that both of these companies are now companies in which you can buy stock. They need to deliver shareholder value.

The problem

I’m increasingly leaning away from using software that has shareholders and leaning towards alternatives. I’m writing this on a Chromebook with Ubuntu 14.04 installed, for example. One of the things that’s great about non-profits making software is that they can innovate on behalf of users, rather than in ways that will increase market capitalization.

The problem we’ve got is that to interact with other people you need a means of communicating with them. When everyone’s physically co-located you can use your voice. If the place you’re in is unwelcoming or not to your liking then you can all decamp and move elsewhere. This is not the case when you’ve got a network of thousands of people distributed around the world. It’s quite likely that the only means you’ve got of contacting one another is through a single privately-owned platform.

I’ve toyed with the idea of closing my Twitter and Google+ accounts many times over the past few years. The problem with that is that it would affect me professionally. Not only are they spaces from which I gather a lot of information to do my job, but they’re spaces where other people find out about my work. You can’t do good in the world as a knowledge worker if no-one knows what you’ve been doing.

Our response

So what can we do? It’s not a problem for us to solve as individuals, but something for us to do collectively. And the call to action can’t be protect your privacy! because, to be quite honest, people don’t seem to care. Technically-minded people think that building a version of Twitter or Facebook or WhatsApp but with public-key encryption will see users flocking to their site. Well, here’s a newsflash for you: no they won’t. They’ll trade privacy for convenience.

Instead, we need to work at a meta level and do some systems thinking. Here’s a bad idea: try to get everyone to switch from Twitter to IRC. Here’s a good idea: work on creating a compelling way for users to bring their own data and authentication to services. Unhosted seems to be on the right track with that. Just because things have failed previously (OpenID!) doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily fail again.

Of course, the meta meta level problem centres around online business models that aren’t dependent upon advertising. Providing free services and selling user data is the high-fructose corn syrup of the internet. While we in the west might tolerate paying for services, many of those getting online for the first time in developing countries know nothing but Facebook Zero.


Things change. The tech world used to be full of people resisting The Man; the discourse was around connecting people and envisaging new possibilities. Now, however, we have a tech elite with control of the spaces in which we interact. If you don’t understand the potential implications of this, then you might want to dig a little deeper into the NSA revelations and read Dave Eggers’ The Circle. That will open your eyes.

Public spaces should be public and commonly-owned. Perhaps it’s time for governments to stop fawning over billionaires with technical skills and start providing services for all of us. Maybe instead of dismantling the state to allow for private profit, we can use technology to create a more egalitarian and just society. And could we, just for once, use technology in ways other than shoring up the privilege of the one per cent?

Image CC BY Nathan O’Nions

Answering your questions about Open Badges

I spend about half my time working for Mozilla working on a new, open learning standard for Web Literacy. The other half of the time I’m evangelising Open Badges in the UK and Europe. Unsurprisingly, with the latter a lot of the same questions come up time and time again. These are legitimate concerns and curiosities that people have, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a URL I could point them towards. 🙂

Chewing (animated GIF)

Are Open Badges ‘transferable’?

It depends what you mean. Open Badges are issued with a learner’s individual identifier ‘baked’ into it. So if you try and take my badge and put it in your backpack, it’s not going to work. It’ll be rejected.

If, on the other hand, you talking about the ‘portability’ of badges then, absolutely, that’s exactly what we’re aiming for. Multiple badge backpacks, a completely open and decentralised system, and learner sovereignty. The learner earns badges from issuers and then chooses where to host and display them.

Why is Mozilla interested in creating a system for credentialing learning?

We’re a non-profit that believes in the Web. We believe that it’s a fantastic platform for innovation – but only if it’s open, democratic and built upon standards. Because learning today happens anywhere, including on the Web, we want a credentialing system that can bypass the ‘gatekeepers’ to learning. We want better ways to credential experiences, knowledge, interest and skills.

Oh boy! (animated GIF)

Are all Open Badges public?

They can be. By default when they’re issued, Open Badges are private and can only be seen by an earner who has accepted the badge and placed it in their badge backpack. Once added to a collection (named by the learner) they can optionally be made public and displayed across the Web.

What’s the difference between a ‘digital’ badge and an ‘Open’ badge?

It’s very simple, but with fairly profound consequences. An Open Badge is a digital image that has metadata ‘baked’ into it. So in the same way that you bake ingredients together to make a cake, so you bake a badge. And again, just as you can’t then remove an ingredient from the baked cake so you can’t change an Open Badge once it’s been ‘baked’.

Does Mozilla ‘police’ Open Badges?

Nope (animated GIF)

We’re looking after the ‘plumbing’ of the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI). Our focus is upon the technical standards underpinning the whole ecosystem, not the pedagogical or social validity of badges. Some Open Badges will be frivolous and playful. Others will be rigorous and pedagogically sound. All of them will be technically valid badges. The value of a badge comes through a mixture of the reputation of the issuer and the rigour of the criteria for obtaining the badge.

What happens if I invest time in Open Badges and then Mozilla pull the plug?

We’re a non-profit who work (radically) in the open alongside the community. The OBI is a Mozilla product, but it’s more of a model where we’re the lead developers and advocates than having something than can be ‘pulled’. We’re committed to OBI for the long-haul, but even if we were all on several planes that crashed the Open Source community could still develop the infrastructure.

O RLY (animated GIF)

How can Mozilla maintain the quality of Open Badges?

‘Quality’ is an interesting word. Another variation of this question is How can Mozilla guarantee equivalency between badges? The short answer is, of course, that we can’t. That’s because we’re the ones developing the technical standard, but not those that are developing all of the badges within the ecosystem.

The OBI is a platform for innovation. We’ve already seen many high-quality badges that have been produced by lots of different organisations. But, of course, there will be poor badges. The value of the badge doesn’t come through how difficult it is to issue them, but upon the rigour of what you have to do to get them, and the evidence they point to. That’s within the metadata in the badge itself.

Badge anatomy
CC BY Kyle Bowen

One of the newer metadata fields that’s available within the OBI is a field that allows you to enter the URL of which standard you’re aligning to. So whether it’s a badge that aligns with the Common Core or the Web Literacy standard, there’s something you can point to as a common reference point. The ‘endorsement’ functionality that we’re working upon could then allow organisations to endorse certain badges as being good/valid representations of that standard.

What’s the quickest way of getting started issuing Open Badges?

There’s broadly three ways to start issuing badges. The first is to use a third-party badge issuing platform such as badg.usforallbadges or openbadges.me. This is the easiest, but the URLs in the metadata of the badge point towards that third-party platform over which you have no control.

The second way to issue badges is to use a plugin for a popular Content Management System or learning platform such as WordPress, Drupal or Moodle. Doing this means that you don’t have to do any coding but the URLs in the Open Badges point back to your domain.

The third way is the most complex and involves being (or hiring) a developer and using Mozilla’s onboarding documentation to build your own badge issuing platform or plugin. Apparently it’s not that hard, but I haven’t tried it.

What happens when there’s millions of Open Badges in the ecosystem and everyone has thousands of them?

Well, first of all that will be awesome! The great thing about Open Badges is that the learner is always in control. That means you can choose which badges to display for what purpose. So, if you want to show all of your gamer and photography badges on Facebook and your professional badges on your online portfolio, you can.

Cat - worried about puppies

The other thing to remember is that an Open Badge does not stand alone, but is part of a wider ecosystem of value. One of the best ways of imagining this is through badge-based learning pathways. In the same way that you collect cheeses/pies in Trivial Pursuit, so badges can work together to unlock a larger, meta-level badge. Once you’ve unlocked your competency-level badge, it would point back to the five skill-level badges of which it’s comprised.

How can we trust an Open Badge? How do I know someone hasn’t just bought one?

Both very good questions. A combination of the Criteria URL and the Evidence URL should help with this, I think. The (compulsory) Criteria URL states what the earner had to do in order to be issued the badge, and the (optional, but to my mind very important) Evidence URL points to work done in order to get the badge. This is anything that can be displayed on the Web – images, text, videos, etc.

Do people buy qualifications now? Of course they do. Will people attempt to (and sometimes be successful in purchasing) Open Badges? Almost definitely. But the difference between traditional qualifications and credentials, and Open Badges is that the latter leave a breadcrumb trail of evidence. My Great Uncle built his entire adult life on a the claim that he attended Oxford University. After his death we found this to be false. That wouldn’t really have been possible in a badge-based system. He would have been found out very quickly!

Investigator (animated GIF)

Why are Open Badges any more than stickers? Aren’t they just extrinsic motivators?

As stated above, the value of an Open Badge comes through the metadata contained. Learning design is the hard part of creating an ecosystem of badges; it’s the 90% of the iceberg you don’t see. So, of course Open Badges can be used to extrinsically motivate. But, like all credentialing systems, if designed well then they can also promote intrinsic motivation.*

*My rejection of intrinsic/extrinsic motivation as a binary will have to wait for another blog post…

How can issuers ensure their badges are taken as seriously as possible by institutions/employers?

An Open Badge is a metadata-infused credential. Whether badges are taken seriously depends on how trustworthy, relevant and useful they are to others. That’s a function of the reputation of the badge issuer but also on the rigour of the Criteria URL. What did the individual have to do to get the badge? Was that worth doing? Is there an Evidence URL pointing to what that individual actually did?

It’s a fact of life that people like (and trust) good-looking things so it’s worth spending some time on the visual design of the badge. But that’s the tip of the iceberg: it’s the learning design, the partnerships and the thinking through how individuals can ‘level up’ that’s important. DigitalMe have a great CC-licensed badge canvas resource to help you think through some of these things.

Finally, it’s worth having a useful way to display badges to institutions and employers. Purdue University, for example, have an iPad app that students can use to show their badges at interview. Badges can also be displayed on pretty much any kind of website, including e-portfolios and wikis.

Why would I want an Open Badge instead of a degree?

This is the $64,000 question, but one that misses the point in the short term. Often when a new technology comes along we think in terms of either/or. In practice, however, it’s more and/and/and. How can we use Open Badges to credential those things that we think are important but we don’t currently have a way of capturing? How can we make credentialing more granular? How can we make learning more personalised through badge-based ‘playlists’ or ‘pathways’? These are the questions which interest us a lot more than ‘Can X replace Y?’

Mind blow (animated GIF)

Have you got any more questions? Ask away below! (or on Twitter / Facebook / Google+) If I get enough I’ll probably do another one of these in a few weeks’ time. 🙂

Header image CC BY Bilal Kamoon

An Anarcho-Syndicalist critique of Web browsers

It’s good to have outliers in your Twitter stream and other social networks. The following conversation between @leashless and @mmaaikeu really made me think today, especially about literacies for the Web being predicated upon viewing it through a browser with built-in affordances, etc.

If the Storify embed doesn’t appear below, the full conversation (including tangents) can be found in my Flickr photostream or on the Internet Archive.

[View the story “Anarcho-syndicalist critique of browsers” on Storify]

I welcome the pushback to the work I’m doing that’s implicit in the conversation above. It’s always good to keep stuff like this in mind!

Two online gatherings you should be part of (today/tomorrow)

Earlier this week I led an #etmooc session on Digital Literacies. The slides for that are here and the video, audio, chat and etherpad archive can be found here. I’m involved in another couple of online gathering-type things in the new literacies arena this week that may also be of interest.

1. Twitter chat for #etmooc

I’m following up the above Digital Literacies #etmooc session with a Twitter chat at 10am PST / 3pm EST / 8pm GMT tomorrow night (Wednesday 20th February 2013). You don’t really need to do anything apart from follow the #etmooc hashtag and tweet accordingly.

2. Web Literacy standard online gathering

A couple of weeks ago we had a great kick-off online gathering for Mozilla’s upcoming work around a new, open learning standard for Web Literacy. There were many who couldn’t attend so we’re running the session again this Thursday (21st February 2013) at  9am PST / 12pm EST / 5pm GMT.

Further details are at http://weblitstd2.eventbrite.com. The recording of the previous session, along with some of my thoughts around the subject can be found here.

I’d love to see your name pop up at either or both of these events. Do take part if you can! 🙂

Image CC BY paul_clarke

On ‘rigour’ in definitions of digital and web literacy.

Update: For the latest information on the Web Literacy standard work, head to http://mzl.la/weblitstd

TL;DR version: If we define rigour as something that’s ‘unchanging’ and ‘objective’ then it’s almost impossible to be ‘rigorous’ about digital and web literacy. Instead, I propose that instead of being rigorous that we’re relevant, even if that’s at the expense of some objectivity.

Here’s an interesting one. I occasionally get corralled into Twitter conversations as someone who knows about something or other. Today, it was Miles Berry after being asked why the new draft National Curriculum should include ‘digital literacy’. The assumption by his interlocutor (Bruce Nightingale) was that in order for a subject to be included in a programme of study it should be ‘rigorously defined’ with a ‘body of knowledge’ behind it.

When I asked whether rigour means ‘has a definition everyone agrees on’ Bruce pointed me towards this blog post by Jenny Mackness on ‘academic rigour’. The conversation quickly became too nuanced to do justice in 140-character bursts, hence this follow-up blog post. I hope Bruce has time to reply.

In Jenny’s post she talks about finding definitions of ‘academic rigour’ unsatisfactory. I’d suggest that’s because it’s a kind of Zeugma, an ambiguous term. But let’s just focus upon ‘rigour’. The Oxford English Dictionary (probably the best place to resort when faced with knotty problems of definition) gives the etymology of ‘rigour’ as:

Etymology:  < Anglo-Norman and Middle French rigour, Middle French rigeur, rigueur (French rigueur ) inflexible severity, severity, harshness (12th cent. in Old French), strict application (of laws) (13th cent.), feeling of tingling or prickling (a1365 in medical context), (in plural) repressive measures (15th cent.), cruelty (15th cent.), harshness that is difficult to bear (end of the 15th cent., of cold, etc.), exactitude, precision (1580) and its etymon classical Latin rigor unbending quality, stiffness, rigidity, numbness, numbness of the body in fever, unyielding hardness, frozen condition, quality of being stiffly erect, tautness, inflexibility, sternness, severity, uncouthness < rig?re to be stiff (see rigent adj.) + -or -or suffix. Compare Old Occitan rigor (1461), Catalan rigor (14th cent.), Spanish rigor (13th cent.), Portuguese rigor (14th cent.), Italian rigore (a1320).

I can’t help but think when I see words like ‘harshness’, ‘cruelty’, ‘exactitude’, ‘precision’, ‘rigidity’ and ‘inflexibility’ that we’re using the wrong word here. Applying such stringent measures to an ambiguous term like ‘digital literacy’ is problematic as ‘digital’ pertains to many different referents. To talk of rigour (as defined above), then, is verging on the ridiculous.

But does a lack of rigour around a subject, topic or idea make it less valuable? I’d suggest not. Instead, I’d suggest it’s the terminology we’re using that’s problematic. Let’s take another example: the idea of academic ‘impact’. What, exactly, does that mean? You may well be able to draw up a framework or points for this or that, rewarding academics for performing certain activities and publishing in various places. But what about obvious areas of ‘impact’ that lie outside of that rigid framework? Rigour does not mean relevancy. Sometimes the problem is with the tools you are using rather than the thing you are trying to describe. It’s OK for things to be nebulous and slightly intangible.

Having spent several years of my adult life delving into the murky world of new literacies I’d suggest that (for example) helping young people learn how to use digital devices, how to think computationally, and how to stay safe online are extremely relevant things to be doing. Can we boil these activities down to things to be learned once for all time? Of course not. It’s hard enough when you’ve got a single referent (e.g. the Web)

So, in conclusion, I’ll see your definition of ‘rigour’ and raise you a ‘relevance’. Not everything that is valuable can be measured objectively. Nor should it be.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Josh Clark