Open Thinkering


Month: July 2011

A brand-new campaign for Purpos/ed: #purposedassess


After a brief lull (as I’ve mentioned before it’s all about the ‘cadence of engagement’) we’re back with a new campaign for Purpos/ed!

For those who haven’t been paying attention:

We’re a non-partisan, location-independent organization aiming to kickstart a debate around the question: What’s the purpose of education? With a 3-year plan, a series of campaigns, and a weekly newsletter we aim to empower people to get involved and make a difference in their neighbourhood, area and country.

This time we’re discussing and debating the question:

What’s the purpose of assessment?

Details on the Purpos/ed website, but you can jump straight in by following +Purpos/ed Team on Google+ (which is the platform we’re using for this particular campaign!)

Image BY-NC-SA KTVee 

On the important difference between ‘elite’ and ‘elitist’.

Toffs and Toughs

I had an interesting exchange via Twitter recently with Ian Yorston (Director of Digital Strategy at Radley College) about the difference between ‘élite’ and ‘élitist’. He argued that you don’t get élite performers without being élitist. He (and others, to be fair) used the example of élite performers in sport: they need to be treated well and compete against the best to be ‘élite’. He called this approach ‘élitism’. I argued, contrary to this, that the terms élite and élitist refer to very different concepts. You can read our conversation on Storify here. The 140-character limit soon became frustrating, so I decided to write about what I consider to be the difference here and how it applies to education.

Let’s just see what the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has to say about the two terms under discussion:

élite: The choice part or flower (of society, or of any body or class of persons).

élitist: (derivation of ‘elitism’)

élitism: Advocacy of or reliance on the leadership and dominance of an élite (in a society, or in any body or class of persons).

You can strive to be élite (as an individual, organisation or country) without being élitist. Whilst I began by going to the OED I prefer the definitions given by Google’s ‘define’ function here:


  1. A person who believes that a system or society should be ruled or dominated by an elite
  2. A person who believes that they belong to an elite

Wikipedia defines élitism in the following way:

Elitism is the belief or attitude that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.

I’ve got no problem with supporting and developing talent. My beef is with the important difference between élite (which is a status) and élitism (which is an attitude). It’s simply unacceptable, for example, that private school pupils dominate entry into the best universities because of the cultural capital of their parents and teachers. It’s a scandal of epic proportions that privately-educated politicians harp on about the importance of narrowly-focused league tables for state schools whilst private schools are left (by and large) to carry on activities that perpetuate hegemonic power. It’s not just about the goalposts, it’s about how level the playing field is to begin with.

As far as I’m concerned, we’ve moved on in the last 2,500 years from Plato’s idea of ‘philosopher kings’. There is no particular race or class of people who are better or worse to govern and lead society than others: there are just people who are better or worse educated and or well-connected at any given time (the latter is never measured in any league tables I’ve ever seen). During my recent trips to the United Arab Emirates I’ve witnessed an extremely economically and socially stratified society held together by a benign dictatorship and oil dollars. How far is the UK away from massive social stratification?  

It’s easy to justify those things in which you’re deeply involved; it’s a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc.  I just wonder how many of those who work within institutions that perpetuate a stratified and unfair society have actually reflected upon the change they want to see in the world? Perhaps, as a start, they should read some John Rawls, and reflect on how much they recognise of themselves in the theory of Cognitive Dissonance and get involved with Purpos/ed.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Update: This post was mentioned in the Times Higher Education supplement

The Setup.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled How I Use a MacBook Pro (May 2011). Since that time I’ve stumbled across a blog entitled The Setup which asks a range of creative people four questions about how they roll. I’ve realised the benefit of putting what I do into words, complete with links. Once you’ve read what’s below, I suggest heading over to to check out other people’s contributions!

Doug Belshaw enjoying a meal on Bateaux Dubai, July 2011

Doug Belshaw

Researcher/Analyst, JISC infoNet & Director, Synechism Ltd.

1. Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Doug Belshaw and I work at Northumbria University where JISC infoNet are hosted. I’ve also recently started an educational consultancy called Synechism Ltd and am co-kickstarter of Purpos/ed. At heart I’m an educator interested particularly in social justice issues, digital literacies, mobile learning and open educational resources. Prior to that I worked in schools and academies as Director of e-Learning and taught History for seven years.

2. What hardware are you using?

I’m pretty much attached to either my iPhone 4 or (work-provided) early-2010 MacBook Pro most of the time. Occasionally I break out my iPad (original wifi version) but I prefer my Kindle for reading. I write in Moleskine notebooks and then scan them in so that they’re available to me digitally anywhere, using the Tim Ferriss method of indexing. At work, although I try to use my MacBook Pro as much as possible, I’ve just had my work machine upgraded to a fairly decent spec (AMD Athlon II X2 3Ghz with 4GB RAM and Windows 7). Multiple desktops are a must – I run dual monitors on my work PC and six virtual desktops via Spaces on the MacBook Pro.

3. And what software?

I experiment with software regularly, but my staple apps and webapps are the following. I’m not a big fan of email, but GMail (I’ve got 5 accounts) makes life more bearable – as does the Sparrow app. I’ve found that Xobni makes Outlook bearable. My job would be a lot harder without Skype for interviewing and catching up with people and TweetDeck for keeping my finger on the pulse (I’m also a big fan of LinkedIn Signal, Google+ and Quora for this). I’m a lot less frustrated regarding passwords now that I’ve transferred wholesale to LastPass.

Dropbox keeps my files in sync between my machines, and I just love the fact that I can send a link to a large file in there from the iPhone app wherever I am. Google Apps is a wonderful service and I’m a massive fan of Google Calendar – I’m so much more organised due to its reminder functions. For keeping up with RSS feeds I use Feedly, which is a front end for Google Reader. I flirt with Evernote from time to time, using it sporadically but I’m still grappling with how to use it effectively. Licorize is my go-to place to store bits of digital things.

Shorter writing tends to be via WordPress or Google Docs, with longer stuff powered by Scrivener, with which I’ve been writing my doctoral thesis. Papers is a godsend for organising academic journal articles. I’ve recently downloaded iA Writer for the iPad which looks useful – I’m going to have to get myself the offical keyboard. If I’m presenting I’ll use Keynote, which I find to be a wonderfully useful tool. Despite having Adobe CS5 provided through work, I mainly use Keynote and Seashore for image creation and editing. If I’m brainstorming I’ll use XMind.

Spotify, and SomaFM provide the tunes to which I listen for most of my waking hours. I also listen to a lot of podcasts whilst commuting and doing tasks that don’t require much in the way of creativity. I’ve recently come across the DownCast iPhone app which making this a more positive and hassle-free experience (it downloads podcasts in the background).

I’m not a paranoid person, but I do subscribe to iPREDator, a VPN provided by the people behind The Pirate Bay as well as using PeerGuardian. I notice that my download speeds – and not just by Bittorrent (for which I use Vuze) – are much increased when BT don’t know which sites I’m connecting to. There’s other tools that make my life easier like, Timey and Cinch as well as other webapps I haven’t mentioned like Posterous, Amplify, Delicious, Greplin, Flickr, ImageStamper, Huffduffer, Instapaper (love the auto-send-to-Kindle feature!)

Right now I’m alternating between Google Chrome and nightly builds of Webkit, but up until recently was using Rockmelt as my browser. I’m a bit of a browser tart.

4. What would be your dream setup?

I’d love a Mac Pro. A geeky aim in life for me is for any app to load on my Mac without it ‘bouncing’ in the dock. That would be awesome. I’d also love a 30″ Apple Cinema display, but that probably isn’t happening anytime soon. I’d also love not to have to go into the office every day and be able to work remotely from something like an OfficePOD at home. I’ve got a study, but it’s a garage conversion so can be loud and is too much part of the house to be productive. For now, I’ll have to make do with coffee shops (where I’m able, bizarrely, to get in the zone).