Here’s what I’ve been up to this week:
- Finishing a short article on Zen and the Art of Digital Literacies for the inaugural issue of the ILTA journal.
- Preparing the invitation text for an upcoming webinar asking for those interested in collaborating around a new Web Literacy standard.
- Packing for California. Then travelling to Los Angeles via Paris.
- Meeting my colleagues at UC Irvine and talking to them about badges (as well as life, the world, and everything!)
- Participating in a ‘Future of Badges’ conversation at UC Irvine with extremely smart people like Cathy Davidson, David Theo Goldberg and John Seely Brown.
- Lurking in the two-day workshop for winners of the DML competition last year. There’s some great projects producing some awesome stuff (Credly, for instance).
- Sleeping whenever I get the chance.
- Editing the Learner Bill of Rights doc.
- Playing Draw Something with my now six year-old son across timezones. Also, Super Hexagon whenever I get a spare minute! 😀
- Learning about the awesome work that’s going on around badges by interested parties – like Credly, for instance.
- Arranging when I’m leading a session on digital literacies for #etmooc (18 February – and Twitter chat on 20th February)
Next week I’ll be back home and marking bids for the Nesta/Nominet Trust/Mozilla Digital Makers fund. I also want to plan out (if not start) changes and updates to the P2PU/Mozilla School of Webcraft. The work around this will probably happen post-DML Conference (March).
I’m currently in Los Angeles for three days of Open Badges-related workshops and meetings. Yesterday’s meeting was a conversation about ‘the future of badges’ with such luminaries as John Seely Brown, Cathy Davidson, Connie Yowell, and David Theo Goldberg in attendance. Also there was a representative from Udacity, a provider of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as well as a good number of my colleagues at Mozilla. The meta level of the conversation was almost too much for my jetlagged-addled brain to cope with at times!
One of the things that Cathy Davidson mentioned during the meeting was a Learner Bill of Rights that is currently available in draft form. The introduction states:
We believe that online learning represents a powerful and potentially awe-inspiring opportunity to make new forms of learning available to all students worldwide, whether young or old, learning for credit, self-improvement, employment, or just pleasure.
And we worry that this moment is fragile, that history frequently and painfully repeats itself. Think of television in the 1950s or even correspondence courses in the 1920s. As we begin to experiment with how novel technologies might change learning and teaching, powerful forces threaten to neuter or constrain technology, propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones.
All too often, during such wrenching transitions, the voice of the learner gets muffled. For that reason, we feel compelled to articulate the opportunities for students in this brave electronic world, to assert their needs and–we dare say–rights.
If you click through to the Google Doc (it’s also on Github) you’ll see that I’ve made a few comments. If you care about online education – cMOOCs, xMOOCs or otherwise – then you should add your voice.
Related things to which you may want to pay attention:
Image CC BY VinothChandar
At the London Festival of Education on Saturday I was on a panel about learning technologies in the classroom. You can see my notes in a previous blog post. One of the questions I received (or chose to respond to) was from a self-proclaimed applicant for a ‘bolshy questioner’ badge. Whilst I dismissed his main question as unhelpful, he did make one very good point: I hadn’t defined what I meant by ‘technology’.
It’s human nature to focus on negative feedback – perhaps it’s evolutionary, I don’t know. Whilst it can be destructive if dwelt upon (see this Oatmeal cartoon, for example) it can also spur your own thinking. And that’s what I’ve been doing over the past few days, until I stumbled across the following in Kevin Kelly’s book What Technology Wants.
To make the lengthy quotation slightly shorter, I should explain that techne is a word the ancient Greeks used for art, skill or craft. It’s closest to our word for ‘ingenuity’:
In the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution was one of several revolutions that overturned society. Mecchanical creatures intruded into farms and homes, but still this invasion had no name. Finally, in 1802, Johann Beckmann, an economics professor at Gottingen University in Germany, gave this ascending force its name. Beckmann argued that the rapid spread and increasing importance of the useful arts demanded that we teach them in a “systemic order.” He addressed the techne of architecture, the techne of chemistry, metalwork, masonry, and manufacturing, and for the first time he claimed these spheres of knowledge were interconnected. He synthesised them into a unified curriculum and wrote a textbook titled Guide to Technology (or Technologie in German), resurrecting that forgotten Greek word. He hoped his outline would become the first course in the subject. It did that and more. It also gave a name to what we do. Once named, we could now see it. Having seen it, we wondered how anyone could not have seen it.
Beckmann’s achievement was more than simply christening the unseen. He was among the first to recognise that our creations were not just a collection of random inventions and good ideas. The whole of technology had remained imperceptible to us for so long because we were distracted by its masquerade of rarefied personal genius. Once Beckmann lowered the mask, our art and artefacts could be seen as interdependent components woven into a coherent impersonal unity.
If you want to follow this up I recommend reading Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It for more on how ‘attention blindness’ can lead to bad consequences in technology and education.
I’ve said time and time again since writing my thesis that we run into problems when talking about things that can’t be pointed to in the physical world. If I point to an object for sitting on, for example, and say ‘chair’ you may be able to call it something different but (unless you’re an existentialist) can’t really deny its existence. That’s not the case with concepts such as ‘digital literacies’ or even ‘openness’ and ‘Bring Your Own Device’. We can argue what these things are, and what they mean, precisely because we don’t know where the boundaries are.
So technology is the name we give to a loosely-related, amorphous mass of stuff. The word is what William James would call ‘useful in the way of belief’ in that it provides with a way of talking about – a conceptual shorthand for – the kind of things that we’d otherwise have to explain in wordy blog posts like this one. 😉
Image CC BY-NC-SA Andrea in Amsterdam