Open Thinkering


Tag: future

A letter from the future

I came across this post by Chrys Bader recently. In it he writes a letter to his 23 year-old self. I thought it was great and it’s prompted me to do likewise.

Dear Doug,

Hello from the future! You’re 23 years old now and this is you in 10 years time writing to yourself. I want to give you some advice and general pointers. Having already been you, I know it’s likely that you’ll read this and then forget about it, but I’m going to do it anyway. For better or worse, I’m still as stubborn as you are now.

First things first: congratulations on making the best decision of your life in marrying Hannah! She’ll turn out to be not only a loving wife but a wonderful mother to your children. There’ll be some rough patches both professionally and personally over the next few years and she’ll be there for you. Go out of your way to be kind, gentle and loving towards her.

The next thing it’s important to highlight to you at 23, Doug, is maintaining relationships. This version of you at 33 sucks at doing that. You’re in a position right now to think about and use the manifold ways you can keep in touch with people. Relationships take effort and don’t thrive on conflict! Try to be agreeable.

There are two books I suggest you buy right now instead of waiting for them to find you:

Do you remember reading Sophie’s World for the first time and having your eyes opened to philosophy? Of course you do, it was only a few years ago. In a similar way, these two books will change the way you view the world and interact with others. Especially the first one. Trust me.

If I’ve got the timing right, then at 23 you’re busy with your PGCE so you can teach Secondary History. I’ll be blunt: you’ll want to drop out of this towards the end of the course. I can’t tell you what will happen if you choose to go ahead with that decision, but if you do then I’d highly recommend learning to code. There’s money in those hills.

Right now, you’ve got the least amount of money you’ll probably ever have. But, you know, this is also one of the happiest times of your life: newly married and living simply. Remember this when life gets more complicated – simplifying your life and reducing your expenditures means you have more contorl over how, when, and where to work.

You should travel. While the two of you have made vague plans to do so after five years of teaching, it’s likely that something (or someone) will come along to turn your world upside down. So do it now! Just go when you can. Remember how awesome backpacking around Italy and Canada was?

Finally, as I don’t want to turn this into an epistle, look after yourself. Learn to recognise how much stress is too much stress and get out of those situations. Money doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. Your health and relationships do. Focus on things that make you and the people around you happy. Exercise (more than you think you need to). Phone your parents, your grandmother, your sister. Keep up contact with friends. At the end of the day, your screens don’t love you back.

“Leap and the net will appear,” they say. Why not try it? What’s the worst that could happen?


Future Doug

Image CC BY-NC-SA il-la-lutz

Badge Camp 2013

I’m writing this from Amsterdam Schipol airport, where my flight’s delayed. Although frustrated at the delay, I’m excited to be heading to a workweek with my colleagues on the Open Badges team. It’s a week we’ve affectionately named Badge Camp where we’ll be hanging out, discussing, planning, playing the occasional game and doing some yoga in Maine, USA.

Chris McAvoy suggested that we write blog posts before we meet as position statements to ensure “great conversations instead of religious battles”. It’s a great idea.

There’s three things I want to get out of this week:

1. Team building & communication

We’ve grown quickly as a team and get on well, moving quickly and efficiently despite timezone differences. However, there’s always room to improve: the better you know people the easier it is dealing with them on a day-to-day basis. It’s the difference, I suppose, between working in an office where you can walk or lean over to ask someone a question, versus having to schedule a meeting or pinging them on IRC. Working face-to-face has its advantages.

Also, and it might just be me that feels this, but we use a plethora of tools in our daily internal communications. Some of these are standard across Mozilla while some are peculiar to our team. I want to get a sense of what we’re using, why we’re using it, and if there’s anything out there that could do the job better. Being out of the loop can feel disempowering, even if it’s accidental, when you’re working by yourself in a different timezone to others.

2. Giving people the tools they need

The Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) is a platform for innovation. As such, if we provide everything for people then it could potentially stifle innovation. We’ve held off launching a Mozilla-provided badge issuing platform, for example, so we could see the approach that others provided. However, my experience evangelising badges over the last year proves to me that people need something they can trust that’s Mozilla-backed. I feel strongly that we need to pivot the badge maker we made for Chicago Summer of Learning into a more general issuing platform.

I’m also excited by suggestions I’ve seen from my colleagues about a more developed badges dashboard within the backpack featuring discoverability and suggestions. This week I’m definitely looking forward to having more conversations about that. Also, ‘tools’ can also include things like case studies, good practices and the kind of things people need when they’re writing proposals. We should make it easier to find those things and, if they don’t exist, make sure they’re created.

3. Badging alignment with standards

To my mind, the OBI is a fantastic way to align with standards. I have a vested interest in this, of course, as I spend half of my time working on Mozilla’s Web Literacy Standard.

To be more specific:

  • I think we should re-visit Erin’s Badge Validation paper
  • Linked to the second point above, I think we need to include the ‘alignment’ metadata field in any more general badge issuing tool we provide
  • We need to do some evangelism/advocacy with standards bodies help them move to OBI-compliant systems


We’ve spent a couple of years moving from idea to execution and now have v1.0 of a technical standard that’s beginning to change the learning landscape. We’ve moved from people asking what? to why? to how? What we need to do next, I feel, is to keep innovating on the technical side of things, but to double-down on the where.

I think we should be showcasing people’s Open Badges success stories and pointing others towards well thought-out collections of resources to help them with their journey. Once an organisation has decided integrating with the OBI is a good idea we should make the process from decision to badge system as straightforward as possible.

Image CC BY-NC-SA rocket ship

Some of the team have also posted their thoughts:

On living in the future

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” (William Gibson)

There’s a known problem that (web) designers have, something that they have to consciously go out of their way to correct. The majority of them have large, colour-calibrated monitors displaying more pixels than you can stick a shake at. They use the latest tools and software. They’re aware of colour theory. They follow fashions within their community. This means, unless they’re careful, what they design on their super-high definition displays may look amazing for them but look really crappy on a three year-old beat-up laptop running an outdated operating system and browser.

Almost everyone I interact with on a daily basis lives in the future. They (we) have first world problems related to what are, in essence, luxury goods. They use alpha and beta versions of cutting-edge software and services. They’re looking for the next big thing. And by ‘they’ I include ‘me’ as well.

Let’s use the diffusion of innovation curve as a convenient hypocrisy. We all know it’s not a perfect model, but it serves a purpose here. The blue line represents successive groups of consumers adopting the product, service, etc. and the yellow line represents market share.

Technology adoption curve

Along with most people I know, I’m definitely to the left of that bell curve. But, interestingly, I’ve found myself moving steadily to the right as I get older. Part of this might be a natural drift* but I think there’s more than that. What I’m realising increasingly is that there are perils to shiny shiny educational technology and that sometimes it’s a good idea to be consciously (and perhaps, conspicuously) less shiny.

This year so far I’ve made two small steps in meeting people where they are: I’ve replaced my phone with an older one(!) and have resurrected my Facebook account. This means that, on the one hand, I’m using slightly ‘out of date’ technology and, on the other, I’m spending some of my time seeing the (online) world in the way that ‘most people’ do. It’s all very well having conversations with people who like technology, but often that’s preaching to the choir. To really change things and co-construct a positive future we need to convert people who haven’t yet ‘received the gospel’ (as it were).

So, over the next few months, I’ll be paying attention to my usual information sources – but also trying to participate in conversations and in places that tend towards the middle of the innovation curve. If you’ve got some ideas of (non-technical) places and (non-geeky) people I should be paying attention to, please let me know!

Image CC BY-SA Thomas Duchnicki

* I don’t necessarily agree, but Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”