Open Thinkering


Tag: reputation

No easy answers

In the early days of new ‘disruptive’ technologies (see MOOCs, blockchain, Open Badges…) the rhetoric is always about how one thing will replace something else, democratise a system, and/or reduce costs. While the latter is usually true, unfortunately what tends to happen is that existing power dynamics, far from being disrupted, are reinforced.

I’m thinking about these things after conversations with a whole range of people about Project MoodleNet — including one with Stephen Downes yesterday. There’s no such thing as a neutral system, so every time you design a new technology-based system, you’re designing to reinforce or subvert existing power structures.

Take, for example, private schools and elite universities. There’s a vested interest for almost everyone in their ecosystem to maintain their status. After all, if the reputation of the school or university is tarnished, the value of the credential earned by an individual from that institution could be reduced by implication.

That reduction in a credential’s value wouldn’t be so significant if the time for which it is deemed relevant were shorter than, say, a lifetime. I earned a doctorate from a top-tier university just over five years ago, a Masters degree fifteen years ago, and a Bachelor of Arts degree a year before that. At what point should these be deemed to have ‘expired’. Should they? It’s an interesting question, and may depend on discipline.

Back to designing technological systems, and the immediate and pressing question is over how to gain traction. The easiest way of doing this, of course, is to appeal to existing and entrenched privilege. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours: I’ll give you privileged status in my new system if you allow me to lean on your existing reputation.

What’s the opposite of that? Well, I guess it’s the approach that was attempted in the early days of Open Badges. In other words, create an ecosystem that puts everyone on an equal playing field, and see what happens. Interestingly, while the existing status quo (awarding bodies, universities, professional organisations) have used it to shore-up their position, there’s also new players.

Ideally, I’d like Project MoodleNet to work for everyone. I’d like the teacher in a developing country with few resources to be able to get the same amount of kudos and recognition as the educator in an elite university. The difficulty, of course, is designing a system that doesn’t feel like it’s stacked in favour of one over the other…

Image: Levelling the Playing Field by Bryan Mathers shared under a CC BY-ND license

Quit whinging and ‘use the difficulty’!

'All the world's a stage'

Image by Pedro Moura Pinheiro at Flickr

If minor celebrities and athletes can write their autobiographies whilst still in their 20s, then I feel justified in dispensing some wisdom. Here it is:

If you want to go far in life, don’t whinge.

Not whinging is your fastest and most direct route to success, in any area. People don’t like whingers. Note that I’m not saying don’t say anything negative, just be aware of the difference between that and whinging.

Whinging is when an individual says something negative without any interest or commitment to making what it is they’re whinging about better. Their utterances are worse than useless as they actually make everyone else around them feel worse. That’s why people avoid whingers.

But not whinging isn’t just about winning friends and influencing people, it’s about personal happiness. Not whinging makes you feel better about yourself. And if you make a commitment to make changes rather than moaning about them, then your confidence will increase. You are likely to also gain new skills and your personal productivity is likely to skyrocket. 😀

I’m reminded of a quotation from Michael Caine I read recently on Scott Berkun’s blog about how he learned to use difficult situations to his advantage:

I was rehearsing a play, and there was a scene that went on before me, then I had to come in the door. They rehearsed the scene, and one of the actors had thrown a chair at the other one. It landed right in front of the door where I came in. I opened the door and then rather lamely, I said to the producer who was sitting out in the stalls, “Well, look, I can’t get in. There’s a chair in my way.” He said, “Well, use the difficulty.” So I said “What do you mean, use the difficulty?” He said “Well, if it’s a drama, pick it up and smash it. If it’s a comedy, fall over it.” This was a line for me for life: Always use the difficulty.

So be like Michael Caine. If you see a difficulty, don’t whinge; do something about it! 🙂