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Sharing and commenting on things I see that I find important.

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I woke up to a different world this morning

1 min read

I arrived in Denver yesterday to present and run a workshop at a couple of events. That means there's a seven-hour time difference between here and UK time, so I was awake at ~5am BST when the BBC announced that it was mathematically impossible for to win.

Lots of people have shared their thoughts and feelings, but it's sentiment as opposed to facts that got us into this mess. I'm just going to share the following graphic that appeared in my Twitter stream thanks to Sarah Horrocks:

I think the best we can hope for now is:

  1. General election called
  2. Article 50 trigger postponed until results of general election
  3. Labour win
  4. Negotiations with EU
  5. Second referendum

Oh, OK then, one bit of opinion. This comment on the Financial Times website (discovered via this tweet) seems to have got things about right: 

Comment on FT website

I feel like I don't even know my countrymen (including members of my own family) any more. How could they vote for something so backwards, so xenophobic, and so likely to impoverish future generations?

 

Not waving, drowning (in information)

4 min read

[I]f statistics persists, most of you probably won’t make it through this entire article. Don’t worry, I won’t blame you.

Clayton d'Arnault doesn't think I'd finish his article. But I did. Mainly because it was so interesting. If I was being picky, I'd say that most of the reason people have 'short attention spans' is that they quite like people getting to the point. He could have used less words, to be fair.

There's some familiar material in here such as quotations from The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, and statistics to do with how often we look at our mobile devices. That being said, he does point out that our addiction to information and social connection is nothing new:

Infomanics like myself are likely to feel the effects of information overload, a phenomenon caused by overdosing on information, which reportedly developed as early as the 3rd century BC, when writing allowed us to record and preserve information longer than memory. Information overload is a mentally, and physically, taxing condition. Symptoms include sluggish thinking, a flitting mind, and stifled creativity.

...and:

[A]ccording to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are five stages of needs that motivate humans. Two of these stages, social connection and self-actualization (specifically the pursuit of knowledge) make it clear why we’re addicted to the Internet. The Internet more than satisfies these needs by providing an unlimited connection to family and friends, lovers and life partners, thoughts, ideas, theories, opinions, data, and other invaluable resources. It’s the perfect solution — social connection and endless knowledge on demand.

I do take issue with his rationale (echoing Carr) about our concentration spans diminishing because of technology:

As a kid, I was able read the Harry Potter series front to back. Now, it’s just as Carr asserts: “The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” It seems that my infomania has taken a toll on my sense of concentration. I can’t focus on an article for more than a few minutes at a time without checking my phone or opening a new Chrome tab and disappearing into a click hole of links. I have to consciously force myself to finish reading a piece longer than 500 words. I have a habit of scrolling to the end of an article to determine how much more reading I have left, and ultimately to decide if I plan on finishing the article, skimming it, or just moving on.

I'm of the opinion that it's equally as likely to be because of the sheer number of options we have, both as a result of a more 'free' and open society — but also because, well, when you become an adult, you can kind of do anything you want. So long as what you're doing is legal, there's no constraints.

The reason I'm sharing this article here is because of two pieces of advice the author gives us. First, recognise the power of the 'Zeigarnik effect' and attempt to close any open loops in your life:

I’ve found, to my relief, that this feeling of self-induced amnesia is grounded in the Zeigarnik effect — the tendency to experience subconscious, nagging mental reminders to tie up loose ends. Bluma Zeigarnik, the psychologist whom this phenomenon was named after, successfully demonstrated that people are more inclined to recall uncompleted tasks; therefore, completed tasks are lost among the uncompleted.

Second, recognise that it's not digital detoxes themselves that are important, but the re-prioritisation they afford:

The key is not disconnecting, but understanding why we need to disconnect: to appreciate the constant of life as it is without technology. I believe that understanding this while filtering out the unnecessary can lead to a more satisfying type of inspiration and insight, than you could ever find beneath the online information treasure trove we call the internet.

A worthwhile article from a Medium publication I've only just started following. Recommended.

 

Never mind #Brexit, let's get rid of our royal family

2 min read

The past six years of Tory government in the UK has really irritated me. They stand for everything that I loathe: the self-interest an 'elite' Old Boys' network co-ordinating attacks on the poor and most vulnerable in our society under the banner of 'austerity'. However, I suppose that, using the First Past The Post system we've got in England, they were at least democratically elected.

Next week, the UK votes in the EU Referendum. I've already cast my postal vote in favour of remaining in the EU as, to me, the benefits of co-operation couldn't be clearer. Even the fibre broadband connection that allows me to post this is because of EU investment. Without it, we'd be on the equivalent of dial-up.

If we really want to get rid of unaccountable, outdated, reactionary bureaucracy that is holding this country back, then let's get rid of our royal family. Without being ultra-nationalist, I support and am proud of my country, but find singing our national anthem problematic. I don't want Elizabeth Windsor to be victorious, and I certainly don't want her, or any member of her family, to 'reign over us'.

The best excuses people seem to give for the royal family to be left alone is that they're 'good for tourism' or that 'there's just something comforting about having them'. Well, here's a blanket, and let's put on more events like London 2012. Never mind feuds from Eton spilling out into potential economy-sabotaging decisions. Let's get rid of the royal family, get a written constitution, reform the voting system to proportional representation, stay in the EU, and have more democracy, not less.

 

Digital detox

1 min read

Sam Altman quitting Twitter

I don't follow Sam Altman, but this mini 'tweetstorm' was on the front page of Hacker News this morning. Inevitably — and ironically given his reasons for temporarily quitting Twitter — there's been snarky comments:

Why is this newsworthy? It seems like the exact same points have been made hundreds of times.

Seems like if you're done you should just be done.

The binaries we use (on/off, using/not using) drown out the shades of grey that make us human. We all need time to be different versions of ourselves.

For example, I take time off every year away from blogging, personal email, and social networks. I always take December off, and last year I took August off as well (instead of November). I'll be doing the same this year, spending the majority of August under canvas with my family.

 

More on City & Guilds and digital credentialing

1 min read

Given the announcement today, now seems like an appropriate time to share a video that Bryan Mathers and I (with the able assitance of Tim Powell) put together for City & Guilds. 

It explains why digital credentialing (i.e. Open Badges) is such a powerful concept. Bryan did the images, Tim made them move, and I provided the narration.

Can't see the video? Click here

 

Abs(tin)ence makes the heart grow fonder

1 min read

Banana bread

At the beginning of this month, after successfully abstaining from caffeine and alcohol for the whole of May, I announced I was swearing off sugar for June. This post is an admission of failure: two weeks in and I'm back on it.

Why? Well, I've felt worse and worse over the past week, to the point that I seemed tired all of the time. I've twice almost fainted at the gym this week, and twice slept for 11 hours at a time! Most of the other nights were filled with sleepwalking and strange dreams. Coincidence, perhaps, but this afternoon, I quit my sugar detox. 

What does this tell me about myself? I'd like to think that I'm a pragmatist; I'm willing to experiment, but not the detriment of my productivity and mental health. The chocolate-chip banana bread and coffee I had at about 3pm this afternoon was like manna from heaven. Seriously. 

Image CC BY-NC-ND etringita

 

The big acquisition news of the day

1 min read

For me, the big acquisition news of today wasn't the surprise announcement that Microsoft is buying LinkedIn. No, for me, the far more interesting story was one I've been involved with: the City & Guilds group acquiring Digitalme and Makewaves to create a new digital credentialing business based on Open Badges.

Check out the announcement from Digitalme, and you can read the official City & Guilds update here.


Update: There's also a post here from Chris Kirk, who will head-up the new digital credentialing business within the City & Guilds group.

 

Towards a repository of 'open' Open Badges around employability

3 min read

WE ARE HIRING

This morning I was talking with Bryan Mathers who I find a wonderful thought partner. As usual, we sparked ideas off each other via appear.in until we ended up in an unexpected, obvious, under-explored space.

I've been doing some work recently for a client around employability. As with the web literacy work I did at Mozilla, this is largely an exercise in consensus-building. With my doctoral thesis I found as many definitions of 'digital literacy' as there are researchers in the field. The same is true of employability.

The difference with employability is that it's meant to be a discrete set of 'skills' (although I prefer to talk about 'behaviours' or 'habits of mind') that people need these days to get, and hold down, a job.* Of course that leads very nicely to Open Badges.

Five years in, we're still in the relatively early days of badges. As I've said many times before, I see this as a 10-year journey (and I'm in it for the long haul) so some of the things that are likely to happen need to be planned for rather than reacted to. One, for example, is an organisation or individual copying the metadata and visual image from one badge system and issuing it themselves. This is all perfectly possible using open licenses.

For something like employability or new literacies, having a reference badge system is a great way to get started quickly and easily doing the important work of building capacity. To that end, Bryan and I thought about setting up a GitHub repository that would include everything you need to start issuing a whole range of badges around employability. Our 'payment' (we'd probably do this through weareopen.coop) would be in the form of attribution and lead-generation for future work.

So the repository contains the metadata required for badges both in plaintext and JSON format, along with an SVG and PNG image for the visual image. GitHub allows you to see the 'diffs' (i.e. differences between) various versions of SVGs according to this post.

Check out the repository here

Coincidentally, yesterday's Badge Standard Working Group published a Creative Commons License Extension that makes all of this possible in a pretty easy and straightforward way. 

Watch this space! :) 


* I think there's a whole series of posts to be written how the atomisation of society and neoliberal agenda has led to on-the-job training beind rolled back. This means that the kind of things you'd learn once employed are now expected before you even get to that stage. But, anyway... 

 

Abstinence (Part Two)

3 min read

Sugar in a cup via nomad.pictures

Last month I decided to give up caffeine and alcohol. This was an attempt to reduce the number of migraines I experience, the frequency of which always seems to increase around the time we're forced to obey the chronological imperialism of clocks going forwards or backwards for daylight savings. I've never seen the point in changing them, to be honest.

The last month's experiment was a difficult one to control given the variables involved. It's taken me ages, for example, to figure out that running definitely causes me migraines - and not because of dehydration. However, given I only suffered a couple of migraines during the whole of May, I'm counting this experiment as a qualified success. 

People tend to refer to caffeine and alcohol as 'accelerator' and 'brake' pedals. That's why caffeine tends to be consumed during the day, and alcohol at night. I found that life is quite different when you take your feet off those pedals. We tend to call this 'coasting' when talking about vehicles, but that's not how it felt. Perhaps a better analogy would be that caffeine is like a nitro boost and alcohol is like a handbrake. 

Interestingly, one of the books I read during May, Daily Rituals, outlines the habits of well-known writers, artists, and other people who create things for a living. All of them seem to use some kind of substances to get in or out of the 'zone'. As Honore de Balzac, an inveterate coffee drinker (50 cups per day!) is quoted as saying, drink coffee and "ideas come in marching like an army". 

Weighing myself at the start and end of the month, I was surprised to find I'd put on a few pounds, but then realised that I'd compensated for my usual two cups of coffee a day by increasing my sugar intake. Some of this was situational: when out for a meal or a drink with people I'd have a ginger beer (or similar) instead of alcohol. But there was also something subconscious drawing me towards sugar as a stimulant. On reflection, I was most susceptible to this when working in an office-based environment for longer than my optimal six-hour day.  

Today, June 1st, I'm allowing myself both coffee and alcohol once more. What I'm going to try this month is to avoid added sugar wherever possible. This is obviously a harder thing to do than coffee and alcohol, as it's in everything these days. I'll avoid desserts, as well as snacks like peanut M&Ms (of which I'm a little too fond). I'm going to have a try at 100% chocolate, which is made using cacao but no sugar. Apparently it's extremely bitter. 

Finally, I've been trying to rediscover the blog of a guy I came across a while ago who would experiment on himself in the way I've started to do. He did it in a controlled way, but one that felt a bit more 'human' than the examples on the Quantified Self website. After a search this morning, the closest I've come to it is this 30 days at a time blog from 2011. Having a focus on doing something (or in my case, abstaining from something) for a period of a month can really make a difference to your outlook on life. 


Update: I just came across this list of crowdsourced treatments by migraine sufferers. I may try some of the more popular approaches in months to come.

 

Badging for Student Motivation

3 min read

A couple of weeks ago I made notes and comments on Part 1 of Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases which dealt with trends and issues. Part 2, which I'm turning to now, focuses on 'cases', with this particular sub-section looking at 'Digital Badges for K12 Learners'. These are examples of badge projects in action, including that featured in Chapter 12 ('College and Career Ready: TK-12 Badging for Student Motivation').

After some standard background to the project, the chapter takes an interesting turn

In focus group conversations, the philosophical questions quickly arose: What is worthy of a badge? Some administrators wanted to ensure that every student earned a badge and thus advocated for a low threshold for issuance. Each student would earn a badge for taking a particular standardised exam, but their level of achievement would be indicated with a different badge color... However, when we recalibrate do the purpose of the badging program, tied to our college and career readiness initiative, we came to the consensus that "Proficient" or "Advanced" scores should be our target. Since badging was designed as a student motivation component, cheapening the badge such that everyone earns a badge every time would defeat the purpose.

This is a classic case of creating a false dichotomy and not really understanding the affordances of Open Badges. Using badges solely for their motivating power is likely to lead to diminishing returns but, more importantly, badges are not simply 'digital certificates' or 'digital gold stars'. Reducing badges to this level is shoehorning an analogue mindset into a digital world.

Open Badges are a learning currency. Therefore, just as in a fiscal system, to participate in the economy of badges, one must have a stake. As badges can be issued by anyone for anything, there's absolutely no problem in ensuring that people can start their badge journey by claiming a low-stakes badge. It could be for participation, it could be for something else. But to artificially restrict badges in order to issue them like paper certificates is to merely substitute one technology for another.

The authors detail the logistics of moving from the design to the implementation phase, noting some issues with 'School-site badges':

While challenges to site-level badges were anticipated at the time of launch, the specific idiosyncrasies that have arisen could not have been foreseen. For instance, due to the design and the usage of our SIS [Student Information System] to automate badges associated with specific course codes in the master schedule, we have found some inconsistencies between schools using the same course code to teach similar but not equivalent courses. This has resulted in a few instance of students being assigned badges for skills they did not learn or master.

I disagree. I think this is eminently foreseeable and avoidable. Firstly, a one-to-one relationship between course code and badge is poor badge pathway design. Secondly, this is the kind of problem that planning using a spreadsheet was made for. As ever, the problem with this project was the outdated thinking, not the technology

The conclusion cites self-reported data around motivation which, it would seem, because bar charts could be created as a result, meant the project was successful. I think this was a highly problematic implementation of badges, even with the self-congratulatory rhetoric of the authors writing up the project.