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  • Doug Belshaw 8:46 am on September 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Can you escape your origins? 


    The way that Stephen Downes framed this link to a Metafilter review was interesting:

    As I prepared my slides for today’s short talk (we’re doing a round of autobiographies in our group – a good idea) I thought a lot about where I stand vis-à-vis the rest of society. Not as ‘respectable‘. Not as “entitled to… education, social standing, pay and political power.” I had to take each one of these, to wrest them from people of more deserving background. I had a lot of setbacks, a lot of battles. And you can never actually escape your origins, because to escape you must accept the values and assumptions of the ruling class, the core of which is that people from your class don’t belong in the boardroom or with polite company. I would never do that. As this author writes, rising with your class is the only thing that makes sense.

    I grew up in a middle-class household in a poor, working-class, ex-mining area. That gives me middle-class ideals and expectations with working-class sensibilities. Most of the time that just means I’m continually conflicted about what constitutes ‘progress’ and the good life. I’m less ‘rising with my class’ than trying to catch up with them.

    So no, I don’t think you can ‘escape’ your origins, but why would you want to? It’s an inextricable part of who you are. This all reminds me of Alain de Botton’s marvellous The Art of Travel which reminds us that the problem with going on holiday is that you have to take ourselves, with all of our foibles and our baggage, with us.

  • Doug Belshaw 1:51 pm on September 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Getting the wrong end of the stick about Open Education 

    Sky with clouds

    David Kernohan:

    Open Education itself is a conspiracy, if you like. Evil publishers are profiting from the unequal distribution of information, where they do take steps to address this they are “openwashing”. They do this because they hate learning where a profit is not made. If we attain a critical mass, open education will replace the textbook publishing industry.

    If you are sitting there thinking “who, us?”, ask yourself what information would falsify your belief in open education. What information would falsify your other beliefs?

    I see what he’s getting at, but pace Kuhn’s classic, science involves belief systems, too. It’s not a question of Popperian falsifiability. What we actually need, and what Brexit, Trump, and the ‘post-factual landscape’ has played into, is for us to do a better job around collective ‘identity’.*

    Image via Nomad Pictures

    *See this post for more by me on this, including bonus paragraphs on ambiguity!

  • Doug Belshaw 1:38 pm on September 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Be the footnote you want to see in the world 


    I stumbled up the website of Gwern Branwen recently for something tech-related and, as I usually do, clicked on the About Me / profile link to find out more about the author. What I found greatly reminded me of Peter Drucker’s exhortation in Managing Oneself to take responsibility for your relationships:

    Even people who understand the importance of taking responsibility for relationships often do not communicate sufficiently with their associates. They are afraid of being thought presumptuous or inquisitive or stupid. They are wrong. Whenever someone goes to his or her associates and says, “This is what I am good at. This is how I work. These are my values. This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver,” the response is always, “This is most helpful. But why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

    Under the sub-heading collaboration style, Branwen says (my emphasis):

    It is much better to find some people who have tried in the past to solve a problem and bring them together to solve it, than to solve it yourself – even if it means being a footnote (or less) in the announcement. What’s important is that it got done, and people will be using it. Not the credit.
    This is an ethos I learned working with the inclusionists of Wikipedia. No code is so bad that it contains no good; the most valuable code is that used by other code; credit is less important than work; a steady stream of small trivial improvements is superior to occasional massive edits.

    I can’t tell you how refreshing this is to read. 

    CC BY Early Novels Database

  • Doug Belshaw 7:05 pm on September 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    You don’t have to speak the same language to adopt badges 

    Pine cone 

    …you just have to adopt the same metadata standard.


    I’m not sure where to start with this Inside Higher Education article by Colin Mathews entitled Unwelcome Innovation.

    Here are some assertions from the article:

    • “Early on, digital badges often used Boy and Girl Scout badges as an analogy, but the more direct precursor of the current generation of badge solutions is video games.” (Nope.)
    • “Badge adherents aim to address the “value” and portability of badges by attaching proof of skills to the badges themselves. This is the same idea behind e-portfolios…” (No, e-portfolios are fundamentally different to badges)
    • “Credentials, in and of themselves, are a solved problem.” (Ha! If only.)
    • “What’s clear is this: it’s far, far more important to simply document existing credentials than to invent new ones, or a new language to describe them.” (No, that just makes it easier to preserve the status quo.)
    • “Connecting students’ skills and ambitions to the pathways to a career is a big deal, but it doesn’t require a new language that’s based on techno-solutionist fantasies.” (Yes it does: words have power to describe new realities.)

    It’s unclear what point the author is trying to make. He assumes that Open Badges is, somehow, solely focused on Higher Education. This is far from the case. He also begins the article by saying that to “better communicate the value and variety of people’s skills to employers” is “very valuable”. This is exactly what Open Badges offers! Oh, and I’m calling B.S. on his claim that he was part of the “biggest, most comprehensive badge experiment that no one has heard of”. 

    Ultimately, I don’t think that Mathews, who looks like he’s got skin in the game with a siloed competitor to badges, would know a metadata standard if one turned into a wet fish and slapped him the face. Perpetuating what we’ve got in Higher Education isn’t working in terms of employability of graduates. And for everyone else outside of the ivory tower, what’s the problem with creating a new learning currency?

    Ordinarily, I would merely roll my eyes at this kind of article, as it’s the type of thing you find on a startup’s blog that no-one ever reads. But seeing as Inside Higher Ed saw fit to publish it on their site, here’s what I can be bothered to provide by means of pointing out flaws in an article that, unlike the rest of us, is by an author tearing down rather than building up.

    Image via Nomad Pictures


  • Doug Belshaw 9:37 am on September 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    General purpose computers give kids wide walls 

    Rainbow light

    I really like this article by Mark Wilson at Fast Co.Design, railing against how dumb supposedly ‘educational’ toys actually are. It reminds me of the situation that I’ve seen with my own kids where they’re more interested in the box that the educational toy was shipped in than the contents received as a Christmas present from a well-meaning relative.

    The author goes on to cite Pokemon Go which not only has ‘invisible lessons’ (saving up points, investing in the right power-ups) but actually gets kids out and about. In fact, video games are a great way to prepare kids for the adult world. And yes, I speak from experience… 

    Research has found that video games can spur problem solving, interest in history, social skills, and even exercise (when kids tried to mock the moves they saw virtual athletes make.) Almost every off-the-shelf dummy video game you play requires a basic version of the scientific method to complete. Here you are, on Super Mario Bros. level one. The first time you play, you run right into the goomba mushroom and die. The second time, you hypothesize how to avoid death. “Maybe I can jump over him. Maybe I can jump on him!” You test. And correct theories are rewarded with progress in the game. So what if you’re not publishing a grand conclusion. Your conclusion is burning Bowser alive and partying with the princess at the last castle. Meanwhile, all those coding apps that are all the rage? They aren’t proven to work. And they teach such baseline principles that there’s not much gained. Meanwhile, handing a kid who is curious about coding real resources—maybe a plan, an Arduino, and some LEDs—could do the job better. And it would give them the opportunity to build something real they might actually want to play with when the lesson is done.

    I’m not a big fan of silos. The best preparation for adult life is diversity and learning how to do things in unexpected new ways. Educational toys prescribe the outcome, set limits on what’s possible, and aren’t even very ‘fun’. 

    Bottom line: Life is short. Let’s not spend it with stupid educational toys and apps that won’t teach our kids much of anything they couldn’t learn somewhere else, while probably having more fun playing in the process.

    We’re far too keen to take the shortcut to what we think would be a good outcome for our little darlings. What they need is a broad education, one which has (what Mitch Resnick would call) ‘wide walls’. Instead, we constrain what’s possible, effectively conspiring with governments and large organisations to create what Cory Doctorow calls the war on general purpose computing.

    Image via Nomad Pictures

  • Doug Belshaw 5:52 am on September 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    The Feedback Loop From Hell 

    An excerpt on Lifehacker from Mark Manson’s new book.

    We joke online about “first-world problems,” but we really have become victims of our own success. Stress-related health issues, anxiety disorders, and cases of depression have skyrocketed over the past thirty years, despite the fact that everyone has a flat-screen TV and can have their groceries delivered. Our crisis is no longer material; it’s existential, it’s spiritual. We have so much fucking stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t even know what to give a fuck about anymore.

    Because there’s an infinite amount of things we can now see or know, there are also an infinite number of ways we can discover that we don’t measure up, that we’re not good enough, that things aren’t as great as they could be. And this rips us apart inside.


  • Doug Belshaw 7:12 pm on September 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Shane Parrish | My Morning Routine 

    I’ve also stopped reading the newspaper. Looking at the opportunity cost of my time, I began to realize I was getting more value from reading other sources of information.

    While I haven’t completely given up scanning the newspaper every day (we subscribe to The i) my main reason for picking it up is to do the crossword. I highly recommend reading The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton if you haven’t come across it yet…

  • Doug Belshaw 7:00 pm on September 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Jersey is lovely 

    I’m here for some work with a new client. And no, my American friends, not New Jersey. The island of Jersey is here:


    I’m not going to even try and explain the relationship and history of Jersey with regard to the UK, especially in these times of near-Brexit…

  • Doug Belshaw 6:41 pm on September 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    The ‘unplugging’ narrative is now a non-fiction genre to itself 

    Plants in tall grass

    From the Sherry Turkle and Nicholas Carr school of ‘these new-ish things cause us to act differently so they must be bad’ comes this article by Andrew Sullivan. An example of his florid prose:

    Think of how rarely you now use the phone to speak to someone. A text is far easier, quicker, less burdensome. A phone call could take longer; it could force you to encounter that person’s idiosyncrasies or digressions or unexpected emotional needs. Remember when you left voice-mail messages — or actually listened to one? Emojis now suffice. Or take the difference between trying to seduce someone at a bar and flipping through Tinder profiles to find a better match. One is deeply inefficient and requires spending (possibly wasting) considerable time; the other turns dozens and dozens of humans into clothes on an endlessly extending rack.

    The author, who had a job that required him to be ‘on’ 24/7, reflects on his unplugging via a meditation retreat. This ‘unplugging’ story is almost a non-fiction genre by itself these days. I’m not entirely sure how instructive it is, given that people can get addicted to pretty much anything. 

    I mean, for goodness’ sake, perhaps the guy actually has psychological issues that meant he was over-compensating with his use of technology? This section would suggest so:

    I was a lonely boy who spent many hours outside in the copses and woodlands of my native Sussex, in England. I had explored this landscape with friends, but also alone — playing imaginary scenarios in my head, creating little nooks where I could hang and sometimes read, learning every little pathway through the woods and marking each flower or weed or fungus that I stumbled on. But I was also escaping a home where my mother had collapsed with bipolar disorder after the birth of my younger brother and had never really recovered. She was in and out of hospitals for much of my youth and adolescence, and her condition made it hard for her to hide her pain and suffering from her sensitive oldest son.

    That must have been awful. But let’s not extrapolate from anecdotes and personal experiences to the whole human condition, eh?

    Image via Nomad Pictures

  • Doug Belshaw 5:59 pm on September 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Competency grids are not the future of HR 

    Many thanks to Amy Burvall who brought this Harvard Business Review article to my attention. The author, Michelle Weise, starts off well:

    How can companies get a better idea of which skills employees and job candidates have? While university degrees and grades have done that job for a long time, they’ve done it imperfectly. In today’s rapidly evolving knowledge economy, badges, nanodegrees, and certificates have aimed to bridge the gap – but also leave a lot to be desired. While HR departments are eager for better “people analytics,” that concept is still fuzzy. And simply collecting data is not enough – to be used, data has to be presented usefully.

    I agree. We need a better way to represent people in a holistic way in the digital world. That’s why I’m still an advocate for Open Badges. I don’t think you can dismiss them with an assertion like “…but also leave a lot to be desired” How? In what ways?

    Weise goes on to give examples from the world of GitHub, but fails to take into account that ‘contribution streaks’ tell you nothing about the content of what the person actually did. Similarly, behold the horror that is this competency grid heatmap from ‘The Human Factor’ by Burning Glass Technologies:

    Competency grid heatmap

    While I’ve got no problem with the ‘soft skills’ mentioned down the left-hand side, I can’t think of a more demeaning way to represent a human being than as a list of numbers.

    The problem is that we’re trying to make a broken system more efficient, which is madness. We’re trying to remove the human element at the same time as saying it’s the thing we value the most.

    Better people analytics – and better ways of visualizing and interacting with that data – will not only help managers and recruiters do a better job of matching people with jobs but will also help each of us develop a more accurate picture of our strengths and weaknesses. We’ll be able to send clearer signals to the market about all that we can do.

    I think the best thing to do is to embrace the weird and wonderful world of alternative credentials like badges. A world where you still have to explain yourself, tell stories, and show evidence of you as a three-dimensional human being. The more we have to be accountable to algorithms, the worse the world gets for all of us.

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