Literacy, Fluency and Plurality: A Reflection on Digital Literacies

Quote from Doug Belshaw's book on digital literacies

Responding to Holly Clark, I explain why I cringe when the concept of digital literacy is replaced with fluency, subsequently overlooking the plurality of digital literacies.


There has been a lot written about digital literacy of late, much of the conversation stemming from the Engagement in a Time of Polarisation MOOC and danah boyd’s keynote at SXSW. Holly Clark enters this conversation explaining why she chringes when she hears the word ‘digital literacy’.

In Clark’s post, she states that literacy is about the ‘competence of knowledge’. It is that thing required to make meaning. She then goes on to argue that what is at stake is not necessarily the competence to make meaning, but rather the ability:

What students don’t possess most often is a not digital literacy, but rather digital fluency. As educators if we spend our time talking about literacy – and what feels like ONLY literacy – and we leave out the more educationally important idea of fluency we might be doing students an injustice. Fluency is the term that SHOULD be at the heart of everything we are talking about. It is where the transfer of knowledge happens, where kids apply that literacy they developed without our help, and get past the making meaning stage to a place where they are transferring knowledge on their way to becoming effective digital citizens and learners.

I agree with what she is saying, it is not our knowledge of these things that matters, but rather application of such knowledge. Therefore, I can know about two-factor authentication, which by her definition would be a part of being ‘digitally literate’. Tick. However, unless I actually apply two-factor to each of my accounts then it is of little use.

The particular example that Clark gives is that of searching. As she explains, you cannot have an knowledge of a search (or a query) unless you understand the consequences and to do so you would need to be fluent, not literate.

The question we should be asking as educators is – are they fluent in search? Do they know how to craft a search that will deliver to them a page of really meaningful and purposeful results – results that come from mostly credible sources? Do they have the fluency to evaluate the information the search produces. I promise you the answer is no in 98% of cases. There is a fluency to search, to knowing what happens when you add quotes, or the minus symbol, or keywords and how this all affects the end result. This is the digital fluency of understanding the intended message (or query) you are delivering to Google.

As Clark highlights, simply knowing to use quotation marks is not enough, we need to understand why this is the case.

Although I am not as confident as Clark to call out ‘98%’ as the number, I think that this difference between knowing and understanding is a consequence of a tick-box approach to many of these things. There are great programs like eSmart’s Digital License, which help build knowledge. However, like many licenses in life, it can be a means to an end. The question is often what happens once they have their license that matters. Again, if they find out about the importance of two-factor and security, but continue to use their dogs name as their password, then it is to little avail.

My concern with Clark’s argument is that she puts ‘digital literacy’ to the sword, replacing it with ‘fluency’. This is problematic on two fronts. Firstly, the concept of literacy is not fixed. Secondly, we are better considering the plurality of digital literacies.

In The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, Doug Belshaw suggests that literacy involves using a tool for a particular purpose.

Before books went digital, they were created either by
using a pen or by using a printing press. These tools are technologies. Literacy, therefore, is inextricably linked with technology even before we get to ‘digital’ literacies.

This use is always a social process that is contained within a context, for “in isolation, an individual cannot be literate at all.”

Adding the ‘digital’ modifier increases the ambiguity associated with the situation. Instead of providing an overarching definition, Belshaw provides eight elements to make sense of the different incidences of digital literacies.

  • Cultural – the expectations and behaviours associated with different environments, both online and off.
  • Cognitive – the ability to use computational thinking in order to work through problems.
  • Constructive – the appropriate use of digital tools to enable social actions.
  • Communicative – sharing and engaging within the various cultural norms.
  • Confident – the connecting of the dots and capitalising on different possibilities.
  • Creative – this involves doing new things in new ways that somehow add value.
  • Critical – the analysis of assumptions behind literacy practises
  • Civic – the something being analysed.

What is important here is that we cannot meaningfully consider all these elements at once. Each offers the possibility of digging deeper or stepping back.

Take for example searching online. We can confidently search for information. This is what Clark captures with her discussion of ‘fluency’, However, this does not necessarily capture the critical side of search and algorithms. Interestingly, Clark makes mention of the plurality of literacies, but never quite explains what she means.

In the end, what is needed in this area is more conversation. It is complicated. It is contested. As always, comments, criticism and cringing welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Also on:

Paying for the Privilege: The Collective Move to Patreon

Instead of having a donate now button on my website, I have buy now and hire me buttons.

With the move to platforms like Patreon, it leaves me wondering about the impact on the wider community.


I opened my feed today to find Doug Belshaw has made the move from Gumroad to Patreon. After the recent glitch involving fees, it seems that there is a growing move to the platform within the group of people I engage with online.

Adi Robertson explains how:

Patreon offers individuals the opportunity to provide a more profound level of support: donors aren’t just supporting art; they’re supporting a person, an art style, or an idea.

While Cory Doctorow argues that:

The measure of Patreon’s success isn’t creating an army of full-time creators with middle-class incomes where none existed before: it’s ensuring that the money generated by art goes primarily to artists.

My question is the consequence of depending on patronage. As Seth Godin states in What to do when it’s your turn?:

When you overstate the obligation of the audience, of course they’ll let you down, and when they do, you don’t have to show up again. What a great excuse to stop making art, to hide …

It’s not your turn to win, or your turn to be picked, or even your turn to be guaranteed gratitude … it’s merely your turn to give a gift.

For me, this comes back to Bill Ferriter’s warning about chasing wider audiences. However, it also touches on his idea of ‘bringing your own audience’. For Belshaw, this allows him to provide a more uncensored side to his patrons.

In Show Your Work, Austin Kleon makes the case for giving stuff away and instead focusing on selling art and services:

Instead of having a donate now button on my website, I have buy now and hire me buttons.

A part of this process is the production of a mailing list:

I know people who run multimillion-dollar businesses off of their mailing lists. The model is very simple: They give away great stuff on their sites, they collect emails, and then when they have something remarkable to share or sell, they send an email. You’d be amazed at how well the model works.

Cory Doctorow has reflected on the benefit of giving away his books, discussing how it has led to an increase in readership, people actually buying the books and opportunities:

This “market research” of giving away e-books sells printed books. What’s more, having my books more widely read opens many other opportunities for me to earn a living from activities around my writing, such as the Fulbright Chair I got at USC this year, this high-paying article in Forbes, speaking engagements and other opportunities to teach, write and license my work for translation and adaptation. My fans’ tireless evangelism for my work doesn’t just sell books–it sells me.

Although Doctorow does have a place for ‘donations’, it is so that you can buy a copy for a library.

This approach to giving stuff away is an approach I have taken. I blog, I help out where I can, I share, inspired in part by Kleon and Belshaw.

I started a monthly newsletter. This is as much about connecting ideas within the community as it is about promoting my own work. Maybe one day I will have something else to offer, then I will reach out and share with my supporters. Until then, I will keep on giving stuff away.

I have also taken this mindset to the way that I engage with others. Rather than become a patron, I try and buy what they are selling. For example:

  • Micro.blog: I do not pay for Micro.Blog and did not support the Kickstarter campaign. I neither want my blog hosted on Micro.Blog, that is what I pay Reclaim Hosting for, nor do I want to use Micro.Blog to syndicate, I use SNAP for that. However, I am happy to pay and support Manton Reece’s book once he finishes writing it.
  • Visual Thinkery: I paid for Bryan Mathers stickers. Truth be known, because I love his work. In a strange way, it made me feel a part of the Visual Thinkery tribe. I am yet to use most of them though. However, I use the sketch he made me in my signature, as well as for my newsletter. To me, how I use them is not necessarily the point. It supports Bryan to do more work, that is what matters.

  • Ben Collins: I read Collins’ blog and subscribe to his newsletter/mailing list. He gives away a lot and is always willing to clarify any technical queries. Subsequently, when he announced that he was developing a self-paced course on Pivot Tables, I was there. I started it, but got distracted. I know that I will get back to it eventually, but I also know that I am supporting Collins in a small way to keep on doing his work.


Maybe this is just me? Maybe it merely reflects my privilege of having a contract, rather than living from one gig to the next? Maybe my stuff is not worth selling? Maybe I am just missing something? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Also on:

Developing a Writing Workflow

Clay Shirkey on the need to continually rethinking our workflows

I have been following Doug Belshaw’s posts associated the art and science of blogging. In a recent one he spoke about the tools associated with crafting a post. This led me to reflect upon my own processes. I have touched on this [before](secret blog), actually a few times, however what I feel I have not necessarily discussed are the changes that have occurred over time. As my blog turns four, it is interesting to look back at the journey.

My blog was born on Blogger. Coupled with that my early preference was to craft drafts in Evernote. Not only was it mobile, but it provided the ability to work across devices. I soon moved on from Evernote though after I lost a post because I had gone offline and when it synced with an older version. I lost hours of work (maybe you haven’t really blogged if this hasn’t happened to you). I am sure that it was my fault, however I decided to move anyway.

My next solution was the native Blogger app. I liked this as it was all in one place. If I needed to I could move to the desktop. I wrote many a post on my phone, punching out a line here and there. However, two problems arose. My discovery of Flickr and Alan Levine’s Attribution Tool, as well as my move from Blogger to a space of my own. That all meant a different solution.

In my move to WordPress, I lost control of my workflow for a while. One of the differences between the two platforms was the options I had when posting (WordPress has heaps). I also started tinkering a lot more with embedding content, such as YouTube, which were baked into the Google ecosystem. When I think about those challenges, many are now none existent, with solutions seemingly added into subsequent undates. However, it felt different back then.

The first challenge was that the native WordPress app was not as robust as the Blogger one. I subsequently resorted to finishing posts on the laptop, while developing them in a different space. The search for the ideal ‘other’ space ensued. Around this time, the ability to work offline in Google Docs on mobile became available, so I turned there. For the most part, this was my dominant solution. However, this did not work across all my devices due to my inability to update the latest operating system to accommodate these changes. I therefore tinkered with other options, such as Google Keep and Notes on iOS, as they linked with my Google account, therefore making them available in a number of places.

No matter what choice I made, it just never took. For example, Keep was quick but did not allow for links and I did not like how it presented things. Notes worked, especially on iOS. However, they too were basic. Even Docs started bringing across this weird code when I cut and paste it into WordPress. Another problem that arose was the lack of organisation within any of the applications. Fine I could use tags or folders to sort files, however this did not necessarily help in identifying my current posts and projects.

This all led me to revisiting Trello and wondering if I could better utilise it to fit my current workflow. I use it in my workplace to manage projects. However, my attempts to implement a Kanban model for myself failed. It just did not click with the way I work. (After watching Ian O’Byrne’s video, I feel I am not the only one.) I therefore took to it with fresh eyes and created a list for everything ongoing: posts, presentations, projects, resources and items requiring following-up. Rather than saving everything to Keep and getting lost in the ensuing chaos, in Trello I organise items into particular lists.

In regards to blogging, using Trello has allowed me to build out ideas. So rather than have a bunch of text, I can progressively add comments, lists, links and resources to a card. What’s more, Trello allows me to write in Markdown, therefore alleviating any issues associated with hidden code. (I have started writing my newsletter in Markdown in Google Docs.) Having everything coordinated in one place also allows me to easily review what I have done (even if I have archived cards) and survey where to next.

My process of writing will continue to develop. It always has. Technology comes and goes, whether it be devices or applications. What is important is that I will continue to reflect. Taking in new habits and offloading others. There are platforms like Scripting and Jekyll that I still wish to explore, while Naomi Barnes’ post on how she organises her day has me wondering about how I might better integrate my the personal and organisational aspects of my life. Something David White and Alison Le Cornu started unpacking in a recent paper. So what about you? What is your writing workflow? How has it changed over time? As always, feel free to comment. Always interested.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Taking Tech Beyond the Tool

Often when supporting teachers with the integration of technology, it is easy to start with a notion that people are beginners. This leads to a process of unpacking applications bit by bit. I wonder if rather than knowledge, the challenge associated with so called ‘beginners’ is confidence. This challenge though takes many guises. For some it is the confidence with the mechanics, while for others it comes back to purpose and intent. A useful framework for working through some of these idiosyncrasies is Doug Belshaw’s essential elements of digital literacies.

Rather than one singularly unifying notion of digital literacy, Belshaw argues that there are eight interlinked elements, each informing our understanding and application of digital literacies.

Thinking about an application like Hapara is interesting. It provides an added layer on top of GSuite, which allows teachers to organise and manage learning in the classroom. Using digital literacies as a lens provides an insight into a number of aspects to which a teacher may lack ‘confidence’.

  • From a cultural perspective, Hapara posits that teachers are largely in responsible for creating the conditions for learning. Some teachers may have different pedagogical beliefs.
  • Cognitively, it involves new ways of working. Although it may be more efficient, these are still habits to unlearn and relearn.
  • Constructively, there is a blur between empowering students with the power to participate in actions and the dangers in excessively moderating learning using Highlights. Finding a balance can be challenging.
  • From a communicative point of view, GSuite allows a number of ways to engage, Hapara provides the means to manage and moderate this within different cultural norms.
  • Connecting with GSuite through the use of APIs, Hapara has the ability to both hinder and help the creative process, for on the one hand applications like Workspaces can be used to scaffold learning to support originality or to structure it in such a way that it could  a construed as no more than a digital worksheet.
  • From a critical and civic point of view, it is important to consider the why there is a need to manage learning and the consequences associated with such actions.

There is no one element that captures confidence and confidence in itself does not capture the full picture. Doug Belshaw’s elements provide a means of representing the assemblage of connections associated with technology. Something that Ben Williamson attempts in his own way in his work on Class Dojo. That being said, the answer is not to cover all elements each and every time in a checklist fashion. Instead, they provide useful provocation to go further in defining how we engage with technology.

So what about you? What strategies have you used to take the conversation around tech beyond the tool? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Ten Tricks to Trello

Productivity


“Productivity” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

I have written about Trello before. Regarding supporting an instructional model and my workflow. However, I have written little about how it works or some of the different ways you can use it.

  1. Boards, Lists, Cards: Trello supports project management. It has several layers, starting with teams and collections, then boards. Once inside a Trello board, you can create multiple lists and cards. The proper model used to set up a board is the Kanban method, focusing on three lists: to do, doing and done. However, you can set a board up however you like. Once cards are created, they can easily be moved between different lists and archived when no longer required. Regarding a team situation, Trello allows you to work more transparently.
  2. Making Cards: There are four key elements to a card: description, attachments, checklists and comments. The descriptions and comments allow you to record regular information, and embed links and content. However, one of the most useful elements are checklists. You can either copy the checklist from another card or start your own.
  3. Filters: One thing you notice quickly with Trello is that things can get busy quick. One way of easing this is organising cards around members and tags. When you go to add members, you can add anyone within the team. Regarding tags, these are coloured and can be customised. I have used tags to sort between different focuses, however I also know people you use them to organise cards around priorities. Within the menu there is the means of filtering by both tags and cards.
  4. Collaboration: From a team point of view, Trello supports collaboration in several ways. The obvious way is to add someone as a member to a card. However, another way of connecting with others is by tagging people using their @username. This can be done in both comments and checklists. The other means of collaboration is sharing a link to a public board.
  5. Attachments: Whether it be from Google Drive, Microsoft Office, a PDF or a link from the web, cards provide a useful way of collecting together a range of items around a topic in one space. Attachments can be added directly or via a comment.
  6. Updates: Whether it be the checking off an item in the checklist or a comment being added, Trello provides several ways to update team members. When subscribed to a card, whole board or tagged into something, you are notified when things change. Initially this is through the application, but if unseen this summary is pushed out via email. Although you can not adjust what notifications are shown, there is the option within your personal settings to adjust the frequency to which you receive emails, with one option being never. For a different perspective, you can scroll through the various activities to see what has been happening. There is also the means of integrating updates into Slack, which can also be useful.
  7. Multiple Points of Access: Although the most obvious way of accessing Trello is via the web, there is a mobile application. This means you can add content and information wherever you are. Must of the functionality is the same across both platforms. However, there are elements such as filtering that are only  available on the web.
  8. Markdown: Regarding formatting, Trello allows you to use Markdown to change the text. One catch is that different fields involve different options. You can bold, use italics and add links. While for both comments and descriptions, you can add horizontal lines and block quotes, and regarding the description, there is the means of embedding images and adding headings. For a great introduction to Markdown, John Gruber provides a useful application which allows you to see what the markdown text would look like as HTML.
  9. Shortcut to Creating a Card: Whether it be using a Google Chrome extension or using  the email address associated with each board, there are different ways of adding to Trello. These can be useful when forwarding on various links and resources.
  10. Customisation: There are several ways to go further with Trello. This includes adding various power-ups, which often build on the APIs to help personalise how things work for your team. I must admit that these aspects are nuanced, but they provide other options none the less.

For more information, I recommend the following video to help get your head around everything.

On a side note, Trello was sold to Atlassian. The promise is that this will only make Trello better, but time will tell. It is also important to note the limits of ‘free’. Like with so many different applications, Trello provide access to a certain limit and then push you towards a premium model. The basic difference is that you can add larger file attachments and activate more Power-Ups.

So what about you? Have you used Trello? How? Or maybe you have used something different? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Getting Work Done

This post is in responses to the Edublogs Club prompt associated with classroom or office spaces. I am not sure I have that much to say in regards to the aesthetics of open planned working environment. However, I do have some thoughts on the digital spaces which I use to ‘get work done’.


As I have discussed elsewhere, my one word this year is communication. This has many facets, such as clarity of meaning, consistently responding, working collaboratively, adjusting to context and being transparent. It is something pertinent to my current job as an integration coach.

One particular challenge that I have found since transferring from the classroom into a more administrative role has been the importance of being organised. Often with the classroom there is a certain structure provided by way of classes, students and timetables. Bianca Hewes provides a useful example of this in her post on staying organised. Although I have had experience outside of the classroom before managing reports, timetables and daily organisation, most of these things had clear and consistent expectations too. I may have had my calendars and spreadsheets. However, the workflow was seemingly pre-defined by the wider organisation.  My new role is different.

Although I am hired as a coach with the focus on supporting schools with the integration of technology, this support takes many forms. So far I have developed material to support the implementation of Digital Learning Technologies, organised material around Communities of Practice, help organise Stories of Practice, as well as created various presentations. What is different about leading various projects is that they each have unique tasks and timelines. The challenge then is managing everything. Two strategies I have used to communicate this work in an open and transparent manner are Kanban and the Priority Matrix.

Kanban

A means of project management, Kanban is an agile way of organising tasks. In its most basic form it involves three columns: to do, doing and done. However, there are many different iterations. Often Kanban is done using sticky notes in a public space. However, Trello provides a useful digital form. I started out using personal boards, but have since moved to progressively involving the wider team. What I like about Trello is the means of bringing together various documents, checklists and notes in the one space. In addition to this, there are options of organising things using categories or allocating people to specific cards or tasks.

Decision Matrix

Also known as the Eisenhower Method, the Decision Matrix is designed to use time on what is important. The matrix is split into four quadrants:

Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

As a means of organising each week, I usually list the various tasks that are on the go and use the categories to prioritise. While I also add anything else in as the week pans out. I do this using Google Slides as it allows me to link to further information, such as a Doc or a Trello Card. I find this useful for not only planning ahead, but also for being accountable in looking back at what I have done over time.


So that is me. That is how I get work done. So what about you? Do you have any suggestions for me? How do you get work done? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

A Comprehensive Guide to Open Badges

flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I consider myself an ideas man. Sometimes though this can lead to ideals. This can be both good as it allows me to dream big. However, it can also be limiting in that it can overlook some of the realities. One of the interesting things about my new job is that many of my ideas and ideals have been challenged and pushed further than ever before. What in the past were just seeds are given air and water to grow. Open Badges is one such seed …


The first thing to consider with Open Badges, or the Open Badge standard to be clearer, is what it actually means. To do this, it is useful to unpack each of the terms:

  • Open: When it comes to technology, open can mean many things to many people. In a survey of the various uses of the word ‘open’, Jeffrey Pomerantz and Robin Peek identified the following categories: open source, open standard, open access, open society, open knowledge, open government and open washing. In regards to badges, open can best be understood as relating to the agreed standards which provide the protocols to build the web upon.
  • Badges: For many when we think about badges the idea of sleeves full of achievements sewed on comes to mind. Digital badges are best understood as a continuation of this. In this sense, they usually offer a way of gamifying a learning activity. Someone somewhere has deemed you worthy of a particular achievement standard. However, there is often little evidence to justify the outcome. You can find such badge systems built into platforms, such as WordPress.com, Edmodo, Class Dojo or Khan Academy. The intent of these is usually to both reward the user, but also entice you to go further. One of the limitations with digital badges is their lack of transferability and seemingly credibility. Outside of the context in which they are given, they lack purpose and meaning. In contrast, with the metadata baked in, Open Badges allow anyone to check their credibility, while more control is given to the receiver to show them.
  • Standard: There are a number of standards associated with the web, including hardware, file formats and programming languages. In part, these allow users to access information from different browsers. Something that was not always possible in the early days of the web. Open protocols allow the creation of what are called ‘stateless’ RESTful APIs that help develop the web in a simple and efficient way. These interfaces make it easier to deliver content across the World Wide Web without the need to store sessions on servers somewhere. The Open Badges standard can be understood as a collection of specifications and applications that combines to make up the Open Badges Infrastructure. For badges, this means that different sites can talk to one another, therefore meaning that badges can be stored wherever you choose. The leading organisation in regards to the maintenance of such standards and specifications is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

In addition to understanding what the Open Badge standard is, it is important to appreciate the background to this idea and development of the standard over time.

We Are Open by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

History and Specifications

Initially developed by Mozilla with the support of the Macarthur Foundation, the beta version of the Open Badges standard was released in 2012.

In 2014 the not-for-profit Badge Alliance was formed to keep work moving forward. With support and guidance from a number of organisations, the intent was to provide a stable centre around which the coordination of various working groups and weekly community calls could be done.

In 2016, Digital Me combined with City and Guilds and Makewaves to take a more leading role in regards to the maintenance of the infrastructure. This has included upgrading the Mozilla Backpack, in particular replacing the Persona login system with Passport.js.

In 2017, with the Badge Alliance being dissolved, the IMS Global Learning Consortium will take on the responsibility for continual development of the specification. This includes work around the involvement with Open Credentials. With their association with interoperability and attainment of technology in education, many see the nonprofit as the right fit moving to a more collaborative, community-driven effort.

There has been some conjecture around the changes associated with Open Badges. However, Doug Belshaw argues that this is the usual dip associated with innovation. Using Gartner’s Hype Cycle, he suggests that it is actually important to go through a ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ in order to reach the ‘Plateau of Productivity’.

In addition to the roles of the various organisations, there have been a number of steps in regards to the the development of the standard. The initial capacity made available in Version 0.5 was to bake metadata in single JSON file, as well as host and verify badges.

JSON (or JavaScript Object Notation) is a programming language that derives from JavaScript. As the name describes, it is about transmitting data associated with what are described as ‘objects’ between browsers and servers. The language grew out of the need to develop a means of communicating not dependent on a third-party plugin.

In the specifications of Version 1.0 the single JSON file was split into three distinct objects: Assertions, BadgeClasses and Issuers.  The Badge Alliance define these as follows:

The BadgeClass describes a particular defined achievement and points to the Issuer who defined it with its issuer property.

An Assertion contains information about a single Recipient’s achievement of a BadgeClass and similarly points to the BadgeClass’s identifying ID with the “badge” property.

The Issuer Profile is uniquely identified by a Linked Data ID (which takes the form of an Internationalized Resource Identifier, specifically a URI).

This was done to provide more flexibility and use of information.

In Version 1.1, the divisions were made even more explicit, with the addition of JSON-LD (for “linked data”) and three new properties: @context, id, and type. These components make possible a range of extensions, such as an application link, an endorsement, location information, accessibility details and recognition of the original creator. You can view examples of the code here.

It should be noted, like all things new and open, just because functionality is added to a specification, it does not mean that everyone necessarily builds upon this. Rather it is often about what is possible and allowing for the diversity of the community.

For more info on the development of Open Badges standard, go to the openbadges.org site. While for more details about the various the specifications, check out openbadgespec.org. Doug Belshaw has also started a curated slidedeck if you are looking for a list of those associated with Open Badges.

Properties of Open Badges by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Why Badges?

There are many perceived benefits to Open Badges. The Badge Alliance identify four key aspects. Badges are free for anyone to use and build upon. They are transferable in that they are not dependent on any one platform. They are stackable as they offer the means of collecting together different accomplishments. While they incorporate evidence that is baked into the data.

Approaching the challenge of hiring and the traditional curriculum vitae, Doug Belshaw discusses how Open Badges are granular, provide proof of achievement(s) and allow the earner to tell their story. They help people fill in the gaps to paint a better picture, as well as take back control of the way we trust one another.

Coming from the perspective of assessment, Don Presant makes the case that Open Badges can provide the means for reinforcing self-directed learning. These links to learning are also elaborated in the results from the Design Principles Documentation Project (DPD Project) that arose out of the initial HASTAC funding associated with Open Badges. The project identified four categories of learning to help think about badges. They are recognise, assess, motivate and study. Associated with the research, a number of resources were developed, including a series of cards designed to help develop your own system. Another useful planning resource is the Open Badge Design Toolkit created by Grainne Hamilton.

For a different introduction to Open Badges, the Chicago Art Department has created a useful video highlighting a range of the benefits, while HASTAC has collected together a number of voices on the topic.

Badge Pathways by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Different Types of Badges

Whether it be high or low stakes learning, badges offer a flexible form of micro-credentialing that is really up to your own imagination. Doug Belshaw captures this with a continuum which spans the formal to the interesting, while Serge Ravet presents a plane of recognition encompassing the formal and informal, as well as the static and dynamic influences.

Going a step further, Ilona Buchem has developed a taxonomy around the different intents, revolving around content, issuers and process. To provide a comprehensive picture, she unpacks each providing various examples to show the different possibilities. This is neatly captured in Bryan Mathers’ graphic.

Another way into Open Badge is to consider them as a substitute for a traditional certificate with built-in breadcrumbs baked into the code. Where they differ from certificates is that badges are often a part of an ecosystem. Although they can be created individually, their potential lies in the ability to be interconnect and provide different pathways for learning.

The most obvious pathway is the stepping stones approach. Sequential in nature, this involves completing one step at a time in a prescriptive manner. See for example, Doug Belshaw’s kanban badges using Trello.

Another option is where badges are a part of a collection. Like the game Trivial Pursuit, this is where several achievements are grouped together in a nonlinear manner. Prescriptive in nature, collections can be linked with the completion of standards or levelling up.

In contrast to perspective badge ecosystems, constellations offer an open-ended approach where users can choose from a range of possibilities, carving out any number of pathways. This is conducive to lifelong learning and offers the potential to collected together different achievements to write your own learning story. Open to borrowing from different providers, it is for this reason that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

Reflecting on the place of badges, Greg McVerry suggests that they only play one part of the story and that credentials and qualifications are often verified by presence. In part this is what sites like LinkedIn try to tap into allowing people to endorse various expertise. There does seem to be some attempt to bake this information into the code with the addition of Extensions in the move to JSON-LD.

In regards to examples, there are a number of case studies shared within the Think Out Loud Club’s Open Badges 101 Course, while Don Presant demonstrates how Open Badges could be used to credential self-directed learners.

 

How to Badge by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

How to Badge

Although there are those, such as Todd Rose, who talk about rethinking learning around capabilities, credentialing and self-determined learning. Such discussions either ignore the underpinning infrastructure or simply fail to recognise such changes. In regards to Open Badges, there are a number of steps involved, including the platform used to issue badges, the evidence referenced in the process, the creation of the actual digital badge and where badges are stored.

Issuing Badges

When I first came upon Open Badges, it was via Peer 2 Peer University. What was good about P2PU was the ease in which you could create a badge. In addition to this, there were a few useful features, such as the ability to add different forms of evidence to the site, as well as the potential to distribute responsibility for credentialing others to everyone in the community. The problem though is that P2PU did not nessarily make it easy to take my badges elsewhere. This is one of many things to consider when working with open standards and open source software.

A number of questions are provided as a part of the Think Out Loud Club’s Open Badges 101 course. Some of the key concerns include:

  • Does the platform allow you to store badges?
  • Does the platform include the ability to create the visual design of the badge?
  • Does the platform allow for multiple badge-issuing?

In regards to hosted platforms, some further things to consider include:

  • Does the platform allow badge earners to export their badges to other providers?
  • Does the platform attempt to lock me in if I want to move between badge issuing platforms?
  • Does the platform use Open Source technology?

Some other questions to consider include:

  • Does the platform allow you to add evidence?
  • Does the platform provide a means for submission and notification?

Below is a discussion of some of platforms:

  • Badgr: Relatively easy to use once you get your head around the workflow, Badgr provides a structured way to allocate badges. Like many platforms, it allows you to not only issue badges, but also bring them together into various collections. The problem faced is when it comes to notifications, while the evidence is required to be housed elsewhere. Being open sourced, one of the big potentials is to run your own instance.
  • Credly: In some ways Credly is to Open Badges what Medium is to blogging. It provides the means to both issue and receive badges, while it has incorporated almost all of the options associated with Open Badges standard, such as tags, categories and the submission of evidence. There is also the ability to add content, such as images and text, directly within Credly. In regards to creating your badges, Credly makes use of the icons via The Noun Project. While when it comes to issuing, there is the option of issuing badges to more than one recipient at once using a CSV file. If you are using Google Forms and/or Sheets then you simply download them as CSV.  While once issued, badges can be grouped into lists and then referenced elsewhere. Although much of the functionality is available via the free account, there are various premium options which allow things like analytics, verification and the use of your own domain.
  • Open Badge Academy:Similar to Credly, Open Badge Academy provides the means to quickly and easily create and curate badges. One of the unique features is to develop a sequence of tasks, incorporating a range of media. Designed around the idea of organisations, provides a number of ways to brand your badges. It is one of the most visually appealing platforms and seems to make sense as a user. However, the limit of three badges for the free account means that to be meaningful, you have to pay.
  • BadgeOS: Combining WordPress.org with Open Badges through the use of BadgeOS plugin provides both the structure and freedom to develop a more personalised solution. Not only does BadgeOS integrate with Credly, providing the ability to create visuals, as well as store and send badges to various spaces, but it also allows users to build upon the open source infrastructure. The plugin itself provides a number of different options for setting up badges.  In addition to modifying your WordPress blog, you are able to build upon the plugin. In addition to the core download, there are a number of add-ons designed to enhance the functionality even further. While those adept can also build your own add-ons to customise things to your context even further (see for example Martin Hawksey’s work with the Association for Learning Technology.)

This is only a selection of some of the spaces. The Badge Alliance has curated a comprehensive list of platforms (although it does not include Open Badge Academy.) It needs to be noted that being an open standard also provides the possibility and potential to build your own solution hooking into the various APIs. For ideas on this, see the work of Martin Hawksey for inspiration.

Digital Evidence

One of the biggest differences between badges (and digital badges) and Open Badges is the nature of the evidence. Too often formal learning is measured by a grade or a number, while professional learning is quantified in hours. None of this is attached to either meaningful or personalised evidence. Open Badges sets out to resolve this by adding verification into the process.

Anything that you can put on the web associated with a link can be used as evidence. The challenge with this is that not every link on the web is accessible. For example, you may wish to link something shared within a closed community. However, unless the person issuing the badge is also in that community this will not work. In addition, anyone who may wish to verify the evidence in the future will be unable to do so unless they too have access.

It is in part this reason that Doug Belshaw recommends creating a canonical URL. That is, a starting point for people to engage with and build upon your work and ideas. Something of an eportfolio developed over time or separate links for each project. What matters though really is that it is public and open.

Here are some ideas and possibilities for creating such a space:

  • Padlet: A digital pinboard that can be useful for capturing a range of media files.
  • G Suite: Maybe it is Docs or Slides, but the cloud based nature of Google means that it is easy to share out.
  • OneNote: Like a Google Apps, OneNote allows you to collect a range of content in the cloud and share out.
  • Adobe Spark Page: An easy way of quickly making a website in which to share links, images and text.
  • Canva Website: Like Spark Page, Canva now offers the ability to quickly and easily create a website.
  • Slideshare: A space to upload and share presentations, whether it be a PowerPoint, PDF or Google Slides.
  • Storify: An application which allows you to easily curate a wide range of content.
  • Blog: Whether it be in the form of a post or adding content to a static page, blogs offer an easy means to collate content in one space.
  • GitHub: Although this involves a bit more effort, GitHub provides the means of creating a static site or a repository, especially using something like Jekyl.
  • Docs.com: A space to share Microsoft Files and resources.

A compromise for those who do not wish to share openly is to use an application which allows you to share with those who have the link. Whatever space you use though you need to be mindful that sites can come and go, therefore the most powerful option is often one which gives you control over the lease.

Making Badges

Although most sites provide the potential of creating visual badges. It can also be useful to create and store these elsewhere. You only need to look badges up on Google to find a range of options, including Makebadg.es, Canva and OpenBadges.me. The catch is often what information these sites are asking for in return, such as the requirement to sign up in order to download.

A simple option is to use Google Drawings to create badges. Cropping shapes and then saving the image as a PNG to maintain transparency, Drawings offer a quick and easy solution. You can also easily edit them again at a later date. Alice Keeler has documented this process, as well as a simple process of awarding digital badges using G Suite that could be useful as a minimal viable product associated with badging.

Whatever platform you use, it is important to be mindful of Creative Commons licensing when choosing images and icons. Sites such as Flickr and The Noun Project provide a wealth of options to use. Otherwise Tony Vincent shows how to use Google Drawings to create your own.

Storing and Sharing Badges

Once you have been issued a badge, the next question is what you do with them. This includes considering where you store them, how you organise them and where you show them.

The first thing to decide is where to keep your badge. Many platforms allow you to and encourage people to store badges with them. With this in mind, you need to wary that not all platforms provide the same portability as others.

The most obvious space used is Mozilla Backpack. This was a key part of the infrastructure associated with the development of Open Badge standard. It was designed to help drive the initial specifications. There have been some changes of late with Digital Me taking over responsibility for maintaining it. (This has included the move from Persona sign-in to PassportJS.)

Another option is the Open Badge Passport. The sister product to Open Badge Factory, this site allows you to collect your badges, as well as easily share them on social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

The reality is that both platforms allow you to organise your badges. This is useful in creating a link for presenting them elsewhere, whether it be within your LinkedIn profile or in the signature of your email.


Questions to Consider Moving Forward

It can be easy to get excited about technology such as Open Badges, but a badge in itself will not transform education. It is therefore important to be mindful that badges may not be for everyone and should therefore maintain a voluntary element, as Martin Hawksey warns. Also we still need to be wary when it comes to the criterias we set and the evidence we provide. For as Alan Levine has shown, quality is not always a given. Ale Armellini questions the benefits altogether. Whatever choices that we make, it is important that they are situated within a wider debate about digital literacies and education.

So what about you? What have been your experiences with Open Badges? Do you have any thoughts to add to the discussion? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Copying the Web


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I have lost track of the amount of applications and programs that are sold as the solution to getting students coding. The problem that I have with many of these is that they lack purpose and authenticity. One answer is to ‘Steal Like an Artist‘. Rather than learning from scratch, start by reusing someone else’s code in a new way. Two tools that help with this are Google Chrome Developer Tools and Mozilla X-Ray Goggles.

Google Chrome Developer

Google Chrome Developer Tools are designed to provide feedback to programmers and help with the debugging process. You can access it within the settings of the desktop version of Chrome, as well as with the keyboard shortcut Use Ctrl+Shift+I (or Cmd+Opt+I on Mac). Going beyond applications like Built With, which provide insight into the parts of a website, the Developer Tools provide insight into the code and the way it is put together. It provides a side-by-side view which provides into different parts of the page. Beyond the design process, it is useful when trying to lift the bonnet to see the code inside. Doug Belshaw shares how he uses the tools to get links to photos that are baked into the site.

Mozilla X-Ray Goggles

Along with Thimble and the Web Literacy Framework, X-Ray Goggles allows users to explore the building blocks of the web. It runs via a bookmarklet that you add to the bookmark bar. Like the Developer Tools, the Goggles allow you to peek into the code that makes up the web. However, where it differs is its intent to provide the means to tinker with the code. Some examples of how this could be used include remixing the news to appreciate how information is presented (see Kevin Hodgson post on fake news) or changing names and details for privacy reasons. These makes can be published, which gives them a unique address or you can just screenshot the page. It must be noted that unlike the Developer Tools, which is built into the Chrome browser, you need to create an account to use X-Ray Goggles. For more ideas and information, check out the following teaching kit as well as this introduction.


Whether coding is or is not the literacy of the 21st century, it is important to appreciate that coding is not always about starting from nothing. Sites like GitHub and Scratch provide the means of repurposing code. However, applications like the Developer Tools and X-Ray Goggles allow you a different means of borrowing. At the end of the day, maybe copying is who we are.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

A Blog For All Seasons


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Different blogging platforms enable different possibilities. Here is an account of some examples that I have created over time and the intent behind them.

A blog is not a blog. This was the point that I tried to make my last post. Although it can be good to keep everything in one space, this often misses something. Each platform enables different features and possibilities. Therefore, it can be useful to create spaces for different purposes.

One way of looking at this is from the point-of-view of the canonical URL. This is a concept that Doug Belshaw lives by.

Unless it contains sensitive information, publish your work to a public URL that can be referenced by others. This allows ideas to build upon one another in a ‘slow hunch’ fashion. Likewise, with documents and other digital artefacts, publish and then share rather than deal with version control issues by sending the document itself.

A part of working openly, the idea is that everything you do has a unique URL and dependent on the task dictates the platform. For Belshaw, this means having a site for his general thoughts, business, thesis, digital literacies, philosophical musings and sharing resources. This includes the use of wikis, WordPress, SvbtleGithub website and Known.
To make more sense of the different possibilities associated with blogs, here is a breakdown of my own spaces:

  • Read Write Respond – This is my main site. Here I publish my lengthier thoughts (like this one). It has also replaced my About.Me page. I initially made the move to WordPress.Org as a part of my migration to Reclaim Domain. However, now I would not have it any other way.
  • Read Write Wikity – Built on Mike Caulfield’s Wikity platform, this space is about developing knowledge over time. It is an extension on social bookmarking.
  • Read Write Collect – A space to document my varied experiences and publications.
  • #WhatIf – Interested in the possibilities and potential of Known, I started a short blog to record ‘What Ifs’. This is partly influenced by Amy Burvall’s #rawthoughts and Ian O’Byrne’s own short blog IMHO.
  • Read Write Tumbl – By it’s nature, Tumblr is about sharing media. Beyond syndicating my blog posts, which I do out of habit more than anything else, I share my Flickr images via IFTTT, as well as my Giphy creations.
  • Reading Writing Responding -This is where my blogging journey began. I chose Blogger out of interest as to how many things I could do with my Google account. It did the job. I still have this blog as I could not bring all my comments across as they were stuck in Google+. I sometimes tinker with it too. For example, I recently turned Adsense on recently just to see what would happen.
  • 365 Beginnings – Initially created to experiment with WP.Com. I toyed with the idea of a 365 project, where I would take an image and headline from that day and try and imagine the story behind it. I loved it and still love the idea, but it was just too much to maintain.
  • eBox – This Global2/Edublogs blog was developed as a space to share tips and tricks associated with eSmart and digital pedagogies. My predecessor had created a section in the school newsletter with the same name to disseminate information, but I wanted something that was more asynchronous and that provided the opportunity for different voices. Many of these posts have also found their way into my main blog.
  • Class Blogs – Over the years I have created a range of class blogs using Edublogs. Some acted as hubs for student blogs, others as a space to share and promote the work completed in class. They are always a good space to model learning too.
  • Humanities Blog – A colleague and I set up a space to share resources. Apart from a few random posts and a review of Making Thinking Visible – it has not really taken.
  • BIM Blog – During the last few years, my school has set out on a journey to explore and implement a new instructional model. One of the issues that arose early was the challenge to get everyone on the same page. A part of the problem was finding a shared space to collect resources and reflections. I setup a blog and there were a few teachers who took it up. However, with changes in staff and some left feeling a little confused, the network share drive won the day.
  • Humanities Times – As a part of an investigation for Humanities into the refugee crisis, we used a Global2 blog for students to share different stories from the media. The intent was for students to develop both a deeper awareness of the problem, as well as an appreciation of the enormity of it all.
  • Inquire Within – I have also posted at Edna Sackson’s wonderful collaborative WordPress blog Inquire Within. I must admit, I haven’t shared their recently as I am never quite sure which of my posts fit.
  • Other Spaces – I have postings at a few other sites, including BAM Network where I often share practical activities and applications, as well as a few guest posts at Peter DeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground.

So that is me, my collection of blogs, each with their own context. What about you? What are the different spaces that you use? What was involved in making the choices? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

A Response to @Richardolsen on Coding


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

A few weeks ago, Steve Box put out a question on Twitter:

A lengthy debate ensued over the following days.

To be honest, this was a question that I had been thinking about myself for a while. Although I am a big believer of the power and potential of technology to make deep learning more doable, as Bill Ferriter would put it, that everyone should learn the same set of skills seems to me to lack purpose and clarity. I have taught different classes involving code over the  years, from Gamemaker to Lego Mindstorms. I have also had students explore different languages as a part of their own investigations. What stands out though in reflection is that everyone took something different from the process for everyone had a different purpose. The question remains then what does it mean for everyone to learn to code.

I wrote my initial post to outline my thoughts in the hope for some sort of debate. Sadly, although it continued in part on Twitter, the dialogue lacked depth. That was until Richard Olsen’s post. Moving beyond the usual explanations around workplace skills and the ability to build apps, Olsen suggests that coding is a core skill in the modern learning environment. Influenced by the seminal work of Seymour Papert, he asserts that it is coding and the digital workspace that allows students to learn real maths skills, to test hypothesis, to play with different situations. Going further, Olsen suggests that such a learning environment allows the following:

  1. Feedback-Rich Learning
  2. Reuse-Rich Learning
  3. Opinionated Learning
  4. Continuously Evolving Learning

What stood out to me was how this environment would look in many schools today?

For example, sites like GitHub and WordPress allow people to ‘fork’ code to make their own creations. These are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to open source software. However, for a range of reasons, schools usually embrace locked down tools and software, such as iPads and learning management systems. Just as continuous evolution of curriculum is not always desirable in education, nor is the idea of students being able to hack programs for their own use. We only need to look at the case of iPads in California. Such decisions though come at a cost.

We are faced with the challenge of either being able to program or be programmed (to remix from Doug Belshaw). That is where we either control the environment in which we exist or allow others to control it for us. What though does this look like in schools? In a Prep class? When should students own their own domain? Is it enough to go through such spaces as Edublogs? Or should we be encouraging students to use such sites as Known or WordPress.org, which allow them to make their own changes to whatever they like.

So in the end, the real issue is not coding, rather it is control and the dilemmas around embracing modern learning. Like teaching inquiry without relinquishing curiosity to students, Do we actually do more harm than good in teaching code in an environment that ignores the opinionated and continuously evolving nature of coding. We then need to refocus our attention on pedagogy and the problem at hand before we start taking medicine for the wrong problem.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.