Don't tell me that hiring isn't broken

    Despite the great work being done around Open Recognition, the main use case for digital credentials remains helping people get jobs. Which means that I’ve spent over a decade, on and off, being forced to think about the interface between people wanting to be hired, and those who want to hire those people.

    This article talks about job seekers using AI tools to automate applications. In the example given, the system used sent 5,000 applications on behalf of someone, which landed them 20 interviews. They’d previously got the same number of interviews from manually applying to 200-300 jobs, but it was a lot less work.

    Credentials are always a form of arms race if we’re always stacking them vertically like the sheets of paper in the image below. Open Recognition allows us to think about a more wide-ranging set of skills, but it requires people in HR departments to think differently. Sometimes it’s about quality over quantity.

    Many job seekers will understand the allure of automating applications. Slogging through different applicant tracking systems to reenter the same information, knowing that you are likely to be ghosted or auto-rejected by an algorithm, is a grind, and technology hasn’t made the process quicker. The average time to make a new hire reached an all-time high of 44 days this year, according to a study across 25 countries by the talent solutions company AMS and the Josh Bersin Company, an HR advisory firm. “The fact that this tool exists suggests that something is broken in the process,” Joseph says. “I see it as taking back some of the power that’s been ceded to the companies over the years.”

    Recruiters are less enamored with the idea of bots besieging their application portals. When Christine Nichlos, CEO of the talent acquisition company People Science, told her recruiting staff about the tools, the news raised a collective groan. She and some others see the use of AI as a sign that a candidate isn’t serious about a job. “It’s like asking out every woman in the bar, regardless of who they are,” says a recruiting manager at a Fortune 500 company who asked to remain anonymous because he wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of his employer.

    Other recruiters are less concerned. “I don’t really care how the résumé gets to me as long as the person is a valid person,” says Emi Dawson, who runs the tech recruiting firm NeedleFinder Recruiting. For years, some candidates have outsourced their applications to inexpensive workers in other countries. She estimates that 95 percent of the applications she gets come from totally unqualified candidates, but she says her applicant tracking software filters most of them out—perhaps the fate of some of the 99.5 percent of Joseph’s LazyApply applications that vanished into the ether.

    Source: AI bots can do the grunt work of filling out job applications for you | Ars Technica

    Modular learning and credentialing

    I’ve got far more to say about this than the space I’ve got here on Thought Shrapnel. This article from edX is in the emerging paradigm exemplified by initiatives such as Credential As You Go, which encourages academic institutions to issue smaller credentials or badges as the larger qualification progresses.

    That’s one, important, side of the reason I got involved in Open Badges. It allows, for example, someone who couldn’t finish their studies to continue them, or to cash in what they’ve already learned in the job market.

    But there’s an important other side to this, which is democratising the means of credentialing, so that it’s no longer just incumbents who issue badges and credentials. I feel like that’s what we’re working on with Open Recognition.

    A new model, modular education, reduces the cycle time of learning, partitioning traditional learning packages — associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees — into smaller, Lego-like building blocks, each with their own credentials and skills outcomes. Higher education institutions are using massive open online courses (MOOCs) as one of the vehicles through which to deliver these modular degrees and credentials.

    […]

    Modular education reduces the cycle time of learning, making it easier to gain tangible skills and value faster than a full traditional degree. Working professionals can learn new skills in shorter amounts of time, even while they work, and those seeking a degree can do so in a way that pays off, in skills and credentials, along the way rather than just at the end.

    For example, edX’s MicroBachelors® programs are the only path to a bachelor’s degree that make you job ready today and credentialed along the way. You can start with the content that matters most to you, online at your own pace, and earn a certificate with each one to show off your new achievement, knowing that you’ve developed skills that companies actually hire for. Each program comes with real, transferable college credit from one of edX’s university credit partners, which combined with previous credit you may have already collected or plan to get in the future, can put you on a path to earning a full bachelor’s degree.

    Source: Stackable, Modular Learning: Education Built for the Future of Work | edX

    University is about more than jobs and earning power

    Next month, I embark on my fourth postgraduate qualification: an MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. I also believe that alternative credentials such as Open Badges are valuable. That’s because the answer to an ‘either/or’ question is usually ‘yes/and’.

    So I have sympathy with this article which talks about potentially going too far in discouraging people from going to university. What’s missing from this piece, as usual with these things, is that Higher Education isn’t just about earning power. It’s about expanding your mind, worldview, and experiences.

    I got involved with Open Badges 12 years ago because I wanted my kids to have the option of going to university, rather than it being table-stakes for a decent job. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re a lot closer than we used to be. It’s a delicate balance, because I don’t want a liberal education to be the preserve of a wealthy elite.

    Students
    Wages grow faster for more-educated workers because college is a gateway to professional occupations, such as business and engineering, in which workers learn new skills, get promoted, and gain managerial experience. Most noncollege workers, in contrast, end up in personal services and blue-collar occupations, for which wages tend to stagnate over time.

    […]

    Despite the bad vibes around higher education, the fastest-growing occupations that do not require a college degree are mostly low-wage service jobs that offer little opportunity for advancement. Negative public sentiment might dissuade some people from going to college when it is in their long-run interest to do so. The potential harm is greatest for low- and middle-income students, for whom college costs are most salient. Wealthy families will continue to send their kids to four-year colleges, footing the bill and setting their children up for long-term success.

    Indeed, highly educated elites in journalism, business, and academia are among those most likely to question the value of a four-year degree, even if their life choices don’t reflect that skepticism. In a recent New America poll, only 38 percent of respondents with household incomes greater than $100,000 said a bachelor’s degree was necessary for adults in the U.S to be financially secure. When asked about their own family members, however, that number jumped to 58 percent.

    Source: The College Backlash Is Going Too Far | The Atlantic

    Image: Good Free Photos

    Oh great, another skills passport

    I’ve spent the last 12 years working in the ecosystem around Open Badges, which provides an alternative accreditation system. It didn’t come out of thin air, and before this there was plenty of work around e-portfolios. Next up we’ve got Verifiable Credentials which allow for lots of things, including endorsement.

    Frustratingly, over the past couple of decades, people several steps removed from actual jobs markets and education systems decide to weigh in. Inevitably, they use the metaphor closest to hand, which tends to be a ‘passport’.

    This not only is the wrong metaphor, but it diverts money and attention from fixing some of the real issues in the system. I’d suggest that these are at least threefold:

    1. Taxonomic straightjackets — we don't tend to recognise everything that makes for a valuable employee or colleague. There are behaviours that are valuable, as well esoteric knowledge and skills that don't fit into pre-defined taxonomies.
    2. Hiring is broken — this deserves a whole other blog post, but current systems tend to automate the very things that need a human touch. Hence, applicants spend an inordinate amount of time searching for and applying for jobs, while algorithms reject people who would be a perfectly good fit.
    3. References are outdated — one organisation I used to work for stopped taking references because a) in most jurisdictions, it's against the law to make negative comments, and b) they're generally unreliable. Yet the whole system is predicated on them. Endorsements and recommendations based on network relationships are much more valuable.
    I could go on, and probably will over at my personal blog. Or perhaps the Australian government can give me $9.1 million to point them in the right direction.
    The passport system is intended to help workers advertise their full range of qualifications, micro-credentials, prior learning, workplace experience and general capabilities.

    Businesses, unions, tertiary institutions and students are among those the federal government says will be consulted about the initiative.

    Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the goal was to make it easier for employers to find highly-qualified staff and for workers to have their qualifications recognised.

    “We want to make it easier for more workers in more industries to adapt and adopt new technology and to grab the opportunities on offer in the defining decade ahead of us,” Chalmers said.

    Source: National Skills Passport: Government aims to connect workers and employers | SBS News

    If your heart isn’t it, it’s probably because there’s no heart anywhere in the process

    One thing I’ve learned spending over a decade thinking about Open Badges and alternative credentials is that hiring is broken. Although there are mitigations and workarounds — some of which I’ve implemented when hiring a team and helping others do so — the whole thing is a dumpster fire.

    This article by Paul Fuhr discusses the horror show that is job hunting in the age of platforms such as Indeed. He does a great job of showing how automated and dehumanising the whole hiring process is. Platforms are more focused on user engagement than genuinely aiding job seekers; applicants are reduced to mere data points.

    Not only that, but the lack of human-centricity to the whole thing fails to accommodate those with non-linear careers while simultaneously trivialising the job search process. Unsurprisingly, he’s calling for root-and-branch reform of the  current job market. I can’t help but think that badges and alternative credentials can make the whole thing more transparent and fair, moving away from automated metrics.

    I’ve applied for (quite literally) thousands of jobs. Very quickly, I went from being surgically precise about job applications to taking a shotgun-blast approach to it all, spraying applications out in every direction. I’ve clicked the “Submit” button on countless career sites. I’ve created four different versions of my resume. I’ve spent more time on LinkedIn than any other site, too, though I suspect Reddit is happy to have some server bandwidth back.

    Searching for a steady job is a disheartening and depressingly tedious affair, but it doesn’t have to be. If I’m qualified for anything at the moment, though, it’s being qualified to weigh in on the contemporary job-search experience. I know what it is, what it isn’t, what it pretends to be, why it no longer works, and what needs to change. And thanks to a year-plus of trying to find consistent work, it’s no longer about connecting me with the job of my dreams — it’s about connecting me with my dream of simply having a job.

    […]

    Machine learning, AI, automation, yadda yadda yadda. I get it. I understand the “why” of automating the hiring process; I even think it can be a helpful (jargon alert) “arrow in the quiver” for HR. I can’t even imagine a single HR specialist being tasked to locate the right candidate from a huge field of applicants for one job, let alone fifteen jobs at once. That’s like finding a needle in a stack of needles. It’d be paralyzing.

    That said, hiring managers and job seekers have arrived at a truly dangerous intersection. Employers have allowed automation to creep in and govern so much of the HR process that it threatens to ignore the whole…well, you know, human part of it all. And some companies insist on doubling-down on this façade; I’ve visited a shocking number of sites that pretend to have an actual human person ready to chat with you (certainly not a bot!), as if they’re impossibly waiting 24/7 to answer your questions.

    We’re at a maddeningly mindless moment when it comes to finding employment, but it’s one that could be repaired with some maddeningly simple ideas. For starters, just bring back some humans. Robots can parse your past and distill you down into data, but they’ll never make a genuine connection or get a sense of you are. Also, simplicity works both ways: it benefits the applicant as much as an HR specialist.

    Source: Why Resumes Are Dead & How Indeed.com Keeps Killing the Job Market | Paul Fuhr

    Microcast #98 — Endorsement


    The introduction to some thoughts on endorsement using Open Badges and Verifiable Credentials within networks of trust.

    Show notes


    Image: Unsplash

    Digital wallets for verifiable credentials

    Purdue University had something like this almost a decade ago, but there’s even more call for this kind of thing now, post-pandemic and in a Verifiable Credentials landscape.

    Everyone’s addicted to marrying ‘skills’ with ‘jobs’ but I think there’s definitely an Open Recognition aspect to all of this.

    ASU Pocket captures students’ traditional and non-traditional educational credentials, which are now, with the emergence of verifiable credentials, more portable than ever before. This gives students the autonomy to securely own, control and share their holistic evidence of learning with employers.

    A digital wallet, like ASU Pocket, holds verifiable credentials – which are digital representations of real-world credentials like government-issued IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, educational degrees, professional certifications, awards, and so on. In the past, these credentials have been stored in physical form, making them susceptible to fraud and loss. However, with advances in technology, these credentials can be stored electronically, using cryptographic techniques to ensure their authenticity. This makes it possible to verify the credential without revealing sensitive information, such as a social security number.

    […]

    At ASU Pocket, we also view verifiable credentials as an important tool for social impact. They provide a way for people to document their skills and accomplishments, which can be used to gain new opportunities. For example, someone with a verifiable skill credential for customer service might be able to use it to get a job in a call center. Likewise, someone with a verifiable credential for computer programming might be able to use it to get a job as a software developer.

    In both cases, the verifiable credential provides a way for the individual to demonstrate their skills and qualifications gained through or outside of traditional learning pathways. This is especially impactful for marginalized groups who may have difficulty obtaining traditional credentials, such as degrees or certifications.

    Source: ASU Pocket: A digital wallet to capture learners’ real-time achievements

    Prestige and associational value

    This is 100% true and one of the reasons that I think that Open Badges and Verifiable Credentials are so awesome. Associational value is built-in for human beings, as we’re social creatures who set store by what other people value.

    For example, I’m Dr. Belshaw which has a certain cachet and status in some circles. But people are usually much more interested/impressed by the fact that I worked for Mozilla and that one of our co-op’s clients is Greenpeace.

    Them’s the breaks. And I feel like passing on this kind of wisdom to the younger generations is really important, to be honest, as a way that the world actually works.

    A lot of people suspect that having-been part of a prestigious organisation (such a a famous university or an "elite" org in your field) gets you an unfair advantage when applying for future jobs.

    There are two main avenues you could imagine for this advantage. One is basically nepotism: through the organisation you meet lots of other people who will later give you preferential access to jobs.

    A second avenue is throughthe associtional value of the institution: that people with no specific connection to you or that organisation will see the name of Prestigious Institution on your resume and hire you because, well, you were at Prestigious Institution.

    […]

    I think associational value often comes out of single-sentence descriptions of what somebody has done, and that therefore there are often relatively-easy ways to get 99% of the associational benefits of a prestigious institution at a much lower cost.

    For example, in the magazine-writing world, people are often (approximately) defined by 1-3 of the most famous publications they’ve ever written for: “X’s work has appeared in TK, TK and TK,” or “this is my friend Y, she writes for [famous media brand].”

    […]

    I’m not entirely sure how to work around this one, beyond the “try to get a mild affiliation with a prestigious institution, even if it’s an incredibly silly one” hack.

    Source: Associational Value | Atoms vs Bits

    Learning through pathways

    This is an interesting post that uses Google Maps as a metaphor for learning. In other words, get from where you are, to where you need to be, using an optimal route.

    The author did some research, built pathways based on the findings, and presented them back to users. Who didn’t like them.

    A similar approach was used in the Mozilla Discover project around Open Badges which is written up on Badge Wiki. The difference there, I guess, was that people were able to recognise specific inflection points that had meaning for them, and ascribe badges.

    My opinion would be that people learn in different ways because of the context they bring to the table. You can rely on certain things to inspire most people, for example, or other things to resonate with some people. But there’s always a bit of experimentation to learning. It’s more like improvisational jazz than a symphony!

    So, we do learn through pathways, but those pathways only have certain parts of the journey in common. To use another metaphor, it’s a bit like sharing a bus journey with other passengers for several stops, before getting on another bus (or hitch-hiking, or taking a taxi, or…)

    I wanted to check the assumptions I had regarding the generation of paths for the Learning Map. So I scheduled interviews with instructors of these schools who were themselves also famous musicians. Their assumption was that I was interviewing them to create a story about their lives, but I was actually doing something far more interesting, I was deeply listening to the story of what and how they learned, and to the chronological order of their learning journey.

    I asked them to describe their musical career, I let them know I wanted to create a timeline of their story, to start at the very beginning, and then to take me step by step through to their successes of today. Then I sat back and started to take notes:

    Their first experience with music may have been with their mom who played the guitar, a lead singer they had a crush on, or a drum kit they got as a 5-year-old. They learned some key lessons and their journey kicked off. Over time, they may have learned to sing in Church, or worked in a recording studio. Some went to school, where they were introduced to new ideas from their peers, started a band, or trained underneath a mentor. Many went in completely different directions, they first become a chef, worked on a boat, or started bartending, each experience taught them skills they would later apply to their music. As they shared their experiences, I took notes, not about the events, the characters, or places, but only on the things they learned and when. I was mapping out their learning journeys, step by step, from their first experiences to their current work. I made an effort to cut through the superficial, and get to the heart of the lessons learned, this required the musician to deeply introspect, and was a fascinating experience on its own.

    Several weeks later, after they had forgotten about the interviews and I had time to map each story out, I presented it back to them. But not as a story of their lives, instead, as a course, I wanted to run by them and get their professional opinion on. “What do you think of this course” “Do you think this is a good structure for a course?” I asked. They did not know this course was modeled after their own stories, they did not have any reason to tie this course back to the interviews conducted some months back and their responses were resounding: “This is a terribly designed course!” “How could you even think of wasting my time with this”, “Don’t you know that you need to understand X before you learn Y”…

    More on this in this blog post about the session we ran at The Badge Summit on designing for recognition. Be sure to click through to the accompanying slide deck and the constellation model approach in slides 16 and 24!

    Source: We dont learn through pathways | Dev4X

    Web3 and Ed3 are both problematic

    Web3 is being discussed as if it’s anything other than the financialisation of everything. This post about ‘Ed3’ really struggles to square that circle when it comes to education. There are so many issues with it that I don’t really know where to start.

    The bit that really jumped out for me, though, given that I’ve spent a decade working on Open Badges is the bit on credentialing. The cat is out of the bag by this point, especially in the “only paying for what you need” language. The whole point of education is that you don’t know what kind of person you’ll be at the end of it.

    Anything else is just training.

    Imagine if universities were fractionalized and you could earn the micro-credentials that mattered most for your career, only paid for what you needed, and owned a life-long portfolio with those credentials that were interoperable across all institutes & industries?

    Web3 will also enable the metaverse to take shape over the next few decades; a universe of many buildable worlds that operate on decentralized infrastructure. The metaverse will make it possible to do everything we can do in the real world but enhanced by digital experiences & possible in an entirely virtual world.

    Source: From Web3 to Ed3 - Reimagining Education in a Decentralized Worl… — Mirror

    What are microcredentials?

    I suppose we should have listened when people told the team I was on at Mozilla time and time again that the name ‘Open Badges’ didn’t work for them. They didn’t seem to get the fact that they could call them anything they liked in their organisations; the important thing was that they aligned with the open standard.

    A decade later, and ‘microcredentials’ seems to be one term that’s been adopted, especially towards the formal end of the credentialing spectrum. In this interview, Jackie Pichette, Director of Research and Policy for the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, takes a Higher Education-centric look at the landscape.

    I may be cynical, but it comes across a lot like “that’s all very well in practice, but what about in theory?"

    There’s a lot of confusion around the definition of the microcredential. When my colleagues and I started our research in February 2020, just before the world turned upside down, one of our aims was to help establish some common understanding. We engaged experts and consulted literature from around the world to help us answer questions like, What constitutes a microcredential? How is a microcredential different from a digital badge or a certificate?

    We landed on an umbrella definition of programs focused on a discrete set of competencies (i.e., skills, knowledge, attributes) that, by virtue of having a narrow focus, require less time to obtain than traditional credentials. We also came up with a typology to show the variation in this definition. For example, microcredentials can be self-paced to accommodate individual schedules, can follow a defined schedule or feature a mix of fixed- and self-paced elements.

    Source: How Do Microcredentials Stack Up? Part 1 | The EvoLLLution

    Open Badges Verifiable Credentials

    I’m really grateful for people like Kerri Lemoie who understand digital credentials both technically and educationally, and have the time (she now works at Badgr) to steer this in the right direction.

    Verifiable Credentials put learners in the center of a trust triangle with issuers and verifiers. They also add an additional layer of verification for the recipients. Open Badges can take advantage of this, be the first education-focused digital credential spec to promote personal protection of and access to data, and be part of the growing ecosystem that is exchanging Verifiable Credentials.
    Source: Open Badges as Verifiable Credentials | Kerri Lemoie

    Badges everywhere!

    As I predicted, 2021 is the year when Open Badges and digital credentials go mainstream. It’s unsurprising that ‘open’ isn’t front-and-centre in this Blackboard press release, but it’s still a win that this kind of thing is becoming normalised.

    "We're excited to collaborate with Blackboard to integrate Badgr's stackable digital credentialing technology into Blackboard Learn," said Wayne Skipper, Founder of Concentric Sky. "Verifiable, skill-aligned micro-credentials are fast becoming the currency by which learners and employers improve the connections between learning outcomes and employment opportunities."Badgr Spaces, first available in Blackboard Learn, enables learners to earn personalized digital credentials and instructors to align course objectives and learning pathways with digital badges. Badgr Spaces empowers every member of a learning community with insight, direction and recognition on their personalized learning path.
    Source: Blackboard and Concentric Sky Partner to Make Badgr Micro-credentials and Stackable Pathways Available to More Learners

    Gatekeepers of opportunity and the lottery of privilege

    Despite starting out as a pejorative term, 'meritocracy' is something that, until recently, few people seem to have had a problem with. One of the best explanations of why meritocracy is a problematic idea is in this Mozilla article from a couple of years ago. Basically, it ascribes agency to those who were given opportunities due to pre-existing privilege.

    In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Sandel makes some very good points about the American university system, which can be more broadly applied to other western nations, such as the UK, which have elite universities.

    The meritocratic hubris of elites is the conviction by those who land on top that their success is their own doing, that they have risen through a fair competition, that they therefore deserve the material benefits that the market showers upon their talents. Meritocratic hubris is the tendency of the successful to inhale too deeply of their success, to forget the luck and good fortune that helped them on their way. It goes along with the tendency to look down on those less fortunate, and less credentialed, than themselves. That gives rise to the sense of humiliation and resentment of those who are left out.

    Michael Sandel, quoted in 'The Insufferable Hubris of the Well-Credentialed'

    As someone who is reasonably well-credentialed, I nevertheless see a fundamental problem with requiring a degree as an 'entry-level' qualification. That's why I first got interested in Open Badges nearly a decade ago.

    Despite the best efforts of the community, elite universities have a vested in maintaining the status quo. Eventually, the whole edifice will come crashing down, but right now, those universities are the gatekeepers to opportunity.

    Society as a whole has made a four-year university degree a necessary condition for dignified work and a decent life. This is a mistake. Those of us in higher education can easily forget that most Americans do not have a four-year college degree. Nearly two-thirds do not.

    [...]

    We also need to reconsider the steep hierarchy of prestige that we have created between four-year colleges and universities, especially brand-name ones, and other institutions of learning. This hierarchy of prestige both reflects and exacerbates the tendency at the top to denigrate or depreciate the contributions to the economy made by people whose work does not depend on having a university diploma.

    So the role that universities have been assigned, sitting astride the gateway of opportunity and success, is not good for those who have been left behind. But I’m not sure it’s good for elite universities themselves, either.

    MICHAEL SANDEL, QUOTED IN 'THE INSUFFERABLE HUBRIS OF THE WELL-CREDENTIALED'

    Thankfully, Sandel, has a rather delicious solution to decouple privilege from admission to elite universities. It's not a panacea, but I like it a first step.

    What might we do about it? I make a proposal in the book that may get me in a lot of trouble in my neighborhood. Part of the problem is that having survived this high-pressured meritocratic gauntlet, it’s almost impossible for the students who win admission not to believe that they achieved their admission as a result of their own strenuous efforts. One can hardly blame them. So I think we should gently invite students to challenge this idea. I propose that colleges and universities that have far more applicants than they have places should consider what I call a “lottery of the qualified.” Over 40,000 students apply to Stanford and to Harvard for about 2,000 places. The admissions officers tell us that the majority are well-qualified. Among those, fill the first-year class through a lottery. My hunch is that the quality of discussion in our classes would in no way be impaired.

    The main reason for doing this is to emphasize to students and their parents the role of luck in admission, and more broadly in success. It’s not introducing luck where it doesn’t already exist. To the contrary, there’s an enormous amount of luck in the present system. The lottery would highlight what is already the case.

    MICHAEL SANDEL, QUOTED IN 'THE INSUFFERABLE HUBRIS OF THE WELL-CREDENTIALED'

    Would people like me be worse off in a more egalitarian system? Probably. But that's kind of the point.

    Friday filchings

    I'm having to write this ahead of time due to travel commitments. Still, there's the usual mixed bag of content in here, everything from digital credentials through to survival, with a bit of panpsychism thrown in for good measure.

    Did any of these resonate with you? Let me know!


    Competency Badges: the tail wagging the dog?

    Recognition is from a certain point of view hyperlocal, and it is this hyperlocality that gives it its global value – not the other way around. The space of recognition is the community in which the competency is developed and activated. The recognition of a practitioner in a community is not reduced to those generally considered to belong to a “community of practice”, but to the intersection of multiple communities and practices, starting with the clients of these practices: the community of practice of chefs does not exist independently of the communities of their suppliers and clients. There is also a very strong link between individual recognition and that of the community to which the person is identified: shady notaries and politicians can bring discredit on an entire community.

    Serge Ravet

    As this roundup goes live I'll be at Open Belgium, and I'm looking forward to catching up with Serge while I'm there! My take on the points that he's making in this (long) post is actually what I'm talking about at the event: open initiatives need open organisations.


    Universities do not exist ‘to produce students who are useful’, President says

    Mr Higgins, who was opening a celebration of Trinity College Dublin’s College Historical Debating Society, said “universities are not there merely to produce students who are useful”.

    “They are there to produce citizens who are respectful of the rights of others to participate and also to be able to participate fully, drawing on a wide range of scholarship,” he said on Monday night.

    The President said there is a growing cohort of people who are alienated and “who feel they have lost their attachment to society and decision making”.

    Jack Horgan-Jones (The Irish Times)

    As a Philosophy graduate, I wholeheartedly agree with this, and also with his assessment of how people are obsessed with 'markets'.


    Perennial philosophy

    Not everyone will accept this sort of inclusivism. Some will insist on a stark choice between Jesus or hell, the Quran or hell. In some ways, overcertain exclusivism is a much better marketing strategy than sympathetic inclusivism. But if just some of the world’s population opened their minds to the wisdom of other religions, without having to leave their own faith, the world would be a better, more peaceful place. Like Aldous Huxley, I still believe in the possibility of growing spiritual convergence between different religions and philosophies, even if right now the tide seems to be going the other way.

    Jules Evans (Aeon)

    This is an interesting article about the philosophy of Aldous Huxley, whose books have always fascinated me. For some reason, I hadn't twigged that he was related to Thomas Henry Huxley (aka "Darwin's bulldog").


    Photo by Scott Webb
    Photo by Scott Webb

    What the Death of iTunes Says About Our Digital Habits

    So what really failed, maybe, wasn’t iTunes at all—it was the implicit promise of Gmail-style computing. The explosion of cloud storage and the invention of smartphones both arrived at roughly the same time, and they both subverted the idea that we should organize our computer. What they offered in its place was a vision of ease and readiness. What the idealized iPhone user and the idealized Gmail user shared was a perfect executive-functioning system: Every time they picked up their phone or opened their web browser, they knew exactly what they wanted to do, got it done with a calm single-mindedness, and then closed their device. This dream illuminated Inbox Zero and Kinfolk and minimalist writing apps. It didn’t work. What we got instead was Inbox Infinity and the algorithmic timeline. Each of us became a wanderer in a sea of content. Each of us adopted the tacit—but still shameful—assumption that we are just treading water, that the clock is always running, and that the work will never end.

    Robinson Meyer (The Atlantic)

    This is curiously-written (and well-written) piece, in the form of an ordered list, that takes you through the changes since iTunes launched. It's hard to disagree with the author's arguments.


    Imagine a world without YouTube

    But what if YouTube had failed? Would we have missed out on decades of cultural phenomena and innovative ideas? Would we have avoided a wave of dystopian propaganda and misinformation? Or would the internet have simply spiraled into new — yet strangely familiar — shapes, with their own joys and disasters?

    Adi Robertson (The Verge)

    I love this approach of imagining how the world would have been different had YouTube not been the massive success it's been over the last 15 years. Food for thought.


    Big Tech Is Testing You

    It’s tempting to look for laws of people the way we look for the laws of gravity. But science is hard, people are complex, and generalizing can be problematic. Although experiments might be the ultimate truthtellers, they can also lead us astray in surprising ways.

    Hannah Fry (The New Yorker)

    A balanced look at the way that companies, especially those we classify as 'Big Tech' tend to experiment for the purposes of engagement and, ultimately, profit. Definitely worth a read.


    Photo by David Buchi
    Photo by David Buchi

    Trust people, not companies

    The trend to tap into is the changing nature of trust. One of the biggest social trends of our time is the loss of faith in institutions and previously trusted authorities. People no longer trust the Government to tell them the truth. Banks are less trusted than ever since the Financial Crisis. The mainstream media can no longer be trusted by many. Fake news. The anti-vac movement. At the same time, we have a generation of people who are looking to their peers for information.

    Lawrence Lundy (Outlier Ventures)

    This post is making the case for blockchain-based technologies. But the wider point is a better one, that we should trust people rather than companies.


    The Forest Spirits of Today Are Computers

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature. Agriculture de-wilded the meadows and the forests, so that even a seemingly pristine landscape can be a heavily processed environment. Manufactured products have become thoroughly mixed in with natural structures. Now, our machines are becoming so lifelike we can’t tell the difference. Each stage of technological development adds layers of abstraction between us and the physical world. Few people experience nature red in tooth and claw, or would want to. So, although the world of basic physics may always remain mindless, we do not live in that world. We live in the world of those abstractions.

    George Musser (Nautilus)

    This article, about artificial 'panpsychism' is really challenging to the reader's initial assumptions (well, mine at least) and really makes you think.


    The man who refused to freeze to death

    It would appear that our brains are much better at coping in the cold than dealing with being too hot. This is because our bodies’ survival strategies centre around keeping our vital organs running at the expense of less essential body parts. The most essential of all, of course, is our brain. By the time that Shatayeva and her fellow climbers were experiencing cognitive issues, they were probably already experiencing other organ failures elsewhere in their bodies.

    William Park (BBC Future)

    Not just one story in this article, but several with fascinating links and information.


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    Header image by Tim Mossholder.

    The world is all variation and dissimilarity

    Another quotation-as-title from Michel de Montaigne. I'm using it today, as I want to write a composite post based on a tweet I put out yesterday where I simply asked What shall I write about?

    Note: today's update is a little different as it's immediately available on the open web, instead of being limited to supporters for seven days. It's an experiment!

    Here's some responses I got to my question:

    1. Tips for aspiring Mountain Leaders (@CraigTaylor74)
    2. Decentralised learning (@plaao)
    3. Slippers and sandals (@boyledsweetie)
    4. Carbon footprint of blockchain-based credentials (@ConcentricSky)
    5. How educators can promote their good practices without looking like they're bragging (@pullel)
    6. Why the last episode of Game of Thrones was so very bad (@MikeySwales)

    Never let it be said that I don't give the people what they want! Five short sections, based on the serious (and not-so-serious) answers I go from my Twitter followers.

    1. Tips for aspiring Mountain Leaders

    Well, I'm not even on the course yet (two more Quality Mountain Days to go!) but some tips I'd pass on are:

    • Be flexible with your planned route, especially in respect to the weather
    • Don't buy super-expensive gear until you actually need it
    • Write down your learning experiences the same day as you experience them
    • Go walking with different people (although not with anyone who's got their ML, if you want it to count towards your QMDs!)
    • Do buy walking poles and gaiters, even if you feel a prat using them

    ...and, of course, subscribe to The Bushcraft Padawan!

    2. Decentralised learning

    Decentralisation is an interesting concept, mainly because it's such an abstract concept for people to grasp. Usually, when people talk about decentralisation, they're either talking about politics or technology. Both, ultimately, are to do with power.

    When it comes to learning, therefore, decentralised learning is all about empowering learners, which is often precisely the opposite of what we do in schools. We centralise instruction, and subject young people (and their teachers) to bells that control their time.

    To my mind, decentralised learning is any attempt to empower learners to be more independent. That might involve them co-creating the curriculum, it might have something to do with the way we credential and/or recognise their learning. The important thing is that learning isn't something that's done to them.

    3. Slippers and sandals

    I'm wearing slippers right now, as I do when I'm in the house or working in my home office. I don't think you can go past Totes Isotoner, to be honest. Comfy!

    Given I live in the North East of England, my opportunities to wear sandals are restricted to holidays and a few days in summer. I had a fantastic pair of Timberland sandals back in the day, but my wife finally threw them away because they were too smelly. I'm making do now with some other ones I found in the sale on Amazon, but they're actually slightly too big for me, which is annoying.

    4. Carbon footprint of blockchain-based credentials

    I'll start with the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, which gives us a couple of great charts to show the scale of the problem of using blockchains based on a proof-of-work algorithm:

    That's right, the whole of the Czech Republic could be powered by the amount of energy required to run the Bitcoin network.

    As you can see from the second chart, Bitcoin is a massive waste of energy versus our existing methods of payment. But what about other blockchain-based technologies, like Ethereum?

    They've had the same problem, until recently, as Peter Fairley explains for IEEE Spectrum:

    Like most cryptocurrencies, Ethereum relies on a computational competition called proof of work (PoW) . In PoW, all participants race to cryptographically secure transactions and add them to the blockchain’s globally distributed ledger. It’s a winner-takes-all contest, rewarded with newly minted cryptocoins. So the more computational firepower you have, the better your chances to profit.

    [...]

    Ethereum’s plan is to replace PoW with proof of stake (PoS)—an alternative mechanism for distributed consensus that was first applied to a cryptocurrency with the launch of Peercoin in 2012. Instead of millions of processors simultaneously processing the same transactions, PoS randomly picks one to do the job.

    In PoS, the participants are called validators instead of miners, and the key is keeping them honest. PoS does this by requiring each validator to put up a stake—a pile of ether in Ethereum’s case—as collateral. A bigger stake earns a validator proportionately more chances at a turn, but it also means that a validator caught cheating has lots to lose.

    Peter Fairley

    Which brings us back to credentials. As I've said many times before, if you trust online banking and online shopping, then the Open Badges standard is secure enough for you. However, I can still see a use case for blockchain-based credentials, and wouldn't necessarily rule them out — especially if they're based on a PoS approach.

    5. How educators can promote their good practices without looking like they're bragging

    This is really contextual. What counts as 'bragging' in one culture and within one community won't be counted as such in another. It also depends on personality too, I guess ⁠— something we don't really talk about as educators (other than through the lens of 'character').

    The only advice I can give is to do these three things:

    1. Keep showing up in the same spaces every day/week so that people know where to find you (online/offline)
    2. Share your work without caring about recognition
    3. Point to other people and both recognise and celebrate their contributions

    Remember, the point is to make the world a better place, not to care who gets credit for making it better!

    6. Why the last episode of Game of Thrones was so very bad

    I've never even seen part of one episode, so perhaps this can help?

    [www.youtube.com/watch](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GdWD0yxvqw)

    Do you have any questions for me to answer next time I do this?

    There’s no perfection where there’s no selection

    So said Baltasar Gracián. One of the reasons that e-portfolios never really took off was because there's so much to read. Can you imagine sifting through hundreds of job applications where each applicant had a fully-fledged e-portfolio, including video content?

    That's why I've been so interested in Open Badges, and have written plenty on the subject over the last eight years. If you're new to the party, there are various terms such as 'microcredentials', 'digital badges', and 'digital credentials'. The difference is in the standard which was previously stewarded by Mozilla (including at my time there) and now by IMS Global Learning Consortium.

    When I left Mozilla, I did a lot of work with City & Guilds, an awarding body that's well known for its vocational qualifications. They took a particular interest in Open Badges, for obvious reasons. In this article for FE News, Kirstie Donnelly (Managing Director of the City & Guilds Group) explains their huge potential:

    The fact that you can actually stack these credentials, and they become portable, then you can publish them through online, through your LinkedIn. I just think it puts a very different dynamic into how the learner owns their experience, but at the same time the employers and the education system can still influence very much how those credentials are built and stacked.

    Kirstie Donnelly

    Like it or not, a lot of education is 'signalling' — i.e. providing an indicator that you can do a thing. The great thing about Open Badges is that you can make credentials much more granular and, crucially, include evidence of your ability to do the thing you claim to be able to do.

    As Tyler Cowen picks up on for Marginal Revolution, without this granularity, there's a knock-on effect upon societal inequality. Privilege is perpetuated. He quotes a working paper by Gaurab Aryal, Manudeep Bhuller, and Fabian Lange who state:

    The social and the private returns to education differ when education can increase productivity and also be used to signal productivity. We show how instrumental variables can be used to separately identify and estimate the social and private returns to education within the employer learning framework of Farber and Gibbons (1996) and Altonji and Pierret (2001). What an instrumental variable identifies depends crucially on whether the instrument is hidden from or observed by the employers. If the instrument is hidden, it identifies the private returns to education, but if the instrument is observed by employers, it identifies the social returns to education.

    Aryal, Bhuller, and Lange

    I take this to mean that, in a marketplace, the more the 'buyers' (i.e. employers) understand what's on offer, the more this changes the way that 'sellers' (i.e. potential employees) position themselves. Open Badges and other technologies can help with this.

    Understandably, a lot is made of digital credentials for recruitment. Indeed, I've often argued that badges are important at times of transition — whether into a job, on the job, or onto your next job. But they are also important for reasons other than employment.

    Lauren Acree, writing for Digital Promise explains how they can be used to foster more inclusive classrooms:

    The Learner Variability micro-credentials ask educators to better understand students as learners. The micro-credentials support teachers as they partner with students in creating learning environments that address learners’ needs, leverage their strengths, and empower students to reflect and adjust as needed. We found that micro-credentials are one important way we can ultimately build teacher capacity to meet the needs of all learners.

    Lauren Acree

    The article includes this image representing a taxonomy of how teachers use micro-credentials in their work:

    If we zoom out even further, we can see that micro-credentials as a form of 'currency' could play a big role in how we re-imagine society. Tim Riches, who I collaborated with while at both Mozilla and City & Guilds, has written a piece for the RSA about the 'Cities of Learning' projects that he's been involved in. All of these have used badges in some form or other.

    In formal education, the value of learning is measured in qualifications. However, qualifications only capture a snapshot of what we know, not what we can do. What’s more, they tend to measure routine skills - the ones most vulnerable to automation and outsourcing.

    [...]

    Cities are full of people with unrecognised talents and potential. Cities are a huge untapped resource. Skills are developed every day in the community, at work and online, but they are hidden from view - disconnected from formal education and employers.

    Tim Riches

    I don't live in a city, and don't necessarily see them as the organising force here, but I do think that, on a societal level, there's something about recognising potential. Tim includes a graphic in his article which, I think, captures this nicely:

    There's a phrase that's often used by feminist writers: "you can't be what you can't see". In other words, if you don't have any role models in a particular area, you're unlikely to think of exploring it. Similarly, if you don't know anyone who's a lawyer, or a sailor, or a horse rider, it's not perhaps something you'd think of doing.

    If we can wrest control of innovations such as Open Badges away from the incumbents, and focus on human flourishing, I can see real opportunities for what Serge Ravet and others call 'open recognition'. Otherwise, we're just co-opting them to prop up and perpetuate the existing, unequal system.


    Also check out:

    Educational institutions are at a crossroads of relevance

    One of the things that attracted me to the world of Open Badges and digital credentialing back in 2011 was the question of relevance. As a Philosophy graduate, I'm absolutely down with the idea of a broad, balanced education, and learning as a means of human flourishing.

    However, in a world where we measure schools, colleges, and universities through an economic lens, it's inevitable that learners do so too. As I've said in presentations and to clients many times, I want my children to choose to go to university because it's the right choice for them, not because they have to.

    In an article in Forbes, Brandon Busteed notes that we're on the verge of a huge change in Higher Education:

    This shift will go down as the biggest disruption in higher education whereby colleges and universities will be disintermediated by employers and job seekers going direct. Higher education won’t be eliminated from the model; degrees and other credentials will remain valuable and desired, but for a growing number of young people they’ll be part of getting a job as opposed to college as its own discrete experience. This is already happening in the case of working adults and employers that offer college education as a benefit. But it will soon be true among traditional age students. Based on a Kaplan University Partners-QuestResearch study I led and which was released today, I predict as many as one-third of all traditional students in the next decade will "Go Pro Early" in work directly out of high school with the chance to earn a college degree as part of the package.

    This is true to some degree in the UK as well, through Higher Apprenticeships. University study becomes a part-time deal with the 'job' paying for fees. It's easy to see how this could quickly become a two-tier system for rich and poor.

    A "job-first, college included model" could well become one of the biggest drivers of both increasing college completion rates in the U.S. and reducing the cost of college. In the examples of employers offering college degrees as benefits, a portion of the college expense will shift to the employer, who sees it as a valuable talent development and retention strategy with measurable return on investment benefits. This is further enhanced through bulk-rate tuition discounts offered by the higher educational institutions partnering with these employers. Students would still be eligible for federal financial aid, and they’d be making an income while going to college. To one degree or another, this model has the potential to make college more affordable for more people, while lowering or eliminating student loan debt and increasing college enrollments. It would certainly help bridge the career readiness gap that many of today’s college graduates encounter.

    The 'career readiness' that Busteed discusses here is an interesting concept, and one that I think has been invented by employers who don't want to foot the bill for training. Certainly, my parents' generation weren't supposed to be immediately ready for employment straight after their education — and, of course, they weren't saddled with student debt, either.

    Related, in my mind, is the way that we treat young people as data to be entered on a spreadsheet. This is managerialism at its worst. Back when I was a teacher and a form tutor, I remember how sorry I felt for the young people in my charge, who were effectively moved around a machine for 'processing' them.

    Now, in an article for The Guardian, Jeremy Hannay tells it like it is for those who don't have an insight into the Kafkaesque world of schools:

    Let me clear up this edu-mess for you. It’s not Sats. It’s not workload. The elephant in the room is high-stakes accountability. And I’m calling bullshit. Our education system actively promotes holding schools, leaders and teachers at gunpoint for a very narrow set of test outcomes. This has long been proven to be one of the worst ways to bring about sustainable change. It is time to change this educational paradigm before we have no one left in the classroom except the children.

    Just like our dog-eat-dog society in the UK could be much more collaborative, so our education system badly needs remodelling. We've deprofessionalised teaching, and introduced a managerial culture. Things could be different, as they are elsewhere in the world.

    In such systems – and they do exist in some countries, such as Finland and Canada, and even in some brave schools in this country – development isn’t centred on inspection, but rather professional collaboration. These schools don’t perform regular observations and monitoring, or fire out over-prescriptive performance policies. Instead, they discuss and design pedagogy, engage in action research, and regularly perform activities such as learning and lesson study. Everyone understands that growing great educators involves moments of brilliance and moments of mayhem.

    That's the key: "moments of brilliance and moments of mayhem". Ironically, bureaucratic, hierarchical systems cannot cope with amazing teachers, because they're to some extent unpredictable. You can't put them in a box (on a spreadsheet).

    Actually, perhaps it's not the hierarchy per se, but the power dynamics, as Richard D. Bartlett points out in this post.

    Yes, when a hierarchical shape is applied to a human group, it tends to encourage coercive power dynamics. Usually the people at the top are given more importance than the rest. But the problem is the power, not the shape. 

    What we're doing is retro-fitting the worst forms of corporate power dynamics onto education and expecting everything to be fine. Newsflash: learning is different to work, and always will be.

    Interestingly, Bartlett defines three different forms of power dynamics, which I think is enlightening:

    Follett coined the terms “power-over” and “power-with” in 1924. Starhawk adds a third category “power-from-within”. These labels provide three useful lenses for analysing the power dynamics of an organisation. With apologies to the original authors, here’s my definitions:

    • power-from-within or empowerment — the creative force you feel when you’re making art, or speaking up for something you believe in
    • power-with or social power — influence, status, rank, or reputation that determines how much you are listened to in a group
    • power-over or coercion — power used by one person to control another

    The problem with educational institutions, I feel, is that we've largely done away with empowerment and social power, and put all of our eggs in the basket of coercion.


    Also check out:

    • Working collaboratively and learning cooperatively (Harold Jarche) — "Two types of behaviours are necessary in the network era workplace — collaboration and cooperation. Cooperation is not the same as collaboration, though they are complementary."
    • Learning Alignment Model (Tom Barrett) - "It is not a step by step process to design learning, but more of a high-level thinking model to engage with that uncovers some interesting potential tensions in our classroom work."
    • A Definition of Academic Innovation (Inside Higher Ed) - "What if academic innovation was built upon the research and theory of our field, incorporating social constructivist, constructionist and activity theory?"

    Open Badges and ADCs

    As someone who’s been involved with Open Badges since 2012, I’m always interested in the ebbs and flows of the language around their promotion and use.

    This article in an article on EdScoop cites a Dean at UC Irvine, who talks about ‘Alternative Digital Credentials’:

    Alternative digital credentials — virtual certificates for skill verification — are an institutional imperative, said Gary Matkin, dean of continuing education at the University of California, Irvine, who predicts they will become widely available in higher education within five years.

    “Like in the 90s when it was obvious that education was going to begin moving to an online format,” Matkin told EdScoop, “it is now the current progression that institutions will have to begin to issue ADCs.”

    Out of all of the people I’ve spoken to about Open Badges in the past seven years, universities are the ones who least like the term ‘badges’.

    The article links to a report by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) on ADCs which cites seven reasons that they’re an ‘institutional imperative’:

    1. ADCs (and their non-university equivalents) are already widely offered
    2. Traditional transcripts are not serving the workforce. The primary failure of traditional transcripts is that they do not connect verified competencies to jobs
    3. Accrediting agencies are beginning to focus on learning outcomes
    4. Young adults are demanding shorter and more workplace-relevant learning
    5. Open education demands ADCs
    6. Hiring practices increasingly depend on digital searches
    7. An ADC ecosystem is developing
    All of which seems reasonable. However, I don't necessarily agree with the report's sweeping prediction that:
    "Efforts to set universal technical and quality standards for badges and to establish comprehensive repositories for credentials conforming to a single standard will not succeed."
    You can't lump in quality standards with technical standards. The former is obviously doomed to fail, whereas the latter is somewhat inevitable.

    Source: EdScoop

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