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Individual steps to tackle climate change

Tomorrow, pupils at some schools in the UK will walk out and join protests around climate change. There are none in my local area of which I’m aware, but it has got me thinking of how I talk to my own children about this.

The above infographic was created by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas and is featured in an article about the most effective steps you can take as an individual to tackle climate change.

While these are all important steps (I honestly didn’t know quite how bad transatlantic flights are!) it’s important to bear in mind that industry and big business should bear the brunt here. What they can do dwarfs what we can do individually.

Still, it all counts. And we should get on it. Time’s running out.

Source: phys.org

Games (and learning) mechanics

The average age of those who play video games? Early thirties, and rising. So, I’m happy to say that purchasing Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the best decisions I’ve made so far in 2019.

It’s an incredible, immersive game within which you could easily lose a few hours at a time. And, just like games like Fortnite, it’s being tweaked and updated after release to improve the playing experience. Particularly the online aspect.

What interests me in particular as an educator and a technologist is the way that the designers are thinking carefully about the in-game mechanics based on what players actually do. It’s easy to theorise what people might do, but what they actually do is a constant surprise to anyone who’s ever designed something they’ve asked another person to use.

Engadget mentions one update to Red Dead that particularly jumped out at me:

The update also brings a new system that highlights especially aggressive players. The more hostile you are, the more visible you will become to other players on the map with an increasingly darkening dot. Your visibility will increase in line with bad deeds such as attacking players and their horses outside of a structured mode, free roam mission or event. But, start behaving, and your visibility will fade over time. Rockstar is also introducing the ability to parlay with an entire posse, rather than individual players, which should also help to reduce how often players are killed by trolls.

In other words, anti-social behaviour is being dealt with by games mechanics that make it harder for people to act inappropriately.

But my favourite update?

The update will also see the arrival of bounties. Any player that’s overly aggressive and consistently breaks the law with have a bounty placed on their head, and once it’s high enough NPC [Non-Playing Characters] bounty hunters will get on your tail. Another mechanism to dissuade griefing but perhaps a missed opportunity to allow players to become temporary bounty hunters and enact some sweet vengeance on the players that keep ruining their gameplay.

We have a tendency in education to simply ban things we don’t like. That might be excluding people from courses, or ultimately from institutions. However, when it’s customers at stake, games designers have a wide range of options to influence the outcomes for the positive.

I think we’ve got a lot still to learn in education from games design.

Source: Engadget


Image by BagoGames used under a CC BY license

Is edtech even a thing any more?

Until recently, Craig Taylor included the following in his Twitter bio:

Dreaming of a day when we can drop the e from elearning and the m from mobile learning & just crack on.

Last week, I noticed that Stephen Downes, in reply to Scott Leslie on Mastodon, had mentioned that he didn’t even think that ‘e-learning’ or ‘edtech’ was really a thing any more, so perhaps Craig dropping that from his bio was symptomatic of a wider shift?

I’m not sure anyone has any status in online learning any more. I’m wondering, maybe it’s not even a discipline any more. There’s learning analytics and open pedagogy and experience design, etc., but I’m not sure there’s a cohesive community looking at what we used to call ed tech or e-learning.

His comments were part of a thread, so I decided not to take it out of context. However, Stephen has subsequently written his own post about it, so it’s obviously something on his mind.

Reflecting on what he covers in OLDaily, he notes that, while everything definitely falls within something broadly called ‘educational technology’, there’s very few people working at that meta level — unlike, say, ten years ago:

[I]n 2019 there’s no community that encompasses all of these things. Indeed, each one of these topics has not only blossomed its own community, but each one of these communities is at least as complex as the entire field of education technology was some twenty years ago. It’s not simply that change is exponential or that change is moving more and more rapidly, it’s that change is combinatorial – with each generation, the piece that was previously simple gets more and more complex.

I think Stephen’s got what Venkatesh Rao might deem an ‘elder blog’:

The concept is derived from the idea of an elder game in gaming culture — a game where most players have completed a full playthrough and are focusing on second-order play.

In other words, Stephen has spent a long time exploring and mapping the emerging territory. What’s happening now, it could be argued, is that new infrastructure is emerging, but using the same territory.

So, to continue the metaphor, a new community springs up around a new bridge or tunnel, but it’s not so different from what went before. It’s more convenient, maybe, and perhaps increases capacity, but it’s not really changing the overall landscape.

So what is the value of OLDaily? I don’t know. In one sense, it’s the same value it always had – it’s a place for me to chronicle all those developments in my field, so I have a record of them, and am more likely to remember them. And I think it’s a way – as it always has been – for people who do look at the larger picture to stay literate. Not literate in the sense of “I could build an educational system from scratch” but literate in the sense of “I’ve heard that term before, and I know it refers to this part of the field.”

I find Stephen’s work invaluable. Along with the likes of Audrey Watters and Martin Weller, we need wise voices guiding us — whether or not we decide to call what we’re doing ‘edtech’.

Source: OLDaily

Optimise for energy and motivation

While this post has a clickbait-y subtitle (‘Why I quit a $500K job at Amazon to work for myself’) it nevertheless makes an important point:

Last week I left my cushy job at Amazon after 8 years. Despite getting rewarded repeatedly with promotions, compensation, recognition, and praise, I wasn’t motivated enough to do another year.

As author Daniel Pink points out in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, when it comes down to it, neither money nor people saying “good job” is why we go to work. We want to do stuff that’s meaningful.

What kind of work would I do if I had to do it forever? Not something that I did until I reached some milestone (an exit), but something that I would consider satisfactory if I continued to do it until I’m 80. What is out there that I could do that would make me excited waking up every day for the next 45 years that could also earn me enough money to cover my expenses? Is that too unambitious? I don’t think so.

I’m nowhere near this guy’s earnings, but I do earn about twice as much as I did as a senior leader in schools. That would have been a ridiculous amount of money to me a few years ago, but you get used to it. The point is that you have to be doing something sustainable.

The things that don’t wear off are those that I’ve been doing since I was a kid, when nothing was forcing me to do them. Things such as writing code, selling my creations, charting my own path, calling it like I saw it. I know my strengths, and I know what motivates me, so why not do this all the time? I’m lucky to live in a time where I can do something independently in my area of expertise without requiring large amounts of capital or outside investors. So that’s what I’m doing.

A couple of weeks ago I volunteered to be an Assistant Scout Leader. I realised how much I missed interacting with kids of that age (over and above my own, of course) but teaching isn’t the only way of going about doing that.

The interesting thing is that, if you do something you find interesting, something that gets you out of bed in the morning, the money will come at some point. I’m not naive enough to think that “follow your dreams” is good career advice, but you certainly shouldn’t be doing something you hate. Not long-term, anyway.

On that note, it’s been a delight to see how Bryan Mathers is pulling together his artistic chops (which he’s honed from zero this decade) and his coding skills to create The Remixer Machine. It seemed to come from nowhere but, of course, it’s taken skills and interests that he’s combined to make something worthwhile in the world.

So, what can you do practically if you’re reading this? Optimise for energy and motivation. In practice, that means do something that you love at a time you’ve got most energy. If you’re a morning person, do something that inspires you before work. If you’re super-motivated around lunchtime, do something in your lunch break. Night owl? You know what to do…

Source: Daniel Vassallo

"To be in process of change is not an evil, any more than to be the product of change is a good."

(Marcus Aurelius)
"Your will must be tenacious, not your judgement."

(Baltasar Gracián)

Why the internet is less weird these days

I can remember sneakily accessing the web when I was about fifteen. It was a pretty crazy place, the likes of which you only really see these days in the far-flung corners of the regular internet or on the dark web.

Back then, there were conspiracy theories, there was porn, and there was all kinds of weirdness and wonderfulness that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced growing up in a northern mining town. Some of it may have been inappropriate, but in the main it opened my eyes to the wider world.

In this Engadget article, Violet Blue points out that the demise of the open web means we’ve also lost meaningful free speech:

It’s critical… to understand that apps won, and the open internet lost. In 2013, most users accessing the internet went to mobile and stayed that way. People don’t actually browse the internet anymore, and we are in a free-speech nightmare.

Because of Steve Jobs, adult and sex apps are super-banned from Apple’s conservative walled garden. This, combined with Google’s censorious push to purge its Play Store of sex has quietly, insidiously formed a censored duopoly controlled by two companies that make Morality in Media very, very happy. Facebook, even though technically a darknet, rounded it out.

A very real problem for society at the moment is that we simultaneously want to encourage free-thinking and diversity while at the same time protecting people from distasteful content. I’m not sure what the answer is, but outsourcing the decision to tech companies probably isn’t the answer.

In 1997, Ann Powers wrote an essay called “In Defense of Nasty Art.” It took progressives to task for not defending rap music because it was “obscene” and sexually graphic. Powers puts it mildly when she states, “Their apprehension makes the fight to preserve freedom of expression seem hollow.” This is an old problem. So it’s no surprise that the same websites forbidding, banning, and blocking “sexually suggestive” art content also claim to care about free speech.

As a parent of a 12 year-old boy and eight year-old girl, I check the PEGI age ratings for the games they play. I also trust Common Sense Media to tell me about the content of films they want to watch, and I’m careful about what they can and can’t access on the web.

Violet Blue’s article is a short one, so focuses on the tech companies, but the real issue here is one level down. The problem is neoliberalism. As Byung-Chul Han comments in Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Powerwhich I’m reading at the moment:

Neoliberalism represents a highly efficient, indeed an intelligent, system for exploiting freedom. Everything that belongs to practices and expressive forms of liberty –emotion, play and communication –comes to be exploited.

Almost everything is free at the point of access these days, which means, in the oft-repeated phrase, that we are the product. This means that in order to extract maximum value, nobody can be offended. I’m not so sure that I want to live in an inoffensive future.

Source: Engadget (via Noticing)

Dis-trust and blockchain technologies

Serge Ravet is a deep thinker, a great guy, and a tireless advocate of Open Badges. In the first of a series of posts on his Learning Futures blog he explains why, in his opinion, blockchain-based credentials “are the wrong solution to a false problem”.

I wouldn’t phrase things with Serge’s colourful metaphors and language inspired by his native France, but I share many of his sentiments about the utility of blockchain-based technologies. Stephen Downes commented that he didn’t like the tone of the post, with “the metaphors and imagery seem[ing] more appropriate to a junior year fraternity chat room that to a discussion of blockchain and academics”.

It’s not my job as a commentator to be the tone police, but rather to gather up the nuggets and share them with you:

My attention was recently attracted to an article describing blockchains as “distributed trust” which they are not, but makes a nice and closer to the truth acronym: dis-trust…

Blockchains are, in some circumstances, a great replacement for a centralised database. I find it difficult to get excited about that, as does Serge:

It is time for a copernican revolution, moving Blockchains from the centre of all designs to its periphery, as an accessory worth exploiting, or not. If there is a need for a database, the database doesn’t have to be distributed, if there are decisions to be made, they do not have to be left to an inflexible algorithm. On the other hand, if the design requires computer synchronisation, then blockchains might be one of the possible solutions, though not the only one.

One of the difficulties, of course, is that hype perpetuates hype. If you’re a vendor and your client (or potential client) asks you a question, you’d better be ready with a positive answer:

In the current strands for European funding, knowing that the European Union has decided to establish a “European blockchain infrastructure” in 2019, who will dare not to mention blockchains in their responses to the calls for tenders? And if you are a business and a client asks “when will you have a blockchain solution” what is the response most likely to get her attention: that’s not relevant to your problem or we have a blockchain solution that just matches your needs? How to resist the blockchain mania while providing clients and investors with something that sounds like what they want to hear?

It’s been four years since I first wrote about blockchain and badges. Since then, I co-founded a research project called BadgeChain, reflected on some of Serge’s earlier work about a ‘bit of trust‘, confirmed that BlockCerts and badges are friends, commented on why blockchain-based credentials are best used for high-stakes situations, written about blockchain and GDPR, called out blockchain as a futuristic integrity wand, agreed with Adam Greenfield that blockchain technologies are a stepping stone, reflected on the use of blockchain-based credentials in Higher Education, sighed about most examples of blockchain being bullshit, and explained that blockchain is about trust minimisation.

I think you can see where people like Serge and I stand on all this. It’s my considered opinion that blockchain would not have been seen as a ‘sexy’ technology if there wasn’t a huge cryptocurrency bubble attached to it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you need to understand a technology before you add it to the ‘essential’ box for any given project. There are high-stakes use cases for blockchain-based credentials, but they’re few and far between.

Source: Learning Futures


Image adapted from one in the Public Domain

Why it’s so hard to quit Big Tech

I’m writing this on a Google Pixelbook. Earlier this evening I wiped it, fully intending to install Linux on it, and then… meh. Partly, that’s because the Pixelbook now supports Linux apps in a sandboxed environment (which is great!) but mostly because using ChromeOS on decent hardware is just a lovely user experience.

Writing for TechCrunch, Danny Crichton writes:

Privacy advocates will tell you that the lack of a wide boycott against Google and particularly Facebook is symptomatic of a lack of information: if people really understood what was happening with their data, they would galvanize immediately for other platforms. Indeed, this is the very foundation for the GDPR policy in Europe: users should have a choice about how their data is used, and be fully-informed on its uses in order to make the right decision for them.

This is true for all kinds of things. If people only knew about the real cost of Brexit, about what Donald Trump was really like, about the facts of global warning… and on, and on.

I think it’s interesting to compare climate change and Big Tech. We all know that we should probably change our actions, but the symptoms only affect us directly very occasionally. I’m just pleased that I’ve been able to stay off Facebook for the last nine years…

Alternatives exist for every feature and app offered by these companies, and they are not hard to find. You can use Signal for chatting, DuckDuckGo for search, FastMail for email, 500px or Flickr for photos, and on and on. Far from being shameless clones of their competitors, in many cases these products are even superior to their originals, with better designs and novel features.

It’s not good enough just to create a moral choice and talk about privacy. Just look at the Firefox web browser from Mozilla, which now stands at less than 5% market share. That’s why I think that we need to be thinking about regulation (like GDPR!) to change things, not expect individual users to make some kind of stand.

I mean, just look at things like this recent article that talks about building your own computer, sideloading APK files onto an Android device with a modified bootloader, and setting up your own ‘cloud’ service. It’s do-able, and I’ve done it in the past, but it’s not fun. And it’s not a sustainable solution for 99% of the population.

Source: TechCrunch

Let’s (not) let children get bored again

Is boredom a good thing? Is there a direct link between having nothing to do and being creative? I’m not sure. Pamela Paul, writing in The New York Times, certainly thinks so:

[B]oredom is something to experience rather than hastily swipe away. And not as some kind of cruel Victorian conditioning, recommended because it’s awful and toughens you up. Despite the lesson most adults learned growing up — boredom is for boring people — boredom is useful. It’s good for you.

Paul doesn’t give any evidence beyond anecdote for boredom being ‘good for you’. She gives a post hoc argument stating that because someone’s creative life came after (what they remembered as) a childhood punctuated by boredom, the boredom must have caused the creativity.

I don’t think that’s true at all. You need space to be creative, but that space isn’t physical, it’s mental. You can carve it out in any situation, whether that’s while watching a TV programme or staring out of a window.

For me, the elephant in the room here is the art of parenting. Not a week goes by without the media beating up parents for not doing a good enough job. This is particularly true of the bizarre concept of ‘screentime’ (something that Ian O’Byrne and Kristen Turner are investigating as part of a new project).

In the article, Paul admits that previous generations ‘underparented’. However, in her article she creates a false dichotomy between that and ‘relentless’ modern helicopter parents. Where’s the happy medium that most of us inhabit?

Only a few short decades ago, during the lost age of underparenting, grown-ups thought a certain amount of boredom was appropriate. And children came to appreciate their empty agendas. In an interview with GQ magazine, Lin-Manuel Miranda credited his unattended afternoons with fostering inspiration. “Because there is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom,” he said.

Nowadays, subjecting a child to such inactivity is viewed as a dereliction of parental duty. In a much-read story in The Times, “The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting,” Claire Cain Miller cited a recent study that found that regardless of class, income or race, parents believed that “children who were bored after school should be enrolled in extracurricular activities, and that parents who were busy should stop their task and draw with their children if asked.”

So parents who provide for their children by enrolling them in classes and activities to explore and develop their talents are somehow doing them a disservice? I don’t get it. Fair enough if they’re forcing them into those activities, but I don’t know too many parents who are doing that.

Ultimately, Paul and I have very different expectations and experiences of adult life. I don’t expect to be bored whether at work our out of it. There’s so much to do in the world, online and offline, that I don’t particularly get the fetishisation of boredom. To me, as soon as someone uses the word ‘realistic’, they’ve lost the argument:

But surely teaching children to endure boredom rather than ratcheting up the entertainment will prepare them for a more realistic future, one that doesn’t raise false expectations of what work or life itself actually entails. One day, even in a job they otherwise love, our kids may have to spend an entire day answering Friday’s leftover email. They may have to check spreadsheets. Or assist robots at a vast internet-ready warehouse.

This sounds boring, you might conclude. It sounds like work, and it sounds like life. Perhaps we should get used to it again, and use it to our benefit. Perhaps in an incessant, up-the-ante world, we could do with a little less excitement.

No, perhaps we should make more engaging, and provide more than bullshit jobs. Perhaps we should seek out interesting things ourselves, so that our children do likewise?

Source: The New York Times