In the last quarter of 2019, I got rid of my Google Pixelbook and Chromebox, and switched full-time to Linux and Firefox.
I still need to dip into Chromium occasionally to use Loom but, on the whole, I’m really happy with my new setup. In this microcast, I go through my Firefox extensions and the reasons I have them installed.
The following are links to the Firefox Add-ons directory:
So said Marcel Proust, that famous connoisseur of les petites madeleines. While I don’t share his effete view of the world, I do like French cakes and definitely agree with his sentiments on wisdom.
Earlier this week, Eylan Ezekiel shared this Nesta Landscape of innovation approaches with our Slack channel. It’s what I would call ‘slidebait’ — carefully crafted to fit onto slide decks in keynotes around the world. It’s a smart move because it gets people talking about your organisation.
In my opinion, how these things are made is more interesting than the end result. There are inevitably value judgements when creating anything like this, and, because Nesta have set it out as overlapping ‘spaces’, the most obvious takeaway from the above diagram is that those innovation approaches sitting within three overlapping spaces are the ‘most valuable’ or ‘most impactful’. Is that true?
Although this map is neither exhaustive nor definitive – and at some points it may seem perhaps a little arbitrary, personal choice and preference – we have tried to provide an overview of both commonly used and emerging innovation approaches.
Bas Leurs (formerly of nesta)
When you’re working for a well-respected organisation, you have to be really careful, because people can take what you produce as some sort of Gospel Truth. No matter how many caveats you add, people confuse the map with the territory.
I have some experience with creating a ‘map’ for a given area, as I was Mozilla’s Web Literacy Lead from 2013 to 2015. During that time, I worked with the community to take the Web Literacy Standard Map from v0.1 to v1.5.
Digital literacies of various types are something I’ve been paying attention to for around 15 years now. And, let me tell, you, I’ve seen some pretty bad ‘maps’ and ‘frameworks’.
For example, here’s a slide deck for a presentation I did for a European Commission Summer School last year, in which I attempted to take the audience on a journey to decide whether a particular example I showed them was any good:
If you have a look at Slide 14 onwards, you’ll see that the point I was trying to make is that you have no way of knowing whether or not a shiny, good-looking map is any good. The organisation who produced it didn’t ‘show their work’, so you have zero insight into its creation and the decisions taken in its creation. Did their intern knock it up on a short deadline? We’ll never know.
The problem with many think tanks and ‘innovation’ organisations is that they move on too quickly to the next thing. Instead of sitting with something and let it mature and flourish, as soon as the next bit of funding comes in, they’re off like a dog chasing a shiny car. I’m not sure that’s how innovation works.
Before Mozilla, I worked at Jisc, which at the time funded innovation programmes on behalf of the UK government and disseminated the outcomes. I remember a very simple overview from Jisc’s Sustaining and Embedding Innovations project that focused on three stages of innovation:
Invention This is about the generation of new ideas e.g. new ways of teaching and learning or new ICT solutions.
Early Innovation This is all about the early practical application of new inventions, often focused in specific areas e.g. a subject discipline or speciality such as distance learning or work-based learning.
Systemic Innovation This is where an institution, for example, will aim to embed an innovation institutionally.
The problem with many maps and frameworks, especially around digital skills and innovation, is that they remove any room for ambiguity. So, in an attempt not to come across as vague, they instead become ‘dead metaphors’.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an example where, without any contextualisation, an individual or organisation has taken something ‘off the shelf’ and applied it to achieve uniformly fantastic results. That’s not how these things work.
Humans are complex organisms; we’re not machines. For a given input you can’t expect the same output. We’re not lossless replicators.
So although it takes time, effort, and resources, you’ve got to put in the hard yards to see an innovation through all three of those stages outlined by Jisc. Although the temptation is to nail things down initially, the opposite is actually the best way forward. Take people on a journey and get them to invest in what’s at stake. Embrace the ambiguity.
Happy 25th year, blogging. You’ve grown up, but social media is still having a brawl(The Guardian) — “The furore over social media and its impact on democracy has obscured the fact that the blogosphere not only continues to exist, but also to fulfil many of the functions of a functioning public sphere. And it’s massive. One source, for example, estimates that more than 409 million people view more than 20bn blog pages each month and that users post 70m new posts and 77m new comments each month. Another source claims that of the 1.7 bn websites in the world, about 500m are blogs. And WordPress.com alone hosts blogs in 120 languages, 71% of them in English.”
Emmanuel Macron Wants to Scan Your Face(The Washington Post) — “President Emmanuel Macron’s administration is set to be the first in Europe to use facial recognition when providing citizens with a secure digital identity for accessing more than 500 public services online… The roll-out is tainted by opposition from France’s data regulator, which argues the electronic ID breaches European Union rules on consent – one of the building blocks of the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation laws – by forcing everyone signing up to the service to use the facial recognition, whether they like it or not.”
This is your phone on feminism (The Conversationalist) — “Our devices are basically gaslighting us. They tell us they work for and care about us, and if we just treat them right then we can learn to trust them. But all the evidence shows the opposite is true. This cognitive dissonance confuses and paralyses us. And look around. Everyone has a smartphone. So it’s probably not so bad, and anyway, that’s just how things work. Right?”
Google’s auto-delete tools are practically worthless for privacy(Fast Company) — “In reality, these auto-delete tools accomplish little for users, even as they generate positive PR for Google. Experts say that by the time three months rolls around, Google has already extracted nearly all the potential value from users’ data, and from an advertising standpoint, data becomes practically worthless when it’s more than a few months old.”
Audrey Watters (Uses This) — “For me, the ideal set-up is much less about the hardware or software I am using. It’s about the ideas that I’m thinking through and whether or not I can sort them out and shape them up in ways that make for a good piece of writing. Ideally, that does require some comfort — a space for sustained concentration. (I know better than to require an ideal set up in order to write. I’d never get anything done.)”
Computer Files Are Going Extinct(OneZero) — “Files are skeuomorphic. That’s a fancy word that just means they’re a digital concept that mirrors a physical item. A Word document, for example, is like a piece of paper, sitting on your desk(top). A JPEG is like a painting, and so on. They each have a little icon that looks like the physical thing they represent. A pile of paper, a picture frame, a manila folder. It’s kind of charming really.”
Inside Mozilla’s 18-month effort to market without Facebook(Digiday) — “The decision to focus on data privacy in marketing the Mozilla brand came from research conducted by the company four years ago into the rise of consumers who make values-based decisions on not only what they purchase but where they spend their time.”
Core human values not eyeballs(Cubic Garden) — “Theres so much more to do, but the aims are high and important for not just the BBC, but all public service entities around the world. Measuring the impact and quality on peoples lives beyond the shallow meaningless metrics for public service is critical.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why a New Kind of ‘Badge’ Stands Out From the Crowd(The Chronicle of Higher Education) — “As we’ve been reporting, the buzz around certificates, badges, and other measures of achievement has been on the rise as employers have increasingly questioned whether a college degree is a reliable or adequate “signal” of an applicant’s capabilities.”
Thanks to John Burroughs for today’s title. For me, it’s an oblique reference to some of the situations I find myself in, both in my professional and personal life. After all, words are cheap and actions are difficult.
I’m going to take the unusual step of quoting someone who’s quoting me. In this case, it’s Stephen Downes picking up on a comment I made in the cc-openedu Google Group. I’d link directly to my comments, but for some reason a group about open education is… closed?
I’d like to echo a point David Kernohan made when I worked with him on the Jisc OER programme. He said: “OER is a supply-side term”. Let’s face it, there are very few educators specifically going out and looking for “Openly Licensed Resources”. What they actuallywant are resources that they can access for free (or at a low cost) and that they can legally use. We’ve invented OER as a term to describe that, but it may actually be unhelpfully ambiguous.
Shortly after posting that, I read this post from Sarah Lambert on the GO-GN (Global OER Graduate Network) blog. She says:
[W]hile we’re being all inclusive and expanding our “open” to encompass any collaborative digital practice, then our “open” seems to be getting less and less distinctive. To the point where it’s getting quite easily absorbed by the mainstream higher education digital learning (eLearning, Technology Enhanced Learning, ODL, call it what you will). Is it a win for higher education to absorb and assimilate “open” (and our gift labour) as the latest innovation feeding the hungry marketised university that Kate Bowles spoke so eloquently about? Is it a problem if not only the practice, but the research field of open education becomes inseparable with mainstream higher education digital learning research?
My gloss on this is that ‘open education’ may finally have moved into the area of productive ambiguity. I talked about this back in 2016 in a post on a blog I post to only very infrequently, so I might as well quote myself again:
Ideally, I’d like to see ‘open education’ move into the realm of what I term productive ambiguity. That is to say, we can do some workwith the idea and start growing the movement beyond small pockets here and there. I’m greatly inspired by Douglas Rushkoff’s new Team Human podcast at the moment, feeling that it’s justified the stance that I and others have taken for using technology to make us more human (e.g. setting up a co-operative) and against the reverse (e.g. blockchain).
That’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable, and hopefully uncomfortable enough to start exploring new, even better areas. ‘Open Education’ now belongs, for better or for worse, to the majority. Whether that’s ‘Early majority’ or ‘Late majority’ on the innovation adoption lifecycle curve probably depends where in the world you live.
Things change and things move on. The reason I used that xkcd cartoon about IRC at the top of this post is because there has been much (OK, some) talk about Mozilla ending its use of IRC.
While we still use it heavily, IRC is an ongoing source of abuse and harassment for many of our colleagues and getting connected to this now-obscure forum is an unnecessary technical barrier for anyone finding their way to Mozilla via the web. Available interfaces really haven’t kept up with modern expectations, spambots and harassment are endemic to the platform, and in light of that it’s no coincidence that people trying to get in touch with us from inside schools, colleges or corporate networks are finding that often as not IRC traffic isn’t allowed past institutional firewalls at all.
Cue much hand-wringing from the die-hards in the Mozilla community. Unfortunately, Slack, which originally had a bridge/gateway for IRC has pulled up the drawbridge on that front, so they could go with something like Mattermost, but given recently history I bet they go with Discord (or similar).
As Seth Godin points out in his most recent podcast episode, everyone wants be described as ‘supple’, nobody wants to be described as ‘brittle’. Yet, the actions we take suggest otherwise. We expect that just because the change we see in the world isn’t convenient, that we can somehow slow it down. Nope, you just have to roll with it, whether that’s changing technologies, or different approaches to organising ideas and people.
Also check out:
Do Experts Listen to Other Experts?(Marginal Revolution) —”very little is known about how experts influence each others’ opinions, and how that influence affects final evaluations.”
Balanced Anarchy or Open Society?(Kottke.org) — “Personal computing and the internet changed (and continues to change) the balance of power in the world so much and with such speed that we still can’t comprehend it.”
The talented Abby Cabunoc Mayes, who I worked with when I was at the Mozilla Foundation (and who I caught up with briefly at MozFest), was interviewed recently by TechRepublic. I like the way she frames the Open Source movement:
I like to think the movement really came together with The Cathedral and the Bazaar, an essay by Eric Raymond. And he compared the two ideas. There’s the cathedral, or free software, where a small group of people are putting together a big cathedral that anyone can come to, and attend a service or whatever. He compared that to a bazaar, where everyone is co-creating. There’s no real structure, you can set up a table wherever you want. You can haggle with other people. So open source, he really compared that to the Linux foundation at the time, where he was seeing so much delegation, so many people taking on tasks that would have been closed, in the cathedral model. So that idea that anyone can get involved, and anyone can participate, is really that key. Rather than just giving away something for free.
If you do an image search for Eric Raymond, you’ll find some of him holding guns, as he’s an enthusiast. I don’t like guns, nor do many people, but I’d like to think we can separate someone’s ideas about organising from their thoughts in a different area. I know some would beg to differ.
The interviewer goes on to ask Abby what the advantages of working openly are:
There’s a lot more buy-in from people. And having this distributed model, where anyone can take a part of this, and anyone can be involved in running the project, really helps keep the power not centralized, but really distributed. And so, you can see what’s happening to your data. So there’s a lot of advantages that way, and a lot more trust with the population. And I think this is where innovation happens. When everyone can be a part of something, and where everyone can submit the best ideas. And I think we saw that in the scientific revolution, when the academic journals started. And people were publishing their research, and then letting other people use that and build upon that and discover more things. We saw the same thing happen with open source. Where you can really take this and use and do whatever you want with it.
I think it’s important to keep linking and talking about this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, I feel like our cultural default is to try and take all the credit and work in silos.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post explaining how appeals to ‘meritocracy’ are problematic, particularly in education. The world is not a neutral place and meritocracy can actually entrench privilege.
I’m glad to see, therefore, that Mozilla have decided to stop using the term:
“Meritocracy” was widely adopted as a best practice among open source projects in the founding days of the movement: it appeared to speak to collaboration amongst peers and across organizational boundaries. 20 years later, we understand that this concept was practiced in a world characterized by both hidden bias and outright abuse. The notion of “meritocracy” can often obscure bias and can help perpetuate a dominant culture. Meritocracy does not consider the reality that tech does not operate on a level playing field.
I’m not sure what to say about this announcement from Mozilla about their ‘new’ Web Literacy Curriculum. I led this work from 2012 to 2015 at the Mozilla Foundation, but it doesn’t seem to be any further forward now than when I left.
In fact, it seems to have just been re-focused for the libraries sector:
With support from Institute of Museum and Library Services, and a host of collaborators including key public library leaders from around the country, this open-source, participatory, and hands-on curriculum was designed to help the everyday person in a library setting, formal and informal education settings, community center, or at your kitchen table.
The site for the Web Literacy Curriculum features resources that will already be familiar to those who follow Mozilla’s work.
Four years ago, I wrote a post on the Mozilla Learning blog about Atul Varma’s WebLitMapper, Laura Hilliger’s Web Literacy Learning Pathways, as well as the draft alignment guidelines I’d drawn up. Where has the innovation gone since that point?
It’s sad to see such a small, undeveloped resource from an organisation that once showed such potential in teaching the world the Web.
In all, the team identified 2,121 trackers — 233 of which were previously unknown to popular advertising and tracking blacklists. These trackers collected personal data like Android IDs, phone numbers, device fingerprints, and MAC addresses.
The link to the full report is linked to in the quotation above, but the high-level findings were:
»Most trackers are owned by just a few parent organizations. The authors report that sixteen of the 20 most pervasive trackers are owned by Alphabet. Other parent organizations include Facebook and Verizon. “There is a clear oligopoly happening in the ecosystem,” Nithyanand says.
» Mobile games and educational apps are the two categories with the highest number of trackers. Users of news and entertainment apps are also exposed to a wide range of trackers. In a separate paper co-authored by Vallina-Rodriguez, he explores the intersection of mobile tracking and apps for youngsters: “Is Our Children’s Apps Learning?”
» Cross-device tracking is widespread. The vast majority of mobile trackers are also active on the desktop web, allowing companies to link together personal data produced in both ecosystems. “Cross-platform tracking is already happening everywhere,” Nithyanand says. “Fifteen of the top 20 organizations active in the mobile advertising space also have a presence in the web advertising space.”
We’re finally getting the stage where a large portion of the population can’t really ignore the fact that they’re using free services in return for pervasive and always-on surveillance.