Tag Archives: conference

#MobilityShifts – 5 key trends for the future of education [guest post]

Mobility Shifts

I’m back in the UK after my first trip to the US for the Mobility Shifts conference in New York. This was made possible by Scott McLeod, Director of CASTLE and owner of Dangerously Irrelevant. Thanks Scott, it was fantastic!

5 key trends for the future of education

In this, my last post here about the conference, I want to give a quick overview of five trends which jumped out at me. These were mentioned by several speakers during the conference:

  1. Openness – This has been going on for a while, but there’s a real drive towards open access for academic research in particular.There is a feeling that education and public services should be open and transparent.
  2. Greater insight into the knowledge creation process – This is similar to openness but pertains to the creation of articles, books and other material. It’s not just the output that should be shared, but the context of how it was put together.
  3. Mobile learning. – The big movement at the moment outside the conference is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) but the focus at Mobility Shifts was upon mobile for ubiquitous learning. It’s not so much about the mobility of the device but the multiple ways in which the learner is mobile.
  4. Alternative forms of assessment – This is a big one with Mozilla’s Open Badges leading the way. Because assessment often drives the structure of learning, this is key.
  5. Rethinking the classroom environment – This goes hand-in-hand with the curricula redesign necessitated by alternative forms of assessment. How should we build new (or reorganise existing) classrooms?

Catch up with previous posts from #MobilityShifts:

3 random things I saw on my last day in New York

  1. Several grannies standing on a busy street corner holding pink pom-poms. They acted as cheerleaders giving everyone wearing a pink top and running shoes a ‘woop!’ as the latter (presumably) walked to the start line for a run to raise money for breast cancer research.
  2. Three separate tourists asked me for directions. And I knew the answers! I must look like I know what I’m doing.
  3. A proper game of cricket going on in Queens, with proper ‘whites’ and everything. Who said Americans weren’t cultured? 😉

Encouraging clearer thinking in education, technology and productivity, Doug Belshaw is an educator and activist. He lives in the north of England with his wife and two young children. Doug is currently Researcher/Analyst at JISC infoNet (hosted by Northumbria University) after spending seven years as a teacher and senior leader in various UK schools. He has just submitted his doctoral thesis on the subject of ‘digital literacies’.

Blog: dougbelshaw.com/blog  
Twitter: @dajbelshaw / @dajbconf

#MobilityShifts – Day 2: Privacy, Surveillence and the Academic Commons [guest post]

Matthew K. Gold presenting at #MobilityShifts

I’m writing this in the lounge area of the Manhattan hotel at which I’m staying. There’s some people warming up for an evening out with a few cocktails and others, like me, busy on their digital devices. The whole scene is bathed in relaxing yet upbeat music. Happily, this matches the mood I’m in after attending two sessions at the Mobility Shifts conference today. 🙂

The Cryptopticon: The New Nature of Privacy and Surveillance

The first session I attended was led by Siva Vaidhyanathan (@sivavaid) who spent about an hour and twenty minutes (including questions) on the nature of privacy and surveillance. In a nutshell, he argued that Jeremy Bentham’s (metaphorical) idea of the State having a ‘panopticon‘ which keeps us all in line through fear is not, in fact, what we should be afraid of.


Instead, Siva argued, we need to be aware of the ‘cryptopticon’ and the data mining of private actors (i.e. the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon). This is particularly important in education for two reasons. Firstly, classrooms are simultaneously non-public and non-private spaces in which students can ‘try on ideas for size’. Individuals can venture opinions and then backtrack as needed without being held accountable further down the line. Secondly, educators can play devil’s advocate over a sustained period of time, effectivly ‘lying’ to their students in order to provoke a reaction. Siva gave the example of a class on politics where to shake up a ‘lazy unanimity’ amongst his students, he played the part of a classical neoliberal. This drew out nuances between the positions of students which were otherwise in broad agreement. The classroom, he stated, is a place for deliberation and therefore shouldn’t be recorded.

I won’t rehearse the entire session, but interestingly Siva mentioned that we have a ‘flattened vocabulary’ when it comes to ‘privacy’. Indeed, we don’t really know what it means. The definition Siva gives is, “the autonomy to manage one’s reputation among various contexts”. Such a definition makes statements such as ‘the death of privacy’ meaningless. We need privacy for twp main reasons, argued Siva:

  1. To protect our own dignity (we should be the ones that get to tell the world about ourselves)
  2. To mitigate harm and prevent extortion (for example, we should be able to get whatever books we want out of a library without fear of reprisal)

The State and private companies collecting (and mining) data have no interest, argued Siva, in the ‘panopticon’ model of surveillance. Why? Because it leads to individual self-censorship meaning that the information being collected is not accurate. The State wants the terrorist to act like a terrorist so that they get caught, and the private company wants the individual to display patterns of behaviour that will enable them to better serve up advertisements. It is the ‘cryptopitican’ of which we should be wary: the hidden surveillance that is practically invisible because it is layered with obscurity in ever-changing privacy policies. After all, unless you think there is a problem, there is no need to go looking for one.

In the Q&A session afterwards, I asked Siva what he thought about schools and universities adopting things like Google Apps Education Edition and Microsoft Live@Edu. He replied that his own university is going down this route and that he has campaigned for the administrators to enter negotiations with a list of demands and questions of Google. However, it’s difficult when what is being offered is powerful and free. The administrators talk, Siva noted, of ‘balances’ and ‘trade-offs’, a notion that he rejects. How do you measure ‘privacy’ and ‘security’? If they can’t be measured, they can’t be ‘balanced’.

Open Education: The University and the Commons

Matthew K. Gold (@mkgold) led the second session I attended today. He talked about:

  1. The CUNY Academic Commons
  2. The Commons
  3. New Models for the Networked Commons

Having spent the vast majority of my career thus far in schools I saw that this is just as much an issue for school leaders and teachers as it is for academics. How do we foster a sense of collegiality and experimentation whilst maintaining rigour? Matt, as Director of the CUNY (City University of New York) Academic Commons, has worked with others such as Boone Gorges (@boone) to create a decentralised, DIY space based on Open Source software for students and educators to interact.

There was much to like in Matt’s fast-paced presentation, not least his mantra that the ‘service model’ of IT provision disempowers and inhibits educators and academics. Partly due to funding, partly from underlying philosophy, the staff associated with the CUNY Academic Commons will only help educators and academics help themselves. They won’t do it all for you. Yes, they could have just used Facebook but to do so would have been building equity for a private company at the expense of empowering others.

Another refreshing thing to hear was that they wanted activity around objects rather than to be a repository for the objects themselves. The activity and objects would be open and public by default, with the option to make spaces more private. The structure of the spaces would grow organically, like a beehive with many entry points. Matt quoted with approval Tom Scheinfelt: “We judge our tools by one key metric above all others: use. Successful tools are tools that are used.”

CUNY Academic Commons uses a combination of WordPress, a ‘social networking plugin’ called BuddyPress and MediaWiki (the platform that Wikipedia runs upon). Small things, such as developing plugins that allow single sign-on between MediaWiki and WordPress/BuddyPress can be very important for gaining traction. The profiles, groups, and discussion spaces allow for improved scholarly communication, argued Matt.

After giving this overview of the CUNY Academic Commons, Matt gave an overview of the notion of a ‘Commons’ more generally. He stated that, in essence, it is a shared resource often to do with land. The debate and conversation around the Commons, however, has been skewed by a 1968 publication entitled The Tragedy of the Commons which argued that any such arrangement would collapse due to self-interest. Matt argued with Lewis Hyde (author of Common as Air) that “A true commons is a stinted thing”. In other words, all true Commons are bounded in some way. In fact, quoting David Harvey this time, Matt argued that the Commons is less a space and more a state of mind. We should be talking of a ‘cornucopia of the commons’ as the more people invest in it, the more valuable it becomes.

To finish off, Matt gave some examples of Commons that are in existence or will soon come into being:

Practices in this area are developing all the time with a recent development being ‘middle-state publishing’ (academic publishing in the liminal space between a blog post and a journal article). At the same time, Matt issued a warning about practices in new spaces. We shouldn’t just move existing conversations to new, more open and public spaces without thinking how and why we are doing so.

Perhaps the best reason to build an Academic Commons, however, was the reason given right at the end of the session. Invoking Zittrain’s notion of ‘generative spaces’, Matt argued that without open, emergent and organic spaces for people to come together we will never come across the unanticipated changes that make groups, organizations and societies better.


These two sessions had the potential to be heavy-going and quite depressing. However, there’s a real sense of hope and energy pushing towards a brighter future at this conference. What’s exciting is that, whilst we may be in the midst of the worst financial crisis in living memory, there’s people thinking about new, different and better ways for society and education to be structured. What’s necessary, however, for (positive) unexpected consequences to emerge is for those in control, the administrators, to facilitate experimentation.

Random things I saw in New York today:

  • A man carrying a sack of concrete on his back. Whilst riding a bike.
  • A baby wearing an If found crying, feed burgers babygro.
  • Special ice-creams for dogs (at Shake Shack, Madison Square Garden)

Encouraging clearer thinking in education, technology and productivity, Doug Belshaw is an educator and activist. He lives in the north of England with his wife and two young children. Doug is currently Researcher/Analyst at JISC infoNet (hosted by Northumbria University) after spending seven years as a teacher and senior leader in various UK schools. He has just submitted his doctoral thesis on the subject of ‘digital literacies’.

Blog: dougbelshaw.com/blog  
Twitter: @dajbelshaw / @dajbconf

#MobilityShifts – Day 1: Wikipedia and formal education [guest post]

Wikipedia session at #MobilityShifts

I’m writing this from my hotel room on 30th Street, Manhattan. Looking out of the window I’m confronted with huge buildings and more windows than I can count (if you’ve seen the film ‘Rear Window’ you’ll kind of understand what I’m getting at).

If this blog post was a Wikipedia article, that first paragraph would probably have been edited by now. The name of the hotel would have been included, questions would have been raised on the ‘Talk’ page about just how many windows there were (could I perhaps point to a reputable source?), and a link to the Wikipedia page for ‘Rear Window’ added. It’s not, and there weren’t, but this brings me nicely to the session I attended today led by Frank Shulenburg, originally titled Wikipedia and academia: friends at last?

According to the programme, Frank’s session should have been a presentation about the global education programme the Wikimedia Foundation have embarked upon in partnership with several universities. However, in an appropriately wiki sort of way, Frank skilfully accepted suggestions, amendments and tangents from the audience, turning the hour and a half session almost into a workshop. I love it when form and content come together and, if asked in future to give an example of what I mean by this, Frank’s session is what I shall recount.

Let me explain. Frank started off by saying that he’d prepared three things:

  1. A short presentation about what the Wikimedia Foundation do and what they’ve been up to with their global education programme.
  2. A closer look at Wikipedia (a peek behind the scenes, as it were)
  3. An opportunity for us to get in to groups and think about how we can integrate Wikipedia into our classrooms.

When asked, a show of hands from delegates demonstrated that most people were there for option 1 (Frank’s presentation). Interestingly, no-one voted for option 3!

How we got to where we are

As it was, Frank managed to combine all three points in a very partcipatory way. For example, he started by getting us all on our feet and turning the room into a physical continuum between ‘Strongly Agree’ on the right and ‘Strongly Disagree’ on the left. He proceeded to read out some statements about Wikipedia (e.g. ‘Wikipedia is a democracy’) and get us to move to a place on the continuum representing our views. Once in position, he asked each ‘camp’ why they had moved that way, never giving a judgement but instead teasing out points and allowing people to respond to each other. This was a great way to start as it got us interacting straight away and, without Frank having to tell us, demonstrated how philosophically complex it is to place online (and sustain) a freely-editable encyclopedia.

Once we’d done this, Frank gave an overview of Wikipedia’s fairly humble beginning to where it is now. Did you know, for instance, that the page for Physics originally read ‘Physics is a very broad subject’? Wikipedia’s success (it is the fifth most-visited website behind the like of Google and MSN) has been achieved with zero dollars spent on promotion, a very small team of staff (currently 89) and a non-profit structure. In fact, says Frank, he remembers a time when they used someone’s car for a conference room as they didn’t have enough space! So where does Wikipedia’s success come from? Answer: It’s users. There are upwards of 100,000 Wikipedia editors (known as ‘Wikipedians’) working towards fulfilling the vision of founder Jimmy Wales:

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment.” (Jimmy Wales)

As Clay Shirky noted in his book Cognitive Surplus, the total amount of human effort (in hours) spent improving Wikipedia is huge, but tiny compared with the amount of TV-watching the human race does as a whole. It certainly got me thinking about the best use of my time!

Wikipedia and academia

Returning to the Wikimedia Foundation’s global education project, Frank said that they noticed a large and sustained increase in the numbers of professors using Wikipedia for projects with their classes. When they got in touch with them to ask how they could help, the professors’ response was that they wanted support, including printed matter for students. A 17-month pilot programme followed in which professors and their students worked through the following stages:

  1. Training
  2. Planning
  3. Introduction
  4. Analysis
  5. Research
  6. Writing
  7. Evaluation

Two of the most important stages, noted Frank, are Stage 4 (Analysis) and Stage 7 (Evaluation). The former helps deepen students’ media literacy skills by getting them to ask of a Wikipedia article, ‘What’s missing?’, ‘Is this from a neutral point of view?’, and so on. The latter, Evaluation, was took various forms at the different educational institutions involved in the pilot. Some gave credit based on a study of the Wikipedia page’s edit history, others asked students to give a presentation, yet others set a reflective essay. The results? From a response rate of 48% (pretty good!) they found that, all told, 72% of students preferred working on the Wikipedia article than on more traditional forms of assessment. Some of the reasons given included authenticity and ‘real-life’ work.

Finally, and with a Wikipedian in the room who gave Frank a hand, we were given a quick look behind the scenes of Wikipedia. During the discussions, one of the delegates had admitted to ‘vandalising’ Wikipedia whilst at school but she had always wondered how they had ‘caught’ her doing so. Frank put up on screen the ‘Recent Changes’ page and also demonstrated the way in which, if you ‘star’ a page once logged-in, you can have your own personal Recent Changes page. Hundreds, if not thousands of people, therefore, are monitoring their favourite pages for changes. Any alterations not improving the quality of articles are therefore picked up quickly and reverted to previous versions.


I came at this session with my experience of both using a wiki extensively in my everyday role at JISC infoNet (we use PBworks) and having asked students to edit the Simple English version of Wikipedia when in the classroom. To my mind, we have a responsibility to the young people of today to prepare them adequately for the world as they experience it now and will experience it in future. To do that, we need new forms of assessment (which is why I’m all for initiatives such as Open Badges and DML Badges). We do students a disservice by continuing unimaginative and potentially exclusionary grading practices.

As I argued along with Pragmatist philosophers such as C.S. Peirce and William James in my Ed.D. thesis ‘truth’ is what a community of inquirers agree upon in the long run. It’s like an asymptopic line with knowledge constantly in flux. Teaching students to use and edit Wikipedia responsibly can only help them becoming more fluent in Digital and New Media Literacies. It was an excellent session, and an auspicious start to the Mobility Shifts conference. I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the week!

3 Things I’ve Learned about NYC today…

  • A ‘block’ is not a standard length. Walking 50 blocks, even on a sunny day, is a very long way.
  • Don’t go up the Empire State Building on a public holiday (it’s Columbus Day)
  • Prices are confusing because they don’t include sales tax.

Encouraging clearer thinking in education, technology and productivity, Doug Belshaw is an educator and activist. He lives in the north of England with his wife and two young children. Doug is currently Researcher/Analyst at JISC infoNet (hosted by Northumbria University) after spending seven years as a teacher and senior leader in various UK schools. He has just submitted his doctoral thesis on the subject of ‘digital literacies’.

Blog: dougbelshaw.com/blog  
Twitter: @dajbelshaw / @dajbconf

Introducing Doug Belshaw, blogging at Mobility Shifts [guest post]

I’m writing this whilst waiting for my connecting flight in the fabulous Amsterdam Schipol airport. I’ve just arrived from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and am headed for New York where I’ll be attending the week-long Mobility Shifts conference. My presence there is a combination of determination, good fortune, and Scott McLeod’s generosity. Scott saw my request on Twitter for assistance in attending Mobility Shifts and made it possible for me to attend for the entire week. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank him adequately for the opportunity. 🙂

One thing Scott and I have agreed I can do whilst I’m at the conference is blog about my experiences for the readers of Dangerously Irrelevant. I’m more than happy to do this: there’s a plethora of interesting sessions at the conference and, whilst I can’t cover all of them, I intend to go to as many as possible reporting back in guest posts each day. I’m also fairly active on Twitter, with my main account being @dajbelshaw and my conference account @dajbconf.

The programme and further details about Mobility Shifts can be found on the conference website: mobilityshifts.org/conference.

Encouraging clearer thinking in education, technology and productivity, Doug Belshaw is an educator and activist. He lives in the north of England with his wife and two young children. Doug is currently Researcher/Analyst at JISC infoNet (hosted by Northumbria University) after spending seven years as a teacher and senior leader in various UK schools. He has just submitted his doctoral thesis on the subject of ‘digital literacies’.

Blog: dougbelshaw.com/blog  
Twitter: @dajbelshaw / @dajbconf