Tag Archives: guest post

#MobilityShifts – Day 3: Hacking, Playfulness, and Free Universities [guest post]

Mozilla Drumbeat session at #MobilityShifts

I attended three sessions today, with roughly half of this written in an empty room full of chairs before the third session and the remainder written by lamplight in my hotel room. Some sessions run until 10pm at this conference – there would be uproar about such scheduling in England! 😉

The sessions I attended today were:

  1. Hacking as Learning: A Slice of Mozilla Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival
  2. Playful & Digital Literacy? How Digital Media Shapes Our Biographies and Fosters Transformative Learning
  3. The Beginnings of The Free University Movement

If there was a common thread running through these three sessions it was that innovation necessarily involves letting go of the reins sometimes and not pre-supposing the outcomes of a particular activity or programme. This is an important lesson for us all to learn, I think.

Hacking as Learning: A Slice of Mozilla Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival

I’ve been fairly involved with Mozilla’s Open Badges recently and so have been finding out about some of the fantastic work that Mozilla have been dong more generally. The session I attended this morning focused on P2PU.org and Hackasaurus, the former being a place for running informal online courses, the latter about helping young people to understand the way the open web works.

This was a very interactive session, including some robotic dancing(!) and drawing of possible ways in which we could structure learning activities helping young people to understand ‘hacking’. Whilst in the popular media ‘hacking’ means some kind of criminal activity it actually means modifying something for your own interest or use. The Hackasaurus website is currently pre-beta, but it’s definitely worth checking out – even if only for the X-Ray Goggles!

Playful and digital literacy? How Digital Media shapes our biographies and fosters transformative learning

This workshop, like the Mozilla one, was mainly a hands-on session with some input from Konstantin Mitgutsch, a post-doctoral researcher at the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab (based on Boston). What I really liked about this session was that it forced us to reflect on our own experiences of media throughout our lives and then helped us make sense of them.

I and other delegates were encouraged to draw a timeline on a piece of paper upon which we charted ‘meaningful’ interactions with a particular form of media. It was up to us which form of media we chose and what we personally meant by ‘meaningful’. I chose video games, although I equally could have chosen books or the internet. I won’t bore you with the details of my particular timeline (see below) but suffice to say entering code into a BBC Micro to play Duck Hunt aged about seven years of age was a fairly formative experience for me. 🙂

Doug Belshaw's 'mediagraphy'

On the timeline the ‘bubbles’ represent how meaningful the experience was to us. We were also asked to divide these experiences into stages. The completed timeline was then used as a conversation starter with a partner to whom which we explained our visual representations. Just to demonstrate how different media timelines and experiences could be, my interlocutor was a Reformed Jewish Rabbi doing a PhD who had been a professional dancer and Hollywood writer! His formative experience was watching West Side Story on TV aged five.

Konstantin went through a lot of theory (which was really interesting) to situate our experiences in a theoretical framework. This would be difficult to rehearse briefly here but towards the end of the session he did put up a useful overview slide making these points:

  • Attention is the gatekeeper
  • Expectation as the door-opener
  • Content is queen
  • Context is king
  • Meta-context is not instruct-able (but essential and social)
  • Kairos – or the right point of time

The main thrust of the session was that context shapes everything that we do and that meaningful learning experiences are intrinsically social in nature. Konstantin summed this up in a nice phrase: “Transfer is NOT the transformation”. I think this resonates strongly with Cathy Davidson’s book Now You See It (which I’m currently reading in preparation for meeting her on Friday!)

The Beginnings of The Free University Movement

This session comprised of two short talks with lengthy Q&A sessions:

  1. History of DIY Learning (Kasper Opstrup Frederiksen)
  2. ElectroSmog: The Quest for a ‘Sustainable Immobility’ and the Tele-Presence Conundrum (Eric Kluitenberg)

I had really been looking forward to this as I think we live in very interesting and potentially-revolutionary times when it comes to re-imagining education. I was extremely disappointed then when the first talk was a real let-down. The speaker read his paper in a voice which varied little in tone or cadence to people sitting in rows of chairs. The Q&A session, which I hoped might provide some enlightenment or light relief, descended into a self-serving ‘look how much I know about this subject’ swamp of tedium. In short, I wasn’t exactly enthralled and directed my attention elsewhere, much as I did in school when the teacher made no particular attempt to make the material interesting. Here in 2011 my attention goes to my digital devices; in school I just used to look out of the window.

The second talk seemed to be about someone’s failure in organising an online conference. Again, for me Twitter and checking my email won out for most of it, although my ears did prick up towards the end when the words ‘education’ and ‘tele-presence’ were mentioned. The argument seemed to be that we lose something through ‘hard’ tele-presence when we try to replace physical interaction. Wow. I award it the 2011 prize for Most Obvious Conclusion.

Celebrating Jim Groom’s birthday

Pizza and beer at John's on Bleeker

I had fully intended to go to a late session entitled An Autonomous Alternative Accreditation Agency led by Thomas Gokey, someone I’d come across through interacting around Mozilla’s Open Badges. However, I met up with Joss Winn and Mike Neary, then Boone Gorges, and finally Jim Groom (who’s just turned 40!) and Mikhail Gershovich. We went for some fabulous pizza and beer, got talking and before I knew it I’d missed the session. I very much encourage you to find out more about these people as the quality of conversation and the ideas expressed were top-notch. 🙂


What I’m really enjoying at this conference is the space to discuss and explore ideas. Presentations can often be interrupted by clarificatory questions, and workshops sometimes go off at interesting tangents. Apart from the final session I attended today, I’ve found Mobility Shifts to be almost the opposite of the so-called ‘Continuous Professional Development’ (CPD) I was subjected to during my years as a teacher. The days of standing up to ‘impart information’ aided by a badly-formatted slidedeck are over: foster interaction and debate or go home.

3 things I learned about New York today

  1. Some people put their dogs in daycare.
  2. You don’t have to sign or enter a PIN code for small credit card transactions (presumably this is a US thing?)
  3. Contrary to the myths, New Yorkers are actually quite likely to hold doors open for you.

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