Competency vs Time

A quick comment on the concept of competency that Stephen Downes makes note of:

We don’t have any courses, and we don’t have any credit hours, but we have 120 competencies, and you can master those as fast as you like, or as slow. The thing that we don’t care very much about is time. And that is such a fundamental reversal of the basic structure of higher education.

The sentence I’ve emphasised is something I have issue with – we don’t care about time. Who’s time don’t they care about? The students. They can take as looong as they like, why would they care, it’s not their time and it’s not their expense. I think framing competency based education like has an air of contempt for the student and the value of their time. I think in some cases it sets some students up to fail as it re-enforces feelings of inadequacy and being dumb. I’d also suggest that this mindset affects the learning design. Why would you build complex constructivist activities when you don’t care about time? Why would you remove endless readings when you don’t care about time?  Design is as much about what you remove as it is about what you add. I think this mindset could instil a behaviourist approach to design where primacy is given to recall and simple pedagogy of reading and quizzing.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with competency – it’s a far better standard for education to align itself to than time. Just don’t compare the two.

The “Older Academic” Trope

I was asked today about the wording I used in a tweet last night

Firstly I agree with Kate’s article 100% – older academics are not the problem. The zombie question of whether unproductive older academics are refusing to make way for the next generation being asked in this post frustratingly masks fundamental problems in the structure, function and measurement of higher education.

What I was commenting by adding “a narrative that emphasises the erosion of soul” wasn’t at all about academics, but the unfolding narrative around universities and higher education around the world. A narrative focused on trying to turn a cultural institution into an economic one. This narrative has led to concepts like productivity and efficiency driving the discussion around how education should adapt to significant cultural changes rather than quality and benefit. This focus on “produfficiency” has allowed governments around the world to defund education over the past couple of decades, while drastically pushing larger enrolments and to then have the audacity to cry about falling standards, literacy and employability. It feels like a conspiracy or at least policy that at its heart is being driven by a neoliberal agenda.

What has happened during this debate is the development of certain tropes that aid the “produfficiency” agenda. One of the most common and convenient is that of “older academic” who is pretty easy to assign characteristics:

  • stuck in the past
  • out of touch
  • can’t use technology
  • don’t contribute
  • have outdated wisdom
  • past their use by date

… and in general are unproductive members of an imaginary elite. In fact here’s a great list of TV Tropes around elders they could borrow from. Tropes build on our own stereotyped and overgeneralised experiences – so there’s alway a nugget of truth in there. But using tropes and playing into them has the effect of allowing the debate to be de-personalised and de-humanised which assists produfficiency by reducing and abstracting real people, actual human beings, into a column on a ledger.

When I made the comment about the “erosion of the soul” it was a about the simple fact that educations contribution to society is the development of knowledge, and knowledge = people. Without people education shifts from being a cultural activity and one that embodies the soul of its community, to something that simply performs an economic function, transactional and ineffectual.

By debating the tropes and feeding the trolls we become distracted from the real issues that are manifest in education – increasing casualisation, insecurity and debt – which point to significant and fundamental problems with how education is measured, funded and recognised.

Update: from twitter just this afternoon these are the kinds of issues that warrant discussion – Student Debt Linked to Worse Health and Less Wealth and Most university undergrads now taught by poorly paid part-timers

Update 2: According to Pearson the proper term isn’t produfficiency but “efficaciousness”. Apologies.

Update 3:  Or this becomes reality for more students

or an industry develops to exploit a generation of young people for profit.

This is great reporting from Jon Oliver:

Balance is an Illusion

This is another one of those posts that I’ve been trying to write for some time. It’s quite philosophical but it’s about something that I, and many others, have been trying to come to terms with for quite a while – Balance.

It’s been inspired by some of the posts from Maha Bali, Kate Bowles and Nick Drengenberg.

For many of us balance has become a pervasive goal in our lives. We talk about it in our work, family, social and personal lives. It is a quest to find that perfect point of equilibrium, where each is given equal weight and we can finally feel whole. The problem is balance is a state so infinitesimal, so fleeting and ephemeral that it is more like a mirage than an object. It is a haze in the distance, the refraction of light and ego on our world around us. An Illusion.

It’s not that balance cannot be achieved, it can, but its fleeting and momentary. Never permanent or pervasive before it’s washed away by the eternal ebb & flow of time and life. Yet we tend to devote so much energy, effort and sacrifice to achieve this momentary sense of balance it seems wasteful and foolish. In turn this quest tends to makes us so profoundly unhappy because despite investing so much of ourselves it so rarely occurs.

The quest for balance plays along with this very human concern of being in control – to create a level playing field on which to live our lives. The natural state of the universe however isn’t balance – its flux. The eternal shift from end to end and one extreme to another. It is the natural state, balance is merely a blip along the way. It seems strange to lust for balance when our innate human strength is the ability to adapt to this flux – to embody and absorb it – which has led to us flourishing as a species. We can move between the seasons, between drought and flood, peace and war, life and death. We can try to disrupt, impede and interfere along the way, but The Flux is the natural state and it will always triumph.

Flux is the natural state where as the point of equilibrium rests on the edge of a razor, balanced on the edge of a razor. If we chase balance to give meaning and happiness to our lives, even if we achieve it, it is only for the briefest, briefest of moments – only seconds or even minutes out of an entire lifetime. Instead, we need to accept that the Flux is the natural state, it is where we live our lives so instead we need to look for our priorities at that particular point in time, adjust to those and seek happiness there.

The quest for balance seems like an attempt to divorce ourselves from the natural state, to try and impose control, but it does’t work. Our lives are based on shifting priorities, thats the flux we live. There are different priorities at the different stages of our lives, on different days of the week and different hours of the day.

Our priorities will always be shifting focus – from family to career to social – and we need to accept that as natural. There will be conflict but there will always be opportunities for happiness if you look for it. The aim should not be to seek out equilibrium as some kind of saviour, but to try and adapt to cope better with the flux – to thrive and survive. Its not that balance isn’t achievable, it is merely a way-point and when you live in the flux those moments of balance become far more lucid and memorable.

Spiritual people, monks, priests and nuns often demonstrate a profound sense of balance but at what cost? They often have to make great sacrifices to attain this balance – family, social connections, human interactions and physical well being. This balance hardly seems real and is so tightly stretched that it will break at any moment and let the flux back in – say by trying to live in the “real world”.

To find happiness we need to embrace the flux and embrace the unknown, the unexpected, the shifts and the changes. We need to take joy in our points of focus day to day, moment to moment. We can learn that we can change priorities from work, to family, to social and personal as we need to and not feel guilt, but instead feel joy.

We shouldn’t feel guilt and shame for not living balanced lives, we don’t need it and we should be able to make peace with that.

Reclaim & Rethink

I’ve previously given a quick overview of my planned (and in progress) Reclaim Project. One of the reasons for embarking on this was playing with the concept of digital identity.

In a caffeine inspired ideas session a couple of months ago I was trying to think through the idea of the “self” in a digital sense. I came back to the notes I made yesterday after reading Audrey Watters’ post about the Reclaim Hackathon (something that I soooo want to be a part of next time – virtual attendance on the cards?) where she brings up the concept of the “Templated Self”.

Like Audrey I think the concepts of identity and self are extremely important for education. It’s something I believe that the whole sector (K-12 through Higher Ed) has traditionally struggled with. The rise of the EdTech phenomenon has massively impacted on the ability for staff and students to exhibit and leverage these concepts. EdTech has bought with it increased centralisation and removal of diversity, and the ability for it to exist, in favour of overly complex monolithic systems. They come with all the bells and whistles yet my experience is they do little to support the individual, in fact they go out of their way to remove the individual from the operation. This “joke” from David Wiley’s recent post sums that experience:

Q: What would happen if Facebook worked like Blackboard?

A: Every 15 weeks Facebook would delete all your photos and status updates and unfriend all your friends.

EdTech currently seems more interested in data points, analytics and the idea of “personalisation” while it simultaneously exhibits every behaviour and action to remove the notion of anyone being a person from the system.

So it’s with those thoughts that I decided to dip back into the ideas that prompted me into the whole Reclaim space and explore/explain a little more….

We are complex beings and the idea of the self is something philosophers have explored for centuries. So some of my initial thinking has been about how do you come to represent that complexity in a digital space?

In my opinion the first mistake that most make is to start with the idea of the self as a singularity. You cannot hope to represent the self with a single solution – no matter how smart or complex. While it’s nice to believe that there’s such a thing as our “true self” but it doesn’t exist as an entity. Instead our existence is represented by a multitude of expressions, each dependant and reactive to how we interact within different contexts. Each of us are multiple expressions of a single being, each defined by the different context and relationship we find ourselves in.

For example: the me in that turns up to the office is not the same me that exists at home with my family. I act, behave and do different things – defined by the context and relationship I have with that particular space/place/person/role. There’s a difference in the way we are with our lovers compared to when we are with our boss, yet are we not the same person?

We create personas which are still “us”, they just express only a portion of who we are, in effect operating to conceal us as a whole.

After coming to this point I started digging around the old filing cabinet and headed back to psych 101. This concept started to align with Jung’s idea of the persona as a “kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”. Now I don’t want to get all psychoanalytical and explore what that “true nature” is – just that there is a concept of a true nature – a self – behind the persona. What interests me in particular the shape and form that self can be expressed through a digital medium.

Jung called this self the anima/animus (male/female). This underlying unconscious mind helped balance and maintain the persona… and it’s this idea that drew me into phrasing and conceptualising my reclaim project. I don’t want to turn this into a Jungian thing – it’s just the terminology I found that suited what I was trying to explain

Reclaim is about retaking control – not just of my personas – but taking back ownership of my animae**. It’s about liberating that underlying, hidden and difficult concept of my self. I’m not just reclaiming ownership data – I’m reclaiming how I am able to express myself. I am attempting to define my digital animae, the infrastructure and underlying foundations that I can build and define my personas.

When it comes to my Reclaim Project this means in practice is that I am not going to build a single site for all my stuff to go into. Rather the way I’ve conceptualised this is to use WordPress Multisite and other services I can connect to through APIs. In many ways this technology stack resembles the way we as individuals contract our personas. They allow us to create multiple faces while sharing a common root. Elements can be shared or compartmentalised. The look and interface can be consistent or customised. Functional can match the environment and purpose. In this way I am able to build a more complex self without trying to find a single super-system that in effect becomes a single point of failure. I

This is how I am mapping out my Reclaim project – as multiple and discreet functions that map back to a single domain – The landing page that’s currently there lays out some of the existing “channels” I use to express my digital self (and ones that I will continue to use for the time being). The ability for WordPress Multisite to create many custom sites and services is evident in the first site I’ve set up Miscellanea. This will become my curation tool for all the various stuff I research and find on the web. It becomes a library space for future reference and dissemination.

I am just beginning this process, but it feels right. It’s rare that you get that feeling working with technology where everything changes so rapidly. Yet I there’s a sense of pride in taking on this work. If I don’t take back ownership of my own self, who, what and how will others define me?

** I’m going to use the term Animae to remove some of the sexual/gender connotations that Jung implied. It’s a bastardisation of the term I know but Anime already refers to awesome Japanese comics :-)

The Network & Me

This post is the script I wrote up for a presentation I record as part of CSU’s Think Pieces project for 2014. The aim is to create a series of presentation that explore different aspects of the theme “Towards the future CSU graduate”. I’ve embedded the video below but you can also view the slides on Slideshare. The time for these is limited so I know I’ve glossed over a few details throughout – but feel free to comment below if you have any questions or ideas.

The Network

I want to start this think piece discussing some of the concepts and beliefs that frame our understanding of networks.

The emergence of commercial enterprises operating online social networks has created a notion that networks are an entity unto themselves. They’ve given life to this idea that networks are things that can be created, manipulated, bought and sold. But that’s not really the truth.

The Network is an Expression

A network isn’t a thing – it’s an expression of individual nodes, how they interact with each other and the relationships they develop.

Maps Rather than Places

They are more like maps than places. They exist as ephemeral expressions of the bonds and ties that we, as individuals choose to express, but they lack a tangible existence. It’s because of this that a network cannot be directly controlled or manipulated – it can only react and respond – in the same way that a map has no effect on the geological patterns or landmarks, it simply displays them. There is no power to control the network as a whole because power is distributed and contained within the nodes themselves.

Networks aren’t things we build – they map the connections we create.

Networks are about relationships and interaction and it’s for this reason that they are vitally important. They provide a way to externally express and conceptualise complex relationships in a way that we can understand and learn. In a network each individual is important, but what makes them powerful is in improving the ability for each individual to connect with others.


Networks are an interesting way of framing concepts. Siemens and Downes have done this with learning through the theory of Connectivism. But Networks provide us with a flexible way to develop understanding which is transferable to other areas – including the role and practice of institutions like CSU.


What we do as an institution is create connections, and connections create meaning.

The Medium

The creation, formation and sustainability of a network relies on a medium to facilitate the connections between individuals. It also needs to support and propagate the relationships between them.

Medium ≠ Technology

The medium isn’t explicitly about the technology, but the structure and support needed to facilitate the functions of the network. Traditional mediums has been the institutions and organisations that societies established – like universities and community groups.

The Medium Is

A medium provides a way for individuals to

  • create & share
  • participate in dialogue
  • facilitate experiences

It is through these functions that interaction occurs and relationships are established.

Networks are not new

Networks are not new, but the reason they have grown in prominence is that digital technology enhances the essential functions of a medium.

  • Create/Share = abundance
  • Dialogue with others = complexification
  • Facilitate experiences = enlargement/expansion

– Siemens

Technology has increased the abundance, complexity and expansion of networks. It has created the opportunity for new mediums to develop while at the same time challenging those of the past.

Beyond the Physical

Digital technology enables networks to exist without geographical and physical constraints. It enables better networks – ones that are bigger, broader and more diverse but more significantly – faster – reacting and responding in real time and without delay. They use consumer grade technology so we’re not reliant on access to the most sophisticated infrastructure or systems. The mediation of networks through digital tools has allowed the simplification of complex interactions and bridge some of the most significant challenges of our physical world.

Logistical Freedom

The technology of today has allowed networks to evolve quickly. They are now free from many of the logistical challenges of the past where they were required them to build the infrastructure and bear those costs.

The Personal Network

These limitations which restricted the growth and spread of networks are gone, and it has allowed the networks of today to become tailored and personalised to suit the individual rather than having to be scaled to cover costs. Despite their complexity, they can be created, developed and managed by the individual, with little to no external intervention. We now have an environment where we can create networks to suit our own goals and aims. We can base them on our personal and professional interests, research topics, issues we wish to discuss or to improve our engagement with our broader communities.

Connecting the Campus

For those of us living and working in regional Australia, networks enable the world to come to us, and us to it. For those working in specialised roles and areas of research this is vital. It provides a way to overcome one of the big advantages that metropolitan universities have had -

Geography’s Effect

As larger populations that can maintain better networks of specialists. Today’s networks are no longer constrained by location so the effect of geography is diminished significantly.

The Digital Divide

The technology to achieve these aims is available today and it provides everyone with the opportunity to connect – If we allow ourselves and if we use the medium. The problem for many staff and students is that the medium is no longer the traditions and institutions we know – it’s digital. Digital is still an unknown, a medium where we don’t feel entirely comfortable, and it’s why digital literacies are vital, not just for our graduates but for our staff too. Digitally enhanced and enabled networks are increasingly the natural state of affairs, not because they are new but because they are faster, bigger, more diverse and more personal.

The Digital Self

What is important to remember is that networks are maps, not places. You can’t go to a network, you have to engage with others and become part of it. You have to establish yourself as a node, and this means getting online and using the tools that enable you to connect. It’s in this way that we create networks that are strong and robust but also fluid and changing. What matters is not the medium but the nodes themselves and how well they can connect to each other.

Social Systems

It’s not about systems or tools like Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn – it is about finding a Self that can be expressed in a digital space. In this way digital literacy is not about learning a specific skill but becoming fluent in our ability to interact in a new medium – finding ourselves and how we can articulate and express that self.

The Self Aware Node

What is needed is to go beyond a mere avatar that represents the real you. It’s more like a persona – you’re not role-playing or assuming an identity,

In Digital form

You are that identity – this is you in a digital form. If you want to build better networks, you need to have better nodes. Nodes that are self aware and able to connect and relate in a digital space. The challenge we face is how we develop those literacies and that awareness.

… and me?

The title of this presentation was the network and me – so what about me?

I work in a niche area and have a niche set of skills. Living and working in Wagga has often felt like being a fish, living in a bowl while dreaming of the ocean. But over the last few years I’ve made a concerted effort to go out and establish and develop my digital self.

Blog + Twitter + Yammer

I created a blog, got on Twitter and started to use Yammer to develop multiple networks to engage professionally. They provided me with a platform for expressing and sharing my thoughts, communicating with those working in similar fields around the world and it’s acted as an incubator for ideas. What has come out of this process have been real connections, conversations and opportunities.

Real Opportunities

Instead of feeling trapped in a bubble, I now feel like I am part of something bigger. It’s not virtual or fake – even through it’s mediated through digital technology. It’s engaging with real people in real things. It goes beyond simply broadcasting – it’s about creating opportunities to interact and create more connections.

The Effect

Right now

  • I have a readership located right around the world.
  • A network of professionals that spans the oceans & disciplines feeding me information
  • My work is escaping the bubble and has now started to be re-blogged, quoted and referenced.
  • What’s really satisfying is seeing what I’ve created and shared stimulating others to create and share.


Today I don’t feel like an isolated node, but part of a intricate, rich and rewarding network.

The Network and Me

And that’s the story of the Network and Me.


Network Ideas:

These think pieces are a challenge to get everything into such a short timeframe. If you’d like to know more here’s some reading and further ideas on the topic:

The Information Age to the Networked Age: Are You Network Literate?

The Mostly Unread World of Academic Papers/

What is Connectivism?

Thoughts on Connectivism

Connectivism as Learning Theory

Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation

The Self Aware Node

Literacy and the Digital Self

Digital Literacy: Interaction as Language

From Natives & Immigrants to Visitors & Residents


My Reclaim Project

This weekend I’ve really begun to embark on a personal project that seeks to reclaim my digital content and presence in an attempt to establish an authentic “Digital Self”. I’ve spoken about this idea of the Digital Self a couple of times now but it’s something I believe in, and something I have to practice in order to preach. So why would you want to do this? Well I’m going to turn you over to Audrey Watters & Kin Lane to explain. They cover pretty much everything I would but in a way more interesting way (there’s even a few swears :-0 )and you get to look at that killer beard that Kin is sporting :)

So what does this whole process include? Well it’s pretty basic, but it is somewhat complex to lay the groundwork. The way I’ve approached it is:

  • Getting some server space over at Reclaim Hosting.
  • Getting your domain name sorted (you get a free one with your Reclaim plan but I had a couple of others floating around that needed consolidation).
  • Mapping out the services and components that I currently use.
  • Mapping out the services and components I want to use.

That’s what I’ve been worked on so far. Over the weekend, while battling with flu and toddler tantrums, I managed to start the next stage which is to begin to build and design my space to start migrating stuff to the server.

At the moment that looks like this:

  • A HTML landing page at where I’m putting links to all my current online spaces and places that I plan on keeping. Anything that needs migrating will go there once it’s done. Just modified one of the great templates from HTML5 Up
  • I installed WordPress Multisite on where I’ll be setting up a number of sites for different and specific purposes. This will give me some flexibility to change and migrate over time, and also not lump everything into a single mega site. I like the idea of this way of working and centrally managing WordPress means that plugin and theme deployment is simpler and easy. The great thing about cPanel and Installatron is that I can easily install a myriad of other software too – wikis etc – to suit whatever else I might need or want down the line.
  • I’ve set up one such site to take over all my curated bits and pieces from the web – Miscellanea. It’s using the ExpressCurate WordPress Theme & Plugin to provide the functionality and it comes with a Chrome Plugin so that the process can be quick and painless.
  • I have had a play with Digital Ocean as a cloud based server infrastructure for all this but to be honest it’s still a bit new for me. I can see a place for it, but am thinking I might use that as a Lab space – somewhere I can quickly spool up something to test on – anything running Node.js especially. At $5 a month it’s pretty good value.

The plan from here is to slowly work through developing solutions for:
– A Blog and moving from
– Quotes to collect all those wisdom – similar to this over on
– MicroBlog that will be a I/O for twitter – so that I have my own copy of everything I tweet (good and bad)
– And a richer personal Profile that includes: Resume, Portfolio, Badges, Publications and Presentations.

To augment my domain I still plan on utilising online services such as:
Dropbox – easy, interoperable and an offsite backup.
iTunes Match – my music backup in the cloud.
Evernote – I’m too far in at this point, and I still enjoy the experience – but I want Markdown support :(
iCloud Drive – I’m still looking for a good backup solution for my Aperture library, and integration in next iOS will be a good thing for simplicity.

And to round things off I’m hoping to shift my use of other services to function merely as external publishers. So it means keeping an active profile – but looking at POSSE as a model to remain connected to Twitter, Google+, Flickr and Facebook.

It will be a bit of an ongoing project, but one I’m actually looking forward to tackling. I have a lot of debris scattered around the web after more than a decade so it’s a good opportunity to clean it up and give what I want to keep a bit of polish. I’m also enjoying doing some of the simpler things – like designing a bit of a logo and visual conceptual for myself. The banner image from is something I spent some time on over the weekend. I loved getting back into Illustrator and playing, creating and experimenting visually. I think I’ve got something I actually like – which for any designer is often the hardest thing! – and it will be able to work across pretty much every application I can think of. It also has flexibility built-in – meaning I can change colours and images to suit what I’m trying to do. Should be fun!

design ideas

Personalisation without People

I just finished reading Audrey Watters’ wrap up of blog posts debating “personalized learning”. I’ve read a couple of these already (not all) but what I find interesting in this debate is, as Audrey suggests, the ideology at play. What the debate highlights for me is the effort that some people will go to maintain their power and a sense of control. It’s an ideology that thinks that it’s worth the effort to come up with ever more complex maps, data capture points and elaborate algorithms to anticipate learner behaviour, rather than just asking. Let’s spend millions of dollars on making learning more opaque while harder to access and understand. It’s an ideology that insists on making education more complex, more expensive, more incomprehensible than it all ready is so that they can maintain power and control.

You know what would make learning more personalised? Choice.

You know what would make choosing easier? Empowerment.

You know what would make empowerment occur? Understanding.

You know what would make understanding easier? Explanation.

How about we think about learners as people – intelligent people – rather than data points? How can you have a debate about personalisation without giving people a voice? Surely empowered people can be a empowered learners and personalisation simply becomes the default position?

As Charlie Brooker clearly observes in his post on the recent Facebook experiment “the more personalised any online service appears to be, the less it thinks of you as a person”.

The idea of innovation is the idea of progress stripped of the aspirations of the Enlightenment, scrubbed clean of the horrors of the twentieth century, and relieved of its critics. Disruptive innovation goes further, holding out the hope of salvation against the very damnation it describes: disrupt, and you will be saved.

  • Jill Lepore

This critique of Clayton Christensen’s work is fantastic! Not only does it discuss some of the many, many flaws in the theory of Disruptive Innovation, I think it contextualises it really well as merely part of our current crop of mythology that we employ to explain nature – rise/fall, birth/death and the changes in between. I think this sums the whole thing up perfectly:

Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. It’s an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; it’s the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, it’s blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet.

The Self Aware Node

The Web no longer looks like a distributed network. Over time it’s become increasingly centralised, concentrated and dominated by a handful of big names. This change has greatly benefited a few corporate interests and government surveillance, but the Web no longer functions as a democratic place. We are living in a period where individuals on the Web have almost ceased to exist in their own right.

We are becoming a generation where our digital life tends not to be of our own making. Instead they are expressions and apparitions that exist only within an other. From Facebook to Google to Amazon to Twitter – we are simply nodes within the networks they create rather than true expression of ourselves.

The tilde spaces have disappeared and with it the means for many people to self-publish on the web. The concept of the a self-made website has been subsumed by apps that swallow our data under the guise of being “easy to use”. Our presence on the web is now owned and managed by someone else.

These corporate interests don’t treat us as individuals or as people that they need to interface and interact with. Instead we must surrender and assimilate when we accept their Terms and Conditions. There’s no opportunity to discuss or negotiate as people are want to do – just click OK. We literally pour our information into their databases, a black box that obscures what is being done on our behalf. Our individualism is then sold and sacrificed to marketers and advertisers. Our memories and expressions of love, happiness, fear and sadness are abstracted to a data set that renders our life sum for an algorithm to sell shoes, wedding photographers and promote gambling.

We are surrendering our identity, our digital selves, to entities that don’t treat us with respect, who can’t be trusted to act in out best interests and who continue to exploit our information for their own financial and political gain.

The only person who should be in charge of our identity and how we express ourselves – is us.

The emergence of commercial entities who operate online social networks has created a notion that networks are an entity unto themselves. How else could they justify the VC capital and market evaluations of the IPO? It gave breath to the idea that networks are things that can be created, manipulated, bought and sold. But it’s just a lie.

A network isn’t a thing. It’s an expression of individual nodes, how they interact and the relationships they develop.

They are maps rather than places. They exist as ephemeral expressions of the bonds and ties that we as individuals choose to express, but they lack a tangible existence. It’s because of this that a network cannot be directly controlled or manipulated – it can only reacts and responds to the nodes themselves. Just as a map has no effect on the geological patterns or artefacts, it simply displays them. There is no power to control the network as a whole because power is distributed and contained in the nodes.

For example, if individuals leave Facebook then there is no longer a network. Value is only possible because of the network created by those individuals. The network and all its value only exists if individuals stay, if they leave everything goes away.

It’s because of this distributed power that change is always possible and why we are seeing the emergence of a counter-culture that promotes the “node”. It’s a movement that seeks to empower the node so that it can become a powerful expression of self.

It’s a movement that wants us to reclaim our identity and take back control. Control of our data and our identity in a way that truly reflects the fact that we are faceted individuals. It seeks to empowers the individual instead of assimilating them and removing their self-determination. It seeks to wrest control and influence back from the centralised systems that exploit us. It is not just a set of tools but an awakening – it is the beginning of us becoming self-aware in our digital forms.

I call it a culture because it’s not a single thing. It’s a messy combination of ideas, technology and events that have given rise to people developing an alternative to the mess we find ourselves in. It’s a culture because it represents more than an object, a technology or a process. It’s a movement and a network – but one made up of Self Aware Nodes.

Read more: Connectivist posts from Stephen Downes and George Siemens plus the work from Jim Groom, Audrey Watters, Kin Lane, Mike Caulfield, Doug Belshaw, Jaron Lanier – this talk in particular and especially Tim Berners-Lee.

Thanks @downes, @gsiemens, @jimgroom, @audreywatters , @kinlane, @holden & @dajbelshaw for all your awesome and open work!

Tertiary 3 point Oh

Yesterday I attended the Tertiary 3.0: Exploring Local Innovation in Higher Education event that was part of Sydney’s Vivid Festival. I enjoyed the day and the format of the sessions but after the event I didn’t feel the buzz I was expecting.

It has nothing to do with the speakers or what was said – it was high quality, interesting and engaging. I think the problem I have is what wasn’t said.

The people who work in education are, as you should expect, extremely intelligent. The speakers at Vivid had great ideas and shared many great things. What tends to happen at these events is that when the discussion starts to go beyond the theoretical into mainstream implementation it gets hung up on “the system”. The conversation starts to revolve around the problems faced and when it does it’s like the air that gives life to ideas gets sucked out of the room. Great things blossom and then quickly fade away.

What I came away with are some fantastic and amazing examples of creative and inventive thinking and practice – but they’re most often small scale and local solutions. They are that person and their work but they could be real innovations if they were adopted more broadly – but what happens is that we just spent an hour discussing why they won’t. Because “the system”.

Here’s the thing – You can’t call it an innovation until people have adopted it. Think about it. If you had created the iPod and it was only you and maybe your family who ever used it you’re not an innovator, you’re an inventor. You can only adopt the innovation tag once it’s in use and it’s changed the usage pattern beyond return. Changed usage patterns is also the differentiation between innovation and fad. A fad might get wide scale adoption but it lacks staying power and sees usage patterns revert back to their previous state. An innovation changes the usage patter so much there’s simply no way back. iPods changed music consumption so much there was no way back so the physical media was simply discarded, both the discs and the medium to play them.

What I was hoping from a provocative title like Tertiary 3.0 (even though I’m not sure what 2.0 means) was that the ideas would look past the constraints of “the system” or that it would actively engage with changing them. I really wanted to explore what’s on the other side.

The problem for me though is all this is retrospective. At the time I didn’t think or feel like this. I was in the moment and caught up with what I was there, not what wasn’t. In hindsight I wished I’d asked some questions that could have taken us down that road. Thinking now I should have asked something like

Are Universities too anchored and constrained by the ideology and notion of degrees and qualification rather than learning?


Is the big silo we need to break down the concept that learning is contained within the provision of a degree?

In the first session the argument was made that universities are obsessed with campuses being the organising model for everything. I’ve actually voiced this sentiment before and it would have been great to explore this kind of thinking with the fantastic presenters. It would have been great to put the components of “the system” on the table to debate – with budgets, academic culture, responsibilities, legislation, qualifications, learning structures etc.

Maybe we need to focus on innovation in “the system” rather than having it stomp on our potential to change and improve.

I want to thank all the speakers and presenters on the day and the organisers too. I got a lot out of the sessions and was personally challenged by some of the things I saw and heard. So this isn’t a critique of the day or anything anyone said as it’s more of a challenge to myself to rethink where my effort is going and how change can be achieved. It’s a reminder not to go down the rabbit hole of debating “the system” – if anything it’s to work on ways, to quote NWA, “fuck the police” and subvert the system :) because this is where innovation lies.

PS – I purposely haven’t defined “the system” beyond a list of things like budgets, academic culture, responsibilities, legislation, qualifications, learning structures etc. because it’s amorphous and varies greatly. I think leaving it open allows it to be defined subjectively, but I’d be happy to have a discussion about that if people feel the need.