Digital – a doubled-edged sword

Originally posted on Assemblies for Democracy:

Digital- a double-edged sword powerpoint presentation

Digital: A double-edged sword

The title of my talk today is ‘Digital: A double-edged sword’. I’m grateful to the Working Group for the Assemblies for Democracy Scotland for providing the opportunity to give this talk and to Penny Cole for suggesting the talk’s title, which some of you will no doubt recognise as a Gramscian conception of literacy. Gramsci considered literacy to be a double-edged sword in that it can be used for the purpose of social empowerment and for the reproduction of repression and domination. And that raises the question about how we, as democrats, handle this sword in a digital age, and particularly with regard to the governmental release of data in digital form. The talk is in two parts but it would be simplistic to think that the double-edge of the sword is some sort of binary between good bits of…

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zero again

Last month, before the General Election, I wrote a post about the language used to describe zero-hour contracts. Much of the focus was concentrated at the time, and still is if these tweets are anything to go by, on what was/is meant by ‘exploitative’[/embed

However my partner’s experience of working for the Labour-SNP coalition of East Renfrewshire Council taught me that the real sleight of hand was in the definition of ‘zero-hour contract’. Just to recap on this; ERC claim not to use zero-hour contracts but instead have a number of bank or casual staff who may, or may not, have work from week-to-week but who are not guaranteed a minimum number of hours. The link to the earlier post is here. What I didn’t know were how many people this involved.To find this out I made a Freedom Of Information request to East Ren Council which asked them to specify, by department and by gender, the total number of individuals the Council employs as ‘bank/casual’ staff. That seemed, to me, to be the lowest common denominator of what constitutes a zero-hour contract.

The figures that they sent to me are:

Screenshot 2015-05-30 at 18.52.44
So that’s just under one thousand employees of the Labour-SNP controlled coalition on East Renfrewshire Council who don’t have a guaranteed number of working hours from week-to-week. I was also informed that ‘there is no mutual obligation in the contract and there is no exclusivity clause’.

There may need to be some further clarification on these numbers. The large ‘Education’ figure probably includes a fair number of supply teachers which in turn will undoubtedly include a number of retired teachers and lecturers who happily do the odd class now and again. I’m annoyed at myself for not having thought of that at the start. So that headline figure of 944 is probably inaccurate, and the real number will be lower, and possibly much lower. Some other points to note:

Community Health and Care Partnership is the department that

  • brings together services for children, families, adults and older people and is committed to improving the health of people living and working in East Renfrewshire and to making a difference to health inequalities.

Corporate and Community Services is the department that covers

  • human resources including training and development
  • ICT
  • revenue services including payroll, council tax administration, benefits, rent collection and support for Welfare Reform
  • communications including printing
  • managing performance
  • elections
  • children’s panel
  • community engagement

Education is the department that covers

  • School Performance & Provision
  • Inclusion, Schools & Quality Improvement
  • Culture, Sport & Continuing Education (including libraries)
  • Staff, Parents and Corporate Services

Environment is the department that

  • covers a wide range of functions, including frontline services, for example cleansing and parks; regulatory and advisory services and strategic responsibilities, such as transport, planning, housing and sustainable development.

As I was writing this post, this image was doing the rounds on social media.


It’s meant as a testament to the seriousness with which the SNP view zero-hour contracts, and is a visual representation of the SNP’s recent election manifesto commitment (p.10).

We will also support tough action to end exploitative zero hours contracts.

And yet, in power with Labour in East Renfrewshire, the SNP have a considerable number of people going from week without knowing how many hours, if any, they will be working. These are zero-hour contracts. Let us call things by their proper names. It makes everything simpler. But that doesn’t analyse the hypocrisy; it simply states what to many was already apparent.

Despite protestations to the contrary, the SNP are a bourgeois nationalist party, and the interests of the Scottish working class cannot be served by them. Despite their rhetorical tacking to the left of Labour their practices in power remain welded to capitalist solutions within an overall neoliberal framework: to borrow Slavoj Žižek’s well-known dictum from Welcome to the Desert of the Real, today’s market provides us with a range of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol, and in case of the SNP, social justice without class politics.

The time has come for the Scottish left to get organized, disciplined, and malignant.

Meaning less than zero

Last week we received a Labour Party flyer in which Jim Murphy pledges to ban exploitative zero hour contracts. That was somewhat surprising because my partner had previously worked on a zero hour contract for East Renfrewshire Council (a Council led by a Labour-SNP coalition). What puzzled me was why, if zero hour contracts are exploitative, are they used by the local authority in Jim Murphy’s parliamentary constituency and put into practice by councillors of whom Jim Murphy is nominally the leader.  I couldn’t get my head round it.

But rather than immediately bothering Jim, who seems to have enough troubles of his own making, I thought I’d check this out with a local East Ren councillor. Before telling you what he said let me give you a brief idea of what working on the contract was like for my partner

She didn’t know from week to week if she was working and so she didn’t know if she was going to be earning any money. She didn’t know from week to week how many hours she’d be working although she knew she couldn’t exceed 35 hours because that was the contract’s ceiling. She didn’t know from week to week where she’d be working or which hours she’d be working. It was impossible to plan around because when you get that phone call you drop everything and take the shift otherwise they might not call again.

Now if you’re wondering why she signed up to this contract it’s because zero is better than nothing. There’s always the hope that you’ll get some hours and in truth for most weeks she did. One curious feature which we didn’t understand at the time was the way that even if she were covering a vacancy in a specific place she would share this with a number of other ‘casuals’. For some unknown reason she was never in a fixed place covering a vacancy.

Imagine then my discombobulation when the councillor told me that the Council have never used a zero hour contract!!! Instead, I was informed, the Council had a number of ‘bank’ staff that could be called upon when needed. These bank staff weren’t on zero hour contracts, it was explained, because ‘bank’ contracts don’t promise any hours. Whereas a zero hour contract offers a number of hours but which can be reduced to zero, a bank contract, according to the councillor, isn’t a zero hour contract because it offers zero hours in the first place.

I left the hub with an expression on my face which might well have come straight out a Greg Moodie cartoon. This definition of a bank contract sounded an awfy lot to me like a zero hour contract and I suspected a lot of people would be surprised to learn that a contract that offers zero hours isn’t a zero hour contract. My understanding of what that term means also seems to accord with what the BBC Business unit think it means

Q: What are zero-hours contracts?
A: Zero-hours contracts, or casual contracts, allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work
BBC Business news team (April 1st, 2015)
I needed to speak to the branch manager.
Over the weekend I put together an email and sent it off to Jim Murphy. I’m awaiting his reply.

As I put the email together I had one of those eureka moments when I realised that the meaning of the pledge wasn’t in its content but in its grammar. All those long Open University nights reading Halliday were finally going to pay off. What I realised was that ‘exploitative’ wasn’t being used simply as a pejorative to describe all zero hour contracts, but was instead being used as a qualifying adjective to describe some zero hour contracts. Rather than categorise or classify all zero hour contracts as exploitative the grammar was being used to say that some zero hour contracts are more exploitative than others.

I’m not saying Jim Murphy’s lying in his pledge. Given the opportunity he may well be in a position to ban exploitative zero hour contracts. He just won’t be banning zero hour contracts.

And of course, once ‘exploitative ‘ zero hour contracts are banned all that will happen is that employees will be transferred over to ‘bank’ contracts with the guaranteed promise of … yeah you’ve guessed it … zero hours.



BBC News, Business, ‘What are zero-hours contracts?’,, accessed 13th April 2015

We Oppose All of Them

Save Bonnyton House

On Wednesday evening, along with some of the workers from Bonnyton House, I took part in a protest outside East Renfrewshire Council’s headquarters. Bonnyton House is a council owned care home which is at risk of privatisation from the Labour-SNP coalition that runs the Council.


Later that night I wrote a letter to The National newspaper. The first and foremost of the letter intentions was to publicise the Save Bonnyton campaign. It was good that the letter was published and that that was achieved.

What I hadn’t noticed until late Friday night was that the letter had been edited to remove the fact that the protest was supported by local members of Common Weal, Women for Independence and the Radical Independence Campaign. In the letter, I had wanted to draw attention to the irony between the current rhetoric of a Westminster ‘progressive alliance’ and the actions of East Renfrewshire Council’s Labour and SNP coalition. There’s no point of locking the Tories out of power if they are simply replaced by different shades of neoliberalist, Thatcherite policy makers.  A progressive alliance shouldn’t be about locking the Tories out of power but of locking neoliberalist ideology out of power: blue Tory, red Tory or tartan Tory they’re still fuckin’ Tories. We oppose all of them all.

The letter’s irony, that we are the progressive alliance, was lost in that edit unfortunately.

So what did I learn this week from the protestors, and from then reading Shafi and Ali?

It’s long been evident that Labour can’t be trusted to oppose neoliberalism (you don’t need to have read Ali’s book to know that) but if anyone was in any doubt about the SNP, the evidence from the Bonnyton House campaign is that neither can they. A coalition that proposes to privatise a publicly-owned care home cannot be called progressive. An opposition that does not oppose the neoliberalist, Thatcherite ideology of the establishment is not an opposition. It’s nothing more than a variation.

We already are the progressive alliance: we can be that opposition.


Ali, T. (2015) The Extreme Centre: A Warning, Verso, London

Arnott, G. (27 March 2015) Letter, The National, Glasgow,, accessed 28.03.15

Loney, J. ‘Bonnyton protesters take fight back to Council HQ’, The Extra, 26th March 2015,, accessed 28.03.15

Shafi, J. (26.03.2015) Westminster Cannot Contain Britain’s Historical Crisis, Scottish Left Project,, accessed 28.03.15

Topic of the week: private schooling | Herald Scotland

I was delighted to wake up this morning to find that my letter was Topic of the week: private schooling in The Sunday Herald.

R. H. Tawney


Rather than add more to that, for the moment, I thought I’d put in some of the references to things


Holman, B. ‘What can we do to blunt the power of public schools?’ in The Sunday Herald, Letters, (22.02.15), p.33

Husband Powton, A. (26.08.2014) ‘Subsidising Social Apartheid’, Huffington Post,, accessed 16-02-15

Ritchie, J. (25.09.2012) A Private Education, QuickNote, The Jimmy Reid Foundation,, accessed 16.02.15

Smith, E.C. ‘The Power of Posh’ in The Sunday Herald, (15.02.15), p.23-24

Tawney, R.H.  (1964) ‘The Problem of the Public Schools’ (1943) in The Radical Tradition: Twelve Essays on Politics, Education and Literature, Minerva Press, London, pp.52-69


‘R. H. Tawney’, By Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science (R.H. Tawney, c1920s  Uploaded by calliopejen1) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,, accessed 01.03.15

The English Question

The independence referendum result was hardly in, and David Cameron’s first reaction was to link greater powers for the Scottish Parliament to a solution to the West Lothian question or English votes for English laws (EVEL) as it seems to be now phrased as. He did it again last week following the launch of the Smith Commission.

But what exactly are these English laws that Scottish MPs shouldn’t be allowed to vote on?

Screenshot 2014-12-01 at 11.03.40

It was a good question, and one that I put to my local MSP. It was passed onto a researcher in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) and from there onto a researcher in the House of Commons Library. The House of Commons Library have been asked a lot about this , and fortunately they’ve produced the following paper on the “English Question”:


This paper finds four bills in this UK Parliament (ie since May 2010) that might be seen as “England-only” in terms of their legislative reach. These are:
  • The Academies Act 2010 which extends only to England and Wales, and creates arrangements only in England;
  • The Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 which extends only to England and Wales, and creates arrangements only in England;
  • The Local Government Act 2010 which extends only to England and Wales. Its effect was in England, and in practice it was restricted to certain areas of England only since it stopped the proposed restructuring of councils in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk; and
  • The Mobile Homes Act 2013 which was a Private Members’ Bill which became an Act. It extends only to England and Wales, and in Wales it made no changes to the law. Its substantive provisions are all couched in terms of “In England such-and-such shall happen”.

and that’s all folks; four in four years.

However, even these four are not completely clear cut and potentially open to debate. For example, in relation to the Academies Act 2010, an MP in a constituency near the border might argue that their own school leavers are impacted by the academy school leaves who are competing in the same local job market (Carlisle and Dumfries springs to mind)

Also, two of the four Bills listed above create the potential for Government costs, which could impact on the size of the Scottish block grant coming through the Barnett formula.

The Water Act describes financial assistance that the Secretary of State may give to an English water or sewerage company in order to reduce charges to customers. It is an amendment of Part 5 of the Water Industry Act 1991, which envisages financial assistance, so it appears to be a modification of an existing regime. The assistance can be in any form, but in particular can be a grant, a loan or a guarantee.

The Academies Act allows the Secretary of State to enter into academy arrangements with whoever is going to run the school. Under s1(2) – (4) this may be by an agreement or by financial assistance. I think this distinction is technical: they each relate to money being given to a school that complies with the terms set out in the Act. Money under an agreement is per this Act, money as financial assistance is per the Education Act 2002. In respect of capital funding, there can also be provision for the money to be paid back, so it becomes effectively a loan. But either way, it comes from the UK Government spending.

Now given that education and water are both devolved to the Scottish Government, these two Acts at least have the potential to have implications for the size of the Scottish block in the future.

So, see when I said four it wisnae really four; it’s actually only two clear cut English laws in this parliament.

And so there it is. Future devolution to the Scottish Parliament could be placed on hold until Westminster works out a way to stop Scottish MPs voting on restructuring Councils in southern England (don’t remember that cropping up during the indyref but mibby I wasn’t paying enough attention). And of course who will ever forgot that critical speech by Gordon Brown in the final days of the referendum on that issue that lies at the heart of the matter: how often caravan parks in England are inspected.


References & Credits

Thanks to Colin and Ross for providing this information

The opening paragraph is almost poached from ‘Editorial’, The National, Monday December 1, 2014, p.24

TM4974 : Camping and caravan site, Walberswick, by Evelyn Simak, geograph,, accessed 04/12/14, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Data Literacy – Google | Making Sense of Data MOOC

Tuesday 18th March saw the start of Google’s Making Sense of Data MOOC.

This was the first MOOC that I’ve done with Google and my third MOOC in total. The first, Gamification (with Coursera) was a combination of video and activities with the opportunity of interaction for social learning on the fora. Much the same as this Google MOOC really. They share the sort of pedagogy that easily gets disparaged, but it suited me for a number of reasons, not least of all its asynchronicity. I appreciate that synchronous MOOCs have the capacity for a more interesting social pedagogy, but to commit to being in the same place for five Tuesdays in a row? Sorry, but I simply can’t manage that. The Open Badges MOOC that I dropped out of had an important synchronous element, and having missed two live sessions I just gave up.


Why am I doing this MOOC?

Screenshot 2014-03-18 at 16.43.27


Before starting the MOOC I read a new blog post by Anne Dhir about the launch of Open Glasgow’s data literacy project.

Citizens need to be able to articulate their needs and be part of the solution.

which, by coincidence (or not)  is a subject that I happened to briefly question Sally Kerr from Edinburgh City Council about when we were at OpenDataEDB #11. If the Wikipedia page is anything to go by ‘Data literacy‘  is a new literacy with not a lot written about it.

It was interesting to also compare the creation date and size of related literacy articles on Wikipedia

Screenshot 2014-04-08 at 14.07.00

and to also see that ‘data literacy’ isn’t featured in the encyclopaedia’s ‘New literacies‘ article. I had a brief look at what Doug Belshaw is doing with Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map and I need to look at that in more detail because there’s definitely  a basis there for constructing a unique Data Literacy Map, if one doesn’t already exist somewhere.

One thing that appears missing  from the web literacy map (or at least wasn’t staring me in the face) but which needs to be a feature of data literacy is the critical understanding of data. In a personal email Greg Singh from the University of Stirling captures this perfectly,

For me, data literacy would be a very deep-level understanding of data (how it is produced,… read, … understood and interpreted; how it can be transformed and shared). [T]hat would involve a skillset that would take in coding, a good understanding of networks, machine-readable formats etc., but also, crucially, critical understanding of the role of data and its use…In both cases (data literacy and digital literacy) the emphasis I think is on a critical understanding of the WHY as well as the HOW. 

Although the Google MOOC addresses some of the hands-on, ‘how’, skills it’s pedagogic goal wasn’t to altruistically raise the standard of data literacy. Wilkowski et al (2014) in their research paper explain that

Google, Inc. has been experimenting with MOOCs to teach members of the public how to use Google tools more efficiently and effectively. (p.1)

and thus the MOOC’s aim was to develop the skill-set to manage a particular Google product which in this instance was Fusion Tables.  This is MOOC as marketing device.

Is that unfair? Does it matter if Google provide some free training that lasts only a couple of weeks, and and that my overall data literacy has improved? Well, yes, I can imagine that it probably does. However, it’s not possible to do this type of work without also learning how to use somebody’s product. At any rate, for the present I’m happy with the trade-off. A basic guide to Google FTs is here. The product is in beta at present, and word is that it’ll remain an ‘experimental product’.

Why Google and not School of Data?

It would be an incredible project legacy if Open Glasgow could develop and improve data literacy across the city. It’s certainly featured in their Principles of Open Data. But with these thoughts about other people’s level of data literacy I thought I’d better get mine off home base first.

Why though has it taken this Google MOOC to get me started?

The School of Data introductory course is always open, always accessible, always available, there’s no start date – it’s just there. And that, for some reason, is difficult for me to handle. When should I start? Now? Well, perhaps tomorrow. Maybe at the weekend.It’s almost too easy to put off. It’s a bit like the gym membership that I bought in a moment of fitful, well-intentioned energy and which has fallen outside of the tunnel. So, oddly it seems that it’s not that the start date of the Google MOOC particularly suits me but that because there is an end date, and that if I really want to do this course I need to put the effort in, now.

My intention was to take the opportunity of the scarcity in order to focus on completing before the deadline of the course end date. Making Sense of Data was a short course that was scheduled to last a little under three weeks and was estimated to take somewhere between 10-15 hours of study to complete.  In my, admittedly limited, experience of what MOOC providers estimate in terms of time I reckoned that this would probably be an underestimation. Graham Atwell’s blog post ‘Some thoughts about MOOCs‘ suggests that my experience of time under-estimation is not uncommon, and that it may be a contributory factor in the format’s high drop-out rate.  We’ll wait and see.

In the end, things didn’t go quite to plan. I was unwell for the period of the MOOC, and the scarcity that I thought would help me concentrate began to work against me. In the words of Mullainathan and Shafir the scarcity magnified itself and having fallen into a scarcity trap I had to really tunnel my way out. Anyway, in the end I managed to successfully complete the thing.

Screenshot 2014-04-05 at 14.15.49

And I enjoyed it too, even though the illness meant that I didn’t really engage with it or the subject in quite the way I’d planned or wanted to.  Nice to have passed though. And having thought about time and scarcity and literacy levels I’ve finally managed to get started in School of Data.




Atwell, G. ‘Some thoughts about MOOCs’, Pontydysgu – Bridge to Learning, posted 14th August 2013,, accessed 21 March 2014

Dhir, A. (posted 26 February 2014) ‘Future City, Future Citizens?’, Future City, accessed 18 March 20

Mullainathan, S.,  Shafir, E. (2013) Scarcity: Why having too little means so much, Penguin Books, London

Singh, G, (06 April 2014) personal email correspondence, reproduced with thanks


Wilkowski, J., Deutsch, A., Russell, D.M. (2014) Student Skill and Goal Achievement in the Mapping with Google MOOC, L@S,, Atlanta, accessed 08 April 2014

The Open Manifesto: Future City Principles, (2013) future city | glasgow,, accessed 09 April 2014

Google logo,, sourced using the Google search tool for images that are licensed for re-use, accessed 18 March 2014

Mozilla, Web Literacy Map (1.1.0),, accessed 08 April 2014


1. I get ‘open’, I really do…but why should I share anything when the enemy down the road gives fuck all?

2. I would, but that would mean asking other members of staff for their packs,… and they wouldn’t like that

At the end of November 2013 I unfortunately missed the rearranged JISC RSC Scotland Open Education event held at Edinburgh University.  Although it’s taken a bit of time to get this post online I was thankfully able to keep up with the discussion using the RSC’s YouTube Channel.

Open Scotland got the proceedings underway with a presentation that was shared between Lorna Campbell and Joe Wilson. Lorna began by providing some background to the work of Open Scotland and it’s clear to see that there’s a lot of encouraging activity in Scotland with the Open Knowledge Foundation, OBSEG and Scotland’s first Wikimedian-in-Residence. However, it was also made clear that open educational practices continue to be less embedded in Scotland than they are in other places, including England.

The second part of the presentation was given by Joe Wilson from SQA. Now, just in case you’re beginning to wonder, neither of the two statements at the top of this post came from Lorna or Joe, and they didn’t come from hecklers in the room either. They are instead out of the mouths of two lecturers working in  different campuses of the same Scottish FE college and were made in conversation with me during 2013.

Joe’s session was, in a way, a call to move away from politely nodding about the virtues of open practices to actually starting to do it. You don’t need to be a psychological genius to detect the frustration in Joe’s part of the presentation; and that frustration can be understood in the context of a recent JIME paper and blog post both written by Martin Weller. In these pieces Weller doesn’t argue that the battle for open is being lost, and that it desperately needs the Scottish educational establishment to provide a late cavalry charge to save the day: quite the contrary. Weller instead argues that the battle for open has already been victorious, and that the real battle is the one that will now determine the future narrative of open.
Now “if” the two quotations at the top of this post are in any way representative of what FE lecturers in Scotland actually think and feel about adopting open working practices then Joe’s frustration can hardly come as a surprise. But why should Joe be frustrated if the battle has already been won? Well the answer is that it’s been won elsewhere, and the battle to define open is being fought elsewhere.  In other words, the opinion of the Scottish educational sector won’t be heard because we aren’t present on the battlefield. You simply can’t be in the vanguard if you’re not on the battlefield: you can’t even be in the fucking rearguard.

And yet, as depressing as the two quotations from the lecturers are, I don’t think they are cause for despair. Both lecturers appear to want to share but are somehow restricted by ‘the other’. This reminded me of Lenin’s analysis that whilst capitalism predisposes the workers to the acceptance of socialism it does not make them conscious Socialists. I’ve re-worked this such that whilst there may be a general acceptance of open in the Scottish FE community it doesn’t automatically lead to open practices.

So,  what is to be done?


Well, it’s definitely about empowering individuals at the grassroots with the pedagogic and technical literacies. But it’s also about the conditions that makes the use of the literacies possible. There needs to be a policy context.

What I think is significant about the lecturers’ statements  is the way that they both, independently, frame the resistance to sharing such that  in both cases, it’s ‘the other’ that prevents them. Whilst for the first speaker ‘the other’ is the college down the road, the competitor, the ones on the outside of the institution, for the second speaker the ‘other’ isn’t even on the outside of the same office, let alone outside the institution. ‘The other’ is powerful and pervasive.

Although not disagreeing with Joe that there remains in the dark Calvinistical soul of the Scottish character a lingering fear of change, but I would argue that instead of thinking of the lecturers’ words as reflections of an inner state I think we need to see their language as something as much more discursive.  Mills describes Foucauldian discourse as ‘practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak’, and so it isn’t about convincing these guys not to be scared or not be fearful but rather to put in place the practices that makes sharing, to borrow Lenin’s terminology, spontaneous.

Audrey Watters’ post Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: The Battle for “Open” is hugely significant because it reminds, or should remind, those involved on the side of open that the battle is not simply theoretical or moral, but political. In a 1982 University of Vermont lecture Political Technology and the Individual Michel Foucault identifies two not unproblematic forces at play in the modern state. The first is technological, in the sense of the practices through which the individual “man” either strengthens or weakens the state’s survival, and the second is the political, in the sense of the relationship between the state and it’s external ‘enemies’.
In his lecture, Foucault argues that

the practices of the state are embodied within its institutions

and the  use of “the enemy” in the first lecturer’s quotation shows, not just how deeply the institutions had embodied that ideology of Thatcherite competition, but also how effectively that rivalrous structure has, in turn, been internalised by their staff members. The dismantling of the Thatcherite/Conservative structure of FE college management was always explicitly one of Michael Russell’s political drivers for college regionalisation in Scotland. However as much as regionalisation and reclassification are to be welcomed they won’t, by themselves, bring about the institutionalisation of open practices.

In a way, this is why the Future Cities: Open Glasgow project is so important. Although the project isn’t educationally driven or minded, it does seem to indicate that certain open practices are starting to slowly filter down from central  to local government.  And yet, even if every local authority in Scotland (and there are enough of them) were to follow Glasgow’s lead (which they eventually will) it will still be necessary for the technological interests of the individual to align with the political interests of the institution, and the state. In the words of the recent Norwegian Government’s report ‘these must be connected together and clearly have the same effect’, (in Campbell, 2013).

by Gary Hamel
Open source is one of the greatest management innovations of the 21st century

This could be done by effectively re-licencing the educational resources produced by publicly-funded educational institutions. Copyright would no longer reside with the institution but would lie within the public domain. However, “if” the quotations at the top of this post are in any way representative of what FE lecturers in Scotland actually think then I’m not entirely sure that a change in licensing would quickly undo years of state-sponsored rivalry.

Maybe it could be more effectively driven in the way that Cable Green advocated in Washington State, such that public money would only be forthcoming if publicly-funded educational institutions adopted open practices that were genuinely beneficial to the public. So with the smallest rewordings of the Nordic OER Alliance’s ideas, Scottish FE institutions could continue to receive

  1. funding, if they invest in improving  the level of digital literacies of their staff which makes openness possible;
  2. funding, if their staff make available top quality open educational resources;
  3. funding, if they develop the infrastructure and pedagogy of online learning
  4. funding, if  the public derives benefit from their MOOCs

Only if an institution can demonstrate their openness should the institution be granted 100 pc of their funding allocation. By changing the funding nature of the political relationship between educational institutions and the state, this would, in turn, change the technological relationship of the individual to their institution. Whatever way it’s done, it needs done.


Campbell, L. ‘Norwegian Government MOOC Report and Digitization Programme’, Open World, posted 18 December 2013,, accessed 21 December 2013

Campbell, L. ‘Open Scotland’, Cetis Blog, posted 03 May 2013,, accessed 29 December 2013

Custer, S. ‘Mike Russell, Scottish Education Secretary’, The Pie News, posted 30 November 2012, accessed 7 December 2013

Foucault, M. ‘The Political Technology of Individuals’ in Power: essential works of Michel Foucault 1954-1984 volume 3, (ed. J. Faubion) London, Penguin, pp.403-417

JISC RSC Scotland, Open Education Event, posted 29 November 2013,, accessed 14 December 2013

Lenin, V.I. (1902) What is to be Done?, (tr. Time Delaney), produced by Chris Russell for Marxists Internet Archive,, accessed 21 December 2013

Kool Scatkat, ‘Open’, Flickr,  uploaded on 14 June 2005,, accessed 02 January 2014 (CC-BY-NC-ND-SA 2.0)

Open Education event – Open Scotland, Slideshare, JISC Regional Support Centre Scotland, posted 29 November 2013,, accessed 14 December 2013

Open Scotland – Lorna Robertson [sic] (Cetis) & Joe Wilson (SQA) #rscopen,, YouTube, published 2 December 2013, accessed 14 December 2013

opensourceway, ‘Gary Hamel:  Open source is one of the greatest management innovations of the 21st century’, Flickr,, accessed 14 December 2013, (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Watters, A. (2013) ‘Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: The Battle for “Open”‘, Hack Education, posted 16 December 2013,, accessed 19 December 2013

Weller, M.

Creative Commons Licence
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Open Badges for OKF Scotland


At the first meeting in Glasgow of Open Knowledge Foundation Scotland  it was good to see some familiar faces from the ‘Open Badges in Scottish Education Group‘ (OBSEG).  A little twitter conversation afterwards with Sheila MacNeill and Lizzie Brotherston, and we had agreed that openbadges for OKF Scotland was something that we definitely wanted to do.

I started by playing around with the iPad App version of Badge Designer on It  was a bit footery at first but once I’d gotten the hang of it I realised that playing with what was possible wasn’t simply a process of skills development but was also a process of working out what I wanted to be possible.  So whilst it was easy enough to design individual badges I needed to think about the place of each individual badge within the proposed badge eco-system.


Before getting to the point of deciding what each badge looked like however, it was necessary to consider a number of questions,

  • who should get a badge?
  • for what should they get that badge?
  • what behaviours did we want to encourage?
  • what were the unintended consequences of encouraging certain behaviours?

The answer that I came up with to the first question was that everybody involved should get a badge. This meant that there would be a badge for the speakers who did the lightning talks, the people who turned up, and the people who organised the group.

I can appreciate that someone might make the argument that says the organisers and the speakers do more ‘work’ than an attendee but that’s to see the audience as simply passive recipients of the speaker’s knowledge. It’s an outdated idea of audience, and the amount of tweets both during and after the first meeting testify not solely to the audience’s enthusiasm but to the construction of the community that will (hopefully) want to reconvene at the next meeting. It’s also the case that within hours of the first meeting Lorna Campbell had storifyed it whilst Martin Hawksey had collated tweets featuring our #OpenDataGLA.  This active participation on the part of the “audience” begged the question as to whether someone who simply turned up out of curiosity should also get a badge.  It was thinking about that question, and the word ‘get’, that I started to think about using the phrases of “earning a badge”, or “claiming a badge”.  However, I think it needs to be acknowledged that someone who comes to every OpenDataGla meeting but doesn’t present a lightning talk or tweet is nevertheless actively contributing to the group. So the view that I’ve now comfortably settled into is that everyone involved in OKF Scotland has a role to play in making it work, and that each role, consequently, deserves acknowledgement.

Spirit Level
Spirit Level

To achieve this horizontal arrangement my first idea was that the design of each badge would have to be such that one wasn’t any “better” than any other. This doesn’t accord with the badge design rubric by Peter Rawsthorne where there is a clear hierarchy from ‘Introductory’ through to ‘Exemplary’. As far as I understand this though, the rubric is more specifically applicable to tasks or achievements which are increasingly more difficult, complex or demanding. Asking myself whether Rawsthorne’s hierarchy  applied to OKF Scotland question helped me realise that the answer isn’t straightforwardly interrogative. During my preparations for my lightning talk at OpenDataGla/2 I asked a couple of the participants who took part in the Glasgow Women’s Library/WMUK editathon,  Scottish Women on Wikipedia, if they’d come along and say a few words. I hadn’t intended to put the person under any pressure or obligation but for one person, who hates public speaking, this was a terrifying suggestion.

This situation helped me realise that whilst speaking to a room full of people is something of an everyday occurrence for me for this other person it was an absolute nightmare. What I think this means, in terms of badge design for a community, is that if that person had come along and managed to speak they would have experienced the badge as something that they had really gained rather than something they had simply been given, and that therefore the meaning of the badge will be regarded in their relative terms, regardless of the conceptual design.  For me this means that there is no particular need in this case to embed a hierarchy of achievement because the actual badge earners will have their own personal take on each badge’s value.

Between starting this post, which is a number of months ago, and now, December 2013, it seems that the OKFN have started the process of refreshing their brand design. In a sense it doesn’t really matter because my general idea was that the design of the openbadges would closely follow the OKFN logo design.

The ones I’ve done so far all have the same basic design shape with a different icon and different text on the banner. I wanted to use the Open Knowledge Foundation’s colour scheme and I tried to get the hexadecimal codes from the OKFN website but in the end it didn’t matter because the palette is limited to the colour options that it provides.  We just ended up picking what we thought was the closest.

I haven’t answered all the questions that I set out in this post, and there a number of other areas that need to be covered like issuing, and the content of the metadata but for the moment I just want to use this post to get the conversation going and see if it’s worthwhile pursuing.


P8270006, by Ewan Klein, okfnscot, 27 August 2013, Flickr,, retrieved 27-09-13 (CC-BY 2.0)

Play/Pause by Annie Roi, 14 November 2009, Flickr,, retrieved 27-09-13 (CC-BY 2.0)

Spirit Level, by marcovdz, 15 February 2010, Flickr,, retrieved 03-10-13 (CC-BY-NC-ND-SA 2.0)

Open Knowledge Foundation Network’s Main logo, Wikipedia,, retrieved 27-09-13 (CC-BY 3.0)

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By version 1 by Nohat (concept by Paullusmagnus); [GFDL (], via Wikimedia CommonsSo three of us were sitting  in Teviot Row House, Edinburgh University Students Association  having some drinks after the Wikimedia UK board meeting.  Outside the door of the room was one of those pull up stands with an old Wikipedia globe image, and in walks this young student chap and asks what the Wikipedia sign is all about.  We explain the situation.

“So you guys are Wikipedia?” he asks on the point of incredulity.  Well, no and we have another go at explaining what Wikimedia UK does.  He’s having none of that. “I can’t tell you how much you guys have saved me on textbooks…you guys are awesome”.  He smiles, we thank him: and it’s beautiful.

Image Acknowledgement

File:Wikipedia-logo.png, By version 1 by Nohat (concept by Paullusmagnus), Wikimedia Commons,, accessed 8th December 2013

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