[NUS Lecture Theater]1Today I’m in Oxford, at the ‘What does it mean to be an expert in the web era?’ [seminar]2 ([programme here]3). Hashtag [#blog/digitalcurrency]4 (hm, this is a messy tag though, lots of bit-coin-esque stuff).  A bit of a ‘live blog’, check out the workshopy bit at the end of the post especially, and the link there. Credentialing, grade inflation [Cristobal Cobo]5 (from the [OII]6) kicked us off, talking about credentialing and credential inflation…in the 14-17th centuries (Collins, Handbook of sociology of education), and more recent discussions regarding a shift from elite, to mass, to universal higher education. Worth pointing out that my supervisor Simon Buckingham Shum often gives around [global demand for higher education outstripping supply]7. Learning currencies [Dave White]8 carried that on with a distinction between education and learning, where the former is taken as the formal element (schooling, etc.) and the latter is something else. He suggests the web amplifies that difference, and that students need to spend more time negotiating the dissonance than pre-web. Dave suggests we think about knowledge as ‘currency’ – credentialing gets us something. Traditional currency: around provenance, authorship, expertise, format (paper v web, etc.), citations, etc. Emerging currency: google pagerank, likes, followers, comments, views (suggesting, following a Berkman Centre report) that ‘credibility’ doesn’t reside in the object anymore Suggests a simple experiment – give a paper v. website version, which is better trusted (indeed, research around ‘credibility’ exists on this sort of issue, see e.g. excellent [Microsoft Research lit on credibility]9). Suggests an exchange rate from traditional to emerging (e.g., I tweet my research), but not the other way – my pagerank doesn’t relate to my REF submission. Some see the web as  a way of offsetting printing costs to the student, of just broadcast models. But we can create as well as consume, what the hell are we doing if all we accredit is consumption?

Mozilla Firefox cosplay

The best version of the Firefox logo I’ve seen?

Web Literacies [Doug Belshaw]10,then talked about the [web

literacy map]11, and how we might use [Mozilla Open Badges]12, to accredit these sorts of softer, localised, flexible, etc. sets of knowledge. The open badges folk are now working on how we could badge in various other areas (medicine, sciences, etc.), while Doug is leading on the literacies work. Interesting issues re: losing expertise.  Doug gave lots of detail on badges, and suggested reading this [blog post]13. One interesting thing here is [e.g. badges for employability]14, and I don’t think it’s in that post, but the idea that plenty of employers use specific credentials precisely to tie their employees in to that employer. Open literacies – Badged Open Online Courses? [Hannah Gore]15, then talked about work at the OU, how materials are repurposed and reused, and the various projects across the OU. The best way to get involved in this is to look at the [OpenMedia blog]16. [Layer cake]17Panel – Expertise and formal v informal learning Ken Skates from Welsh Assembly (who was in Oxford to launch [a report to get more Welsh students to Oxbridge]18) joined us for the panel. Hannah – suggested the content should be completely open, and the discussion (and quantification of it) should drive how we understand who is an expert. Doug – suggests learning theory needs updating for digital age (I disagree with this in some ways), and that things are more flexible now than before (more agreeable). Dave gives the ‘institutions provide the structure, and validation for education’ angle (not one he necessarily agrees with). Gave some good shorthand methods for credibility judgement, including that many of these are fundamentally based on very traditional proxies – institutional trust (e.g. URL domain, Google PageRank trustworthiness, etc.). Ken – suggested ‘value’ is a key measure of expertise, economic is one of those, as a result non-traditional and traditional methods can both play a significant role here (this of course misses the ways they perpetuate certain systems). Talked about a layer cake of learning (and value) – the ‘value added’ MOOC, the university degree, the top level research, etc. Question raised that what we should be interested in is the skills (not just about ‘owning knowledge’ but ‘ability to navigate knowledge’). Dave suggested to Ken that actually rather than a cake, we should be interested in a ladder – we need to care about how we get people going up the rungs. Doug notes structural issues, re: success – the top of the ladder, and the rungs on the way up are managed by people who are already there (and have interest in not being knocked down a rung!). Dave (in character) notes that scarcity makes the thing of value, that the elites will just build new rungs up if necessary. Ken asks – will expertise become more specialised as we develop? (Thinner slices of cake), interesting point given many people suggest the opposite, that we need to be more general and flexible. Doug suggests to some extent that might be true, but agility on connecting slices of cake is important. Dave notes (in response to Doug’s concern) that outsourcing expertise to algorithms is not a new concern (see e.g. my talk on this in the context of [search engines and personalisation]19). Someone (with the minister?) noted that we can (unlike before) start to assess some of the skill gaps we might be interested in (critical literacies) e.g. with PISA. Obviously disagree with the PISA note, but the broad point re: interesting assessment possibilities is an interesting one. I made point re:  What does web expertise mean?  What does expertise in the era of the web mean? We have experts (e.g. Doctors), what do we want from them?   What does access to (creation of?) expertise mean for novices?  Doug noted that for many, moving online changed how they dealt with their own professions. Ken made point re: risks and benefits of online (e.g. work/life balance). Interesting point raised v. inappropriate analogue being made around policies e.g. online v offline harassment Workshopy bit Three topics: 1. The world – expertise beyond the institution – “What can/should citizens demand of the higher education sector in the Web era?” 2. Teaching & learning – taking advantage of the Web – “Which areas of our teaching and learning practice do we need to change to respond to the opportunities of the Web?” 3. Research – what do we know we don’t know? “Which areas where the Web and higher education meet need to be better understood (and why)?” [G’doc here]20 (with some excellent notes, I’d recommend looking there if you’re interested). Summary Dave suggests: If there’s work to be done, it’s in finding ways to collect languages across formal and informal, web and not web (insofar as that makes sense now) languages, different types of value, understanding different sorts of assessment, etc.


  1. /static/2014/05/nus_lecture_theater.jpg

  2. http://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/digitalcurrency

  3. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1llv3KvQzQBO2iCo4a7ksVT-NtRk_yr78ZFwFqzm11Rs/edit

  4. https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%23digitalcurrency&src=typd

  5. https://twitter.com/cristobalcobo

  6. http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/?id=189

  7. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/demand-for-degrees-outstrips-supply/145518.article

  8. https://twitter.com/daveowhite

  9. http://research.microsoft.com/credibility

  10. https://twitter.com/dajbelshaw/

  11. https://webmaker.org/literacy

  12. http://www.openbadges.org/

  13. http://carlacasilli.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/open-badges-wicked-problems-and-that-thing-called-hope/

  14. http://www.rsc-scotland.org/eassessment/2014/01/10/evidencing-employability-skills-with-open-badges/

  15. https://twitter.com/HRGore

  16. http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/OpenMedia/

  17. /static/2014/05/magnolia_and_roses_wedding_cake.jpg

  18. http://wales.gov.uk/newsroom/educationandskills/2014/8797729/?lang=en

  19. http://sjgknight.com/finding-knowledge/2013/11/society-of-the-query-conference/ “Society of the Query conference”

  20. http://goo.gl/qqPAE1