Exploring a bit of the magic source, neuroliberalism and what data does and doesn’t know about me

In this weeks HEWN newsletter (no AI or algorithms there, just good old human research, editing, evaluation and critique) Audrey Waters said:

“If there is one article I would insist those in education / technology read this weekend, it’s this one by Ben Williamson: “Learning from psychographic personality profiling.” Really. Read it.”

I did  – so should you.

I’ve never been a fan of any kind of personality profiling or psychometric testing. In one of my previous jobs we were were subjected to psychometric testing as part of team building days. I hated it.  It didn’t serve any purpose that I could see – and it was all done on paper which I think  was destroyed. However I am aware that even back then it was used more regularly and rigorously by many companies to sort, select and manage employees.

As the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data scandal has shown it is now being used as the basis of digital profiling.  If you’re worried at all about data driving personalised learning, the sinister sausage machine of education,  then we all need to be looking to the work of people like Ben.  How this type of data profiling is and will be sold to education is a major concern. Particularly if we really want to allow higher education to be inclusive to be able to help with widening participation and address the attainment gaps that certainly here in Scotland sadly seem to be growing every year.  I had never heard the term “neuroliberalism” before reading the Ben’s post but it could now be my favourite new word.

Following my post yesterday, and reading Ben’s post I decided to have a closer look at my own data using a bit of data magic from  Magic Source,  This “service” developed and run by the University of Cambridge is

A personalisation engine that accurately predicts psychological traits from digital footprints of human behaviour

Using your Facebook and or Twitter data it will predict:

your psycho-demographic profile from digital footprints of your behaviour. It reveals how you might be perceived by others online and provides detailed insights on your personality, intelligence, life satisfaction and more.

Predictions are based on opt-in psychological ground truth from over 6 million volunteers, and our data has been used in over 45 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

So what did it make of me?  Well,  from my twitter data it deduced that I am 33 (FTW!) but it was not so sure about my gender.

In terms of the “Big 5” personality traits I am kind of artistic and liberal but a bit of a loner.

Going into a bit more depth it would appear that I am quite open to “things”

and my Jungian personality is INJT – introverted, intuitive, thinking,  judging. I’m also totally average.

So what about Facebook? Well still not sure but thought I was morel likely to be female.

In terms of the Big 5 some subtle differences from Twitter – but basically the same.

However the more interesting thing about the Facebook data is that “the magic” tells you what like make you appear more/ less impulsive and more/less artistic and liberal

I’m also, according this limited data profile, I’m about averagely intelligent and could be happier,  but there is “still a chance that I might be brighter than the average person”

Again quite interesting to see what likes make me appear more or less intelligent.


My Jungain personality type this time around is ISTJ  – introverted, sensitive, thinking judging.

But probably more interesting is the political and religious inferences this data magic produces.

And the likes and dislikes it basis this on.

It also seems to think I am a nurse . ..

So what does it all mean? Should I be relived that this isn’t that accurate, that I should just stop liking anything related to shopping to make me appear more intelligent? Should I start liking more sites and posts that make me appear more liberal and artistic Should I just carry on regardless?  Should I be worried that my actual self may be disregarded, not given an opportunity to get a new job based on this data?

What I should be worried about is what Ben says

Expert knowledge about students is increasingly being mediated through an edu-data analytics industry, which is bringing new powers to see into the hidden and submerged depths of students’ cognition, brains and emotions, while also allowing ed-tech companies and policymakers to act ‘smarter’, in real-time and predictively, to intervene in and shape students’ futures.

When will that be applied to staff and what measures will be applied to us? How critical will we be allowed to be? What will the neuroliberal indicators of staff suitability be?

Who’s data is it anyway?

This morning (Saturday 24 March) there was a short item on the BBC Today Programme where Paddy Ashdown was arguing the case that we should treat personal data like property and that individuals should have the right to sell their data and get their fair share of the profits.

“Oh my”,  thought my sleepy brain.  I don’t think that will work without a lot of regulation which undoubtedly will lead to more exploitation through data estate agents.  Jenni Tennison from the Open Data Institute did her best to state an alternative case, the need for greater transparency, for open-ness but it a really short radio slot, it unfortunately didn’t really hit the spot.

I know I make data and therefore privacy trade-offs almost everyday.  I’ve probably been somewhat blasé, perhaps too naive with the little knowledge that I have, with the certainty that my own self censorship will ensure that an algorithm can’t “know” me. But they can (and do) sell parts of me . . .

Thanks to mainly to Channel 4 and The Guardian the past week has been full of extend of data manipulation, unethical practices employed in particular by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.

Over the past decade I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in discourse around the potential  uses of network data and the ethical implications of being able to mine personal information.  Tony Hirst has always been my “go to guy” around this. Thanks to Tony, and others including Martin Hawksey and his Tags Explorer,  I’ve been able to see and explore for myself the potential and the pitfalls of using data.  This week Tony reminded us of a post he wrote back in  2010 about Facebook privacy settings.  “We” all knew this was coming, but what do “we” – academics, ed tech writers know . . . experts get it wrong all the time and we don’t have the big bucks that get us a seat on the data sharing explotation table.

Thankfully there is now a spotlight on data control, privacy and ethics.  There’s lots of talk about allowing users to get back their data. But how do you reclaim your Facebook data for example?  Autumn Caines has written a fantastic post around her experiences on doing just that.  Please take 10 minutes to read it.

I particularly like how Autumn relates this to gaslighting and the issues we in education face, particularly around personalisation of learning. I like Autumns notion of platform literacy. We need to know what platforms, do, can do, don’t do with data. Education has a vital role to play here.   I fear that what most platforms call personalisation is actually increasing homogenisation of content and “the student journey”.

I am struggling just now with my trade offs in terms of social media use, which have been so useful for me in terms of extending my personal learning network, in terms of extending the conversations I can participate in, the terms of allowing me easy access to the thoughts and research of so many peers, in terms of having data informed discussions around learning and teaching,  I don’t want to lose that but I feel myself stepping back more and more.


I’ve just spotted this post from David Hopkins about his Facebook data – worth a read too.

Reflecting on my not so active #openeducationweek week #hedigid

This week is open education week.  Every year I try to do something to mark the week. I usually try to organise something at work, or try to ensure we release some open resources. However this year, up to last night (Friday) I had failed to promote or engage the week.

This isn’t because I have had a change of heart about open education,  or that I don’t see the value of this global week celebrating the movement. It’s much more basic than that. I just haven’t made the time. Partly this is because I have been busy with other things at work and also in my non work life (buying and selling houses takes up a lot of time).

Hwever last night I did manage to take part in a slow (running throughout the day)  tweet chat organised by Laura Pasquini,  which is part of a series of open, collaborative opportunities for discussion Laura has instigated under the #HEdigID hashtag.

#hedigid chat logo

You can see a full list of the questionsand contribute to the discussion on twitter or here

In terms of question 1, the energy, affirmation and joy I got from connecting with a group of like minded, international colleagues pretty sums up a huge part of the benefits I have got from being an  open practitioner.

  • What are some of the benefits for being an open educator, scholar, and/or practitioner in higher education?

I do try to encourage my colleagues to be as open as possible, however my opening paragraph to this post I think starts to answer a bit of question 2.

  • What issues do academics and practitioners face, when being “open” in higher education? What challenges emerge when your teaching, research, or practice is open?

Sometimes I just don’t have anything to share or say. Like most people I have peaks and troughs of activity.  I am also very fortunate in that I have been doing lots of “stuff’ openly online for a while now so have an established network I can tap into (and out of) pretty easily.  That is still a challenge for many.

But as Sue said

But that does take time.  Again I  have been incredibly fortunate to have been sort of forced to  blog and  engage with online networking from over a decade now.  Through that I have found a voice, probably been able to punch way above my weight and been able to be a small part of a very large global conversation around open educational practice.

So in terms of Q7

  • How does being “open” influence graduate preparation (masters, doctoral, etc.) or early career professionals in your field or discipline? This might be related to digital scholarship and open practices on the social web (e.g. blogs, Twitter, etc.

Open-ness has given my voice, my opinions a space, given me freedom to be heard outwith  the confines of traditional academic publishing. Open has also allowed me to engage with “proper’ scholars/researchers (Catherine, Chrissi and many, many others) and allowed me and other to gain access to their research almost instantly and without additional costs. (NB there is a shoutout to another inspirational open educator, Lorna in this para too. )

Like any form of practice, open educational practice is an evolving state of being. It is my personal commitment that keeps me pushing on, and conversely it is that personal commitment that makes me worry at times that I don’t do enough, that I’m not visible enough.

Last night was like a getting a little recharge of my open batteries, getting a shot of the open juice. People connecting and sharing is at the heart of education (and life for that matter), open education allows me to do that in a much broader, collaborative, supportive way. So thank you Laura for organising and everyone I connected with last night for once again reassuring, challenging, inspiring and motivating me once more.

International Women’s Day, predictions, and everyday sexism #InternationalWomensDay

Earlier this morning I was wondering how I could frame a post for today, international women’s day when technology very handily provided the answer.

Whilst having breakfast this morning I was reading a really insightful post for Anne-Marie Scott about the contradictions of venue and intention of event:

It is a strange experience to be at a conference where there is highly visible and vocal leadership emphasising the importance of diversity and inclusivity, and recognition of the importance of International Women’s Day from panelists and from the President of SoLAR (Stephanie Teasley), yet be confronted visibly with the signs and symbols of structural exclusion whilst I drink my conference coffee.

At the same time I was half listening to the Today programme which was peppered with references to international women’s day.  I really wanted to share Anne- Marie’s post so I quickly went on to twitter and as I was typing in the hashtag I was astonished that after #inter – the first choice that was handily suggested to me was International Men’s Day ( you can tell it was early in the morning from my nonsensical text!)

Seriously, WTF twitter, predictive text!   If this isn’t a sign of inherent bias and everyday sexism I really don’t know what is.

Again this is why I am so wary of predictions of AI too. Surely any “intelligent” system should have been programmed or have learned that today is international women’s day. At the very least Twitter should  be running some sort of algorithm to ensure today, even just for one day, days women came before men in their handy, predictive hashtag lists. But of course, that depends on how and by who develops the algorithms that train the AI,  and what priorities and biases are programmed into them.

Everyday sexism permeates everywhere.  For too long every day has been international mans day.  It’s too easy to laugh an incident like this off and say “oh how predictable for predictive text”. Its time these insidious “little” things stopped.



What’s going on? Findings from the ALT Annual Survey #altc

alt survey word cloud

The final report and data from the 4th ALT annual member survey are now openly available from the ALT open repository.  The data and report provide a really rich picture of the priorities and practicalities around implementing and supporting technology in education across the UK.   This year it is very interesting to note the growing importance of staff development and professional recognition opportunities in terms of enablers for the use of learning technology.  If you really want to know what is going on, where the immediate future is now then I would suggest that you have a look at the findings of the survey.

VLEs, e-assessment, blended learning are top priorities this year, and have been consistently. Why open education has taken a drop in priorities is something that I’m sure will be debated at #oer18 and at this year’s #altc conference in September. (NB There’s still time to submit to the conference, the deadline is 8 March).

Part of me wants to believe it’s because open educational practice and resources are now embedded and part of mainstream practice. However, another part of knows that it’s not quite that simple. Open-ness is often the first thing to get overlooked if there isn’t serious senior management commitment.  I don’t think we have hit the sweet spot where the bottom up open practice that I see many people participating in has met a top down, sustained institutional, sectoral/ government level of support.

I want to highlight the richness of data that is now openly available via the survey.  Please explore and use it,  and encourage your colleagues do the same.



Walking the walk, ALT, independence and open-ness #altc

One of the most exciting things to happen in my professional life over the past six months has been becoming Chair of ALT (Association of Learning Technology), the UKs largest  professional membership organisation supporting the effective use of learning technology.

After the successful launch of our new strategy last year, the Board of Trustees and the senior staff of ALT began a process of exploring if ALT could become a truly independent organisation.  I am delighted to say that after a lot of hard work from all the ALT full time team,  ALT has now achieved that ambition. It has now transitioned from a largely office-based team into a distributed, home-based workforce and to set up virtual operations fit to meet the changing requirements of the association and our membership.

This has been no mean feat, and I want to publicly thank our CEO Maren Deepwell for going above and beyond to achieve a pretty ambitious schedule to achieve this.  Martin Hawksey, our Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer has also been instrumental in helping us meet our deadlines.

I’m delighted that in the spirit of open-ness Maren and Martin have begun to share their experiences through a series of blog posts.  You can read the first one here.   If you are curious at all about open, organisational change this this is a must read.

I really believe that this move will truly enhance our ability to meet our values of participation, open-ness, collaboration and independence and will allow the organisation to increase our ability to support and represent our members.

ALT logo

Do (digital) universities dream of electric sheep?

I’ve spend the early part of this week in a writing retreat with my colleagues Bill Johnston and Keith Smyth for our upcoming book  around the digital university. Keith has written an excellent overview of where we are including our proposed title “Conceptualising the Digital University: Intersecting policy, pedagogy and practice”.

The book isn’t about future predictions. We are trying to map out an alternative view towards higher education development. One that takes a more critically informed perspective to counterbalance the current neoliberal political pressures the university sector faces, particularly in the Global North.  Unsurprisingly,  we have been looking to critical pedagogy, Freire and in particular his work on critical consciousness. However there has necessarily been quite a bit of discussion about how we could help frame future developments/discussions.  As part of these discussion we were talking in general about ” future prediction type stuff” that had influenced us personally and indeed society – Arthur C Clark and Philip K Dick both featured.

It was during one of these that I came up with the title used in this post.  I’m kind of wishing we could us it for the title of the book but you know how it is, the best ideas always come too late!  Maybe we’ll just save it for a future paper . . .