Weeknote 42/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #279 was entitled ‘Nothing like a nap…’ You can also try my Thought Shrapnel Live! channel on Telegram where I post links as I come across them. Thank you to valued supporters!
  • Recording and releasing Episode 90 (‘Unscripted and uncensored’) of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, which I record with Dai Barnes. This week, we discussed the key to successful organisations, Doug’s new censorship-resistant blog, calming technology, vegetarianism, and other unscripted nonsense.
  • Finishing off my contract with Totara Learning, who I’ve been helping with their community migration project. They’re a great bunch of people, and I look forward to working with them again at some point.
  • Sorting out a mirrored will with my wife over the phone through the easy-to-use Co-op will writing service. We’ve been married 14 years and been parents for almost 11 years, so it’s a bit embarrassing that we’ve left it this long.
  • Interviewed by Education Investor magazine about the potential use of blockchain technologies in education. As I reminded them, it’s literally a distributed ledger with cryptographic proof of work that allows append-only changes. Most uses are likely to be for backend, ‘boring’ supply-side stuff, rather than anything anyone notices and pays attention to.
  • Writing a report for the International School of Geneva about their strategy around learning technologies, after my visit last week.
  • Setting up Nextcloud to sync files, photos, and contacts to my own server.
  • Booking flights to Washington D.C. for the work Bryan Mathers and I are doing for the Inter-American Development Bank in November on behalf of We Are Open co-op.
  • Helping with Scouts. We carved pumpkin, made soup, and fried sausages. Great fun!
  • Looking after my children on Friday as it was a teacher training day for them — but not for my wife, who was at work.
  • Writing:

Next week, I’m working at home on Monday, and then away for a week in Gozo with my family.


I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology. If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Photo of Morpeth riverside taken by me on Friday.

New blog: Doug, uncensored

TL;DR: Head to uncensored.dougbelshaw.com or bit.ly/doug-uncensored for my new blog about freedom and decentralised technologies.


One of the great things about the internet, and one of the things I think we’re losing is the ability to experiment. I like to experiment with my technologies, my identity, and my belief systems. This flies in the face of services like Facebook that insist on a single ‘real’ identity while slowly deskill their users.

I’ve been messing about with ZeroNet, which is something I’ve mentioned before, and which gets close to something I’ve wanted now for quite some time: an ‘untakedownable’ website. Whether it’s DDoS attacks, DNS censorship, or malicious code injection, I want a platform that, no matter what I choose to say, will stay up.

To access sites via ZeroNet, you have to be running the ZeroNet service. By default, you view a clone of the site you want to visit on your own machine, accessed in the web browser. That means it’s fast. When the site creator updates the site/blog/wiki/whatever, that’s then sent to peers to distribute. It’s all lightning-quick, and built on Bittorrent technlogy and Bitcoin cryptography.

The trouble, of course, comes when someone who isn’t yet running ZeroNet wants to visit a site. Thankfully, there’s a way around that using a ‘proxy’ or bridge. This is ZeroNet running on a public server for everyone to use. There’s several of these, but I’ve set up my own using this guide.

I encourage you to download and experiment with ZeroNet but, even if you don’t, please check out my new blog. You can access it via uncensored.dougbelshaw.com or bit.ly/doug-uncensored — the rather long and unwieldy actual IP address of the server running the public-facing copy is 165.227.167.16/1PsNi4TAkn6vtKA6n1Se9y7gmVjF4GU3uF.

Finally, if you’re thinking, “What is this?! It’ll never catch on…” then I’d like to remind  you about technologies that people didn’t ‘get’ at first (e.g. Twitter in 2007) as well as that famous Wayne Gretszky quotation, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”.

Weeknote 41/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Caught up in the pro-unity, anti-separatist demonstrations in Catalonia. It was all family-friendly, and very good natured. An experience I won’t forget! My father and I also visited Gaudi’s incredible, unfinished Sagrada Família, the Nou Camp, and various other places in Barcelona over the weekend.
  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #278 was entitled ‘Sí, Barcelona!’. Why not check out my Thought Shrapnel Live! channel on Telegram where I post links as I come across them. My  valued supporters are awesome.
  • Helping the International School of Geneva with their digital strategy. I spent two days at Campus des Nations, meeting with staff, students, and parents. I’m writing a report on suggested next steps for them, which I’ll deliver next week.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 89 (‘Hijacking Minds’) of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, which I record with Dai Barnes. This week, we discussed barefoot walking, rubber duck debugging, lessons from the artists, the other side of innovation, how our minds can be hijacked by social media, and more!
  • Managing with a sub-optimal cheap Android smartphone as my OnePlus 5 was being repaired. That’ll teach me for prioritising style over substance in a protective case…
  • Continuing working on Phases 1 and 2 of the Totara Learning community migration strategy.
  • Working on more of the the technology-enhanced teacher professional development report I’m helping research and write for the Education Development Trust.
  • Curating Issue #19 of Badge News, a regular newsletter for the Open Badges community, published by our co-op.
  • Celebrating my wife’s birthday with her and our children. For the next 10 weeks I’m ‘a year’ younger than her. Bring on the toyboy jokes!
  • Writing:

Next week, I’m working at home for Totara for three days, rounding off my contract with them around the vision and strategy for their community migration. I’ve other bits and pieces to do for London CLC and the International School of Geneva. On Friday my son’s off school due to a teacher training day, so I’m looking after him, then it’s half-term!


I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology. If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Photo of the west windows of the Sagrada Família taken by me last Sunday, around 16:30.

Weeknote 40/2017

This week I’ve been:


I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology. If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Photo of me presenting at the ALL DIGITAL Summit taken by Ana Vitorica

Decentralised technologies mean censorship-resistant websites

As I write this, I’m in an apartment in Barcelona, after speaking and running a workshop at an event.

On Sunday, there was a vote for Catalonian independence. It went ahead due to the determination of teachers (who kept schools open as voting centres), the bravery of firemen and Catalan police (who resisted Spanish police), and… technology.

As I mentioned in the first section of my presentation on Wednesday, I’m no expert on Spanish politics, but I am very interested in the Catalonian referendum from a technological point of view. Not only did the Spanish government take a heavy-handed approach by sending in masked police to remove ballot boxes, but they applied this to the digital domain, raiding internet service providers, blocking websites, and seizing control of referendum-related websites.

Yet, people still accessed websites that helped them vote. In fact, around 42% managed to do so, despite all of the problems and potential danger in doing so. By way of contrast, no more than 43% of the population has ever voted in a US Presidential election (see comments section). There have been claims of voting irregularities (which can be expected when Spanish police were using batons and rubber bullets), but of those who voted, 90% voted in favour of independence.

People managed to find out the information they required through word of mouth and via websites that were censorship-resistant. The technologists responsible for keeping the websites up despite interference from Madrid used IPFS, which stands for Inter Planetary File System. IPFS is a decentralised system which manages to remove the reliance on a single point of failure (or censorship) while simultaneously solving problems around inefficiencies caused by unecessary file duplication.

The problem with IPFS, despite its success in this situation is that it’s mainly used via the command line. As much as I’d like everyone to have some skills around using terminal windows, realistically that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon in a world of Instagram and Candy Crush.

Instead, I’ve been spending time investigating ZeroNet, which is specifically positioned as providing “open, free and uncensorable websites, using bitcoin cryptography and bitorrent network”. Instead of there being ‘gateways’ through which you can access ZeroNet sites through the open web, you have to install it and then run it locally in a web browser. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, and the cross-platform functionality has an extremely good-looking user interface.

I’ve created a ‘Doug, uncensored’ blog using ZeroNet. This can be accessed via anyone who is running the service and knows the (long) address. When you access the site you’re accessing it on your own machine and then serving it up to — just like with bittorrent. It’s the realisation of the People’s Cloud idea that Vinay Gupta came up with back in 2013. The great thing about that is the websites work even when you’re offline, and sync when you re-connect.

As with constant exhortations for people to be more careful about their privacy and security, so decentralised technologies might seem ‘unnecessary’ by most people when everything is going fine. However, just as we put curtains on our windows and locks on our doors, and sign contracts ‘just in case’ something goes wrong, so I think decentralised technologies should be our default.

Why do we accept increased centralisation and surveillance as the price of being part of the digital society? Why don’t we take back control?

Again, as I mentioned in my presentation on Wednesday, we look backwards too much when we’re talking about digital skills, competencies, and literacies. Instead, let’s look forward and ensure that the next generation of technologies don’t sell us down the river for advertising dollars.

Have a play with ZeroNet and, if you want to really think through where we might be headed with all of this, check out Bitnation.

Image CC BY-NC-ND Adolfo Luhan

Weeknote 39/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #276 was entitled ‘Falling into Autumn’. A reminder that all the links for the newsletter (and more!) go out via the Thought Shrapnel Live! channel on Telegram. Virtual fist bumps are given regularly to those who have become valued supporters.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 88 (‘Sweating the Small Stuff’) of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, which I record with Dai Barnes. This week, we discussed why your user community needs a Code of Conduct, sweating the small stuff in the classroom, the anatomy of a moral panic, coding as cutting tech wages, and more!
  • Catching up with Sarah Horrocks about the technology-enhanced teacher professional development report we’re researching and writnig for the Education Development Trust.
  • Running a ‘strapline thinkathon’ for London CLC with Bryan Mathers on behalf of We Are Open Co-op. The ‘blended’ approach works well: Bryan was in the room using his document camera as he draws and facilitates, and me coming in virtually on the big screen via video conference!
  • Curating Issue #18 of Badge News, a regular newsletter for the Open Badges community, published by our co-op.
  • Creating a prototype of a website for our local Scout troop using GitHub Pages.
  • Confirming my session at the Innovate Edtech conference on November 11th in London.
  • Responding to requests to spend time with organisations in The Netherlands and Germany.
  • Looking at houses as we consider moving. It’s likely that will only be very locally (as in, within a half-mile radius), if at all.
  • Spending two days working with Totara Learning in Brighton on a community migration project, and one representing them at the Learning Pool Live conference in London. It was great bumping into, and catching up with, Ian Usher. I also enjoyed Donald Taylor‘s keynote and having a quick chat with him afterwards.
  • Writing:
    • Barnstorming (We Are Open Co-op blog, 26th September 2017)

Next week, it’s a co-op day on Monday, then I’m off to Barcelona on Tuesday to speak at the ALL DIGITAL Summit. I’m staying on a few days as my father is flying in so we can see the sights together. I’m then heading on to Geneva and he’s returning home.


I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology. If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Photo taken by me on a run to Brighton Marina on Friday morning. Post-processing in Snapseed.

Weeknote 38/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #275 was entitled ‘Face facts’. A reminder that all the links for the newsletter (and more!) go out via the Thought Shrapnel Live! channel on Telegram. High-fives to those who have become valued supporters.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 87 (‘About Face’) of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, which I record with Dai Barnes. This was the first episode since July and so this week we discussed what we got up to over the summer break, why you shouldn’t unlock your phone with your face, student uniforms and tuition fees, productivity, the future of work, and more!
  • Spending time thinking and talking about something I can’t announce just quite yet. Exciting, though!
  • Researching and writing a research report on technology-enhanced teacher professional development for the Education Development Trust with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC.
  • Attending the first meeting of the local Scouts Executive Committee in the role of Secretary. I’m going to try and bring them into the 21st century a bit.
  • Working with Totara Learning continuing to work on the vision and strategy for their community migration project. I spent time on things like putting together a community survey, meeting with the project team, and putting together a draft code of conduct.
  • Hosting this month’s Badge Wiki barn raising, which I’ll be writing up soon. Things are going pretty well, and it’s great that people are so willing to step up to help build a knowledge base for the Open Badges community! Check out what we discussed here.
  • Writing:

This weekend, I’m helping with the Scouts expedition (map reading, etc.) Next week I’m working from home on Monday and Tuesday morning, mainly on London CLC-related stuff. Then I’m heading down on the train to Brighton to work with Totara. I’ll be working from their offices on Wednesday and Friday, spending Thursday in London at Learning Pool Live.

Upcoming travel in October:

  • Barcelona (3rd-8th)
  • Geneva (9th-10th)
  • Brighton (18th-20th)
  • Gozo (24th-31st)

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology. If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Photo of a page of The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, which I picked up for 10p in a charity sale as it was falling apart. Excellent story, highly recommended.

Digital myths, digital pedagogy, and complexity

I’m currently doing some research with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC for their parent organisation, the Education Development Trust. As part of this work, I’m looking at all kinds of things related to technology-enhanced teacher professional development.

Happily, it’s given me an excuse to go through some of the work that Prof. Steve Higgins, my former thesis supervisor at Durham University, has published since I graduated from my Ed.D. in 2012. There’s some of his work in particular that really resonated with me and I wanted to share in a way that I could easily reference in future.


In a presentation to the British Council in 2013 entitled Technology trends for language teaching: looking back and to the future, Higgins presents six ‘myths’ relating to digital technologies and educational institutions:

  1. The ‘Future Facing’ Fallacy – “New technologies are being developed all the time, the past history of the impact of technology is irrelevant to what we have now or will be available tomorrow.
  2. The ‘Different Learners’ Myth – “Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net generation –they learn differently from older people”.
  3. A Confusion of ‘Information’and ‘Knowledge’ – “Learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet, today’s children don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it.”
  4. The ‘Motivation Mistake’ – “Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.”
  5. The ‘Mount Everest’ Fallacy – “We must use technology because it is there!”
  6. The ‘More is Better’ Mythology – “If some technology is a good thing, then more must be better.

The insightful part, is I think, when Higgins applies Rogers’ (1995) work around the diffusion of innovations:

  • Innovators & early adopters choose digital technology to do something differently – as a solution to a problem.
  • When adopted by the majority, focus is on the technology, but not as a solution.
  • The laggards use the technology to replicate what they were already doing without ICT

In a 2014 presentation to The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS) entitled Technology and learning: from the past to the future, Higgins expands on this:

It is rare for further studies to be conducted once a technology has become fully embedded in educational settings as interest tends to focus on the new and emerging, so the question of overall impact remains elusive.

If this is the situation, there may, of course, be different explanations. We know, for example, that it is difficult to scale-up innovation without a dilution of effect with expansion (Cronbach et al. 1980; Raudenbush, 2008). It may also be that early adopters (Rogers, 2003; Chan et al. 2006) tend to be tackling particular pedagogical issues in the early stages, but then the focus shifts to the adoption of the particular technology, without it being chosen as a solution to a specific teaching and learning issue (Rogers’‘early’ and ‘late majority’). At this point the technology may be the same, but the pedagogical aims and intentions are different, and this may explain a reduction in effectiveness.

The focus should be on pedagogy, not technology:

Overall, I think designing for effective use of digital technologies is complex. It is not just a case of trying a new piece of technology out and seeing what happens. We need to build on what is already know about effective teaching and learning… We also need to think about what the technology can do better than what already happens in schools. It is not as though there is a wealth of spare time for teachers and learners at any stage of education. In practice the introduction of technology will replace something that is already there for all kinds of reasons, the technology supported activity will squeeze some thing out of the existing ecology, so we should have good grounds for thinking that a new approach will be educationally better than what has gone before or we should design activities for situations where teachers and learners believe improvement is needed. Tackling such challenges will mean that technology will provide a solution to a problem and not just appear as an answer to a question that perhaps no-one has asked.

My gloss on this is that everything is ambiguous, and that attempts to completely remove this ambiguity and/or abstract away from a particular context are doomed to failure.

One approach that Higgins introduces in a presentation (no date), entitled SynergyNet: Exploring the potential of a multi-touch classroom for teaching and learning, is CSCL. I don’t think I’d heard of this before:

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a pedagogical approach where in learning takes place via social interaction using a computer or through the Internet. This kind of learning is characterized by the sharing and construction of knowledge among participants using technology as their primary means of communication or as a common resource. CSCL can be implemented in online and classroom learning environments and can take place synchronously or asynchronously. (Wikipedia)

The particular image that grabbed me from Higgins’ presentation was this one:

CSCL

This reminds me of the TPACK approach, but more focused on the kind of work that I do from home most weeks:

One of the most common approaches to CSCL is collaborative writing. Though the final product can be anything from a research paper, a Wikipedia entry, or a short story, the process of planning and writing together encourages students to express their ideas and develop a group understanding of the subject matter. Tools like blogs, interactive whiteboards, and custom spaces that combine free writing with communication tools can be used to share work, form ideas, and write synchronously. (Wikipedia)

CSCL activities seem like exactly the kind of things we should be encouraging to prepare both teachers and young people for the future:

Technology-mediated discourse refers to debates, discussions, and other social learning techniques involving the examination of a theme using technology. For example, wikis are a way to encourage discussion among learners, but other common tools include mind maps, survey systems, and simple message boards. Like collaborative writing, technology-mediated discourse allows participants that may be separated by time and distance to engage in conversations and build knowledge together. (Wikipedia)

Going through Higgins’ work reminds me how much I miss doing this kind of research!


Note: I wrote an academic paper with Steve Higgins that was peer-reviewed via my social network rather than in a journal. It’s published on my website and Digital literacy, digital natives, and the continuum of ambiguity. I’ve also got a (very) occasional blog where I discuss this kind of stuff at ambiguiti.es.


Photo by Daniel von Appen

Weeknote 37/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #274 was entitled ‘Great running’. I send out all of the links for the newsletter via the Thought Shrapnel Live! channel on Telegram. Many thanks to those who have become valued supporters.
  • Bracing myself for Autumn. Someone flipped a switch on the weather and it’s been cold and rainy in Northumberland this week.
  • Working on a research report for the Education Development Trust with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC.
  • Starting to plan upcoming co-op work in Washington D.C. for the Inter-American Development Bank with Bryan Mathers.
  • Catching up with Dai Barnes after a summer break for the TIDE podcast. We’ll start recording episodes again next week.
  • Curating and sending out Issue #17 of Badge News, a newsletter for the Open Badges community.
  • Putting together a bullet-point overview of my presentation for the ALL DIGITAL Summit in Barcelona next month. I’ve given it the TED-style talk the title Future Infrastructure, Future Skills, Future Mindsets.
  • Working with Totara Learning on the vision and strategy for their community migration project. This involves me working in Confluence and JIRA a lot, tools both made by Atlassian. I notice they’ve launched a Slack competitor in the form of Stride, which I’ll hopefully be testing with them soon.
  • Writing:
    • (nothing public)

Next week is a rinse-and-repeat of this week — I’m at home all week, working on the EDT report Monday/Tuesday, and then with Totara from Wednesday to Friday.


I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Photo taken on my run along Morpeth bypass on Tuesday morning.

Weeknote 36/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #273 was entitled ‘Sycamore Gap’. There are now 50 people signed up to Thought Shrapnel Live! and using Telegram to receive links as I come across them. You can also become a valued supporter.
  • Hanging out with my kids before they headed back to school this week. There were celebrations and activities around the Tour of Britain cycle race, which pretty much went past our house!
  • Celebrating being married to my wonderful wife, Hannah, for 14 years.
  • Deleting all of the tweets I’ve sent over the past 10 years. I explained why in this post.
  • Catching up with Bryan Mathers about some work we’re doing in Washington D.C. on behalf of We Are Open Co-op in November for the Inter-American Development Bank.
  • Spending a lot of time getting to grips with JIRA, putting together a list of project risks, and experimenting with the admin interface relating to some work I’m doing with Totara Learning.
  • Dismayed that Salesforce seem to be trying to patent digital badges. We’ve begun to crowdsource prior art on Badge Wiki.
  • Accompanying my children who ran in the Mini and Junior Great North Run respectively. I’ve only recently started running again myself (I don’t seem to get migraines afterwards any more) so perhaps next year I’ll enter either the main Great North Run or Great North 10k!

Next week I’m doing some work for London CLC on Monday and Tuesday, and then working with Totara Learning from Wednesday to Friday.


I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Photo taken by me as the Tour of Britain came past the road near our house in Morpeth.

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