Weeknote 20/2018

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’ll be in London all working week for the MoodleNet design sprint. I’m very much looking forward to this, as it should provide a fantastic basis for the work we’re starting right afterwards. That being said, I know myself well enough to have booked three days off the following week. After a period of compression, it’s important to then have time to decompress.

Weeknote 19/2018

Next week I’m working from home on Moodle stuff, and attending the Thinking Digital Conference on Thursday, as well as the pre-conference workshop and dinner on Wednesday afternoon/evening.

Quality Mountain Day 12: Black Craig, Knockower, and Coran of Portmark (Galloway Hills, Scotland)

This was my second Quality Mountain Day of this most recent Bank Holiday weekend. I’m doing them to get on a Mountain Leader course and you can read about the previous day in this blog post. Thanks to Hannah Belshaw for some of the photos!


My wife and I had been up Merrick the previous day. The way down had been interesting, mainly because I’d just taken the quickest route, whether or not it was actually a good idea.

With this route, we wanted to make sure we were on the correct side of the Galloway Hills so that we could get home in good time for our children. I planned the route with Hannah, my wife, but decided we’d have to play it by ear a bit depending on the terrain.


The Mountain Weather Service report said that the Galloway Hills on 7th May 2018 would be sunny and warm, with very little wind. Here’s a PDF of the report.

It was a straightforward walk up past some standing stones and a farm. I’d wanted to go and explore them, but there were lambs in the field so I thought it best not to disturb them.

Further on, some of the rams had very curly horns.


The route took us up past a disused lead mine. Some of the smelting chimneys were still standing. The air shafts were well marked and fenced-off.


After looking around the abandoned buildings (apparently there were 50 dwellings here at one point) we set off, but on the wrong track. I realised when we started entering the trees, and turned around.


However, instead of going all the way back to the path, I decided that we’d go along by the fence and then join the train. That meant we had to traverse lots of grass hummocks, which was hard going. In fact, this was the least steep of the hills but the most difficult walking.

Eventually we found a track up Knockower (511m) and followed that.


We got near the top and stopped for some coffee. It was at this point we made a decision to only go up Black Craig.


We headed down Knockower and towards Black Craig. This part involved tramping over heather, which was difficult for Hannah’s knee (which was already hurting a bit).

I suggested that on the way back down we use the stone wall as a ‘rail’ and head down into the forest.

The top of Black Craig (528m) was beautiful with magnificent views over Loch Doon. As we ate lunch, Hannah saw a track up Coran of Portmark and suggested we go up it. I agreed.

We trudged down Black Craig through boggy heather. Hannah spotted a moth, and we saw a lot of bees.


Crossing a wall and stream, we started our ascent of Coran of Portmark (which is an odd name for a mountain).


We walked at a steady pace near to the fence. It was straightforward but reasonably steep.


We made it to the top of Coran of Portmark (623m) and then looked for a track back down.


By this point, I’d realised that my watch had stopped tracking our route, which was annoying. Nevertheless, we just wanted to get back to the car and home.


We headed back past the disused lead mine. I wanted to investigate the air shafts, but Hannah stayed well clear.

We made it back to the car. My watch had stopped recording walk after about 5km but we did around 17km in about 5.5 hours.

Car

Things I learned:

  1. The second day is always harder than the first, especially for less experienced walkers.
  2. I shouldn’t just rely on one method of tracking my route.
  3. The terrain can make the difference between an enjoyable walk and a tough one.

Quality Mountain Day 11: Merrick (Galloway Hills, Scotland)

It’s been almost a year since I’ve been able to get away to log more of the Quality Mountain Days I need to eventually get on a Mountain Leader course. This time, I went to the Galloway Hills over the Bank Holiday weekend, and I didn’t go alone. I’m going to write each day up separately, as I took quite a few photos!

Route to Galloway Hills

Before we set off, and while I was still at home, I planned the route for the first day and had a rough idea of what we would do on the second. I used a paper map (Galloway Forest Park North, OS Explorer Map 318) and the OS Maps app (I’m a premium subscriber). Hannah, my wife, came with me.

Merrick route

I find that the OS Maps app underestimates the distance and time it actually takes to do walks I plan. In the event, we walked 20km and it took 6.5 hours.

I downloaded a PDF (see here) of the Mountain Weather Service forecast for the Galloway Hills. It said it that the cloud base would be low, but summits should be clear by midday.

We set off at 08:39 so we expected to walk through the mist until we reached the summit.

The route towards Merrick was well-signposted, with the only challenge being poor visibility. The wind was very light.

There were some tricky bits, as you can see below! However, it was mostly a straightforward ascent.

In Scotland, it’s always difficult to know how much of the ‘forest’ area shown on a map will actually be wooded. It’s a managed forest, so sometimes there’s no trees at all, just stumps!

The climb through the trees was steep in places, so I ensured I kept encouraging Hannah. She was fine, despite having a bit of a dodgy knee (which is stopping her from running at the moment). She kept up find.

It wasn’t difficult to keep on the track, but I nevertheless kept checking that I knew where we were.

The first peak we ascended on the way to Merrick was Benyallery (719m). There is a cairn at the top, and Hannah took my photo.

The Mountain Weather Service forecast said that there could be some wind, and so I was a little concerned about going across the ridge from Benyallery towards Merrick. In the event, everything was fine.

Visibility as we got closer to Merrick decreased to about 50 metres.

We made it to the top of Merrick (843m) and had lunch, using the trig point as shelter. I made sure we both kept warm as soon as we sat down.

As we started the descent from the top of Merrick, we began to pass more people. The temperature dropped, and we took our off-path route towards Bennan.

Had the cloud base not been so low, it would be have been obvious which way to go. However, with poor visibility, we needed to make sure we found the best way.

A new, high deer-proof fence had been erected by the Forestry Commission since the OS Map was published. We found a way to cross via the largest stile I’ve ever seen.

The track up to Bennan (556m) was an easy walk. Once we reached the top, the cloud base lifted very quickly. Within minutes, we could see the top of the peaks we’d just climbed!

From there, we headed down the track. I’d planned for us to deviate from it once we got round and down to an altitude of about 270m.

It’s always difficult to know in advance what you’re actually going to discover when you see a black solid line on an OS map. It means a boundary, but fence or wall? In this case, I’d planned to use it as a ‘rail’ to help us down, instead of continuing on the track. That would have added another 5km to our journey.

It wasn’t a good decision. This was Hannah’s first mountain day, so when I went ahead to have a look, I should have turned back and stuck to the track. In the event, she coped really well, but it was a pretty treacherous route down: sheer drops, boggy ground, and felled trees.

In the end, we made it. I’m not sure what I’d have done had she or I had hurt ourselves, however. I certainly learned a lesson there. We made it back to the car park.

By the time we got back to the car, my smartwatch told me the route had been 19.97km. So, like any sensible person, I walked around a bit so that it reached a nice round 20km!

Things I learned:

  1. Plan the last part of the route as well as the first bit.
  2. Go at the speed and ability of the least experienced member of your group.
  3. Have a backup plan.

Weeknote 18/2018

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #302 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. This one was called ‘Read aloud for maximum effect’. Thanks to the 31 patrons who back me via Patreon plus who continue to lend their support via Gumroad!
  • Celebrating the two year anniversary of We Are Open Co-op. We’ve inducted a new member and launched a new website, which you can read about here.
  • Recording, editing and releasing Episode 101 of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast with my co-host Dai Barnes. We entitled this episode ‘An introduction to…’ and discussed the two-year anniversary of We Are Open Co-op, some utopian thoughts, how to be super-productive, the benefits of reading aloud to children, security, memes, and more!
  • Working on the MoodleNet project:
    • Reviewing applications for the MoodleNet Technical Architect role.
    • Discussing the Technical Architect role with three promising candidates.
    • Updating project’s wiki page to make it a bit cleaner.
    • Scheduling next Wednesday’s community call.
    • Getting in touch with Moodle-using educators (recommended by Mary Cooch) to interview for the upcoming design sprint.
    • Drafting a survey to go out next week to the Moodle community, again to give us data to use in the design sprint.
    • Talking with Garnet Berry who, in addition to his role with Moodle, is involved with EQUELLA. We investigated its potential use as part of the MoodleNet ecosystem.
    • Reviewing the UX team’s plan to improve the user experience across Moodle. I’m impressed with the work that colleagues Alberto Corado and Suganya Arthanareeswaran showed me!
  • Reorganising my home office (standing) desk. This is not a trivial thing, and involves adapting to a new layout — including my old monitor in portrait mode (for Telegram / Zoom).
  • Figuring out whether I need to get all of my newsletter subscribers to opt-in again because of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). My research would suggest not, actually, as Recital 171 states, “Where processing is based on consent pursuant to Directive 95/46/EC, it is not necessary for the data subject to give his or her consent again if the manner in which the consent has been given is in line with the conditions of this Regulation, so as to allow the controller to continue such processing after the date of application of this Regulation.” I have unambiguous and demonstrable (i.e. auditable) consent in line with Article 7, so it’s all good.
  • Receiving confirmation from my home insurance company that they will replace my Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop. I won’t be getting another one of those, partly because it had a sub-optimal layout, but mainly because I felt Dell screwed me over with their lack of support. I’m currently using my backup laptop, a Lenovo X220 running Ubuntu 18.04 (for which, I have to say, I have unlimited love).
  • Curating interesting things I came across on the Thought Shrapnel blog. This week I collected some quotations and commented on the following:
    • Getting on the edtech bus
    • “You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots.” (Joseph Hanlon)
    • Space as a service
    • Blockchain as a ‘futuristic integrity wand’
    • “The difference between profit and benefit is that operations producing profit can be carried out by another in my place: he would make the profit, unless he was acting on my behalf. But the fact remains that profitable activity can always be carried out by someone else. Hence the principle of competition. On the other hand, what is beneficial to me depends on gestures, acts, living moments which it would be impossible for me to delegate.” (Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking)
  • Catching up with Kev Jones about the Digital Guild project he’s been leading. It’s looking great, and makes fantastic use of Open Badges for student work placements.
  • Enjoying this time of the year. It’s a time when I can spend more time walking and running outside. I also start swimming again, as my asthma doesn’t trouble me so much in the drier weather!
  • Reading a couple of fascinating books:
  • Buying quite a few Verso books, due to their 1st May offer. I particularly like the way that you can buy the print version and ebook together for a reasonable price.
  • Writing:

This Bank Holiday weekend, I’m heading up some mountains with my wife. These should count as two more Quality Mountain Days. Next week, I’ll be having conversations with more applicants for the MoodleNet Technical Architect role, and preparing for a design sprint later this month.

Some utopian thoughts

In all the excitement of turning my weekly Thought Shrapnel newsletter into a regular Patreon-supported blog, I’ve neglected this space. I’d like to rectify that.

While I still post my weeknotes here, they’re not ruminations on the state of the world as I see it. Using other people’s work as a provocation is great (and the basis of Thought Shrapnel) but, now that’s established, I’d like to return to thinking about the way things are and how they should be.

Last week, at a conference I attended, a woman from CUNY in Brooklyn stood up and introduced herself. In the process of doing so, she explained that her area was ‘utopian studies’, which got me thinking. I’ve been finding solace recently in describing things as they are, rather than how they ought to be. But, in order to live a life dedicated to the improvement of self and society, I’m not sure that’s enough.


So, what would utopia look like for me?

First, it’s important to note that there’s nothing like regular travel to different countries to disabuse you of the notion of there being simple solutions to human problems.

Second, for me at least, this question cannot be meaningfully answered at an abstract level until I’ve answered it at the local, specific level. In a nutshell, I’d like to live in a world that values human connections, respects the planet we inhabit, and uses technology to improve our mental and physical well-being.

Third, utopia is usually seen as unobtainable, with one definition being “an impractical, idealistic scheme for social and political reform“. Another definition, however, and one that I prefer, is “an ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects“. Just as we should all have an answer to the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” so we should be clear on the world towards which we’re striving.

Fourth, words are cheap. It costs nothing to promise to do something or to write a manifesto. The important work is putting your own words, or those with which you agree, into action.

Fifth, structures are more important than promises. It’s great that we live in a world where companies, both for-profit and non-profit, have mission statements. However, it’s structural issues than enable or prevent change.

Sixth, follow the money. This works on an individual, local, national, and global level. People spend money on things they deem important — either in an attempt to change things, or to shore up an established position. Any thoughts of utopia, therefore, need to balance up competing claims.

Seventh, and finally, as the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle stated, “Culture is the process by which a person becomes all that they were created capable of being.” Our focus as a society, or as a collection of societies, should be on human flourishing.


These were just some idle thoughts on a lazy Sunday morning. I’d love to read your (slow, considered) replies. Perhaps in your own blog? Or we could have a chat on Mastodon?

I’m going to be reading Utopia for Realists soon. We should start a book club.

Weeknote 17/2018

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’m at home working on the business case for the MoodleNet project, recruiting a Technical Architect, and improving the documentation.

Weeknote 16/2018

This week I’ve been:

  • Working on the MoodleNet project:
    • Discussing some potential upcoming work with a range of design and development agencies. More on that soon, I hope, as I want to get cracking with a design sprint in May.
    • Talking with smart people, including Emma Richardson (President of the Moodle Users Association), Mike Larsson,
    • Catching up with the recording of the Moodle All-Hands meeting on Wednesday where some important things were announced to colleagues.
    • Adding some more detail to the wiki page I’d started, digging into different types of resource-centric social networks.
  • Attending the OER18 conference with my Moodle hat on. It was a great event, superbly organised by the ALT team. I caught up with so many people in sunny Bristol — too many to name individually. I also participated in a Virtually Connecting session (recorded) and learned a lot to apply to my MoodleNet work.
  • Running a thinkathon with my co-op colleagues for CET in Israel about a digital literacy MOOC they want to create for teachers in the city of Beer Sheva with the municipality. It went really well, and we’ll be following up soon.
  • Collaborating with Bryan Mathers on some follow-up co-op work for the Inter-American Development Bank. We’re making use of Badge Wiki for the outputs.
  • Writing:

Next week I’m going to be at the OE Global Conference 2018 in Delft, Netherlands. Moodle is sponsoring it and I’m looking forward to catching up with Martin Dougiamas.

Weeknote 15/2018

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’m off to Bristol for the OER18 conference. I gave the keynote four years ago, and there’ll be plenty of people there that I know!


Photo taken by Hannah Belshaw at Jersey Zoo, and edited in Snapseed.

Winnowing the MoodleNet project down to MVP size

Note: this post refers to the MoodleNet project that I’m leading. More on that can be found here: moodle.com/moodlenet

Context

As a knowledge worker, you can’t win. If you do your job well, then the outputs you produce are simple and easy to understand. It’s your job to deal with complexity and unhelpful ambiguity so that what’s left can comprehended and digested.

In a way, it’s very much like the process of writing for an audience. We’ve all read someone’s stream-of-consciousness email that said much but conveyed little. Good writing, on the other hand, takes time, effort, and editing.

The problem is that high-quality knowledge work looks easy. Long hours of thinking, discussing, and experimenting are boiled down to their essentials. You just see the outputs.

Perhaps the most obvious example would be brand redesign: almost no matter what’s produced, the response is usually that the process resulted in money wasted. That’s even more true when there’s public money involved.

Belfast 2008

The City of Belfast spent around £200k on this logo in 2008. It’s a heart-shaped B conveying love. I quite like it..

As a result, logo designers tend to share the process which got to that point. They share iterations towards the final idea, any rejected ideas, and the conversations with people who had some input into the process.

Likewise, all knowledge workers should show their work, as Austin Kleon puts it.  This not only proves the value of the work being done, but invites commentary and constructive criticism at a time when it can be useful — before the final version is settled upon.

Process

A Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, is “a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development.” However, in my experience, there’s a few stages before that:

  1. Research: whoever’s in charge of the project (in this case, me!) situates themselves in the landscape, talks to lots of people and does a bunch of reading.
  2. Hypothesise: the same individual, or by this point potentially a small team, comes up with some hypotheses for the product being designed. A direction of travel is set, but at this stage it’s only as granular as north, south, east, or west.
  3. Design: a small team, including a designer and developer, take a week to ‘sprint’ towards something that can be mocked-up put in front of users. The result is the smallest possible thing that can be built and tested.
  4. Prototype: developers and designers come up with a working prototype that can be put in front of test users within a controlled environment. Sometimes this uses software like Framer, sometimes it’s custom development, and sometimes it’s powered by nothing more than Google Sheets.
  5. Build: the team creates something that can be tested with a subset of the wider (potential) user base. The focus is on testing a range of hypotheses that have been refined through the previous four processes.

Following this, of course, is a lot of iteration. It may be that the hypotheses were shown to be invalid, in which case it’s (quite literally) back to the drawing board.

Where we’re at with MoodleNet

Right now, I’m working with colleagues at Moodle around a job ‘landscape’ for a Technical Architect to join us in the next few months. In the meantime, we’re looking to work with a design and development consultancy to take us through steps 3-5.

It gets to the stage where you just need to build something and put it in front of people. They either find it useful and ‘get’ what problem you’re helping them solve, or they don’t.

You can’t be too wedded to your hypotheses. As project lead, I was sure that a federated approach based on an instance of Mastodon was the place to start, until I spoke with some people and did some thinking and realised that perhaps it wasn’t.

And, of course, it’s worth reminding myself that there’s currently the equivalent of 0.8 FTE on this project (I work four days per week for Moodle). Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day.


Image: HEAVENLY CROP by American Center Mumbai used under a  CC BY-ND license

css.php