Author: Doug Belshaw (page 1 of 192)

Weeknote 45/2017

I’ll return to the regular bullet-point format next week, but this week has been another unusual one. It’s revolved around two events: a MoodleMoot in Miami, USA and the Innovate Edtech Conference in London. I was in Miami from Sunday until Thursday, then London from Friday evening for 24 hours.

I’m pleased to announce that I’m working with Moodle until the end of this calendar year, in the first instance, scoping out a new platform which is currently known as MoodleNet. This is a brand new product, distinct from the LMS, and something I’m pretty excited about. If all goes well, I’ll continue doing a bit of consultancy through We Are Open Co-op, but dedicate the majority of my time towards MoodleNet. Much more on that soon, I hope, as I put together a white paper.

I learned a lot in Miami, from the great people I’ll be working with at Moodle, to the advantages of taking Melatonin to stave off jet lag. It great to finally meet Mary Cooch after a decade of us following each other online! There was also a great presentation by Elizabeth Dalton that I need to revisit as I think it will help us get past the reductive and unhelpful ‘traditional vs. progressive’ debate in education.

Although it’s always great to be in a room full of people you know, growth comes when you’re in a rooms filled with people you don’t know, and that was certainly the case in the two events I attended this week. The Innovate Edtech Conference was a good opportunity to re-connect with wonderful people such as Joe Dale, Sophie Bailey, and Geoff Stead — but the majority of poeple weren’t part of my existing network.

I was humbled to learn that students had come from various universities around the country to hear me speak, on the recommendation of their supervisors. It was my usual stuff about digital literacies and Open Badges (see slides) but I tried to package it in a way that was useful. We started with a short exercise that surfaced and problematised some of our everyday practises. From there, I went on to introduce the eight essential elements of digital literacies, and then explained how they can be credentialed using badges.

Over and above those two events (I ran a 2.5 hour workshop at the MoodleMoot as well), I’ve only really sent out Badge News #21 on behalf of We Are Open Co-op. On the personal front, since deciding three weeks ago to experiment with not eating meat, I’ve managed to persist with what is, essentially, pescetarianism — although I’m not a fan of being pigeonholed.

Next week I was supposed to be in Washington DC, doing some work with Bryan Mathers, on behalf of our co-op, for the Inter-American Development Bank. However, that’s been pushed back to February 2018, meaning that I can catch up on some pending work for other clients, and get started writing that MoodleNet white paper!


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 in Hackney Wick, London, which is a place going through some intense gentrification at the moment. There was some great grafitti and flyposters around the place.

Weeknotes 43 & 44/2017

Last week, after tying up some loose ends with various bits of client work and scheduling Badge News #20, I headed off for a holiday with my family from Tuesday to Tuesday, returning to the wonderful island of Gozo in the Mediterranean. No wonder it’s suspected of being the mythical island of Ogygia, referred to by Homer in The Odyssey.

This week, after arriving back on Tuesday evening, I started some work with Moodle from Wednesday to Friday. In fact, I’m heading to Florida on Sunday for the 2017 Miami MoodleMoot to kick off work on a project I’ll be leading. More details on that soon.

Otherwise, I’ve spent this short three-day work recording the Episode 91 of the TIDE podcast with Dai Barnes, helping facilitate this month’s  Badge Wiki barn raising with Bryan Mathers, and catching up with Oliver Quinlan, Laura Hilliger, Gavin Henrick, Garnet Berry, Tom Murdock, and a few other — including some students from UCL looking for some advice about putting on a conference.

Oh, and I haven’t eaten meat for the last two weeks, but I’m following the advice of Alan Jacobs (via Austin Kleon) on that…

I wrote the following:

After my trip to Miami next week, I’ll be home for 24 hours before heading to London on Friday to present at the InnovateEdTech 2017 event on Saturday 11th November. I believe a few tickets are still available and you can get 50% off if you use the code EDTECH50.


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

Tools and spaces to create a positive architecture of participation

Earlier this year, in a post entitled How to build an architecture of participation, I explained how, in my experience, systems designed for user contribution require the following elements:

  1. A clear mission
  2. An invitation to participate
  3. Easy onboarding
  4. A modular approach
  5. Strong leadership
  6. Ways of working openly and transparently
  7. Backchannels and watercoolers
  8. Celebration of milestones

To build on that post, I’d like to explain the kinds of tools and spaces that can create a positive architecture of participation. Please note that, in and of themselves, merely using a tool or creating a space does not guarantee participation. Rather, the tools and spaces help as part of a more holistic approach to encouraging contribution.


When I run projects, as I am doing for Moodle as of this week (more specific details on that in a future post), the following are the kinds of tools I tend to use and the spaces I look to create. It’s worth pointing out that my guiding principle is always the ‘scaffolding’ of people’s attention, and that my mental model for this is influenced by the ‘alternative’ version of the RACI matrix:

Responsible
Those responsible for the performance of the task. There should be exactly one person with this assignment for each task.

Assists
Those who assist completion of the task

Consulted
Those whose opinions are sought; and with whom there is two-way communication.

Informed
Those who are kept up-to-date on progress; and with whom there is one-way communication.

 


A) Index

I’ve written before about why you need a single place to point people towards when discussing your project. Not only does it mean a single place for potentially-interested parties to bookmark and remember, but it ensures that the project team only have to perform the administrative duties of updating and curating links once.

Ideally, the URL you give out is a domain that you or your organisation owns, and which points to a server that you, or someone at your organisation, has direct control over. The specific software you choose to run that almost doesn’t matter, as it’s an index — a jumping off point to access spaces where things are actually happening.

Having a canonical URL for the project is useful to everyone in the RACI matrix, from the person responsible for its success, right through to those just being kept informed.

N.B. This is one of the points in Working openly on the web: a manifesto.


B) Documentation

Every project needs a flexible, easy-to-update space where the roadmap can be shared, decisions can be recorded, and an overall sense of the project can be gained.

Wikis are perfect for this task, although increasingly there are tools with wiki-like functionality (e.g. revision history, on-the-fly rearrangement of categories) that do the job, too. Ideally, you’re looking for something that allows your project to look good enough to encourage contribution in someone new, while you don’t have to spend ages making everything look pretty.

Again, documentation is useful for everyone involved in the project, whether responsible, assisting, consulted, or informed.


C) Tracker

One of the biggest things that people want to know about a project is the current status of its constituent parts. There are lots of ways of doing this, from a straightforward kanban approach, to a much more powerful (but potentially more confusing) ticket/issue-based system. The latter are favoured by those doing software development, as it helps avoid unhelpful ambiguity.

My time at Mozilla convinced me that there’s huge value of having everyone at an organisation, or at least on a particular project, using the same tool for tracking updates. The value of this is that you can see what is in progress, who’s working on it, what’s been completed, any questions/problems that have been raised, and so on.

While the tracker might only be used rarely by those being kept informed of the project, it’s invaluable for those responsible, assisting, or being consulted.


D) Asynchronous reports

Producing regular updates ensures that there is a regular flow of information to all parties. In my experience, it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to digital projects. You have to keep reminding people that work is ongoing and that progress is being made on the project.

One way to do this is to blog about the project. Another way is to send out a newsletter. There are plenty of ways of doing this, and it’s worth experimenting with differing timescales as to the frequency of updates. While a bit of (appropriate) colour and humour is always appreciated, so is getting to the point as quickly as possible in these updates.

Reports are primarily for the benefit of those being kept informed about the project. It’s worth remembering that these people may, depending on changes in project direction (or their interest/free time), be in a position to assist or be consulted.

A word about social media. Sending out updates via Twitter, Facebook, and the like is great, but I find following the POSSE (Publish Once, Self-Syndicate Everywhere) approach works best. Use social networks for what they’re best at: surfacing and linking to information in a just-in-time fashion. I wouldn’t use them for the actualy content itself.


E) Synchronous meetings

Depending on the size of the project team and the nature of the project, you may decide to run synchronous meetings more or less regularly. You should certainly run some, however, as they afford a different kind of dynamic to asynchronous, text-based approaches.

There are plenty of tools that allow you to have multiple people on a synchronous audio (and/or video) call, ‘dialling-in’ from wherever they are in the world. It goes without saying that you should be mindful of the timezones of potential contributors when scheduling this. You should also all be looking at an agenda that can be updated as the meeting progresses. The project’s documentation area can be used for this, or something like Etherpad (one of my favourite tools!)


What have I missed? I’ve still lots to learn from those more experienced than me, so I’d welcome encouragement, pushback, and any other comments in the section below!


Image by Daniel Funes Fuentes and used under a CC0 license

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.

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