Travelling to and from Barcelona for a team work week. It was the first time Mayel and Alex had met in person, and it was great to have Kayleigh and Sam from Outlandish with us on the Thursday and Friday.
Presenting to the Board (and the rest of the management team) MoodleNet’s quarterly review report.
Overseeing the hooking-up of the backend and frontend development. It’s going well.
Prototyping and reconfiguring some of the user experience for MoodleNet. It was great to be able to connect with Matt from Outlandish, who was back in London, for some of this.
Eating a lot of vegetarian and vegan food, which was great.
Meeting Alex Castaño for the first time in Barcelona! Hannah and I also took the opportunity to go out for tapas with him and his girlfriend, Laia at El Nacional.
Working on an update to the MoodleNet overview slide deck. This is now at v0.8 and, thanks to some feedback from the community, serves as a non-technical introduction. We’ll direct more technical queries towards our wiki and GitLab repos.
Discussing approaches to compliance with DMCA, DPIA, GDPR, and other four-letter acronyms with Carlo Polizzi.
Trying to figure out some of the issues we’ve discovered in the Pleroma codebase around ActivityPub and the way they’ve approached development using Elixir.
Meeting with Martin Dougiamas to give an update on progress with MoodleNet.
Checking-in with Outlandish on their work around front-end development. The login and sign-up screens are ready (including validation) and we’ll be testing the sign-up process with users in November. In addition they’ve been continuing to update the style guide and the community and collection elements.
Sending outIssue #318 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. This one was called ‘Blisters a-go-go’. Today’s newsletter is delayed due to something I discuss below! Thanks to those who make Thought Shrapnel possible via their support on Patreon.
AskingMary Cooch some questions about the existing moodle.net service for an interview to be featured in an upcoming blog post.
Contributing to the Culture Champs organisation of Wellbeing Week (next week!)
Investigating who we could hire to do security testing of MoodleNet pre-MVP.
Meeting with Emilio Lozano to discuss approaches to project management.
Writing a post on the new technical area of the MoodleNet blog about our decision to use Elixir (Alex’s post based on Mayel’s docs)
Recording, editing and releasing Episode 110 of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast with my co-host Dai Barnes. We entitled this episode ‘Coaching and bullshit’, discussing career advice, coaching, the ‘lower left’, a bullshit receptivity scale, post-truth, walking, Google activity controls, and more!
Meeting with my co-op colleagues to plan upcoming gigs. Amongst other things, we’ve started on a comic to explain how to setup a room for remote participation!
Update: Check out Kayleigh’s more comprehensive post on this at the Outlandish blog!
I wanted to take a moment to record a great twist that Outlandish made to the now-classic Google Ventures design sprint.
The week-long process, as documented in The Sprint Book, requires a ‘decision-maker’ with authority to sign things off. The reasoning?
Without a Decider, decisions won’t stick. If your Decider can’t join the entire sprint, have her appoint a delegate who can
On the very first day of the recent MoodleNet design sprint, Outlandish introduced us to a way of making decisions without recourse to a single person. That process is sociocracy (or ‘dynamic governance’) and something that, as a co-operative, Outlandish uses on a daily basis.
Here’s how it works:
Appoint a Chair and Note-taker
Agree time boundary
Test for consent
Draw out concerns
Resolve one group at a time
Test for consent on each resolution
Repeat until consent is gained
In practice, over the week-long design sprint, it was more like:
Invite proposal (e.g. “MoodleNet should use the same colour scheme as Moodle core”)
Clarifying round (e.g. “Do you mean the exact same colour orange?”)
Draw out concerns (e.g. “I’m concerned that people will get confused between our products”)
Test for consent (e.g. “I don’t have any critical concerns”)
Invite new proposal (e.g. “MoodleNet should use similar brand guidelines to Moodle core”)
There are several benefits to this process, which becomes quicker and more natural the more times you do it:
The group gets used to giving consent despite having small concerns
‘Critical’ concerns from individuals can lead to modified (and improved) proposals
The group can quickly move forward without getting stuck on opinions
I’ve read quite a bit about sociocracy in theory, but it was so good to see the approach working in practice. Not only did it make the week more democractic, but it actually accelerated things! The Outlandish team got us testing on Thursday instead of Friday, which meant we spent a day iterating and focusing on next steps.
In the early days of new ‘disruptive’ technologies (see MOOCs, blockchain, Open Badges…) the rhetoric is always about how one thing will replace something else, democratise a system, and/or reduce costs. While the latter is usually true, unfortunately what tends to happen is that existing power dynamics, far from being disrupted, are reinforced.
I’m thinking about these things after conversations with a whole range of people about Project MoodleNet — including one with Stephen Downes yesterday. There’s no such thing as a neutral system, so every time you design a new technology-based system, you’re designing to reinforce or subvert existing power structures.
Take, for example, private schools and elite universities. There’s a vested interest for almost everyone in their ecosystem to maintain their status. After all, if the reputation of the school or university is tarnished, the value of the credential earned by an individual from that institution could be reduced by implication.
That reduction in a credential’s value wouldn’t be so significant if the time for which it is deemed relevant were shorter than, say, a lifetime. I earned a doctorate from a top-tier university just over five years ago, a Masters degree fifteen years ago, and a Bachelor of Arts degree a year before that. At what point should these be deemed to have ‘expired’. Should they? It’s an interesting question, and may depend on discipline.
Back to designing technological systems, and the immediate and pressing question is over how to gain traction. The easiest way of doing this, of course, is to appeal to existing and entrenched privilege. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours: I’ll give you privileged status in my new system if you allow me to lean on your existing reputation.
What’s the opposite of that? Well, I guess it’s the approach that was attempted in the early days of Open Badges. In other words, create an ecosystem that puts everyone on an equal playing field, and see what happens. Interestingly, while the existing status quo (awarding bodies, universities, professional organisations) have used it to shore-up their position, there’s also new players.
Ideally, I’d like Project MoodleNet to work for everyone. I’d like the teacher in a developing country with few resources to be able to get the same amount of kudos and recognition as the educator in an elite university. The difficulty, of course, is designing a system that doesn’t feel like it’s stacked in favour of one over the other…
At the end of every year since 2010 I have, to the greatest extent possible, disappeared back into the analogue world to recharge. This has been known as Belshaw Black Ops after Paul Lewis decided that just calling it a ‘hiatus’ wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll enough.
I’ve greatly appreciated these periods away from social media, blogging, and personal email as a time when I can be ‘more myself’. Why, then, a few people have asked me, didn’t I continue this routine at the end of 2017? The simple answer is that I’ve achieved the kind of balance that means it didn’t feel necessary.
There are a number of factors here:
Switching from Twitter to social.coop half-way through the year. Given that I still get the most-shared stuff from my Twitter network filtering through to me via Nuzzel, that’s been a revelation.
Looking after myself a bit better health-wise, including deciding to follow a mostly plant-based diet, starting running again, and taking supplements such as multivitamins, high doses of Vitamin D, and L-Theanine.
Enjoying the sunnier weather where I live (it makes a difference!)
Prioritising what’s important in my life. I find reading Stoic philosophy every morning helps greatly in that regard.
Today is my first day back as an employee. I’m working for Moodle, makers of the world’s largest (open source!) learning platform. I’m working four days per week leading an innovation project for them aimed at creating a new open social media platform for educators, focused on professional development and open content. I’ll still be consulting through We Are Open Co-op.
It was my birthday just before Christmas, and I’ve now spent most of my thirties working from home. There’s benefits and drawbacks to doing so, but the main upside for me is much more control over my schedule. I’ll still have a lot of autonomy at Moodle, so I anticipate that, while I’ll be away during the summer, there won’t be a need for Belshaw Black Ops in 2018, either.
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.
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!
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: email@example.com
Photo of the west windows of the Sagrada Família taken by me last Sunday, around 16:30.
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.
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.
The ‘Different Learners’ Myth – “Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net generation –they learn differently from older people”.
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.”
The ‘Motivation Mistake’ – “Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.”
The ‘Mount Everest’ Fallacy – “We must use technology because it is there!”
The ‘More is Better’ Mythology – “If some technology is a good thing, then more must be better.
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.
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:
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!
Earlier this year, when Twitter changed their terms and conditions, I resolved to spend more time on Mastodon, the decentralised social network. In particular, I’ve been hanging out at social.coop, which I co-own with the other users of the instance.
Today, I deleted all 77.5k of my tweets using Cardigan, an open source tool named after the Swedish band The Cardigans (and their 90s hit ‘Erase/Rewind’):
Yes, I said it’s fine before
But I don’t think so no more
I said it’s fine before
I’ve changed my mind, I take it back
Erase and rewind ‘Cause I’ve been changing my mind
Why delete all my tweets? Because I’m sick of feeling like a slow-boiled frog. Twitter have updated their terms and conditions again, and now this service that used to be on the side of liberty is becoming a tool for the oppressor, the data miner, the quick-buck-making venture capitalist.
I’m out. I’ll continue posting links to my work, but that’s it. Consider it an alternative to my RSS feeds.
Deleting my tweets was a pretty simple process: I simply downloaded my Twitter archive and then upload it into Cardigan. This enabled me to delete all my tweets, not just the last 3,200.
The upside of doing this is that I could take my Twitter archive and upload it to a subdomain under my control, in this case twitter.dougbelshaw.com. All of my tweets are preserved in a really nicely-searchable way. Kudos to Twitter for making that so easy.
In addition, I realised that deleting my Twitter ‘likes’ (I’ll always call them ‘favourites’) was probably a good idea — all 31.4k of them. They’re not much use to me, but they can be data mined in some pretty scary ways, if Facebook is anything to go by.
I used Fav Cleaner(note: this service auto-tweets once on your behalf) to delete my Twitter likes/favourites. It’s limited to deleting 3,204 at a time, so I’ve left it running on a pinned tab and am returning to it periodically to set it off again. I may need to use something like Unfav.me as well.
To finally do this feels quite liberating. As a consultant, I often point out to clients when they’re exhibiting tendencies towards the sunk cost fallacy. In this case, I was showing signs myself! Just because using Twitter has been of (huge) value for me in the past, doesn’t mean it will be, or in the same way, in future.
Postscript: at the time of writing, Twitter’s still showing me as having tweeted a grand total of 67 tweets. However, it seems my timeline actually nly features one tweet; something I retweeted back in 2016 — and can’t seem to un-retweet. I think it’s oddly fitting:
Just because I have a parochial viewpoint and no internal data doesn’t mean I don’t have a strong opinion on Twitter’s business strategy.
This morning, Robin Dewar, a freshly-minted supporter of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter, got in touch to ask me some advice. What article(s) should he point his team towards to help them improve their use of email?
I realised that there wasn’t one blog post to rule them all, so instead I took the opportunity to go back through relevant articles I’d saved to Pocket. I removed any that were vendor-specific (e.g. Google, Microsoft) and ones that included tips as part of a wider ‘make your life more productive’ article.
The result, which I’ll continue to add to, can be found on my wiki, divided into the following sections:
In praise of email
Dealing with colleagues and bosses
Dealing with difficult emails
All told, there’s almost 50 articles in there. I’ve chosen my top 10 tips to feature in this post:
1. Turn off notifications
It is absolutely ridiculous that we allow Outlook to check email every 5 minutes, allow our phone to get push messages, or keep a Gmail tab open all the time. This is absolutely killing us in terms of productivity. In 90% of all cases we don’t need to know immediately that there is a new message. Segmenting our email checking time into 2, 4, or 8 times a day has massive benefits. We greatly reduce task-switching penalties, and removing the alerts so we’re not tempted goes a huge way. (Joshua Lyman)
2. Prepare, but don’t send emails on Sunday evening
Sunday is definitely a day for relaxing, but if you’re often overwhelmed come Monday morning, logging in briefly Sunday evening may help you alleviate some of that Monday mania. You don’t need to make calls or even answer emails—simply assess what your Monday game plan will be, and you’ll sleep a little more soundly. (Inc. via Lifehacker)
3. Be concise
Write shorter emails. What is the 1 main thing you want to communicate? Say it concisely. The shorter your emails, the shorter their response tends to be. It saves everyone time. (George Kao)
4. Tell your boss what you’re going to do, and then what you’ve done
I’m convinced 95% of cubicle workers who work over 60 hours a week constantly can cut it down to 40-45 hours by sending 2 emails a week to their boss:
Email #1: What you plan on getting done this week
Email #2: What you actually got done this week
That’s it. These 2 emails will prevent you from working 60 hours a week, while improving your relationship with your boss and getting the best work you’ve ever done. (Robbie Abed)
5. Communicate facts by email and emotion face-to-face
…if you’ve got great news that will get everyone stoked up, it will be more effective and create more positive energy if you deliver it in person. A group meeting to announce a big sales win, for example, is like an instant celebration. By contrast, an email announcing the same win seems a bit like an afterthought. Similarly, if you’ve got bad news or criticism, it will be better received, and more likely to be helpful, if it’s delivered in person. If you use email, it will seem like you don’t care or that you’re cowardly. (Lifehacker)
6. Have multiple channels to message people
Perhaps unsurprisingly, CEOs often point to Slack for helping them cut back on superfluous email back-and-forth so they can give priority to the fewer internal emails to do trade with their teams. Some execs recommend other tools for diverting conversations away from their inboxes, from video-conferencing system Zoom to project-management platforms like Wrike and Trello. (Fast Company)
7. Be positive
Be positive & friendly. Emails can quickly build, or erode, relationships. I always try to come across as encouraging and kind, and start or end my emails with something appreciative about the recipient or the situation. For example, “I appreciate your thoughtful message here.” or “Hoping the rest of your week goes well!” Think of the primary purpose of emails you write to be relational (improving trust and camaraderie in relationships) and secondarily transactional (asking/answering questions, proposing ideas, etc.) (George Kao)
8. Treat emails as if they’re postcards
We live in a time when hackers hack for no good reason whatsoever. We also interact with other humans, who may accidentally stumble on an email left open or snoop because they suck at respecting privacy. Whatever the case may be, when you write something you commit it to a nearly permanent record—at least, once you hit send. If you don’t want other people to know your inner-most thoughts, think twice before sending them to someone. You never know where they may end up. (Awkward Human)
9. Avoid techno-productivism
By focusing relentlessly on making specific tasks or operations easier and faster, instead of stepping back and trying to understand how to make an organization as a whole maximally effective, we’ve ended with a knowledge work culture in which people spend the vast majority of their time trying to keep up with the very inboxes, devices and channels that were conceived for the exact opposite purpose — to liberate more time for more valuable efforts. (Cal Newport)
10. Sign off with ‘thanks in advance’
Among closings seen at least 1,000 times in our study, “thanks in advance” ended up correlating with the highest response rate, which makes sense, as the email’s recipient is being thanked specifically for a response which has yet to be written. There’s a bit of posturing involved with this closing, but it turns out it works pretty well. But no matter how you express your thanks, doing so certainly appears to be your best bet in closing an email if you want a response. (Boomerang blog)
If you’re into upping your game around email-based productivity, you’re going to love my new audiobook. Thanks in advance for investing in it… 😉