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Weeknote 48/2017

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’m staying in the Netherlands while my wife returns home. I’m heading to Leeuwarden to do some work with Bibliotheekservice Fryslân and Koninklijke Bibliotheek around digital literacies.

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:

Photo of Amsterdam Light Festival CC BY Danny Tax

Destroying capitalism, one stately home at a time

This week, I spent Monday evening to Wednesday evening at Wortley Hall, near Sheffield, England. It’s a stately home run by a worker-owned co-op and I was there with my We Are Open colleagues for the second annual Co-operative Technologists (CoTech) gathering. CoTech is a network of UK-based co-operatives who are focused on tech and digital.

We Are Open crew

The ‘not unattractive’ We Are Open crew (Bryan, John, Laura, Doug)

Last year, at the first CoTech gathering, we were represented by John Bevan — who was actually instrumental in getting the network off the ground. This time around, not only did all four members of We Are Open attend, but one of us (Laura Hilliger) actually helped facilitate the event.

Wortley Hall ceiling

The ceilings were restored by the workers who bought the hall from a lord

I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I was delighted by the willingness of the 60+ people present to get straight into finding ways we can all work together. We made real progress over the couple of days I was there, and I was a little sad that other commitments meant I couldn’t stay until the bitter end on Thursday lunchtime.

Wortley Hall post-its

People dived straight in and started self-organising

We self-organised into groups, and the things I focused on were introducing Nextcloud as a gap in the CoTech shared services landscape, and helping define processes for using the various tools we have access to. Among the many other things that people collaborated on were sales and marketing, potentially hiring our first CoTech member of staff, games that could help people realise that they might be better working for a co-op, defining a constitution, and capturing the co-operative journeys that people have been on.

Wortley Hall - CoTech landscape

This diagram helped orient ourselves within the landscape we share

There was a lot of can-do attitude and talent in the room, coupled with a real sense that we’re doing important work that can help change the world. There’s a long history of co-operation that we’re building upon, and the surroundings of Wortley Hall certainly inspired us in our work! Our co-op will definitely be back next year, and I’m sure most of us will meet at CoTech network events again before then.

Wortley Hall plaque

Each room at Wortley Hall has been ‘endowed’ by a trade union to help with its restoration

The CoTech wiki is available here. As with all of these kinds of events, we had a few problems with the wifi which means that, at the time of publishing this post, not everything has been uploaded to the wiki. It will appear there in due course.

Wortley Hall artwork

All of the artwork was suitably left-wing and revolutionary in nature

Although there are member-only spaces (and benefits), anyone – whether currently a member of a worker-owned co-op or not – is also welcome to join the CoTech community discussion forum.

Reframing the ‘Progressive’ vs. ‘Traditionalist’ Debate in Education [DML Central]

It’s been a while, but my 38th post for DML Central has just been published. It’s my attempt to get beyond the reductionist ‘traditional’ vs. ‘progressive’ debate that currently plagues educational discourse.

An excerpt:

Ultimately, I see a lot of educators as pragmatists and carrying out a role in accordance with a “Social Efficiency” curriculum ideology. Most of the “flamewars” and unhelpful debate I’ve seen takes place between Scholar Academics and Learner Centered educators arguing over the nature of knowledge, so I’m looking forward to the day when we each understand that not everyone becomes an educator for the same reason as us.

Click here to read the article in full.

(Note: I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to comment on the original article!)

Weeknote 47/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #283 was entitled ‘Stop watching the news’. If you enjoy my newsletter, I reckon you’ll really like my Thought Shrapnel Live! where I share links (some which don’t make the cut for the newsletter) as soon as I come across them. Thought Shrapnel is made possible thanks to the awesome people who support support my work.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 93 (‘Camelizer Craftsman’) of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, which I record with Dai Barnes. This week, we discussed reframing the traditionalist vs progressive debate in education, Pearson’s land grab on badges, personalised learning, computer science, the teacher as DJ, postcapitalism, Mozilla ending its web literacy work, and more!
  • Facilitating the latest Badge Wiki barn raising. I wrote up the meeting here, and we’re due to launch on December 1st, at the European Badge Summit!
  • Working for Moodle on the early stages of MoodleNet, a new project I’m leading for them. If you follow the above link, hopefully you’ll find a way to get involved in the white paper I’m writing. I could particularly do with assistance around definin the five scenarios that form a central piece of it!
  • Curating Badge News #22 on behalf of We Are Open Co-op. This is a newsletter that keeps the Open Badges community up-to-date around the latest news in the community.
  • Visiting the only mosque in Northumberland with my son’s Scout troop. It was really interesting the way that the Imam re-framed the media narrative for these young people who, given the monoculture up here, have possibly only ever seen a Muslim on TV.
  • Buying things on ‘Black Friday’. Like everyone else. I was quite pleased that I managed to get the discount on FIFA 18 I’d been waiting for, along with a few Christmas presents.
  • Writing:

Next week I’m joining my co-op colleagues at a retreat being held at Wortley Hall by the CoTech network. I’m there from Monday night to Thursday morning. I’ll then being working on MoodleNet on Thursday and Friday, before flying to Amsterdam with my wife for a weekend of Christmas markets and the famous light festival. She flies back on Sunday, while I’ll be staying behind to do some work with the  National Library of the Netherlands.

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:

Image CC BY Michael Thomas

Pearson, WTF? Badges, patents, and the world’s ‘least popular’ education company

I was all ready to write an angry blog post about Pearson’s attempt to patent the Generation, Management, and Tracking of Digital Credentials when it came to my attention that they have closed their DRM-Free ebook store, and will now proceed to delete all ebooks from their customers’ accounts. After posting the biggest loss in their history earlier this year, I think (hope?) Pearson’s days are numbered. They’re certainly acting like it.

If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. (Bill Gates)

Instead of getting angry, however, let’s just take look at that patent for a moment. While I’m no legal expert, I’ve seen naive ‘SEO optimised’ pages repeat key words fewer times than this document repeats the words ‘digital credentials’. It almost looks like Pearson are trying too hard here to prove that they invented something they’ve only ever tried make money from.

Here’s the highlights for those people whose lives are too short to read legal documents:

  • Filing date: 25th March 2016
  • Claim 1 is for a ‘digital credential issuance system’ made up of:
    • Digital credential template owner device
    • Digital credential issuer device
    • Digital credential platform server
  • Claims 2-10 go into further detail about Claim 1.
  • Claim 11 is for a ‘method of authorizing issuers of digital credentials’ which includes receiving, storing, and transmitting a digital credential template.
  • Claims 12-20 go into further detail about Claim 11.

The ‘background’ section uses language very similar to the Open Badges for Lifelong Learning working paper published in 2012 by Mozilla. It talks about changes in technologies and society, how credentials should be available for any kind of learning, but that there are challenges around “publishing, verifying, and tracking the sets of technical skills and proficiencies that these individuals have obtained”.

Although Pearson’s patent application features the phrase ‘digital credentials’ in its title, the ‘background’ section mentions ‘digital badges’ are explicitly:

[C]ertain institutions may issue digital credentials (or digital badges) to qualifying individuals, and these digital credential earners may use the digital credentials to certify the skills or qualifications that the earner obtained vis-à-vis the institution.

As anyone who has paid any attention to Open Badges since the original pilot in 2011 would know, Pearson didn’t invent digital credentials, digital badges, or anything remotely innovative in the area — in 2016, or at any point after or before that. Their game is targeting and enclosing particular markets, as I pointed out  in February 2016, in a post which pre-dated this patent application.

Unlike the Salesforce patent granted earlier this year (see Open Badges community discussion), Pearson’s patent is a lot more wide-ranging. While Salesforce’s patent focuses about ‘achievements’ and requires a system that involves specific roles, recommendations, and a social network, Pearson’s is about digital credential platforms. It even includes analytics.

Now, I can understand why a struggling publicly-traded company would try to go all-out to find a way to return to profitability. That does not, however, mean that we as a community should stand for it.

The good patent gives the world something it did not truly have before, whereas the bad patent has the effect of trying to take away from the world something which it effectively already had. (Giles Sutherland Rich)

I used to be mildly amused that Pearson played in a sandpit so obviously at odds with their raison d’être. Perhaps I should have been more cynical, as they obviously are. I note, for example, that Pearson waited until Mozilla handed over stewardship of Open Badges to IMS Global Learning Consortium (who have said they will not contest the patent) before filing.

If you’re reading this and are worried about the future of Open Badges, then don’t be. Pearson have shot themselves in the foot in several ways during this process that means that either they won’t be granted this patent, or will find it almost impossible to enforce. I’m not going to enumerate all of those ways here, but they perhaps should be a bit more careful about joining W3C working groups before filing patent applications…

I’m closing comments on this post as I’d prefer people added their voice to this thread on the Open Badges Google Group. Please get involved, particularly if you know of a viable way that this can be challenged and shown up for the ridiculous posturing it is.

Image CC BY-SA

Weeknote 46/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #282 was entitled ‘Water so clear you can see to the bottom’. If you like that, you’ll love my Thought Shrapnel Live! channel on Telegram that features all the links in the newsletter and more. Thought Shrapnel is made possible thanks to my valued supporters.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 92 (‘The edge of algorithm’) of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, which I record with Dai Barnes. This week, we discussed Moodle, digital literacies, algorithmic ad-fuelled dystopias, whether the Amish have the right approach to new technologies, habit fields, and more!
  • Replacing OxygenOS on my OnePlus 5 smartphone with the fully open source LineageOS. I’d meant to do this as soon as I bought it, but there wasn’t an official build of LineageOS until a couple of months later, by which time I’d become accustomed to the slickness of OxygenOS. However, recent news of OnePlus devices phoning home and then revelations of a backdoor prompted me into action.
  • Getting started properly on leading work on MoodleNet for Moodle. I’m pretty excited about it, and will be writing a white paper over the next few weeks. I particularly enjoyed researching stuff around crypto-decentralisation on Thursday!
  • Rolling my eyes at Pearson’s attempts to patent digital credentials. I need to write an angry blog post. They’re quite possibly the world’s worst education company. I don’t know why anyone does business with them, to be quite honest. Although, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as they’ve got form.
  • Drafting a post for DML Central about some work I discovered at the Miami MoodleMoot which might (finally!) help us get beyond the progressive vs. traditionalist debate in education. You can view the draft here. Comments welcome.
  • Writing:
    • (nothing other than the DML Central draft)

Next week I’m again at home all week. On Monday I’ll be doing We Are Open co-op work and starting to plan for a week’s worth of consultancy in December for the National Library of the Netherlands. From Tuesday to Thursday I’m working for Moodle. I’m taking Friday off as a Doug day.

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:

Photo taken by me during a walk with my (recuperating) wife around Morpeth on Friday.

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:

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:

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:

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

Those who assist completion of the task

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

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:

Photo of Morpeth riverside taken by me on Friday.