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Weeknote 51/2017

It feels weird to be writing a 51st weeknote of the year, as usually I’ve gone on ‘Belshaw Black Ops’, forsaking social media and blogging for the last month (or two) of the year. This time around, I haven’t felt that I’ve needed to, which I suppose is a good thing.

Anyway, this week I’ve been:

Next week it’s Christmas! I’m not working until Tuesday 2nd January, when I start my new four day a week role with Moodle. I’m still available for consultancy one day a week, most of which I’ll be doing through We Are Open Co-op.


Featured image of a 3D-printed Christmas decoration taken by me earlier this week!

Weeknote 50/2017

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’m working four days (Monday-Thursday) from home on the MoodleNet white paper. It’s my birthday on Friday, so I’ll be eating mince pies, drinking whisky, and playing FIFA 18 instead of working.


Photo of Clayton Hotel, Ballsbridge (where I stayed in Dublin) taken by me on Thursday night.

Come and get involved with the MoodleNet community!

TL;DR: I’m leading a new project called MoodleNet that is currently described as “a new open social media platform for educators, focussed on professional development and open content”.


I don’t know about you, but I like getting involved with projects on the ‘ground floor’, so to speak. Figuring things out excites me, as does taking a bunch of possibilities and figuring out a way forward. It’s with this in mind that I’d like to invite you to get involved with a new project I’m leading: MoodleNet.

MoodleNet ecosystem

It’s really early days and, in fact, we’re still figuring out what MoodleNet actually is. Suffice to say that Martin Dougiamas, Founder and CEO of Moodle, sold me on it enough that I’ve agreed to spend four days per week on it from January 2018. One way he’s described it is as, “a new open social media platform for educators, focussed on professional development and open content”. Sounds good to me!

If you’ve been involved in any of the work I’ve helped establish before, such as Open Badges or the Web Literacy Map, then I want you to know that you’re very welcome as part of this new project I’m leading. So are those who are entirely new to this way of working! As you’d expect, we’ll be working entirely in the open, making progress with a combination of community input, business priorities, and decisions taken by Moodle HQ.

Job one is to write a white paper that helps tell the story of what MoodleNet could be. I loved the approach Erin Knight took with the original Open Badges for Lifelong Learning working paper, where she explained how badges could help in various scenarios. I need help in defining those scenarios for MoodleNet .

No matter whether you’ve got ten minutes, ten hours, or ten days to contribute to the MoodleNet project, your time and experience is valued. I’d love it if you could check out the work so far, introduce yourself in the MoodleNet forums, and perhaps help out with white paper. Thank you in advance!


Some people may wonder what  taking on this new role as MoodleNet Lead means for my consultancy business, Dynamic Skillset — and for the co-operative I co-founded, We Are Open.

This opportunity to lead an open-source project that could help so many educators and learners was too good to pass up! I’ve really enjoyed full-time consultancy with a range of clients, but it’s time to get my teeth into something longer-term.

Given that I’ll be working four days per week with Moodle, I still have scope for additional consultancy and working through the co-op. Feel free to get in touch as usual! It’s just that now my time will just be even more precious than usual, and I’ll have to lean on my co-op colleagues to a greater degree.

Weeknote 49/2017

This was another one of those weeks that doesn’t make much sense to capture in bullet-point form, so instead I’ll go for paragraphs. Also, people seemed to like my roundup of the CoTech retreat last week that featured a lot of images, so I’ll do the same in this one.


Last Friday, I flew to Amsterdam with my wife. We’d planned the trip in the summer, deciding that this year we wouldn’t just talk about going somewhere in December, but actually book it. Initially, we thought about going to a Christmas market in a German, Czech, or Polish city, but after finding out about the Amsterdam Light Festival, decided to go there instead.

Amsterdam canal boats

We actually went to Amsterdam reasonably recently – three years ago, for a delayed celebration of our 10th wedding anniversary. As we’d did the ‘touristy’ things then, we were freed up to do other things this time around. That being said, we still did lots, which meant that I didn’t get any time to put together a newsletter.

Beer or Rain?

My wife and I stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station. It’s a great location, and a nice hotel. The room was quiet, the beds were comfortable, and the staff were very friendly. The breakfast buffet was one of the best I’ve seen – and as regular readers know, I’ve travelled to a fair few places in North America and Europe over the past few years. My only complaint would be the lack of attention by staff at breakfast, and the NOISE. I can’t stand having my eardrums attacked as I’m still getting used to a new day.

Amsterdam Festival of Light

The theme of the Festival of Light this year is ‘Existential’ which, as a Philosophy graduate, was right up my street. We took a guided canal boat trip which featured several artworks by artists from around the world. I loved the idea of the image of a lighthouse being projected onto the side of a museum, as being the inverse of its function. Also, the ‘black hole’, seemingly sucking you into one of the tunnels was great – as was the waveform that responded to the sound made by the boats underwater.

Shopping in the Jordaan district, Amsterdam

The rest of the time we wandered around the Jordaan district, and in particular the ‘nine streets’ famous for their quirky little shops. Thanks to Foursquare, we ate and drank at some great places, including Mata Hari, Back to Black, and Kessens. Even the restaurant at the hotel was enjoyable, which, I have to say, is unusual.

Amsterdam canal houses

In a spectacular example of serendipity, a few weeks ago Jeroen de Boer, Innovation Advisor at Bibliotheekservice Fryslân got in touch to ask if there was any chance I was free for a weekin December to work with his team. As a result, I moved a couple of things around meaning that, when my wife flew home on Sunday night, I headed to Leeuwarden in the north of the Netherlands to work with a group of librarians.

Leeuwarden

In Leeuwarden, I stayed at the Post Plaza hotel. It was converted a couple of years ago from the old Post Office and Bank, with the two connected via a glass walkway. It’s a beautiful hotel, and one with a rich history that was told to us by a tour guide who led us around the city on Thursday night.

Post Plaza, Leeuwarden

During the Second World War, the Post Office was occupied by German soldiers, who intended to blow it up as the Allies were close. They didn’t want the Allies to be able to use the building for communications, so placed 72 bombs in the basement. As some of the postal workers were part of the Resistance, they hatched a plan to replace all of the bombs with fake ones of the same weight, created by comrades who previously specialised in fake passports. When the time came, the Germans lit the fuse, and… nothing!

Bibliotheekservice Fryslan

Bibliotheekservice Fryslân is a provincial library service who have won awards for their innovative work. With perhaps the exception of the staff of London CLC, I’ve rarely worked with a team who are simultaneously so dedicated and friendly. I had a great week. We spent our time building a plan for them to start issuing Open Badges based on my work around digital literacies. It’s very humbling when you see your work being used in a language other than which you created it.

Kennissessie Digitale Geletterdheid

The week was kicked off by an event on Monday open to those across the province. Ilona Kish, Director of Public Libraries 2020, and EU-funded project, was a speaker at the event, as was I. Our presentations provoked discussion and a workshop in the afternoon for a smaller group, which I led.

Why does it matter? (Ilona Kish presentation)

On Tuesday, I had some time to myself, and then met with Jeroen and Marc Coenders, professor at the local university of Applied Sciences. We had a long and interesting discussion about the overlaps between our work.

FryksLab

Wednesday was a long day, with several of the Bibliotheekservice Fryslân, two ‘makers’ they work with, and me driving all the way to Middelburg in Zeeland for a ‘FabTable‘ event in their library’s makerspace. They also took the FryskLab, a mobile library turned into mobile FabLab! I presented on digital literacies and badges, then we headed home again, arriving back after midnight.

Doing the work with Post-it notes, Bibliotheekservice Fryslân

On Thursday and Friday we had some time to go into depth with staff at Bibliotheekservice Fryslân and other partner library services about digital literacies and Open Badges. I appreciated the trust that the group put in me, after I explained that coming up with a rigid agenda would suit nobody. Instead, I adapted what we did to their interests and energy levels, leading them through a range of activities.

Post-it notes, Bibliotheekservice Fryslân

By 15:00 on Friday, we’d covered all but two of the things that the group had said they wanted to achieve, and even they were in progress. Bibliotheekservice Fryslân has a plan around a sort of ‘manifesto’ for Digital Librarianship, together with some badges which designed for five personas we developed during our time together.

Personas created by Doing the work with Post-it notes, Bibliotheekservice Fryslân staff and illustrated by Edward Kobus

I felt very looked-after during my time in Leeuwarden, and look forward to potentially returning at some point in the future to help them with their project. It’s a beautiful city and, in fact, will be European Capital of Culture in 2018. If you’re reading this, then you should consider going to visit!

KLM flight home

I’m back home now, after getting a train from Leeuwarden to Schipol Airport via Zwolle, flying to Newcastle and then getting a taxi home. Travel, plus the intensity of this week’s work has meant that the only other thing of substance I’ve done is curate and send out Badge News #23, which is the last one of 2017. It features a round-up of the most clicked-on links of the year.

Next week, I’m working from home from Monday to Wednesday, then in Dublin on Thursday and Friday. Monday is all about meetings and writing, Tuesday and Wednesday I’m focusing on researching and writing the MoodleNet white paper, and then on Thursday and Friday I’m hanging out with Moodle colleagues Gavin Henrick, Mary Cooch, and Garnet Berry. That’s the last travel for me before Christmas!


Fabulous illustrations by Edward Kobus (used with permission). Disappointing photos solely my own responsibility.


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

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: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


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: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


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 opensource.com

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: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


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

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