Tag: Moodle

Moodling around with a Jetpack metaphor

I’m busy ideating, and talking to people around, Project MoodleNet. When you’re explaining something that doesn’t yet exist, you’ve got to use touchstones and metaphors, starting from where people are to help them understand where you want to go.

Project MoodleNet landscape

In these discussions I’ve been using three things to help me:

  1. A great ‘landscape’ image from Bryan Mathers (see above)
  2. The 3D printing social network Thingiverse (which I wrote about here)
  3. The Jetpack plugin for WordPress

It’s worth, I think, unpacking the third of these — if only so I’ve got a public URL to point people towards when I reference it elsewhere! It’s an imperfect metaphor, as it involves more technical understanding than we’ll require for Project MoodleNet.

Anyway, here goes…

WordPress and Moodle are similar

  • Free (as in freedom)
  • Open Source
  • Host your own version
  • Have it hosted for you
  • Partnership network

How Jetpack works

Jetpack is a meta-plugin, a ‘plugin of plugins’ that adds lots of functionality to self-hosted instances of WordPress. In fact, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to activate Jetpack if you’re self-hosting. It connects your instance to your wordpress.com account, giving you:

  • Faster page loading (via CDN)
  • Additional security
  • Detailed site stats
  • Faster logins
  • Payment integration

Install Jetpack

Where’s the value for the organisation behind WordPress?

So lots of value for users, but (you may think), what’s in it for Automattic, the organisation behind WordPress? Well…

  • Secure, fast WordPress sites maintain brand value
  • Better metrics around installation numbers
  • Ability to upsell to customers direct from dashboard

Jetpack dashboard

Why is this a good metaphor for what we’re doing?

Project MoodleNet will be a standalone social network for educators focused on professional development and open content. It can be supercharged, however, by using a similar model to what WordPress have done with Jetpack.

Imagine users logging into a institutionally-hosted Moodle instance using their Project MoodleNet credentials because the two are connected in a similar way to how Jetpack works for the WordPress ecosystem.

To be clear, I’m not proposing that Project MoodleNet offers the same services as Jetpack, I’m saying that it serves as an example where you can create value in two places and additional value by linking them together.

This would mean…

  • Teachers: professional social networking within their existing learning platform.
  • Instructional designers: faster access to curated open resources.
  • Sysadmins: better security and potentially reduced hosting costs.

(if you’re wondering about ‘reduced hosting costs’ it’s because we’re tentatively looking at how IPFS could be used in the wider Moodle ecosystem)


This isn’t a perfect metaphor by any means, and so I’m looking for other ways to explain what we’re trying to achieve. However, the combination of Bryan’s image, referencing Thingiverse, and explaining JetPack is helping those I’m talking with to understand the kind of thing we’re trying to build.

What kind of metaphor would you use?

Main image CC BY-NC Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

Final steps in my GDPR journey

After being away for a couple of weeks in Australia and the USA, I’m back home. It’s time, therefore, to finish off the Futurelearn course I started around Understanding the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

It’s a four-week course, and I’ve written about what I’ve learned over the past three weeks’ worth of material in the following posts:

What follows, therefore, is about the final week — entitled ‘Responsibilities, liabilities and penalties’. I’m digging into in this area because I’m leading the  MoodleNet project. However, I’m writing here instead of on the project blog as I’m still coming to grips with all that GDPR means in practice.

I like the way that the course organisers frame the final section of this course:

As individuals or natural persons, you should know that most of the activities that you daily perform, all the forms that you are asked to fill in and most of the technology that you use on a daily basis leave a trail of personal data behind. Collecting data, analysing and linking different databases create the possibility to learn very personal information about you and obtain details about your life and life of those who you care about. More than you would have ever thought. More than you even remember. To give but one example: 4 pictures of you placed on the Internet allow facial recognition programs to find you again when crossing the street. Given this situation, you need protection.

Supervisory bodies

As per the title of this week’s course title, the focus is all about how GDPR will be enforced:

These enforcement mechanisms include a number of measures and instruments:

  • The establishment of national supervisory authorities (and the Lead Supervisory Authority in case of cross-border data transfers) and of the European Data Protection Board (Chapter 6);
  • Arrangements to streamline legal compliance, including codes of conduct (Article 40), data protection certifications (Article 42), binding corporate rules (Article 47) and standard (contractual) data protection clauses (Article 46);
  • Rights of data subjects, including the right to lodge a complaint and the right to an effective judicial remedy (Chapter VIII);
  • A multi-layered mechanism to protect the transfer of personal data of EU citizens outside the EU (Chapter V);
  • Liabilities and sanctions for violation of laws (Chapter VIII);
  • The role of Member States in compliance and implementation.

The EU provides a way to ensure local colour and context is respected, while enforcing a European-wide framework. The aim is to prevent safe havens for bad actors:

Each national supervisory authority is empowered to monitor any data processing activity that takes place within its territory (jurisdiction). It is also charged with the task to monitor any data processing activities that target data subjects residing in its territory, even in those situations where the activities are carried out by non-EU data controllers or processors. However, since in an online environment data does not always respect borders, the territorial jurisdiction of a national supervisory authority is not always clear cut.

As a result:

For avoiding situations in which more than one national supervisory authority are competent, the GDPR has introduced the legal concept of the lead supervisory authority or LSA.

When national supervisory authorities realise that a case brought before them has a cross-border dimension… they refer the case to the LSA which decides if it will handle the case or not within three weeks. Article 56 GDPR provides that the lead supervisory authority for cross-border processing of data will be the authority that is competent to supervise the entity engaged in data processing of individuals in different countries or, the authority competent to supervise the main establishment of the data controller or processor in case this has different establishments in several Member States.

So taking the example of the UK (where I live) there’s a national supervisory authority which is then subject to the lead supervisory authority. That, in turn, is subject to the European Data Protection Board:

To ensure the consistent application of the GDPR throughout the EU an important role will be played by the European Data Protection Board (the Board).

Even though the denomination looks new, the Board in itself is the continuation of the existing Article 29 Working Party which was established under the old Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC.


The old Article 29 Working Party was often criticised for not adequately consulting stakeholders before taking decisions. In reaction to this criticism, the Board is required to consult interested parties where appropriate. This would of course benefit data controllers or processors that might be affected by the decisions adopted.

So it sounds like the EU have learned their lesson:

Similarly with the Article 29 Working Party, the Board is composed of the heads of national supervisory authorities and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), or their representatives. The EDPS’s voting powers are restricted to those decisions that would be applicable to the EU institutions.

The Board also includes a representative of the European Commission who, however, does not have a right to vote so as to ensure the independence of the Board. There seems to be an implicit suggestion that the European Commission has exercised too much influence over the Article 29 Working Party in the past and the GDPR wants to ensure that this will not be the case in the future.

There’s some great provisions in the GDPR but I have to wonder just how quickly some of the decisions and actions will be taken:

Together with the establishment of the Lead Supervisory Authority presented in the previous step, the consistency mechanism is intended to avoid such situations. When it is clear that the decision of a supervisory authority will have an EU-wide impact, or when a request comes from a national supervisory authority, the Chair of the European Data Protection Board or from the European Commission, the Board issues a non-binding decision on a specific case. The national supervisory authority dealing with the case shall take utmost account of the decision of the Board or shall inform the Board in the case in which it does not intend to follow its opinion.

Codes of conduct

Part of any compliance system involves self-regulation, and the GDPR is no different. I like the ‘code of conduct’ approach in this regard:

For controllers and processors, codes of conduct are an important tool for achieving legal compliance and creating evidence to support this. Member states’ supervisory authorities, the board, and the commission encourage drafting codes of conduct. Such codes of conduct can be prepared, amended, or extended by associations and other bodies representing categories of controllers and processors. Codes of conduct need to include measures specifying the application of the GDPR, This includes, for example, the collection and pseudonymisation of personal data, exercise of data subjects’ rights, and notification of a data breach. Codes of conduct contain mechanisms that enable supervisory authorities to carry out mandatory monitoring of compliance. Drafts, amendments, or extensions of codes of conduct need to be submitted to the supervisory authority for approval.

Companies and other organisations have to ‘walk the walk’, though, and not just have their documentation in place:

Apart from supervisory authorities, other competent bodies with an appropriate level of expertise and accreditation can also monitor compliance with codes of conduct. Drafting codes of conduct is one thing. Committing to them is another. It is important in the sense that it can provide evidence that controllers and processors comply with the GDPR. This not only counts for controllers and processors within the EU, but also for those who are not subject to the GDPR in order to provide appropriate data protection safeguards.

Binding corporate rules

One way of moving beyond a code of conduct is for large, multi-national organisations to implement ‘binding corporate rules’:

Binding corporate rules (BCRs) are internal rules adopted by multinational groups of companies. They define the group’s global policy with regard to the international transfers of personal data to companies within the same group that are located in countries which do not provide an adequate level of protection. They are legally binding and approved by the competent supervisory authority in accordance with the consistency mechanism.

These rules are beneficial for the organisation (efficiency / consistency), for the EU (compliance) and for the end user (transparency).

The GDPR allows for personal data to be transferred outside the EU, but not just anywhere:

As a general rule, transfers of personal data to countries outside the European Economic Area may take place if these countries are deemed to ensure an adequate level of data protection.

Article 45 GDPR provides that the third countries’ level of personal data protection is assessed by the European Commission. According to the GDPR, the Commission’s adequacy decision may be limited also to specific territories or to more specific sectors within a country. A current list of countries that have been evaluated as having an adequate level of data protection can be found here.

The example given in the course is of Japan, which isn’t currently listed as having adequate protections. However:

Personal data can be transferred to a third country even in the absence of an adequacy decision:

(i) if the controller or processor exporting the data has himself provided for appropriate safeguards; and

(ii) on the condition that enforceable data subject rights and effective legal remedies are available in the given country.

At the end of the day, it’s the organisation’s responsibility as the data controller to comply wih the GDPR:

In accordance with the provisions in Chapter VIII, controllers and processors are legally liable for damages caused by data processing activities which infringe the GDPR. A controller is liable for all damages caused by processing activities. A processor is liable for not complying with its obligations or for acting outside or contrary to lawful instructions of a controller. A data subject who has suffered material or non-material damages as a result of a violation of the GDPR has the right to receive compensation for damages…


So now we get to the interesting part. What can the EU actually do about GDPR infringement?

According to Article 83 GDPR, the fines may, depending on the infringed provision of the GDPR, amount to a maximum of 20 million Euros, or, if this is a higher amount, to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of an undertaking. For example, a failure to implement the data protection by design and by default is subject to a maximum fine of only 10 million Euros or 2% of the total worldwide annual turnover of an undertaking. On the other hand, violating the basic principles of data processing, including the conditions for obtaining a valid consent as well as non-compliance with a supervisory authority’s order may result in the highest fine of 20 million Euros or 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover.

That’s obviously a lot of money, but it’s a sliding scale:

What the amount of a fine will be at the end will depend on the nature, gravity and duration of the infringement as well as on its character – if there was intention or negligence from the undertaking. The supervisory authority must ensure that the administrative fines would be in each specific case proportionate to the infringement and at the same time also effective and dissuasive. As a result, not all infringements of the GDPR will lead to those serious fines mentioned above.

The good thing, however, is that the fines are calculated on global revenues, rather than just the amount the organisation makes in the EU:

Once the GDPR becomes applicable, the impact of a fine on data controllers and processors, even if not reaching the maximum amount established in Article 83 GDPR, could be significant. Also, in those situations in which a global organisation has only a small establishment in the territory of the European Union, or is completely based in third countries but it targets the processing of personal data of EU citizens, the fine would be based on the total worldwide annual turnover. Thus, following the data protection rules as established by the GDPR should be taken seriously both by EU and foreign organisations.


I’m hopeful that the GDPR is going to help the legal system catch up with some of the technology that’s permeated our lives over the last couple of decades. Time will tell, of course…

Image by the Latvian State Chancellery used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

Weeknote 01/2018

So here we are! The first weeknote of 2018. You know the drill.

This week I’ve been:

  • Celebrating the New Year. I spent Christmas at home with just my wife and children, but we went down to Devon to the in-laws for New Year and had a great time.
  • Redesigning Thought Shrapnel, which is now not only a weekly newsletter, but also a blog! I think you’ll agree that Bryan Mathers did a great job with the logo. Read more about that here. You can become a supporter to show your appreciation for this work, and to ensure it continues!
  • Returning to life as an employee! As I mentioned before Christmas, I’m leading a new innovation project for Moodle. This involves working for them four days per week, and I can do so from home (with a bit of travel). So in a sense, lots has changed, and nothing at all. Note I’m still doing some consultancy, mostly through We Are Open co-op.
  • Meeting with Moodle colleague Tom Murdock about various things.
  • Introducing myself on the forum for the upcoming Learn Moodle Basics course. It’s been a few years since I used Moodle, so I thought I’d get back up-to-speed along with Mary Cooch and the community!
  • Working a short week due to New Year’s Day on Monday. My ‘Doug day’ (or, more likely, ‘consultancy / admin / catch-up-with-all-the-things day’) is likely to be Fridays, most weeks. This time around it was full of admin and my children begging me to play with them instead, — as they don’t go back to school until next week.
  • Sorting out various things as Secretary of the Executive Committee for 6th Morpeth Scouts.  I’m trying to streamline some stuff around meetings, calendaring, etc.
  • Facepalming at Dell, who want to charge me over £900 to fix a my less than one-year old XPS 13 laptop which has a threaded screw in the base. This is causing it come apart near the screen. As a result of their greed and poor customer service, I’ve used duct tape to patch it up as best I can, and bought a £60 battery to resurrect my Lenovo X220. I prefer the keyboard on the latter anyway, and in fact I’m using it to type this!
  • Writing:

Next week I’m at home all week, and celebrating my daughter’s birthday towards the end of it. I’ll be in London twice this month, the week after next for a co-op meetup, and then the week after that, I’ll be at BETT on the Friday.

Photo taken by me on New Years’ Day at Branscombe beach, Devon.

Why I didn’t go on ‘Belshaw Black Ops’ at the end of 2017

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Enjoying the sunnier weather where I live (it makes a difference!)
  4. Blogging in a more short-form way via Discours.es and Thought Shrapnel Live!
  5. 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.

Photo by Paul Green available under a CC0 license

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