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Keeping it simple

Some people have jobs that mean they need to be contacted immediately. They have occupations that require them to act quickly in critical situations.

I’d like to think what I do makes the world a slightly better place, but I can’t really think of what a true emergency would look like in my line of work.

Over the years, more and more work-related apps have crept onto my phone. It’s only when I go on holiday with a strict ‘no work’ policy that I reflect on the impact this has on my leisure time.

I’ve worked from home for the last eight years and, for the last six, in a house with a separate home office. I have the ability to literally shut the door on my work at the end of the day and go ‘home’.

Instead, work tends to follow me home through the apps on my phone; despite being relatively disciplined with notifications, I’ve slipped into an unhealthy elision of work and leisure time that diminishes both.

For the last 10 days, while I’ve been on holiday, I uninstalled or disabled all work-related apps on my phone. It’s what I usually do when I’m on holiday: all or nothing.

So far, the only work-related app I’ve re-enabled is my calendar. I’m thinking of keeping it that way.

This evening, I scrolled through the list of apps I had installed and deleted about half of them. The main things I want to use my phone for are communication, music, and short-form reading and writing. Occasionally I use it for navigation, or a contactless payment if I forget my wallet.

I do sometimes wonder what ancient Stoic philosophers would do if they were alive today. What would Marcus Aurelius do? Epictetus? Seneca? Keep it simple, I guess.


This post is Day 27 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Weeknote 30/2020

I’ve written quite a bit this week as part of my #100DaysToOffload challenge:

Over and above what’s detailed in these posts, I’ve been splitting my time between working on projects for We Are Open and Outlandish this week. For the former, my ‘home’ co-op in the CoTech network, I’ve been mainly focusing on work for Catalyst and the Social Mobility Commission. We’re working with Erica Neve and Pedram Parasmand on three contracts, helping charities who are rapidly undergoing digital transformation. We had a really successful retrospective on Friday with UpRising, who we’ve been helping in more depth.

With Outlandish, I’m helping with some productisation of similar projects they’ve worked on for a range of clients. I find this really interesting as it’s simultaneously about meeting user needs and about organisational development. I’m also advising around ways in which they can develop the workshops they offer.

I’m fortunate to work with organisations which are so emotionally intelligent, and which go out of their way to be so. One of the reasons for working with Outlandish is to give them some short-term help with project management while they’re a bit stretched. But another reason is to learn from their processes and procedures; although they’ve only been a co-op for as long as us (four years), they’ve been together and honing things for a decade.

When I was at Jisc, one thing that always impressed me was their internal knowledgebase. They used PBworks for that, while Outlandish uses a WordPress installation with a theme called KnowAll. I’ve been wanting to experiment with wiki.js and so this week Laura Hilliger and I set up an instance at wiki.weareopen.coop and copied over existing pages from our GitHub wiki. I’ve set user permissions so that only logged-in members can edit the wiki, and indeed see any pages that are ‘internal’ only.

We finally got sign-off from Greenpeace for one of the best things I think I’ve written for a while: HOWTO: Create an Architecture of Participation for your Open Source project. As Stephen Downes mentioned when mentioning it in OLDaily it’s perhaps applicable to wider contexts than just open source projects.

Other than that, I’ve just been reviewing a document Laura put together for some work we’re doing with Red Hat, doing a small amount of work for our ongoing work with Greenpeace, and contributing to a ‘playback’ of some recent work we did for Catalyst.

Next week, I’m tying up work for We Are Open on Monday, and for Outlandish on Tuesday, before turning everything off and going on a family holiday for 10 days. As my therapist said in our meeting on Friday, as I’m a bit of a perfectionist, there’s no guarantee that I will actually relax during my holiday just because I’m away from home. So I’m actively trying to cut myself some slack. I deliberately went for a slow run this morning and I even had an afternoon nap yesterday. Small steps.


Header image is a selfie I took on a family walk in the Northumbrian hills last Sunday. Inspired by Low-tech magazine’s solar powered website, I loosely followed this guide to create the ‘stippled’ effect. This reduced the size of an 8.6MB image to a mere 36.6KB.

Weeknote 25/2020

This was my last working week at Moodle. I have a few weeks of holiday to take as I ease back into full-time consultancy through We Are Open Co-op.

Quick overview of MoodleNet v1.0 beta

I repeat how proud I am of what the very talented part-time MoodleNet team achieved under often difficult circumstances. Check out my previous two weeknotes for further details:

If you’re looking for some talnted developers, I suggest you get in touch with Mayel de Borniol, Ivan Minutillo, Karen Kleinbauerů, and James Laver who may have capacity for your project. In addition, it’s worth enquiring about the availability of Alessandro Giansanti, Katerina Papadopoulou and Antonis Kalou who are equally talented, and have been working on a part-time basis for Moodle and Moodle Partners. It’s been a pleasure and privilege working with all of them, and it was great to sign off on Friday by sharing a virtual drink. We’ll all be staying in touch!

I do, of course, wish Moodle all the very best for the future and am grateful for some of the people I have met and experiences I have had over the past two and a half years.


No Drama Llama

In addition to handover documentation for Moodle, this week I’ve been doing a small amount of work through the co-op with the Greenpeace Planet 4 team, and a lot with UpRising. For the latter, I ran a couple of workshops on Google Classroom, as well as a troubleshooting session as they pivot their offline offerings to online provision.

As a co-op, we’ve been discussing how to update our website. There’s a tension between representing ourselves ‘corporately’ and representing ourselves as being made up of individual members, some of which are quite different from one another. Ultimately, 95% of our work comes through clients knowing us as people first and foremost, so really the website is a sense-check or something for our contacts to pass on to others in their organisation.

I’ve put together a couple of proposal for prospective clients this week. It’s nice to see that people are finally recognising that working online is just as valuable, and just as hard work, as doing so offline.


Last weekend I came across #100DaysToOffload which I started addressing immediately with three posts over the past few days:

I’m looking forward to writing more next week. It’s quite nice to have permission not to necessarily have to produce your ‘best’ work, but rather to bash out thoughts and just share them with the world.

For Thought Shrapnel, I put together:

You can subscribe to the weekly newsletter, which goes out every Sunday, here.


Next week, I’ll be doing more work with Greenpeace, UpRising, and the 10 charities we’re supporting with funding from the Social Mobility Commission and Catalyst. I’ll also be doing some business development for the co-op, and get back involved in the wider CoTech network.

We’ve booked a holiday in early August in a basic holiday cottage owned by friends of my in-laws in Devon. We’ve stayed there a couple of times before and it’s the perfect place to choose to switch off and spend time away from the drama and frantic pace of recent weeks. I can’t wait!

Finally, a very happy Fathers Day to my dad, Keith Belshaw. I’m delighted that he’s safe and well, and actually fitter now than before the lockdown started! It was great to see both of my parents yesterday during a socially-distanced visit to their back garden which, as ever, was blooming with flora and fauna.


Header image of my favourite tree in Bluebell Wood, near where I live in Morpeth, England.

Weeknote 24/2020

This week I’ve enjoyed getting stuck into work funded by the Social Mobility Commission and Catalyst. Our co-op, along with Erica Neve and Peram Parasmand has started to help UpRising and nine other charities on their digital transformation journeys. I sent out a digital skills/confidence survey early in the week and then have been analysing the results.

I’ve also enjoyed the work that I’ve done on the Greenpeace Planet 4 project, and talking to various people about ways we might be able to help them. Do get in touch if we can help, as I’ll have more capacity from the week beginning 22nd June.


On the Moodle front, this past week can be summed up by me, as outgoing Product Manager, publishing a post to the MoodleNet blog and an hour later it being taken down. Thankfully, there’s a snapshot of it on archive.org. I’m still not sure what the problem is with any of the text, but I guess a narrative is being constructed and this doesn’t fit it. See my last weeknote for context.


Yesterday, I managed to put together a link roundup this week for Thought Shrapnel entitled Saturday soundings. It’s discombobulating trying to even keep up with everything that’s going on in the world, never mind trying to make sense of it. However, I have found that Comments on the Society of the Spectacle helpful in that regard. Chances are I’ll write more about that soon.

Thanks to everyone who has been in touch by email, chat apps, and social networks. I’m fine, thanks. Really. I mean, if I’m honest, I could do without the stress-induced migraines, but they’re caused by two years of micro-aggressions that will be a thing of the past after June 19th.


Header image by Rene Böhmer

Weeknote 23/2020

Note: these weekly reflections of mine are by their nature introspective. Any small hardships I experience as a privileged middle-aged white man are nothing to those experienced every day by those whose skin just happens to be a different colour to mine.


Last week, I sent my resignation to Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s Founder and CEO. This was mostly because, with a two-month notice period, I have done what I came to achieve: to take MoodleNet from zero to v1.0 beta.

This week has been… difficult. I have had to deal with one of the most challenging situations of my professional life.

I’ve tiptoed around this issue, but I’m actually very disappointed with the way Moodle has dealt with a tweet Martin sent out on Wednesday that could be construed has having racist overtones. People make mistakes, but you can judge people by their reactions as well as their actions.

He has since apologised and deleted the tweet, but has done so in a way that many people, including members of the MoodleNet team, don’t think goes far enough. It seems like the kind of apology that you make when you want the problem to go away.

I would not be so unprofessional as to repeat things I have seen on Telegram and statements made to me during internal meetings. But I am glad that I am leaving Moodle.

I am proud at what the MoodleNet team has achieved despite an extremely difficult working environment. I hope that they stick around, if they feel able, and I wish whoever becomes the next MoodleNet Product Manager the very best of luck.


I really enjoy innovation work, which is what MoodleNet has been for the majority of my tenure. It’s been a rollercoaster, for sure, but I have enjoyed:

  • Taking a couple of pages of rough notes given to me when I started, then doing deep desk research and interviewing the community to come up with a white paper, a vision for the project.
  • Hiring and working with Mayel de Borniol as Technical Architect. It has been a pleasure and privilege to work with someone of his calibre over the last couple of years. As, of course, it has been with subsequent additions to the team.
  • Asking Outlandish, a fellow member of the CoTech network to run a design sprint leading to a prototype which we put in front of real educators.
  • Creating an MVP which successfuly tested MoodleNet’s value proposition.
  • Getting ready for a content sprint in preparation for the release of Moodle LMS 3.9 (which integrates with MoodleNet)

Perhaps I should write a retrospective of 2020 up to this point, just as I did for 2018 and 2019.

The past year has had me more in ‘manager’ role than ‘innovator’ role, which is another reason that I decided to wind down my role at Moodle. After all, just because other people tell you are good at something doesn’t meant you enjoy doing it.


So what’s next? We Are Open Co-op! Work is really ramping up, especially now we have a new impetus with Jen joining us last month. I’m leading things from our side with some help we’re providing for the Social Mobility Commission. The project finally cleared contract hurdles, so we should be able to get our teeth into it properly next week.

I’m also continuing to help my co-op colleagues with the work we’re doing with Greenpeace’s Planet 4 project. This week I’ve been mostly focusing on finishing off the recommendations on how the team can better prepare for the upcoming Day of Action around open source contribution.

On Thursday morning I spoke on behalf of the co-op at the University of East London‘s Mental Wealth Staff Development Day. My morning keynote slot was on Digital Literacies for a Post-COVID World and there is a backup here if the slides aren’t embedded below:


Next week is in flux, but I’ll be splitting it between winding down my MoodleNet work and ramping up my co-op work.


Header image of huge mural painted onto the newly-renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza next to the White House in Washington D.C.

Weeknote 22/2020

I think everyone finally had enough this week. Look at what’s happening in the UK. Look at what’s happening in the USA. There’s nothing ‘united’ about either country right now. It’s all kicking off.

Even closer to home too, in our working lives, I’ve seen people, including myself, less willing to put up with, for want of a better term, crap, from outdated people and processes. It’s time to do better, and be better.


This week has been busy. Very busy. The kind of busy where you start work at 08:00, stagger out of your home office for a 15-minute lunchbreak, and finish at 16:00, an empty husk of a man who has seemingly been at work for a month instead of a day. Then, with your eyes completely fried, you wonder what to do until bedtime.

It’s amazing to me to think that this was actually a four-day week and that we spent the second Bank Holiday of May on the beach and eating fish & chips.


MoodleNet will reach v1.0 beta next week. We’re running a Content Sprint to get resources into the Moodle HQ-run instance in time for the launch of Moodle LMS 3.9. Why? Well, because it features integration with MoodleNet, and we want to ensure there’s stuff there.

Of course, the digital commons will grow as more people use MoodleNet, on HQ-run, and other federated instances. Once we’ve got the content on a stable version of the HQ production server, we’ll switch out attention to finally starting federation testing.

Although the report is coming in very late, it’s been good to have a preview of the report from the security review we commissioned. That shows that MoodleNet is actually already more secure than many other federated social networks. That’s down to the talented team it’s been my privilege to put together over the past couple of years.


Over an above my Moodle work, there’s been loads of We Are Open co-op work to do. It’s getting to the stage where I could pretty much work through the co-op full-time, which is amazing. Just last year the opposite was true.

There’s been much wrangling over the project initiation documents for two related pieces of work we’re doing with/for Catalyst and the Social Mobility Commission. That should be resolved so that we can start work properly next week with the 10 charities we’ll be supporting through digital transformation.

Over and above that, for the work we’re doing with Greenpeace Planet 4 team, I’ve been reviewing best practice in terms of onboarding new contributors. It’s actually very eye-opening seeing how volunteers start contributing to some open source projects because of the way they’re welcomed, and some, well… despite that.


Due to all of that busyness, I didn’t write anything for Thought Shrapnel this week other than my link roundup, which I entitled Saturday shruggings. There’s been plenty of stuff rattling around my head, especially since deciding to lie on the front lawn re-reading Montaigne’s Essays but nothing has yet coagulated in my brain into something coherent.

I might as well share here five particular sections that have got me thinking, as it could be a while before I get to any form of synthesis:

We are never ‘at home’: we are always outside ourselves. fear, desire, hope, impel us towards the future; they rob us of feelings and concern for what now is, in order to spend time over what will be — even when we ourselves shall be no more.

Michel de Montaigne (‘Our emotions get carried away beyond us’)

Those who strive to account for a man’s deeds are never more bewildered than when they try to knit them into one whole and to show them under one light, since they commonly contradict each other in so odd a fashion that it seems impossible that they should all come out of the same shop.

Michel de Montaigne (‘On the inconstancy of our actions’)

I have an open manner, readily striking up acquaintance and being trusted from the first encounter. Simpleness and unsullied truth are always opportune and acceptable in any period whatsoever… All I want to gain from doing anything is the fact of having done it.

Michel de Montaigne (‘On the useful and the honourable)

I have my own laws and law-court to pass judgement on me and I appeal to them rather than elsewhere. I restrain my actions according to the standards of others, but I enlarge them according to my own. no one but you knows whether you are base and cruel, or loyal and dedicated. Others never see you: they surmise about you from uncertain conjectures; they do not see your nature so much as your artifice. So do not cling to their sentence: cling to your own.

Michel de Montaigne (‘On repenting’)

But thought I do not have all that great a mind. I do have one which is correspondingly open, one which orders me to dare to publish its weaknesses.

Michel de Montaigne (‘On high rank as a disadvantage’)

I’ve also been reflecting on Acts chapters two and four, which actually form the basis of Christian communism. It’s pretty clear to me that Jesus was anti-capitalist and anti-establishment.


So next week is a big week in many ways. Lots of decisions to make and things to do. When all this is over, I wonder if I qualify (financially, morally, otherwise) for a sabbatical?


Photo taken at Beadnell last Monday. The beach was virtually empty.

Weeknote 21/2020

It’s Bank Holiday weekend. Today, we travelled the furthest we’ve been in the last nine weeks to go for a walk along part of Hadrian’s Wall. It was wonderful.


I took Friday off to ensure I could have a longer weekend to spend with my family. That means I worked Monday and Tuesday for Moodle, and Wednesday and Thursday for We Are Open Co-op.

We’re so close to getting out the v1.0 beta of MoodleNet now, as I showed in a screencast at the bottom of an article I wrote for Thought Shrapnel. The team is looking forward to getting finished the small changes required in the next week orso.

On the co-op front, we’ve been getting ready to start some work with 10 charities, funded by Catalyst and the UK’s Social Justice Commission, which need some help in pivoting their face-to-face programmes to online provision.


Whereas many people in my life have been less busy over the last nine weeks, it’s been the opposite for me. I’ve finally found my bearings again, and feel like I’m getting back on track.

Usually, working from home is great so long as it’s interspersed with travel. The lack of it, as well as the stresses and strains of having the children around, has affected my levels of energy and motivation.

Now that we can see ourselves coming out of the lockdown in the next few months, it’s easier to plan, to have horizons, to think about what comes next. And what comes next is not more of what went before.


Next week I’m off on Monday, then working for Moodle on Tuesday and Friday, and the co-op as usual on Wednesday and Thursday.


Photo of tree at Sycamore Gap, near Twice Brewed, Northumberland.

Weeknote 20/2020

For people who read these weeknotes on a regular basis (hello mother!) I realise that I discuss things without readers necessarily having any idea what they might look or feel like.

So, despite there still being a number of bugs and errors to fix with MoodleNet, and despite the staging server being full of test content, I thought I’d just record a quick screencast walkthrough.

Five things to bear in mind:

  1. MoodleNet is federated, meaning that you can search for communities, collections, and resources across instances.
  2. Communities curate collections of resources, and engage in discussions.
  3. Resources may be added to collections via link (like a bookmark) or via upload (with a Creative Commons license)
  4. MoodleNet is integrated with the upcoming v3.9 of Moodle LMS, meaning resources can make their way to courses via a simple workflow.
  5. Admins are currently the only moderators of each instance, but in future, every community will have at least one moderator.

We’ve obviously got some refactoring and work to be done on the search page, but I’m pleased with the progress.

Ivan, our UX designer, is already working on improvements to the user interface for upcoming versions of MoodleNet. For example, in the screenshot below you can see notifications, community activity, and better previews of collections.

Mockup of potential new MoodleNet UI

In my three days on MoodleNet each week I’ve always got plenty to do. Mainly it’s prioritisation, as with any team things get pulled in different directions. So I’ve been sorting our OKRs, getting ready to onboard a new part-time team member, and re-organising the next few milestones.


In my We Are Open Co-op work this week, we finished off one piece of work with The Catalyst for Action West London, and then started scoping out some new work for the Social Mobility Commission. All of it at the moment is about helping organisations with an emergency pivot to digital provision.

We also managed to squeeze in a co-op half day, which was mainly focused on the new version of our website, which should be ready soon. I’m pleased that my wife, Hannah, an aspiring UX designer, had a hand in designing it!


I’ve had a chat with a bunch of people this week about my career, and also had a ‘maintenance’ therapy session. Both have given me a lot of clarity about what I should do next.

Also helpful in that regard was the first session of the Homeward Bound course facilitated by Dougald Hine on Thursday evening. That was also the day my wife and I celebrated 20 years of being together, which now constitutes more than 50% of our lives!


For Thought Shrapnel I wrote a post with a quotation from Edward Snowden as its title: Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say. It’s about surveillance culture post-pandemic, and is the fifth in a blogchain I’m writing about how western societies could look after all this ends.

I also put together my usual link roundup, this week entitled Saturday shiftings. There’s a range of links in there, including the new Unreal 5 game engine through to how to host a party in a Google Doc…


Our family went for a long walk on Saturday, which was enjoyable. We discovered a ruined building with a colourful history which I didn’t know existed before this weekend!

I’ve realised that I’m tired because I’m not only trying to keep everything going, but have more work on at the moment. Where I would usually have taken a couple of days holiday in the last couple of months, I’ve just been soldiering on.

It’s not like all of this is going to finish with a bang; it’s going to be more like an extended whimper. So I should probably stop putting off taking holiday as we probably won’t be going anywhere exotic this year!


You’ll never guess where I’ll be next week? Yep, in my fortress of solitude (a.k.a. my home office) working on MoodleNet and co-op stuff. It’s a good job I have a supportive family and interesting work on.


Header image of Chibburn Preceptory taken during our family walk on Saturday.

Weeknote 19/2020

I think this was the week when it began to sink in how long all of this is going to affect us for. I’m not sure if it was going through the playable simulations in What Happens Next? or realising the extent of the incompetence of the UK government, but either way, the world seems different than it did last Sunday.


Two days on MoodleNet, two days for We Are Open Co-op, and a day’s Bank Holiday — the latter moved from the usual first Monday of May to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (or ‘VE’) Day. The way some people here were talking about it, I think we need to remember that it was was fighting alongside allies to defeat fascism, rather than some kind of victory over Europe.

I enjoyed working on the co-op stuff this week. We were wrapping up a short project through The Catalyst, which paired us and another organisation with a charity making an emergency pivot to digital. I think there will be plenty more work in a similar vein in the coming weeks and months.


On the MoodleNet side of things, I did a debrief with Johanna Sprondel after her MA students at Macromedia University in Germany worked on a draft crowdfunding plan. I was impressed with what they came up with, and enjoyed working with them over the last few weeks.

Moodle News this week published an article I (mostly) wrote entitled 3 tips for first-time remote educators. Other than that, my time was mainly taken up with management, team and 1:1 meetings. My role at Moodle has largely gone from one that involved a lot of innovation to one that now involves a lot of management.


I’ve agreed to keynote a UK university’s internal staff conference (whatever ‘keynote’ means these days!) I get confirmation that it’s definitely going ahead in the next couple of weeks, and then I can start planning a talk on post-pandemic digital skills.


The most enjoyable thing this week was the socially-distanced quiz we had with neighbours. I live on a row of eight terraced houses, with one detached house at the end. We all share a back lane. In the glorious sunshine on Friday evening, we ate, drank, chatted, and answered questions that we’d each come up with. It was marvellous, and really lifted my spirits.


On the Thought Shrapnel front, I published an article entitled Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony in which I cited Buster Benson’s ‘Codex Vitae’ and came up with 10 aphorisms of my own. I also put together my usual link roundup, this week entitled Saturday seductions.


Next week will be a new normal week, working on Moodle stuff Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, and co-op stuff on Wednesday and Thursday. It will be 20 years on Thursday since, at the university ball, I plucked up the courage to kiss the woman who became my wife. I am a lucky man.


Photo of a tree in Bluebell Wood, near where I live.

Weeknote 18/2020

This week I ended up working alternate days for Moodle and the co-op, which felt a bit odd, but worked out well. Highlights included:

  • Celebrating the fourth anniversary of We Are Open Co-op and welcoming Jen Kelchner as our sixth member.
  • Working with some German MA students on their final version of the MoodleNet crowdfunding plan.
  • Finding a tree with a branch just the right height and thickness for me to do some pull-ups on (yes, really!)
  • Watching The Matrix (1999) with our 13-year old son and then getting a bunch of recommendations of what to watch next
  • Getting really close to starting federation testing for MoodleNet.
  • Revisiting the debate that I co-kickstarted in 2011 around the purpose of education in this Thought Shrapnel article.
  • Eating our daughter’s chocolate puddings and son’s sticky toffee pudding cake.
  • Finishing the MVP of the co-op’s new free email-based course on running successful virtual meetings.
  • Helping a London-based charity with their emergency pivot to online delivery
  • Completing the amazing novel A Gentleman in Moscow which is from my crowdsourced lockdown reading list.
  • Walking in the local woods, where the bluebells and wild garlic are both out! Elsewhere, the cherry trees are also in full bloom. Beautiful.

Next week, I’ll be working for Moodle on Monday and Tuesday, the co-op on Wednesday and Thursday, and taking Friday off as it’s a Bank Holiday in the UK (moved from the Monday to celebrate VE Day, apparently…)


Photo taken during a walk this week.

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