Fediverse field trip

After spending a long time researching various options for MoodleNet last year, I recently revisited the Fediverse with fresh eyes. I enjoy using Mastodon regularly, and have written about it here before, so didn’t include it in this roundup.

Here’s some of the social networks I played around with recently, in no particular order. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive overview, just what grabbed my attention given the context in which I’m currently working. That’s why I’ve called it a ‘field trip’ ūüėČ

Misskey

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Weird name but pretty awesome social network that’s very popular in Japan. Like MoodleNet and Mastodon, it’s based on the ActivityPub protocol. In fact, if you’re a Mastodon user, it will feel somewhat familiar.

Things I like:

  • Drive (2TB storage!)
  • Lots of options for customisation, including ‘dark mode’
  • Easy search options
  • Connect lots of different services
  • API

Socialhome

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‘Card’-based social network that uses a Bootstrap-style user interface. Quite complicated but seemingly flexible.

Things I like:

  • Very image-friendly
  • API
  • Data export

Pleroma

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Pleroma is a very scalable social network based on Elixir. It’s like Mastodon, but snappier.

Things I like:

  • Clear Terms of Service
  • Very configurable (including formatting options)
  • ‘The whole known network’
  • Export data and delete account
  • Restrict access

Prismo

https://prismo.news

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A new social network to replace sites like Reddit. Users can vote up stories they’re interested in and add comments.

Things I like:

  • Clear, crisp design
  • Obvious what it’s to be used for
  • Simple profiles

Movim

https://movim.eu

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Uses the XMPP protocol for backwards compatibility with a wide range of apps. Similar kind of communities and collections approach to MoodleNet, but focused on news.

Things I like:

  • Modals help users understand the interface
  • Focus on communities and curation
  • Option to chat as well as post publicly
  • Easy to share URLs
  • Clear who’s moderating communities

Kune

https://kune.ourproject.org

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Based on Apache Wave (formerly Google Wave) which is now deprecated.

Things I like:

  • Combination of stream and wiki
  • Indication of who’s involved in creating/discussing threads
  • Everything feels editable

GNUsocial

https://gnu.io/social

https://fediverse.party/en/gnusocial

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Uses the OStatus protocol and was the original basis for Mastodon (as far as I understand). Feels similar to Pleroma in some respects.

Things I like:

  • Feels like early Twitter
  • Easy to use
  • Configurable

GangGo

https://ganggo.git.feneas.org/documentation

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Built in GoLang and uses the same federation protocol as Diaspora. Still in alpha.

Things I like:

  • Simple UI
  • Vote up/down posts
  • Private and public streams

Along with Mastodon, I didn’t include Pixelfed in here because I’m so familiar with it. I possibly should have included¬†PeerTube, Friendica,¬†Diaspora, and Scuttlebutt. Perhaps I’ll follow this up with a Part 2 sometime?

My ChromeOS apps and extensions

I came across a pretty nifty service called Loom yesterday that allows you to record both your screen and webcam in the browser. Perfect for ChromeOS, which is the operating system I’m using most of the time at the moment.

To give it a test drive, I recorded a video showing the ChromeOS apps and extensions I use on the Chromebox in my home office.

Between this and WeVideo, I reckon everything apart from really high-end video editing can be done in the browser if you’ve got a decent internet connection. I can definitely see me using this for creating quick tutorial videos and I’ve already used WeVideo to edit green screen videos for clients!

What we need is an Open Badges community renaissance, free of IMS involvement

TL;DR: the Open Badges Google Group contains many members but has been moribund under the stewardship of IMS Global Learning Consortium. Time for something different?

Background

Yesterday, EdSurge published an article about Open Badges which included a quotation from me. It was the first I’d heard of it as the reporter didn’t reach out to me. My words were taken from the etherpad minutes audio recording of a meeting held towards the end of last year about Credly’s ownership of patents relating to badges.

It’s important to note that, while EdSurge mentions the fact that I work for Moodle in the article, my opinions on the subject have nothing to do with my (part-time) employer, and everything to do with my involvement in the Open Badges ecosystem since 2012. I have some things to say about IMS Global Learning Consortium, and I’m afraid I can’t be very complimentary.

Introduction

To my mind, three things led to the exponential growth of badges between 2012 and 2015:

  1. Mozilla’s technical expertise and reputation
  2. The MacArthur Foundation’s money and influence
  3. The Open Badges community’s evangelism and organisation

MacArthur’s money dried up after 2015, and while Mozilla’s involvement declined more slowly, they have been essentially non-existent in the ecosystem since they handed over stewardship of the Open Badges standard to IMS Global Learning consortium at the start of 2017. So what kept the Open Badges movement going between 2015 and 2017?

Community!

The thing I really want to focus here is the third thing: community. I may be biased given that I worked for the Mozilla Foundation at the time, but they did a fantastic job at attracting, feeding, and listening to a community around Open Badges. Since the transfer to IMS that community has withered. IMS doesn’t care; as a membership organisation they exist for the benefit of their members.

Right now the Open Badges Google Group, now controlled by IMS, has 2,603 members. It was a hive of activity five years ago, but now it’s moribund. This is a direct effect of IMS working in a way diametrically opposed to the conditions under which the community prospered: they are closed, secretive and unforthcoming. As the EdSurge article points out, IMS have even allowed one of its members to get away with patenting elements of the very standard it has been charged with stewarding.

With such dereliction of duty something has to be done. In similar circumstances, other open source projects have been ‘forked’. In other words, unhappy with the way a project is being managed, community members can take the underlying idea in a different direction. From my understanding having talked to some influential figures in the community, there’s a very real possibility that could happen in the next 18 months unless IMS ups their game.

Next steps?

What we need here is a a renaissance in the Open Badges community. The existing Google Group is administered by IMS and may no longer be fit for purpose. So, I’m wondering out loud whether the co-op of which I’m part should step up and host a new place for people who want to discuss Open Badges and digital credentials?

We’ve got a history of working with the community through projects such as Badge Wiki and Badge News (now The Learning Fractal). Most of us also worked for Mozilla during the glory days.

What do you think? Would you like to see an Open Badges community renaissance? How do you see that happening?


Photo by Marc Biarnès used under a Creative Commons license

Weeknote 09/2019

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out¬†Issue #334¬†of my¬†Thought Shrapnel¬†newsletter. It was entitled,¬†‚ÄėBeing where the rubber meets the road is… tyring‚Äô¬†and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on¬†Patreon.
  • Recording,¬†editing¬†and releasing¬†Episode 116¬†of the¬†Today In Digital Education¬†(TIDE) podcast with my co-host¬†Dai Barnes. We entitled this episode¬†‚ÄėA Climate of Safety‚Äô¬†and discussed biohacking, games and learning mechanics, YouTube and suicide prevention, capitalism, climate change, SolarPunk, foldable displays, and more!
  • Working¬†on the¬†MoodleNet¬†project:
  • Being invested as an Assistant Scout Leader and starting my Wood Badge training.
  • Getting¬†our 12 year-old son ready for his first skiing trip with the school.
  • Discussing upcoming consultancy work with a potential client for the co-op.

Next week, I’m at home working on MoodleNet Mon/Tues and Thurs/Fri. I’ll be available on Wednesday morning (GMT) if you want to talk something through for half an hour. Book a slot here!


Photo taken by me of Morpeth Chantry on Friday

A 3-step guide to completing your thesis when you’re feeling utterly overwhelmed

Over the last few weeks, I’ve spoken with quite a few people working on a Masters or Doctoral level thesis. Some of them are planning to continue into a career in academia, but most are not. While their questions to me are all slightly different, the tension feels similar: how can I reconcile all of this stuff?

Drop-out rates, especially at doctoral level, are pretty high. Even those who don’t do so are likely to experience a significant ‘dip’. There are many factors for this, but my hunch is that it’s not primarily because there’s too much work involved. I think that it’s more to do with the overwhelming number of possible areas of research. In other words, it’s all to do with scope.

So, I’d like to offer some help. My only experience is in the Humanities, so take this with a pinch of salt and in the spirit it’s intended. If you’re mid-way in your dissertation or thesis and you’re feeling a bit stuck, here’s what I suggest you do.

1. Stop

Go back to your proposal. What does it say? What did you and your thesis supervisor agree upon?

If it helps, put the different elements of what you’re studying into one of three buckets:

  • Thesis ‚ÄĒ areas within the scope of your thesis, as outlined in your proposal.
  • Follow-up ‚ÄĒ things that are slightly outside the scope of your thesis but which you could investigate once you’ve submitted your thesis (e.g. for post-doctoral research)
  • Out of scope ‚ÄĒ things that, while potentially fascinating, are not helping you earn this Masters degree or doctorate.

In other words, there are things that you have to do to complete the requirements of your postgraduate degree, and there are really interesting other things that get in the way. Make sure you know the difference between them.

2. Look

Whether or not you’ve used them before, mindmaps can be really handy when you’re feeling overwhelmed. They give you a visual overview of the territory you’re exploring, and can help you synthesise disparate ideas and concepts.

Doug's thesis mindmap

Somewhat incredibly, the mindmap I created a decade ago when I was in the midst of my doctoral work is still available online. It’s perhaps one of the most useful things I’ve ever done; not only was the output useful when talking with my thesis supervisor, but the process of creating it was helpful beyond words.

It can take days to create a large mindmap, and to begin with it can feel a bit like a waste of time. However, as you pull together notes from various systems (notebooks, online bookmarks, thoughts in your head, etc.) it starts to become a map of the territory of your thesis.

You could do this on paper, but the value of doing it digitally is that you can move things around and make connections between related ideas much more easily.

3. Listen

Whether learning a language or writing a thesis, difficult things are best approached little and often. Trying to cram them in to a single day per week (or the occasional weekend) doesn’t really work.

I found that getting up early and spending at least an hour on my thesis before work suited me best. Others might find this better late at night. Either way, if you work on your mindmap every day for a few days, I guarantee that it will begin to ‘speak’ back to you.

Things that previously seemed unrelated will become connected in your mind in new and interesting ways. You will start to understand where the boundaries of your work are. It’s at this point that you’re ready to take a chainsaw to the branches of your mindmap!

You have to be ruthless. If you want to complete your thesis, you need to kill your darlings. While it can feel a bit sad to say goodbye to things you’ve researched and found interesting, it’s actually quite liberating. After all, postgraduate study is hard enough without adding to your burden.

In addition, getting used to ruthlessly pruning your work at this stage is really good preparation. In the writing-up phase you will write many more words than you actually submit, and you will have to decide which ones don’t make it. For example, with a 100,000 word thesis you may end up writing at least 20-25% more than that, and then have to cut whole sections with which you were very pleased.

…and finally

Work openly and talk to other people about your experiences and struggles. You are not alone on this journey, and many have trod this path before you. Share what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, and what you’re feeling. Good luck!

Weeknote 08/2019

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out¬†Issue #333¬†of my¬†Thought Shrapnel¬†newsletter. It was entitled,¬†‚ÄėBad puns are how eye roll‚Äô¬†and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on¬†Patreon.
  • Taking Monday and Tuesday as holiday. As a family we visited Jorvik Viking Centre, Magna Science Adventure Centre, and Fountains Abbey, which were all great! In fact, I reckon visiting Jorvik as a nine year-old possibly kindled my interest in history.
  • Spending¬†Wednesday doing half a day for Moodle and half as a consultancy day. I spoke to a couple of people via my new¬†surgery slots and really enjoyed those conversations (community building and the history of networked scholarship!) Once again, I‚Äôm only available in the morning next Wednesday, so book your slot if you want to catch me!
  • Working¬†on the¬†MoodleNet¬†project:
    • Sending¬†out the final survey for the first initial testing period. We’ve had good feedback so far, and we’re looking forward to the second testing period starting next week.
    • Continuing to triage¬†all the suggestions coming in from testers through¬†Changemap.
    • Adding more details to our upcoming sprints towards the beta launch at the UK & Ireland MoodleMoot in April.
    • Spending Thursday and Friday in Barcelona with Gry Stene and Martin Dougiamas discussing strategy. I also discussed data protection with Carlo Polizzi, and hung out with other Moodle colleagues.¬†There was a general strike on Thursday, which was interesting to experience.
  • Encouraged¬†by the interactions within¬†our new¬†Slack-based book club. We were reading the second chapter of¬†of Cal Newport‚Äôs¬†Digital Minimalism and¬†it’s not too late to join us if you’re interested!
  • Putting together¬†things for Thought Shrapnel:

Next week, I’m at home all week working on MoodleNet Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.


Photo taken by me in Barcelona just before sunset on Friday.

Weeknote 07/2019

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out¬†Issue #332¬†of my¬†Thought Shrapnel¬†newsletter. It was entitled,¬†‚ÄėOn social media‚Äô¬†and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on¬†Patreon.
  • Taking¬†Wednesday again as my consultancy day, and talking to a three people via my new¬†surgery slots. Two of the conversations were about Open Badges and the other one was about digital equity. I’m only available in the morning next Wednesday, so book your slot now!
  • Working¬†on the¬†MoodleNet¬†project:
    • Pushing out¬†an update which has received lots of thumbs-up from testers!
    • Sending¬†out another¬†MoodleNet survey, which led to some very interesting answers to the question of “how would you describe MoodleNet to a friend or colleague?”
    • Continuing to triage¬†all the suggestions coming in from testers through¬†Changemap
    • Getting to grips¬†with¬†Moodle Tracker¬†for defining MoodleNet epics and releases. We’ve also been kicking out random people adding comments…
    • Sorting out¬†pagination on the frontend as well as the backend.
    • Connecting¬†to a¬†live Q&A¬†about MoodleNet as part of the¬†national conference of the Swiss e-Learning Community of Higher Education Institutions.
    • Continuing¬†to figure out MoodleNet security bounties.
    • Discussing¬†approaches to MoodleNet’s integration with Moodle Core (thanks Sander!)
    • Preparing¬†next week’s final survey for the first round of testers, and getting things ready for the 143 testers involved in the second round of testing.
  • Enjoying the experience of reading the introduction and first chapter of Cal Newport’s¬†Digital Minimalism¬†as part of our new Slack-based book club. There’s still time to join if you’re interested!
  • Writing about the demise of Digitalme and following that up by listing¬†10 platforms for issuing Open Badges.
  • Putting together¬†things for Thought Shrapnel:

Next week, I’m going away for a couple of days with my family and taking Monday and Tuesday off work. Then on Wednesday, I’m doing half a day consultancy and half a day for Moodle. Thursday and Friday I’ll be spending in Barcelona for quick trip to the Moodle Spain office!


Photo taken by me at Druridge Bay on Wednesday.

So long Digitalme, and thanks for all the fish

Note: City & Guilds have asked me to clarify that Digitalme still exists and continues to offer badging services.


This announcement from Digitalme is a real shame:

Since we joined the City and Guilds Group in June 2016, we have continued to help all kinds of teams recognise learning with the Open Badge Standard.

At this point in our journey, it is time to say goodbye to the Open Badge Academy in order for us to focus on supporting the design, development, and implementation of quality programmes that leverage the Open Badge Standard powered by leading technology‚Ää‚ÄĒ‚ÄäCredly.

After leaving Mozilla in 2015, I consulted with City & Guilds up to the point at which they acquired Digitalme. I’d known the guys at Digitalme since before I started at Mozilla and was impressed with their dedication and effort. They’d built something people and organisations really wanted, so taking it to the next level with City & Guilds seemed to be their opportunity to scale-up.

The trouble was that City & Guilds didn’t really have much in-house technical capacity. They’re a 140 year-old credentialing organisation, who took a punt on a young start-up with the hopes that they could create a whole new business unit out of it. At the same time, to hedge their bets, they invested in Credly. Now, it seems, they’re scuttling Open Badge Academy (OBA) in favour of becoming a Credly reseller.

These things happen, especially as the Open Badges ecosystem matures. It’s been a few years since the demise of Achievery, which was a really forward-looking platform, but unfortunately a too early for the market. What I think is a particular shame with the way City & Guilds are handling the Digitalme situation is the way they are presenting existing customers with a lack of options:

We’re working on a simple way for existing users to download their information, including any badges they have earned so they can continue to share verifiable recognition of their skills.

[…]

To download your badge, go to your profile page and click on the Push icon under your awarded badge. Select the Download option to download this badge to your computer. This download will include data such as the issuer information stored within the image. We would recommend downloading the 2.0 version as this will still be verifiable after OBA closes.

One of the great things about Open Badges, of course, is that you can store them anywhere. Still, you would hope that existing users would, at the very least, be presented with a migration path from OBA to Credly. I would have thought that, given OBA isn’t closing until the end of August, City & Guilds could implement the upcoming Badge Connect API to allow users to make the migration.

The announcement focuses on the sunsetting of OBA, but in effect this is the end of Digitalme. My understanding is that there are very few of the original team left at City & Guilds, and the focus now is on reselling Credly’s products. (I’m happy to be corrected if I’m mistaken.)


A few people have been in touch with me since the announcement asking what they should do. There’s plenty of Open Badges-compliant issuers out there, but I usually recommend Badgr or Open Badge Factory to clients.

Full disclosure: these two platforms sponsor Badge News The Learning Fractal. We approached them for this sponsorship due to their long-term support of the Open Badges standard. Credly made the decision to end their sponsorship of the newsletter at the beginning of this year, and we would thank them for their initial support.


Image: Left high and dry (Explored) by hehaden used under a CC BY-ND license

Weeknote 06/2019

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’m at home working on MoodleNet Mon/Tues and Thurs/Fri. So, just like this week, I’ll be available if you want to talk something through for half an hour. Book a slot here!

Experimenting with a Slack-based book club

TL;DR: I’ve started a channel called #book-club-1 in the We Are Open co-op Slack. Everyone adhering to our code of conduct is welcome. Reading this. Join here. Starts Monday.


I was discussing book clubs over email with Bryan Alexander recently. He’s been running ones via his blog since 2013, and finds them a valuable experience.

This was prompted by a few people both in We Are Open co-op‘s Slack and the Thought Shrapnel Patreon saying that they’d appreciate the opportunity to discuss new books like Paul Jarvis’ Company of One and Cal Newport’s¬†Digital Minimalism.

I’ve never been a member of a book club, as I imagine the offline versions as being full of people drinking red wine and trying to prove some crazy theory that they’ve got about the intent behind someone else’s writing. However, an online version intrigued me, hence my discussion with Bryan Alexander.

After looking at different models, I decided to come up with my own. I also chose the Digital Minimalism¬†as the book, as people seemed to be interested in reading it.¬†I’m absolutely making it up as I go along, but there we go. Someone’s got to lead things.

Let me walk you through what I’ve done to set things up:

Slack Book Club - overview

Slack allows you to ‘pin’ discussions, but doesn’t let you moved these about after the fact. That means I’ve had to be very careful to pin these in the correct order. It’s also the reason the channel is called #book-club-1 as we’ll need to create a new channel and pin discussions for each new book.

(thanks to Adam Procter for helping me figure this out!)

Slack book club - setup

There’s a ‘meta thread’ giving an overview of the book being read, and this is the place where discussions about the book as a whole should go.

Slack book club - thread

For this book club to work, we need to use Slack’s functionality. This may look slightly confusing if you’re reading this and don’t use Slack, but it’s pretty standard stuff for those who do. It’s not hard, and there’s some useful help pages here.

As you can see from the screenshot above, clicking on ‘1 reply’ (or whatever it’s on by the time you get there) opens the thread and allows you to add your response. It’s even more intuitive on mobile, I find.

Slack book club - random chat

Underneath all the pinned discussions for each chapter (which show up as yellow) there’s a space for random book-related chat. This might be for asking questions such as “I take it audiobooks are accepted in this space? Asking for a friend” and anything else you doesn’t fit elsewhere.

I’ve no idea if this is all going to work, but I’m willing to give it a go. In my mind I’m going for a vibe somewhere between random pub conversation and postgraduate seminar ‚ÄĒ but with a more asynchronous, dip-in-and-out approach.

Grab the book and join us. You might like it!


FAQ

1. Do I have to know anything about anything?

Nope, I have no clue and I’m the one who set this thing up.

2. Do I have to read one chapter per week?

No, do what you like. Read it in one sitting and comment on all the things in a literary orgy. Read the introduction over a period of three weeks. Up to you.

3. Are you going to be asking questions as a prompt?

Maybe? If people want? I don’t know.

4. What if people are mean to me?

We have a Code of Conduct and I’ll warn them and then kick them out. We haven’t had to do that yet on our Slack, but we’re willing to. Don’t worry, though, it’s a nice crowd.

5. Is this really an FAQ, or have you just made up the questions as a sneaky way to shoehorn more information into your poorly-structured blog post?

Erm…

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