Open Thinkering


Weeknote 49/2017

Illustration by Edward Kobus

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.


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.


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: [email protected]

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