Open Thinkering


Month: November 2019

Weeknote 48/2019

I’ve been really tired this week, partly because I’ve been sleepwalking so much. That, in turn, is a function of this time of year (when I get more restless in general) and possibly my decision to rebalance my focus a bit in 2020.

Lack of sleep triggers my migraines, so I ended up taking Friday off work as I couldn’t really think properly. Despite that, I still had to work on last-minute contracts for the MoodleNet team.

Having time off is actually a pretty difficult thing for a remote worker. There have been times when I definitely wouldn’t have gone into an office, but have nevertheless been heavily dosed-up on painkillers, lying in bed using my laptop. You also never feel properly “off-duty”.

I talked about these kinds of things, as well as the obvious massive upsides to remote work, in a short presentation I gave at my son’s school this week. In addition, I discussed the importance of keeping your options open, and the benefits of working for yourself or with friends instead of for big corporates.

Other than that, because last week was so intense, I only worked two days this week. My main focus was on ensuring the MoodleNet team performed a retrospective, and then let everyone following the project’s progress know what’s going on. Some of that is captured in this blog post.

On Monday, ostensibly my ‘day off’ I attended We Are Open‘s monthly co-op day, my first for around six months while I was a ‘dormant member’. There’s plenty for me to get my teeth into there, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved in some very tasty client work soon.

Finally, I’ve been preparing for my trip to New York next week to speak at ITHAKA’s Next Wave event. I realised that I’ve been putting off reading Shoshana Zuboff’s epic book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism because I know it will mean making some changes in my own digital life. I’m about a quarter of my way through it, and it couldn’t be a better way to ensure I’m informed for my session.

The title and description I’ve been given is:

Truth, Lies, and Digital Fluency

The internet and social media apps are integral to society, research, and learning today, but increasingly we are questioning the trustworthiness of digital information. How bad is it today, and how much worse can it get? What can and should educators, researchers, information professionals and the companies whose sites enable information sharing do?

The person going following me on the programme is from Facebook and talking about data and elections, so I couldn’t be a better warm-up act, really…

So, yes, next week I’m doing MoodleNet work on Monday and Friday. I’m in New York from Tuesday to Thursday. There’s then two weeks left until Christmas, during which time the MoodleNet team should be able to start some form of federation testing.

Team Belshaw will be in Iceland just before Christmas (including for my birthday) so I’m very much looking forward to that.

Photo of anti-fascist posters in MNAC, Barcelona taken by me last Sunday morning.

Rebalancing my focus for 2020

TL;DR: I’m cutting down my Moodle days to allocate more time to We Are Open Co-op. I’ll still be leading the MoodleNet project.

In May 2016 I helped set up a co-operative with friends and former Mozilla colleagues called We Are Open Co-op. Since that time, we’ve done some inspiring work with fantastic clients, learned a lot about the co-operative economy, and worked in solidarity with similar organisations.

Since January 2018, and particularly during the last six months, I had taken a bit of a back seat in the co-op, focusing on my work at Moodle. However, the time has come for me to refocus my efforts to help continue building an organisation that I not only co-own but see as part of my life’s work.

It’s been an amazing journey over the last couple of years to take MoodleNet from an idea to reality. We did so with a small, part-time team who have gone above and beyond to achieve the vision of a federated, resource-centric social network for educators.

The future is bright for MoodleNet and I’ll be continuing in my role as Product Manager, ensuring the project has the necessary team and budget to make the required impact. I think it’s going to make a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of educators.

I’m sure it’s not necessary to note, but shall do anyway, that this decision was purely mine and not forced on me by anyone at Moodle. Over time, I’ve come to realise that my interests and talents are in the area of early-stage innovation.

So, from January 2020, I’ll be cutting back to three days for Moodle, meaning I’ve got more headspace for consultancy work. I’m excited to broaden my horizons again, getting involved in some of the really interesting projects that my co-op colleagues have picked up during the last few months, and working with new clients!

If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them below. And if you’d like to work with the co-op, you might want to email: [email protected]

Weeknote 47/2019

Wow, it’s been quite the week. The relativity of time really is amazing. Some days, weeks, and months seem to fly by, whereas others seem to, well, do the opposite.

I can’t believe it’s only been seven days since I last wrote a weeknote, as so much as happened in that time. I’ve been in Barcelona attending product and management meetings, presenting and facilitating at the Global Moot, and helping at Open EdTech Global.

The main headline, I guess, is that, sadly, I didn’t get to demo a working version of MoodleNet. Mayel and I had given a demo to Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s Founder and CEO, last week. Since then, it worked, then it didn’t, then it kind-of-worked.

As a result, as Product Manager, I made the decision to show it to those who attended the Global Moot in Barcelona, but hold off giving out user accounts. I just didn’t want people’s first experience of MoodleNet to be sub-optimal.

For those interested in what went wrong, MoodleNet is a complex, federated system with a backend, frontend, and an API that communicates between them. We’d tested the new backend, but when we came to deploy it, unfortunately it broke all of the MoodleNet instances. Despite the best efforts of our small, part-time team, staying up into the early hours for a few nights in a row, and going well beyond the call of duty, it ultimately wasn’t enough.

This was a real shame, as Mayel, Ivan, Karen, and James (as well as Antonis and Alessandro, who we’ve had on loan) worked so hard on MoodleNet, and there is genuine enthusiasm within the community for what we’re doing. I don’t want to give any hard-and-fast predictions at this point, but we’re talking days/weeks, rather than months, before we can start testing federation properly with those who have already signed up for the programme.

Right after the Global Moot was Open EdTech Global, a new conference for those interested in, well, open educational technologies. The main focus of the event was on getting a draft of what’s being called the ‘Barcelona Blueprint’ which will be announced shortly. I’ve signed it, but view it as a v0.1 for further input from the wider community.

The small event was convened by Moodle, with sponsorship from other open edtech companies, and the process we went through was facilitated by Martin Dougiamas, whose idea it was. I can imagine next year’s event being much bigger, as it’s a much-needed way for people working in open edtech to pull together.

I’m looking forward to some time off next week, although I will be attending the monthly co-op day next Monday with my We Are Open colleagues. Next year, after an intense focus on Moodle-related activities, I’m going to be much more available for consultancy work through the co-op than I have been this year.

My MoodleNet work isn’t finished, but I’m so looking forward to getting back into working on a range of projects and with a variety of organisations through the co-op.

Other than that, next week I’ll be doing a retrospective with the MoodleNet team, as well as finalising the product roadmap. I’ve also got to plan for my upcoming trip to New York to speak at ITHAKA’s The Next Wave event, as well as start doing some background work for the AMICAL conference in Kuwait in January.

Photo is a selfie of me in Barcelona with Mayel de Borniol, MoodleNet’s Technical Architect, and all-round amazing human being.