As I mentioned last week, we spent the weekend in Wales and Liverpool, driving home on Monday. I then worked Tuesday to Friday.
With only two weeks before the Global Moot (and the beta launch of MoodleNet) it’s been all systems go to get all of the features finished in time! It’s amazing how everything comes together at the last minute.
I’ve had a few more interactions than usual this week with Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s Founder and CEO, as he’s taking a bit more of a hands-on approach around product over the next few months. That’s no bad thing, as he’s obviously very experienced.
Conversations with my co-op colleagues about their recent work has made me realise what I’m missing on that front, so I’m going to aim to do more consultancy in 2020.
As I explained to subscribers last week, in November I’m sending out the Thought Shrapnel newsletter each Sunday, but it will only contain a roundup of interesting links. And then, I’ll be away for December to recharge my batteries for the new year!
Next weekend I fly to Barcelona for the Global Moot and Open EdTech. I’ll be away over a week, as there are Product Management and strategy/planning meetings either side.
Photo taken by me on Monday in Liverpool, around the corner from the Cavern Club.
I’ve been in Wales this weekend, which isn’t actually a country I’ve been to many times. It really is a lovely place, even in the depths of Autumn when the drizzly rain envelops the landscape.
The reason I was there is for the third and final weekend of the Mountain Leader training course I’m undertaking. Whether or not I decide to do the (separate) assessment, it’s been a fantastic, hands-on learning experience. I feel a lot more confident in taking others up into the mountains and what to do if anything went wrong.
This time around, given it’s half-term with a random teacher training day on Monday, I brought the family along with me. We stayed in a great place which is run by a couple who are mountain guides themselves. My wife and children have been for a walk of their own this weekend while I’ve been (literally) learning the Mountain Leader ropes.
We drove straight from Snowdonia to Liverpool for the fireworks display across the River Mersey on Sunday. It was spectacular, and much better than the small-scale stuff we usually witness back home! We recognised some of the River of Light installations from our trip to Amsterdam a few years ago.
Over the past week I’ve been recovering from last weekend’s events and sorting out priorities for MoodleNet. It’s now only a couple of weeks before the beta launch in Barcelona. I think everything’s going to be alright, and we’re going to really be able to show the power of federation.
I recorded a Thought Shrapnelmicrocast this week containing my reflections on Redecentralize and the Mozilla Festival. There’s a great write-up of the former by Piper Haywood. I also posted my usual roundup of interesting links that I’ve come across recently.
Talking of Thought Shrapnel, it’s got to that time of year where I usually take a break from blogging and social media. On top of that, it’s almost time to launch MoodleNet, so the pressure is on a bit.
I also want to spend some time doing some research and preparation for a digital literacies workshop I’m running in January for AMICAL. That may also involve updating and creating a new version of my ebook.
Next week, I’m taking Monday off to explore Liverpool with my family and take it easy after the Mountain Leader training. Then, it’s full steam ahead for Barcelona, ensuring we have everything we need to be able to allow people to set up their own federated instances of MoodleNet!
This week has been about two events for me: the Redecentralize conference on Friday, and then MozFest this weekend. This was the 10th Mozilla Festival, and I reckon I’ve attended six of them.
Returning to a place that you’ve been in several iterations of yourself is an interesting thing to do. I’ve been to MozFest when I worked for Jisc, for the Mozilla Foundation, as a consultant, and for Moodle. Going back helps me understand who I am, what I value, and what’s changing (and what’s staying the same).
I didn’t propose a session at MozFest, but kind of ended up running one anyway today. Around 40-50 people turned up for a hotly-anticipated session on the Fediverse. Unfortunately, the facilitator didn’t, and so the audience ended up running the session — with me taking care of most of it. I think it went OK.
While I’ve been down here, I’ve had dinner with co-op buddy Bryan Mathers, as well as re-connecting with old friend Nick Dennis. I’m am lucky to know such awesome people.
It’s less than a month now until Moodle’s inaugural Global Moot where I’ll be standing on stage with Mayel to announce the availability of MoodleNet. There’s a lot to get done before then, so I’ve been doing some boring-but-necessary spreadsheet work. It kind of has the feel of a burndown chart, but more tailored to our project as it also involves assigning priority and weight to various features and functionality.
Leading a project like this, which has the potential to quickly take off at any point after launch, can be a bit daunting. After all, there are more than 150 million users of Moodle LMS! On top of that, although we’ve been building MoodleNet since about this time last year, we’ve been doing so with only 2.8 FTE of allocated resource — and I’m the 0.8 of that not contributing any code…
Last weekend, I was in the Lake District near the Hardknott Pass, on an expedition and wild camping as part of my Mountain Leader training course. There’s a real range in experience levels on the course, with some people having already passed their Rock Climbing Instructor assessment, for example, whereas I’m one of the least experienced.
That lack of experience showed in the form of me taking the largest (75-litre) rucksack of the group, with my tent and Z-Lite rollmat strapped to the outside. That was mainly because I took my wife’s huge sleeping bag, as I knew it was going to be cold. That meant I was toasty warm overnight, but that what I was carrying was a bit unwieldy. By way of comparison, some of the others were carrying 40-litre rucksacks with everything inside!
We did lots of navigation, including night navigation, and talked about the art and science of leading groups, as well as emergency procedures. I feel a lot better equipped now. The reason for doing this course wasn’t necessarily to do the five-day assessment (although that’s always an option); it was to ensure that when I go out walking with friends and family, I know what I’m doing and feel like I can protect them.
I went to my third therapy session this week, something which I’m finding incredibly valuable. The first couple of sessions were about getting the ‘lay of the land’, so to speak, and so in this third session we really dug into the nub of the issue. As I’ve already said, I’d recommend therapy to pretty much anyone who feels like they’ve got some kind of blocker to them reaching their potential. Having a non-judgemental space to talk about things deeply important to me is aces.
I agreed this week to run a workshop on digital literacies at the AMICAL conference in Kuwait in January 2020. AMICAL is “a consortium of American international liberal arts institutions, working together on common goals for libraries, technology and learning”. I was approached by Maha Bali, after sending out a message to the 1,000+ people who have bought or downloaded The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. I’m looking forward to it, as it’s going to give me a focus point for updating my work in this area, and hopefully act as a springboard for both a new version of my ebook and further workshops/consultancy.
Next week, I’m taking Monday off to recover from the weekend, before working on MoodleNet stuff from Tuesday to Thursday. We’re then heading as a family down to North Wales, where I’ll be embarking on the third (and final) weekend of my Mountain Leader training. My wife and children will be heading up Snowdon, and then we’re making our way back via Liverpool.
This week has been a bit of an odd one, mainly because it began with my wife’s birthday and then threw me a bit of a curveball in the middle.
I usually plan out my weeks on a Monday morning (or if I’m Very Organised™ perhaps the prior Friday afternoon). This week I had everything mapped out, primarily because this weekend I’m off on my second Mountain Leader weekend, which involves wild camping in the Lake District. I had things to buy and stuff to prepare.
However, on Wednesday afternoon, I received a phone call from my father asking me to go immediately to the hospital where he was with my mother. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it transpired she’d suffered (suspected) temporary temporal lobe amnesia.
What I found fascinating was that, over the course of around four hours, what had been a complete memory ‘black hole’ for her slowly started to re-appear. The period between Sunday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon, none of which she could previously remember, came back to her. All, that is, except for the stressful event which seemed to trigger it.
The human brain is an amazing, but fragile, thing. My Grandmother lost her short-term memory entirely before she died, and her sister (my Great Aunt) had Alzheimer’s for the last few years of her life. I’m glad my mother seems to have recovered pretty much immediately.
Everything else this week therefore paled into into insignificance. I ended up taking Friday afternoon off work to get things bought, packed, and organised for the weekend. Thankfully, there’s a Montane outlet near my parents’ house, so I was able to feed two birds with one scone.
On the MoodleNet front, we’re on the home stretch towards the Global Moot in Barcelona. This week, we decided that instead of having a separate federation testing period and then the ‘launch’, we’d do things a bit differently. We think it makes more sense to start the federation testing period, and carry that through the Global Moot and on into December.
Talking of December, we’ve submitted a proposal for the ALT Online Winter Conference, and drafted a post about why we’ll be moving our code repositories away from gitlab.com (hint).
Other than that, I’ve been laying the groundwork for a security review of MoodleNet to take place before the federation testing begins. I’ve also been grappling with Aha! and liaising with a Moodle Partner about developing a plugin for Moodle LMS. It’s also been fantastic to welcome back Mayel de Borniol after his month-long parental leave.
I went to a climate change event, organised by Northumberland County Council. They seem to have a decent enough plan, but it’s not really worthy of a climate emergency. And I said as much, along with plans a bit more radical than they were proposing.
Last weekend, I greatly enjoyed the first of three weekends as part of a Mountain Leader course I’m undertaking. In the first session, before we got out and about in the Peak District, we were asked why we’d decided to take the course. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it’s basically for three reasons:
To have a significant hobby/interest that isn’t screen-related
So that I can take my family up into the mountains and feel like I know what I’m doing
As an excuse to get away for the weekend by myself
The third of these is something I’m happier to admit as of late. It’s OK to know oneself.
I had another therapy session this week, in which we started exploring my social anxiety. I’m (currently) wired differently from people who are nervous about public speaking but who are in their element at informal gatherings. I avoid parties and anywhere that involves unstructured interaction, to be honest, and so I’m working on that with my therapist.
This week, I worked 4.5 days on MoodleNet, as I ‘owed’ Moodle half a day from last week. While I usually take Wednesdays off and break the working week into two halves, October will be different. I’m taking Mondays off this month as I want to have recovery time from the Mountain Leader weekends, and it’s Hannah’s (my wife) birthday this coming Monday.
Things are going well with MoodleNet, I’d say. The team has got into a great rhythm, and I’m very much looking forward to Mayel returning from parental leave next week. We’re now very much in the run-up to the Global Moot in Barcelona next month, where we’ll be launching the MoodleNet beta. There’s plenty to do before that, but we’re in good shape.
I enjoyed speaking with 10 Moodle community members this week about resource uploading, which led to this blog post. I’m pleased that outline plans for MoodleNet cloud hosting are taking shape, too. I want it to be really easy to set up an instance.
On Thursday evening I took my son to an open evening at the local high school. We have first, middle, and high schools in Northumberland, which is unusual for the UK, but also awesome. I went through this system and have taught in the ‘usual’ (primary/secondary) way of organising schools, and have to say I prefer the tripartite approach. It’s crazy to me that I have a son who’s almost ready to attend high school, particularly as I remember his age so vividly.
I’m currently reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and have loved bingeing on the second series of Motherland on BBC iPlayer with Hannah. If you have school-age kids, and particularly if you live in the UK, you’ll find it hilarious.
Next week, I’m celebrating Hannah’s birthday and working at home, before heading to the Lake District for what could be an interesting weekend. And when I say ‘interesting’ I mean tough. And when I say ‘tough’ I mean cold.
One thing I couldn’t talk about last week was the surprise celebration we had planned for my father’s 70th birthday. We went to The Treehouse Restaurant at The Alnwick Garden, which has been the venue of several Belshaw family celebrations over the years.
Last Sunday, I drove down to Oundle for the memorial service to celebrate the life of Dai Barnes. The eulogy I gave can be found here. It was great to see the (huge!) school chapel packed out with family, friends, colleagues, and students.
After a busy weekend, I finally succumbed to the cold that has affected most of the rest of my family. That’s meant a strange pattern to my working week, as I’ve been trying to shake off the man flu. I ended up working full days on Tuesday and Friday, and half a day on Thursday.
I deactivated my @dajbelshaw Twitter account on Wednesday, and then on Thursday realised it was probably more useful just to rebrand it as ‘Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel’. I’m just auto-posting stuff to Twitter now as I’m kind of done with that rage machine.
This weekend is the first of three as part of a Mountain Leader course I’m starting. I’ll be in the Peak District, then the Lake District, and finally Snowdonia. There’s some wild camping to do, but thankfully not this weekend as I’m still feeling a bit rough…
Photo of gravestone taken by me in a Morpeth churchyard. It made me smile that ‘THIS STONE’ is all that remains legible!
Today, Sunday 29th September 2019, I’m giving a eulogy for my good friend Dai Barnes, who passed away in early August. For those who can’t attend the memorial service at Oundle School, I’m sharing the text of it here — along with the audio contributions I’m including from the last-ever episode of TIDE.
Thank you to everyone who had a hand in shaping this, and to Dai’s family for allowing me the honour of speaking at his memorial service.
I believe it was the author Terry Pratchett who said that “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.” My friend Dai Barnes certainly caused some ripples during the time he spent on this Earth.
Today, almost two months after Dai’s passing, all of us in this room are at different stages in the grieving process. Some of us here knew Dai, or David as he was known by his family, for most of his life. Some of us knew him for some brief parts of it. What we all have in common is a feeling that he went too soon.
Dai was around a decade older than me, but it didn’t feel like that at all. He had such a youthful exuberance about him and I’ve never met anyone who had such an affinity with kids. It really was his mission in life to be the best educator he could possibly be. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot more about that from Bill when he talks about Dai’s professional life.
For me, Dai was one of the most straightforwardly complex people I’ve ever come across. He was a bit of an enigma. At the same time as there being layers and layers to him that you’d peel back as conversations unfolded, he also wore his heart on his sleeve. I’ve never known anyone like him.
Most people here will have known Dai IRL (“in real life”), but I just want to take a moment to talk about the other half of his existence. Dai’s online life was just as important to him as his life offline, and the number of tweets, audio and video recordings, and other messages that have come in since his passing really is testament to the impact he had on other people – even at a distance.
Dai joined a new online service called Twitter in 2007 and, in fact, that’s how we met. In those days we’d also see each other in person at TeachMeets and other events, and that eventually led to us to co-host a Sunday night online meeting for educators called EdTechRoundUp. I just want to play a short audio clip from Mary Cooch, who some of you may know as @moodlefairy on Twitter. She was also part of that group.
EdTechRoundUp was around a decade ago. After that ended, Dai and I maintained contact, and then, back in 2014, we met IRL in a cafe in Newcastle. We talked about how we missed the EdTechRoundUp days and decided to start a new podcast together. We must have talked for about two and a half hours before I noticed he wasn’t wearing any shoes.
Going barefoot was the thing that most people noticed about Dai. He claimed that shoes were the “devil’s work” but, actually, he had a more prosaic reason for unencumbering his feet. He had fallen arches, and so after years of doctors’ advice leading to ineffective insoles and various other attempted solutions, he looked online and found that barefoot running might be the answer.
Dai went without shoes wherever and whenever he could. He even walked barefoot to the top of Dale Head in the Lake District with me once! But he was nevertheless a pragmatist – a point he made in the introduction to a blog post he wrote back in 2016 about his experience of going barefoot in the Samaria Gorge in Crete:
Being barefoot brings burden. You have to set your own rules. Some are die-hard – never a shoe in sight of sole. Never compromise. But that’s not my way. I wear my naked feet when I feel it’s okay. By default my choice is to be shoeless. But some things require footwear: football, cricket, tennis, uniforms. It would be misrepresentative not to expose my wrestle with pushing to be footloose everywhere I go. But there are expectations to meet. I am not the type to live beyond the influence of social expectation.
To be fair, the barefoot approach did fit in well with Dai’s slightly hippie approach to life. His family tell me that, as a child, he claimed that when he grew up he wanted to be a “beach bum”. And then, when he left home, for a few years he had long hair that he didn’t wash very often!
Dai certainly had a unique approach to life. He was reliable yet spontaneous. He was willing to uphold tradition and convention, but wasn’t afraid to jump up on a table during an observed lesson to emphasise a point. His private school students obtained amazing results, yet he sometimes taught them in quite unconventional ways. For example, occasionally, he would allow them to stay in their rooms on a Saturday morning and teach the class virtually using a chat app called Slack.
The other thing that everyone comments on when they remember Dai is THE VOICE. It was my privilege to be able to record that voice for the world to hear through the Today In Digital Education podcast. We recorded 119 episodes of TIDE, as it was known, with the 120th being a memorial episode to celebrate Dai’s life. We’ve already heard Mary’s contribution to that, and now here’s Kevin McLaughlin talking not only about Dai’s voice, but about his sheer gravitas:
There are so many other things I could tell you about Dai. The short amount of time I have here just isn’t enough. I want to talk about his amazing musical ability; he said that “a song is an algorithm for a person”. I want to talk about his generosity, his leadership, how jealous I was that he was better than me at every PlayStation 4 game we played together. Oh, and the time he bought Eylan Ezekiel and me some bamboo underpants that he discovered in India.
Not everyone who knew Dai can be here today. As I’ve already mentioned, the number of people who got in touch with Amy, Eylan, and me in the days and weeks after Dai’s passing became almost overwhelming. From those memories that flooded in, I’d like to share just one more. This came from Keith Brown, a former colleague of Dai’s:
Dai and me were the IT department at St Benedict’s for about 7 years from 2006-2013. The funny thing was that he was my boss as Head of Department and I was his boss as Deputy Head of 6th Form as he was one of my pastoral team. We also played in the staff band together. He taught me pretty much everything I know and have traded off since! I left St Benedict’s in 2013 and implemented what I’d learnt from Dai as Deputy Head. I am now doing the same as a Head in Wimbledon. I’ve been able to carve out a career in my latter years based on much of what Dai taught me…. He was a friend, but perhaps more importantly, just a thoroughly good man.
So, in closing, those ripples that Terry Pratchett talked about? The ones that have an effect far beyond the life of an individual? Dai’s ripples are not going to stop for a LONG time yet. So thank you David Sutherland Barnes, it was our absolute privilege to share a part of life’s journey with you. Your impact on us, and on so many others, has helped to shape who we are.
Photos taken from those shared on Twitter using the #RIPDai hashtag.
This week seems to have gone quickly, which is a good thing. It means I’ve been in a state of flow. Having Wednesday as my ‘day off’ to get life admin done and spend some time by myself really suits me. In fact, the top piece of advice I give to people seeking greater ‘work/life balance’ is for them to go down to four days per week, if they can.
It’s important to note that ‘spending time by myself’ is different to ‘working alone’. With the latter, what I’m working on is (at least partly) dictated by other people. Also, of course, while I may be physically alone, in 2019 the chances of me being digitally alone are non-existent.
I began therapy this week, which is not something that younger Doug would have thought he’d be admitting to, aged 38. I’m delighted to say it went really well. We need to dig deeper in further sessions, but it turns out that the ‘anxiety issues’ I thought were causing me very specific problems may actually be highly-repressed feelings of self-doubt.
Those who don’t know me very well may be shaking their heads at this point, while I’m sure that those who do will be nodding along sagely. Sorry for everything, etc.
You know, it’s absolutely true what they say: the more intuitive something feels to a user, the more thought has gone into design by the team responsible for it.
I’ve also been planning for beyond the MoodleNet beta and writing in spaces currently available only to my team. I’ll share that thinking more widely soon. (Hint: it includes McLuhan’s tetrads and an edtech pencil metaphor.)
There’s always the management-y stuff to do when you lead a team, and this week has been no different. I’ve provided input into the (WIP) Moodle Product Management framework, put together a proposal for my role in 2020, and discussed some options for ‘MoodleNet on MoodleCloud‘ with various people.
I’ve now lost over 2.5kg (5.5lbs) in weight since our summer holiday, which is partly getting back to a routine that doesn’t revolve around ice-cream and beer, but also partly because I’ve got back into swimming again. That’s important at this time of year, when the changeable weather makes it less likely that I’ll go for a run.
Talking of the weather, my SAD light came out this week. As I’ve said many times, when my parents bought it for me a few years ago, I was beyond skeptical. However, it’s a revelation and I now wouldn’t be without it for the Autumn/Winter months!
Finally, I’ve spent a lot of this week with tears streaming down my face. It’s the memorial service for my friend Dai Barnes this weekend, and I’m determined to get to the end of the eulogy I’m giving without falling to pieces. Of course, being emotional in these situations is entirely appropriate, but I owe it to Dai and everyone present to save my tears for when I’ve finished. Wish me luck!
Photograph taken by me at Hirst Welfare, Ashington, Northumberland
Striking as part of the Global Climate Strike. We took the kids out of school and through to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to give them their first sense of activism. We made signs and everything. Awesomely, Moodle employees were encouraged to join in the strikes.
Writing an updated version of the eulogy I’m going to give at the memorial for Dai Barnes next weekend. It can never capture all of his different facets, but I hope it gives people there some insight into them.
Continuing leading the work around MoodleNet. Mayel, our technical architect, is on parental leave, but Ivan (designer and front-end developer) is back, and we’re in pretty good shape at the moment. I’ve been talking with Moodle Partners about further development of the Moodle LMS plugin that our team prototyped.
Next week is my last at home before a fair bit of travel between now and the end of November. Some of that is for a Mountain Leader course I’m going on (three weekends in different parts of the country), some for work, and some for what I’d loosely call ‘professional development’ (MozFest!)
I used to employ a bullet-point format for these weeknotes but that seems to have gone by the wayside since starting my Friday roundups on Thought Shrapnel of interesting things I’ve read. I guess I don’t like writing two bullet-point based posts within a 24-hour period…
Anyway, it feels like a golden age on the internet for newsletters and podcasts at the moment. Which is to say that, sadly, it’s not particularly a golden age for blogging and other forms of social media. Most of the good stuff arrives in your ears and inbox rather than the open web.
In an attempt to force myself to use bullets, here’s three newsletters that you should check out. Interestingly, they’re all ones I pay for via Substack:
I’ve already listed a bunch of my favourite podcasts in the show notes to Microcast #072.
This was quite a quiet week, all things considered. The rest of the MoodleNet team apart from James were otherwise occupied with holidays, moving house, or adding a small human to their family!
After making an appointment related to stuff I was discussing last week, I got a chance to talk to someone Trained In These Things. It’s not like any of this is a mystery to me; I put the anxiety I experienced from my teaching career into a box, which now, almost a decade later, is being triggered by my involvement with Scouts. So after a quick chat, I’ve been referred for some CBT. Fingers crossed.
I’d told our Group Scout Leader that I was planning to step down after Christmas, but decided that it was actually in my best interests to do so immediately. While it made me feel guilty for the lack of notice, they’ve got enough leaders to cope, and it should help me get things sorted out.
Two more bits of news. First, the family of Dai Barnes have asked me to deliver a eulogy at his memorial service. It’s a huge honour to do so, and I’m grateful to Eylan Ezekiel and Dai’s brothers for their help with this. Second, I’ve managed to squeeze myself onto the last ‘split weekend’ Mountain Leader course I could go on this year. We start in the Peak District next month, and I’m very much looking forward to it.
Finally, I’d deleted Red Dead Redemption 2after Dai passed away, but my brother-in-law Sean bought the game specially to play with me. It was a lovely gesture and very much appreciated, so I’ve reinstalled it and been showing him the ropes. It won’t take him long to be much better than me, as Dai was. (I’ve been playing the FIFA series of games for 25 years and still get rinsed by nine year-olds.)
Next week, I’m at home with Wednesday off to get the eulogy written and life admin done. All of the MoodleNet team apart from Mayel will be back, so it’s time to crack on with getting everything ready for the beta launch in November!