Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 6)

#RIPDai: in memory of a good friend

Dai Barnes was my partner in crime. We’d posse up, steal some horses, perhaps rob a bank, and then have a dramatic shoot-out with the law. All the while on PS4 voice chat.

Not only would we talk about how much of a great game Red Dead Redemption 2 is, but also life, the world, and everything. Dai would swear like a sailor. We’d laugh. We’d tell each other stuff we probably wouldn’t have shared with other people.

Men don’t really call one another up and just ‘have a chat’, which is one of the reasons why I found recording the TIDE podcast with Dai so amazing. We recorded TIDE for just over four years, from March 2015 until this June. It was just like having a chat with a mate while drinking whisky, that just happened to also be a podcast.

TIDE didn’t come from nowhere. Dai and I met in October 2014 in a Newcastle coffee shop when he was up for an event. I hadn’t seen him for a few years, and had a actually forgotten he went barefoot. We talked about how we missed the good old days of EdTechRoundUp, which was between about 2007 and 2011.

Dai 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. He was fiercely loyal, but (I’ve learned) also kept his friendship groups separate.

He was around a decade older than me, but it didn’t feel like that at all. Dai 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.

If there’s anything that Dai’s taught me over the years, and I feel like he’s taught me a lot, it’s that there’s nothing so important as human relationships. He also taught me a healthy dose of pragmatism gets shit done. And finally, knowing a little of his personal life, he demonstrated how to keep it all together and show courage under fire. What a guy.

I miss him.


Dai Barnes passed away suddenly in his sleep after a camping trip with friends in Idaho, USA on the night of Thursday 1st / Friday 2nd August 2019.


Ways to remember Dai:

  1. Write a blog post (see Christian, Tim, Aaron), compose a poem, record a song, or paint a picture. You could share using the #RIPDai hashtag on Twitter.
  2. Contribute to the #barefootfordai hashtag on Twitter (and Flipgrid)
  3. A few of us a planning a memorial episode of TIDE for later this month for which we’ll be taking audio contributions. Whether you knew Dai well or fleetingly, please have a think about what you could say, and we’ll feature your contributions.

Finally, I’d like to thank Amy Burvall and Eylan Ezekiel for their love, support, and organisational skills. Also, the edtech community, whose outpouring of affection for Dai has been touching.

Please message Amy, Eylan, or me for Dai’s parents’ address should you wish to send something. I believe they are collecting tweets and other online contributions into a book.

Weeknote 26/2019

Last week I:

  • Worked on MoodleNet stuff from Monday to Thursday. We’re having some technical problems, but the new user interface is looking good!
  • Changed the way I work on Thought Shrapnel and wrote about it here.
  • Went to Scout camp as a leader for the first time (previously I’ve been a ‘parent helper’). We had a great time, although I hurt my ribs on Friday night so sleeping was a bit uncomfortable.

This week I’m working Tuesday-Friday.

Weeknote 18/2019

As promised, I’m back on my weeknote game. So, this week I’ve been:

  • Sending out an annual survey for Thought Shrapnel. People said nice things, which made me smile. I’m also happy that Thought Shrapnel Daily seems to be well-received. I’ll write up my workflow for that at some point!
  • Working on the MoodleNet project:
  • Working with my We Are Open co-op colleagues on a new forum for the Open Badges community. More on that soon!
  • Absolutely battering my legs at the gym on Monday by squatting too many weights. I’ve suffered all week 🙄

Next week, I’m doing some walking in the Lake District with my son on Monday (which should count towards my QMDs), and then heading to the Creative Commons Summit in Lisbon on Wednesday.

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 — 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…

A modest proposal for nudging young people into finding a direction in life

If you go to the Mozilla home page, right click, and ‘view source’, you see something like this:

Mozilla source code

Underneath the ASCII art of a dragon breathing fire (and the Mozilla logo), the page reads:

Hi there, nice to meet you!

Interested in having a direct impact on hundreds of millions of users? Join
Mozilla, and become part of a global community that’s helping to build a
brighter future for the Web.

Visit https://careers.mozilla.org to learn about our current job openings.
Visit https://www.mozilla.org/contribute for more ways to get involved and
help support Mozilla.

I don’t know if they’ve got any stats on how many people respond to this call to action, but when I was at Mozilla, there were lots of people who I wouldn’t consider your ‘usual’ tech contributors. I’m guessing things like this make a practical difference.

Last night I had a dream. No, stay with me. In it, I was advising someone who was having a real problem with kids trying to get around filters and firewalls he’d put in place in a school. It’s probably because tomorrow I’ll be at BETT in London where all kinds of technologies will be on offer trying to ever more lock down the internet to children.

Before I continue, I’m not advocating a free-for-all. Goodness knows I have to lock things down a bit for my 12 year-old son at home. However, I do think there’s an opportunity here, and it’s related to what Mozilla do with their home page.


For better or worse, most educational institutions now do some kind of forensic tracking and analysis of searches made and websites visited across their network. Given the duty of care they have and the times we live in, I’d expect nothing different. However, I’m pretty sure we could leverage that to help young people make some choices in life.

It doesn’t have to be ASCII art and volunteering for a tech company! How about the following?

  • Repeated searches for food leads to an email invitiation to cookery club
  • Visiting a bunch of beauty and fashion sites leads to a prompt to ask if they’ve considered doing a qualification in design
  • Violations of school security and privacy policies lead to recruitment to being an ‘ethical hacker’ for the organisation

Schools and other educational institutions have so much data on young people these days. I just wonder whether, with a few little tweaks and some lateral thinking, we could make that useful to students, too?

I’d love to know if anywhere is already doing this! Have you seen any examples?

Weeknote 47/2018

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #325 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. It was entitled ‘Green screen LOLs’ and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on Patreon.
  • Setting up and configuring a Mastodon instance for Thought Shrapnel supporters. Thanks to those who helped me test it!
  • Working on the MoodleNet project (Mon-Fri):
    • Travelling to and from Barcelona for a team work week. It was the first time Mayel and Alex had met in person, and it was great to have Kayleigh and Sam from Outlandish with us on the Thursday and Friday.
    • Presenting to the Board (and the rest of the management team) MoodleNet’s quarterly review report.
    • Overseeing the hooking-up of the backend and frontend development. It’s going well.
    • Prototyping and reconfiguring some of the user experience for MoodleNet. It was great to be able to connect with Matt from Outlandish, who was back in London, for some of this.
    • Eating a lot of vegetarian and vegan food, which was great.
    • Catching up with Nate Otto and Sara Arjona Téllez about Open Badges and/in Moodle.
    • Reflecting on feedback from user testing around the MoodleNet sign-up process.
    • Putting out our ‘Contributor Covenant‘ for feedback from the community.
  • Recording a microcast, available only to Patreon supporters:
  • Using a new avatar (see the ‘Start here‘ page).
  • Starting to run again after resting my knee last week. I went three times in Barcelona, including down to the marina where I took the (unfiltered) photo that accompanies this weeknote.

Next week I’m at home all week. I’m looking forward to having a rest from blogging, social media and writing Thought Shrapnel. I’m tired.

Weeknote 42/2018

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’ll be at home from Monday to Thursday, before driving down with my family to London for the Mozilla Festival. I’ll be going straight from there to Denver for MoodleMoot US on the Sunday.

Weeknote 40/2018

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #318 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. This one was called ‘Blisters a-go-go’. Today’s newsletter is delayed due to something I discuss below! Thanks to those who make Thought Shrapnel possible via their support on Patreon.
  • Working on the MoodleNet project:
    • Getting ready for Mayel de Borniol, our Technical Architect heading off on holiday for three weeks! He’s left Alex Castaño with plenty to get on with!
    • Documenting the fork of the Pleroma codebase we’re planning to build upon. Alex created a new branch in the repository, started creating the architecture documentation, added some comments to schemas, and started work on an ActivityStreams library.
    • Meeting with colleagues about registrations, as well as wider issues around how MoodleNet will work with Moodle Core and MoodleCloud.
    • Adding GitLab milestones. A lot of them are placeholders for now, but it helps us with dependencies.
    • Meeting with our COO to discuss project resourcing.
    • Putting the finishing touches to our (accepted) Mozilla Festival session which will be in London right after Mayel gets back.
    • Asking Mary Cooch some questions about the existing moodle.net service for an interview to be featured in an upcoming blog post.
    • Contributing to the Culture Champs organisation of Wellbeing Week (next week!)
    • Investigating who we could hire to do security testing of MoodleNet pre-MVP.
    • Meeting with Emilio Lozano to discuss approaches to project management.
    • Writing a post on the new technical area of the MoodleNet blog about our decision to use Elixir (Alex’s post based on Mayel’s docs)
  • Recording, editing and releasing Episode 110 of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast with my co-host Dai Barnes. We entitled this episode ‘Coaching and bullshit’, discussing career advice, coaching, the ‘lower left’, a bullshit receptivity scale, post-truth, walking, Google activity controls, and more!
  • Meeting with my co-op colleagues to plan upcoming gigs. Amongst other things, we’ve started on a comic to explain how to setup a room for remote participation!
  • Curating interesting things I came across on the Thought Shrapnel blog:
  • Helping with 6th Morpeth Scouts:
    • Recording the proceedings of the Executive Committee meeting (as Secretary).
    • Performing the role of ‘catcher’ on the ‘mini-twilight’ held on Thursday night.
    • Leading a team as part of Operation Twilight on Saturday. Essentially a huge game of hide-and-seek across a 26km walk – great fun!

Next week, I’m working four days for Moodle (Mon-Thurs) and then doing some co-op work on Friday.

Sociocratic design sprints

Update: Check out Kayleigh’s more comprehensive post on this at the Outlandish blog!


I wanted to take a moment to record a great twist that Outlandish made to the now-classic Google Ventures design sprint.

The week-long process, as documented in The Sprint Book, requires a ‘decision-maker’ with authority to sign things off. The reasoning?

Without a Decider, decisions won’t stick. If your Decider can’t join the entire sprint, have her appoint a delegate who can

On the very first day of the recent MoodleNet design sprint, Outlandish introduced us to a way of making decisions without recourse to a single person. That process is sociocracy (or ‘dynamic governance’) and something that, as a co-operative, Outlandish uses on a daily basis.

Sociocracy process

Here’s how it works:

  1. Appoint a Chair and Note-taker
  2. Agree time boundary
  3. Invite proposal
  4. Clarifying round
  5. Initial reactions
  6. Test for consent
  7. Draw out concerns
  8. Group concerns
  9. Resolve one group at a time
  10. Test for consent on each resolution
  11. Repeat until consent is gained

In practice, over the week-long design sprint, it was more like:

  1. Invite proposal (e.g. “MoodleNet should use the same colour scheme as Moodle core”)
  2. Clarifying round (e.g. “Do you mean the exact same colour orange?”)
  3. Draw out concerns (e.g. “I’m concerned that people will get confused between our products”)
  4. Test for consent (e.g. “I don’t have any critical concerns”)
  5. Invite new proposal (e.g. “MoodleNet should use similar brand guidelines to Moodle core”)
  6. (repeat)

There are several benefits to this process, which becomes quicker and more natural the more times you do it:

  • The group gets used to giving consent despite having small concerns
  • ‘Critical’ concerns from individuals can lead to modified (and improved) proposals
  • The group can quickly move forward without getting stuck on opinions

I’ve read quite a bit about sociocracy in theory, but it was so good to see the approach working in practice. Not only did it make the week more democractic, but it actually accelerated things! The Outlandish team got us testing on Thursday instead of Friday, which meant we spent a day iterating and focusing on next steps.

No easy answers

In the early days of new ‘disruptive’ technologies (see MOOCs, blockchain, Open Badges…) the rhetoric is always about how one thing will replace something else, democratise a system, and/or reduce costs. While the latter is usually true, unfortunately what tends to happen is that existing power dynamics, far from being disrupted, are reinforced.

I’m thinking about these things after conversations with a whole range of people about Project MoodleNet — including one with Stephen Downes yesterday. There’s no such thing as a neutral system, so every time you design a new technology-based system, you’re designing to reinforce or subvert existing power structures.

Take, for example, private schools and elite universities. There’s a vested interest for almost everyone in their ecosystem to maintain their status. After all, if the reputation of the school or university is tarnished, the value of the credential earned by an individual from that institution could be reduced by implication.

That reduction in a credential’s value wouldn’t be so significant if the time for which it is deemed relevant were shorter than, say, a lifetime. I earned a doctorate from a top-tier university just over five years ago, a Masters degree fifteen years ago, and a Bachelor of Arts degree a year before that. At what point should these be deemed to have ‘expired’. Should they? It’s an interesting question, and may depend on discipline.

Back to designing technological systems, and the immediate and pressing question is over how to gain traction. The easiest way of doing this, of course, is to appeal to existing and entrenched privilege. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours: I’ll give you privileged status in my new system if you allow me to lean on your existing reputation.

What’s the opposite of that? Well, I guess it’s the approach that was attempted in the early days of Open Badges. In other words, create an ecosystem that puts everyone on an equal playing field, and see what happens. Interestingly, while the existing status quo (awarding bodies, universities, professional organisations) have used it to shore-up their position, there’s also new players.

Ideally, I’d like Project MoodleNet to work for everyone. I’d like the teacher in a developing country with few resources to be able to get the same amount of kudos and recognition as the educator in an elite university. The difficulty, of course, is designing a system that doesn’t feel like it’s stacked in favour of one over the other…


Image: Levelling the Playing Field by Bryan Mathers shared under a CC BY-ND license

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