Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 6)

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

Why I didn’t go on ‘Belshaw Black Ops’ at the end of 2017

At the end of every year since 2010 I have, to the greatest extent possible, disappeared back into the analogue world to recharge. This has been known as Belshaw Black Ops after Paul Lewis decided that just calling it a ‘hiatus’ wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll enough.

I’ve greatly appreciated these periods away from social media, blogging, and personal email as a time when I can be ‘more myself’. Why, then, a few people have asked me, didn’t I continue this routine at the end of 2017? The simple answer is that I’ve achieved the kind of balance that means it didn’t feel necessary.

There are a number of factors here:

  1. Switching from Twitter to social.coop half-way through the year. Given that I still get the most-shared stuff from my Twitter network filtering through to me via Nuzzel, that’s been a revelation.
  2. Looking after myself a bit better health-wise, including deciding to follow a mostly plant-based diet, starting running again, and taking supplements such as multivitamins, high doses of Vitamin D, and L-Theanine.
  3. Enjoying the sunnier weather where I live (it makes a difference!)
  4. Blogging in a more short-form way via Discours.es and Thought Shrapnel Live!
  5. Prioritising what’s important in my life. I find reading Stoic philosophy every morning helps greatly in that regard.

Today is my first day back as an employee. I’m working for Moodle, makers of the world’s largest (open source!) learning platform. I’m working four days per week leading an innovation project for them aimed at creating a new open social media platform for educators, focused on professional development and open content. I’ll still be consulting through We Are Open Co-op.

It was my birthday just before Christmas, and I’ve now spent most of my thirties working from home. There’s benefits and drawbacks to doing so, but the main upside for me is much more control over my schedule. I’ll still have a lot of autonomy at Moodle, so I anticipate that, while I’ll be away during the summer, there won’t be a need for Belshaw Black Ops in 2018, either.

Photo by Paul Green available under a CC0 license

Weeknote 41/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Caught up in the pro-unity, anti-separatist demonstrations in Catalonia. It was all family-friendly, and very good natured. An experience I won’t forget! My father and I also visited Gaudi’s incredible, unfinished Sagrada Família, the Nou Camp, and various other places in Barcelona over the weekend.
  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #278 was entitled ‘Sí, Barcelona!’. Why not check out my Thought Shrapnel Live! channel on Telegram where I post links as I come across them. My  valued supporters are awesome.
  • Helping the International School of Geneva with their digital strategy. I spent two days at Campus des Nations, meeting with staff, students, and parents. I’m writing a report on suggested next steps for them, which I’ll deliver next week.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 89 (‘Hijacking Minds’) of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, which I record with Dai Barnes. This week, we discussed barefoot walking, rubber duck debugging, lessons from the artists, the other side of innovation, how our minds can be hijacked by social media, and more!
  • Managing with a sub-optimal cheap Android smartphone as my OnePlus 5 was being repaired. That’ll teach me for prioritising style over substance in a protective case…
  • Continuing working on Phases 1 and 2 of the Totara Learning community migration strategy.
  • Working on more of the the technology-enhanced teacher professional development report I’m helping research and write for the Education Development Trust.
  • Curating Issue #19 of Badge News, a regular newsletter for the Open Badges community, published by our co-op.
  • Celebrating my wife’s birthday with her and our children. For the next 10 weeks I’m ‘a year’ younger than her. Bring on the toyboy jokes!
  • Writing:

Next week, I’m working at home for Totara for three days, rounding off my contract with them around the vision and strategy for their community migration. I’ve other bits and pieces to do for London CLC and the International School of Geneva. On Friday my son’s off school due to a teacher training day, so I’m looking after him, then it’s half-term!


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: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Photo of the west windows of the Sagrada Família taken by me last Sunday, around 16:30.

Digital myths, digital pedagogy, and complexity

I’m currently doing some research with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC for their parent organisation, the Education Development Trust. As part of this work, I’m looking at all kinds of things related to technology-enhanced teacher professional development.

Happily, it’s given me an excuse to go through some of the work that Prof. Steve Higgins, my former thesis supervisor at Durham University, has published since I graduated from my Ed.D. in 2012. There’s some of his work in particular that really resonated with me and I wanted to share in a way that I could easily reference in future.


In a presentation to the British Council in 2013 entitled Technology trends for language teaching: looking back and to the future, Higgins presents six ‘myths’ relating to digital technologies and educational institutions:

  1. The ‘Future Facing’ Fallacy – “New technologies are being developed all the time, the past history of the impact of technology is irrelevant to what we have now or will be available tomorrow.
  2. The ‘Different Learners’ Myth – “Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net generation –they learn differently from older people”.
  3. A Confusion of ‘Information’and ‘Knowledge’ – “Learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet, today’s children don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it.”
  4. The ‘Motivation Mistake’ – “Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.”
  5. The ‘Mount Everest’ Fallacy – “We must use technology because it is there!”
  6. The ‘More is Better’ Mythology – “If some technology is a good thing, then more must be better.

The insightful part, is I think, when Higgins applies Rogers’ (1995) work around the diffusion of innovations:

  • Innovators & early adopters choose digital technology to do something differently – as a solution to a problem.
  • When adopted by the majority, focus is on the technology, but not as a solution.
  • The laggards use the technology to replicate what they were already doing without ICT

In a 2014 presentation to The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS) entitled Technology and learning: from the past to the future, Higgins expands on this:

It is rare for further studies to be conducted once a technology has become fully embedded in educational settings as interest tends to focus on the new and emerging, so the question of overall impact remains elusive.

If this is the situation, there may, of course, be different explanations. We know, for example, that it is difficult to scale-up innovation without a dilution of effect with expansion (Cronbach et al. 1980; Raudenbush, 2008). It may also be that early adopters (Rogers, 2003; Chan et al. 2006) tend to be tackling particular pedagogical issues in the early stages, but then the focus shifts to the adoption of the particular technology, without it being chosen as a solution to a specific teaching and learning issue (Rogers’‘early’ and ‘late majority’). At this point the technology may be the same, but the pedagogical aims and intentions are different, and this may explain a reduction in effectiveness.

The focus should be on pedagogy, not technology:

Overall, I think designing for effective use of digital technologies is complex. It is not just a case of trying a new piece of technology out and seeing what happens. We need to build on what is already know about effective teaching and learning… We also need to think about what the technology can do better than what already happens in schools. It is not as though there is a wealth of spare time for teachers and learners at any stage of education. In practice the introduction of technology will replace something that is already there for all kinds of reasons, the technology supported activity will squeeze some thing out of the existing ecology, so we should have good grounds for thinking that a new approach will be educationally better than what has gone before or we should design activities for situations where teachers and learners believe improvement is needed. Tackling such challenges will mean that technology will provide a solution to a problem and not just appear as an answer to a question that perhaps no-one has asked.

My gloss on this is that everything is ambiguous, and that attempts to completely remove this ambiguity and/or abstract away from a particular context are doomed to failure.

One approach that Higgins introduces in a presentation (no date), entitled SynergyNet: Exploring the potential of a multi-touch classroom for teaching and learning, is CSCL. I don’t think I’d heard of this before:

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a pedagogical approach where in learning takes place via social interaction using a computer or through the Internet. This kind of learning is characterized by the sharing and construction of knowledge among participants using technology as their primary means of communication or as a common resource. CSCL can be implemented in online and classroom learning environments and can take place synchronously or asynchronously. (Wikipedia)

The particular image that grabbed me from Higgins’ presentation was this one:

CSCL

This reminds me of the TPACK approach, but more focused on the kind of work that I do from home most weeks:

One of the most common approaches to CSCL is collaborative writing. Though the final product can be anything from a research paper, a Wikipedia entry, or a short story, the process of planning and writing together encourages students to express their ideas and develop a group understanding of the subject matter. Tools like blogs, interactive whiteboards, and custom spaces that combine free writing with communication tools can be used to share work, form ideas, and write synchronously. (Wikipedia)

CSCL activities seem like exactly the kind of things we should be encouraging to prepare both teachers and young people for the future:

Technology-mediated discourse refers to debates, discussions, and other social learning techniques involving the examination of a theme using technology. For example, wikis are a way to encourage discussion among learners, but other common tools include mind maps, survey systems, and simple message boards. Like collaborative writing, technology-mediated discourse allows participants that may be separated by time and distance to engage in conversations and build knowledge together. (Wikipedia)

Going through Higgins’ work reminds me how much I miss doing this kind of research!


Note: I wrote an academic paper with Steve Higgins that was peer-reviewed via my social network rather than in a journal. It’s published on my website and Digital literacy, digital natives, and the continuum of ambiguity. I’ve also got a (very) occasional blog where I discuss this kind of stuff at ambiguiti.es.


Photo by Daniel von Appen

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