Category: Weeknotes (page 1 of 32)

Weeknote 49/2019

This week has been all about my trip to New York for ITHAKA’s Next Wave conference. You can find my slides here. Given that I was speaking immediately before a session featuring a representative from Facebook, I took the opportunity to lift the veil on surveillance capitalism. As a result, at least one person deleted their account!

Clay Shirky was in the audience for the event which blew my mind as he’s been such an influence on my thinking over the last decade. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve ever asked someone for a selfie. I also had the privilege of meeting up with Jess Klein, friend and former Mozilla colleague who is now at the Wikimedia Foundation.

As I flew out and back in two days, there wasn’t much point in putting my body through the torture of changing timezones. That’s why you would have found me in Times Square at 04:30 on Wednesday morning taking a video to share with my family back home, who were five hours “in the future”.


Other than that, I worked on MoodleNet-related stuff on Monday and Friday (and, let’s face it, plenty other times inbetween). The team is nearly done fixing the issues that prevented us from doing a live demo at the Global Moot. I’ve been working on a draft roadmap with Mayel and other members of the team, and I’ve got a three-hour meeting scheduled with Martin Dougiamas next week to get that nailed-down.


I’m off social media now for December and have downed tools on Thought Shrapnel until 2020. However, if I was composing a newsletter this weekend, I’d include this post from Jason Kottke that he wrote a few weeks ago about how he’s learning to love winter:

Sometime this fall — using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit — I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow. I told myself that I just wasn’t going to feel like I felt in the summer and that’s ok — winter is a time for different feelings.

[…]

So how has this tiny shift in mindset been working for me so far? It’s only mid-November — albeit a mid-November where it’s already been 5°F, has been mostly below freezing for the past week, and with a good 6 inches of snow on the ground — but I have been feeling not only not bad, but actually good. My early fall had some seasonally-unrelated tough moments, but I’ve experienced none of last year’s pre-winter despondency.

Jason Kottke

Great stuff. I think the run-up to last Christmas was the first one I actually enjoyed. I’m endeavouring to ensure this year will be similar.


Next week I’m working on MoodleNet from Monday to Thursday, and then attending the CoTech Winter Gathering on Friday and Saturday, rather handily located this time around in Newcastle-upon-Tyne!


Photo of me presenting from a tweet by Christine Wolff-Eisenberg

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.

Weeknote 46/2019

This week my main, and to some extent, only focus has been on preparing for next week. I’m writing this on the flight to Barcelona, where I’ll be spending the next week in management meetings, at the first-ever Global MoodleMoot, and at the inaugural Open EdTech conference. It’s going to be pretty intense.

On Tuesday, I’ll presenting on-stage the beta demo of MoodleNet, which is something I’ve been working on at Moodle for the past couple of years. The reason it’s taken so long? Well, a combination of going through several research and design phases, and having a very small, part-time team. It’s an innovation project, but one I envisage having a high impact.

Consequently, and as always happens before something like this, the MoodleNet team has been all hands on deck getting things ready. The team, who all contracted for 2.5 days per week, have shifted their days to ‘front-load’ November. I’m ever so grateful, and very much appreciate them working this weekend too.

On Tuesday, Mayel and I showed Martin Dougiamas (Moodle’s Founder and CEO) the current status of MoodleNet. He asked lots of pertinent questions, and was overall impressed, calling MoodleNet ‘great’. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I had an unforgettable Friday, where I lost my passport for a good few hours. Given I go through periods of regular travel, I ensure it’s always in the same place. But it wasn’t there when I went for it on Friday afternoon which, on top of everything else, stressed me out quite a lot. I was on the phone with the UK Passport Office, who told me I wouldn’t be able to get a new one for at least seven days.

Eventually, my wife found it in a place both of us had already looked several times previously. It’s an object lesson in what stress can do to your perception. Right after that, I went out for dinner with the family, and my heart rate returned to a normal level.

Then, on Friday evening, Bryan Alexander got in touch, asking if I’d like to go to NYC at the beginning of December to speak about digital literacies. I instantly replied “YES” in all-caps, and told my wife, who’s always wanted to go to New York – especially at Christmas shopping time!

It’s amazing how you can read as much Stoic philosophy as you want, but controlling one’s emotions remains a lifelong project. This week, I’ve been getting out of bed at 06:00 to spend half an hour reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and Baltasar Gracian’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. I’ve also been throwing The Oxford Book of Aphorisms into the mix this week, which I found particularly useful. I shudder to think how I would have reacted to the ups-and-downs of this week without a combination of early-morning reading, cups of tea, and L-Theanine.

Finally, as I’ve already said where I’ll be and what I’m doing next week, just a quick reflection on remote working. I received the results of my 360-degree feedback recently, which scored me as either ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ across all 25 categories other than the couple that involved dealing with conflict in the workplace. It’s human nature to focus on the negatives, so instead, and especially this week, I’m just going to celebrate the fact that my colleagues rate me highly for ‘visionary leadership’!


Photo of black truffle pizza taken in Parking Pizza, Barcelona when out for dinner with Noel De Martin (who’s joining Moodle next week!)

Weeknote 45/2019

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.

Weeknote 44/2019

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 Shrapnel microcast 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!


Photo taken by me in Snowdonia on Saturday

Weeknote 43/2019

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.


I’ve got into a good routine with what I create on a weekly basis for Thought Shrapnel. I write an article, record a microcast, and then post a roundup of links I’ve found interesting. Due to my love of collecting quotations, I tend to entitle the articles with some of my favourites. This week’s took some topping: We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take us on or spare us.

In addition, I recorded Microcast #079 – information environments, and the roundup I entitled Friday facilitations and it included links on hugelkultur, situated degree pathways, the zeroth world, among other things.


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.


Photo of old map taken in my London hotel room.

Weeknote 41/2019

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:

  1. To have a significant hobby/interest that isn’t screen-related
  2. So that I can take my family up into the mountains and feel like I know what I’m doing
  3. 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.

Weeknote 40/2019

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.

On the MoodleNet front everyone’s just cracking on with the stuff that needs doing. We could do with some more help on the front end, and we need to organise a basic security/privacy audit, but that’s all in hand. I wrote a post entitled Beyond the beta: revisiting the MoodleNet whitepaper and looking to the future and talked with a bunch of community members about resource uploading.

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!

Weeknote 39/2019

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.


Work on MoodleNet is progressing well and we seem to be still on track for the beta release at the Global Moot in November. I’ve worked on a bunch of things this week, mostly writing, organising, and researching. After a team discussion I captured some more thoughts on MoodleNet metadata, as well giving an update on likes and boosts in MoodleNet, and updating the MoodleNet whitepaper.

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

Weeknote 38/2019

This week I’ve been:

  • 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.
  • Attending a FabRiders Network-Centric Resources online session, which made great use of Zoom’s breakout rooms feature.
  • 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.
  • Writing my usual Thought Shrapnel posts: All is petty, inconstant, and perishable, and Saturday strikings. I also wrote a rare post on on my Ambiguiti.es blog.

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!)

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