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Weeknote 50/2019

Let’s deal first of all with the huge, blonde-haired elephant in the room. While I expected a Conservative majority in this week’s General Election, I predicted +50 before going to bed on Thursday night, rather than the +66 that resulted.

That the British people are bored of Brexit is manifestly obvious, and has been for a while. Doing anything other than, as the Tories said, “getting Brexit done” would lead to not only dragging out the saga, but deeper divisions between an already-divided nation.

That being said, I voted Labour to prevent the Conservatives getting in where we live. I usually vote for the Greens, but it ended up being quite a close-run thing. For example, the constituency next to us, Blyth Valley, was part of the ‘red wall’ that crumbled this time around.

The reason Blyth Valley is interesting is that it’s a historically-Labour area, a place of mass unemployment, poverty and food banks. It’s incredible the way that the impacts of Tory-imposed austerity have been packaged up and sold as being related to our membership of the European Union. This is the same EU that has invested in infrastructure up here in the North East, including broadband and roads,

I could go on, especially about the way that the left have reacted to the identity politics of the right. But I won’t. Instead I’ll stare into my cup of tea, consider my family’s options, and try not to get into any conversations about politics with my neighbours this Christmas.


On Friday, in the immediate aftermath of the election, I was in Newcastle with representatives of the co-ops that form the CoTech network at the Winter Gathering. I was expecting despondency, but after acknowleding the result, we moved swiftly on to more pressing things such as building the co-operative economy and improving the ways we work together.

As ever, I did a bit of light facilitation, and got stuck into questions around potential membership fees for the network, skill-sharing, and decision-making procedures. CoTech contains a great bunch of people, including an increasing number in the North East, so I look forward to our co-op working more closely with some of them in 2020.


Other than the above, I spent three days working on MoodleNet this week. That included:

  • Presenting as part of the ALT Online Winter Conference, with a recording of the session posted on the blog.
  • Attending a Moodle dev training workshop on accessibility.
  • Catching up with a number of team members either 1:1 or in small groups.
  • Meeting with Martin Dougiamas and doing a deep dive into the future of MoodleNet. There was also a management meeting this week.
  • Working on a 3-year plan and roadmap for 2020.

Next week, I’m working on MoodleNet-related activities between Monday and Wednesday, and then heading off to Iceland with my family on Thursday. I’m really looking forward to the holiday, but also just to relaxing for a couple of weeks.

After all, who knows what will be in store for Team Belshaw in 2020?

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 48/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The title and description I’ve been given is:

Truth, Lies, and Digital Fluency

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

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

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

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


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

Rebalancing my focus for 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 42/2019

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.


In other news, my We Are Open colleague Laura Hilliger wrote about the next iteration of our co-op, and explained how I’m currently a dormant member. I’m certainly looking forward to getting back into consultancy work in 2020!

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.

Also, I took delivery this week of a new laptop and desktop machine, which I discuss in Thought Shrapnel Microcast #078. I also published an article entitled I am not fond of expecting catastrophes, but there are cracks in the universe, and a roundup of interesting links I came across entitled Friday flowerings.


So this weekend I’m with a group in the Lake District near the Hardknott Pass, the steepest road in England. Next week, I’m working from home and then heading to London for the Redecentralize Conference and then the Mozilla Festival!


Photo taken on Monday during a birthday walk with my wife in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland.

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