Open Thinkering


Tag: apps

Systems Thinking, reference management, and Open Badges

Searching for term 'Systems thinking' in Paperpile on a BOOX Note Air 2

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a fox (as opposed to a hedgehog). My natural tendency, therefore, is to create new things which reference old things. I’m making an exception here, and starting a new Systems Thinking category on this blog instead of an entirely new publication. Here’s the RSS feed for it.

This will mainly feature intellectual outputs from my upcoming MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice through the Open University. That begins on November 1st, so now I’m fully registered and have access to stuff, I’m getting myself prepared on Fridays.

It’s been 12 years since I finished my Ed.D. and the world has changed in many and various ways since then. One thing that I was pretty average at doing while working on my doctoral thesis was document and reference management, so I wanted to ensure that I was on top of that from the start.

The Open University’s Library website has some guidance on this, but I wanted to ask my network what they thought. The answer came back overwhelmingly in favour of Zotero. However, that’s not what I’m leaning towards and I thought I’d better explain why.

The iPad came out in 2011 and really helped me in the final stages of my thesis. I used to use the Papers app, which was pretty great. These days, being more aware of my migraine triggers, I use an e-ink Android tablet: a BOOX Note Air 2. At times when I can’t bear to look at a laptop screen or regular tablet like an iPad, I can still use that.

So, while I originally thought I wanted a completely web-based workflow, I actually need something that has an Android app that works well on tablets. I think I’ve found that in the shape of Paperpile, which is neither free nor open source. However, when it comes to my studies which I’m going to fit around my work and family life, I just need things that work. The Zotero app, for example, that I tried, was last updated by a hobbiest developer two years ago.

Annoyingly, the OU uses Microsoft 365 for email, calendar, and to-dos, but I’ll have to live with that. To keep things separate and all in one place, I’m using Microsoft To Do (which used to be Wunderlist before it was acquired). On my list of things to get done next week are to complete two free OpenLearn short courses:

These are both ‘badged open courses’ using Open Badges. It’s good to know that something I first got involved with in the year that I’ve finished my thesis is now an everyday part of the Higher Education landscape!

(Interestingly, just as I finished this post, I got an email from Navigatr announcing that OpenLearn’s badges will be available on their platform)

Keeping it simple

Some people have jobs that mean they need to be contacted immediately. They have occupations that require them to act quickly in critical situations.

I’d like to think what I do makes the world a slightly better place, but I can’t really think of what a true emergency would look like in my line of work.

Over the years, more and more work-related apps have crept onto my phone. It’s only when I go on holiday with a strict ‘no work’ policy that I reflect on the impact this has on my leisure time.

I’ve worked from home for the last eight years and, for the last six, in a house with a separate home office. I have the ability to literally shut the door on my work at the end of the day and go ‘home’.

Instead, work tends to follow me home through the apps on my phone; despite being relatively disciplined with notifications, I’ve slipped into an unhealthy elision of work and leisure time that diminishes both.

For the last 10 days, while I’ve been on holiday, I uninstalled or disabled all work-related apps on my phone. It’s what I usually do when I’m on holiday: all or nothing.

So far, the only work-related app I’ve re-enabled is my calendar. I’m thinking of keeping it that way.

This evening, I scrolled through the list of apps I had installed and deleted about half of them. The main things I want to use my phone for are communication, music, and short-form reading and writing. Occasionally I use it for navigation, or a contactless payment if I forget my wallet.

I do sometimes wonder what ancient Stoic philosophers would do if they were alive today. What would Marcus Aurelius do? Epictetus? Seneca? Keep it simple, I guess.

This post is Day 27 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

My ChromeOS apps and extensions

I came across a pretty nifty service called Loom yesterday that allows you to record both your screen and webcam in the browser. Perfect for ChromeOS, which is the operating system I’m using most of the time at the moment.

To give it a test drive, I recorded a video showing the ChromeOS apps and extensions I use on the Chromebox in my home office.

Between this and WeVideo, I reckon everything apart from really high-end video editing can be done in the browser if you’ve got a decent internet connection. I can definitely see me using this for creating quick tutorial videos and I’ve already used WeVideo to edit green screen videos for clients!