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Productive ambiguity and learning resource discovery

Finding and sharing resources is like finding and sharing good shopping deals. Don’t agree? Let me change your mind.

HUKD home page, annotate

Hot UK Deals (HUKD) is a website where people from the UK share ‘deals’ with one another. There are other, similar websites around the world, some of which are part of the Pepper network. I’m not affiliated with any of them, apart from being an avid user of HUKD.

I’ve used the site for many years now, and it’s grown exponentially. There are literally millions of people using this site, and it’s grown and developed with them. It was one of my touchstones as we developed MoodleNet between 2018 and 2020 (see this screencast).

As we identified in the early days of MoodleNet, there are two ways of finding relevant learning and teaching resources. The first is to know what you’re looking for, and to search directly for that thing. The second is more serendipitous, and involves discovering things that you didn’t even know you were looking for.

The same is true of HUKD. While I do occasionally go on there looking for something in particular, more often I discover things that I didn’t even know I needed in my life. I don’t necessarily mean in a materialistic way ⁠— it could be a kitchen gadget that makes peeling potatoes 10x easier, for example. (Realistically, though, it’s things like the giant mousepad with edge lighting I’ve got on my desk currently!)

The other thing that’s great about HUKD is the (produtive) ambiguity about what constitutes a ‘deal’. Some assume it’s just that the thing on offer is available more cheaply than it was previously. Some, and I’d include myself in this group, factor in other things such as whether it’s worth spending this amount of money on Product X when Product Y is so superior and available for just a bit more.

As a result, the HUKD comments section is a hotbed (no pun intended) of informed commentary. At the time of publishing, there’s 151 comments on a deal for home broadband. These range from people’s subjective experience, to supplier’s customer service, to very technical details about the difference between various technologies. I find it so useful.

HUKD user profile

I’ve chosen the above HUKD user somewhat at random. They’ve been a member for over 14 years! As you can see, they primarily share deals relating to technology, and comment on other people’s deals. There are contributing moderators (‘Deal Editors’) for different categories, but by-and-large the community is positive and self-policing. For example, it’s very poor form to try and ‘steal’ someone’s heat by re-posting a deal.

Badges on HUKD user profile

And, of course, there’s gamification and badges. These reward pro-social behaviours such as commenting or submitting deals that reach a certain level of ‘heat’. The badges then show up on the small profile when hovering over a username. It adds kudos. Overall, there’s so much to learn from the way HUKD has approached the UX and UI of their site. We don’t have to just do what’s been done before when it comes to learning design and everything which surrounds it!


This post was prompted by noticing that, 18 months after I left Moodle, there’s finally some progress being made again on MoodleNet (see here). I do hope that they maintain the goal of federation and decentralisation, and that they take it in a direction that provides community value. Right now, it seems most of the social elements have been removed, but hopefully they will reappear at some point…

Power and paths

One of the big influences for me when I started personal blogging, as opposed to blogging about education, was Zen Habits. It doesn’t look like it, but it’s one of the most viewed blogs on the web, with more than two million readers.

It’s written by Leo Babauta, who was recently interviewed on The Tim Ferriss Show. The podcast episode a great listen for a number of reasons, but I want to focus in on one thing that’s touched on briefly.

Babauta explains that he has six children, with four from his and his partner’s previous marriages, and the two they’ve had together. Some have gone to school, and some have been unschooled:

Unschooling is an informal learning that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Often considered a lesson- and curriculum-free implementation of homeschooling, unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child. While courses may occasionally be taken, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, conventional grading methods in standardized tests, forced contact with children in their own age group, the compulsion to do homework, regardless of whether it helps you in your individual situation, the effectiveness of listening to and obeying the orders of one authority figure for several hours each day, and other features of traditional schooling in the education of each unique child.

Wikipedia

The point he makes is a simple one: if children are always brought up to be told what to do next, to be given a path, then how will they find a path of their own as adults?

He doesn’t make the connection explicitly, but my next thought was that this is perhaps why the default option for most people after school / college / university is to get a job in a hierarchical organisation with a boss telling you what to do.

The radical thing to do, and the thing which is much more empowering, is to reject persistent hierarchy and coercive power relations altogether. Instead, approaches such as consent-based decision making are the way forward. No-one needs someone telling them what to do all of the time — including children.


This post is Day 83 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

5 things I’ve learned this (work) year

I downed tools on 2020 today, deciding to stop working for the last three weeks of the year so I can rest and recharge.

It’s been an incredible year in every sense of the word; there’s been the good, the bad, and the ugly. While I don’t particularly want to rake through the negatives, I thought it might be worth sharing five things I’ve learned.

1. Don’t expect things to be easy

The man who does not attempt easy tasks but wants what he attempts to be easy, is often baffled in his wishes

Seneca

There’s no point in spending your life doing easy things. For me, these are things that have been done the same way before. Instead, I want to do the difficult thing and stuff that challenges me. The problem is when I’m tired I just want things to get easier for a bit. That’s not the way it works, unfortunately.

2. Money can’t buy me love

To be clever enough to get all that money, one must be stupid enough to want it

G.K. Chesterton

My biggest problems this year have been caused by interactions with those who have different approaches to money than me. I see numbers on a spreadsheet as a means to an end. To others, it’s seemingly a yardstick by which they measure their self-worth.

3. Keep something in reserve

There is no need to show your ability before everyone.

Baltasar Gracián

I think one of my biggest traps before starting therapy last year was the need to be seen as a ‘good’ person and talented at what I do. While I still prefer people to think well of me, I’m now very aware that I cannot control other people’s perceptions. Which is quite liberating.

4. Stand up for what I believe in

Respect is often paid in proportion as it is claimed.

Dr Johnson

I’ve often said to my kids that people can only treat you the way you allow them to. I’m pleased to say that this year I’ve stood up against racism, bullying, and gaslighting. Hopefully that’s earned me some respect, but it’s generated plenty of self-respect.

5. We’re all in this together

Whatever you may be sure of, be sure of this: that you are dreadfully like other people.

James Russell Lowell

It’s perhaps a funny thing for someone to write who’s approaching the midpoint of his life, but it’s only this year that I’ve really felt that I’m similar to other people. I’m not a special snowflake, other than in the sense that we all are.


I’d like to thank the good people at Outlandish for allowing me to work with then during the second half of this year. It’s been an eye-opening experience to work with a well-run tech cooperative that goes out of its way to be inclusive, transparent, and emotionally mature.

Right now, I’m not sure where 2021 will take me. I’ve got some work to dive into immediately in the new year, but beyond that I’ll follow my values and interests.


This post is Day 75 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

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