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Weeknote 46/2020

This quotation from Marcus Aurelius really stuck with me this week:

Reflect often upon the rapidity with which all existing things, or things coming into existence, sweep past us and are carried away. The great river of Being flows on without pause; its actions for ever changing, its causes shifting endlessly, hardly a single thing standing still; while ever at hand looms infinity stretching behind and before – the abyss in which all things are lost to sight. In such conditions, surely a man were foolish to gasp and fume and fret, as though the time of his troubling could ever be of long continuance.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Book Five)

This has been, all things considered, a good week. On Wednesday, my therapist effectively discharged me — although I’ll be doing some maintenance sessions every so often. I’m much better equipped to deal with things both professionally and personally than before I started last September.

I originally sought therapy after the death of a good friend which threw up all sorts of things that I didn’t feel capable of dealing with adequately. Now, over a year later, although I’d much rather have Dai with us, for me the growth I’ve undergone has been a small silver lining to that tragic event.


This week I published three posts here:

…and on Thought Shrapnel:


The bulk of my work this week was carried out with and for Outlandish. I ran a short workshop on productisation, did some work on their Building OUT strand, and otherwise talked to people about how to get the organisations ready to be more product-focused.

On Friday, I travelled to the Peak District to meet my good friend Bryan Mathers. As I’ve pointed out in previous weeknotes, of late things within the co-op could be better, so we decided to have a chat to figure out what that meant for our relationship. Virtual meetings are great 95% of the time, but sometimes you need to in the same place as someone, going for a walk and an extended discussion.

I’ve decided not to do any further work through We Are Open, and instead put my energies into new ventures. For now, that means I’ve been spending time updating the website of Dynamic Skillset, my consultancy business. More on that soon, no doubt.


Next week I’ve got some conversations lined up, more work with Outlandish, and planning to put together a consortium to bid for some Catalyst funding they’re announcing on Monday.


Image looking south from Higger Tor in the Peak District, England.

Weeknote 39/2020

Tux sticker for Windows key on keyboard

It’s been a busy week, yet here I am at 05:30 on a Saturday morning writing my weeknote. Why? A combination of having a cold, an increasingly weak bladder, and things swirling around my head.


I shared in a previous weeknote that, although I’m at my desk in my home office between 08:00 and 16:00 every day, of a 37.5 hour working week, I’ve been getting paid for around 27.5 hours. This week, I knocked off early at 14:00 on Friday, reducing the total number of hours I was available for work to 35.5, and I got paid for 34.25 of them.

I’m sharing this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, any time you track numbers and try to make them go up, you can do so. Second, a few people have asked me recently about our co-op’s model for getting paid, so I thought I’d write a few words about it here. I will just add a disclaimer that it’s always a work in progress, and this might have changed by the time you read it if you’re not reading this in September 2020.

As, we are open, an overview of what I’m about to say is available on our wiki. Basically, from the day rate we charge clients, we take off 25% as a co-op ‘pot’ for a range of activities. This includes paying for:

  • General expenses (accountant, admin support, various platforms)
  • In-person meet-ups (remember those?!) and monthly co-op days
  • Business development at an agreed internal member rate
  • Internal projects (e.g. updating website) at an agreed internal member rate
  • Relevant stuff that members want to do (e.g. events, professional development, CoTech fund)

I mentioned this is always a work in progress, and we’re only just now (four years in!) agreeing a lightweight process for internal projects over £1k. In general, we generate processes in a ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case’ kind of way. Other than ones we’re legally required to have, of course, like safeguarding, privacy, and various fairness policies.

All of which is a round-about way of saying that one of the reasons I got paid for most of my hours this week was that I got paid at the agreed internal member rate for business development.


Another reason was that I spent a good deal of time setting up things for the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response project that I’m leading from our side. We kick off on Monday with an full-day session for a cohort of nine youth-focused charities and non-profits, teaching them how to do discovery work. This is an intense user-focused four week process where each organisation:

  • Identifies a problem to be solved
  • Performs some user research
  • Comes up with some potential solutions
  • Tests one or more solutions

There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, and the main thing is to try and prevent organisations jumping straight to ‘solutioneering’ (as I’d call it).

Mercifully, I’m not alone in doing this for our co-op, otherwise I’d collapse like a flan in a cupboard. There will be four members involved in this project, plus my lovely wife, Hannah, who will be joining in to help support organisations through the user research phase.


Other co-op work kicking off at the moment is some web strategy work for Greenpeace International, which I’m looking forward to getting involved with. Greenpeace is a network of organisations, with National and Regional Offices (NROs) ensuring that global campaigns are translated and contextualised for the areas they serve. They also run their own campaigns.

Some of this work will build on what we’ve been doing with the Greenpeace Planet 4 team over the last six months, and Laura has been doing with them for the last five years. It’s great to be involved in work like this that has the potential to make such an impact at scale.


I’m also continuing to be on loan to Outlandish, another CoTech co-op which contains absolutely lovely and talented people. I’ve been working on productisation with them, and developing the soon-to-be-renamed Sociocracy stream of work with them. I’ll have to go down to one day a week in October due to everything else that’s on, but I’m hoping to continue working with them into 2021.


On the home front, our son had a cold at the start of the week which, because he’s asthmatic, meant he had a cough. The upshot was that he had to have a COVID-19 test, which of course came back negative, but did mean that we all had to isolate for 24 hours until the results came back. It’s going to be a very disruptive school year for our two children, I think, but at least their schools are upping their remote learning game a bit.


Due to all of the above, I didn’t do as much writing as I would have liked, only managing to publish a short post here entitled Running with the wolves, and the following on Thought Shrapnel:

As a side note, my decision to only auto-post to Twitter a few months ago means I’m a lot calmer and less anxious than I would have been, I think, about the state of the world. I mention this because I logged in for the first time in a while to check something and realised just what a doomscrolling hell pit it’s devolved into in the past few years.

The advice I’ve been giving those wondering how to quit mainstream social networks is:

  1. Connect to the people you care about via other means (e.g. chat apps, email)
  2. Tell people you’re going to be quitting the platform at a particular date
  3. Delete the app off your phone
  4. Limit the time you spend on the social network and try to post as little as possible
  5. Deactivate your account

Once you’ve deactivated it, you may, after a period of reflection, do what I did and turn your account into broadcast-only mode. You can use services like IFTTT and Zapier to auto-post from pretty much anywhere.


This weekend, I’m going to focus on getting better. Specifically, although I feel rubbish when I don’t do any exercise, it also tends to delay my recovery from cold and flu symptoms. So I’m going to try and do as little as possible.

Next week, as I’ve mentioned, I’ll be working on Catalyst Discovery, Outlandish, and Greenpeace stuff. It’s good to be busy!

Finally, for those wondering, this post took almost exactly an hour to write, as it’s now coming up to 06:30. Time for me to go back to bed…


Photo of a Tux sticker (Linux mascot) that I bought to replace the Windows logo on my keyboard this week. Sometimes it’s the small things in life that bother you the most.

Weeknote 37/2020

I saw this illustration somewhere this week, but just as the days and weeks are indistinguishable at the moment, likewise my digital channels bleed into one. Every day, it seems, is: get up, spend most of the working day at the computer, switch screens for ‘leisure’ time, and then go to bed.

As Mark Frauenfelder reports for BoingBoing, perhaps it’s not just me — everyone’s in the same boat:

The issue with 2020, particularly with everyone in lockdown, is that we’re all stuck in the same four walls. And even though there are stressful things that occupy our minds, the fact is we’re not laying down very distinct memories, largely because we’re not moving around to different locations. Everything blurs together because every day looks essentially just like the last one. So when you look back, you think, We’ve been in lockdown for… how long? What day is this?

David Eagleman, via BoingBoing

I’ve been reflecting on Oliver Burkeman’s last column for The Guardian, which I shared via Thought Shrapnel last week. There’s so much condensed wisdom in there, but, like Austin Kleon, I found the framing around ‘enlargement’ when making life choices extremely useful:

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question elicits a deeper, intuitive response. You tend to just know whether, say, leaving or remaining in a relationship or a job, though it might bring short-term comfort, would mean cheating yourself of growth. (Relatedly, don’t worry about burning bridges: irreversible decisions tend to be more satisfying, because now there’s only one direction to travel – forward into whatever choice you made.)

Oliver Burkeman, The eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life

I haven’t talked much publicly about what went down when I left Moodle, nor will I, but it’s fair to say that I well and truly burned my bridges there. But the great thing about it is that I feel enlarged by doing so; I stuck to my principles, was supported by the team I’d put together (who also quit) and have moved onto things which make me happier.


For various reasons, I’ve started tracking the amount of paid work I do, and how much it earns me. Different clients, contracts, and types of work earn me different day rates. Sometimes this varies quite a bit.

Most days I spend from 08:00 to 16:00 in my office doing some form of work, with about 30 minutes for lunch. This adds up to a standard working week of 37.5 hours. However, over the last month I’ve been paid for the following:

  • Week beginning 17th August: 27.9 hours
  • Week beginning 24th August: 26.2 hours
  • Week beginning 31st August: 28.16 hours
  • Week beginning 7th September: 25.25 hours

That means, on average, I’m spending over 10 hours per week on things I’m not paid for. This week that included some pro-bono work for an Open Source project (which I’ll say more about when it’s got a proper web presence), replying to emails, research, blogging, admin, having a chat with a client about upcoming work, and a one-hour therapy session.

The latter was particularly welcome this week given some low-level drama going on in our co-op. For the last few months I’ve been working on my avoidant tendencies, which includes often apologising for situations in an attempt to make them go away. My therapist suggested that, this time, it might do me some good to just allow the dust to settle rather than trying to hastily fix things.

I’m particularly enjoying the work I’m doing with Outlandish at the moment, as I feel I’m able to apply some of the product skills I’ve developed over the past few years. There’s more wider ‘productisation’ work there, but also specific help I’m helping with related a stream of products and services related to sociocracy. I overhauled the workshop page for the

The initial contracts for those of us on loan from fellow CoTech co-ops were to the end of this month, so I’m not sure if I’ll be working with them after the next couple of weeks, but either way it’s definitely been a positive experience. Working with Aaron has been a highlight, and we overhauled the workshop page for Sociocracy 101: consent-based decision-making this week, among other things.


Other work this week has involved:

  • Helping Laura with a slide deck as we wrap-up a six-month contract with the Greenpeace Planet 4 team. We may remain engaged with them in some way over the next few months, but also have two contracts with other Greenpeace teams starting soon!
  • Updating learnwith.weareopen.coop to make more publicly-accessible a course on openness we initially put together for the Planet 4 team. I also ensured the new We are Open branding and logo is featured on that site. Our main site will be updated soon.
  • Drafting a post for the co-op blog about the Catalyst and Social Mobility Commission-funded work we finished recently. Erica Neve and I will be presenting about this at an upcoming Tech4Good event in a couple of weeks’ time.
  • Talking with Ken McCarthy about some work I’ll be doing with Waterford Institute of Technology after they were successful in a grant application. Fun fact: Ken has not missed a day in 10 years of writing at 750words.com!
  • Catching up with Erica to do a bit of planning around our the event session mentioned above.
  • Deleting my Slideshare account after downloading the 83 presentations I’d uploaded there between 2008 and 2017. I didn’t fancy having my data mined after Microsoft sold the service to Scribd. More details here.

I wrote three posts on this blog as part of the #100DaysToOffload challenge:

…and posted eight times with a variety of links and quotations from things I’ve been reading over at Thought Shrapnel:


Next week, guess what? I’ll be at home. I’ve got some Outlandish, Greenpeace, and internal co-op work to do, but am also available for more work! I’ve updated my hire me page specially. I think ideally I want to spend my time doing more product stuff. It’s enjoyable and I think I’m pretty good at it.

Weeknote 25/2020

This was my last working week at Moodle. I have a few weeks of holiday to take as I ease back into full-time consultancy through We Are Open Co-op.

Quick overview of MoodleNet v1.0 beta

I repeat how proud I am of what the very talented part-time MoodleNet team achieved under often difficult circumstances. Check out my previous two weeknotes for further details:

If you’re looking for some talnted developers, I suggest you get in touch with Mayel de Borniol, Ivan Minutillo, Karen Kleinbauerů, and James Laver who may have capacity for your project. In addition, it’s worth enquiring about the availability of Alessandro Giansanti, Katerina Papadopoulou and Antonis Kalou who are equally talented, and have been working on a part-time basis for Moodle and Moodle Partners. It’s been a pleasure and privilege working with all of them, and it was great to sign off on Friday by sharing a virtual drink. We’ll all be staying in touch!

I do, of course, wish Moodle all the very best for the future and am grateful for some of the people I have met and experiences I have had over the past two and a half years.


No Drama Llama

In addition to handover documentation for Moodle, this week I’ve been doing a small amount of work through the co-op with the Greenpeace Planet 4 team, and a lot with UpRising. For the latter, I ran a couple of workshops on Google Classroom, as well as a troubleshooting session as they pivot their offline offerings to online provision.

As a co-op, we’ve been discussing how to update our website. There’s a tension between representing ourselves ‘corporately’ and representing ourselves as being made up of individual members, some of which are quite different from one another. Ultimately, 95% of our work comes through clients knowing us as people first and foremost, so really the website is a sense-check or something for our contacts to pass on to others in their organisation.

I’ve put together a couple of proposal for prospective clients this week. It’s nice to see that people are finally recognising that working online is just as valuable, and just as hard work, as doing so offline.


Last weekend I came across #100DaysToOffload which I started addressing immediately with three posts over the past few days:

I’m looking forward to writing more next week. It’s quite nice to have permission not to necessarily have to produce your ‘best’ work, but rather to bash out thoughts and just share them with the world.

For Thought Shrapnel, I put together:

You can subscribe to the weekly newsletter, which goes out every Sunday, here.


Next week, I’ll be doing more work with Greenpeace, UpRising, and the 10 charities we’re supporting with funding from the Social Mobility Commission and Catalyst. I’ll also be doing some business development for the co-op, and get back involved in the wider CoTech network.

We’ve booked a holiday in early August in a basic holiday cottage owned by friends of my in-laws in Devon. We’ve stayed there a couple of times before and it’s the perfect place to choose to switch off and spend time away from the drama and frantic pace of recent weeks. I can’t wait!

Finally, a very happy Fathers Day to my dad, Keith Belshaw. I’m delighted that he’s safe and well, and actually fitter now than before the lockdown started! It was great to see both of my parents yesterday during a socially-distanced visit to their back garden which, as ever, was blooming with flora and fauna.


Header image of my favourite tree in Bluebell Wood, near where I live in Morpeth, England.

Weeknote 12/2020

I’m not sure what can be said that hasn’t already been said about the last few days. Schools are now shut in the UK, along with pubs, restaurants, etc. While we’re not on imposed lockdown like Italy or Spain, we decided to keep the kids home early, and I’ve persuaded my parents to limit the amount they go out.

I just wish we’d listened to Bill Gates back in 2015.

It’s hard to imagine a global pandemic when everything is fine, I guess.


As usual, I split my week between MoodleNet and working on things for the co-op. This week, however, I added into the mix contributing a small amount to the homeschooling of our children.

With everything that’s going on around educational institutions pivoting to online learning, now would be the perfect time to launch MoodleNet. Teachers across different institutions could be sharing collections of resources and engaging in pedagogical discussion via the platform.

However, we only have a small, part-time team working on this. In addition, we’re essentially inventing a new category of social networking. It’s complicated, and we’re a few weeks away from federation testing, never mind user testing.

That’s why, this week, I brought forward work on a crowdfunding plan. Doing so means we should be able to increase the capacity of the existing team, and/or hire more people to work on the project. More details on that soon.

On the co-op front, we all worked on a very productive short pre-mortem for joint ventures that we enter into. I always enjoy doing these kinds of activities, as they’re so enlightening and collaborative. I also did a little bit of work on our collaboration with Greenpeace. Our planned in-person work is currently being re-scoped to online.


Overall, though, my life hasn’t been so different to normal. To be honest, at times it’s felt more like me working from home while the kids are on half-term rather than living through a life-threatening pandemic.

A decade ago, I would have been a ‘key worker’, a teacher and senior leader in schools. My life, like so many people’s I know, would have been turned upside down. But over the last 10 years I’ve slowly retreated into spending 95% of my time at home, interspersed with national and international travel.

It’s not such a bad life if you get the right balance of exercise, nutrition, and sleep — what I call the ‘three pillars’ of productivity. What I’m going to miss is mixing up the routine over the next few months through travel. At least my wife and I got to visit Bruges just before all this began.


When we were in Bruges, the Belgian city of beer and waffles, I did put my Lent fast of refined sugar and alcohol on hold. Other than that, however, I have been avoiding them both, and lost a noticeable amount of weight.

Continuing to avoid sugar and alcohol during what could be months at home with one’s family, however, would be a test to anyone’s willpower. So I’ve re-scoped what I’m doing to help me differentiate weekdays and weekends. During the week I’ll avoid refined sugar and alcohol, but allow myself (as I did last night) a bit of cake and whisky at the weekends!


Right now, everyone is so full of advice for what others should be doing. Most of this is well-meaning, some of it is a desperate pitch for work, and a small percentage of it is self-aggrandising. I’m just looking after myself and the people around me. If everyone does that, I think we’ll be OK.

As Seth Godin pointed out this week, panic loves company. He links to a post by Margo Aaron in which she encourages us to disconnect from outrage culture:

The worst possible thing to do for your immune system is to live in a constant state of stress. And if this global pandemic requires a healthy strong immune system in order to fight it, then the most responsible thing you can do if you’re feeling afraid is to stop watching the news.

The story you’re telling yourself is you can’t disconnect because you won’t be “informed.” I’m telling you: You’re not informed as it is. The only thing you have to gain by strategically disconnecting is your sanity.

Margo Aarson

So there we are. I’m not going be disconnecting from Twitter and social media, not during the week anyway.


Next week looks a lot like this week, and so on, and on, into the distance. My aim is to keep spirits up, resources stocked, and exercise done. After an enjoyable Friday meetup via video conference of some of the members of our Slack channel, I may try and make that a weekly thing.


Photo taken by me during a family walk in the wilds of Northumberland earlier this week.

Weeknote 07/2020

It’s fair to say that this week was unexpected in its events. On Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from my son’s school, just as I was just finishing up a meeting. Like most parents, I’ve come to dread these calls, as it usually means something is wrong.

And something was very wrong with my son. I rushed down there, taking the car despite it being less than a 10-minute walk. When I arrived, he was bent over, and unable to move his neck. He couldn’t really feel his left hand and had reduced sensation in his left arm. At lunchtime, a friend had playfully put him in a headlock, squeezed, and they had both fallen to the floor.

I drove him straight to hospital. That hospital sent him by ambulance to a larger one with more specialised equipment. He had an MRI scan. At one point it looked very much like spinal surgery would be necessary.

Given my son had been knocked out on the school premises last year, I met with the headteacher to talk about their emergency procedures. On both occasions I had to drive my son to hospital. On both occasions they should have called an ambulance. Serious head and neck trauma always requires immediate help from medical professionals, especially with children.

At the time of writing, my son’s prognosis is good. He had the rest of the week off school, and was delighted that he was encouraged to play PS4 games to improve the sensation in his left hand. That’s returning, thankfully, and he has a greater range of movement in his neck. The spinal consultant told us in a follow-up visit on Friday that my son should make a full recovery. Just no sport for a few weeks.

There’s been a steady stream of my son’s friends coming around to visit, bringing cards, presents, and their best wishes. I was particularly impressed that the friend who caused the injury was the first to come around and express his deep regret. I certainly wouldn’t have had the courage or wherewithal to do that aged thirteen.


In life, I think it’s reasonable to expect the unexpected. Stressful events and worrying times befall us all, so it’s good to prepare ourselves for them. I was strangely calm throughout all of the events of this week, which is in marked contrast to when my son had his first febrile convulsion at the age of two.

Since then, I’ve read a lot of Stoic philosophy, become a more experienced parent, and gone through some therapy. As a result, while I’m obviously not unfeeling, I was able to separate my own emotions from the situation.

As I’ve shared before, there’s a particularly useful saying from Epictetus which is worth quoting again:

If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own… Exercise, therefore, what is in your control.

Epictetus

That’s not to say that I was preparing for my son’s death. But it’s good to be reminded that there are some things that we can control, and some things we cannot. In fact, pretty much all of the teachings of Epictetus come down to this.


Everything else this week has faded into insignificance compared to the injury to my son. I worked two half-days on Monday and Tuesday for Moodle, as well as Friday. On Wednesday and Thursday I continued doing some work for the co-op in preparation for launching a community space for public sector leader. We also had some conversations with potential clients.


Over the last few days I’ve collated a bunch of quotations at Discours.es and published a Thought Shrapnel article with a particularly long title: There are many non-essential activities, moths of precious time, and it’s worse to take an interest in irrelevant things than do nothing at all. That’s a quotation from Baltasar Gracián.

This week’s microcast, Strategies for dealing with surveillance capitalism, was my response to an audio provocation from Stephen Haggard, and the link roundup, Friday feelings, contained some particularly interesting links, I thought.


I’d just like to take this opportunity, buried down here at the bottom of my weeknote, to thank my family for being so fantastic. My wife obviously found what happened this week traumatic, but was dependable and loving in equal measure.

My parents rallied around, taking my son out for walks and looking after him while my wife and I needed a break. And my daughter has got on with things like an absolute boss, being Star of the Week for her “perfect behaviour, hard work, and great attitude”. Thank you all.


Next week is half-term, so given we’re not going away, instead of taking full days off, I’ll be working half-days for both Moodle and the co-op. There’s another storm coming, apparently, so Team Belshaw will mostly be huddled inside, sheltering from the weather…


Image by Dhruv Weaver

Weeknote 04/2020

This week has been one of things coming together. That’s happened on a number of fronts, including: studd that I recorded at the end of last year being released; MoodleNet now actually working; and a real breakthrough during my fifth CBT session.

Dealing with them in order, the audio I recorded for the Digital2Learn podcast back in November has now been released as two separate episodes. In them, I discuss my work on digital literacies, but also cover a wide range of other issues. In addition, the video recording of my presentation and Q&A session at the ITHAKA Next Wave conference in December is now available.

I’m pleased with both of these, particularly the ITHAKA recording, as it pulls together threads of things I’ve been thinking about over the last year, primarily over at Thought Shrapnel.


Talking of Thought Shrapnel, this week I wrote an article about management, organisations and emotional intelligence entitled How you do anything is how you do everything. The microcast this week riffed on a conversation featuring Chris Dixon from the a16z podcast. And the link roundup was the usual mixture of the serious (parenting, screentime) and the not-so-serious (birbs).

I also wrote a rare post directly on LinkedIn entitled To My Network: the ABCs of how we can help one another in 2020, inspired by seeing others do something similar. I also wrote a post on Decision-making and ambiguity at my ambiguiti.es blog.


Although there’s still plenty of work to do, this week things really came together with MoodleNet, the federated, resource-centric social network for educators that my team is building.

We’re planning for enough functionality to be ready to demo next Wednesday when I meet with Martin Dougiamas (Moodle’s Founder and CEO) in Barcelona. Joining us remotely will be Mayel de Borniol (MoodleNet Technical Architect) as well as representatives from the Moodle LMS team.

The focus of the meeting is to ensure that we have MoodleNet integration in the upcoming Moodle 3.9 release, which is scheduled for May 2020. That involves both a simple link from the LMS to MoodleNet, and the ability to send a resource from a MoodleNet collection to a course in Moodle LMS.


In terms of my ongoing CBT, what was particularly interesting was how we’re circling in on something very specific. We’d previously discussed and reflected on my tendency to turn everything into a competition, and avoid situations where I know I can’t ‘win’.

Interestingly, it appears that there’s something even deeper underpinning that which we’re currently chiselling away at. I’ll be happy to share that when I’ve got a better understanding of it and given it a name.

My experience of CBT has been like my experience of Pilates. Something that was highly recommended to me by several people but, for whatever reason, I decided wasn’t for “people like me”. Obviously I was completely wrong about both, although I need to get back to doing Pilates. The difference it makes to my core muscles is a bit like the difference CBT is making to my mental outlook.


This past week it’s been my son’s 13th birthday, which means I am now the proud parent of a teenager. I’m not saying that flippantly, either: I am incredibly proud of my son, who continues to surpass me in every way when I was his age, and with a poise I could never quite muster.

Unfortunately, after pushing his body through the Northumberland Cross-Country Championships, despite his coming down with a cold (and being sick half-way through the race) he was actually off school on both the day of his birthday and the day after that.

That meant that we punted some of the celebrations to Saturday, which included going to see the latest Star Wars film at the cinema, and having a chinese takeaway. Given that we’ve got a pescetarian, flexitarian, and two carnivores in our family, it’s always interesting making sure that these things satisfy everyone!


I’m composing this on Sunday evening during my flight over to Barcelona. I was originally going to just go for the day, but due to the vagueries around the pricing of flights and accommodation, it was actually pretty much the same price (if not cheaper) to be in the office Monday to Wednesday.

On Thursday I’ll be in London for a We Are Open co-op meetup. It’s incredibly important for us to meet in person at least a couple of times a year, even if it’s only for one day. Laura is in town anyway, as she’s been nominated for an award, so it’s a good excuse for us all to hang out at Bryan‘s house and get some planning done.

I’ve submitted a couple of proposals to inbound requests for work this week, so I’m hoping that something comes of those and I can share what I’m up to on the consultancy front soon!


It’s exciting times at the moment as split my time between Moodle and the co-op. I’m re-reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile at the moment, as the book’s title is part of my mantra for this year. For those wondering, it’s ‘A-OK’, so Antifragile, Optimistic and Kind. Well, I can try….


Finally, on Friday Eylan Ezekiel led tributes to the inimitable Dai Barnes at TeachMeet BETT. I couldn’t make it, and feel like I have made my peace, but it was my pleasure and privilege at last year’s BETT to introduce Dai in person to a bunch of people he’d only previously interacted with online. He was always the focal point of any room; I’ve rarely come across such a warm, personable, and interesting person. I still miss him.


Photo from a four-hour walk I did from my house on Monday, exploring parts of the local area I’d never seen before including a dismantled train track!

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 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 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.

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