Tag: work (page 1 of 28)

Weeknote 13/2020

This week was the same as last week. I’m tempted to leave it there, but of course the devil is in the detail, and the interest is in the nuance; the gaps and the cracks are what make us human.

I think you can read a lot into the fact that I dusted the desk in my home office on Friday morning. My office isn’t overly-dirty or untidy, but suffice to say that I managed to move around enough dust that I sneezed myself through my next video conference.

For me, Lent is now receding into the distance, despite the fact that, at the time of writing, there’s still two weeks until Easter. After all, when part of my family’s homeschooling curriculum involves baking cakes, and my wife buys me a bottle of whisky ‘just in case’, it’s fair to say that all bets are off.


Talking of my wife, I’m sure you can imagine the look on her face when an Oculus Go arrived at our house this week. Initially, I thought her shock was from me having bought something made by a company now owned by Facebook. It turns out that I was mistaken! Instead, she was concerned about the frivolous nature of VR and me buying another screen to look at.

I informed her that I didn’t pay full price but, instead, bought it from an eBay seller who had rarely used it. However, instead of being pleased by my cost-saving, she pointed out that buying something that works by attaching it to your face during a pandemic is… well, I don’t think I caught the end of her sentence. Back in the doghouse.


Like many people, I get emails from Google Maps showing me where I’ve been over the past month. I sincerely hope they’ve switched this service off for the foreseeable, as otherwise it’s going to be rather depressing.

My pandemic routine, such as it is, is like a parody of my normal day. Up at 06:30; breakfast with the children while my wife gets ready; start work in my home office at 08:00; work until 12:00; lunch; start again at 12:30; finish at 16:00. Rinse and repeat.

This means, on average, I walk 652 steps over the course of the working day. So it’s imperative that I do some form of exercise. I’ve been running; either hill sprints or my usual route around our town’s bypass, which is around 6.5km. It was just a little dispiriting when I left my smartwatch charging when heading off for a run the other day. I know the thing is having actually done the steps rather than record them, but I don’t like my smartphone to be yet another thing to be disappointed in me.


I went to visit my parents last Sunday for Mother’s Day, and then during the week to deliver some items that they hadn’t been able to get. Talking through a pane of glass, with the window cracked open slightly, felt like either they or I was in prison. It was pretty surreal, as is everything in this situation. It’s like being part of an alternative reality game where the daily arrangement of Joe Wicks’ shelves gives clues on how to escape.

Other than that, my only non-exercise activity was taking my children up to a WWII ‘pillbox’ that is less than a mile away from our home. I’m trying an enquiry-based approach to teaching them History, starting with an era neither of them have studied yet. They’ve come up with some great questions so far, which we’ll dive into over the coming weeks.

There’s something completely different about walking and talking, and being out in the open air when teaching and learning. I know it’s not ‘saleable’ but perhaps not everything needs to be? I think education is potentially going to look very different post-pandemic, especially if the lockdown lasts months instead of weeks.


We bought a picnic table to go on the patio at the end of our (small) garden. When it arrived, my wife was concerned it was too small, that it was one meant for kids. In the end, everything turned out alright and, after we put it together, we enjoyed a beer while wearing coats and hats. It’ll be good when the weather gets a bit better and the kids can do some of their schoolwork outside.


There’s not much to be said on the work side of things. The stuff I’ve done for the co-op would require a lot of context to make any sense, but we’re continuing to do work for Red Hat and Greenpeace.

With MoodleNet, we’re now very close to having a version ready for federation. There’s a showstopping bug in some of the code we depend on from another project that needs fixing. But other than that, we’re talking small tweaks and configuration. It’s pretty exciting being this close to releasing something for testing that we know is going to be so useful to so many educators.


Next week, let’s see… yes, I’ll be at home. Doing pretty much the same things as I’ve done this week. I’m all for routine, but this is ridiculous!


Photo of WWII pillbox taken by me on Thursday.

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 10/2020

I’m writing this on the train from Hasselt to Bruges in Belgium, travelling with my wife after speaking at the Open Belgium conference yesterday. My presentation on behalf of the co-op was on Open initiatives need open organizations. It’s Open Education week, so on Wednesday I presented on MoodleNet as part of an EDEN Webinar on open technologies.

We weren’t entirely sure whether our trip to Belgium would go ahead, what with all of the media coverage of the coronavirus. However, the scaremongering online and in newspapers bears no comparison to the reality on the ground when flying and visiting other countries. It’s all very well being cautious, but I don’t want to put my life on hold on the small chance that I’ll be infected. I can however, see the secret delight on my wife’s face when she (a closet germophobe) gets to disinfect all of the surfaces on trains, planes, etc. without me rolling my eyes.


A follow-up visit to the optician’s this week confirmed that the blepharitis that was affecting my right eye has pretty much gone. That means I’m back to wearing contact lenses, apart from on days that I get migraines.

For some reason I’ve had three migraines this week, which may or may not be connected to me giving up refined sugar and alcohol for Lent. I’m testing out that theory by suspending my commitment while travelling — meaning I can eat all of the waffles and chocolates, and quaff all of the Belgian beer I want. But for this weekend only, of course. I did lose almost half a stone this week, so I’m fully expecting to put all of that back on…


I wrote an article for Thought Shrapnel for the first time in three weeks, which kind of tumbled out of me. They’re the ones I enjoy writing the most: I’m struck by an idea, then I sit down to write and it all comes out in one go, with minimal editing. This one was (literally) full of questions.

Other times, it takes forever to write an article; I’ll have several ‘stubs’ on the go, and sometimes they turn into something and sometimes they don’t. Writing is a pretty mysterious process to me. People often ask me for advice, but I’m not sure I’ve got much other than ensuring you’re (a) reading a lot, and (b) writing a lot. In my experience, the more you read, the more you end up writing.

In addition to this week’s article, I provided the usual link roundup. This week it included everything from digital credentials through to survival, with a bit of panpsychism thrown in for good measure.


Given all of the coronavirus stuff, the reductions in overall travel, and the increase in the number of people working at least part of the time from home, I should probably write something about remote work.

Unrelated to the outbreak, my Moodle colleagues in Perth, Australia, had almost a month’s gap between moving out of their previous office and moving into the new one. As a result, they had a taste of what it’s like for us fully-remote workers. Holly, who leads the People & Culture team, wrote up their findings, with which I’d certainly concur.

Changes happen first slowly, and then quickly. That’s why, when I was a History teacher, I ensured students understood the long-term causes of events, and not just their short-term trigger. Remote work and home working is a long-term trend over the last decade (at least), and I think that the short-term trigger of events like the coronavirus will only serve to accelerate it.


Next week, I’ve got a couple of presentations to Moodle Partners and the Moodle User Association. They’re keen to see the progress we’ve made on MoodleNet. Other than that, I’ve got some onboarding to the work that We Are Open is doing with Greenpeace, and the usual chivvying, cajoling, and smiling-while-prodding-people that constitutes much of my working life these days.


Header image: street art in Hasselt, Belgium

Weeknote 09/2020

It must have been 1998, and would have been seventeen, when I realised that I needed corrective lenses. Despite my father wearing glasses, I had managed to get through pretty much my entire childhood without needing them.

I can remember sitting in an ‘A’ Level History lesson and the words on the blackboard were a little less sharp than they should have been. Not dramatically so, as my prescription only ended up being -0.25 at that point, but from then on I was Someone Who Needed Glasses To See Properly.

Since then, and throughout adult life, my prescription has progressively worsened. These days, for example, I wouldn’t be able to go out and about without contact lenses or glasses. But I really don’t like wearing glasses. At all. I think it’s probably something to do with not having worn them as a child. They also interfere with me doing the kind of exercise I enjoy doing.

So on Monday, when I woke up with a bloodshot right eye, painful to any kind of bright-ish light, I very grudgingly put on my glasses and got on with my day. After four meetings via videoconference, however, it was clear that I was going to have to do something about it. I was squinting.

The short version of what happened next is I went to the pharmacy, who sent me to the optician, who sent me back to the pharmacy for a bunch of things to counteract blepharaitis. This week, therefore, I’ve been wearing my glasses all week, which not only makes me a bit self-conscious, but the knock-on effect has been me doing less exercise.


While I’m bemoaning the subjective state of my world, let me also record for the biography that no-one will ever write about my life that I’ve also decided to give up refined sugar and alcohol for Lent. Cunningly, the ‘refined’ modifier here has allowed me to still eat honey, which is now my favourite thing in the entire world.

But this week has been largely a miserable week. Yes, I realise that having to wear glasses and undergoing a self-imposed ban on what are essentially luxuries is not exactly suffering, but this is my blog and I’ll say what I like, thank you very much. For some weeks to be awesome some weeks have to be less so. That’s just the way it is.


On the work front, as usual I split my week between Moodle and We Are Open co-op. For the main Moodle blog I published something on designing MoodleNet for the needs of the community, and on the MoodleNet blog posted about re-decentralizing the web.

Other than that, on the Moodle front, I worked with the People & Culture team to renew the contracts of three of the MoodleNet team, and to slightly increase the hours of the other two. I also booked my travel and accommodation for the UK & Ireland MoodleMoot in Dublin which is in early April.

Preview of a community in the ‘My MoodleNet’ feed

In addition, I’ve done things like working with the front-end team on the UI around items in MoodleNet feeds, and thinking through how we can make it really easy and straightforward for new users to choose a MoodleNet instance. Just a portion of the stuff that needs doing and thinking about in the life of building a product.


For the co-op, I spent my time working on a Red Hat sponsored project for public sector workers, being onboarded to some work we’ll be doing with Greenpeace over the next six months, and finalising dates for some work with another new client in London.

We’re also planning to meet up at Laura’s house in Germany in a few month’s time, which I’m very much looking forward to.


Due to my sabbati horribilis, I managed to spectacularly fail to produce either an article or microcast for Thought Shrapnel. I did, however, spend (even) more time than usual on Friday fluidity, which is this week’s link roundup.

Thought Shrapnel is a bit like MoodleNet in the sense that it’s difficult for those not making it to understand just how much time it takes to produce something that is easy to read or use.


Although I probably spend less than a tenth of the time paying attention to mass media than I used to, it’s been pretty difficult to avoid hearing, reading, or talking about the coronavirus COVID-19. Even during my own experiences with my ‘corneavirus’.

From World Health Organization guidance on dealing with COVID-19

However, I think the real threat to me and my family is pretty low. After all, based on the research I’ve done, even if we do contract the virus, the chances of us dying from it are around 0.2%.

So my wife and I will still be travelling next week so that I can speak at Open Belgium. We’ll then be spending next weekend in Bruges, which is somewhere we’ve both always wanted to visit. Due to my Lent commitments, though, I’ll obviously be on the frites instead of the waffles.


I’ve actually managed to get into a pretty good routine of waking early and going downstairs an hour before the rest of my family rise. There, with a cup of tea, and by the light of the fish tank, I read a number of books.

This means that one place that I have published several posts every day for the past 10 days is Discours.es. After I’ve highlighted particular section of, for example, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, or a couple of maxims by Baltasar Gracián, I turn on my phone and use the WordPress app to add them to my blog.

As there are a few people who subscribe to Discours.es either via email or Telegram (using BelshawBot) I schedule the quotations to be published a couple of hours apart. Just hitting ‘publish’ would lead to a flood of notifications, and I do like to be a responsible writer and publisher. Your attention, after all, is sovereign.

This week, in addition to the quotations, and after reading Stefan Zweig’s biography of Michel de Montaigne in pretty much one sitting, I published a couple of short posts about writing being a process of discovery, and noticing things around you.


Next week I’ll be at home from Monday to Wednesday working on MoodleNet stuff, and then flying to Belgium on Thursday to speak on behalf of the co-op. We’ll be over there until Sunday, all told.

Midweek, I’ve got another appointment with the optician. So I’m hoping that I’ll be able to both stop wearing my glasses and choose new ones. That would mean that, when I do have to wear them, I would at least avoiding looking like some pointy-headed academic.


Header photo taken by me on Monday morning. We got a couple of inches of snow, but it had melted by lunchtime.

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 06/2020

This week, I’ve been based at home, settling into my new rhythm of working for Moodle on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, and We Are Open co-op on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I have to say, I like it.


When I tell people that I’m part of a co-op, people are often interested in what I can only refer to as power dynamics. How do decisions get made? Who’s in charge? How do you allocate work?

I can certainly answer those questions, but it’s the difference between explaining, for example, the act of swimming verbally, and getting into the water and doing it yourself. Like goldfish, we forget the ‘water’ we already swim in is one that takes for granted coercive power relationships. Instead, with the co-op, as members we rotate roles and discourage permission-seeking.

This week, we realised that, given the amount of potential work coming in, we really needed a project management solution. In an organisation with coercive power dynamics, this would be decided by fiat, or by the ‘management team’.

In our co-op, we instead took a different approach. Some members of We Are Open are available to work almost full-time. Some, like me, are available a couple of days per week. Others, right now, have very little availability.

So we allowed those who would be using the project management solution the most, and who were most interested, to do the research, and then suggest an option.

Project management tool comparison spreadsheet
Project management tool comparison spreadsheet

This doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does it have to be based entirely on functional requirements. In the end, Gráinne Hamilton and I spent some time, both synchronously and asynchronously, with a few solutions.

What I found particularly interesting was that Gráinne and I had quite different requirements and assumptions going into this, but managed to find something that satisfied the collective needs of the co-op. (Note that the requirements down the left-hand side of the spreadsheet came from our meet-up in London the week before last.)

Once we’d chosen a solution to put forward, we shared our spreadsheet (which also included some comments you can’t see in the screenshot) and put it to a vote in Slack. The options were ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and ‘Need more info’. Every member voted in favour of our proposed solution, which in this case happened to be Monday.com.


When describing this kind of approach, people tend to call it ‘democratic’ and, to some degree, it is. But that’s just part of it. The main piece of the puzzle for me is ensuring alignment, which you get through healthy power dynamics.

11 Steps Towards Healthy Power Dynamics at Work (Richard D. Bartlett)
11 Steps Towards Healthy Power Dynamics at Work (Richard D. Bartlett)

This is the kind of approach that you can use in any organisation. You don’t have to be yogurt-knitting vegans to get started with it.

For example, as Product Manager for MoodleNet, I meet 1:1 with every member of the team once per month. While I may not use the language in the above diagram, during these meetings what I have in mind during these meetings, as well as the weekly team meetings, is to increase reduce the ‘power-over’ that is implicit within hierarchies while increasing ‘power from within’.

Because of the intersecting injustices of modern societies, the degree of encouragement you receive when you’re growing up will vary greatly depending on many factors like your personality, gender, physical traits, and cultural background. If you want everyone in your org to have full access to their power-from-within, you need to account for these differences.

Richard D. Bartlett

What I’ve found in my career to date is that, no matter how they act in other situations, in 1:1 meetings, people are looking for reassurance and encouragement. The hard part is doing that without reinforcing a coercive power dynamic.


So this week was full of meetings, but thankfully not the boring type, but the kind that are focused on actions and outcomes. For example, in addition to meeting 1:1 with several of the MoodleNet team, I met with:

  • Sander Bangma who leads the Moodle LMS team about integration between our two products. We used a document we’d already been working on to make decisions about scope.
  • Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s Founder and CEO, about MoodleNet resourcing and budgets. I then met with Mayel de Borniol to finalise a spreadsheet for the budget committee.
  • A potential client which I’ll not name right now. We keep these initial meetings to 30 minutes, investigate requirements, and then, if invited to, send a proposal.
  • Adam Procter who is a friend and generous supporter of Thought Shrapnel. He was looking for some advice about productivity and workload.
  • My therapist for my last CBT session for three months. I’m starting a period of consolidation after a marked improvement in my outlook on life over the past six sessions.
  • Olivier Wittorski and Emilio Lozano about gathering requirements for ways in which Moodle Workplace and MoodleNet could work together. This led to a document and a slidedeck with initial ideas and mock-ups.

As I discussed with Emilio, who became a father recently, when you have kids, your time becomes a lot more precious. This is doubly so when you split your time between two organisations. There’s less slack time, which is a good thing as it means you’re laser-focused on what needs to be done, and intolerant of distraction.


Next week, I’ll again be working from home all week. I’ve got some exciting co-op work to begin, as well as new functionality and features in MoodleNet to oversee. It’s the week before half-term, when I’ll probably be taking some time off to spend with the family.

As I’ve said in previous weeknotes, we’re getting our house ready to potentially sell, so I’ll be continuing to paint, and sand, and scrub, and buy random pieces of IKEA furniture…


Image cropped from photo by Cameron Venti on Unsplash

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 03/2020

I confess to almost forgetting to writing a weeknote this week. Thanks to Mike Cooke for the reminder! It’s funny how, when we’re nudged out of a routine, things can go sideways.


The main thing I did this week was go to Kuwait City to run a workshop for the AMICAL consortium on the strategic development of digital literacies. For a variety of reasons, I flew there on Tuesday, led the workshop on Wednesday, and flew back on Thursday.

Regular readers will know that, despite my efforts to eat well and keep fit, such stresses on my body don’t always end well. And so it was that on Thursday I succumbed to a cold, and then on Friday lunchtime, after a number of meetings for Moodle, I suffered from a migraine that knocked me sideways.

It’s my fault, of course. I should know better than to put myself through these things. It was the lack of sleep that got me, I think, but had I stuck around an extra day, my only option would have been to fly back at 3am local time. That wouldn’t have been ideal either.

The workshop went really well, and I was so pleased to meet such lovely people who were so receptive to the ideas I was sharing. I received some great feedback on everything from ambiguity to managing a workshop of around 25 people.

Kuwait City isn’t a place I’d hurry back to as a tourist, but I will say that the Lebanese food I had on Wednesday night was almost worth the trip in and of itself. Delightful.


I recorded a microcast for Thought Shrapnel about the workshop, as well as publishing an article about hierarchy, context, and ways we approach the question of how we should live. To this week’s roundup of links I added some comments, which I’ll continue to do if I can prioritise it.


Things are looking up for MoodleNet as the feeds (e.g. ‘My MoodleNet’) are now working. There’s still plenty to do, but I’ve worked closely with Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s Founder and CEO, on the roadmap and resourcing.

We’ve always had the code on GitLab, but now we’ve moved the issues there too. You can view the issue board for the current milestone here. As Product Manager, it’s my job to walk a fine line between idealism and pragmatism when it comes to choosing tools. Everyone seems happier so far.


I’ve responded to a couple of requests for work through We Are Open Co-op this week, both of which sound really interesting. I’m going to start getting stuck into some existing work that my colleagues are doing this next week.

Other than that, it’s ensuring everyone has what they need for MoodleNet, and starting to scope out a new e-book. I was going to revise and expand The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies but, instead, I’m considering one with a similar title as my AMICAL workshop using Leanpub.

The week after next I’m in Barcelona for Moodle meetings and then off to London for a co-op meetup. And no, I won’t be at BETT.


Photo taken by Dimitris Tzouris and shared on Twitter

Weeknote 02/2019

This week has been the first where I’ve started splitting my time between Moodle and We Are Open Co-op. For the former, my main focus was on the MoodleNet roadmap for 2020 and beyond, as well as a bunch of meetings. I’m trying to ensure we have the resources we require to get the job done. For the latter, I was putting together a proposal for a client, and finalising my AMICAL conference workshop on digital literacies.

I really enjoy planning workshops, as well as delivering them of course. Thinking through what you want participants to learn, how you can facilitate their interactions, and ensuring that transitions run smoothly, is fascinating.


Due to some building work happening next to my office, I decamped to my parents’ house for two days this week. Although I went to live back there the year after my undergraduate degree, I think that it’s the first time I’ve spend whole days working from my old bedroom since beginning my career proper. It was both slightly strange and oddly comforting.

I got into a pretty good exercise regime over the past week: swimming twice, running twice, gym twice, with one rest day. I’ve upped my daily press-ups, sit-ups, etc. as well as the number of lengths I do in the pool (currently 56, aiming for 72 next month).

In addition, I’ve been getting to bed between 21:00 and 21:30 and reading for about an hour before going to sleep. I’m currently re-reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which I last read backpacking around Italy. I’ve been setting my alarm and waking at 06:30 each morning and, while my wife is in in the shower, I’ve been reading the following on my e-reader: Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday, and On The Shortness of Life by Seneca. I did try Cicero again, but he really annoys me for some reason.

Talking of managing one’s emotions, I had another therapy session this week, where we started digging into the implicit ‘rules’ I have for my life. As we use a whiteboard during the session, it’s always interesting to have one’s assumptions and never-before-properly-expressed thoughts laid out in black and white. CBT is an incredible thing.


For Thought Shrapnel this week, I wrote an article that reflected, as many people have been doing, on the past decade. The microcast featured Adam Procter and we discussed his PhD project and the IndieWeb. My roundup of links always reflects what I’ve been reading, which in 2020 seems like it’s continuing to be the insidious effects of technology on society.


Having just recovered from turning 39, and a great Christmas and New Year, it’s my daughter’s ninth birthday this weekend. It’ll then be my son’s in a couple of week’s time. The fun never stops Chez Belshaw!


Next week, I’ll be working from home for Moodle on Monday and Friday, and then travelling on Tuesday and Thursday so that I can be in Kuwait City on Wednesday. Although there are tensions in the Middle East at the moment, I’m unconcerned. As I said to the conference organiser, so long as planes are flying there, I’m happy to go.


If you think I can help you with the work that you or your organisation is doing, please do get in touch: doug@nullweareopen.coop

(I’m particularly interested in getting some presentations and workshops booked at the moment)


Photo taken on New Year’s Day in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland

Weeknote 01/2020

Many years ago, when I was very small, I can remember talking to my maternal grandmother about an article she’d seen in the newspaper. It was about an eclipse which was predicted to take place on 11th August 1999, and would be the first to be visible in the UK since 1927.

At the time it seemed like such a long way into the future. Who could imagine being 18 years of age? When the time came, I ended up driving the length of the country with some friends to see the eclipse in its full glory. My grandmother, sadly, had passed away peacefully some months before.

To a great extent, I feel like I’m living in the future. It’s easy to use the conceptual shorthand of ‘flying cars’ to represent what we were expecting technologically at this point in time, but I’m not sure I would have been massively surprised if, when I was younger, you’d described the world as it currently stands.

I don’t think we live in ‘unprecedented’ times. Human beings are human beings, at the end of the day. It’s just that we’ve got some more technology which extends our reach and increases our impact, for better or worse (usually worse).


I posted my 2019 retrospective on Christmas Eve after returning from a short family holiday to Iceland. It’s a magical place, particularly just before Christmas and we had a wonderful time.

What did threaten to put a slight dampener on things was when I managed to lose the keys to our rental car in the snow somewhere near Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. Note to self: zip keys in pocket next time!

Other than that, we stayed in three different places, and experienced wonderful places, vistas, sunsets, and people. We’re definitely going to have to go back.

While I was there, I started reading Independent People by Halldór Laxness. What a novel! It really helps you understand how brutally difficult life in Iceland was before electricity and modern conveniences.


This week, I’ve been trying to get back to some kind of decent routine. It hasn’t stopped me snaffling mince pies and eating festive leftovers, but I have, on the whole, eaten more healthily, and done more exercise.

The stimulus to this was tipping 90kg for the first time just after Christmas. It’s amazingly easy to drift into a less-healthy routine and convince yourself you haven’t changed that much.


I worked two days this week for Moodle, continuing to lead the MoodleNet project. Next week will be the first where I’m splitting my work differently: three days for MoodleNet, and two days working with We Are Open Co-op.

The rest of the MoodleNet team are mostly back on Monday, so I spent my time catching up and planning. I’ve moved all of our day-to-day issues to GitLab, because I think that these should be next to our codebase. Also, because Jira.


I’m back to writing and recording for Thought Shrapnel. This week I’ve posted a microcast on Anarchy, Federation, and the IndieWeb, as well as an (extended) link round-up. I’ll be back to article writing on Monday.

At Discours.es this week I’ve collected a bunch of quotations from my morning reading, with perhaps my favourite being:

One of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to go about unlabelled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control.

T.H. Huxley

New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet, although we did all go into Newcastle to see the fireworks at 6pm. It feels a bit more wasteful every year as the displays go on longer and longer, to be honest. I can’t quite believe that Sydney went ahead with their display in the midst of the bushfires ravaging Australia.

On New Year’s Day we went for a bracing walk in the Simonside Hills near Rothbury. We always enjoy that, and the views were amazing given the light. The whole world and their dog was there, though, obviously.


I re-start CBT next week which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ll also be doing more MoodleNet planning, as well as finalising the pre-conference AMICAL workshop I’m delivering on digital literacies the following week!

As ever, but even more so now I’ve got a bit more capacity, if you know of an organsiation that could do with our help, please let me know!


Photo taken on a New Year’s Day walk in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland

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