Brief Thoughts on UCISA’s 2014 TEL Survey

I’ve been reading this year’s results [pdf] of UCISA’s annual TEL survey and wanted to jot down a few of the things that jumped out.

The key change though since 2012 is in the level of senior management engagement with TEL development. The 2014 case studies reveal that senior managers are now driving TEL development and are setting expectations for the adoption of tools by teaching staff.

I’ve frequently found that one of the barriers to the development of TEL is the lack of interest in it from senior management – whether this is reflected in ignoring it or only paying lip-service to it. With so many balls in the air it isn’t a surprise when staff don’t engage with TEL for their myriad reasons – so it is essential that senior management recognise its importance and correctly resource and drive TEL development.

One notable change in 2014 is the more frequent mention by institutions of cloud based hosted services […] Northampton and Glasgow Caledonian have taken the decision to opt for outsourced provision of their VLE platform, reducing the level of central technology support that is needed to run their centrally supported systems.

I’m a strong proponent of SAAS and PAAS, but I’m not clear here whether this refers to SAAS/PAAS outsourcing alone, or also to a hosted cloud solution. I’d be interested in seeing what large-scale cloud-hosted Moodle solutions are available – though it seems Northampton and Glasgow Caledonian both use Blackboard so their outsourced solutions are less interesting to me.

The number of staff FTE supporting TEL services ranges from two support analysts at City College Norwich to 18
FTE at City University London and covers a variety of roles, such as learning technologists, educational developers,
multimedia support staff and academics.

In a team of two (rapidly expanding to four and a fifth due for mid-way through next year) I’m very interested in the size and make-up of other TEL teams. Over my career these have varied and I recognise there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, rather that different organisations have different needs. I’ll confess to a bit of bias that the teams I’ve been in haven’t been staffed and supported as strongly as I would have hoped – hopefully the increasing buy-in by senior management will fix that!

The 2014 TEL Survey results confirm that there has been little change in the delivery of fully online courses, which remain a niche activity across the sector.

As I’m involved in a lot of distance learning it is pleasing (from a competition perspective) that we don’t have more of it. It would be interesting to see how UCISA’s survey results change when factoring in the various private educational providers that do have more of an online presence.

Featured image: By B.C. (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pirate Party UK – 5 years old today

About four years ago I blogged about my first year as a member of the Pirate Party. Two years ago I blogged about the three year anniversary of the founding of the Pirate Party.

As I seem to be in the habit of blogging odd-numbered anniversaries, it is that time again!

Today the Pirate Party UK is 5 years old.

PPUK's official registration date - pefonline
PPUK’s official registration date – pefonline

Let me first deal with predictions. I predicted that the 2013 or 2014 conference would be huge. Well I’m wrong so far on that. The 2013 conference was still an intimate affair. Noticeably at this equivalent point in time the 2012 conference had already been scheduled, unlike the 2014 one which is still to be arranged. I suspect at this point the 2014 conference isn’t going to be huge. But there are a few reasons for thinking it might be the biggest so far.

I also anticipated a period of external quiet as we focused on building internal structures and rapid growth. We haven’t managed this. We have had problems attracting volunteers, with further problems in organising and utilising them. It is very much worth noting however that in the past two-and-a-bit months we had attracted the most volunteers ever. The bulk of these came from high profile campaigning during the EU2014 elections. We have had a dedicated person to deal with incoming volunteer requests, finding out where volunteers were best used and then passing them to the corresponding next points of contact. I worry that the second step of utilising the volunteers and turning them into regular active members of the team is still not the efficient process we need it to be.

From a personal perspective, I’m still a Governor. One of only three of the original group elected. I’m currently, reluctantly, heading up the social media team. Reluctantly because I’d like to pass this on to someone else to help expand the pool of people doing essential work. I am also, in the vaguest and weakest possible sense assisting with leading the Press team, which has been a bit of a mess for some time. If I make a list of priorities at some point in this blog post, getting the Press team sorted out with a new pro-active and efficient Press Leader will appear very highly upon it.

What has happened (in no particular order) in the past 2 years…

Snowden

The Snowden revelations have been a huge wake up call. For those who thought online civil liberties were irrelevant and/or not at risk, the leaks about NSA and GCHQ activities have blown this issue wide open.

It is in the digital online space that we have now seen the most significant attack on our privacy and rights has taken place. No longer can anyone argue that digital online rights are a second class concern, rather they should now be placed strongly at the front of the civil liberties we should be fighting for.

The Pirate Party hasn’t been alone in advocating for these rights, but it has been at the forefront and will continue to do so, showing how relevant and necessary the Pirate Party is.

PPI

After several, arguably incompetent and disastrous, PPI General Assemblies and a continued lack of progress from PPI in providing any benefit to its members, PPUK’s leadership believed PPI to no longer be fit for purpose and not only a waste of valuable time but also a liability.

With that in mind PPUK members were offered a vote to change the relationship with PPI. The options were to drop from full to observer membership, to leave completely, or the status quo. The members voted to continue to hold full PPI membership, though the vote was close.

This led to a renewed vigour in the relationship with PPUK officials seeking to fix several of the glaring continuing issues within PPI: namely having no control over its finances and not providing a useful role in getting Pirates together for collaborative work.

After significant investment of time and effort form PPUK’s side these efforts have largely fallen flat and there is fresh belief that if offered a straight vote between staying a member of terminating membership that PPUK members would vote for the latter.

Porn Filters

Last year the government got a bee in its bonnet about the necessity of filtering all internet connections due to their sudden knee-jerk ‘fear’ that children might be exposed to pornography. This led to heavy government pressure for a ‘default on‘ porn filter to be provided by ISPs.

This inevitably led to a confusion about adult filters actually covering a wide range of subject matter and not just pornography. Inevitably we then also saw the fallout with indiscriminate web blocking preventing access to certain charity’s websites (arguably blocking access to NSPCC’s website could do far more harm to children than not blocking porn) and even the website of the filters’ greatest advocate.

It will be no great surprise that this transparent effort to get all ISPs to provide a nice easy way to censor what their customers could access was opposed by PPUK. who’d rather leave parenting to parents and provide internet users with all the information they want and may desperately need.

Needless to say there was much opposition to these filters and they have been found to be largely unpopular with their intended audience with, in some cases, as few as 4% opting to enable them.

Manning Sentencing

The case against Manning leaking material to wikileaks dragged on and eventually had a result. It was disappointing, but not a surprise, to see a lengthy custodial sentence. Manning was sentenced to 35 years. Time served was credited against this with a further (pitiful!) reduction of ‘112 days in recompense for the harsh conditions of his initial confinement’.

As the news was released PPUK Leader Loz Kaye was actually being interviewed by Russia Today and was able to give his view on the sentence, which amounted to a clear attack on whistleblowers.

Changes in Leadership

While we have had a continued strong core in the Party leadership we have seen changes in some positions within the NEC. The regular churn of Treasurer continued with Shaun Daley resigning last year and Sam Clark stepping in as Finance Officer.

With regular full NEC elections due to clash with EU election work these were brought forward to the end of 2013. We saw the Party Secretary (Leanne Cooke née Ainsworth) and Nominations Officer (Phil Cooke) both stand down at this time.

With a view to including Deputy Leader as a fully elected NEC position ‘some time soon’ we included an elected but non-voting position of Deputy Leader in this election. This position was strongly contested and eventually won by Sephy Hallow.

With Sam standing for and being elected to Treasurer, Ed Geraghty being elected as Secretary, and Jason WInstanley being elected as Nominations Officer we had a new NEC with a good mix of regular faces (Loz and Andy respectively continuing as Leader and Campaigns Manager), new faces (Jason and Sephy), and new-to-the-NEC* but well established faces (Sam and Ed).

*not new to working with the NEC, but rather new to holding a voting NEC position for the first time

Regrettably after six months in post both Jason and Sephy have resigned. All NEC positions are high-stress and the breadth and volume of the work is not to be underestimated. It isn’t a surprise, given the nature of volunteers, that we can’t keep the same NEC for a significant length of time – but it is something we need to significantly address by taking as much advantage as we can from those who do volunteer.

We have in the past been bad at leveraging such offers of help. We do now have in place a better process for initially engaging with volunteers and steering them into the departments they can assist. I think things still fall down at that point with next steps still being ad-hoc and inconsistent.

On the Board side of things we have also seen regular steady turnover and currently have three vacancies. I’m pleased to be able to say that I am still on the Board, and even did a 12 month stint as the Board Chair.

NHS Care.Data

Earlier this year the government began a process to release NHS medical data. This was branded as NHS Care.data with information be be made available to the public via a leaflet to every home.

The communication about this roll-out was disastrous and completely mishandled. The concept of collating anonymised data and sharing to organisations who can data-mine for medical research purposes is laudable and beneficial. However the scheme as designed did not take sufficient care to fully anonymise data (tagging your record with date of birth, gender, and full post code is hardly anonymous) and information on how to opt-out was limited. The important information leaflet sent to every home didn’t even have an opt-out form leading some to design their own.

With this being an important privacy issue PPUK provided information about the scheme and actively campaigned to highlight issues with the implementation.

We were pleased to see that due to mounting concerns Care.data was delayed and hope that this doesn’t come back in the same form and slip in under the radar.

This is something to keep our eyes open for in the coming months.

Local Elections

With the fickle winds of fate Loz had the opportunity to contest quite a few local elections in Manchester (2012-11-15, 2012-05-04 2013-10-10 2013-12-05, and  2014-05-22).

We held our first ever local election in London (Mark Chapman). This gave me my first opportunity to get fully involved with an on-the-ground campaign from leafleting, to attending the count.It was a fascinating and rewarding experience and I highly recommend everyone to have the experience at some point. It really does reinvigorate one’s sense of the importance of the democratic process. Unfortunately it does also show how seriously disjointed the average citizen is from the political processes.

New Web Platform (NWP)

One of the highest profile changes for the Party has been the long-awaited change in our website. This year we finally switched over to our New Web Platform (NWP) which has seen many improvements, not least on the back-end swapping a confusing undocumented django set-up for a more mainstream drupal setup. The system is now far more integrated, press releases can be added to the system as content items and then get magically emailed to those subscribed to receive them. The one disjoint between the old system and the new one is the forum. We don’t have any replacement for the forum in the NWP, though the old one is still available on the legacy website and will eventually be available directly via NWP (though the user database will not be integrated and will require a separate login).

EU 2014

We (Maria Aretoulaki, George Walkden, and Jack Allnutt) contested our first European Elections in the North West region (both 2012-05-22).

The European Elections were a stark contrast for me. I was able to get heavily involved with that (at the same time as being involved in the local election in London), but in an online perspective only in my capacity of leading the social media team for the Party.

It was an amazing and tiring experience. I was shattered by the end of it, and knowing that others put even more time and effort in was frankly inspiring/horrific (take your pick). The back-office work to manage the reddit IAMA was intense and it was great to be part of that. We also ran our largest ever continuous social media campaign to date – another pleasure to be part of.

May was a busy month for social media.
May was a busy month for social media.

If we zoom in to May…

The closer to election day, the greater the activity. Until it went totally nuts.
The closer to election day, the greater the activity. Until it went totally nuts.

TTIP

TTIP is another one of those 4-letter acronym secret deals that, if you listen to proponents, will make the world a better place.

The obvious question is, who for?

If agreed this would be the biggest free trade agreement ever. If agreed it could boost the EU’s economy by £120 billion and the US economy by £75 billion over 10 years.

Sounds fantastic.

On the flip-side, recent reports suggest that the deal will end up focusing on non-conventional ‘trade barriers’ like cutting the regulations around fracking, Genetic Modification, and finance whilst tightening laws (e.g. copyright) that harm innovation and culture.

The agreement could also bring worrying legal processes like ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement‘ (ISDS) making it harder for governments to protect the interests of their citizens and legislate to protect the environment and workers.

Read this PPUK review of TTIP for more details.

Net Neutrality

With Net Neutrality under serious threat in the US it was refreshing to see the EU take an opposite approach.

In April 2014 the EU took a strong stance in favour of Net Neutrality with MEPs voting to establish Net Neutrality in the EU as part of the Telecoms Single Market Regulation.

It turns out the UK Government wasn’t so keen on this and trotted out the crazy argument that Net Neutrality would prevent them being able to block child abuse images.

This still doesn’t make sense to me.

Here’s Loz being interviewed by RT on this very issue!

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers

Bursting onto the scene from nowhere was the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) bill.

In April 2014, after CJEU ruled data retention laws were unlawful in their current state, one could be forgiven for thinking some sense had prevailed. The lack of response from the Government could even be seen as tacit admission that wholesale and indiscriminate retention of ‘meta’ data for all citizens was unreasonable.

Not so, it turned out.

Then in July, with little warning, the Government decided to table emergency legislation. With this having been agreed behind closed doors by the Government and opposition the process through parliament was ridiculously short on scrutiny and completely lacking in democratic character.

In one short week the legislation was passed and signed into law.

This was no way to legislate on such an important issue. The Government stressed that there were no substantial changes to what they regarded as already permitted, but the very nature of the rush leaves that in doubt. Already there are multiple challenges that suggest DRIP is incompatible with human rights.

VCAP

With the Digital Economy Act’s full power still to see the light of day those in the copyright industry had to make alternative plans. Thus we saw Vcap announced.

This is a scheme to send ‘education’ emails to those ‘caught’ engaging in online piracy. The plan is to send a series of letters, and if this doesn’t change behaviour… nothing. On one level this could be seen as a mini-victory, and indeed was incorrectly hailed by some as the decriminalisation of online piracy.

This is far from the case, and when these toothless warning letters make little change to the behaviour of ISP’s customers I am concerned how the copyright industry will act. It would not surprise me if they tried to claim access to the details of all those to have received ‘education’ emails.

With their being no judicial process involved to send these emails, to receive one of these emails and, no doubt, be added to a list somewhere, is a serious attack on privacy. This assaults the very basic expectation of being treated as innocent until found guilty by fair and transparent judicial processes.

 

More taxpayers’ money wasted on spam email

I’m often so frustrated at the ‘public’ who seem to go along with what the copyright monopoly wants, buying into their propaganda without questioning in.

When I see people who ‘get it’ (it’s nicer still when they recognise Pirate Party UK’s work in this area) it gives me confidence in society – we will eventually build up a critical mass and change the narrative on copyright issues.

Jake gets it, and I had to share.

The following is reblogged from http://seriousseverity.wordpress.com

Continue reading “More taxpayers’ money wasted on spam email”

greasemonkeying towards a better Moodle

This isn’t going to turn into another rant about how frustrating Moodle 2 is … honest! Rather let’s instead take the position that any web-page that hasn’t been custom designed for a specific individual will always, no matter how good it is, leave something to be desired.

This, for me, is where greasemonkey comes in.

This is a good moment for a slight aside. Greasemonkey is fantastically revolutionary. It allows you the user to define some stuff (javascript) that should run (client side) on a webpage after it loads. I am strongly of the opinion that every website in the world should be devoid of style, and formatting, and simply consist of well marked up code requiring all users to use their own user scripts to turn into something usable. A minimum bar to using the web, as it were. I’m not sure this will catch on…

So, there are things Moodle does that I wish it did slightly differently. So this is where greasemonkey comes in. I write some scripts to make it behave differently for me.

Backup

When creating a backup of a Moodle course there are a series of pages with checkboxes with different options. I always use the same options – which aren’t the defaults. So a little bit of javascript later and each page will tick or untick according to my preference every time I use the backup feature. With ‘next’ buttons appearing at the bottom of the page I even made the page scroll to the bottom for me.

Reset

As with backups, I want reset to use my defaults, so a script does this for me too.

Advanced search

When searching for users in Moodle the default filter is the user full name, with other fields hidden. When showing the other fields there are so many it obscures the ones I want (email and username).

Moodle 2 user searchA tiny bit of scripting and application of some CSS rules, and now the default shown filters include email and username.

Improving assignments

When students submit assignments the assignment submission box lists their names, with their files etc. It does not list some of their other more useful profile fields. For handy user identification we populate the field ‘department’ via ldap with student ID numbers. Unfortunately this field is near invisible in the VLE and not much use.

Moodle 2 submissions no-scriptA bit of (rather complicated) javascript and jquery later, we now look at the name column and get the URL it links to. This URL includes the student’s Moodle database number. We then do an ajax background request to the edit profile for the given user which exposes the department field. We return back that id, and strip it down to just the 9 digit number. We then insert a new cell in the table following the name containing the students ID number.

Moodle 2 submissions with scriptThis isn’t fast, as each new cell requires an ajax call pulling back a whole page of Moodle (slow), and then stripping it down to the bit we want. But this is a darn sight faster than copy/pasting what’s on the screen, dumping into a spreadsheet, and then manually looking up student numbers and hoping you don’t have two students in the same course with the same name.

Non-greasemonkey javascript

In addition to the above I also use javascript in bookmarks to do certain things. When in a Moodle course if I want to make a backup I can hunt down where the backup link is. Or I can just click my ‘Moodle Backup’ bookmark.

javascript:(function(){window.location=window.location.toString().replace(/course\/view/,'backup/backup')})();

This is rather trivial, it just changes the URL replacing ‘course/view’ with ‘backup/backup’. So for the URL https://subdomain.domain.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=192 it takes me to https://subdomain.domain.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=192 which is of course the exact right place for taking a backup.

I use a similar bookmarklet script for Moodle course resets.

javascript:(function(){window.location=window.location.toString().replace(/course\/view/,'course/reset')})();

Pirate Party UK – 3 years old today

Ever since I first heard of the Swedish Pirate Party, I thought to myself that the UK needed something like that, and that if it had something like that I would love to be a part of it. I didn’t however investigate sufficiently or I might have come across the several attempts to do just that which never quite got off the ground.

However finally it did, and on 30th July 2009 the Pirate Party UK became an official ‘registered with the Electoral Commission’ political party. [1]

2009-07-30 PPUK registration
2009-07-30 PPUK registration

The first I knew of this was a Slashdot article posted on 13th August 2009 [2]. I was abroad on my Summer holiday at the time, but that didn’t stop me from immediately following the link and signing up.

A few days later I was already trying to get involved and help. I created a Facebook group for South East members (which was eventually replaced with a Facebook page).

I am proud to be able to say that on September 5th 2009 I was at the Treehouse talk [3] [4], the first official public speech by then leader (and current Governor) Andy Robinson. I remember the gentle teasing on the train ride up (with Tuoni and Semanticx) for bringing along a flask of tea. The three of us had our own custom black, name on the back, polo shirts made up which receive compliments to this day.

Copyright Andy Bloomfield BY-NC - http://www.flickr.com/photos/andybroomfield/3907168877/sizes/m/in/set-72157622207295663/
© (NC-BY) Andy Broomfield

I vividly remember all of us attending (especially those proudly wearing PPUK-logo polo shirts and no coats) shivering as the evening set in to chill us to the bone. Finally, I remember the satisfaction of being able to drink hot tea from my flask! That evening I posted the following to Facebook:

Good meeting today. Turnout could have been larger, but I predict that in a few years time the number of people who claim to have ‘frozen in the tree house’ will be significantly more than really did.

 

In May 2010 I decided to become even more involved. Nominations opened for Regional Admin Officers and I nominated myself for the South East vacancy [5] [6]. I held that position until 2011 when, after structural changes, the RAO positions were removed.

That same May nominations opened [7] for the Board of Governors for which I also nominated myself [8]. I was proud to have been elected to both offices, the latter one still held today. Proud both because of the trust I felt that members had placed in me, and proud also to know I was able to help the Pirate Party UK grow and develop.

The second half of 2010 and the first half of 2011 saw me travelling around the South East trying to stimulate regional activity through monthly meetings. Some meetings were successful, others less so. The most successful were those that combined with the London region. These tailed off late 2011 and early 2012 as RAO positions got restructured away, but have seen a resurgence recently with one of the most successful meetings yet [9].

London July 2012 PPUK Social Meeting
London July 2012 PPUK Social Meeting

February 2011 saw the first ever Pirate Party UK national conference [10]. This took place in Glasgow and provided the first real opportunity for many of the active members to meet each other face-to-face and built both political and social ties. There were good talks from invited international Pirates (Pascal Gloor PP-Switzerland, and Rick Falkvinge PP-Sweden) as well as Loz (UK leader). I’m proud to also be able to say I too presented at conference, though my talk on the PPUK constitution was probably a gentle opener to allow members to catch a few extra moments of sleep.

Author delivering a presentation at PPUK 2011 national conference
Author delivering a presentation at PPUK 2011 national conference. © Andy Halsall

It has been a tough three years for a small group of idealists without too much real political experience trying to make a serious political party out of little more than hopes, dreams, visions of a better world, and a sprinkling of outrage.

In many ways it has been three years of pain. Birthing pains, and growing pains. We grew faster than we knew what to do with ourselves. I am sure many members were like myself who had always wanted to see a UK Pirate Party and joined immediately to make a statement of intent. Like myself I am sure many of those initial members were not sure what to do to help, and unsurprisingly at a time when we needed every member to know what needed to be done and be driven to do it we floundered as reality set in.

But we survived. While many members stayed on the periphery to observe a good number got stuck in. A few volunteered to help, got stuck in and did things, and gradually (perhaps making mistakes every step of the way) we made things work. We have had a few internal election cycles (some might say too many) and without criticism to those that came before, I think every cycle we’ve gotten stronger. Those that came before deserve praise for bringing us as far as they did, and those that came after deserve praise for dragging us further than we had gone before.

We have had successes, and we have had failures. I am saddened most when I see hard working individuals burn out and fade away because their load was not shared with others. I think we are still at that tipping point where too few do too much, but change is on the horizon. We are now teetering towards a different tipping point, the place where we now have many more volunteers and those few with the heavy loads have to try to shift that balance, negotiating the tricky challenge of taking time away from doing to spend time mentoring others on what to do.

I anticipate a period of quiet, where not quite so much work is seen to be done from the outside perspective as we internally work on a better organisation structure. But I hope this will then be followed by a rapid growth as a larger group of organised volunteers kick into gear and drive us further towards our goals.

Looking ahead, I am eagerly anticipating the PPUK 2012 national conference. This is being held in London on 16th September [11] and proposes to be a larger and more exciting event. I imagine this has a strong chance (although it will be a push) of being the last ‘intimate’ PPUK conference where it would be possible to meet everyone attending and forge friendships, as I foresee a 2013 or 2014 conference becoming so much larger and reaching 500+ attendees.

I’ve already bought my ticket and if you haven’t yet done so, do snap one up now [12] while there are still tickets available, I look forward to meeting more of my fellow Pirates.

Browsing through three years worth of subscribed forum posts one thread in particular caught my eye titled ‘BBC ignoring us’, which is certainly not something that could be said now [13]. If a measure is needed of how far we have come, perhaps this is as good as any.


[1] Announcement on the PPUK blog of the official registration of PPUK with the Electoral Commission
[2] Article on Slashdot about the official registration of PPUK
[3] Announcement on the PPUK blog of the Treehouse talk
[4] flickr image set by Andy Broomfield of the Treehouse talk
[5] Opening of RAO nominations on the PPUK forum
[6] Author’s self-nomination for RAO South East on the PPUK forum
[7] Opening of Board of Governors nominations on the PPUK forum
[8] Author’s self-nomination for Board of Governors on the PPUK forum
[9] Facebook image gallery for London July 2012 social meeting
[10] Facebook image gallery for PPUK 2011 national conference
[11] Information page for the upcoming PPUK 2012 national conference
[12] Registration page for the upcoming PPUK 2012 national conference
[13] Google search for BBC pages mentioning “Pirate Party UK”

Featured image – Some rights reserved by Omer Wazir

Pirate Party a single issue party?

In this ‘blog post I would like to challenge the perspective that calls the Pirate Party a single issue party.

Upon cursory inspection, that seems the case, but I hope that I can persuade readers that when you dig a little deeper there is more to the Pirate Party. I do not just mean the public Policy 2011 consultation that took place on reddit, nor the policy 2012 process that came from it. Nor am I being a little trite and referring to their three core policies of copyrights/patents, surveillance, and free speech.

Instead I refer to the general Pirate philosophy which can be a lens through which to view any policy area (Rick Falkvinge has made efforts to define his take on this general philosophy that he calls a pirate wheel). In the same way that one might summarise in few words what a liberal, a socialist, or a conservative stands for, likewise you should be able to boil down a Pirate to our few core policies. That simple definition then helps inform a perspective on a much wider policy platform. There is a difference between having a core set of policies, and for those policies to be limited in scope. The Pirate viewpoint can be applied to any policy area, and as such Pirate politics is relevent to more than just a single issue.

Yes the Pirate Party needs manifestos covering a wider range of issues when they stand for election. They have created such manifestos in the past, and will do so in the future. But when trying to get their message across to those who have not heard of them, the most important thing they need to do is explain their philosophy as simply as possible.

Barring personalities and fluctuating popularity ratings many voters label themselves politically and vote accordingly, e.g. a ‘socialist’ constituent is likely to vote for a socialist party. They (I generalise) are not always ready to delve into manifestos and look at the details. They are looking for someone who advertises their party as socialist and expect to get someone who will (e.g.) tax the rich and build a welfare state.

So I say that the Pirate Party does not need a complicated in-depth manifesto to catch the interest of the voters (though I accept that they may need that to hold on to them after they have caught them). Instead they need to have such a simple message that voters redefine themselves.

Someone labelling themselves a liberal might look at the strong Pirate stand-point on individual rights and reducing surveillance and re-label themselves a Pirate. Someone labelling themselves a conservative may look on the Pirate copyright/patent stance and see a low-interventionist free-market approach and be all for it, re-labelling themselves as a Pirate. Someone labelling themselves a socialist might look on the Pirate copyright agenda as a redistribution of wealth from the few rich copyright companies to the many poor artists and decide to re-label themselves Pirate.

The Pirate Party needs to make it easy for a vast swathe of the electorate to be able to identify themselves as agreeing with core Pirate beliefs, and being ready to politically label themselves as Pirate. That does not come from having more policies. It comes from better explaining the core of what the Pirate Party stand for, and make it as easy as possible for the electorate to extrapolate for themselves how such a philosophy would deal with more diverse policy areas.

Moodle 2 Frustrations

With over ten Moodle 1.9.* installations that all need upgrading, the next few months are going to be exciting.

I have a clean Moodle 2 install, and a test 1.9 -> 2.1 install, and have been frustrated by some of the changes. I should note that I am also pleased at other changes, but those things I like will get less air-time than those I don’t, ’tis the way of things.

Some of the things I don’t like are:

Category Enrolments

I have not fully understood how these differ from Moodle 1.9 yet, though I am assured they do. Firstly, site-wide and category enrolments do not work the same – I’m not quite clear yet exactly how. There is a new enrolment plugin type called ‘Category enrolments’ that seems to be involved that supposedly restores old behaviour if enabled. This interacts with the new capability ‘category:synchronised’. I believe this specifically synchronises roles at a category down into a course level. I believe it does this as a proper enrolment rather than as an ‘other user’.

What I don’t like about this is that it has changed, I don’t understand it fully, and it becomes difficult for me to ensure desired pre-existing behaviour is maintained.

Hidden Assignments

Another thing that annoys me, is the removal of ‘hidden’ role assignments, replacing them instead with the concept of ‘other users’ in a course that will have access but not be listed as a participant.

On face value this seems to make sense, but one of the way we used to use ‘hidden’ enrolments was when enrolling site-wide users. We would set someone up with Teacher permissions site-wide, and to prevent them showing up as being a Teacher on every course we’d set the role as hidden.

If someone needs site-wide permission levels there is no way to do this as an ‘other user’. Where this Teacher role is granted site-wide because there is no ‘hidden’ option, that person is then listed on every course as a Teacher.

A solution is to tweak ‘course contacts’ so that Teachers aren’t listed as Teachers of a course, or better to duplicate the Teacher role and make sure they aren’t a ‘course contact’. Where multiple roles are used in both visible and hidden ways, this means duplicating those roles and them essentially being identical in ALL WAYS except for which are listed as ‘course contacts’. These roles may then be synchronised back down into courses if ‘Category enrolments’ and the ‘category:synchronised’ capability are enabled. I could easily see this then requiring even more duplicate roles.

Viewing Enrolled Users

In a course when I view enrolled users (course administration->users->enrolled users), I can choose to filter by enrolment method, but not by role. Ditto for ‘other users’. It isn’t easy to get a quick look at who is enrolled as a Teacher. For this functionality I specifically have to use the Participants link in the People block – which doesn’t show up ‘other users’ anyway. I can click on ‘enrol users’ to get the traditional side-by-side view of those enrolled and not enrolled. But (1) there is not a separate view per role, (2) if there are ‘too many users to show’ you’re out of luck.

Display a Directory vs Folder Resource

This is one of my largest frustrations.

In Moodle 1.9 we had a the following workflow.

  • Publications would update up to hundreds of course files (in a neat folder hierarchy) on a network drive,
  • A script would rsync these files with a folder on the Moodle 1.9 server,
  • Within an ‘all course materials’ course we would ‘display a directory’ that allowed students to navigate the neat folder hierarchy and access the hundreds of course files.
  • Because these files are synched when updated, we never need to go into Moodle and delete old files and replace with new ones.

Moodle 2 have changed the way files are handled. Repositories are a new and ‘good’ way to handle files in Moodle 2. As a consequence to the ‘new way of doing things’ the ‘display a directory’ resource. This has been replaced by a ‘folder’ resource.

When creating a ‘folder’ resource there is no way to point it to a folder within a repository. If all your hundreds of files from the server sit in a file-system repository, you can one-by-one add the files to your course ‘folder’, but not in bulk. Once a file is placed in your folder from the repository it is replicated into Moodle’s database. Presumably if the original file in the repository updates, nothing happens to Moodle’s database copy, and so every time a file is updated, you need to go into the ‘folder’ to remove the old one, and add the updated one.

What is the point of a repository if we can not update documents in there, and know that Moodle is picking up the update?

What is the point of a ‘folder’ if we can’t bulk select files from the repository? And no, adding zipfiles and unzipping them into the folder is NOT a suitable alternative.

Upgrades

Yesterday saw the first upgrade of the first of our live installs, and there were mixed results.

Capability – folder:view

More ‘folder’ frustration as it turned out that in my fresh M2 install, my test M2 upgrade, and the live M2 upgrade that the capability ‘folder:view’ is not set to ‘allow’ for students. What does this mean? It means that the ‘folder’ resource, presumably intended for students, is not actually visible to students!

I don’t know if this is a default Moodle 2 setting, or just something wrong at our end – but it certainly got me kicking, screaming, and pulling my hair out about folders all over again!

Capability – course:view

Going back to my frustration with site-wide and category enrolments, imagine my frustration when everyone with our ‘College Admin’ role (site wide) who had previously been able to see all courses, was suddenly unable to see any courses! It turned out that this was because their role did not have the ‘course:view’ capability. In our other 1.9 installs this role does have this capability, so either something took it off in the upgrade or this one install didn’t have it set (I don’t believe this!).

Summary

While I am pleased at some of the new features (cohorts!) of Moodle 2 I am really disappointed in the loss of some Moodle 1.9 features.

Ten for trust

Following on from my last blog post, I am responding to connect.me’s call to blog about those I trust.

One aspect I think that could do with some improvement in the way connect.me handles vouches, is the lack of evidence associated with each vouch. I hope I am trusted that when I vouch for someone in ‘photography’ it truly means I respect and value their photographic skills, but beyond that how do you judge that relationship? I would like the ability for each vouch to have an optional description field which is not shown by default, but that can be displayed as and when needed. This might serve a little like ebay feedback (which is another form of reputational currency).

Until there is such an option, I find this idea of blogging about who and why I have trust vouched an ideal way to explain my choices.

Social

Richard Bellingham – My first and greatest friend from University (undergraduate years). I have known Richard for many years and he is a thorough geek. I credit long nights of conversation with me for his rationalist and atheist views – though it may be fairer to note that questioning everything and re-evaluating one’s views is a natural consequence for an intelligent person leaving home and going to University. I have read some of what he was written, though as a writer some of his favoured genres (that’s something you’ll have to ask him about) don’t always appeal to me. For many years I have role-played under him as a games master, and have enjoyed myself thoroughly. He has his own style of running games, perhaps expecting too much player-led activity for the likes of some, but is far less rail-roading than others. We both studied Biosciences together, and then we both went different ways to do Masters degrees in Computing. With programming being a fond love for both of us I would much have preferred our University days to have been swapped – though I have fond memories of his early forays as a multi-threaded java programmer mixing up .run() and .start() methods.

Rhodri Broadbent (not yet signed up) – My greatest friend from my University (postgraduate years). I remember many afternoons and evenings spent at his house playing games on his Nintendo gamecube. More fondly still I remember the summer where I had my mum’s house to myself, and Rhod stayed over so we could both work intensively on our dissertation programming projects. Days and days spent programming in separate rooms, only to go through to pester the other while musing aloud on whatever the current bug was. Evenings playing Counterstrike and watching Invader Zim may have been the only things to keep us sane. Rhod’s project was a 3D game of a bird flying down an obstacle course shooting at things. Since then he has moved to Japan, working as a real games developer, and now is back in the UK with his own games company DakkoDakko.

Professional

Steve Bailey – I have worked (Uni of Kent) with Steve for several years and regard him as my friend. However I’m including him here under professional rather than social as my vouches for him are more professionally oriented. Steve and I worked closely together in learning technology. The majority of our work revolved around the open source VLE/LMS Moodle – but Steve’s interests and skills go beyond this and include lecture recording, education generally, and explain why he is an excellent educational technologist.

Mick Norman – Mick is another one of my former Unikent learning technology colleagues. I worked with him for almost as long as I have worked with Steve. I regard Mick as an expert in the use of Moodle and a wide range of other educational technologies. Mick is an avid musician and participates in orchestras and bands – though where he finds the time, I do not know! He is also a keen photographer and I am hoping to pick up some tips from him soon, perhaps over beer.

Daniel Clark – Dan is the final former Unikent colleague to make it to this list. At the time of this post the three of them are still colleagues at Unikent and I miss being their colleague nearly daily. Dan has a background in music technology, works in educational technology, as well as having broader qualifications in education. Dan is another avid photographer and musician – which is quite good as I know that in a hostage situation if I ever have to choose between Dan and Mick I can guarantee I’ll be able to keep a musical photographic former-colleague/friend. It is good to have spares!

Political

Loz Kaye (not yet signed up) – As the current Leader of the Pirate Party UK Loz is an inspiration to me with how he can find the time to be in so many different places doing so many different things. He is far from a career politician, he is one of those rare people that sees something he disagrees with and instead of sitting back grumbling about it, he takes a stand. Following him on twitter is sometimes a whirlwind-like experience as he discussed pirate politics, music composition, and various things in foreign languages I can barely comprehend. I know the PPUK is better for his involvement, and I am proud to vouch my trust in him.

Andy Halsall – Andy is another person that I am fortunate to have met through our mutual involvement in pirate politics. He is a dedicated activist who is currently the Campaigns Manager of the Pirate Party UK. I am impressed with how much he can get done, and how well he sometimes manages to delegate. I live in fear of his phone calls and emails asking me to do things … well perhaps not fear, but he’s just so difficult to say no to!

Harley Faggetter – Harley is the third member (in a row!) of the PPUK National Executive Committee to make it to this list. Out of all ten listed I’ve known Harley the least amount of time, yet it has been enough to know he is dedicated to pirate politics. I have spent many an evening in Parliament attending a debate sitting alongside Harley, whispering comments and opinions back and forth or comparing tweets.

Jack Allnutt (not yet signed up) – Jack and I have both held similar roles within PPUK. We were both elected into positions of Regional Administrative Officer and onto the Board of Governors at the same times as each other. I have got to know Jack well while working with him and know he is enthusiastic about pirate politics and making a difference.

Will Tovey (not yet signed up) – Will is one of my colleagues on the PPUK Board of Governors. He impresses me regularly not just with his interest in pirate politics but also with how ready he is to dig into boring, verbose, dense legal matters to summarise and make sense. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising as he is a law student, yet it is incredibly helpful. I don’t know exactly how high his reading stack is, but I get the impression that things get added to it faster than they are taken away. That Will keeps on going is a testament to his willpower.

 

Reputation Networks

I have recently joined connect.me, a new reputation network.

I have been asked why, with all the other social network sites available, did I join (and pester friends/colleagues to join) this one.

Firstly a reputation network is NOT a social network, well, not exactly. A dedicated reputation network would seek not to compete with other social networks, but instead provide a mechanism by which one proves one’s credibility. That proof can then be used in other places (social networks being one example) to support and evidence your reputation.

For example, if you were on a reputation network and had many vouches that you were eminent in the field of network security, you then might post a blog article about network security. Your readers may want to know if you’re talking nonsense or not and can check to see what your reputation is by following a link to your connect.me profile. What’s more they should be able to see who vouched for you, and determine for themselves how reliable those vouches were. If a bunch of other network security people had vouched for you, your readers could trust your blog article more than if you only had vouches from your luddite grandmother.

Why *this* one? Why not? If it fails to work, I can delete my account. If it ends up being successful, then I’ll make use of it. However such systems only work when they are used. If no-one that knows me is on there, my reputation can not be accurately judged by those that don’t know me. Hence I encourage to join those that know me in particular fields of my interest.

When you considers online services such as this the immediate concern is privacy, what they do with your data and how they respect your rights to privacy. This site has won an award for their personal data privacy policies. What this means further down the line, any site can change policies, is debatable. Therefore it is important to keep telling them how we value their current stance to ensure they stick with it.

ECHR vs Bill of Rights

Will Tovey has written an interesting ‘blog post criticising Theresa May’s recent announcement of a new Bill of Rights that would replace the Human Rights Act (HRA) and withdraw the UK from the oversight provided by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). I’d recommend reading it to anyone interested in going beyond the superficial political/tabloid hype.

In the post Will challenges various misconceptions, including

  • courts aren’t entitled to make laws
  • the HRA is all about foreign judges meddling in UK law
  • criminals have no rights

Along with various clear arguments in favour of preserving the connection with the ECHR, such as

  • protecting individuals from the state
  • judges having more experience with the intricacies of law than politicians
  • judges are less likely than politicians to be vote chasing when ruling how to apply laws

Will summarises:

Human Rights are fundamental, inalienable and indivisible rights that protect all of us, equally. Any government that wants to remove such protection is demonstrating a thirst for power that is unhealthy and dangerous in a civilised society. It is important that the human rights of any one person, even a criminal, are upheld – as soon as we say it is acceptable to take away rights from just one person, we are all put at risk.

There is also a very good and related article on the BBC News website. The article notes that having laws that were not subject to judicial review was inconceivable, that it would be a disaster for the UK to not comply with the ECHR ruling (on votes for prisoners), and how not doing so would leave the UK comparable to 1967 Greece ruled by a dictatorship.

“The only country which denounced the Convention was Greece in 1967 at the time of the dictatorship of the colonels. I cannot imagine …  that the UK, which is a great country, could be in the same situation as the colonels in 1967.”