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Date: Wednesday, 15 Dec 2010 20:55

Over the past weeks I’ve been spending my one or two hours a week refactoring the Learning Goals source-code, removing the shortcuts that I’d taken to get the initial prototype and replacing them with maintainable, well-tested code. But I’m always torn – should I be spending my time instead getting more involved in educational communities, communicating the ideas behind learning goals, drumming up support with Matt’s 5 steps? With the time I’ve got available, it’s hard for me to see a sustainable path forward.

But none-the-less, I need to somehow make it easier to demonstrate why learning goals will be a vital tool for flexible learning (with something more concrete than the 1 minute pitch video). So, my plan for the next 6 months (of 1-2hrs per week, so approx. 50hrs):

  1. Finish cleaning up the code (post-prototype-rush) to a point where it’s easy for others to contribute (easy dev environment, great test coverage). 10hrs.
  2. Create a simple project sandbox for learning goals on http://liveandletlearn.net/doit/ (5hrs)
  3. Build on the site with pages describing the project in 5 sentences, user-stories, surveys of similar projects/products, FAQ etc., so that anyone interested in the project can find all their questions answered, as well as trying out the sandbox. (15hrs)
  4. Give the UI a facelift (well, at least make it styled and mildly attractive, rather then functional-only) (10hrs)
  5. Start a process of releasing new features directly to the sandbox site (automating the process), actively seeking other people/colleges interested in using Learning Goals and continue dogfooding Learning Goals myself with the people whom I’m currently helping.

And as Matt says, shake and repeat.


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General"
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Date: Thursday, 25 Nov 2010 07:45

Three days of passionate conversations with people who are excited to be exploring new sustainable models of education and learning-by-doing, forging the latest technologies with old and new ideas. That’s the best I can do to summarize my experience of the Mozilla Drumbeat Learning, freedom and the web festival in one sentence. It was unreal.

The festival began with music, food and a science-fair of various new projects. I had a t-shirt printed (a graphic from the “Changing educational paradigms” RSA animation) which was great for starting conversations around the Learning Goals project. I felt my voice going towards the end of the evening, but it was exciting for me to be able to chat with so many people about the project and learning in general.

The next day began with a couple of keynotes, one by Mitchell Baker which helped me frame the Mozilla Foundation’s motivation for the drumbeat project itself.  I then joined a small group workshop with Laurie (startl), Matt (Mozilla) and Karien (Shuttleworth foundation) and five other participants to discuss our projects and how we can best present them. We each wrote up a 2-min pitch for feedback and then presented them the following day getting more valuable feedback from other participants (in my case, leading to a total re-write and 1-minute Learning Goals intro video).

The rest of my conference time was spent mostly with the Peer-2-Peer University folk. It was exciting not only to learn about possible integration points for my own project, but also discussing the future of assessment and use of badges for assessment. P2PU got started just over 2 years ago with funding from the Shuttleworth foundation and it now has a very active community with lots of volunteers organizing a variety courses (with varying success). It shares some similarities with SchoolOfEverything, but is more ‘course’-centric fusing online tools in addition to linking people up to learn something together. I reckon bringing together organizational projects like this with open educational resource projects (like the Khan Academy) will change education and learning (like this video-game interface to the Khan academy).

I followed the ”Badges for assessment” track – exploring the idea that StackOverflow-style badges could be awarded for assessment instead of things like certificates for qualifications. There were lots of interesting discussions about issues (verification/authentication, who awards, what competencies underly a badge, etc.), and P2PU is going to work with Mozilla to flesh out the ideas using the P2PU School of Webcraft.

As always, the best conversations continued on after hours or into lunch breaks. Simply being in an environment where conversations with people who are just as excited about an open future of learning and education were possible was a dream in itself. I think nearly everyone came away from Drumbeat with lots of new ideas, new friends and collaborators, and a re-fuelled motivation to continue exploring better ways of learning in the future.


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General"
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Date: Saturday, 13 Nov 2010 11:36

As I had to run to catch a flight after the Learning, freedom and the web festival, I didn’t get a chance to hand in my evaluation form, so thought I’d post it here… (I will be posting later with my own summary of the festival too). I just hope I’m not too late to go in the draw to receive a flipcam…


1) If you could say one thing about this event, what would it be?

One sentence perhaps?

Three days of passionate conversations with people who are excited to be exploring new sustainable models of education and learning-by-doing, forging the latest technologies with old and new ideas.

2) Why did you decide to attend the festival?

I *love* meeting up with and exchanging ideas with others passionate about learning possibilities for the future. I also had my own project – Learning Goals – to show at the science fair. And my managers at the excellent company that I work for (Canonical) were nice enough to let me take conference leave!

3) Please rank you overall satisfaction with the festival: 5 – awesome.

4) What were the top three “Aha” or great learning moments for you at the event?

  1. Understanding that what I think I’m communicating about my project is not what people are understanding.
  2. It’s not just Australian web-dev education that has issues – it seems most countries follow the same system (trying to define competencies in stone that really need updating before they are even published).
  3. A session that I apparently missed – HOWTO prototype and iterate for fun and profit (was it part of drumbeat, or earlier meetups? either way, I was glad to learn from some of the stuff in this session after the event).

5) What three things would you change about how learning (content, skills, socialization, accreditation) works in 2020?

I’d frame this for the people who are helping people learn, something like:

  1. Source content from professionals, but actively develop great social learning *activities* on open wikis – see ‘Provide relevant and practical activities to learn by doing‘  and ‘Do we need teachers of web design?
  2. Model learning not teaching (something all learners can help each other with)
  3. Gradually hand over control of learning to learners

6) What activities or follow-up communications would you like to see happen after the festival?

I’m not sure that anything formal is required – perhaps just summarising/outlining and publishing all the activities and communications that are already taking place naturally? (So others can see all the other action that’s happening without trying to keep up with all #drumbeat tweets or one hundred blogs etc.)


7) Was the agenda format ok? I’d say just right (although I’m used to this kind of format from Ubuntu Developer Summit meetings.) The main streams together with impromptu discussions and sessions was great. Starting with the funky science fair was excellent too!

8) Which session(s) offered you the most benefit? Why?

Hrm, personally I’d have to say the startl sessions with Laurie, Matt, Karien and the other participants with projects. I’m guessing this is because these were the sessions that I put the most into as well (ie. we had to prepare our project pitches), and also got *lots* of useful feedback from (which I summarised with the a comment at Pitching the learning goals project) and created a follow-up 1 minute intro video for the Learning Goals project.

I would have liked to have spent more time discussing/debating badges for assessment, as I’m excited about the possibilities together with other alternatives – such as enabling learners to collect their own evidence and decide themselves when they are ready to demonstrate their evidence (something we were pushing in our web programming course a few years ago). I got to 3 or 4 of the badges sessions and had some great discussions.

I also enjoyed the discussion session with Dale Dougherty and lots of other dinner conversations with different people.

10) Was the agenda what you expected, given the theme of the Festival? Why or why not?

Yes – I thought the mix of mostly workshop-type sessions but also relevant keynotes in the morning/evening was perfect. The topics for key-notes were great – a mix of exciting new tools for learning (how Arduino boards are being used for lots of fun learning) and reminders about the state of tech-education :)

I didn’t feel anything was missing.


  • The venue was appropriate – strongly agree, Barcelona itself, as well as the Raval district – both were great.
  • The food and beverages met my needs – agree. When I got to the food, it was perfect snack food + drinks. But as conversations continued between sessions I hardly ever got there.
  • The pace of the event was comfortable – strongly agree. I was never bored, and the 1.5hr lunch breaks were great… any shorter and it would have felt quite rushed given that we were eating out in the city.
  • The format of the event was effective  - strongly agree. Science fair opening (with music/drinks) was an excellent opportunity to meet lots of people and find out peoples interests etc. Then the combination of short key-notes and the start/end of each day with lots of interactive workshops and informal conversations in between was great.

13) How might we improve the logistics for future Drumbeat festivals?

I think it would be great to capture at least the sound for each discussion. I spent a lot of time trying to document various sessions that I was at (using the excellent Etherpad pages for each room/slot), but it did mean that I wasn’t able to participate quite so much as I would have liked. (Edit: Another option would be for session leaders to make a point of ensuring there are at least 2-3 people documenting on the etherpad page).

Thanks to all the organizers (especially the incredible local organizers, who were up at 4am at least one morning just to ensure that everything happened), to Mozilla for the travel allowance, and my managers for letting me take leave :)


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General"
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Date: Friday, 05 Nov 2010 02:10

I met up with a bunch of great people today to talk about creating a pitch for our projects. Based on the feedback from that discussion and another discussion at dinner, here’s my first attempt to pitch the Learning Goals project in 2 minutes…

I know I’m not good at this kind of thing, so please help (and be reckless with your criticism):

Learn what you want, when you want, with whom you want.

Learning goals is an online service that helps you engage lots of learners who have very different motivations, available time, background knowledge and life experience. Learning goals helps you model learning – not teaching – so that learners can gradually begin to set their own goals, plan the steps, link relevant activities from the web and request the support needed to reach their goals.

In most learning contexts today it’s simply unrealistic to expect a homogeneous group of people who can all “keep up” with the set pace of a course “delivery”. None of us want to turn eager learners away just because they have less time available or learn more slowly, nor do we want other people to be bored because they have more time or happen to pick things up more quickly. Learning Goals gives you the option to co-create personalised goals with agreed time-lines for individuals or small groups. Learning Goals makes it easy to track many individual goals with a dashboard of activity for the goals you are supporting as well as notifications for the goals you’ve agreed to review – freeing you up to concentrate on creating and sourcing those great social learning activities.

Learning Goals builds on ideas from other current projects and could also be useful to those projects. For example, learners are able to request support not only from you as a course facilitator, but also from peers in the course or friends in the relevant industry, building a peer-to-peer network of support. Learning Goals might even enable P2PU to support a wider variety of learner needs with self-paced-yet-social courses. Similarly, badges may be able to be used both for learning achievements (formal and informal) as well as for helping others learn.

I’m currently developing Learning Goals as an open-source project so that it can be used freely to help people learn in any context and am working to find other interested edu-developers with the aim of establishing a developer community over the next year. Because Learning Goals is just one small targeted tool in a learner’s PLE (ie. linking out to relevant learning activities and mashing up other communication services rather than suffering featuritis), I’ll be able to release early and often with incremental-but-useful functionality that can be evaluated immediately.

As I see Learning Goals addressing the issues which made personalised, self-paced, peer-to-peer learning unscalable for me in the past, I personally hope to move gradually back into a learning facilitator role. Starting with post-secondary community colleges and/or P2PU, I would love to continue to demonstrate the benefits for learners and facilitators alike, gradually moving downwards into schools and putting the control of learning back in the hands of learners.

Edit: switched ‘learner’ with ‘person’ where possible – thanks Ian.


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General, drumbeat, learning, learninggoa..."
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Date: Thursday, 04 Nov 2010 08:49

Had an unreal time at the Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the web festival yesterday – meeting lots of other people who are passionate about open learning and education, and had a chance to to present Learning goals – supporting self-paced, peer-2-peer learning (spot me in the crowd).

Click for the original photo by deimidis


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General"
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Date: Friday, 01 Oct 2010 19:44

If you’ve ever been part of a learning group with me, or we’ve worked together in education, I’d be keen to get feedback from you about the Learning Goals project which I’m hoping to move forward over the next while.

The aim is to build a small, focused tool to support self-paced learning and peer review both within and outside of learning institutions. If you think it’s worthwhile, please click on the Vote button (you’ll need to create a drumbeat account).

Here’s a screencast of a very basic, unstyled prototype demoing one aspect of Learning Goals:


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General"
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Date: Saturday, 18 Sep 2010 10:53

I’ve finally got around to trying out World of Goo with my kids. I’d read lots about World of Goo (mostly because of the way it was developed and because it’s available for Linux), and it always sounded like an fun game that would help kids learn simple physics without even knowing it.

Watching my kids play the demo this morning has only confirmed everything I read – what a great game!


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General, games, learning"
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Date: Monday, 13 Sep 2010 06:53

Anyone who’s used Alice for helping people learn computer programming might be interested to know that Alice 3 runs on Linux too, and Google have released AppInventor – which uses a very similar interface to allow non-developers experiment with creating apps for their phone.

A few years ago, while working in education I outlined a Wikiversity resource for learning to program with Alice.  Some students loved it, but some became quite frustrated for various reasons (one big one being losing all their work when their file was corrupted). I certainly found Alice incredibly useful for visualising object-oriented programming and getting learners using event-driven programming without even thinking about it. YMMV.


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General"
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Date: Sunday, 12 Sep 2010 12:21

I am trying to find links and resources about applying Agile development methodologies to education and learning. Three years ago (almost to the day) I wrote agile learning – an alternative learning model, and am now really keen to get back into this line of thought in my spare time. If you have any links or resources, please let me know! Or if you’re interested in why it’s an exciting area… read on.

Many – if not most – of the concepts of Agile/Lean software development transfer incredibly well to education and learning. The most obvious example being valuing “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” (nothing new – most people would agree), but also less obvious principles. For my work as a software engineer we’ve been using a Kanban board for the last year or so (a tool for visualising your work and identifying things that block throughput). Kanban principles actually originate at Toyota but have been applied to software engineering over the past few years (as well as other areas), and seem to have excellent application to personal learning and education too – such as helping to manage the amount of context-switching a school or uni student is asked to do.

But I’m finding it quite hard to find out what’s already out there on the topic of Lean/Agile learning and education – most searches result in companies that teach lean principles for software development, not applying those principles to education and learning generally. I was excited to find Susan’s Agile Education presentation recently, but after contacting Susan it seems she has had the same difficulty in finding resources.

So if you know of any blogs, articles or other resources (or are just keen to discuss and interact on the topic), don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m going to start planning a practical series on agile learning (as it will help me focus ideas for tools enabling agile learning in mainstream settings).

Edit: Nice, I just found Jim Benson’s personal Kanban series which has lots of info about applying Kanban to personal life.

Edit 2010-10-01: A google alert just led me to David Jenning’s Agile learning definition. It’s general ‘agile’ principles for learning and education but not deriving from agile methodology in software engineering as far as I can see.

Edit 2011-01-18: Thanks Hannu for the pointer to the University of Geneva’s EduTechWiki’s Agile Learning page.


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General, agile, education, lean, learnin..."
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Date: Monday, 23 Aug 2010 06:34

Back in 2007, I asked myself the following question:

How do you:

  • meet the individual learning needs of a diverse bunch of learners, and
  • assess individuals in their mix of individual and group learning in a fair, valid, sustainable way,
  • all-the-while demonstrating how individuals can themselves set, review and work towards their own learning goals – gradually handing over control of the learning.

Back then in our web programming class we used a combination of individual learning plans and Basecamp accounts, a variety of individual and group problem-based activities,  together with the wealth of resources created by industry professionals. While this generally worked well, there were two points of difficulty:

  1. the process of creating individual learning plans was very time consuming, quite complex for learners, very specific to the web programming course, and as a result, was not something individuals felt they could benefit from generally (for other learning goals outside of the course). This meant that setting learning plans remained a very facilitator-centric task.
  2. Evaluating progress or assessing all the evidence for a particular goal was difficult for learners and facilitators alike. For facilitators it was hard to make sure you got around to everybody, switching context constantly. For learners the main difficulty was mapping their own aims and goals onto the national competency standards.

I’ve never stopped thinking about these problems, and am currently playing with some mockups for a life-based learning tool which would aim to make it easy to set my own long-term goals, take small (reviewable) steps towards those goals, review and ask others to review my progress.

If you were involved in classes with me in the past or otherwise have any feedback, or are interested to help with the prototyping or coding, don’t hesitate to let me know!


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General, assessment, education, learning"
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Date: Sunday, 30 May 2010 19:04

I loved watching Sir Ken Robinson’s Bring on the learning revolution TED talk today, and it’s exciting to see the attention it’s been getting. Anyone who knows me (in an educational context) knows that I am passionate about learner-centred education. Equipping and facilitating learners with the skills to define and direct our own learning goals – rather than having them defined for us and locked up in the Learning Management Systems of educational institutions –  is of fundamental importance for education (which is why I’m  spending lots of my spare time working on some life-based learning tools).

One of Ken’s main points is that “reform is of no use any more… because that’s simply improving a broken model… what we need in education is not evolution, but a revolution.” At first I thought it’s just a choice of words that motivate people more – revolutions are exciting instant changes, where as the evolution of a system is slow and boring – as I know lots of educators within institutions that share Ken’s point of view.

But then I remembered how I struggled while working in such a context – how frustrated I became while trying to bring together the needs of a group of self-paced individuals learning in a social setting with requirements of a linear assessment framework. I think I only survived the four-and-a-half years that I worked as a learning facilitator because my manager allowed me to break various rules.

The talk ends with the challenge that we need to move from an industrial model of education (linearity, conformity) to something more organic (another loaded word – but in this context just meaning that we’re enabled to grow in different directions as we flourish in our learning environment).

I think it sounds less like a revolution and more like a grass-roots movement… but either way, it’s something that I’m personally excited about and hope to be involved in in the future. Does it excite you?

BTW: Other interesting TED talks that I’ve watched lately:


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General"
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Date: Monday, 23 Mar 2009 19:57

I just noticed that teachingopensource.org is having it’s first meeting at 15:00 UTC tomorrow (24th March 09) on IRC (#teachingopensource on freenode)! Looking forward to joining the discussion there…

At the same time, Andrew Oliver is drafting some grass-roots educational initiatives over at the Open Source Initiative (currently just email discussions).


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General"
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Date: Wednesday, 21 Jan 2009 17:47

Today marks one whole year since Franzie, the kids and I left Australia and flew to Berlin for a planned 7 year stint. It’s probably been the craziest year of our lives, so I hope the next 6 years here in Germany will be much more settled! In overview:

Three weeks after we landed we moved out of our temporary holiday unit and into our rented 2nd-floor apartment in Gesundbrunnen, Berlin. It’s a lovely bright unit that gets lots of sun, with excellent train connections and lovely people (if you look close enough, you can see me with M on the balcony – sorry, picture to come). We had to wait another month-and-a-half before our belongings arrived from Australia (and even then, we only just managed to get them off the truck which initially refused to stop to unload).

I’ve worked for two companies here in Berlin (The Otherland Group and then Metaversum – makers of Twinity) doing lots of interesting stuff with Django, Rails and virtual worlds, before finding my dream job: helping to make Ubuntu Linux the number one operating system (working for Canonical on Launchpad.net). So job-wise, it’s involved lots of changes throughout the year, but the changes have also enabled me to meet lots of people.

Alan and MarkusWe’ve had lots of friends and family visit throughout the year, which has been excellent, obviously to stay in touch with people from back home, but it’s also helped me to learn Berlin like the back of my hand (I’ll do a personal 3hr bike tour of Berlin for 20 Euros). Some of my bests memories of the past year have been taking family and friends around Berlin on my bike.

To say that it’s been a very full year would be an understatement – it’s been a year of transitions in terms of homes, jobs, kindergartens and even friendships, which will soon settle down when we move outside of Berlin later this year to Luckenwalde (F’s hometown) where we hope to settle for our time here in Germany.

We’re all missing our friends and family in Australia – as great as it is to be able to talk with video calls, I miss *being* with friends back home. My German has been coming along slowly, not quite quick enough to build real friendships in German (but then most of the friends I’ve made here speak near-perfect English).

So, lots of learning through a crazy year, with hopefully a more settled year to come!


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General"
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Date: Wednesday, 03 Sep 2008 10:01

Just attended the keynote at RailsConf Europe to hear David Heinemeier Hansson talking about Legacy code – code that you or someone else wrote a while back that isn’t, well, isn’t quite up to the standards you’d now expect to see – and how to avoid frustration working with legacy code.

It doesn’t sound like a particular exciting topic, and in truth, it’s not, but one excellent point to come out of it is the benefit of refactoring and improving old crufty code, rather than succumbing to the temptation to re-write it from scratch.

From a learning point-of-view, this was really interesting. I’ve often looked at a few of the earlier Django apps that I created a few years ago now and thought how I’d like to re-write them to apply all the things I’ve learned in the past few years, not thinking about the fact that it’s not only more sustainable, but also more beneficial to refactor the code bit-by-bit instead. I think it simply comes down to the fact that refactoring encourages continuous learning and improvement, rather than the dubious idea of “I’ll get it perfect next time round” (which will never happen). Of course, there are other factors too, for example, refactoring causes you to constantly think about loose coupling of your code, better encapsulation and stresses the importance of thorough test coverage, etc.

And I think it’s a principle that translates into other spheres of learning too – how often do you hear people expressing something like “I’ll get it right next time round” with respect to new relationships or company ventures rather than working to improve the current situation (where possible).

Speaking of Rails: I’ve been having a great time using the Rails framework over the past six months while developing with the Twinity.com team, but having come from a Python/Django development background there are definitely some things that I miss when I switch between the two (on both sides). I’m hoping to find the time soon to post some “Django & Rails: Can Django/Rails do X” posts.


Author: "Michael" Tags: "General, rails django railsconf"
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jan 2008 18:38

Walking to the SiegesaeuleLast Sunday evening we arrived in Berlin after 34 hours of airports and airplanes… here’s what I learned:

  1. Just because you’ve got five tickets and can take five pieces of hand luggage doesn’t mean you should use them all. But, the flip-side of this is that you’ll definitely have your hand luggage at the end of your trip (our check-in luggage didn’t get on the connecting plane with us in London).
  2. Always let people who happen to be sitting beneath your “Kids entertainment” bag (that you access every few hours) know when you’re going to drop their laptop on their head (or they tend to get a little bit upset),
  3. The death-stares that seem to be directed at you and your screaming baby during the “night” section of the trip are really a sign of affection – people will lie through their teeth tell you afterwards how wonderfully behaved your kids are.
  4. Don’t stand in a queue for a British Airways connection while a bunch of Finnish retirees monopolise one of the two staff who aren’t currently on their lunch break only to be told after 45 minutes of waiting that you (and your family with 3 kids, 5 hand-luggages and two car seats) can make a run for the gate (over a km away) for your plane which is due to board right now.
  5. Family support is a wonderful thing.

(Fran’s written more details of our trip.) Right now I’m just enjoying settling into our temporary accommodation in Charlottenburg, Berlin, visiting some of the sights with the kids (M, E and I climbed to the top of the Siegesaeule – the tower in the photo above) and absorbing the vibe of a foreign city!


Author: "Michael" Tags: "movingoverseas"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Jan 2008 02:46

Berlin by unaciertamiradaIt’s hard for me to believe that in less than four days now I’ll be walking the streets of Berlin with Franzie and the kids. And not just for a holiday but – God willing – to live for the next seven-or-so years.

Already the past two months of preparation have been the biggest project that I’ve managed yet (thanks Basecamp), but with lots of help and support of family on both sides of the globe, everything has fallen into place relatively smoothly. We’ve now got some temporary furnished accommodation in Berlin for the first month right near family.

I feel like I can now appreciate why people talk of “uprooting” when moving overseas – uprooting a tree involves breaking so many of the smaller roots as you rip it out of the ground. I feel as though our lives have had lots of small tears and rips for the past 6 weeks saying goodbye to friends and family… but that is the reality of “uprooting” our family.

Colourful BerlinSo for the next while I’ll be learning to live in a new culture with a relatively new language. My 4-year-old, who likes to correct my German grammatical errors, keeps saying to me: “When we go to Germany Daddy, I’ll help you speak right” – let’s hope we all learn and adjust well! From this Sunday we’ll be spending time with family in Berlin and seeking out some permanent accommodation before our shipped belongings arrive. I’ll be starting work as soon as my visa is processed (4 weeks from arrival) but in the mean-time will enjoy exploring a new colourful city! Please keep in touch!


Author: "Michael" Tags: "culture, movingoverseas"
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Date: Monday, 22 Oct 2007 02:50

Last week A List Apart released the results of the Web Design Survey (that some of my class actually took part in):

The attached report shares everything we learned. We offer it freely to this community that has given us so much. For the curious, we also provide an “anonymized” version of the raw data. It contains every answer to every question by every respondent, excluding only personal information—no names, just the facts. Crunch it yourself and tell us what you find.

The survey contains analysed data such as:

  • Perceived relevance of education
  • Perceived age/gender bias
  • Job satisfaction
  • Break down of salaries
  • Hours worked
  • Methods of staying current,
  • etc.

Never before has this kind of data (from over 30,000 respondants) been available… did I say I love working/teaching/learning in this field??


Author: "Michael" Tags: "tafe, teaching, webclass"
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Date: Monday, 24 Sep 2007 10:53

As of today I am on the road to being redundant.

At the start of every semester I give a spiel to new learners in our class about how one of my main aims is to make myself redundant (as a source of web design and development knowledge). Today a few learners in class politely informed me that they’ve already read the articles that I’m posting. They’re connecting with professionals in the industry, finding their own favourite ‘mentors’ and reading their strategies and technical tips because they want to learn.

It’s a great day.

Author: "Michael" Tags: "education, learning, webclass"
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Date: Tuesday, 11 Sep 2007 04:30

Since the 1990’s Agile software development has been evolving as an alternative method of project management for motivating and empowering teams of developers to develop and release great software for customers. But are “agile methodologies” applicable to learning and education? Could they help us learn? The more I learn about and try out agile software development, the more I reckon that the answer is “yes”.

Agile methods came about because most software development projects were being managed in a similar way that you would manage a 3-lane bridge construction project – with slow, bureaucratic and, at times, demeaning processes that assume the project manager can:

  • plan the whole sequence of steps from start to finish in advance, including determining the specific work that each team member will do,
  • assume that there will be very minimal changes in project requirements once implementation begins,
  • know each team member’s needs and abilities in advance and
  • direct the whole show from the top down.

During the 1990s people were realising that this traditional “waterfall model” was not necessarily the best model for delivering great software – and perhaps now we are also realising that it isn’t necessarily the best model for delivering great educational programs. If you’re building a 3-lane bridge your client cannot come to you and say, “uh, sorry, I think I now want a 4-lane bridge rather than a 3-lane bridge”, nor can you allow your workers to self-manage the tasks that need to get done. Everything needs to be set down in stone before the construction begins. But that’s not the case in software development – often clients don’t know exactly what they want until they start using the software that you’re creating. Similarly, often members in a software development team are much more productive if they self-organise to get things done (rather than being told what they have to do next). And I reckon that an educational course has more in common with a software development project than it does with building a bridge.

Of course, there’s been loads of iterative development methods that have been around for a while (prototyping and feedback loops as part of the development process), and any teacher worth their salt adapts their lessons and activities to the needs of learners. So why am I so excited about applying Agile development practises in education? For the first time there seems to be a well-documented successful alternative to the traditional approach that seems very applicable to many (but not all) educational contexts. I believe that agile learning can provide an alternative self-empowering-yet-co-dependent, flexible-yet-well-planned model for learning in a face-to-face social group environment.

Example 1: The daily stand-up meeting (or daily Scrum)

To give a taste of how agile principles might be applied in a self-paced-yet-social educational environment, let’s take a look at the daily stand-up meeting (or Scrum meeting). The daily stand-up meeting is a pattern that seems to be part of most agile methodologies – a short daily meeting focusing on:

  • What have I achieved (learned?) since yesterday?
  • What am I working on today?
  • What obstacles are in-front of me?

But it’s definitely not a status update for superiors (for project managers or teachers). The theme of the daily stand-up is self-organisation – helping members and stakeholders understand each others’ issues and accomplishments so that they can organise to help each other get things done. According to Jason Yip (a Sydney developer working for Thoughtworks) in his article It’s not just standing up: patterns of daily stand-up meetings:

This is not just because self-organisation leads to better productivity but also, and perhaps more so, because it leads to a more humane, respectful, and mature work environment.

The purpose of the daily standup is:

  • share commitment
  • communicate daily status, progress, and plans to the team and any observers
  • identify obstacles so that the team can take steps to remove them
  • set direction and focus for the day
  • build a team

There’s an incredible crossover here with educational goals in the classroom context as well as numerous issues. Reconciling the task-based focus of software development (where the whole team is working off a backlog of to-do items) with the less-tangible, varied focus of the learning environment may be difficult. Another difficulty will be the commitment factor – people are more likely to miss a day of learning than a day at work (although this is also dependent on how stimulating that day is!)

Over the next while, I hope to get some time to look at other aspects of agile software development, examining how they might be applied in an educational context. Next up: iterations (or sprints – short-term milestones with mini-deliverables).

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Author: "Michael" Tags: "agile, education, learning, programming"
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Date: Monday, 16 Jul 2007 05:28

A few days ago, Russ posted a list of 5 things that all clients want to know. Things like:

Can you deliver what we want, on time and within the budget?

Can you explain a simple, logical process for delivering the website to the client? Can you explain how problems can be avoided or resolved?

The list is a compact summary of things we need to be ready to answer, but to me the most important point is the underlying reason why these points are always coming up:

Over the years, I have found that most clients don’t want a sales pitch, they want reassurance. They want to know if you can be trusted to help them solve their problem.

How do these questions help you demonstrate to a client that you can be trusted to help them solve their problem? Read through the five points again and you’ll see that they require you to:

  1. first and foremost, demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively on a range of levels,
  2. demonstrate from your experience your own insight into common problems that may arise and simple processes that you use to get the job done, and,
  3. provide examples of your skills through previous work,

And these three things are often things that are hard for people starting out in web design to learn as part of a course – as they require experiencing common problems, experiencing simple processes, and needing to communicate these to get your next pay (hopefully activities like the 3Hr Full Code Press help to some degree!)

Of course, the next best thing would be to have a professional come in to class and share their first-hand experiences… but how often does that happen? Well, thanks to the generosity of Russ at MaxDesign, we’ll get to learn from his experiences and pick his brain on the 20th August at 2pm! Whether you’re a current student or a prospective (or another web designer in the Blue Mountains area – just let us know), keep the date free!

(BTW: It’ll also be right after the real FullCodePress event, so we’ll also get to hear how it all went as well as some of Russ’ ideas for a student version of the competition!)

Author: "Michael" Tags: "webclass, webdesign"
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