Mid-March 2018 round-up of project activity

This is a quick progress report since our last update in early February. A reminder that the canonical home page of this project can be found at moodle.com/moodlenet.

Doug Belshaw, MoodleNet project lead, as been meeting with lots of people and making notes of what was discussed. That has led to a shift away from the ‘start with a social network’ approach hinted at in the last update.

In the presentation and workshop Doug led at MoodleMoot UK & Ireland, he explained how such a potentially large and complex project needs a concrete starting point. Using the metaphors of cupcakes (always a favourite!) he introduced three different approaches:

CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers

Instead of starting with social networking, we’d instead add that and professional development to a platform that would initially focus on resource curation.

Participants who attended the first monthly community call discussed the pros and cons of starting off in this way, but all agreed that it would be something immediately useful to educators. Doug is now putting together a list of different types of resource-centric social media platforms, for inspiration.

While the white paper needs further work to update it in light of the slight change of direction, we have tidied it up and added new faces to scenarios section

We’ve been doing a whole host of work, including putting together a job landscape for a Technical Architect to join the team at some point in the near future. We’ll also be engaging a design and development agency to help us with design sprint / prototyping / MVP.  More on that in the next update!


Related posts on Doug’s blog:

Forum:


Meet us at the OER18 conference (Bristol, UK) this week, or OE Global 2018 (Delft, Netherlands) next week!

Recording of first Project MoodleNet community call now available!

Project MoodleNet community call (4th April 2018)

Many thanks to the 20+ who joined us for the first Project MoodleNet community call. Despite some technical difficulties towards the end, it proved to be a great, positive discussion!

The (now very colourful and annotated) agenda can be found here. The video and audio recording, along with a backup of the agenda, and visual notes from Bryan Mathers and Adam Procter, can be found at archive.org.

Please join us for the next community call at 08:00 UTC on Wednesday 9th May 2018.

Adam Procter notes

Bryan Mathers - resource collection

Bryan Mathers - The Discoverability problem

Community call: save the date!

Calendar

Right now, we’re deep in planning mode for Project MoodleNet. This includes putting together documentation (most of which is publicly available here), sorting out resourcing, and talking to people who have valuable insights which will help us with the road ahead.

We’re keen to involve the community in this process as soon as it makes sense to do so, which is why we’re announcing the first Project MoodleNet community call for early April!

The call will kick off with a brief presentation about the current status of Project MoodleNet, and then will take questions and have a discussion about what should be in/out of scope for the project.

Apologies to those who live in timezones that make it difficult to join this time around. We’ll be sure to record this one, and will attempt to accommodate different timezones in future calls.


Image by Dafne Cholet used under a Creative Commons license

Early February 2018 round-up of project activity

Project MoodleNet planning/experimentation screenshots

We’ve been hard at work behind the scenes over the past few weeks, planning, experimenting, and testing with various protocols and standards. Here are a few updates for those keeping a close eye on the progress of this project:

  1. Whiteboarding — as you can see from one of the above screenshots, we’re figuring out the components of Project MoodleNet, and how everything will fit together. Initially, we thought there would be six components, but this has grown to eight (as a couple of them needed to be separated-out)
  2. Testing — again, as you can see from the other two screenshots above, we’ve been experimenting with two open source projects that are compatible with the (newly W3C-recommended) ActivityPub protocol. We want Project MoodleNet to be a decentralised, federated system and these projects may give us a head start — at least for the MVP. You can read more about Mastodon and Hubzilla on project lead Doug Belshaw’s blog. In terms of authenticating into the system, we’re going to be using OpenID Connect in the first instance.
  3. Compliance — the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in May, and pertains to every organisation based in the European Union (EU), or processing the data of EU citizens. Moodle has already published a plan for GDPR compliance, but this relates mainly to our learning platform. Project lead Doug Belshaw is blogging his reflections on a GDPR course he is currently undertaking.

Thanks again to those who left comments on v0.1 of the Project MoodleNet white paper. We have now transferred the text from Google Docs to the wiki, and will proceed to make changes based both on community feedback and the discoveries we make as the project progresses.

Next week, Moodle’s team leads are meeting in Perth, Australia, for some days of intensive planning. We intend to have a lot more updates for you over the coming weeks!

Introducing Project MoodleNet (Jan 2018 slide overview)

In accordance with our principle of transparency for Project MoodleNet, we’re sharing the slides from a recent All-Hands meeting. You should see them embedded below but, if not, please click through!

Comments? Questions? Add them below!

Principles underpinning Project MoodleNet: 6. ‘Connected’

Photo by Federico Beccari on Unsplash

The principles underpinning Project MoodleNet are:

  1. Open
  2. Safe
  3. Private
  4. Ethical
  5. Transparent
  6. Connecte​d

But what do these mean in practice? In this sixth (and final) in a series of posts, we explore what ‘connected’ means as regards this project.


Project MoodleNet is described by Martin Dougiamas, CEO of Moodle as, “a new open social media platform for educators, focused on professional development and open content”. Therefore, when we talk about one of the principles underpinning the project being ‘connected’ it is obvious that we are connecting people with people. We have grown used to these platforms over the last decade, discussing a whole range of things on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

What is different about Project MoodleNet is that it will have an explicit focus on educators, connecting them together to share openly-licensed resources and provide professional development.  We will design the system to respond to their needs, ensuring that they are not limited by the constraints of more generic social networks, and can help shape its future direction.

When we connect with other people, we are connecting as something or someone: perhaps a daughter, a husband, or a teacher. In the Project MoodleNet white paper we explore the ways in which identity plays an important role online as well as offline, so we want to ensure that when an educator uses Project MoodleNet, they have a choice of how to portray themselves. We will experiment with a number of ways of doing this.

In addition to connecting people to people, Project MoodleNet will also connect people with resources, news, and members of our partner network. We will provide a lightweight, contextually-focused dashboard which can be curated by users to provide, amongst other things:

  • Up-to-date information about openly-licensed content they may be interested in
  • Questions from the community that they may be able to answer (and answers in which they may be interested)
  • News from accounts they have chosen to follow

In an age of algorithmic curation and fake news, we want to empower educators to quickly and easily ‘tune their feeds’ in ways that help them teach and help others learn.

Project MoodleNet will be API-based. In layperson’s terms that means ‘Application Programming Interface’ and is a “set of subroutine definitions, protocols, and tools for building application software” (Wikipedia). They are a powerful way of building applications and services:

“On the Web, APIs make it possible for big services like Google Maps or Facebook to let other apps “piggyback” on their offerings. Think about the way Yelp, for instance, displays nearby restaurants on a Google Map in its app, or the way some video games now let players chat, post high scores and invite friends to play via Facebook, right there in the middle of a game.

[…]

APIs simplify [things] by limiting outside program access to a specific set of features—often enough, requests for data of one sort or another. Feel free to think of them as doors, windows or levers if you like. Whatever the metaphor, APIs clearly define exactly how a program will interact with the rest of the software world—saving time, resources and potentially nasty legal entanglements along the way.” (ReadWrite)

It will be simple and straightforward for users to both put information into Project MoodleNet, and to get it out. We will be building upon open standards and protocols, and using well-documented APIs to make this seamless. Moving between different elements of Project MoodleNet, for example search, user profiles, the OER repository, help forum, and crowdfunding area, will be seamless due to the APIs we both use and write.

Moodle’s learning platform uses APIs provided by Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive so that users can bring in files they have stored on those services. In turn, Moodle provides a number of APIs meaning that there are thousands of plugins available to extend the learning platform’s core functionality. Well-documented, open APIs encourage greater connection between people, resources, and other web services, so Project MoodleNet will build upon these.

By connecting users with other users, by connecting them with openly-licensed content, and by leveraging the power of APIs, Project MoodleNet will, we believe, empower educators to improve our world.

Principles underpinning Project MoodleNet: 5. ‘Transparent’

Photo by Aleks Dahlberg on Unsplash

The principles underpinning Project MoodleNet are:

  1. Open
  2. Safe
  3. Private
  4. Ethical
  5. Transparent
  6. Connecte​d

But what do these mean in practice? In this fifth of a series of posts, we explore what ‘transparent’ means as regards this project.


Whether in the media or in our own organisations, we’ve all experienced calls for ‘greater transparency’. This is usually an encouragement for those with the necessary power to increase the frequency or quality of communication with those to whom they’re accountable.

As Wikipedia puts it:

“Transparency is operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. It has been defined simply as “the perceived quality of intentionally shared information from a sender”.”

In the first post of this series on the principle of openness, we explored open as an ‘attitude’. When it comes to the transparency of Project MoodleNet, this involves two factors:

  1. Sharing information about the status and decision-making of the project while it is being built
  2. Being open and honest with users about the ways their data is being used once the project is up-and-running

Right now, we’re being as open and transparent as possible about the project as it’s being scoped out. There are some things (for example project risks) which we may choose to limit to Moodle HQ, but we are defaulting to sharing everything as quickly and openly as possible.

The canonical URL for this project is https://moodle.com/moodlenet. By this we mean that this is the project’s home, and that you should be able to navigate to every part of it from that link. In addition, we are endeavouring to make this project as ‘legible’ as possible, in the sense that we want it to be easy to keep up-to-date with progress. There are a number of ways of doing this, including this blog, a Telegram channel, and a discussion forum, all linked to from the web address given above.

Ultimately, the success of Project MoodleNet depends on Moodle’s competitive advantage around working closely with partners and community members in an open, transparent trusted way. We are confident that doing so will build trust and increase the chances of project success.

Principles underpinning Project MoodleNet: 4. ‘Ethical’

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

The principles underpinning Project MoodleNet are:

  1. Open
  2. Safe
  3. Private
  4. Ethical
  5. Transparent
  6. Connecte​d

But what do these mean in practice? In this fourth of a series of posts, we explore what ‘ethical’ means as regards this project.


Ethics is the study of right and wrong conduct. It follows, then, that an individual or organisation being ‘ethical’ is acting in the right way. We might say that we use an ethical bank, or food store, or that we’re being ethical by not eating animals.

Some ethics are contested, while others are more universal. Killing other human beings seems to be something most cultures frown upon, while a code of behaviour stemming from religious beliefs might vary significantly from place to place and group to group.

With Project MoodleNet, by ‘ethical’ we mean that we respect users and put their interests first. This aligns with Moodle’s mission to empower educators to improve our world. It’s a principle that underpins everything we do, from open-sourcing our code, to working in the most transparent way possible.

Sometimes it is easier to see what is meant by a term or position by considering its opposite. What would it mean to be unethical with this kind of project? How would users respond in that scenario? Perhaps users would be:

  • unsure about how their data was being used
  • unclear about the terms and conditions by which they are bound
  • untrusting of the organisation behind the project

Moodle is a trusted partner for organisations and individuals worldwide. This partnership is sometimes formal, for example through our partner network or much less formal in that we are a brand that educators trust with their student data.

As outlined in the post about privacy, with Project MoodleNet we will seek to hold and process on the data required to provide the service that users have requested. We will make it clear what they are signing up for and why, and we will not ‘pivot’ towards a business model opposed to Moodle’s mission.

Being ethical is closely tied to reputation, and Moodle has an excellent one as the world’s most popular learning platform. We seek to build on that base with Project MoodleNet, and look forward to helping empowering educators long into the future.

Principles underpinning Project MoodleNet: 3. ‘Private’

Photo by Rishabh Varshney on Unsplash

The principles underpinning Project MoodleNet are:

  1. Open
  2. Safe
  3. Private
  4. Ethical
  5. Transparent
  6. Connecte​d

But what do these mean in practice? In this third of a series of posts, we explore what ‘privacy’ means as regards this project.


3. What ‘Private’ means in practice

User data is a valuable commodity to those who want to sell and market products. It is not a surprise, therefore, that advertising-fuelled companies such as Facebook and Google would want their users to share more of it.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook is widely quoted as saying back in 2010 that “privacy is no longer the social norm”. Likewise, Eric Schmidt said in 2009 while Google’s Chief Executive that, “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Privacy is important to society, even if people choose not to exercise that right. As Edward Snowden, activist and whistleblower, neatly puts it:

“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

Privacy offline is different to privacy online, primarily because of the data trails we leave behind us. Tim Lott, until recently a columnist in The Guardian newspaper, summed up the difference that the internet makes:

“Unwittingly (as the internet was hardly a thing when I started) my entire life is now online; not a consequence I planned for. When I started journalism, you told a story and it was forgotten the next day. Now, those stories are immortal.”

What is true of journalism is true of everything we share publicly via social networks. It is all available to anyone who can use a search engine.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) point out:

“[I]t doesn’t take much forethought to realize that there are countless privacy pitfalls in a world where a near-endless stream of personal bits is indiscriminately posted indefinitely stored and quietly collected and analyzed by marketers, identity thieves, and professional government snoops in America and abroad. The public controversies that have erupted to date — Facebook’s drastic terms of service changes and Google Buzz’s forced sharing of email contacts — are only the first snares in a rapidly growing thicket of social networking privacy issues.”

Privacy matters because it allows us to be autonomous individuals while protecting us from harm. It gives us space to try out new opinions and identities without fear of recrimination. We can think out loud.

Examples of this abound in courses created within instances of Moodle’s learning platform. Resources, thoughts, and ideas can be shared with and between learners, with the contents of those courses remaining private by default.

While any social network should have strong and robust options and safeguards around privacy, this is particularly important for Project MoodleNet. As stated in the white paper, we believe with Chris Poole that “complexity in identity is what defines our humanity.” Our online identities are not singular, nor are they simply a mirror of a unified self that we present offline.

With Project MoodleNet, therefore, we will collect only the personally identifying information that individuals wish to share, and which is necessary to provide the service. We will allow users to control multiple identities. We will not sell user data. Users will be given fine-grained controls over who can see personal data and information they have added to the system, and have the option to export and/or remove it under the terms of the GDPR.

Conversations and user activity within Project MoodleNet will be encrypted and assumed to be private unless it sharing it has been agreed by all those involved. We envisage most educators will wish to share their resources openly using an appropriate license, but we will also facilitate private sharing. Privacy, we believe, is a right, not a privilege.

As with safety, privacy has many elements, some of which are technical, and some of which are cultural. An example of the difference can be seen with Signal, the messaging app. It can prevent screenshots being taken of messages to improve user privacy. This does not prevent, however, copying and pasting, nor does it stop someone using a different device to a photo of those messages.

To sum up, unlike Facebook’s often wilful obfuscation and confusion around privacy controls over the last decade, Project MoodleNet will empower educators by giving them granular control over every aspect of their privacy settings. In doing this, we believe that they will be in a better position to connect with one another and improve our world.