Principles underpinning Project MoodleNet: 2. ‘Safe’

Safe zoneThe 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 second of a series of posts, we explore what ‘safety’ means as regards this project.

2. What ‘Safe’ means in practice

The Oxford English Dictionary lists five definitions for ‘safe’:

  1. (predicative) Protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.
    1. Not likely to cause or lead to harm or injury; not involving danger or risk.
    2. (of a place) Affording security or protection.
  2. (derogatory) Cautious and unenterprising.
  3. Based on good reasons or evidence and not likely to be proved wrong.
  4. Uninjured; with no harm done.
  5. (informal) Excellent (used to express approval or enthusiasm)

The first, third, and fourth seem most applicable to Project MoodleNet.

In addition, Wikipedia lists three different types of safety:

  • Normative safety: “when a product or design meets applicable standards and practices for design and construction or manufacture, regardless of the product’s actual safety history.”
  • Substantive safety: “when the real-world safety history is favorable, whether or not standards are met.”
  • Perceived safety: “the users’ level of comfort and perception of risk, without consideration of standards or safety history.”

Like every organisation that operates in the EU, Moodle is subject to the new GDPR. So, the ‘normative’ safety practices to which Project MoodleNet must adhere are reasonably prescriptive. Over and above this, we will adopt practices to prevent users being exposed to malware, phishing, and other security risks.

As GDPR focuses mainly on user data, there remain ‘substantive’ and ‘perceived’ safety practices. These might include, for example, content moderation and privacy controls which users have come to expect from other platforms that they use. No realtime democratic social network used at scale can completely prevent danger, harm, and risk, but they can be designed to minimise, to the greatest extent possible, the impact of these three things.

Working towards some sub-principles for Project MoodleNet, then, by creating a ‘safe’ social network for educators we mean:

  1. Protecting user data in line with GDPR and other relevant legislation (including copyright).
  2. Minimising educators exposure to danger, harm, and risk.
  3. Basing technical and design decisions on good reasoning and evidence.

Moodle is open-source software used around the world in many different languages and contexts. We know from experience that what works in one country or community doesn’t work in another, which is why one of the core strengths of Moodle is the way it can be customised and tailored for every environment.

We will discuss ‘privacy’ in the next post in this series, but it’s worth saying here that an important element of safety within a social network involves users having granular control over who can see what is shared.  What is appropriate in one place may not appropriate in another, and this applies even to the way that user updates are displayed. A contribution to a comment thread that might seem innocuous and unproblematic could be understood very differently when displayed by itself without the surrounding context. Part of making users feel ‘safe’ is therefore ensuring that the original context is preserved.

Likewise, copyright legislation is often local in jurisdiction, but global in interpretation and impact. Given that a key component of Project MoodleNet is the sharing and re-use of open content, we must ensure that licensing information follows shared content around the system. This licensing must cascade to the remixed content, ensuring that it is properly licensed. For example, it should not be possible in Project MoodleNet to remix a work that is licensed Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives.

There are many elements to online safety, with there being a balance between:

  • The security of technical standards and protocols on which the system is based
  • The system itself
  • How users understand and use the system

Project MoodleNet will use established and well-documented standards and protocols that have proven to be robust and secure. We will build the system to respect user data, flagging up (for example in testing, prototype, and beta builds) when user data may be more at risk. Moodle will also engage in user education around best practices, building resources ourselves or directing users towards the best the web has to offer, such as Security Planner.

Ultimately, safety is an emergent property of a system, as it is made up of more than just its technical implementation. We will ensure, to the best of our ability, that the culture of Project MoodleNet is one that allows users to feel safe. There are numerous design decisions and iterations based on feedback to enable this to happen. By committing to Project MoodleNet being a safe place, Moodle is empowering educators to improve our world.

Image by Dennis Hill used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

Principles underpinning Project MoodleNet: 1. ‘Open’

Open is an attitude

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 first of a series of posts, we explore what ‘openness’ means as regards this project.

1. What ‘Open’ means in practice

There are many meanings of ‘open’. In fact, as the authors of a seminal article from 2016 entitled Fifty shades of open found, their witty title is almost true!

“Open” has been applied to a wide variety of words to create new terms, some of which make sense, and some not so much. When we started writing this essay, we thought our working title was simply amusing. But the working title became the actual title, as we found that there are at least 50 different terms in which the word “open” is used, encompassing nearly as many different criteria for openness.

The authors outline the following elements of openness:

  • Open means rights
  • Open means access
  • Open means use
  • Open means transparent
  • Open means participatory
  • Open means enabling openness
  • Open means philosophically aligned with open principles

One way to sum up all of this is to describe open as an attitude. As Clint Lalonde puts it:

Open is a  willingness to share, not only resources, but processes, ideas, thoughts, ways of thinking and operating. Open means working in spaces and places that are transparent and allow others to see what you are doing and how you are doing it, giving rise to opportunities for people who could help you to connect with you, jump in and offer that help. And where you can reciprocate and do the same.

We will discuss ‘transparency’ in a later post, but as Laura Hilliger notes, open is more than just providing people with tools:

Open is an attitude, not a set of processes and procedures. Holding on to it despite potential repercussions is an act of courage because most people hold on to the cultural and social norms they’re used to.

Moodle is an open source organisation that publishes code under the GPL, accessible on the open web via GitHub. Issues can be tracked, added, and commented upon via Moodle’s tracking system based on JIRA. Ideas for the development of new features come from Moodle’s partners, via the community forums, and from interacting with participants at regular MoodleMoots around the world.

By committing to openness with Project MoodleNet, we seek to build upon the ways of working that have helped Moodle’s learning platform become the world’s most popular. Our community and commitment to open source principles provide a competitive advantage in a world where others look to monetise user data at every opportunity.

Moodle exists to empower educators to improve our world. A key part of that is our open attitude, which we see as a magnet to attract educators who also believe that, together, we can build a better future. Project MoodleNet will allow educators to discuss, share, and work together to make that come true.

Image by Bryan Mathers used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license

White paper update: first draft of ‘Access to openly-licensed resources’ and ‘Crowdfunding’ sections

We’re making good progress in our aim to get a complete non-technical first draft of the Project MoodleNet white paper complete before Christmas! This update provides the first draft of the ‘Access to openly-licensed resources’ and ‘Crowdfunding’ sections. You can add your comments and feedback directly on the Google Doc at the following link or discuss via the forum link underneath each update, respectively.

Access and comment on the white paper:

Section 4: Access to openly-licensed resources

OER CommonsThe Access to openly-licensed resources section of the MoodleNet white paper gives a very brief overview of copyright in light of the Internet, Creative Commons, and the shift from OER to Open Educational Practices. There’s also a bit in there about ‘GitHub for Education’.

There three recommendations for Project MoodleNet from this section:

  • Recommendation #12: Project MoodleNet should respect copyright law while allowing educators to share their resources as freely and openly as possible. 
  • Recommendation #13: Open Educational Practices should be supported in Project MoodleNet by providing educators with tools to find, create, remix, and share each other’s resources.
  • Recommendation #14: Project MoodleNet should provide educators with powerful functionality that is easy and pleasurable to use.

Is there anything you think should be be in this section that isn’t currently included?

Discuss the Access to openly-licensed resources section in this forum thread: or or directly on the white paper:


Section 5: Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding image CC BY-SA Rocío LaraThe Crowdfunding section of the MoodleNet white paper explains the role of crowdfunding and how it is related to membership and subscription options for supporting individuals and organisations providing content, products, and services.

There three recommendations for Project MoodleNet from this section:

  • Recommendation #15: Project MoodleNet should provide a way for educators to be recognised for the contributions they make to the community, including in financial ways.
  • Recommendation #16: To avoid advertising within Project MoodleNet, members should be able to support the development of new features through membership and/or subscription options.
  • Recommendation #17: Project MoodleNet should encourage the development of OERs by educators through easy-to-use crowdfunding options.

Do you agree with the discussion in this section? What should be added or removed?

Discuss the Access to openly-licensed resources section in this forum thread: or or directly on the white paper:

What’s next? We’re going to revisiting the six scenarios outlined at the start of the white paper in light of the 17 recommendations made so far. In early 2018 we’ll then start work on the approach to the design and build of Project MoodleNet, along with a high-level overview of the technical development required.

Crowdfunding image CC BY-SA Rocío Lara

White paper update: further work on ‘Scenarios’, first draft of ‘Messaging’ and ‘News feed’

We’re continuing work on the Project MoodleNet white paper. This update revamps the ‘Scenarios’ section, and provides the first draft of the ‘Messaging’ and ‘News feed’ sections. You can add your comments and feedback directly on the Google Doc at the following link or discuss via the forum link underneath each update, respectively.

Access and comment on the white paper:


After discussions with Moodle HQ colleagues last week, we decided that to really make it clear that Project MoodleNet is aimed at educators, this should be reflected in the user personas. As such, we now have six different personas:

Scenario 4

These six personas are now:

  • Educator: Teacher (K12) – Spain
  • Educator: Lecturer (University) – Japan
  • Educator: Trainer (workplace) – Canada
  • Learning technologist (College) – Australia
  • Teaching Assistant (K12) – Brazil
  • Programme co-ordinator (University) – South Africa

It’s important that we get these right, so please do provide your comments, thoughts, and ideas!

Discuss the Scenarios in this forum thread: or or directly on the white paper:


Section 2: Messaging

The first draft of the Messaging section of the MoodleNet white paper is now ready for feedback! This part begins to outline how the intention for Project MoodleNet is to foster communities of practice.

The recommendations from this section are currently:

  • Recommendation #6: Project MoodleNet should employ end-to-end encryption on all messages sent through the system. It should also be clear to users who will be able to see their communications (e.g. public / group / one-to-one)
  • Recommendation #7: To the greatest extent possible, Project MoodleNet should be interoperable with open standards, including the import and export of data to and from other social networks. It should have an API that allows others to build upon the core functionality it offers.
  • Recommendation #8: Project MoodleNet should aim at helping educators create Communities of Practice, adding features and taking UX decisions that help with this (e.g through ‘call to action’ buttons).

Is there anything you think should be added, amended, or removed?

Discuss the Messaging section in this forum thread: or or directly on the white paper:


Section 3: News feed

The News feed section of the MoodleNet white paper is now drafted. Please do take a look at it and add your comments and feedback! This part explains how news, status updates, and messaging all got bundled together within algorithmic news feeds, and why that’s a bad thing for democracy

There three recommendations for Project MoodleNet from this section:

  • Recommendation #9: The three elements of news, status updates, and messaging should be controlled by users in Project MoodleNet. They should be separate if the user wishes, and combined if they prefer an approach more like other social networks.
  • Recommendation #10: Project MoodleNet should provide a raw, unfiltered feed to users, and make this available via an API that developers can build upon. Any other views or types of feed should be in addition to this.
  • Recommendation #11: To provide a disincentive for ‘clickbait’ headlines and sensationalist content, Project MoodleNet should provide mechanisms to collaboratively rate the content shared in the network.

What are your thoughts on this section? Do you see Project MoodleNet working differently? How?

Discuss the News feed section in this forum thread: or or directly on the white paper:

White paper updates: ‘Scenarios’ & ‘Identity and reputation’

Work continues on the Project MoodleNet white paper. The latest updates are around the ‘Scenarios’ or the introductory user personas section, and the ‘Identity and reputation’ section. You can add your comments and feedback directly on the Google Doc at the following link or discuss via the forum link underneath each update, respectively.

Access and comment on the white paper:


The white paper introduces five scenarios in the way of user personas. These give a brief overview of the lives of different kinds of Moodlers, from learners and educators to developers and system administrators.

Scenario 1

The idea is for the discussion of Project MoodleNet in the white paper to address the issues felt by users in each of the five scenarios. For this to happen, the personas need to be as believable as possible, so please do help them ‘leap off the page’ for readers!

Discuss the Scenarios in this comment thread:


Section 1: Identity and reputation

This section is now ready in first draft form. It begins to outline how Project MoodleNet will differ from the major social networks, particularly around use of personal data, identity management, and decentralisation.

As part of this, there are five recommendations, listed below:

  • Recommendation #1: Project MoodleNet should at the very least allow users to create and manage multiple accounts. Serious thought should be given as to the possibility of allowing some interactions to be anonymous, or pseudo-anonymous. This will enable users to reflect different facets of their identity, allowing them to not only conform to how they currently are (and others see them) but grow, both professionally and personally.
  • Recommendation #2: Although easy to join and use, Project MoodleNet should be a robust, decentralised, federated system that does not have on a single point of failure.
  • Recommendation #3: Project MoodleNet should put the user in control of all of her data. All data held about a user should be compliant with the terms of the GDPR and be removable from the system. Users should be given fine-grained controls over who can see personal data and information they have added.
  • Recommendation #4: Project MoodleNet should allow for digital credentials to be created, exchanged, and displayed. These should reflect the diverse and wide-ranging interests of users, and contribute to Moodle’s mission of empowering educators.
  • Recommendation #5: The aim should be for Project MoodleNet portfolios to become the default place for educators to tell the story of their professional lives.

Additional recommendations will feature at the bottom of upcoming sections. We’re particularly interested in whether this feels like the right approach and, if so, if there’s a better way of explaining it? Please do help us pitch the language and tone correctly.

Discuss the the Identity and reputation section in this comment thread:


Get involved in MoodleNet: our next-generation project!

MoodleNet ecosystem

At Moodle HQ we’re always looking to the future, and so are excited to share news of Project MoodleNet. This post points to new functionality and features that we aim to launch in 2018.

Project MoodleNet is one of the key projects that our Founder and CEO, Martin Dougiamas, has mentioned in his “empowering educators” presentations across various MoodleMoots around the world this year.

So what is Project MoodleNet? How will it empower educators to improve our world? Well that’s where you, Moodlers, can play an important part in working with us together to define and shape this project.

MoodleNet core features

Here are some of the basic foundations of the project:

  1. MoodleNet will be built in parallel to Moodle core, providing what Martin has described as “a new open social media platform for educators, focussed on professional development and open content”.
  2. This project is accelerated  thanks to the investment partnership with Education for The Many that we announced in September.
  3. MoodleNet will be developed with significant input from existing and new members of the Moodle community.

The first step in the process will be co-ordinated by Doug Belshaw, our new MoodleNet Lead, who brings a wealth of experience from many different sectors of education. In collaboration with the Moodle community, Doug has set himself the task of writing a white paper to flesh out the vision for MoodleNet and ensure that it meets the needs of new and existing Moodlers.

So, on that note, Moodlers: We need your help!

Moodle is the world’s most popular learning platform because of contributors like you. We want to ensure your voice is heard as part of this process. Get involved in helping define the user stories which form a key part of the white paper.

To keep up-to-date with the project and get involved at various stages, be sure to bookmark the canonical URL for this project:

Doug and the Project MoodleNet team are looking forward to hearing and working with you soon! Thanks in advance Moodlers for helping us get our new and exciting project off the ground.

Anticipated questions

We’ve already fielded some questions from the community, so here’s some answers to both the questions they asked and questions we anticipate the community will be keen to have answered.

1. Doug, can you provide a bit of background about yourself and how you are connected to Moodle prior to taking on this lead?

Certainly! I describe myself as an ‘Open Educational Thinkerer’, having worked in many different sectors of education. I was a teacher and senior leader in UK schools. After that, I worked in Higher Education for Jisc, a national technology project where I focused on digital literacies (the subject of my doctoral thesis), mobile learning, and Open Educational Resources. More recently, I worked for Mozilla (best known for the Firefox web browser) as their Badges & Skills Lead, and subsequently Web Literacy Lead. I’ve been consulting for the last couple of years with all different kinds of organisations, including those in the vocational learning space.

I was a Moodle user during my time working in schools, and in fact know Mary Cooch (Moodle Community Educator) from that time. She’s been helping me get up-to-speed with some of the more recent features of Moodle! I’m committed to open source, both in terms of code and culture and, in fact, helped found a co-operative that helps spread the culture, processes, and benefits of ‘open’.

I’ve a lot to learn from the Moodle community, and am looking forward to beginning that journey with Project MoodleNet!

2. Why is Project MoodleNet important for educators and all Moodle users?

Project MoodleNet will connect and bring together educators worldwide, to facilitate sharing of this knowledge and expertise. Right now, educators are forced to use proprietary platforms from huge multi-national companies who profit from the extraction and sale of personal data to advertisers.

As part of Moodle’s mission to empower educators, we want to build a new open social media platform for educators, which is focussed on professional development and open content. We will be building this with and for educators, adding features and functionality that enhance learning and teaching.

3. What will Project MoodleNet actually deliver?

The project will evolve around the needs of users, but we envisage it including elements of:

  • Crowdfunding
  • Federated identity provider
  • Learning Object Repository (e.g. OER Commons)
  • Messaging
  • News feed
  • Reputation (Badges 2.0)

Equally important is the way we plan to build it, with the key words here being open, safe, private, ethical, transparent, and connected. Expect to be able to connect with users of all different stripes – including new and existing affinity groups!

4. Will this replace the existing Moodle learning platform?

We have no plans to do that at the current time. The aim of Project MoodleNet is to provide additional functionality without impacting on Moodle core. One way to think about MoodleNet might be as a ‘layer’ that connects together people, resources, and ideas. In that sense, we are seeking to augment and enhance the existing Moodle learning platform rather than replicating or replacing features.

5. What’s happening to the existing site?

We are looking to add functionality, rather than take it away, so the ability to share courses and resources will be an important part of Project MoodleNet. The exact form this will take will depend on technical decisions we take over the coming months, but in the meantime you can keep on sharing your courses via!

6. What’s the best way for community members to get involved?

The best place to start is by reviewing the existing plans and then introducing yourself on the MoodleNet forum. No matter what your level of experience with Moodle, there is a role for you in Project MoodleNet. Whether you have 10 minutes or several hours to spare, we want to hear from you!

The first job is the writing of a white paper that helps set the direction for technical design and development in early 2018. We need community input for this to ensure that we’re correctly identifying problems, frustrations, and issues that various groups of Moodlers experience on a regular basis.

7. Isn’t developing this in the open a bit of a risk? Won’t competitors steal your ideas?

Moodle is playing a different ‘game’ to other organisations in the same space who are beholden to shareholders simply looking to make a profit. Our aim is to empower educators, and we do that by developing free and open source software. Working openly is in our DNA and, as it’s worked well for us and similar organisations so far, we plan to continue doing so.