Calling All Digital Captives

Yikes! Week 3 of Stanford’s Open Knowledge MOOC already!

Last week the topic was ‘Technological Change, Digital Identity, and Connected Learning’ and I watched Socialnomics by Erik Qualman (picked because it was the shortest video!) which filled me to the brim with interesting (and sometimes unbelievable) statistics.

  • 53% of Millenials would rather lose their sense of smell than their technology
  • Each day 20% of the terms typed into Google have never been searched before
  • More people own a mobile device than a toothbrush
  • The average person has an 0.07 attention span, average goldfish has an 0.08 second one

This week it’s ‘Participatory Culture, Citizen Journalism, Citizen Science’. The idea is get critical perspectives on openness as well as the positive ones. Now this I liked! I’m always really keen to try and get an opposing view to my own. Many of us live and work in a little bubble where we surround ourselves with agreement. The RSA Animate – The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens? Talk by Evgeny Morozov was really interesting.


Morozov presents an alternative take on ‘cyber-utopianism’, the seductive idea that the internet plays a largely emancipatory role in global politics. He talks about ‘cyberutopians': people who believe in transformative power of the web and “ipod liberalism”: the belief that people who have ipods will support western values. He sees these ideas as dangerous and naïve – for example some believe that if social networking was around a few years back the genocide in Rwanda wouldn’t have happened. Morozov’s main point is the good ole one that tools can be used for both good and bad. While getting countries online has aided democracy it also leaves an evidence trail. Dictators now just need to go to Facebook and Twitter to lay their hands on information they used to have to torture people to find. I like his idea of ‘digital renegades’ and ‘digital captives’. “Are they (young people) the “digital renegades,” ready to leverage the power of social networking and text messaging to topple their undemocratic governments? Or are they “digital captives,” whose political and social dissent has been significantly neutered by the Internet, turning them into happy consumers of Hollywood’s digital marginalia?” (New York Times)

Hmm, which am I? Something to chew on while using my 0.07 attention span.

Google Apps for Business and Remote Workers

Kelly SmithKelly Smith works at, an Australian online courses resource. She also provides career advice for students and job seekers and works as a freelance writer.

She’s written a post for us on Google Apps for Business and the potential for remote workers.


Many remote workers might remember the statement from Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Meyers, who condemned the idea of working remotely and swiftly ordered all of the company’s employees to show up in person at their offices. Her opinion was echoed by Yahoo’s HR head, who claimed “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home [...] we need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

But the above is a very limited point of view. Provided that remote workers use the many cloud tools available to them in a smart way, there should be very few sacrifices involved with a remote working environment. One of the most popular and efficient packages that help team members to collaborate, communicate, as well as store and manage data is Google Apps for Business.


But what exactly is Google Apps for Business?

It’s a set of the most popular Google apps that help to manage a business from remote locations. Inside, we find apps everyone knows and uses on daily basis – Gmail to provide email, Drive for storage and document creation (among them text documents, spreadsheets, forms, slides and sites), or Hangouts for video calls and instant messaging. Another feature is Calendar, which helps to create integrated business calendars and ensure that all workers are on the same page when it comes to important deadlines.

Google Apps for Business features two special apps – Vault and Admin. Admin is an interface for broadly defined administration and includes functionalities for mobile device management, security and control, as well as access to 24/7 Google support. Vault, on the other hand, provides an archiving service for all emails and chats, which can later be searched, managed and easily exported.

The Potential of Google Apps for Business in Remote Working

The benefits of this communication and collaboration system are multiple and varied. First, companies don’t need to spend lots of money on specialized hardware and software – all apps are in the cloud and available from every device connected to the internet. It’s perfect for companies with low budget or organizations with remote workers, who will be able to access Google apps from all locations and almost every operating system.

Seen from the perspective of remote workers, Google Apps for Business help in several major areas of any business collaboration:

  • Communication – Google apps are made for easy communication. Gmail has an understandable interface, it’s quick to use and features multiple, built-in and highly efficient security features like filtering and spam detection. Gmail includes an added feature which adds your company domain name to personalize the employee email addresses. Hangouts and Google+ can foster both individual and group communication too.
  • Collaboration – Google Drive, and its various functionalities, is there to make collaborating easier than ever. Users can edit files at the same time and consult with one another using an adjacent chat window, which can save the time lost on switching to a different instant messaging window or other devices like cellphones.
  • Efficiency – all apps are literally in a single place and available with a few clicks. After logging in, workers won’t need to switch to other programs, ensuring high productivity and no time lost on the usual distraction when using a variety of tools scattered around different platforms.
  • Time-management – All in all, Google Apps for Business really helps to save time on everything, from editing documents to brainstorming an idea.

A lot of people believe that in a decade, remote working will be as much or even more popular than the traditional office environment. The truth is that both employers and workers benefit from the dynamics of remote working. That’s why it’s likely that digital tools that foster easy collaboration, communication and management, such as Google Apps for Business, will become increasingly effective, user-friendly and geared towards breaching the time and space barrier to ensure a stimulating remote working environment.

Stanford’s Open Knowledge MOOC

Back in 2012 I took part in an Introduction to Openess in Education MOOC. I participated for a number of reasons. Firstly I wanted to experience a MOOC first hand, at the time they were a relatively new phenomena and I was curious. Secondly I was interested in the topic area, my knowledge in certain areas (for example around open data) was patchy. My final reason was to give myself something to talk about on this blog, I was struggling to find things to write about and needed a focus.

So I’m struggling again with blog content…and I need a little inspiration. Maybe it’s time for my second MOOC – an opportunity to see how things have moved on – compare and contrast.

logo_white_background_v2Today Stanford have launched a OpenEdX MOOC entitled Open Knowledge: Changing the Global Course of Learning, it’s a topic I know a fair amount about, I actually work for an organisation called Open Knowledge! So I’m interested to see if the MOOC will change how I feel about different areas of Open Knowledge and if their (the course creators) ideas radically differ from mine by the content they chose and the questions they ask. I’m also interested to see what there is still to be learnt (lots I’m sure) and to catch up new with people.

First thoughts…

The MOOC is research in itself. The Stanford team are carrying out research study on learners’ perceptions of open knowledge within the MOOC and one of the first activities is a survey. It will be interesting to hear their findings later on.

The Open Knowledge MOOC was developed by a team of instructors from Canada, the US, Ghana, and Mexico. They have attempted to make the MOOC as bilingual as possible with significant content in Spanish. The interface language can be changed, videos are transcribed and subtitled, content is flexible – none is mandatory – so missing content not available in your language is an option.

After browsing through the first module it looks like all the videos are available on YouTube and the recommended reading are all available online. It would be good to have the licence of content clearly marked though – I added this as a comment.


What is indigenous Knowledge? Rick Hill Video – available on YouTube – here with transcription

Statement of Accomplishment…

I haven’t worked out how much time I can put in to the MOOC yet but there are different ‘Statement of Accomplishment’ options depending on the time spent. These are:

  • The Connecting track, for those looking to spend less time on the course.
  • The Evaluating track needs a little more time to complete, and involves not only completing the Connecting requirements, but also doing some further writing. 

  • For the most ambitious students there is the Creating track. This will take the most time, as you will need to complete both the Connecting and Evaluating requirements, as well as build a digital project.

I’ll probably go for the Connecting Track – I need to:

  • Write 4 discussion forum posts over the course of the semester. These posts should focus on topics from the weekly course content.
  • Constructively comment on 4 peer discussion posts throughout the semester.
  • Write 8 tweets throughout the semester. These tweets should focus on topics from the weekly course content – can’t find the hashtag for it at the moment!
  • Share 8 newly discovered resources in the course Diigo group.
    Write a self-assessment documenting my completion of the track requirements and describing your learning experiences.

Once I’ve got in to the MOOC I’ll publish an update to let you know how it’s going!

OKFestival: Shared Attention

The week before last I attended Open Knowledge Festival in Berlin organised by Open Knowledge (my lovely employers). The festival is the biggest open data and open knowledge event to date: global, inclusive and participatory.

Rufus Pollock opens OKFestival. Photo by Gregor Fischer from the official festival Flickr album:

Rufus Pollock opens OKFestival. Photo by Gregor Fischer from the official festival Flickr album:

It truly was a fantastic event and I’ve written two blog posts on it from the perspectives of my ‘projects': Open Educating at OKFestival and OKFestivaling for LinkedUp.

As a remote worker meeting up with my colleagues, peers and community (or should I say communities) is always incredibly important. It really solidifies those relationships that sometimes seem fragile when you are sitting at different ends of an ethernet cable.

A colleague of mine, Lou Woodley, one of the OKFestival organisers, has written a great post [Lovely 2 C U – the importance of in-person events #okfest14] that reflects “on the importance of these flagship annual events to bring together people from distinct projects and communities, who mainly connect online during the rest of the year, or perhaps don’t connect at all with those outside their own community.” Lou is based in the UK but hoping to move to the US in the near future. I met her for the first time at OKFestival despite having spoken to her countless times via Skype!


Festival organisers, Lou Woodley in the middle. Photo by Gregor Fischer from the official festival Flickr album:

It’s hard not to reproduce all of Lou’s post here as she hits the nail on the head so many times with her ‘7 factors that in-person events provide’ but I’ve restricted myself to a few of her spot on observations (read her post for more!).

She talks about:

Relationship building: Meeting someone face to face helps to deepen your relationship in terms of building trust and understanding (and a better appreciation of their quirky sense of humour that may have been less obvious online!). When you do this at scale, that’s a lot of goodwill being generated that can then help sustain projects and partnerships in the future.

So true – nothing builds a relationship more than being able to sit and have a beer with someone, chat and get to know what they are really like as an individual.


Getting things done: Remote working – and connecting – with others can have its advantages in terms of work-life balance and allowing you to choose your preferred location, but it may also be less productive. An increasing number of people live in cities because having everything (and everyone!) in close proximity allows us to get more done. So too with meeting face-to-face at an event like this. This benefit of face-to-face working was true for the three organisers too. We all live in different cities, but really benefited from the handful of occasions when we got together for a couple of days to push hard to reach key milestones for the project.

I don’t live in a city, I live off the beaten track, but Lou’s point about face-to-face working rings true. Taking time out to concentrate on working on something in particular is hugely helpful.

Shared attention – Meeting face to face isn’t only good for building trust and understanding, and getting things done. Having shared experiences to reference back to is also important for a sense of community spirit. So, a successful event programme needs more than sessions where people work together to do things in small groups. It also benefits from opportunities to sit together as a large group and put collective attention onto the same thing. The keynotes each morning at the festival were designed to do just that.

Group activities at OKFestival

Group activities at OKFestival, Photo by Gregor Fischer from the official festival Flickr album:

Experiences are the most important part of getting to know people. I was a little gutted that OKFestival took place at the same time as the Institutional Web Management Workshop. IWMW is an annual event that I’ve attended (and been co-chair of) over the last 14 years, only missing when my giving birth (to each of my 3 children) got in the way. Many of the attendees have become good friends over the years and our shared experiences of each year’s special moments (such as the IWMW song, Brian Kelly’s capers and some of the best/craziest plenaries) made that happen. Fingers crossed different scheduling next year might allow me to attend both OKFestival and IWMW!

and let’s not forget…

It’s fun! And finally, for those of us that spend large chunks of our working lives online, it’s important to be able to have some more sociable “downtime” spent in person with our colleagues. The lack of watercooler chat that working remotely can bring – with no easy opportunity to pop out and get a coffee together – means that when you do meet face to face, there’s a lot of catching up to do. And what better place than a former brewery to work really hard together for a few days, and then to share a celebratory beer and slice of cake in the sun afterwards?

It was fun, a lot of fun! I love being able to spend my days up and moving about rather than sat rigid in a seat. Seeing new things and meeting fab people really is the best part of my job. Returning home feels a little bit of a come down.

So thanks to Lou for her brilliant observations. Events like this take a huge amount of organising (huge gratitude goes to the organisers Lou, Bea and Megan – who really put in the hours and devotion on OKFestival) and a lot of effort, but damn, they are so worth it!

Selling OKFestival T-shirts with my colleague Sally Deffor

Selling OKFestival T-shirts with my colleague Sally Deffor

Employer Legal aspects of Remote Working

Kelly MansfieldLegal details normally turn people off, but it is extremely important stuff! Kelly Mansfield is an editor and writer at Workplace Law. Workplace Law specialises in employment law, health & safety and environmental management and is a provider of information, training, consultancy and support services. Kelly has written a post for us that considers some of the main legal issues for employers in light of the recently released Flexible Working Regulations 2014.


Is Remote Working the way Forward for Employers as well as Employees?

Remote working is the new workplace fad, but can all employers trust their staff to work responsibly away from their desk? With employers implementing workplace rules that mean workers must travel to the office each day to carry out their working activities, it would appear that some bosses want to keep a close eye on their staff.

However, forcing employees to make their way into the office every day can actually have numerous detrimental effects.

With over a fifth of commuters in the UK spending more than 30 minutes travelling to work on a daily basis and the cost of travel ever increasing, both time and money is being wasted by forcing workers to always travel to work.

As new legislation come into force though, it will be interesting to see whether employers find themselves having to be more adjustable.

Photo by

Photo by Sarah Joy, Flickr

The Flexible Working Regulations 2014, which came into force on 30 June 2014, allows any employee with 26 weeks’ continuous service to request flexible working. Prior to the new regulations, only employees with children aged under 17, or 18 if disabled, and those caring for the elderly, who have 26 weeks’ continuous service, were able to request flexible working.

So will this change simply mean that employers will be bombarded with applications from employees wishing to change their working environment, or their working hours, or maybe even a combination of the two? The answer is probably yes, but employers must remember that they are not legally required to accept an application. However, they must have a good reason to reject it if they choose to.

A business can actually only refuse the request under eight specific business reasons, and must go through a very structured, legal and time-bound procedure when considering the request. If the request is granted, it’s a permanent change to terms and conditions; if it is not granted, the employee has the right to appeal and thereafter, the process is closed.

Implications for statistics

It is extremely likely that the introduction of the new regulations will ensure there is an increase in the amount of people who work from home. However, statistics show that a large number of people already do enjoy flexible working.

In line with the National Work from Home Day in May this year, TUC findings were published, which stated that the number of people who say they usually work from home has increased by 62,000 over the course of the last 12 months. The way people work has been beginning to change for the past few years and the new flexible working regulations will possibly accelerate the figures in the coming months.

Invasion of privacy?

It is vital to remember that no matter where an employee’s workspace may be, any area used for working at home must comply with the legal requirements which apply to all workplaces.

As ever, there are numerous legal issues which apply to office-based workers, but if you have employees working at home while still employed, then health and safety remains a fundamental issue.

To assess if a homeworking space is compliant, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment is required. This process could perhaps feel like an invasion of the employee’s personal space, if the assessment is carried out by a professional, or even a Manager of the workplace, and they are investigating around one’s home. However, it is possible for the employee to undertake the assessment themselves, providing they have the correct training and direction.

Photo by Infusionsoft, Flickr

Photo by Infusionsoft, Flickr

For inexperienced staff, it is important that they are led through the process and if the individual is required to complete the assessment, consideration should be given as to general safety training.

Keeping an eye

Email / internet use obviously enables better communication between a remote worker and their employer or other colleagues, but does it allow employers to keep an eye on their staff working away from the office and ensure that work is being completed? Do employers have the right to monitor the use of email / internet?

This remains a highly contentious issue and in terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPA), it is unlawful to intercept communications without the consent of the communicating parties.

Ideally, employers need to put together an email / internet policy document in line with the Data Protection Act 1998 and ensure that all workers are aware of it, understand it and then follow accordingly.

Within the policy, details on whether employers are potentially going to be delving into employees’ emails can be included. When it comes to monitoring emails, employers need to be careful and should only monitor messages’ address or heading.

Advising employees that their emails might be monitored for business purposes and then educating them on the terms of the policy is the way forward for employers. Informing employees about what does and does not constitute proper use of the system and explaining that any breach of the policy will result in disciplinary action is also advised.

Look to the future

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) states that technology has meant we’re increasingly on the move and that workers can now adapt to handling their time and workload more flexibly to suit both business and personal needs, which of course if handled correctly, can be a benefit for both employer and employee.

The introduction of the new flexible working regulations enhances the need for employers to recognise the necessity to move towards modern ways of working, and create the right organisational culture and relationship with employees so that requests for flexible working are considered fairly and result in a beneficial outcome.

As flexible working starts to become the norm, it is crucial employers start to get on board with the idea and more importantly, realise that with the right attitude from both parties, working remotely can prove extremely beneficial.

10 things I intensely dislike about Google Hangouts

OK, so I don’t hate Google Hangouts. It’s an incredibly useful tool, and it’s free. We use it a lot at Open Knowledge for ad hoc meetings, catch up calls, scheduled webinars and sessions, even for parties.

Open Knowledge Foundation online Christmas party: We were treated to carols, christmas outfits, tales of cheese eating and show & tell of Christmas presents - this is shabby man in the picture!

Open Knowledge online Christmas party

However I find it a confusing tool to use and I’m always getting caught out by it in some way. I think I get it…and then I discover I’ve messed up. So here are 10 things that annoy me and the lessons I’ve learnt.

1. Screen sharing – Screen sharing on Google Hangouts is confusing. If you are trying to present slides the best way seems to be to share your desktop and present your slides using presentation mode. You’ll need to get someone else to monitor the chat but at least people can see your slides properly – and not some sad, half-version of them with notes. And you know exactly what people can see – no confusion there. Sharing a window (or part of your desk top) just doesn’t seem to work that well ☹

screen sharing

2. Broadcasting a Google Hangout – Set up your Google Hangout on Air page and then go directly from that page to the hangout using the start button. Only go by this route, do not pass go and do not collect £200. Do not use the url for the hangout that you’ve got along the way. Doing that means you will end you up in a hangout with no broadcast button, which means no streaming and no YouTube video! I’ve made this mistake a few times. Also the “Start broadcasting” button is often grayed out for ages before you can start, or maybe that’s just my broadband!

3. Muting when typing – I get the point but arrrrgggggh!!

4. Number of participants – Google Hangouts has a limit of 10 active participants, 15 if you have Google+ premium or create the hangout from a Google Calendar event. Sometimes 15 is not enough!

5. People popping up – If you run a Google Hangout on Air and share the Hangout link openly be prepared to have people (normally teenagers) popping up in the middle of the session. Normally they just should something silly then leave. Oh joy!

6. Too much going on – Facilitating a Google Hangout on Air by yourself if tricky. There is just too much to keep an eye on. There’s the chat in the Hangout, the chat in the Hangout on Air and also the Q&A thing too. I just don’t have that many hands or enough space in my head.

7. Crash – When a Google Hangout on Air crashes for the person who set it up a new Hangout on Air needs to be started. Grrr! This caused problems at the Making it Matter workshop I ran.

8. Google monopoly – If you don’t do Google then you could be shut out of the fun. For example if you want to participate in a Hangout on Air by asking questions or commenting in the accompanying chat you need a Google+ account. Not very inclusive.

9. Loosing your chat – Once it’s gone it’s gone! Or at least it seems like that. If you accidentally drop out and come back in the chat has gone – it’s like people talking behind your back! It would be good if there was a way to hang on to your chat in a Hangout. I keep loosing important links.

10. Google effects – Fun for 5 minutes then annoying and confusing – mainly because you are distracted by searching for an effect you’ve used once before but can no longer seem to find!


I actually didn’t think I’d be able to come up with 10 things but it wasn’t tricky…

Charles Dickens’ Home Working Shed

Over the weekend We took a trip down to Kent and had a day out in Rochester. It’s a really interesting place and those who have visited will know that it has many Charles Dickens connections.

Down a little lane we found Charles Dickens’ two-storey Swiss chalet. The chalet used be in the garden at Gad’s Hill Place, Higham and was used as a summer study house. Dickens wrote many of his famous novels there from 1865 until his death in 1870. The chalet is currently in the gardens of Eastgate House in Rochester.

So what struck me about the chalet is that it is essentially an elaborate remote working/home office/shed! Dickens must have struggled with many of the issues we remote workers struggle with – interruptions from family, messy working space, feeling the cold etc.

Maybe I should do a tour of famous people’s home working spaces? ;-)


Unfortunately the chalet is in a bit of a bad way and needs considerable restoration. There is an appeal to raise over £100,000 which hopes to sort out the wood rot and give the chalet a much needed make over.