Dave Tosh
Working on OpenCompany. Previously Learning Locker and Elgg.

Is a personal blog worthwhile?

2 weeks ago

I am currently wondering if there is any real benefit in having your own site / blog. I guess it could depend on the quality of posts which, I will admit, is pretty poor here.

Still, I need to make a decision: personal blog or just use established services such as Medium for the occasional post?

xAPI update: no more TinCan, an interview and a conference

9 months ago

So far this year it feels like the movement around xAPI has stepped up a notch. Previously, it was something a lot of people had heard of (mostly as TinCan) but not necessarily explored in much depth. This is changing and people are getting excited about the potential xAPI brings to their learning technology stack.

No more TinCan

One of the little annoyances about xAPI was the use of two names - there is a reason for this - therefore it is great to see a move towards calling it what it is: the experience API (xAPI for short). 

An interview with Aaron Silvers

Aaron is a key member of the xAPI community - this interview is definitely worth checking out: xAPI, LRS – The Interview.

A new LRS

As use of xAPI grows, so will the number of products and services available to help harness the resulting data - enter Yet Analytics. Previously called An Estuary (I hope I have that right), Yet Analytics emerged toward the end of 2014 with a mission to "build the core data infrastructure for connected learning and training". They are building an LRS which is due on the market soon.

xAPI Camp

If you are interested in xAPI, what it is, who is using it, problems it is solving, then I recommend atending the xAPI Camp on March 24th in Orlando Florida. It looks like a great event with knowledgeable speakers.

Learning Locker v1.3.4

v1.3.4 of Learning Locker was release today, for full release notes head over to github.

Personal Locker

Work is continuing on a personal version of Learning Locker. We are keen to explore ways to empower learners to harness their data through an open source personal learning profile (PLP) powered by xAPI. We should have more news on this experiment towards the end of March.

Laravel Packages

10 months ago

I currently use Laravel, the best php framework I have worked with, on a couple of projects including: Learning Locker and Reach. Here are a few of the Laravel packages and libraries that I use.

  • Intervention: this package handles all my image manipulation needs. It is powerful, has plenty of available options and is both mature and stable. http://image.intervention.io/
  • PHP Guzzle: Guzzle is a well known HTTP client and framework. I find this library saves time when working with various web services. It is well documented and highly recommended. https://github.com/guzzle/guzzle
  • OAuth Wrapper for Laravel: nearly all the projects I work on require some kind of OAuth implementation, mostly as a client but increasing acting as a server as well (Library listed below). This Laravel package is a wrapper around the PHPoAuthLib library providing both OAuth 1 and 2 support, with a large number of services available out of the box. https://github.com/artdarek/oauth-4-laravel
  • Eloquent Sluggable: this simple package does a good job generating slugs for your Eloquent models. While creating a simple slug is not challenging, this package has a lot of nice features that just make life easier including making sure slugs are unique, gracefully update, respect reserved values as well as handy functions like model look-up based on the slug. https://github.com/cviebrock/eloquent-sluggable
  • Laravel Mongo: if you are wanting to use MongoDB with Laravel then I recommend this package. It does an excellent job of mapping Laravel’s core API to Mongo specific queries. This means you can use the powerful Laravel Eloquent ORM as is, which is great. This package is used on the Learning Locker project. https://github.com/jenssegers/laravel-mongodb
  • OAuth 2.0 server for Laravel: this package is a Laravel wrapper around the excellent League of Extraordinary Packages standards compliant OAuth 2.0 server library. I am just getting going with this but so far it feels solid and is well written. https://github.com/lucadegasperi/oauth2-server-laravel

Canadian Beer

2 years ago

Since moving to Toronto around 22 months ago I have made a decent stab at acquainting myself with the local brew. I had heard about, and tried, the large brewers; Molson, Labatts and Sleemans but other than those three my knowledge was limited. When trying to find out about good Canadian beer, I was met with a few doubters questioning if there was such a thing.

So, I set out on a mission to correct my lack of knowledge as it would be a poor show not to gain a true understanding of a country’s beer. In fact, it could be classed a criminal act not to do what should be considered a duty

First up is Moosehead. I like it. In fact I am sure I have enough cans needing returned in my garage to fund a new car. It is clean, crisp and refreshing.

Next is Mill Street Organic Lager. I think, if it were on tap, it would be my beer of choice in a pub. A great small brewery in Toronto.

I was introduced to Steam Whistle. While not as quite as good as Mill Street for me, it is by no means a disgrace. I would happily wet the palate with this brew. I have also been promised a tour by a rep on Twitter, need to take up that offer!

It was recommended I try Beau’s. This is an award winning brewery and I tried the Lug Tread lager; all I remember is a serious hangover. Mind you, that could have been due to the amount drank rather than the beer itself, which, could be seen as testament to the beer's quality.

I must admit that a beer needs to be spectacularly shit for me not to like it, and I am influenced by location and company while drinking; however, I think the beers listed here would work for anyone looking to get accustomed to Canadian beer.

I'm always looking for new beers to sample, so suggestions welcome.

Abelwire: private communication through dedicated channels

4 years ago

The concept behind Abelwire arose from a personal need to share family updates and photos, towards the end of 2010, in a completely private, very simple, service where the participating users owned their own data.

To achieve this, I wrapped a bundle of email addresses and/or mobile phone numbers in a unique access id, this access id formed a channel. There is no public on this service. Content could only be shared via a channel where it is restricted to the members of that channel. Search was restricted to channels and it was only possible to view the profiles of those people who are in the same channel(s).

Users could create their own channels and decide if channel members are able to invite in other people, or not.

While the service worked quite well, it proved difficult convincing people to try something other than Facebook to share baby photos and updates. Despite my privacy/ownership concerns, Facebook is such a big part of many peoples daily life and for those I was talking to, they just don’t worry about that side of things. Shortly after testing, a small company called Google announced Google+ where you could use circles to achieve something similar – that was the end of this experiment ;)

Startups, Innovation and University Incubators

4 years ago

When I started out with Curverider, I wish there had been services such as the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University and Velocity at the University of Waterloo available. There wasn’t, at my university, so it was a case of plunging in feet first, making lots of mistakes and learning on the job. While I think learning by doing is powerful, I would also argue that there is no accounting for experience. Starting a business is a minefield and the help that these university backed incubators provide is invaluable

In the early days I am sure we were not alone in focusing on the product with the business side being more of an after thought. Personally speaking, I was not prepared for all that running a business entails: company legals, accounting, employment law, trademarking, patents, growth strategies, financing, shareholding, forecasting, company boards, intellectual property, marketing, software licensing, dispute management, PR, market segmentation, budgeting …

Similar to undertaking a PhD, running a startup can be a lonely place. Environments like the one provided by the Digital Media Zone help avoid slipping into your own, closed, world through sharing ideas, being inspired by what others are doing, getting advice, and sometimes hearing hard truths.

These initiatives are very encouraging – especially when it is the university pushing forward – as there is a huge amount of talent residing within schools, colleges and universities. I feel universities can play a key role in encouraging entrepreneurship and promoting innovation both from within the institution and from the surrounding community; these incubators are a great way to do this.

Curatr: social gaming, learning journeys and engaging your audience

4 years ago

I have had an interest in learning technology for some time now and am always on the look out for interesting projects in this space. I recently found out about Curatr and it caught my eye due to its focus on social gaming and encouraging learners to create and share their learning journeys.

After reading over the website, I decided to get in touch with Ben Betts, Curatr’s lead designer and architect. Ben kindly spent time answering some questions about the software.

1) What is Curatr?

Curatr is an innovative new software tool that facilitates online social learning using a highly visual interface. Curatr takes content resources and transforms them into a Social Game for learning.

2) How did you come up with the idea behind Curatr?

There is an elephant in the room with “Social Learning” – getting people to do it! It was our intention to tackle this problem with a new innovation in Social Learning technology.

Working from a research-led approach we started investigating ways in which we could try to make our innovation more intrinsically motivational than existing offerings. Here we discovered Deci & Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory. The authors articulate 3 key psychological needs that must be met in order for an activity to be intrinsically motivational in nature. They called these 3 needs Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness.

Simplistically speaking, Autonomy is about being allowed the freedom to work at your pace, in your sequence in an area of interest to you. Competence is concerned with the drive that people have to get better at something that matters. And Relatedness is about how an experience can be shared with other people; how we relate to and influence each other.

One other factor contributed to the formation of our initial product scope; the proliferation of learning content. As the Web 2.0 movement has grown over the last half decade, so has the weight of content that exists in the world. We wanted to build a system which could make use of any sort of digital content for learning, where ever it resided.

For this part of the innovation we took inspiration from my personal favourite place of learning; the Natural History Museum in London. Learning at the museum is based on discovery, taking journeys through learning objects and piecing the story together for yourself. Inspired by the experience, we wanted to know what online learning could take from this approach. How could we learn from these principles and put them into practice for an organisations benefit? In honour of the museum, we called the innovation “Curatr”.

3) What is the target market for Curatr? Schools, Universities, corporate elearning?

All of the above currently. We’ll be moving towards a more “enterprise” approach in the coming months with regards to corporate elearning.

4) What are the main goals of the product?

Adopters of Curatr benefit from increased cost effectiveness, a very rapid development timescale, the re-use of existing content, increases in user engagement and a raft of different pedagogical approaches.

5) How have things gone so far? Have there been any unexpected findings emerging through usage?

We’ve been pleased with progress so far. Over 300 organisations have signed up to use one of either our entry or teaching edition and we’ve got a dozen or so Enterprise level clients after the first 6 months. We’re a small company and Curatr is just one part of our service offering, so not a bad return thus far. Lots of minor tweaks have gone on thanks to user feedback, which has been overwhelmingly positive. The most unexpected finding has been around corporate usage, which has led us to put a derivative version in the development pipeline in a rush!

6) What are your plans moving forward with the product?

Curatr itself we’ve got a few plans afoot:

  1. We’re going to concentrate on delivering a more bespoke product going forwards, probably means fewer clients, but bigger deployments.
  2. We’ve got some updates rolling out in the next month or two, mainly focussed around how we facilitate user conversations.
  3. We’ve got a new theory in research at the moment – fundamentally its about giving out extended admin rights to those users who are “top” of the gaming leaderboards. We’re experimenting with whether or not you need a Subject Matter Expert or facilitator in a Social Learning environment to make it work.Our new product will be launched before the end of the year and will be based on some elements of the Curatr approach, albeit with a much more tightly defined feature set and a niche target audience.

7) What are you seeing as exciting / emerging initiatives within educational technology at the moment? Things we should all keep an eye on.

I’m very keen on Gaming and how we can incorporate game elements into ed tech. I’m also a bit wary of the rise of the phrase “gamification” – it’s far from an “ed tech” thing, and as such, could easily be tainted by initiatives in other areas which spoil the overall effect. I’m also following the maturation of Social Learning as we get to grips with real world implementations and begin to see data and cases as to how effective the approach has been.

Product Development, Fuzzy Interpretation and Innovation

4 years ago

After a stimulating conversation with Jay Bal over at WMG (Warwick Uni) around open innovation, I have been thinking some more about the potential for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to harness an open approach to product development and what this could mean for innovation.

There is evidence to suggest that significant benefit can be derived through opening up the product development process to external collaborators (Chesbrough, 2003). Open-source hardware development at MIT in conjunction with Nokia highlights some benefits of such an approach: 

Nokia decided to work with MIT on open-source video decoders (among other open-source projects) because it realized that if all chip makers–even those that compete with Nokia’s suppliers–had access to decoder designs, Nokia could reduce development time overall and reap the benefits of potential innovation. (Greene , 2008)

Within the web services space adopting an open philosophy is a powerful option for new products entering a highly competitive, innovative and fast moving market. Twitter is a great example; it would be reasonable to argue that their decision to open up a – developer friendly – external API early on in the product lifecycle was in part responsible for the product’s huge growth.  An eco-system emerged with external developers building all manner of additional products and services on top of Twitter, many which might well have been out-with the original scope and vision of Twitter’s design brief. This contributed to Twitter’s early innovation and quality.

Fuzzy interpretation

A concept I have been mulling over and am calling ‘fuzzy interpretation’  might provide positive outcomes if an open and collaborative approach to product development is encouraged; it is the notion that new product ideas, enhancements and spin-offs could arise from others viewing, without the original teams constraints, the product design through a different lens, thus driving innovation (and potentially opening up new markets).

By posting designs online, hardware engineers have found a huge community of consumers and fellow professionals who are willing and able to provide feedback, and even to extend the designs in ways their creators hadn’t thought of. (Geene, 2008)

Another good example came with the release of Microsoft Kinect where a computer scientist was not interested in using the device to play games but instead to capture live 3-D images.

Mr. Kreylos is part of a crowd of programmers, roboticists and tinkerers who are getting the Kinect to do things it was not really meant to do. The attraction of the device is that it is outfitted with cameras, sensors and software that let it detect movement, depth, and the shape and position of the human body. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/22/technology/22hack.html?_r=1

Such is the power of ‘hacker’ innovation that Microsoft softened its approach to these  developments and instead decided to harness the enthusiasm.

You can push this further with the assertion of Joy’s Law ‘No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else‘ and ‘… in any given sphere of activity most of the pertinent knowledge will reside outside the boundaries of any one organisation’ (Lakhani, Panetta 2007) and assuming these views warrants merit, the challenge for organisations, especially SMEs, is how to tap into the potential wealth of talent that will benefit their products yet which is not part of their immediate organisation.

This is of course a simplistic view and there are many caveats not least a required change in attitude towards ownership, patents and collaboration when intellectual property is involved. Also, it is much easier for a large corporation like Microsoft to ‘allow/encourage’ people to innovate on an existing product. However, I would like to explore in more detail what the potential is for smaller organisations who are in the process of building out their product/products.

Could opening up the product development phase early on, to those outside the organisation, provide real benefit in the form of enhanced innovation and opportunity and is it feasible to do this while still maintaining a commercial focus for the business?

There are many exciting initiatives happening now such as the Open Design City in Berlin combined with what feels like a changing economic and social climate – it is a good time to explore what can be gained from increased openness and enhanced collaboration, perhaps working towards a new, sustainable, model which allows businesses to still grow as businesses while sharing in, and promoting, the potentially rich innovation which external collaboration could offer.


Chesbrough, H.W. (2003). Open Innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology. Boston: Harvard Business School Press

Greene, Kate (2008). Open Up and Say Eureka. Technology Review, MIT November/December 2008 http://www.technologyreview.com/article/21495/

Lakhani, Karim R. and Panetta, Jill A., The Principles of Distributed Innovation. Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization Summer, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2007; The Berkman Center for Internet and Society Research Paper No. 2007-7. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1021034