Agile book sprint

This great book on Perspectives of Agility (in German) was written over the weekend in an agile book sprint by a group in Karlsruhe, and I am following their invitation to ask ‘agile’ questions.

So: How can agile methods cater to the different temperaments and styles — in particular, of those colleagues who just don’t thrive in the synchronous, live, face-to-face meetings?

Our Bundesland is well-known for its tinkerers and inventors (“schwäbische Tüftler und Bastler”), and many of these need a few hours of undisturbed retreat to puzzle about a wicked problem. It is not that they were just generally slower — on the contrary.

And the big advantage of a Sprint being that the short term memory is still fresh during the few days, does well apply for them, too. And they also benefit from the large whiteboards with drawings and post-its that Jake Knapp’s book “Sprint” describes like the collective working memory spanning up the rich big picture, and they also benefit from the effect of Design Thinking which Christina Wodtke so aptly put: “Move memory out of your head into the world” … “see connections”.

It is just that they don’t feel optimally comfortable in the quicker oral discussion. Some people love textual online discussions which are not much slower than face-to-face — still quick enough for the short-term memory — but may be as deep as the literati’s letters of the 18c. This digitalization is still missing in the typical business meetings where the whiteboard is full of paper stickies, and the facilitator is the only one who is able to both read the details and see the overview.

I am sure that a good facilitator will mitigate the discomfort of those who are often falsely referred to as ‘introverts’, and she or he may even try to get them heard among the notorious loud voices. But still, some people just don’t like the interactive rapid-fire so much as seemingly everyone else, and they would prefer to take some written and drawn stuff away into their room, and return the next day with a significant step forward. Otherwise, they may become grim enemies of the Agile and see the frequent stand-up meetings just as humilating pain.

Can Agile leverage their skills, too? (Maybe some software may help which combines details and overview better than the post-its wall?)

Update: See also “Extraversion und die Medienwahl von Projektmanagern” (Extraversion and Media Choice by Project Managers), via Toolblog of Jan 31.

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What is Digital Literacy?

I responded to this questionnaire (titling is theirs, and also the loss of paragraph marks).

Dark red page header; Defining Digital Literacy. Exploring perspectives on Digital Literacy. What is digital literacy? How to contribute

What is Digital Literacy?

Like traditional literacy, it is not only the mastery of the tools, such as reading and writing. Rather, there is a connotation of higher abilities which are arising from being intensively exposed to books, or to the digital, respectively, and I will talk about them in the second section.

Mastering the new tools with confidence means losing the discomfort which mostly comes from either disinformation or IT insecurity. Both have in common that most users cannot evaluate the trustworthiness of systems and sources on their own. In both cases, one can try to rely on central authorities, or ask a friend. If you trust a friend’s email attachment in too naive a way, their imprudence may ripple across your circles because you may be trusting their virus who really sent it. Similarly, the friend may have retweeted a falsehood from a false central authority because evaluating the authority, too, is difficult. But if your friend is aware of you trusting them, they might be more cautious. So, it is important to ask the right friend who, in turn, relies on the right friends, too, rather than on questionable central mass sources.

Of course there is not always enough time to ask a friend, so, the first skill is to decide whether I feel safe enough without the friend or if I should stop and wait for him or her — for example, to install some app or to change some settings. And there are some minimal questions that a digitally literate person should be able to answer for themselves. Most prominently, this involves a permanent awareness of one’s logins and of one’s backups, i.e. what would happen if a file was lost or if a password got stolen.

Once the basic confidence is achieved, it is important to be aware of the big temptations of a depersonalized communication: that email can contain much sharper attacks than face-to-face, that social media can be used to evangelize and anonymously promote some agenda, or that the smartphone can be used to interact with friends as if it were a remote control.

What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual* life?

The exposure to the web has the most impact, IMHO, through the following affordances: asynchronous exchanges that foster reflectivity, the opportunity of serendipitous breadth, the practice of individual picking and unlimited depth, and encounters with resources and people of unprecedented diversity — in short: it fosters open minds.

And digital tools are more than a new format for reading and writing. If you look beyond their being a new form of a typewriter and of a library card catalog, you will find truly new affordances, many of which simply enhance our capability of sorting and rearranging our thoughts — in short, they foster flexible minds.

Focussing literacy too much on digitized reading and writing, by contrast, may mislead us to damn it, to waste attention, and to trust paper sources more than a general critical thinking would warrant.

Who are you? (context matters)

My name is Matthias Melcher, by training a mathematician, and while I am not a digital native, I would not call me a digital immigrant, either, but rather count myself to the pioneers. From 1981, I have worked in a university computer center and e-learning center, and now I am retired, and blogging and developing a think tool.


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More gRSShopper (2)

This post is for those participants of #EL30 who like to play with graphs or/and with gRSShopper.

ScreenshotWithout modifying my own tool yet, I was able to generate interactive maps like this directly out of gRSShopper: with just two new tables, two new views and two pages.

The two tables can be obtained from here, in the .sql format that can be imported into cPanel > phpMyAdmin (a more detailed description was here).

The first of the pages, x28map.html, is used for all such maps; it just fetches the Javascript:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<body onLoad="main()">
<s cript src="h ttp://"></s cript>

The content page loaded from there, epis.xml, is mainly in XML syntax (shown in blue) and looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<keyword db=x28node;format=condensr;>
<keyword db=x28edge;format=condensr;>


where the  green <keyword> construct is gRSShopper syntax and will be replaced by contents of the two tables (nodes and edges), formatted with the following two views:


‘Topic’ is just another term for the node, which has an x and y coordinate on the map, a label, a detail field, a color, and an ID. The ID is also abused as a very initial value for the coordinates (they get 10 pixels apart by simply appending a ‘0’). The green [*x28table_column*] variables will be filled from the respective columns.


‘Assoc’iation is another term for the edge, which has two end nodes n1 and n2 (just like the original ‘graph’ table shipped with gRSShopper, has an ID ‘one’ and an ID ‘two’), plus a color, and here no details.

(If you like the demo data, here is more.)

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#EL30 Week 8: Creative Experience

I am late with the task of week 8 (“Using the medium of your choice, create a representation of your experience of E-Learning 3.0.”). I’m late because it is always difficult for me to come up with an idea, when I am supposed to do so (including, unfortunately, christmas presents).

Creativity in the usual sense does not only mean creating something and having some imagination to ‘see’ what the result might look like despite it is yet invisible (which I discussed in my previous post for week 8). Rather, we think of an origin where an originator creates something original. A single point (like a well? a fountain? a mountain spring that has the potential to grow from a tiny creek into a wide river?) And confronted with such a challenge, many people’s imagination just runs dry, since we don’t feel like a genius artist.

But in Amy Burwall’s conversation with Stephen, she said something that resonated very much with me:

“Creativity is about connecting dots” (20:08)

Ah, not a single dot of ‘origin’ but multiple dots! That is easier (and BTW, it also sounds like connectivism).

An underground periscope looking at a distant shore where one of the hills carries the lettering 'future'.looking at

Click to enlarge.

Amy’s talk also encouraged me to try it with simplicity. So here is the ‘periscope’ of this course through which we were given a glimpse of a future that is still very hard to imagine, like it was a very distant shore.

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#EL30 Week 8: The invisible

This week is about experience, and the synopsis argues for ‘practice’ rather than ‘indirect methods’. Critics might object that the ‘indirectness’ is nobler than jumping at stuff that is immediately palpable, the abstract is more ‘noble’ than the concrete, theory more than practice, and ‘Bildung’ (Humboldt’s ideal) more than ‘Ausbildung’ (training), because these detours foster the capability known as transfer of learning from one problem to another one that may arise in an unknown future.

Rather than dismissing these criticisms altogether, I was musing as follows. What is so valuable in the indirect and abstract? It can’t be just that it seems more difficult? Why is it more difficult? Often the indirect and abstract is powerful but difficult to understand because it involves something invisible.

In IT, for example, the power of indirection is obvious: instead of writing a program for directly adding 2 + 3, I write a program for the variables x + y and then fill in whatever values I want. However, my values become invisible. Difficult in a similar way, is also the concept of the Clipboard on a desktop computer, or the cookies, or ‘modes’ such as Overtype or Insert. In programming, it is particularly difficult to imagine all the abstract data structures hidden somewhere down there. One needs some imagination to cope with the invisible.

The clipboard icon as it appears on the button for 'paste', and next to it the icons for 'cut' (scissors) and 'copy' (two sheets).

It becomes much easier if some part of the program is already running with real data (e.g. in a Jupyter notebook), or when we seem to manipulate palpable objects, when have come to grips with them. It resonated very much with me when Stephen, after taming the badge API, wrote “now we have the mechanism and the vocabulary”. Similarly, it is easier to watch pictures about a culture that is geographically or temporally very distant, than to imagine it via historical or travel reports.

Is it too easy for developing our imaginative skills? The trick is when “the creation of the content becomes a part of the content itself” (from the synopsis).

Because, before the creation, things were invisible, too, and had to be imagined.

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#EL30 Week 7: This class

This week’s assignment was to reach consensus on a task, and here is an attempt to do the resultant task. (I am aware that the consensus is still pending and I am prepared to do another attempt if the consensus will finally be different.) The task, as I understand it now, is to write about my experience of this course, and to take into account the aspect of community.

1. After some less satisfying MOOCs, this is once again a cMOOC as I love it — with much more asynchronous, reflective components than rapid-fire synchronous elements. In particular, with more blogging than chatting in Facebook-style or in live sessions. And the input is very high quality and very well introduced.

Almost exactly 10 years after CCK08, it suggests itself to compare it to that mother of all MOOCs. This time the topic is more special and difficult, so I still have to pick or skip the pieces of content (thereby practicing again this critical literacy of autonomously navigating the abundance), but this time the audience is a bit smaller and so fortunately I do not have to skip among participants’ contributions but can read them all.

2. My rough estimate is that approximately one third of the visible participants (i.e. those posting under the course tag) have written not more than 2 posts yet, so this is IMHO a healthy indication of diverse people dipping in and out as they want. This large variance, to me, also effects that I don’t have the impression of a community in the sense of a group with a common goal, like an activism group or one of enthusiasts, or anything like companionship, comradeship, confraternity, communion, parish/ fold/ congregation, or club. At most, I would compare it to the residence or municipality community which is defined by something like a common zip code (here, by using the hashcode el30), and whose residents have, in a certain limited sense, a common ‘fate‘ (again limited, to the 9 weeks).

Of course, the more frequent exchanges and deeper discussions among some who blog or comment more often, may create a feeling of resonance, of stronger ties, and perhaps the onset of some trust. But there is no border that could be drawn between active and inactive ‘members’ — it is a network, with liquid boundaries, where it is hard to guess if a person would denote themselves as ‘belonging to’ the ‘community’.

So, the total constituency/ population of those eligible for this week’s consensus, feels rather loose to me, and it is an intriguing game to artificially simulate a common ‘fate’ for us, for just a few days, by this brief to achieve a consensus. And it is interesting to think about what if this was really a matter of fate that would require trust among strangers.

3. But back to the course itself. What was the unique outstanding feature for me, was a certain duality in almost all weeks:

  • There was a technical sense of the weekly concept,
  • and there were far-reaching aspects far above that technical stuff.

For example, ‘identity’: just as owner of a private key, and as a whole person. Or ‘recognition’: as plaudits such as mundane little badges, and as central idea of the knowledge creation. This combination of two seemingly distinct layers, has been an extremely inspiring food for thought. And in a private backchannel exchange, a friend pointed out that this duality is similar to the big difficulty of understanding connectivism: that there is a lower layer of neurons, and an upper layer of people, which are seemingly very distinct things.

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#EL30 Week 7: Response to proposals

Thanks to Laura for the proposal which makes the consensus task stretching again, whereas Roland’s good proposal might have been just nodded through.

I think that a shared definition of such a complex term as ‘community’ is unnecessary and therefore impossible to settle on:

In a previous blog post I depicted many possible meanings of the term, see this image

(including some shared German synonyms). Much clearer than ‘community’ — at least in the context of people familiar with Downes’s writings — are the terms ‘group’ and ‘network’, where a group has a shared goal, and a network is not delimited by some borders. ‘Community’, IMHO, is a concept whose scope is rather fuzzily distributed between several such other terms (one might say, its ‘betweenness’ between the neighboring concepts is key, or its meaning is literally in the connections between them).

In particular, like a network, it does not have a predefined, fixed boundary (except in the special word sense of a geographical municipality) but its ‘membership’ is voluntary, as the blonde boy in the middle of Kevin’s bottom cartoon emphasises. And so, unlike the shared goal of a group, a possible shared goal of a community depends on a consensus. That’s why consensus building is a fairly typical task for a community — while of course I agree with Jenny that community can be much more than consensus, let alone consensus about some truth, or even about a technical status.

In an informal community, ‘membership’ may just be defined by each individual themselves, feeling as members or not, or maybe just as participants, for example in a MOOC with variable activity, with dropping in an out and perhaps lurking. If the community is not formally used for anything else, the consensus may even delimit the community: while it is desirable to achieve a broad consensus (of as many participants as possible), it needs to constrain to a minimally necessary level, or a least common denominator, to avoid that some participants may stop to feel, and self-declare, as members. And I was very reluctant to act as a community member, and my tolerance level is rather low.

I think Laura’s task is less ‘minimal’ than Roland’s, if it aims at a definition of a community in general. Maybe this community is easier to define, or the ad-hoc community whose purpose is just to complete the task.

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#EL30 Week 6: Automated Assessments

In the center of this week’s topic is the conjecture that the rich data tapestry of student learning records, might get at a more accurate picture of whether the student’s abilities will meet the requirements of a certain job profile. The many data points might lead to a sort of ‘recognition’ of connecting patterns that is more appropriate to mental competencies than a few quantitative ‘measures’ and scores. Because knowledge, too, is such a recognition.

In principle, I find this conjecture plausible. And especially the corollary which links it to the distributed web:

“In the world of centralized platforms, such data collection would be risky and intrusive” (from this week’s synopsis).

But is the conjecture true for all types of assessments, and will it lead to more justice, and should we embrace machine decisions here?


By Flickr user tudedude, CC-BY-NC-SA

For existing jobs it might perfectly work. But if the decision impacts 40 years of work life, I doubt that the criteria of future needs can already be sufficiently formalized. The training stage of the AI cannot be extended to 40 years. In particular, domain-specific aspects will not suffice, and the need for domain-general literacies is even more important, to be able to abstract from today’s situation and to transfer one’s knowledge to unkonwn futures. (And it is not a good idea to just increase the abstraction level of the subject matter to be learned.) So the criteria will be rather vague here.

Will automatic assessments be more objective, and will they distribute the scarce, best-paid, positions more fairly? If the higher salary is excused with the scarcity of the necessary skills, there will always be some unspoken, or maybe even unconscious, motivation to keep that skill scarce, rather than foster its development. So, designing vague criteria for this critical selection is not straightforward. In particular, if the fitting judgement is not just a matter of ‘sufficient’ skill (like, a professional ‘recognizes’ their new peer), but ranking, often composed from scores that are totally irrelevant but are just available from several years of accumulated assessments.

Algorithmic decisions are tempting because they also work with imperfect criteria, just looking at previous decisions. But they might not have a response when we ask them how they arrived at their decision, as Stephen and Viplav observeed in their Wednesday discussion. This is a severe violation of a demand that is emerging from the political discussions, for example by algorules (which I mentioned before), namely transparency.

I think, for the final summative assessments deciding about the future life of a human, such algorithms are not acceptable. By contrast, for the formative assessments throughout the study, they might be perfect. With human teachers, both types of assessments are equally costly, therefore we have too few of the latter and too many of the former. This may hopefully change now. And that’s why distributed storage is needed.

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#EL30 Two tasks

This week’s task is to install IPFS

A screenshot of a command prompt window, showing a nostalgic style banner of IPFS. bannerand to create a content addressed resource. Here it is:

This week’s topic is resources, and this fits well to Jenny’s task for us, about Jupyter.

There are so many discussions and efforts about the logistical and legal frameworks of educational resources and the technological changes of these frameworks. So one might be frustrated that there is so little about new technological affordances of the resources themselves. Dominant theory, for example “Split Attention Effect” (from Cognitive Load Theory) is still mainly drawing upon the paper age where interactive resources were unknown. So it is refreshing that this course covered an interactive resource called Jupyter notebooks.

And Jenny’s task wants us to

“Explain your understanding of the Jupyter Notebook for four different people, none of whom have heard of Jupyter Notebooks before:

  • A 10 year old child
  • A 15 year old secondary school pupil
  • An undergraduate trainee teacher, specialising in Art
  • A University Lecturer working in the Educational Research Department”

So here is my attempt. (Disclaimer: I am not an educator!)

10 year old: Suppose you have a new cooking robot. And you have alien ingredients that you have never tasted before, and you don’t know any recipe about them. The robot understands written orders and it will quickly execute each step for you. If the result is not tasty, you can start over and modify your orders; the robot will patiently execute each step again if you tell it to do so. A Jupyter notebook contains all these orders, and a “Run” button for each step. Just too sad that the result is only on the screen and not edible.

15 year old: Same as above, but with data for a diagram instead of ingredients for a meal. If the pupil’s basic IT training has already covered databases (? I hope so), the ingredients are ‘JOINed’ rather than just mixed, and the orders to be modified will particularly be about ‘parameters’ to be varied.

The arts teacher-to-be: Same as above, but with a sculpture instead of a meal. And with additional explaining: Why does the robot have a command line interface, rather than visual user controls where I immediately see the effects (‘what you see is what you get’)? Well, some people want and prefer this linear style, and it is important for you to also understand those of your pupils who might not have chosen arts as elective subject. Furthermore, graphical interfaces don’t yet lend themselves well to such ‘scripting’. And finally, machine learning works very similarly, by such parameters that you have to tweak.

The educational researcher: Same as above, but perhaps more help is needed to overcome their traditional understanding about tweaking and fiddling: While such practical, quantitative bricolage may seem much less noble than theory, facts, and abstractions, the latter may soon fall prey to cognitive automation, and a skill of the former is also desirable, to cope with unknown futures.


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#EL30 Week 4 Identity graph, 1st attempt

This week’s task is an Identity Graph. So I tried to guess what advertisers know about me.

1. The first source is the Twitter “Interests” which can be obtained via Settings > Your Twitter data > Interests and ads data. I depicted them in blue, and added guesses why they may have been added — click the yellow icons to read more on the right hand side. I arranged and linked the items according to wild associations — feel free to rearrange, it is just a copy in your browser.


Click for interactive version

Updated version here

2. The second source is my LibraryThing tags (red), because I think my clicking behaviour will roughly match these interests, in particular at Amazon where I browse for books before I order them online with a physical bookstore. (I find this useful because the index Stephen mentioned is ‘delegated’ from the libraries and bookstores to this platform.)

I did not fully understand the stipulation of not containing a root node “me” which I thought commercial personas are all about? but I’ll learn this by trying. (Updated 22:17 h: After Stephen’s explanation in the Wednesday live session, I understood it and added connections between the interests, in green.) Please comment what I missed. (If you want to arrange your own lists: I just dragged and dropped the marked text onto the canvas.)

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