What is project nodenoggin ?

In a recent inkubator podcast I talked to Doug Belshaw. In this episode he tried to help me unpack the question “What is project nodenoggin?” We recorded the episode shortly after I made the project code public and his series of questions and the discussion really helped me think about a few specific points. One neat question he posed was if you could describe the project with current products what would they be?

A great question as it allows you to situate your own concept quickly and helps overcome the hurdle of the unknown.

What is your PhD?

A way I have tackled this type of question when asked previously (and to some degree its the same question, but in a broader context) “What is your PhD?” I would often reply in a joking manner;

Well the worst way to describe it quickly is “it’s a better Blackboard” 1

People would then agree this would be a positive move. However it’s actually a bad answer for a number of reasons, mainly because it’s not useful as it gives completely the wrong picture. In fact it goes against the ethos of my project.

True, the project nodenoggin is a digital tool to support teaching and learning. But that’s the only connection to a product like Blackboard, so any of the other thoughts one might have about Blackboard will potentially ruin, in your mind at least, what the project is.

My project argues why the Learning Management System (LMS) is and probably has always been outdated. A key point is that the paradigm used by current tools we use is wrong and we need something else – a different paradigm.

I was also reminded this week of the app Notion and it’s about page. Please quickly visit and come back…

Ok so that’s an very awesome, fantastically illustrated, neat summary of some of the topics I am trying to tackle and they are certainly doing some good work. So now you have some clues as to why we need new types of tools. 2.

So lets get back to the main question, what is project nodenoggin?

Following the approach of ‘describe it in the context of other products’ I am going to suggest it is :

Ulysses + Deckset + Ember + Milanote + a Community of practice.

What!!! That doesn’t help!! I hear you cry. Fair point, so here is a little more of an explanation.


Ulysses is a Markdown 3 editor with a great user interface (UI) and great looking previews of said markdown text. All your sheets are stored in groups on the left pane and can be connected together to structure longer writing. The main UI in the middle is the markdown editor itself. The far right pane lets you add attachments, notes and meta data such as word count targets to each sheet to support your writing. You can also quickly share (save) the sheet in a rendered view, which makes it look nice. This output can be done in a variety of ways very quickly. Its a pretty complex app but the core aspect is you can take plain text4 and you can render the content to look great in a variety of outputs (which can be customised).


Deckset uses a Markdown file to create and present slide decks. Using again a plaintext document with markdown syntax Deckset creates wonderful looking slides from templates (which can be customised) and has a fully fledged presenter mode. Think same formatting as within the main Ulysses UI (markdown) but with the output being slides and a presenter mode not documents.

Ember (from RealMacsoftware)

Ember was a macOS app (Littlesnapper 2 effectively) for quickly collecting and organising images and visuals for any project. It was pitched as a digital scrap book it was intuitive and very friendly to use, it included a built in RSS reader for connecting and viewing feeds of visual inspiration. You could add your own annotations and quickly snap (import) and share (export). It worked really well but unfortunately was sunset a number of years ago. Consequently I have included the original YouTube trailer to give you an idea of the app. I do have the application somewhere on an older Mac but haven’t dare launch it in a while.


Milanote is a tool where you can start to arrange and organise objects into a spatial arrangement and make connections between those objects. I would define this for now as a spatial hypertext tool. There are a few other similar tools such as Tinderbox from Eastgate that do similar things, but Milanote seems to one of the more delightful looking approaches.

Community of Practice

The final piece of the puzzle is not another app but the concept of a community of practice.

Lave and Wenger (1991, p. 98) defined this as ‘a system of relationships between people, activities, and the world; developing with time.’ They argue that these relationships are essential for learning. Wenger (1998, 2000) made a link between situated practice and learning to three dimensions of ‘community’ – mutual engagement, sense of joint enterprise, and a shared repertoire of communal resources.  He proposed these as sources of learning  based on individuals doing things together, developing a sense of place, purpose and common identity and thus creating a dynamic learning environment within said community. (Roberts, 2008)

The Answer

So aspects from each of these will inform project nodenoggin. Ultimately nodenoggin will be a spatial knowledge building collaborative digital tool that points towards a new category of tools that augment learning for a community of practice, specifically design practice. It will be free (as in libre), human, humane, delightful, intuitive, shared, decentralised, digitally native and an extension to physical shared knowledge working design thinking practice!

Well that’s the answer for now. I hope it’s helpful or at least provokes some thoughts and reactions. If you find it interesting, debate on my discourse, contribute the code at my gitlab and chat with me via micro.blog.

In a follow up post I will outline how I envision workflows within this tool.

  1. Blackboard Learn (previously the Blackboard Learning Management System) is a  learning management system developed by Blackboard Inc. 

  2. If you would like more in-depth details now on why we need a new paradigm and that this is not just a new clever tool check out https://manifold.soton.ac.uk

  3. Markdown is a simple way to structure the inner workings of a document, the semantic structure of a document. Headings, Paragraphs, quotes etc. are all indicated via simple characters such as hash , angle bracket and the asterisk

  4. plaintext is highly portable and can be opened on any device that supports text, even if the markdown syntax is not understood due to the syntax being plaintext there are no issues.

WordPress Migration

I have migrated this site researchnot.es from my custom GoLang Markdown blog to wordpress, this means I am able to make more changes and keep things working. Will be ironing out broken links and images asap. Shout if anything is going very weird for you.

Edutech Data Collection

In the virtual learning environment and generally the Edutech space many digital tools have suffered from a focus on the functional, reliable and usable and have often become very feature driven. This can make them unusually unhelpful interfaces.

The LMS, the VLE, is a piece of administrative software — there’s that word “management” in there that sort of gives it away for us in the US at least — software that purports to address questions about teaching and learning but often circumscribing pedagogical possibilities. You can see its Dot Com roots too in the VLE functionality and in its interface. I mean, some VLEs still look like software from the year 2000! The VLE acts as an Internet portal to the student information system, and much like the old portals of the Dot Com era, much like AOL for example, it cautions you when you try to venture outside of it. (Watters, 2014) 1

As outlined our current tools in general do not empower teaching and learning and often support administrative process over the enhancement of student or staff experience. Educators are indeed frustrated. Design Educators even more so. However this has seen a rise in interest from technologies companies that see a new market “ripe for disruption”.

Higher education is ripe for “disruption”—to use Clayton Christensen’s theory of “disruptive innovation”—because there is a real, systemic crisis in higher education, one that offers no apparent or immanent solution. (Bady, 2013)

In a UK report, From Bricks to Clicks: The Potential of Data and Analytics in Higher Education (2016) Sarah Porter co-chair of the report2suggested that those education providers utilising technology to gather data on students could leave traditional campus-based institutions lagging behind.

Universities need to engage with data tools now so they can understand their power.(Swain, 2016)

The report argues that all UK higher education institutions should be considering using learning analytics – the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners – to improve student support and achieve strategic goals. Such data could be used to support the recent system that ranks Universities, The Teaching Excellence Framework. The report imagines a system in which students at risk of failure can be identified from their first day at university.

In 2014 Bainbridge published in the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education this warning about data gathering;

I make the case that digital technologies are being imposed upon formal learning environments, particularly focused within HE and often associated with the ‘student experience’ agenda. This imposition often reflects what amounts to a thoughtless approach to teaching and learning, in which pedagogy is side-lined by neo-liberal practices of efficiency and surveillance (Bainbridge, 2014)

Some of the largest tech organisations have been looking to seize the education market and advance an ambition to provide a delightful experience within Education. They also come armed with lots of data and the ability to undertake sophisticated data mining.

In 2015 Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced in an open letter to his new born daughter, that part of his new philanthropic company, bankrolled by Facebook Shares was a commitment to providing personalised learning;

technology that understands how you learn best and where you need to focus. (Zuckerberg, 2015)

Facebook’s data model transformed from selling users goods to showing you what to learn and when

While Facebook may feel like a modern town square, the company determines, according to its own interests, what we see and learn (O’Neil, 2016)

Not to be outdone, Google Classroom has been adding features and growing its install base over the last few years in numerous education sectors. Recently Google have committed a further $50 million in “supporting education and economic opportunity” (Fuller, 2017). Part of this initiative is to of course sell Chromebooks into Education. Chromebooks require a Google log in where every click and action is tracked 3

Google is ground zero for a wholly new subspecies of capitalism in which profits derive from the unilateral surveillance and modification of human behaviour (Zuboff, 2016)

Microsoft in its own bid to catch up with Chromebook’s dominance and sell their own hardware into education announced Intune for Education.

Now Windows 10 devices offer the power, performance and security schools need at the same price as Chromebooks, with none of the compromises.

Windows 10 by default also reduced users privacy as set out in terms and conditions you have to agree to in order to use the device ;

We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to protect our customers or enforce the terms governing the use of the services (Microsoft, 2015)

Fair enough with Microsoft, you can opt out of these default settings but this requires navigating 13 different screens and a separate website.

There is clearly a demand for technology in education which is coupled with a data driven agenda driving both how we measure education quality and how we understand and support student learning. The business model of Silicon Valley is by building technology that is based on gathering as much data as possible for ad revenue.

So with such powerful data gathering systems would it not be possible too identifies a student’s chance of going to University from their first day of Primary school. Toby Young was appointed (2018) as the UK Universities watchdog and subsequently resigned under public pressure could have suggested that with this type of data those children could be offered free school ‘milk’.

My proposal is this: once this technology (genetically engineered intelligence) becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs? Provided there is sufficient take-up, it could help to address the problem of flat-lining inter-generational social mobility and serve as a counterweight to the tendency for the meritocratic elite to become a hereditary elite. (Young, 2015)

To provide a delightful experience a key factor is intrinsically knowing your users at any given time and supporting their work. This means intelligently understanding a variety of contexts and being as sophisticated as possible with this information whilst providing a seamless and transparent experience.

Of course the technology companies can do just this and have a wealth of overarching user experience knowledge, they have been iterating and gathering a user base at a fantastic rate. The question is should they be allowed to and if not how do we counter this? So can higher education galvanise to provide something else. Should we provide something else?

I would be keen to hear your thoughts via my discourse, embedded below.

  1. Worth noting the AOL model is exactly what Facebook currently do, Facebook is the portal to the web for a lot of users

  2. The report was created by The Higher Education Commission who are an independent body made up of leaders from the education sector, the business community and the major political parties. The Commission is funded by UPP, they design and develop high quality, affordable, student accommodation, academic infrastructure and support services. Make of that what you will.

  3. Google say they do not collect data for advertising via Google Classroom.

Prototypes Nov 2017

This blog post outlines some detail on the tools I am now using to build my prototypes, including why I am using them, and concludes with a recent app example combining Snap.svg and Vue.js to connect data in real time with deepstreamHub.

SVG + Snap.svg

The choice for using Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and Snap.svg is very simple, it’s to support the visualisation of the data. In my instance, this data is learning objects. (documents, links, slides etc.) The aim is to take this data into artifacts that can then be manipulated via a spatial interface. Move, connect and combine.

SVG allows the concept I have of relationships, distances and zoomability that I want to experiment with.

The SVG format by default ensures device indifference and thus scalability and visibility options on small, large and mobile screens are easier to accommodate.

SVG is an excellent way to create interactive, resolution-independent vector graphics that will look great on any size screen. And the Snap.svg JavaScript library makes working with your SVG assets as easy as jQuery makes working with the DOM. – snapsvg.io

Mobile screens are everywhere alongside large format screens and projection within our teaching studios. The accessibility and usability of any tool has to be built into its defaults. Choosing good defaults is a major design consideration that I will be working hard to get right, such as by default accessible and responsive.


Vue.js was found after a series of conversations and previous considerations around my choices for the programming language I wished to settle on.

I initially starting my investigations with Go (golang) and then moved to Swift before ending up with Vue.js.

Vue (pronounced /vjuː/, like view) is a progressive framework for building user interfaces. Unlike other monolithic frameworks, Vue is designed from the ground up to be incrementally adoptable. The core library is focused on the view layer only, and is easy to pick up and integrate with other libraries or existing projects. On the other hand, Vue is also perfectly capable of powering sophisticated Single-Page Applications when used in combination with modern tooling and supporting libraries.

I initially looked at Go (this blog is running on Go in fact) because the details I understood about the way the programming language was designed and the integration of front end and server side technology sounded great. It was also a web focussed technology and my thoughts have always focussed on the web due to its open standards and ethos. However, Google created Go and this certainly contradicts the ethical ethos the project will take on data, which I felt was problematic. Go also didn’t really progress where I had hoped in terms of front end abilities. Then finally after attending a UK golang conference, I found I was so confused with the details in part I think due to the fact Go was much further into Computer Science and large scale application design than I am or was prepared to deal with.

Another choice that started to emerge at a similar time was Swift. Again the background to the language was exciting. Another decision in this project is to be design-led and thus adhere to design principles within the manifesto. Principles such as those you can associate with the design ethos at Apple. Apple created Swift for its own development purposes and could perhaps thus help support this aim. Apple have good, detailed Human Interface Guidelines and make a number of design affordances I certainly consider as best practice. So much like with Go I played and built a few Swift prototypes both for macOS and iOS which in fact went very well. I also invested in the latest Paintcode app which can take UI elements directly into the latest Swift Code using a Sketch app like interface.

However, Swift was not without a number of concerns. Although Swift was made open source, the platform for deployment iOS and macOS is not open. At some point, I had convinced myself that the implementation of my tool on macOS and iOS would work as an exemplar of my manifesto. And I felt that as my exemplar used a design-led platform, iOS and macOS, others could just follow this lead and read the manifesto for conversion to other platforms.

However another major issue arose in our studios, the fact that many students I would work with to test my tool use Windows and Android in general. So, my ability to test my tool, my exemplar, in the live education studio would be very limited if built in Swift. This was a bad decision: the project is human centred and making my tool much more intuitive and delightful but not being able to robustly test choices in depth would in the end hamper my design decisions.

The final nail in the Swift coffin was the rejection 1 from the App Store of my Swift App “SaveIT”.

This was a clear indication that the gate keeper of the App Store, Apple, may have future issues with my design choices and may not leave me free to dictate “delightful” design choices, another area my research is focussed on investigating and defining.

This further cemented the fact I hadn’t reconciled my desire for an open project and open platform and so the web came calling back. I know and have much more experience on web tech and coding than I do in “real programming”. And alongside a host of websites, web based tools I have made numerous web “apps”. Why had I not stayed on this course!

However, I was wary, as web apps are problematic; at the very least they are not native. I have tried in the past most known tools, like Titanium and Apache Cordova but was never that happy with them. They also tended to limit design to mobile and try to ape a native app and thus have structures and features that would be odd and possibly inaccessible on a desktop browser. I did however keep thinking about Javascript. But I knew I didn’t want JQuery or JQuery Mobile, I’d been there before.

So, I started scouting around for newer web tech with my project in mind, at some point in discussing a number of the above processes and choices it was recommended I look at Angular and React. Both had moved on since I had last viewed them and had matured significantly. I was not totally sure but a good test for me is “how quick can I get something up and running…”

To be brutally honest I was totally confused and got nowhere fast. Using Angular and React seemed a much higher barrier to entry than Swift or even Go had been. Yet in this futile attempt and scouting exercise I in fact stumbled into Vue.js and as an aside (for now) Electron.

Vue.js was so quick to understand and the more I read reviews and discussed it the more excited I became. My previous blog post which showed a markdown editor I built from a Vue.js example was so fast to get up and running and tweakable I was pleasantly surprised. This also revealed to me that the data could be formatted towards JSON. This is major. If my tool is to be decentralised again dictated by my manifesto I needed a highly portable, lightweight data structure. My previous considerations of local sync with MYSQL via blockchain style methods such as Syncthing or Etherium disappeared as a concern. This is a complicated technology and with Swift I had even considered to just not implement the blockchain part of my exemplar hoping someone might fill that gap as time went on, another poor choice. Go had at least offered flat data files as a nice light weight option and I did get 3 party sync working with IPFS but it was far from easy.

Vue.js just started to make total sense.

  • Web Tech (HTML,CSS, JS)
  • Easy to use
  • JSON style Data

A number of things lined up and so then I looked at how I could network the JSON style data from Vue.js across devices, which is when I located deepstreamHub.

next generation realtime deepstreamHub enables enterprises to sync persistent data between millions of devices within milliseconds

This sounded good. The data was also in JSON and there was another great tutorial on Vue.js showing how to connect to deepstreamHub. I hooked up my Vue.js app to the deepstreamHub and was able again quickly to take my previous single device markdown prototype and store and sync the data with deepstreamHub across multiple devices!

deepstream is an open source server inspired by concepts behind financial trading technology.

Although I was testing on the deepstreamHub cloud and it just worked, knowing that deepstream itself was also open source and could run on a standard web server added to the excitement.

Finally the Demo

I know I need to experiment with a spatial interface. My research into spatial hypertext and other conversations, at places like The Future of Text conference, have solidified this. With the initial simple demo up and running it became obvious that I should be able to take position data from objects and store this as JSON in real time with Vue.js and deepstreamHub.

So this brings us right back to SVG and Snap.svg as I was able to use this with Vue.js to create an artefact that I could drag around.2.

I could then take the position data of this SVG object into deepstreamHub.

But not only the position for the artefact it could contain the owner, the title, the actual markdown text of the artefact and in fact any associated connections, relationships or tags that could be needed to make this a truly networkable learning object. I could even add data to the object after if there was a need to add in additional functions.

I am pretty excited about getting to where I am with a practical demo this quickly around some of my initial ideas. However, I did get a little stuck in the final pieces of the data puzzle and may need to rethink exactly how best to store and real time sync the data but I have the tools that I believe will offer the answer, so long as my skills can match up to the challenge. The good news is that so far, that seems to be the case!

Please join the conversation about this below and feel free to examine all my code here.

A lot of the thinking work I undertake for all of this is recorded as scribbles in OneNote and via conversations with others. Here are some of the more recent scribbles to give you a little sneak peek into this part of the process.

  1. Why was SaveIT Rejected?

    SaveIT is a very simple app designed to allow you to really quickly capture thoughts. The app uses iOS and Mac OS Reminders as the default store to capture your ideas and then you can do what you like with them.

    Use SaveIT to capture thoughts in a fast none intrusive and delightful manner.

    Apple Rejected my app based on the guidelines 4.2 which in essence is;

    Your app should include features, content, and UI that elevate it beyond a repackaged website. If your app is not particularly useful, unique, or “app-like,” it doesn’t belong on the App Store. – Apple Guidelines

    The rejection email asked for a new app concept.

    Design – 4.2

    We found that the usefulness of your app is limited by the minimal amount of content or features it includes.

    Next Steps

    We encourage you to review your app concept and incorporate different content and features that are in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines. – Apple

    I replied to justify my design choices.

    Please can you reconsider my app. The app is minimal yes however this is a major design decision. The concept is based on the experience of when ideas come to mind or you are prompted with something you need to do later. I want and I believe others do need a distraction free way to get this thought / to do into a reliable system that you can process later. This concept is based on the “Get Things Done” principle to get these things out of your head and into a system.

    The Reminders app on iOS and Mac does provide a similar function. However there are two distractions. Instantly one is the list of other things you have in the system. This cognitively shouldn’t be under estimated, and may distract the thought you are having and the same action in Reminders versus Save It is 3 steps not 1. There is an app Later within the store that provides a similar ethos however it uses a proprietary storage system where as I felt that using the iCloud eco system made much more sense. So I would also argue that their app provides less functionality as it requires a 3rd party subscription.

    I could not have made this as a web app to connect to the iCloud calendar store.

    The interface is designed to be unobtrusive and provide the user with a moment of delight through simplification.

    This was met with a shorter rejection.

    In order for us to continue the review of your app, it would be appropriate to consider the 4.2 App Store Review guideline and resubmit a new binary. – Apple

    Not so good.

  2. Accessible web player from http://ind.ie

Markdown Prototype v0.4

Early days

Below is an image from my Marvel prototype I was playing with at the end of last academic term followed by a very early prototype built this past week in vue.js around the markdown entry system my app will need.

Accessible web player from http://ind.ie

Slack Workshop Proposal

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Slack Workshop Proposal

Below follows my submission to Digitally Engaged Learning Conference 2017. It didn’t make the cut and was given useful feedback however I would like to take the idea somewhere or at least elicit some wider feedback, so feel free to join the conversation below. I will also be attending DeL so feel free to say hello.

Slack for Education

How does your session address the theme (100)

Many of our conversations and discussions now take place on digital platforms. Slack as they put it is “Team communication for the 21st century”. Over the past three years we have been using Slack as a tool for tutors and students to actively share their own research, materials, related exhibitions and events and discuss projects as they are happen. Slack allows tutors and students to share and engage in live, searchable and chronological conversations that are seen and utilised by all. Slack does not replace the physical studio discussions but enhances, expands and captures related research that enriches studio practice.

What will be the takeaway from your session (100)

  • Tutors will understand how the use of Slack can be of benefit to their own teaching.
  • Tutors will have some tips on how to use such as tool within a design teaching environment.
  • Tutors will consider the network value of a cohort of students and how a tool like Slack can enhance experiential and rhizomatic learning practices.
  • Tutors will see how this type of knowledge sharing by students could enhance future projects.
  • Tutors will see how you can gain insight into student understanding of projects in real time, perhaps react to this and support a very agile curriculum.

Abstract (500)

We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us. (Culkin, J. 1967)

The VLE tools Blackboard et al by default offer one way communication. Top down communication from tutor to student, a way to deliver teaching and learning materials. Of course, there are bolt on forums and such but none of these solutions are great at supporting student to tutor conversations, student to student conversations or enabling students to share materials.

These digital conversations and digital sharing is happening but not within institutional learning systems. Students will often defer to their personal learning networks to discuss and share ideas, inevitability via Facebook messenger. While Facebook offers an easy place to discuss and share research it is a silo for a select closed group of friends, friends who use Facebook and due to the nature of this being connected to their personal social network, tutors are either not connected or students do not favour occupying a tutor created Facebook space.

Yet as with the physical studio based conversations these digital conversations and resources are very useful, insightful and informative and if everyone can participate this could help unlock the potential of networked learning. Learning is not a one-way flow but a co-determining situation between tutors and students.

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. (Wenger-Trayner, E. and Wenger-Trayner, B. 2015)

Over the last three years we have used Slack to offer a digital space to house this sharing and associated conversations. Slack is a digital platform for messaging, sharing and working as a team and has emerged as a leading tool within design studios.

If I have seen further, it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants. (Newton, 1675)

When students are undertaking research, and making there is a lot of value in being able to share. Slack offers a highly intuitive way to share the research, ideas, images and engage in conversations around studio projects as they happen. This ability to share ephemeral materials, links and events as they happen provides for a rich and vibrant digital space. A student discovers a relevant Radio 4 documentary and within a few swipes this is shared and conversations start. The breadth and depth of a project no longer relies on the tutor as author, but embraces the network. The projects are enhanced with time sensitive materials and the direction and conversations are visible giving opportunities to provide agile learning. The timeline also provides a collection of resources that can potentially enhance future versions of the project itself.

This digital sharing enriches each student project and enhances our teaching. The network of knowledge is wider utilising both tutor and student discovery and allows students with a quieter voice to share, comment and engage.

Student feedback has been excellent. Students feel more connected to the physical studio, the course, the projects and each other, the sense of community has been enhanced.

Adam Procter, Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton,  May 2017

Staff Seminar 2017

Links to my Staff Seminar slides & other related materials.

Download Slides (PDF / Text (markdown))

Watch Recording of Talk


Main calls to action from slides;

  • http://dctr.pro/digest – this page
  • http://dctr.pro/discuss – tell me about decentralised systems for students and staff
  • http://dctr.pro/delight – submit delightful UI / UX you find

Follow me @adamprocter on twitter/ mastodon and please sign up to periodical below.

  • http://discursive.adamprocter.co.uk – micro.blog
  • http://researchnot.es – writings (here)
  • https://discourse.adamprocter.co.uk/ – discussions
  • https://gitlab.adamprocter.co.uk – code
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Conceptual Abstract for a forthcoming Practice based PhD

This is an abstract for a yet to be completed PhD which will be used to set and keep the focus of my research. This is a live document and will obviously change. I have also not included comments on the outcomes of the PhD as I do not know what these will be. I am confident it will not be a new off the shelf Blackboard or Moodle (MLE) however it will be a series of experiments and reports that culminate in systems and a manifesto ~1~, whether this be dropbox, seeing spaces (Victor, 2014) or something else.

The following conceptual abstract is designed to help inform my research and obviously hints at chapters that would outline the details of some of the statements I am making here. As such there are more references and concepts that I have not included at this stage as they will form the broader actual research and wouldn’t add value to this post at this stage. Comments are however very much welcome on points of research and practitioners that you think could inform chapters or experiments within this PhD, even if I am already looking at them, it does not matter.


New Ed-tech tools are being created almost daily however this is often driven by marketing, business or technology. There is a dearth of experience and design-led systems. Blackboard and other such Managed Learning Environments (MLE) promise to enhance education and yet there is very little evidence that this is in fact the case.

Despite the widespread application of digital technologies in higher education there is scant evidence to suggest that these have had a significant impact on student learning. (Bainbridge, 2014)

These outdated yet digital filing systems replicate paper originated practice and although some supplement teaching and allow for additional tasks such as lecture capture, wiki’s, blogs and quizzes they do little to embrace the medium they reside on. It is also worth noting that within Higher Education Ed-tech appears to have been driven by agendas that had little to do with enhancing education.

This imposition often reflects what amounts to a thoughtless approach to teaching and learning, in which pedagogy is side-lined by neo-liberal practices of efficiency and surveillance. (Hannon and Bretag, 2010; Holley et al., 2011).

The following PhD outlines a new approach to the MLE. This document provide methods to approach the needs of an institutional level art & design learning environment that extends well beyond traditional classroom learning and is far removed from the file and folder systems we currently endure.

We shape our tools then our tools shape us.  (McLuhan, 1967)

The Practice based PhD utilises case studies, an open source repository of materials, working prototypes and a manifesto that indicate new design approaches to run, adapt and create new hybrid learning platforms to foster new and innovative thinking specifically within the field of art & design higher education.

This PhD sets forth it’s manifesto and guidance via thorough testing, iteration and design thinking to create a new dynamic medium that truly enhances learning within UK Art & Design Higher Education. By taking a new approach to software as a service and creating a dynamic medium that encourages new representations, via contextual learning, adaptive and dynamic learning this PhD challenges the current conventions of an Ed-tech system.

Today many academics in humanities and social sciences still need to grasp this simple but fundamental idea. They continue to think of software as being strictly the domain of the Academic Computing Department in their universities — something which is only there to help them become more efficient, as opposed to the medium where human intellectual creativity now dwells. (Manovich, 2013).

Learners –– both students and professors alike — will be able to take this transparent and open system and create and connect to an edu-network with privacy, knowledge acquisition and networked learning at the core. A corner stone to this new way of thinking is to understand that the web has become centralised and that the web is now based on a database culture. Services such as Facebook dress themselves up as networked culture but are in fact databased culture (Gupta, 2015), with the sole purpose to data-mine information for profit.

Indie ed-tech underscores the importance of students and scholars alike controlling their intellectual labor and their data; it questions the need for VC-funded, proprietary tools that silo and exploit users; it challenges the centrality of the LMS in all ed-tech discussions and the notion that there can be one massive (expensive) school-wide system to rule them all; it encourages new forms of open, networked learning that go beyond the syllabus, beyond the campus. It’s not only a different sort of infrastructure, it’s a different sort of philosophy than one sees promoted by Silicon Valley — by the ed-tech industry or the (ed-)tech press. (Watters, 2015)

To create decentralised systems that are capable of serving large and small scale art & design learning, these prototypes utilise blockchain and P2P technology. Learners own their material and share this material in a distributed, secure, private and personally owned system, and all rights are controlled by the contributors. This new networked and decentralised system encourages proximal development, Vygotsky (1978) describes how individual learners can extend the amount they learn when they are connected to other more knowledgeable individuals. Thus they form a community of practice.

Throughout my practice based PhD I have been undertaking workshops and activities to create prototypes and materials with Art & Design students and staff at undergraduate level. The PhD discusses the work, the prototypes, the findings and the issues arising that help inform the ‘Hybrid Ed-Tech Manifesto’.

This manifesto, its examples and frameworks will provide an approach to create dynamic media for new networked education practices.

Key Influencers;

  • Bret Victor (Ivan Sutherland)
  • Lev Manovich (Alan Kay / Douglas Englebart)
  • Marshal McLuhan (Howard Rheingold)

Other important influences;

  • Audrey Watters — Ed-tech
  • Aral Balkan / Laura Kalbag —  delightful design / ethical manifesto / indietech
  • Steve Wheeler — Ed-tech
  • Doug Belshaw — Ed-tech
  • Vinay Gupta — Blockchain

Some suggested key further reading

  • White Night Before A Manifesto — Metahaven
  • 1985 GNU Manifesto — Richard Stallman
  • Deschooling Society — Ivan Illich
  • Blue Print for Counter Education — Maurice Stein, Larry Miller,
  • Mathematica: A World of Numbers… and Beyond — Eames

Short text on two key influencers

Bret Victor

Media for Thinking the Unthinkable

Bret’s concerns are that current software design are a ‘straight jacket’ to thinking.

Now we’re staring at computer screens and moving our hands on a keyboard, but it’s basically the same thing. We’re computer users thinking paper thoughts. (Victor,2014)

Bret suggests ideas live in representations and through great representations people are enabled to think new ideas.

Roman numerals, basic multiplication was considered this incredibly technical concept that only official mathematicians could handle. But then once Arabic numerals came around, you could actually do arithmetic on paper, and we found that 7-year-olds can understand multiplication. It’s not that multiplication itself was difficult. It was just that the representation of numbers — the interface — was wrong. (Victor,2014)

Software is a powerful way to represent information but we are currently limiting this within old paradigms and Bret suggests we now have the ability to enhance these with approaches that are not limited to tactile less screens and rectangles.

The important thing isn’t thinking about computers or programming as they are today, but thinking about moving from a static medium like marks on paper to a dynamic medium with computational responsiveness infused into it, that can actually participate in the thinking process. (Victor,2014)

Bret focuses on inventing on principle and inventing the dynamic medium. We can then break away from simply transposing current limitations of paper and pen to the screen (viewport) and mouse (finger).

Lev Manovich

Software takes Command

The following quote from Lev Manovich’s Software takes Command (2013) and his general concepts outlined and approaches support some of the theory within this PhD. I intend to explore this further in due course.

My all-time favourite book, however, remains Tools for Thought published by Howard Rheingold in 1985, right at the moment when domestication of computers and software starts, eventually leading to their current ubiquity . This book is organised around the key insight that computers and software are not just “technology” but rather the new medium in which we can think and imagine differently. Similar understanding was shared by all the heroes of this book who, with their collaborators, invented the computational “tools for thoughts” — J. C. R. Licklider, Ted Nelson, Douglass Engelbart, Bob Taylor, Alan Kay, Nicholas Negroponte. (Today many academics in humanities and social sciences still need to grasp this simple but fundamental idea. They continue to think of software as being strictly the domain of the Academic Computing Department in their universities — something which is only there to help them become more efficient, as opposed to the medium where human intellectual creativity now dwells.)(Manovich, 2013)

Next Steps

  • Solidify this abstract into aims, methods and outcomes.
  • Read a lot of design manifestos.
  • Get making more things and making them open source.


  • Bainbridge, A. (2014) ‘Digital technology, human world making and the avoidance of learning’, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. 2014 edn.
  • Culkin, J. M. (1967) A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan. Saturday Review.
  • Hannon, J. and Bretag, T. (2010) ‘Negotiating contested discourses of learning technologies in higher education’, Educational Technology and Society, 13(1).
  • Manovich, L. (2013) Software Takes Command.
  • Victor, B. (2014) ‘Seeing Spaces’.
  • Victor, B. (2014) ‘The Utopian UI Architect — re:form — Medium’.
  • ‘Vinay Gupta on Techno-Social Systems, Meditation and Basic Human Needs’ (2015) ‘Vinay Gupta on Techno-Social Systems, Meditation and Basic Human Needs’, 12 May.
  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Watters, A. (2015) Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015: Indie Ed-Tech, hackeducation.com. Available at: http://hackeducation.com/2015/12/21/trends-indie (Accessed: 10 January 2016).
  1. For now I am using the overarching term of a Manifesto however this needs much more research as a concept, and maybe more in line with design Manifestos or design guidelines such as those currently provided by Gov.uk and London transport. An argument against a Manifesto is that

    a Manifesto suggests a statement, but it’s a loaded concept. Political in nature, non-conformist, counter-culture. Manifestos don’t infiltrate and aren’t really intended to impact the mainstream, so if you are looking at creating one, you are admitting that your ideas may be a niche thing rather than something embraced on a large scale. (Fox, 2016)

Decentralising Education & the Blockchain

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute

There’s a tension between personalised learning networks and institutional systems around the support of programmed learning. This will no doubt continue into the future, specifically as institutional systems are often seen as controlled by the institute and can thus foster a barrier to engagement for learners. A controlled institutional system inherently supports and reinforces a top down hierarchy of learning, however design and experience led learning should actively promote the idea of a ‘Community of Practice’.

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. (Wenger-Trayner, E. and Wenger-Trayner, B. 2015)

Studio based teaching and learning fosters cross collaboration and iteration and has an inherent need for a reduction or flat hierarchy. In doing so you promote innovation, enable fear free collaboration and support new learning, whether that be undergraduate, teaching fellow, professor or other.

Within a University environment we are all learning. Whether we be staff or student. Learning is not a one way flow but a co-determining situation between tutors and students. Learning should be an environment, an ecology in which not only cognitive but also affective events happen.

If an institution system is designed to support this core principle, support this as its manifesto, it would also need to be hierarchy free. With this in mind I have been thinking about decentralised systems (Pereira, J. 2015), specifically around the generation and dissemination of learning materials.


  • otlw.co. Pereira, J. (2015) A New Educational System, otlw.co. Available at: http://otlw.co/ (Accessed: 30 September 2015). 2015
  • Wenger-Trayner, E. and Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015) Communities of practice a brief introduction, pp. 1–8.

Procter Periodical Archive

Here are the links to the web version of my newsletter on tech, education and hybrid design.

  1. Procter Periodical #14 July 2018
  2. Procter Periodical #11 August 2017
  3. Procter Periodical #10 Feb 2017
  4. Procter Periodical #9 July 2016
  5. Procter Periodical #8 April 2016
  6. Procter Periodical #7 Feb 2016
  7. Procter Periodical #6 Oct 2015
  8. Procter Periodical #5 Sept 2015
  9. Procter Periodical #4 Aug 2015
  10. Procter Periodical #3 Aug 2015
  11. Procter Periodical #2 July 2015
  12. Procter Periodical #1 July 2015

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