The circuitry of my head

UnknownSo as part of the ongoing exploration of online learning or MOOCing around as i’m fondly calling it, I enrolled in a second MOOC. This MOOC is nothing to do with anything I really need to know. I am doing it for the love of learning. Suitably it is the Learning Creative Learning MOOC.

I might step back a bit here. Just a little though.

Just over a blog posting ago…

Before I found a tweet about OpenBadges and before that led me to MOOCs and the joining of, I took a small test on a whim. The test highlighted that I am motivated by learning. This is not the learning which results in a piece of paper that motivates me. This motivation is through the solid act of learning in itself. I liken this to experiencing a puzzle box.

“Before you lies a simple box unknown, locked with a mechanism that can be discovered through tactile exploration. Unlock this mystery box and whether you find it is empty or full, the satisfaction is not in the contents, but in the opening.”

The discovery of being motivated by learning resonated with me on some level. I had been feeling a little unmotivated recently and this suggested a way forward. Looking through mental lists of options I would cycle through over and over again finding not a single one that appealed. In part this is laziness: I am easily dissuaded from difficult things. In part it is tiredness: I have a lot on! In part though: it is because I lacked a motivation. So I am on a quest to find one.

A modern take on the puzzle box
A modern take on the puzzle box

Let’s step back into creative learning again.

Learning about learning…

Each week of the MOOC reading is assigned and tasks are suggested. Task 1 is around doing the reading and reflecting on it.The reading this week was around connected learning (video) as an approach which differs from traditional education by leveraging the interest of an individual and allowing that interest to develop in a way that improves their academic, civic or employment prospects. The connected element means that new media helps develop this innate passion or talent. E.g., in the plainest of terms, the writer is allowed to write for the passion of it, they post their work online and receive feedback from peers on their interest. They learn from this and eventually become an author 1.

I haven’t reflected much but isn’t there something to that (especially for those learning-motivated) which makes good sense? I don’t think it’s a new idea – there seems to be a trend recently for the internet to find a new way of doing something and for people to think that nothing like it ever happened before. I’m confident that there was connected learning before connected computers which is why I like the phrase from one of the readings: “New media amplifies opportunities for connected learning.” The internet is a massive great big amplifier of things, including learning, then. Now that I like the idea of!

The second task is much more intriguing: read Seymour Papert’s essay on the “Gears of My Childhood” and write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you.

Much more up my street in my current exploration of the world. Perhaps a little bit ego-orientated but internal focus helps introverts like me make sense of the world. Hopefully we then find a way to apply that externally.

So let’s jump back again. Way back this time. I called this post the circuitry of my head because it resonated with an object pertinent in my childhood. The computer. I’m adding in a second object though: DNA.

The computer and DNA

My earliest memory of a computer was in school. I’m not sure what it was. It had a game involving a train and traffic signals. It had a painting app. It was all I can remember about the machine. I played with it twice, once in Year 1 and once in Year 2. Nobody really knew how to use it beyond those two apps i’m sure. I’m fairly confident it was an IBM PC AT given what I remember about it.

My second earliest memory was when my mum and I lived with my Nan. An uncle at the time had a BBC Micro. I’m also convinced that he never really knew how to use it. One day when he was out I sneaked in and retyped in a command i’d seen him type. It was probably a load command of some kind. A while later something happened.

Here’s the thing. After those early experiences I didn’t have a computer until I was older. It was a Commodore 64. My family never had the money for computers those early years so I spent many of them still wondering about those cream white boxes with the green text or the poor colour range and what made them work. What was inside them that brought them to life.

Commodore Datassette tape drive
Commodore Datassette tape drive – by Toni Saarikko

Those same years I was learning that I was broken. That what was bringing me to life was also, slowly, destroying me. At age 8 I did not have the real comprehension of that 2. At age 8 I believe two objects in my universe collided quietly and even I didn’t notice for a while.

I found that Commodore, and the Amiga that followed and the 486 after that and the Pentium and the AMDs and the Core 2’s and ultimately the i7 i have today were all there at the moments I needed them.

I learned about computers at a time people really started to use them personally (80s). I learned about the internet arguably when it started to enter the mainstream (90s). I studied the science of computing just before it has become essential in information societies (00s) and now I am productive on a daily basis using them despite their still being an element of seperation (10s).

DNAs influence has followed a similiar trajectory. I lost any potential in physical pursuits early on (80s). I went to secondary school at a time when it became an option for those with disabilities to study in the mainstream (90s). I went to university at a time when funding existed to make it feasible for me to leave home (00s) and finally if computers didn’t exist as they do today my access to the world would be severely limited and my job would be difficult 3. Books for a start are impractical. But research doesn’t need books anymore.

So in true double-helix fashion two strands have been joined, two objects have provided a structure for my path through the world, a sequence to progress by. The DNA was an object influencing me behind the scenes, subtly limiting certain choices and promoting others. The computer was acting as a magnet pulling me toward it, clearly highlighting an interesting path forward. It’s probably also the reason my dissertation was in genetic algorithms. I still have a mild fascination with evolution today.

I think it wasn’t the only path open to me. I might have taken another path. I might have written or reported. I might have travelled or read. I might have managed or sketched. All but for one thing: I need to understand the puzzles in the boxes. It’s the circuitry of my head.

Digital DNA - [attribution unkown :(]
Digital DNA – [attribution unkown :(]


  1. This really oversimplifies process, but it is the core of it.
  2. At age 30, i’m still not sure I have it
  3. Independently that is

LocalGovCamp Adventures

So, as a first post I thought I’d cover the #localgovcampnw event, an unconference in the BarCamp style held for LocalGov bods at the Prescap Arts Centre in Preston. I attended this as a result of following up on an e-mail from work by my colleague exemplar 1 @microwavedrama (L Catherine M) pointing me toward the registration site.

This might seem an odd thing to say but I’m really not very good at social. So attending events like this is always quite a big deal for me. It’s not uncommon for me to sign up to things thinking, “this’ll be great for my personal development / a good networking opportunity,” but finding myself trying afterwards to find any excuse not to go. I keep forcing myself to in the belief that some of my introvertive tendencies might reduce.

After a rushed breakfast the Patterson family 2 all jumped into the van and headed off to Preston despite it feeling like the Sun had gotten bored and abandoned the Earth for a while 3. I found the Arts Centre fairly quickly and was flagged down by Catherine who was already scoping the building out.

Once inside, there was an interesting lift solution which involved riding a cardboard floor to the upper level and then hoping that sheer reverse momentum would open the door before a timer locked it and it had to be released again. I didn’t realise that this lock mechanism existed the first time round, which might later have saved @_garilla (Garry Haywood) from the slightly embarrassing situation of setting the fire alarm off by pressing the ‘wheelchair refuge’ button…

After that I was in. Into a completely different type of conference which was immediately noticeable. No ordered sets of tables. No real sense of social formation even.  Just a bunch of people in  a big room apparently armed with nothing but laptops, ipads, smartphones, curiosity and friendliness. There wasn’t even a sense of leaders / organisers / alphas or experts. It was almost like everyone just decided to go and have a nice sit down in the same building at the same time on the same day. Very refreshing.

Catherine, being an experienced camper, quickly introduced me to @tech_geek_girl (Liz H) and a bit later @TawdryMe (Duncan H) who become my co-conspirators and good company for the day. And a brief chat with @ColetteWeston too which was interesting. For me, meeting a few nice people early on, definitely made it a more comfortable day!! I.e. no introvert wobblers hiding in a corner on facebook / twitter / blogs. (Thanks to you all)

The conference started with a whimper of IceBreakers involving who we were and why we were there in one word. *mumble*JohnPattersonIdeas*mumble*. I hate Ice Breakers but they are a very necessary evil and it did work in warming a few people up before the pitches.

I won’t mention the full itinerary pitched / on offer but as a flavor-of-the-day I ended up at:

  • OpenData and Equalities [@microwavedrama]
  • Digital Inclusion and Learning [@kevupnorth and @kateididntquitegetyourfulltwitteraccountsorry]
  • Wikipedia for Local Gov especially museums and libraries [@pigsonthewing]

OK, I’m being a little selfish now as I would usually go into each of these in depth, but this time I thought I’d jump ahead and sum them up by choosing ten random thoughts that I came out of these LocalGovCampNW sessions with. Actually the real reason is because I er, hadn’t planned to blog 4 about it so took nothing but mental notes.  If you want coverage of what was said, I’d recommend the excellent blog posts #1 and #2 by @markbraggins who covered things in quite a bit more detail.

I will add that these are all my interpretations of qualitative views, albeit from people who know what they are talking about (or at least were effective enough in convincing me that they did). 😀

  1. Getting data out there is equally as important as turning it into a discussion / communication / engagement opportunity. Seems like there’s a triumvirate of things to do: a) publish data alongside reports b) publish your interpretation of the data c) engage with people about it. – Engagement being a big theme of the day to be fair.
  2. People will use data / findings in their own ways – making a great website, publishing pretty graphics definitely helps engage but at the end of the day if people want open data they probably don’t want your interpretation. People will take what they need or want from your info and an important part of putting it out there is letting it go.
  3. Microlocal sites are out there and will call you out if you leave them to it. It’s better to be open and engaging about everything so you can debate issues than to sit quietly in a fortress made out of PR press releases and glossy reports.
  4. The culture of an organisation strongly determines opportunities for effectively doing points 1-3 above. It also determines how easy it is to just get on and be innovative. There’s a relationship between how easy it is for: Staff to provide data; Staff to use and share data; Staff to work together; Staff to feel secure, and the level of innovation being observed. I, being a data geek, don’t think about this side of things enough.
  5. Comms strategy/culture (not comms teams per se) can be one of the biggest barriers – there seemed a bit of discussion around how comms culture is often very defensive/reputation orientated, particularly when politics become involved. Transparency and Openness are sometimes better though as they can reduce innate paranoia that councils are hiding things. I suppose that even if findings are uncomfortable they create debate on solutions.
  6. There’s a lot of potential in offloading information to Wikipedia – a) it ranks high in search results so people are more likely to find it than have to ask it ask for it. b) the community can share and reuse it c) in some cases – local history particularly – communities can be stimulated to take over the production and curation of content. From a tourism perspective – QR codes can provide some useful info when used strategically (planted in museums and on public structures). Though @TheBplTower ignored by tweet to place a giant QRpedia code on their shiny new LED heart. Complete side point: Apparently Monmouth is wikipediavizing the entire town!
  7. There was a general debate about digital inclusion / exclusion (heard anything about ‘digital by default’? – I hadn’t) and how to build up community learning  – vaguely relevant but I think what’s interesting from research angles is the engagement and understanding of communities needed to do it effectively.
  8. I got one brief opportunity to mention ‘social network analysis’ in Local Authorities (an idea I blatantly stole from my manager but did credit him with) – it went down quite well as a general idea but it was near lunchtime and no depth was achieved. Maybe i’ll be brave and pitch it as an idea for a session next time.
  9. OpenData formats require strong internal working relations and agreement on processes. E.g. in Catherine’s session someone pointed out that it wasn’t/shouldn’t entirely up to her to do it properly – web people should be involved in making it open formats too.
  10. I found it interesting how the digital inclusion agenda keeps asking the question – “should people opt in to technology?” – the principles of freedom would suggest no but practically it feels like a technological form of poverty not to be digitally literate – it’s a bit like “should all school children have to go to school?”. Being completely new to the debate I’ll admit naivete on this one.

All good stuff. If anything,  the digital inclusion session was a little too big and became stories from the main voices – though this was nice in a way. The session on Wikipedia was fantastic though we did seem to just gawk while @pigsonthewing enlightened us. I also left with homework to actually edit Wikipedia… 5

This was the end of the event for me. I rapidly exited to meet with the rest of the Patterson’s and go home. A big thanks to the organizers who I hope will do it again next year, or perhaps in the summer this time. 😀

A Bonus – My Post-Event Reflection.

I think there’s an issue for me around how to mobilize my ten points locally though. Sort of feel that my workplace is the wrong Council to try anything of the above in. {Disclaimer: This isn’t a criticism of my employer – we are simply at a different point of the journey}. At the same time, I also sort of feel it’s the right Council to try it in because the team I work in  should be the team that agitates against the status quo in order to build capacity for dealing with future challenges.

From a personal view what’s interesting is how it got me to consider how I might need to develop myself into being able to take ideas forward.  Maybe this is my question – How do I change my own behaviours to move things in a positive, innovative direction and be comfortable with it within myself, my organisation. Yes I will stop as I’m rambling now but it would make a good unconference session? “openness and transparency: self targeted behaviour change within organizations…”

PS. This is my first ever public blog post – I think I have a lot to learn but I hope in the meantime it was useful or at least mildly distracting.


  1. a completely made up title
  2. Why the whole Patterson family? Often and for various reasons, it works out easier to co-ordinate a day trip for my family with a work related event to save on the complexities of arranging transport for a wheelchair user. More on this another time.
  3. hence why I am, very trendily, wearing a coat in all the photos
  4. to be fair I didn’t even have a blog
  5. I did it! I’m thinking Wikipedia should form another blog post though