Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Scenarios of practice and innovation

May 30th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

On a long trip around Romania and Poland – hence few opportunities to post here in the last few days. But, I have met many wonderful people and will come away with much to think about.

On Saturday I spoke at a seminar attended by the leaders of the Romanian students movement. Hope very much we will continue to keep in touch.

Monday I was in Constanta where I helped with a case study being undertaken as part of the European commission funded TT Plus project. The TT Plus project is looking at the changing roles and responsibilities of trainers. It is coordinated by my organisation, Pontydysgu, and has partners in six different European countries.

What makes the project especially interesting is that we are trying to develop new methodologies for comparative research. The main paradigm of comparative research, in education in Europe at least, has been to compare national studies – be it through surveys or case studies . We have borrowed from the computer world and are instead attempting to identify scenarios of practice and use cases (although these terms are difficult to define).

We are focusing not on functions and roles but on actual practice in providing training – whether or not the person is called a trainer. And we are attempting to look at practice from the perspective of different actors – including the trainer, managers and learners.

Rather than compare national studies we wish to identify different patterns in the scenarios of practice and use cases. Of course, practice will reflect national cultures. But we expect more in common between  scenarios of practice than differences based on country.

The scenarios of practice are based on case studies which is how I came to be in a cement factory in Constanta on Monday. Very interesting it was too. I will post the results fo the case study as soon as it is finished. For the moment, though, I just wanted to say a few comments about innovation. The cement factory, along with much of the industrial base in Romania, is old and in desperate need of investment. Much of the plant and machinery dates form the 1960s. If it was in the UK it would almost certainly be closed down on health and safety grounds – and in fact it is planned to relocate the plant outside Constanta because of new environmental regulations.

Not an obvious candidate for an innovation reward? Little modern technology. Basic products. But the innovation in maintaining and keeping such plant running is truly impressive. Monday I was talking to Paul, who used to be a ships engineer. He was telling me Romanian engineers were always on demand on cargo ships because they could mend anything. If a pump failed a British or German engineer would merely radio for a new one to be flown to the next port of call. The Romanians would fix the pump on the fly.

And such a tradition of innovation seems much closer to the ideas behind Web 2.0. We do not want shiny out of the box software – or even beautiful bespoke applications. Instead we need the electronic equivalent of the Romanian engineer, able to take what is available and make it work – hopefully adding value in the process. Such skills are very close to what John Seeely Brown has called bricolage.. Bricolage relates to the concrete and has to do with the ability to find something – an object or a tool, a piece of code, a document – and to use it in a new way and in a new context. This is exactly what is happening in the pre-digital world of the Constanta cement factory.

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Assessment for learning or Assessment of Learning

May 20th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

In the paper I published on the site last week, I talked about the present system of assessment being a barrier to the introduction of e-Portfolios and pedagogic innovation. I cited Richard Stiggins  who distinguishes between assessment for learning and assessment of learning.

There is no doubt which paradigm the UK follows. An article in todays Observer newspaper highlights the increasing problem of exma related stress for school students. “Unprecedented numbers of psychologists are now having to help pupils deal with the emotional strain – which can lead to sleepless nights, eating disorders and other illnesses”, they say.

The artcile goes on to say that Place2Be – a charity offering emotional support to primary school children – has seen a massive increase in the numbers of pupils approaching counsellors about exams.

“The charity runs a project called Place2Talk in 113 schools where children can post requests to see a counsellor into postboxes placed in the school buildings. So far 70 per cent of the children in the schools have asked for support.

Sheridan Whitfield, a manager for the charity in London, said children from the age of five were able to place requests for a chat into postboxes placed in the school. ‘Children are accessing it more for exam worries.’

The relentless pressure means psychologists are being called into schools at an increasing rate, according to Hill: ‘We are doing this in a way that we were not doing it five years ago.””

This is ridiculous. It has nothing to do with education and learning. We need a concerted effort to develop and implement new forms of assessment – including self assessment, group assessment and peer assessment. We need to develop ideas about authentic assessment – where the process of work itself, rather than the endlessly spiraling test regime.

e-Portfolios – the DNA of the Personal Learning Environment?

May 15th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

This is a longish paper – about 7000 words – too long to post all off it in the blog. So I am posting here an exrpt with access to an RTF download of the full paper (perhaps I will post another excerpt tomorrow.

Have chosen to post the section on reflection – just because this issue seems to give everyone trying to work with e-Portfolios so many problems.

One curiosity about the paper is the references. I didn’t set out to do this but found in the course of reading for the paper that most of the interesting things I was reading were from blog posts. Is it juts the subject, is it me – or are things changing? Anyway the references include a couple of books, a good few conference papers, a video and a lot of blogs. And by the way – how do you reference someones comment on an Excite Comment Wall?

As always any feedback very welcome.

Facilitating Reflection

In projects and at conferences about e-portfolios, at some point the discussion seems always to turn to the issue of how to facilitate meaningful reflection.

Typical is the following blog entry by a teacher, John Pallister (2007a).Â

“We have begun work trying to encourage our students, 11- 18 year olds, to reflect on their learning and achievements. We are also encouraging them to record their thoughts and reflections as part of the review/reflection process. The review stage is informing the Action Planning stage, which again we are trying to get students to record.

It seems to me to be a Logical process, having done something, to review what you have done then to revise your original plan or create a new plan.

Early attempts have focussed on printed materials providing students with a number of prompts/questions which focus students on the review process. We have experimented with text based and audio/video formats for recording reviews/reflections. Early stages, not managed to find much help in terms of approaches that help/encourage/support students to reflect and record their reflections – still looking??

Although I am sure that having done something, all students will informally think or form some personal evaluation of their performance, I suspect that the review/reflection is at a very superficial level, perhaps enjoyed it, not going to do that again, did not do that very well, too difficult etc. If students walk away only having reflected at this level they will not have made the most of the learning opportunity.

The challenge is to somehow encourage students to spend more time on this reflection stage, exploring more what they have done/achieved. I suspect that this would help them to design more useful plans and, by thinking about their learning, become that elusive better learner.”

The problem may be that to move beyond the superficial requires intrinsic motivation. As such it is not possible to ‘teach’ someone how to reflect. However, it is possible provide learners with the skills required for reflection and to practice those skills and equally to provide a stimulus to encourage reflection (Buchberger, 2007)

Buchberger goes on to say: “I have my doubts about the usefulness of written reflection following certain prompts or guiding questions. We have been ‘forcing’ our teacher trainees to hand in written reflections on their performance in class each semester, which hasn’t proved very successful. It’s turned out to make much more sense if trainees, their mentors and the teaching practice supervisor (what a terrible word !) meet after class and in a very relaxed atmosphere analyse the lessons as “critical friends” (with a strong focus on friend !!). This is what we do regularly and trainees find it much more helpful than their written reflection papers. Perhaps – from time to time – a few notes summarizing such a talk might be a reminder and starting point for further student reflection. But again it should make sense for the student, not just to satisfy the teacher/trainer.

Stephen Warbuton (2007) attended a presentation given by a group at the University of the Pacific on ‘Dialogical Reflection in the Digital Age’. “Like many educators”, he says, “Jim Phillips and Erick Marmolejo, grappled with the nature of reflection – a term that often eludes definition. Their use of what they called ‘dialogic reflection’ was focussed around reflective activities based on a play between the academic vs. professional portfolios, the production of artefacts and samples accompanied by reflective statement with a summative assessment process slotted in right at the end. They identified general problems with the reflective process when situated within an educational context in that opinion-laden task lists do not get at the heart of the strength of reflection, feedback loops can be slow and not enough time is allocated to reflection which results in very little reflective speak (there is only play around reflective dialogue). As Kathleen Yancey points out in her book “Reflection in the writing classroom” – reflection is always a fiction where students write specifically to the needs of the tutor.

The key philosophy behind their methodology to reinvigorate the process of reflection lies in pushing tutors to unlearn traditional approaches to writing instruction paralleled with the use of reflection as a means to individualise instruction and personalise learning. “

Jenny Hughes has adopted a similar approach. In a video of a workshop she takes a group of adult learners through a process of providing constructive feedback to each other. Indeed, it is quite remarkable that adult teachers are not used to this process (Hughes, 2007). Her key point is that there are forms and structure and skills o providing feedback and in a similar way forms and structure to reflection. For learners these skills include:

•    Forming an opinion

•    Expressing and opinion

•    Articulating and opinion

•    Justifying an opinion

•    Defending an opinion

•    Supporting opinions of other

•    Challenging others’ opinions

•    Questioning others

•    Seeking clarification

•    Representing others opinions

•    Building on others’ opinions

•    Sorting fact from opinion

Each of these processes can be structured and supported within the e-portfolio development process. However, they also require skills on the part of the teacher or facilitator. These might include:

•    Facilitator skills

•    Active listening skills

•    Feedback skills

•    Intervention skills

•    Evaluation skills

Yet the practising of such skills or competencies or the embedding of such practice within everyday learning activities has implications for both pedagogic approaches to teaching and learning and to curriculum design and organisation. Facilitating reflection is not simple within a largely ‘input based’ curriculum where the main goal is to pass a series of prescribed examinations. The danger is that reflection is simply seen as irrelevant to the qualification driven motivation of many students within their school based learning (as opposed to outside school). Case studies undertaken through the MOSEP project suggest that development of reflection through e-Portfolios may work best in project-based learning and when reflection is linked to activities. It is interesting that in the Kit Car project case study (Attwell and Brandsma, 2006), the project was developed as an extra curriculum project and was not subject to the normal confines of curriculum and assessment rules.

It may also be that reflection is constrained by the dominant written form of evidencing within e-Portfolios. The widespread use of multi media is a feature of many of the social networking sites referred to earlier. Yet despite some attempts to encourage more use of multi media, most e-Portfolios remain text based, probably once more due to the demands of assessment policies. The issue of assessment will be explored further in the next section.

Aesthetic Computing Maniesto

May 10th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

I only recently stumbled on the Aesthetic Computing Manifesto but I think it is quite important. Aesthetic computing, they say is “the application of art theory and practice to computing. ” They go on to say:

” We wish to strike a balance between cognitive and material aesthetics. Software as written in text or drawn with flow-charting may be considered elegant. But that is not to say that the software could not be rephrased or represented given more advanced media technologies that are available to us today, as compared with when printing was first developed. Such representation need not compromise the goals of abstraction, which is a necessary but not sufficient condition for mathematics and computing, as meaning, comprehension, and motivation may be enhanced if the presentation is guided by a pluralism of aesthetic choices and multiple sensory modalities. ”

Now lets widen this to how we use computing for learning. We have focused for far too long on the written text with other forms of expression being seen essentially as illustrative or additional to the written form. We have failed to develop learning interfaces which allow people to express themselves in forms and ways not only aesthetically natural to themselves but in forms which reflect the nature of the learning being undertaken. Why should a craft apprentice be expected to reflect on their work in writing. How much more natural to use the media of  that craft itself to reflect on their learning. And as the manifesto says “recently, substantial progress has been made in areas such as software and information visualization to enable formal structures to be comprehended and experienced by larger and more diverse populations”

Much food for thought.

Open Educational Resources and Content Creation

May 2nd, 2007 by Graham Attwell

This week I am participating in an on-line conference organised by JISC in the UK on the use of Web 2.0 for content sharing in learning and teaching. Its an interesting conference. I was much taken by a comment on the Web Forum by George Roberts who said ”          I am musing as I listen.

We are distributed, listening to someone speak and with whom we largely agree. It is a lunchtime seminar so we eat our sandwiches quietly. The slides are variously beautiful or informative. We share an aside with a colleague. So far so the same. Different: the presenter can see our aside so we censor or heckle with intent. We are online so we multi-task: a little e-mail, a quick f2f chat with a colleague who assumes I am listening to music and therefore interruptable, a comment here, a quick search on Flickr for a May morning image.

My question is whether we are simply using new technology to do what we have always done in the way we have done it? Or, are we doing something new? The distribution is new. What else? Maybe distributed co-presence is enough.”

That has started quite a discussion which I will try to come back to tomorrow.

You can view the slides

from my presentation. And here is the audio.

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