Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

What is the future for universities?

July 28th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Last week I expressed concern that the development of the Open Univeristy SocialLearn project was being motivated by business concerns rather than learning. But it is not difficult to see why a university – especially the Open University which is based on distance learning – might wish to explore new business models.

I am struck by he growing avaiability of free online courses and opportunities for professional development. Just this morning I have picked up on an excellent free seventeen week course on on-line community facilitation being run by Leigh Blackall from the University of Otago on the Wikieducator and the weekly events around Metanomics – the study of economics and policy in the “metaverse” of online virtual world – run by…I am not quite sure who. I found about the first from Twitter and the second form Skype. These services are becoming the new global prospectus of learning opportunties.

Certainly in the field of Technology Enhanced Learning it is perfectly possible to follow an advanced professional development programme for free and engage with the best thinkers in vibrant global communities without having to enroll with a formal education institution. OK – we might expect this in such a technology enabled subject but how long before other subjects catch on.

It has been said for some time that the selling point for universities will be their certifcate granting powers. I am unconvinced. Our study some time ago of the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises suggested that apart from in reglated occupations there was limited interest in certification. Both employees and employers were more intersted in competence in terms of what people could do and what they had learnt to do rather than their certificates. And as in one form or another e-Portfolios – or more likely individual eletronic mash-ups showing achievement – become more common then pressures for certification will lessen.

So what is the future for universities? Obviously they have an important role in research. And they could hve an important role in teaching and learning provision. That the Wikieducator is offering a programme in on-line facilitation for free is brilliant. The enrolled students are from all over the world. But how will universities fund themselves in this new world? This is where the rub of the problem lies. The recent trends in many countries towards devolved budgets and funding based on enrolled student numbers does not help. Far better to try to assess the value of universities to the economy and society as a whole and fund their activities accordingly. Of course that is not easy. And universities are not cheap. But we need to start developing new models and that probably requires far more radical thinking than just tinkering with existing funding models.

OpenLearn – a step forward in PLE design

July 25th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I am greatly intrigued by Martin Weller’s presentation on SocialLearn yesterday. One of the advantages of Elluminate is it allows you to watch a recording of the presentation afterwards, although it is very frustrating not being able ot take part in the rolling chat channel. SocialLearn is a UK Open University project. According to the SocialLearn blog: “Some learners will be happy running 20 web apps [for their Personal Laerning Environment], while others will want to access this ecosystem via a coherent web interface. Currently one would do this via iGoogle, Netvibes, Facebook etc, if the apps have widgets in these different walled gardens.

In SocialLearn, we aim to move beyond web-feed based interoperability and visual clustering of apps on the webtop, with SL-aware apps communicating via the API, so that the learner’s profile can track and intelligently manage the flow of information and events to support their activity.”

This seems a great approach and I particularly liked Martin’s demo of their alpha software. two things stood out for me – the focus on people as a recommender for resources, thus allowing Open Educational Resouces to be accessed in context. Secondly the idea of supporting micro and episodic learning.

I do have concerns. The OU appears to be positioning the project as an experiment in exploring new business models in a world of competition by multiple learning providers. I am not sure that this is the ideal starting point but I suppose innovation is driven by many concerns and motivations!

When I watched the presentation last night I was also not happy with another of the core assumations behind the project – namely that “there is a major shift in society and education driven by the possibilities new technology create for creating and sharing content and social networking.” This seemed to me too technology centerd. But looking at it again in the cold light of a Friday morning the emphasis on the possibilities of new technology seems right. What then becomes interesting is that if such possibilities exist and if we assume that technology can be socially shaped, how do we use such possibilities in facilitating learning.

And in that respect, the SocialLearn project looks to be a very important initiative.

Twittering about knowledge

July 24th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I have been reading a lot more blogs lately. For one reason, I have been in one place for a week so have had a little more time to explore ideas. But the main reason is twitter. True, it gets a bit of time to get right who you are following. On the one hand you need to follow enough people to gain a range of ideas on what the community is saying – to follow the Zietgeist. On the other hand you want to get rid of those annoying people who twitter endlessly about nothing (one well known educationalist posted that the swimming pool in his hotel was closed for a second time in a week for a private reception and he was going to demand a discount on his bill – do I really want to know that?). This takes a little time in weeding and tweeking the list of people you are following.

But then twittier becomes a wonderful resource – not just of access to live feeds and events – but of recommendations of blogs and paper to read. And so far I have found it that – most of the things people recommend are worth reading. Much better than any of the repositories or collections. twitter seems to me another step towards a Personal Learning Environment. I make the choice who I am following – nobody else. And with Open Sourrce mini blogging service, it should be possible to develop organsiational networks or networks to support communities of practice for communciation and learning.

What would be cool though, is a way of harvesting the resources being recommended and somehow of classifying them. I have been messing around with using rss feeds from twitter search and that is proving quite useful but there must be better ways of doing it. Be nice if some of this stuff could somehow be displayed in a wiki.

The other feature which would be cool would be a Shoutout service. What is a Shoutout? It is when someobne says – “Does anyone know” or What do “People think about”. The results of the Shoutouts could be another very neat resource if they could be sensibly harvested.

Coolness is culture : for universities it is part of the learning culture

July 23rd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

My post ‘Universities get with it, wake up, be cool‘ has attracted some attention, both in comments on the blog and on twitter. Most people have agreed that the university degree ceremonies in the UK are outdated but some have not.

OK – it was a semi-humerous post. But there is a serieus point. How we celebrate achievement is part of our culture. And how universities celebrate student achievement is part of the learning culture of the institution. Degree cermonies such as the one in Aberystewth that I described – and I have no reason to believe there is any great difference in other UK universities – cannot be seen as anything other than a reflection of the learning culture of those institutions. What are the messages such events present. Firstly a veneer of the medieval univerity run by mysterious committees with inpenetrable ceremonies. Places where hierarchies are important – why else the different coloured gowns – or batman claoks as someone said on twitter. Secondly the lack of technology speaks for itself. And thirdly all this is overlaid with a crass commercialism. Vendor produced souvenirs, overpriced group hotos, hired gowns etc. University is a place you go to purchase your degree. This is not the learning culture I want to see. Universities should be serious fun. Universities should be democratic – a place of mutual leaning. And universities should be a part of continuing learning – not seperate from the rest of your life but part of a learning journey.

Universities get with it, wake up, be cool!

F-Alt Learning Goodness

July 23rd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

It might be summer but it is certainly not quiet. And the slow revolution of self organised elearning is gathering pace (Twitter seems to be a major ‘organising’ technology but more on that in a later post). One initiative which looks interesting is F-Alt. Inaugurated by post punk playboy Scott Wilson, F-Alt is the Fringe for this years Advanced Laerning Technologies Conference, Alt C, to be held in Leeds.

As the wiki says planned (or not so planned) activities include “round-table brainstorms on some of the top topics (and non-topics). Its all up for debate.

Format: each session is a round-table brainstorm of problems, issues. Short quick quick fire format, say 20 to 30 minutes, with the aim of gathering of thoughts. Each topic identifies the questions that need to be answered to make some of these socio-technical educational interventions actually work.

Rules for participation
No long winded waffle. Participants must be short and sharp and to the point. More twitter than paper presentation.”

Sounds my kind of conference. If you are going to F-Alt and would like to be part of the loop just sign up on the wiki. And even if you are not planning to go I am sure we will have all kind sof technologies for distance communication.

Universities get with it, wake up, be cool!

July 21st, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Been travelling for last week – hence few entries in this blog. Amongst a run of meetings I went to Aberystwth for my stepdaughter Arddun’s graduation ceremony. I can’t say I was looking forward to it and indeed it was every bit as boring as I expected. Don’t get me wrong – I am all in favour of celebrating achievement and Arddun worked hard for her degree and deserved her day out – well done love.

But why – oh why – do the universities make such a mess of such cermonies. We were sheparded into an overcrowded hall – with no air conditioning – where we were treated to half an hour of dirge like organ music. Then we have to stand whilst a procession of middle class, middle aged, white (mostly) men trail in wearing the most ridiculous fancy dress costumes (although I did like the silly hats – theyw oudl go down well in a German carnival).

The presentation of the honoury degrees could have been entertaining – if only because Welsh actor Mathew Rees was included (the other one was to a woman whose entire life seemed to have been devoted to serving on government committees) but the univeristy screwed it up by making them stand sheepishly silent whilst soem academic read out a leaden text of their career. Then came the student presentations. I have to say it was well managed. Aber had obviously hired a member of staff with previous experience as an air traffic controller as she signalled and led students to the stage in groups of six – accompanied front and back by an usher carryng a ceremonial stick to keep them in order or in case they lost their way back to their seats. The rector or chancellor or whoever he was made some short reading in Welsh and bowed or rather nodded his head at each student in turn. Back to seats and on with the next six. An hour and a half of this, interupted only by some Welsh harp music.

And then to the finale. A speech by the Rector (or vice chancellor or whoever he was) with wonderful words of encouragement marking the students progress from “learning to earning” (he obviously hasn’t heard of the credit crunch) and “think not what Aberystwth can do for you but what you can do for Aberystwth” – i.e. if, by some miracle, any of you lot do make any money in the future, give us some of it. Oh – and a brief history of the univeristy.

And then on for ONE (and one only) free glass of sparkling wine or orange juice and the opportunity to buy graduation tat (slang word for mechantising rubbish such as graduation teddy bears!) from a tat stall and to pay over-inflated costs for a picture of the big day.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Why not some of the excellent Welsh rock music. Lights, multi media on the big screen. A collage of university life – like it really is. Culture – todays culture – not an made up medieval ceremony. And if the rector and staff can come in fancy dress why not us. How about  dancing. Or – better still – why not run it in Second Life. Or lets have audience particpation with a back channel.

If any Univeristy out there is interested I would be happy to liven up your degree ceremony next year. For a small fee. Or perhaps for an honoury degree in event management.

Ganglife in Pontypridd – exclusive

July 14th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

For last two days I have been in Pontypridd. Pontypridd is small industrial town in South Wales. it is not the prettiest of places (though I like it). It is certainly not a rich town.

The UK press is obsessed at the moment with youth gangs and gang violence. And so I thought I would investigate the gangs in Pontypridd.  In the interests of journalism I was forced to hang out in the brilliant local member owned Clwb y Bont.

Are there gangs in Ponty? Yes, without doubt. In a short time I found out about 16 active gangs of young people. These gangs are self organised. They use advanced technologies for communications. Many of the gang mebers were involved in raising finances for their activities. Many members of the gangs wear hoodies despite government and press panics over this obviously threatening form of clothing.

I was truly surprised by the variety of subversive activities being undertaken by the gangs.

The gangs:

  • The Film gang. This subversive gang are involved in making short films and have coerced many members of the local community to participate in their activities. (They have been nominated for an award for the Wales short film of the year)
  • The Music making gang. Members of this large and growing gang have different roles. Some are invloved in playing in bands, others in organising gigs and yet more in producing the first CD of local unsigned bands, Outside the City.
  • The Burlesque gang. This is an interesting gang in that it is composed solely of girls. The Burlesque Troupe as they call themselves have been putting on shows in local pubs and clubs.
  • The Comedy gang. This is a gang of jokers organising comedy nights in community venues.
  • The Charity Cricket gang. A highly subversive activity involving rivalry between two pubs popular with young people. The gangs are planning a ritualised clash on the cricket pitch in September to raise money for a locally run charity for kids in Bangladesh.
  • The LAN party gang. A high tech gang organising weekends of techncial development and building computers for people who want to join the gang but haven|t got a computer and can\t afford one otherwise. May provide technical infrastructure to many of the other gangs.
  • The Shakespeare gang. Very new,  have launched a Facebook group appealing for new members to establish a Shakepeare acting group.
  • The War games gang. Truly violent, they met on Sunday afternoons upstairs at Clwb y Bont to recreate and re-enact historical battles.
  • The Creative writing gang. Also based in Clwb -y-Bont, this gang appear to gather on a Monday. Who knows what they are plotting?
  • Gangster rap. In welsh. So the English do not know what they are plotting. Sinister.

So ganglife is growing in South Wales. More and more young people are joining gangs. Interestingly, few are being paid for their membership – indeed many of having to pay to be members. And a huge amount of informal learning is going on. Learning in all kinds of diverse fields. Many of these young people are students or are involved in some form of continuing learning. Is their learning being supported or recognised by the education system and education? Of course not. Because this is learning in gangs. And we all know that gangs are dangerous.

By the way, if any of these gang members recognise themselves and want to send us pictures of their anti=social learning activities, we will be happy to publish them and promise not to report them to the authorities.

Donkeys, communities and social software

July 8th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Picture by Tank girl -

(Photo by tankgirl) Yesterday I was talking with Cristina Costa on skype about supporting communities of practice with social software. Talking about one of the groups she works with she said: “getting this community to twitter is proving harder than getting a donkey to walk downhill.” LOL. Well I nearly fell off my chair. I didn’t know that it was hard to get a donkey to walk downhill but it seems it is. I feel a graphic coming on.

But seriously, Cristina’s point does raise some issues. Much of Pontydysgu’s work is developing applications to support social networking in communities of practice and, perhaps more importantly, facilitating the process of social collaboration and learning. Most of the communities we work in are not techy. They are not interested in the technology itself but the affordances it provides in their work and work-life.

It is not easy. Many people are unsure about technologies. Even simple interfaces can be confusing. People are especially confused by us using so many different tools. And for the more techncially confident, people often have their own favoured tools and ways of working. What one person likes is not necessarily what suits another. My friend Jenny and I both have the same Ibooks. We have much the same software. But we use the machines in totally different ways. She files things carefully in a well organised folder structure. She closes one programe before opening another. I only close a programme if the machine starts grinding to a halt. I tend to leave things lying around everywhere and use the search function when I want to find something.

People are also struggling with multiple community sites. We cannot blog everywhere. And only a minority are used to using newsreaders so tend to feel every new community is an imposition to have to log in to find out what is going on. More fundamenatelly, many people are not comfortable or do not wish to share personal data and be so open in their personal lives in the way that we have come to associate with social software. Many people value their privacy. Twitter seems to be for those who make little distinction between their personal and work lives. Yet many of those we work with do make a distinction.

Communities of Practice are bound by a shared practice and shared artefacts of that practice. ICT based applications can support the sharing of practice but are not in themselves an artefact of the practice. There is no reason why members of Communities of Practice will have the same experience of using software or have the same attitudes towards personal openness and sharing.

One of the big problems we constantly face is terminology. On one site we run I had used the term ‘About me’. The project co-ordinator was insistent we changed this to ‘profile’ saying this was the accepted term. Others of course will find such a term less friendly. How do we resolve such issues. Sometimes I fall back on that old idiom that our software would work perfectly if it was not for users! But, at the end of the day, much is down to the motivation to learn – what in Germany is called ‘Bereit(schaft)’. However we design the software it will always require some learning and without an openess to trying things , to experimenting, to learning, we will fail to involve individuals in the community.

The challenge for us is to overcome these issues. Be interested to know what you think Cristina.

Emerging Mondays Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE podcast : Edupunks

July 8th, 2008 by Dirk Stieglitz

This is the last LIVE edu-radio show before we take a summer break. The theme: Edupunks. And if you missed it here is your chance to download or listen online to the podcast version. If you heard the live version you can listen again!

First up in the show is Edupunk ‘poster boy’ Jim Groom – the man who first coined the name edupunk.

He is followed by Mike Caulfield from the University of Mary Washington. He talks about edupunks as a metaphor and about change cultures.

Helen Keegan explains how she developed a new ‘do it yourself’ course at the Univeristy of Salford. Helen explains the need for us to loosen up control.

Kathryn Greenhill from Australia explains that punklib is librarians doing it for themselves. She appeals for libraries to free up data.

Martin Weller, believes edupunk is a metaphor for the zeitgeist of our times. He talks about the tension between the culture of social networking and our instututional course provision.

Sounds of the Bazaar resident edu-granny, Leila Gray, reflects on the differences technology has made in her lifetime.

Margarita Perez Garcia wraps up the July edition of Emerging Mondays with three short experimental poems.

The music for this show is from the polish Rock-Punk-Alternative Band Adapters. We feature their album Adapters. You can find this album and a lot more music on the great Creative Commons music site

Txtng is gd 4 lrng

July 6th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Don’t miss this brilliant review – curiously filed by the Guardian newspaper under ‘Reference’ – by  linguistics Professor David Crystal on texting. David tells how langauge has always been changing and how the use of various forms of abbrieviations is not new.

“There are several distinctive features of the way texts are written that combine to give the impression of novelty, but none of them is, in fact, linguistically novel” he says. “Many of them were being used in chatroom interactions that predated the arrival of mobile phones. Some can be found in pre-computer informal writing, dating back a hundred years or more.”

He goes on to say that: “Although many texters enjoy breaking linguistic rules, they also know they need to be understood.”

He concludes: “An extraordinary number of doom-laden prophecies have been made about the supposed linguistic evils unleashed by texting. Sadly, its creative potential has been virtually ignored. But five years of research has at last begun to dispel the myths. The most important finding is that texting does not erode children’s ability to read and write. On the contrary, literacy improves. The latest studies (from a team at Coventry University) have found strong positive links between the use of text language and the skills underlying success in standard English in pre-teenage children. The more abbreviations in their messages, the higher they scored on tests of reading and vocabulary. The children who were better at spelling and writing used the most textisms. And the younger they received their first phone, the higher their scores.

Children could not be good at texting if they had not already developed considerable literacy awareness. Before you can write and play with abbreviated forms, you need to have a sense of how the sounds of your language relate to the letters. You need to know that there are such things as alternative spellings. If you are aware that your texting behaviour is different, you must have already intuited that there is such a thing as a standard. If you are using such abbreviations as lol and brb (“be right back”), you must have developed a sensitivity to the communicative needs of your textees.”

  • Search

    News Bites

    Digital Literacy

    A National Survey fin Wales in 2017-18 showed that 15% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Wales do not regularly use the internet. However, this figure is much higher (26%) amongst people with a limiting long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.

    A new Welsh Government programme has been launched which will work with organisations across Wales, in order to help people increase their confidence using digital technology, with the aim of helping them improve and manage their health and well-being.

    Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being, follows on from the initial Digital Communities Wales (DCW) programme which enabled 62,500 people to reap the benefits of going online in the last two years.

    See here for more information

    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.

    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time

    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”

    Other Pontydysgu Spaces

    • Pontydysgu on the Web

      Our Wikispace for teaching and learning
      Sounds of the Bazaar Radio LIVE
      Join our Sounds of the Bazaar Facebook goup. Just click on the logo above.

      We will be at Online Educa Berlin 2015. See the info above. The stream URL to play in your application is Stream URL or go to our new stream webpage here SoB Stream Page.

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  • Such amazing work. Thank you so much for your input Samia…

    About an hour ago from Cristina Costa's Twitter via Twitter for Android

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