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The challenge for education

April 8th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I am speaking at the Plymouth elearning conference on 23 and 24 April. Steve Wheeler asked me to produce a summary of my presentation for the conference publication.

This was a problem. Firstly, I am bad at writing summaries. Secondly, I never know quite what I will say until I say it. But finally I have sat down and written it. I quite like it. I think it provides a summary of the different ideas around which we are centring our work at Pontydysgu.

Social software, personal learning environment and the future of education

The presentation  will look at the impact of recent developments in social software and the possible impact on education.

The origins of the word curricula, coming from the Latin word    ‘currere’ – a running race, a course or career can be contrasted to the origins of the word learning coming from the old Gothic word ‘Gleis’, meaning to tack, to follow and to find a path, the Gothic ‘leis’ which means to know and the the old English ‘learnien’ – to get knowledge.

Our education systems and institutions have been based around the original idea of curriculum, with winners and losers, the
same starting point and same finish point for all participants and with progression being seen as
a straight line between the two. Above all our educational institutions have been developed around the idea of homogeneity.

Such an idea of homogeneity was reinforced by the first industrial revolutions which led to the expansion of a schooling system to develop the skills needed by the workforce in a production economy.

The introduction of social software allows the exploration of different  learning pathways, and learning through exploring, wandering and funding the way.  Social networking tools allow learners to make connections, to  take individual choices about the direction of their learning within personal learning networks. Learning is based on bricolage – on making creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand, regardless of their original purpose.

Teachers and trainers have a new role as mentors and guides to scaffold and support learning.

In terms of the future development of educational technology we need tools to help explore pathways, develop connections and to take control of own learning. This is turn requires a greater degree of engagement between developers, educational technologists and practitioners.

Education systems need greater flexibility to provide learners with their own space, to work at their own speed and at their own level, to define their own knowledge areas and make their own connections. Institutions can take the first steps in this by unlocking their resources and opening up their VLEs, by providing more and different ways of accessing services and by focusing IT support on services rather than systems.

The emergence of the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is an important  step in this respect. PLEs can provide tools to help learners make and sustain connections, to help learners organise, scaffold and take responsibility for their learning and to manage and handle learning content. PLEs can also provide tools for recording and representing and sharing the learning ‘bricolage’

The emergence of new patterns and forms of learning based on social software provide a great opportunity to extend learning opportunities and to embed learning in every day work and living. At the same time it poses a challenge to educations systems and institutions who no longer have a monopoly on knowledge development and transmission.


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    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.”

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