Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Challenges to the constructs of education

June 30th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Last week I was at the final event of a series of six workshops on the training of teachers and trainers. The workshops were organised as part of a policy consultation exercise by the European Commission, who regard the training of teachers and trainers as a priority area in terms of economic and social development.

Whilst leading to interesting discussions and interchange between researchers, policy makers and practitioners in different European countries, there was only limited agreement over what measures should be taken. The lack of agreement reflects, I think, major changers in education leading to a series of dilemmas.

firstly the move towards lifelong learning is resulted in more and more people having some responsibility for the learning of others as part of their jobs. They will often not identify themselves as trainers. And at the same time the opportunities for professional development and learning in different contexts are becoming braider, especially through the internet. Indeed one issue which perplexed participants as the workshop was just who should be considered a trainer.

Some at the workshop wished to introduce more regulation as a means of professionalising training and raising quality. But others pointed out that this would only really help professional full time trainers – those already with access to opportunities for professional development – and that with the increased use of the internet for learning, it would be impossible for any one nation state to regulate trainers.

There was also some discussion on the differences between vocational teachers and trainers. It was pointed out that whilst they often worked in very different contexts, both groups were responsible for the learning of others. Were the differences in job designation just a construct of our education and training systems? And with learning moving outside the institution could such constructs be maintained in the future?

On the whole there was some consensus that learning would take place in wider contexts in teh future and would tend to become part fo everday living and work. But on the issue of how within that scenario to provide support and professional development for thsoe responsible for supporting the learning of others, the workshop particpants remained puzzled. More on this issue in future posts.

Portlets and Widgets

June 29th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

June is the month of meetings and i seem to have been in meetinsg for ever. Just a short few hours break before the next ones start so time for a quick bog entry.

This morning I received an email from Effie Law from the University of Leicester, UK/ ETH Zürich, Switzerland.

“Dear Graham,” she said, “I am now working … to develop an evaluation framework on widgets. In the meantime, we have identified several conceptual issues that your rich expertise and experience in widgets can help us resolve them.

May we ask you to kindly complete the following mini-survey for us.”

I love a flattering email as much as anyone else but I am afraid Effie seriously over rates my expertise. But she did conclude her email by saying “Please forward this message to those whom you think should respond to this survey as well”. So I am forwarding it to you, my blogreaders, in ther hope some of you can shine light on the questions Effie asks. Please just reply below and I will pass all answers on.

Here are the questions:

Q1. Questions about Portlets
1a) Please give your definition of portlets

1b) Please list specific characteristics (=attributes, properties) of portlets

1c) Please list specific features (=functionalities) of portlets

Q2. Questions about Widgets
2a) Please give your definition of widgets

2b) Please list specific characteristics (=attributes, properties) of widgets

2c) Please list specific features (=functionalities) of widgets

Q3. Please tell us, what do YOU consider as the major differentiator(s) between:
3a) Portlets and Widgets? (cf. Wikipedia on Web widget)

3b) Widgets and Java Applets? (cf. W3C Widget requirements)

Q4. Please share with us YOUR ideas how to evaluate:
4a) Portlets?

4b) Widgets?

Interdisplinary research, Gestaltung and Beruf

June 23rd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Regular readers of this blog will know I have been much concerned lately with how we organise research in technology enhanced learning, and particularly with the organisation of the various seminars, conferences and publications associated with academic research. One issue that has bothered me is the gap between the radical pedagogies we often propose and the actual practice of the ways we organise our own learning. A second is the difficulties frequently encountered by post graduate researchers, because of the interdisciplinary of Technology Enhanced Learning research, problems in defining and developing methodologies and the too frequent problem of finding adequate supervision and support for their work.

Last weeks IATEL conference in Darmstadt was a breath of fresh air in this respect. The conference on ‘Interdisciplinary approaches to Technology Enhanced Learning’ was organised by the DFG Research Training Group E-Learning. As the introductory handout said: “As a direct consequence of such an interdisciplinary approach, the conference format will not be defined by a preponderance of presentations and papers. In separately moderated and creative discussion forums one is able to examine and work towards a common understanding of the issues at stake. such an approach should also enable an assessment of how and to what extent the idea of interdisciplinary research is sustainable: whether it simply brings forth an only loosely fitting framework, or whether it evolves into a truly encompassing project that leads to results, insights and solutions which go beyond the simple sum of the individual trajectories.”

I was in the group looking at learning in networks and it truly was a fascinating discussion (many thanks to the moderators).

I came away thinking about three issues. The first is the tension between how people are using technologies for living, working and learning outside institutions and institutional practice in TEL (I was dubbed a ‘real world devil’ !!). The second was the need to bring together ‘design’ and TEL. Why the scare quotes? In this context ‘design’ is an English translation of the German word ‘Gestaltung’ which I would tend to translate as ‘shaping’ – the idea that technology – and in this context Technology Enhanced Learning – needs to be shaped by users. In other words we need to move beyond adaptive systems to systems and technologies that learners can themselves adapt to their own purposes and learning. The third issue was the relationship between Technology Enhanced Learning and its impact on education with the concept of ‘Beruf’. ‘Beruf” is very difficult to translate – there is no equivalent English language world. I would suggest the easiest way to understand it is in relation to the debates over the meaning of competency which in the UK and Anglo Saxon countries such as the Netherlands tends to be seen as the ability to perform to a set of externally defined standards, but in Germany is taken to mean the internalised ability of an individual to act. But please, German speakers, feel free to elaborate in the comments. Thus education is seen not just as aiming towards higher skills and knowledge for employment but as having more holistic aims in terms of value in itself.

I am still thinking about the ideas from the conference. And the work will continue – one outcome for the project should be a book and I am happy to have been invited to participate in writing this.

Ten tips for online moderators

June 18th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

For years past, projects have routinely included electronic and video conferencing as a means of communication between meetings. Of course, this rarely happened. Ultimately, the technology was not up to it. But in the last two years, with improvements in bandwidth and the release of new and better platforms, video conferencing has become common, for project meetings and discussions for seminars and dissemination and for conferences and events.

In my experience, organising an online event is not much easier (or that matter different) from organising a face to face meeting. And moderating such events is similar in many ways. But of course there are some differences. This afternoon I am moderating (along with Josie Fraser) the first of three short events for the Jisc SSBR project, on how to run events using the Elluminate platform. Over the last year I have run regular events, using both Elluminate and the open source (and free) Flash meeting service. Although feature sets differ, I do not think there are great differences in how to plan and run online events, dependent on platform.

Yesterday, I tried to write my ten tips for online moderators. Here I share them on the blog, and in line with my attempts to crowd source presentations, would welcome additions and comments from readers.

  1. Schedule time for participants to try out the software. Ideally participants should have the opportunity to test and explore the software in a sandbox in an advance of a meeting, with online help available. This is especially important if presenters have not used a platform before. Most technical problems are with microph0ne and video settings and can easily be solved. But this can be disruptive when a meeting has started.
  2. Open the room 30 minutes before the session. A simple tip but often forgotten. People usually turn up to meetings a little early. If the room is not open this is confusing and off-putting.
  3. Greet the participants as they arrive and prompt people informally to try out the microphone and try the text box – if they arrive ahead of time.
  4. If no-one is talking it is very quiet! This is one of the big differences to face to face meetings. there you can see people and see what is happening. In online meetings if no-one is talking it is impossible to know what is going on. Thus, in the run up to a meeting, the moderator should encourage informal chat, if only to provide a context for what is happening.
  5. Before stating the session remember the housekeeping tips. People normally know the social rules for face to face meeting interaction. Such rules are less transparent in online platforms. And even if users are experienced in online meetings, it is worth quickly running through the platform features.
  6. Remember online sessions can be tiring – shorter may be better. This is a big one for me. Following online presentations and online interaction using different media requires a lot of concentration. Allow regular breaks between sessions. But also think about the length of presentations. Consider breaking up longer presentations into sections to allow participants to respond.
  7. How you run the session will depend to an extent on how many people there are. Like most of these tips, the same applies to face to face sessions. Managing large numbers of people in an online session can be difficult – especially if you want to use break out sessions. It can be useful to have several moderators with different roles – for example one person moderating the audio, another monitoring the chat for useful comments and another handling technical difficulties. Elluminate allows multiple microphones – this seems to help interaction in smaller meetings but can be difficult to manage in larger conferences.
  8. Encourage interaction – using audio, text and the whiteboard. One of the bonuses of online meeting platforms is that they provide multiple channels for simultaneous interaction. Although participants often find the chat channel distracting initially, it often offers a rich parallel communication to the audio. Presenters may find it too difficult to follow whilst making their presentation so it can be useful for the moderator to summarise questions and key contributions from the chat. The white board can also allow interaction – although presenters need confidence on how to use this productively.
  9. Learn to listen. A bit obvious. But all too often, moderators write their scripts in advance and plough on regardless of what people are saying or writing. Remember you are there to guide and moderate the meeting – not to act as a presenter yourself. That means you have to be very concentrated on what is going on and sometimes to prompt and guide the discussion.
  10. Back channels can be useful. A small tip but it may be useful. I have found that having a skype channel open to the other moderators is useful for communicating during the course of the meeting.

Those are my tips. What are yours?

More on the summer school – how could it be organised?

June 14th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

There has been a lot of discussion regarding my post on the TEL summer school held two weeks ago in Terchova in Slovakia. Many of the respondents have replied at some length. Most were at pains to stress the positive sides to the event, whilst pointing to how it could be improved in future. It was a desire to see a public debate with participants in order to think how the Summer School could be improved that motivated my initial post.

Two main themes emerge, I think, from the different comments. One is the format of the summer school, with a desire expressed to move beyond a traditional lecture style of delivery to more active means of shared participation in knowledge sharing and development. The second is to question the divide between teachers and learners.

Ambjorn Naeve concludes  his contribution to the discussion by saying “Let me end this comment with a constructive suggestion for the future. Next year, let us have the lectures recorded in advance (e.g. in Flashmeeting), and the powerpoints (or other documentation) made available to the students at least one month in advance. Let us then require of the students that they watch these presentations and come up with (and post) at least three (non-trivial) questions for each of them. And let us then devote the lecturing time together to discussing the questions that have come up?”

Here would be my contribution based on the extremely successful recent Educamp in Germany.

The summer school traditionally runs for five days, from Monday to Friday. I would run the first two days as a barcamp event. All participants, teachers and students would be free to propose workshop or lecture sessions. Thsi would allow everyone to present their ongoing projects and work.

After the first two days, a new agenda would be drawn up based on the major themes emerging from the presentations and concerns of participants. These themes would be the basis for the following two days of intensive workshop activities. The workshops would develop their own aims, with one being to practically advance knowledge and ideas around the theme they were discussing.

The final day would be devoted to an exhibition where each thematic group presented their work to others, incorporating, if they wished, multi media presentations.To add a competitive edge, there could be a (small) prize for the best exhibition.

Given that the summer school is residential, the times for workshop activities could be moved around, to allow for activities, not juts sport, but active learning activities, to take place in the day, with more workshop being scheduled for the evenings. Participants would themselves be encouraged to organise the social programme, with a premium on social and learning activities.

Of course, this raises the issue of the role of the ‘professors’ at the summer school. Instead of presenting lectures, they would have the task of guiding and mentoring the thematic groups and of supporting individual and group learning.

None of this contradicts the ideas put forward by Ambjorn. But rather than just providing lectures in advance of the school, why not stage a series of online interactive seminars in the run up to the event. And lets use a social networking platform to aggregate and discuss our work, both in advance of the summer school and throughout the event, linking up with other researchers not fortunate enough to be able to attend., Indeed, the thematic groups could draw on the wisdom of the distributed community to help in their work and discussions.

In other words, let us develop a pedagogy for the summer school which reflects our own emergent uses of TEL for teaching and learning.

I would welcome futher suggestions of rhow next years summer school might be organised. I have agreed to pass on all comments on the blog to the Stellar network who will be responsible for organising the 2010 event.

Appropriating Google Wave

June 9th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I have many ideas floating around in my head at the moment. One is the notion of appropriation. Writing last weekend, Tony Hirst said  the idea of appropriating technology could be important in at least two senses:

“Firstly, in the sense of us appropriating technologies that might have been designed for other purposes in order to use them in an educational context.

Secondly, in the sense of using appropriating technologies to sample, sequence and deliver education related performances,…..”

Interesting stuff. At a prgamatic level, I see little future outise institutions for purpose built educastiuonal technology. Such technology was developed essentially as platforms for consuming learning or knowledge. But the act of exproriation and repuposing technologies designed for other puposes could be seen as a active learning process in itself, overcoming the gap between the technologies and the content.

Last week Google annnounced Google Wave. It’s described as “a real-time communication platform which combines aspects of email, instant messaging, wikis, web chat, social networking and project management to build one elegant, in-browser communication client”. John Naughton translates that as “a sophisticated set of tools enabling people to work collaboratively across the internet. And “real-time” means exactly that: in most cases what you type appears – as you type it – on other people’s screens.”

I can see Google Wave being rapidly appropriated for a future Personal Learning Environment.

Issues in PLE development

June 8th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I go through periods of having little new to say about Personal Learning Environments and times with many new ideas. I am at the moment in one of the latter periods – inspired by so many interesting talks at the European Technology Enhanced Summer School last week and at over the weekend at a meeting of the Mature-IP project partnership.

Here are a few of the things I have been thinking about (and will write about over the next two weeks):

  • the emergence of some consensus about a mash up (Mupples) approach to PLE development based on widgets
  • the relationship between (informal) learning and knowledge development and maturing within organisations
  • The relationship between individual learning through a PLE and organisational learning
  • the idea of bricolage as the basis of an emerging pedagogic theory of learning outside the institutions
  • the potential for a mobile device based PLE (code named a WOMBLE – Work and Mobile Learning Environments)
  • The digital identity of learners expressed through a PLE
  • the idea of appropriation (linked to bricolage) of software and applications for use for learning
  • the potential of Google Wave as a platform for a PLE

Anyone care to add to this list?

Refelections on the European Summer School

June 7th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I am back from the European Summer School on Technology Enhanced Learning. The summer school, which is targeted at PhD students and is co-organised by a number of European research projects and networks. was held near Terchova in the Slovakian mountains. It is a very beautiful area. Unfortunately it was wet and cold for the whole week. Worse the network connection was insufficient for 90 people and only skype worked with any degree of reliability.

Ok, these problems happen. But what of the summer school itself? Here are comments from students at the summer school:

“I didn’t want to bonded with lecturers …I would prefer to meet ‘relevant’ people, to have discussions, to know at least what today’s lecture is about.  Interesting things are mostly between lectures”.

“Bar Camp Format”
“Work during workshops, not just listen activities”
“ Get Summer School participants (after the selection period) involved in the organisation of the Summer School programme”
“ Not too much aggressive advertisement & self-appraisal of projects”
“why so much focus on projects rather than areas of research?”
“Presenters should have better presentation skills”
“more practical sessions”
“Lecturers & students F2F and get advice on PhD topic”
“Take account of cultures – religions & dietary requirements: why ask if there are dietary requirements and fail to offer choice or take account of the responses to the questions asked”
“Use less traditional approach.  Instead of a 50 min lecture & a 10 min discussion: the lecture does a 10min and the remainder discussions.  Maybe having 2/3 lectures and then splitting into groups to discuss specific issues”
“More online activities leading to the summer school week”
“Internet connection is a must”
“The organisers should know the topic of all PhDs. The could form groups of interest with a competent advisor so that they can discuss & work on the topics”
“Voice for the novice researchers”
“More from an educational background”
“It seems that we are mostly IT and some of us are education oriented, but we have an agenda for ‘computer science for educators’ or ‘education for IT people’ – that is confusing!’
“Round table discussions. E.g. meet with 6 people for 15 mins & then switch & mix-up again”
“Equality between lecturers & students.  Instead of ‘traditional’ lecture styles, the sessions could be improved by actually using TEL”
“A session with PhD students only – like the one we had on the first day”
“More ‘democratic’ choice of topics for the lectures/workshops”
“A presentation should be 10 slides, 20 mins, 30 as a min font size”
“Workshop on how to create posters”
“There should be a meeting to get to know each other at the beginning &  topic outlines from students”
“Can we control/select the topics of classes?”
“It would be interesting to have game-based learning sessions”
“Lectures & projects in short form”

Overall, students were critical of the summer school. Whilst talking about the uses of technology and new forms of pedagogy, the summer school was organised in a somewhat old fashioned didactic format. There was a sharp distinction between lectures and students (the lecturers even were allocated better bedrooms in the hotel!) and each morning was given over to a series of one hour lectures. Many of the afternoon workshops tended to be lecture like in format with limited interactivity and limited opportunities for discussion between participants. And whilst there were a number of interesting presentations, as the feedback suggests, it seemed that the agenda or programme for the summer school had been determined by offering slots of the sponsoring projects, rather than being based around the needs of the participants. The general philosophy appeared to be one of knowledge transmission, with PhD students supposed to learn through listening to the views of experts (this was sometimes a little surreal as we talked of moves from an expert model to crowd sourcing and knowledge exchange through Web 2.0).

Nevertheless, a free pool table, the great Slovakian beer and so many talented people guaranteed many fascinating conversations. A big hullo to Maria, Mike, Ashley, Chris, John, Ricardo, Eva, Carl, Zina and everyone else. Any time you fancy a game of pool, juts give me a shout.

From the EATEL summer school

June 2nd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Apologies for the lack of posts on this site in the last few days. The reason will become apparent soon. I am in Terchova in Slovakia at the European Association of Technology Enhanced Learning (EATEL) summer school. This is the fourth of the annual summer schools, sponsored by the different EU funded research projects on Technology Enhanced Learning, and targeted primarily at Doctoral students. There are nearly 100 of us here from most of the EU members states and from further afield.
The reason for the lack of posts is not lack of ideas,  far from it. The simple issue is that we have very limited bandwidth. There is a wireless network which works perfectly well – as long as no more than about 10 people try to access it at once. For a summer school on technology enhanced learning this does provide a problem. But at least it has forced me to think about the issues faced by those without easy access to the internet. We appear to get windows when we can get online. I have found the best time is when everyone is eating!
Now for a little about the content and process of the summer school. Personal Learning environments are a big issue, with five or six sessions around PLEs. There is little agreement on the definition of a PlE, although I sometimes wonder of we are getting to hung up trying to define things. There is a clear difference between those of us who see a PLE fundamentally as a pedagogic approach to learning and those who view a PLE in terms of technology platforms and applications. There also seems to be a difference between some who are focusing on the personalisation of learning applications, content and processes and those who see PLE as fundamentally owned by learners. However, at least between the different European projects concerned with PLEs, there seems to be a growing consensus that the Mask up PLE (Mupples) approach, based on widgets, provides a perspective to flexible and user centred development fo PLE tools and functionality.
There has also been a number fo discussions around recommender systems. At a technical level recommenders systems would appear feasible to develop and implement. The problem is for what purposes! Are they an answer looking for a problem.
There have been constant references to leaner styles with a desire to be able to personalise everything – form platform to content to learning processes to take account of different learnings styles. However, there also seems little understanding of what learning styles are, or of the literature and research that refutes learnings styles theory.
And that brings me to a bigger issue. Many of the researchers at the summer school have a background in computer studies or in programming. Of course they all have an interest in learning – or presumably they would not be here. But the understanding of pedagogy is limited. They tend to take the present educational and institutional systems as am immutable fact. There are also a number fo us here who come form an education or pedagogic background. Yet the interchange between our different perspective is problematic. We are not yet really talking the same language, neither do we have adequate translation tools.
Perhaps one of the answers lies in the format of the summer school. The format is somewhat traditional, with two or three guest lectures a year and four or five workshops, in two parallel sessions. To overcome the divide between pedagogists and educationalists probably requires amore inetractice approach and concious design to enhance interdisciplinarity and the exchange of ideas and c0mpetcnes between those with different specialisms. I am not convinced that forma lectures lake the most fo the wonderful learning opportunities present in such an intensive and multi cultural event.
Furthermore, many of the presenters are struggling, especially in planning and managing workshops. I wonder, given that it is a requirement for doctoral students to participate in presentations and workshops, if we should not be giving them more support and even training in this. This requires real competences, competences which are not necessarily acquired informally through being a researcher.

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