Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Yellow Arrows in Learning

January 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A quick blogsquat from Jenny Hughes….

I have been fascinated by the Yellow Arrow project and my mind is working overtime thinking of of ways it could be extended from art to education.

For those of you who have not come across it yet, the Yellow Arrow project is a global public art project that started in New York and is now an underground movement that has spread to over 450 cities in 35 countries.

Basically, you download a yellow arrow sticker from the project website and stick it somewhere public. If someone sees the sticker, they can text the code number on it to a particular telephone number and will immediately receive a text back with a message left by the person who put the sticker there.

So the yellow arrow basically means ‘there’s more here: a hidden detail, a funny story, a memory or a crazy experience.’ Each arrow links digital content to a specific location using the mobile phone.

If you want more info, just go to http://yellowarrow.net/v3/

The yellow arrow messages range from personal reflection to concrete information about, for example, the history of the building the arrow is stuck on. They sort of cross the divide between tourism and art.

Now I got interested in the idea during the Taccle training courses and tried out a variation on this using a commercial application, which was actually nothing to do with the Yellow Arrow project. (For details of this see, my previous post http://www.pontydysgu.org/2009/11/25-practical-ideas-for-using-mobile-phones-in-the-classroom/ ) I stumbled on the Yellow Arrow idea when I was browsing around for ideas on getting teachers to explore mobile technologies.

It seems to me that there are endless possibilities for developing ‘Yellow Arrow Learning. – The text messages could have an explicit learning content.

  • The arrows could be coded by subject area or topic.
  • Using a Google maps mash up you could design learning trails.
  • The telephone number to ring could be linked to our own server. So, for example, we could add urls to You Tube or Flickr
  • You could get whole communities involved – why not a local town (like Pontypridd) becoming a Yellow Arrow Learning Community?
  • Get all the schools involved as well as local industry. So a yellow arrow stuck on the brickworks could lead to a video of bricks being made.
  • Why not extend the public domain yellow arrows to the inside / private domain as well – yellow arrow work based learning?

The possibilities seem endless. The technology is simple. It might, in the future be upgraded to augmented reality applications or use QR instead of phone numbers – or both.

Graham and I are both interested in doing some work to progress some of these ideas and possibly putting in a funding application or working with someone else who wants to. It could be quite an edgy project if we can get a really creative team together. If any of you are interested and have some ideas, please get in touch.

More on Competence

January 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

More thoughts on competence – mostly in my attempts to develop an idea of how mobile devices could be used for learning in the workplace – and in particular for practice based and informal learning.

In my last post on this subject I pointed to definitions of competence from German research seeing the main aim of the development of competence is the ‘formation of personality structures with a view to coping with the requirements of change within the process of transformation and the further evolution of economic and social life.’

This definition is counter-posed to the more narrow and functionalist views of competence more common in the UK and USA research and education and training systems.

In this post I want to revisit earlier research work in Germany by Gerald Heidegger and Felix Rauner who looked at occupational profiles. Occupational profiles are in effect groups of competencies based on individual occupations. In Germany there are over 360 officially recognised occupations.

Heidegger and Rauner  were commissioned by the Government of Rhineland Westphalia to write a Gutachten (policy advice) on the future reform and modernisation of the German Dual System for apprenticeship training.

They recommended less and broader occupational profiles and, if my memory is right, the idea of wandering occupational profiles. By this term they were looking to map the boundaries between different occupations and to recognise where competences from one occupation overlapped with that of another. Such overlaps could form the basis for boundary crossing and for moving from one occupation to another.

Heidegger and Rauner’s work was grounded in an understanding of the interplay between education, work organisation and technology. They were particularly focused on the idea of work process knowledge –  applied and practice based knowledge in the workplace. This was once more predicated on an idea of competence in which the worker would make conscious choices of the best actions to undertake in any particular situation (rather than the approach to competences in the UK which assumes there is always a ‘right way’ to do something).

Per Erik Ellstroem from Sweden has put forward the idea of Developmental Competence – the capacity of the individual to acquire and demonstrate the capacity to act on a task  and the wider work environment in order to adapt, act and shape (design) it.

This is based on the pedagogic idea of sense making and meaning making through exploring, questioning and transcending traditional work structures and procedures. In a similar vein, Rauner has come up with the idea of holistic work tasks, based on the idea that a worker should understand the totality of the work process they are involved in. He has proposed collaboration between small companies to ensure broad based training for apprentices.

One of the major problems within the German apprenticeship training system (which accounts for over half of the age cohort leaving school each year) is lack of co-ordination between the school and company based parts of the training. However, a mobile based Personal Learning Environment could allow apprentices to control their own learning and sense making through linking up practical tasks in the workplace to the more theory based school learning.  Informal and work based learning could potentially be mapped against competences with such a system.

(References to follow)

Developing mobile applications to support My Learning Journey

January 25th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A quick post about mobile devices and work based learning – which I know I have been going on about a lot lately.

So far most of the work on mobile learning at a practical level seems to me to fit into four categories:

  • applications designed to provide information for students – about their courses, lecture times, venues, transport information, buildings etc.
  • what might be called learning objects – small apps designed to support learning about a particular topic or issue – often using multi media
  • apps or projects aiming to improve communication between learners or between learners and teachers
  • information – revision guides etc. designing to promote mobile access to resources

There is nothing wrong about any of these and they all may be useful in pushing mobile learning forward. But I think they may fail to really extend forward ideas about tecahing and learning 0 they are all essentially repackaging existing elearning applications for mobile devices.

The big potential I see for mobile devices is in their affordances of being always on – or almost always on, in the fact that we already accept the idea of the frequent but sporadic use of the devices for all kinds of activities such as taking photos and messaging – as well as making telephone calls – and that they are portable.

in other words – taking learning support to areas it has not been taken to before. And prime amongst these is teh workplace. It is little coincidence that many of the main take-up areas for elearning are for those occupations which involve regular use of computers e.g in ICT occupations, in marketing and management etc. Ans one of the main issues in developing elearning for vocational or occupational learning is the contextual nature of such learning and the high cost of producing specific learnng materials for relatively low numbers of learners. Vocational students often wish for learning materials to be in their own language, thus exacerbating the problem of small numbers of users for specific occupations.

It is also interesting to note that despite many researchers pointing to the importance of reflection as a key pedagogic tool, there has been limited pedagogic and technical development to facilitate such an approach.

The use of mobile devices can overcome this. They can be used in specific contexts of location, tasks, experince, colleagues and allow ready means of reflection through the use of photographs, video, text and audio.

If linked up to a server based ‘portfolio’ this could form an essential part of a Personal Learning Environment. Furthermore the learning materials become the entire work environment, rather than custom built applications. And tools such as Google Goggles could easily be incorporated (although I have to say it seems more alphe than beta ot me – I havent managed to get it to recognise a single object so far!).

I am mush taken with a free Android Ap called Ontheroad. It doesn’t do much. It is designed its ays for you to share your adventures on the road You have to set up a free account on a web site. You can publish active trips (I am going to try to make one this week). You can add articles including your position by GPS, you can add text, multimedia, dates and choose which trip to publish it to though the telephone network or by SMS. You can browse existing articles and look at comments. You can add media including photos already on your gallery. Or you can record a video (audio support seems limited).

And it is all synced through a server. It would not take much to refocus this app to a Learning Journey, rather than a road trip. And it could be incredibly powerful in terms of work based learning.

So I do not see a great technical challenge. the bigger challenge is in developing a pedagogic approach which incorporates informal learning in the workplace and such a portfolio based on practice within formal approaches ot education and training.

If you are interested in working with me to develop these technologies and ideas please get in touch.

Personal Learning Environments in the Cloud?

January 24th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am surprised that there has not been more discussion of the UK Open University’s decison to sign up to Google Education for cloud computing services.

On his blog Niall Sclater says:

“In our first foray into cloud computing, Google will be hosting for our students:

  • email (gmail)
  • contacts
  • instant messaging and presence
  • calendar
  • document creation, storage and sharing
  • websites”

Interestingly, The OU, the UK’s largest univeristy, will not at the moment be giving staff access ot the system, presumably becuase of concerns over security and confidentiality.

Niall explains the reasons for the decision :

“Growing numbers of institutions are now adopting cloud-based systems such as Google Apps for Education, particularly in the US. The arguments for hosting your own student email are becoming increasingly weak when it can be done externally for free, or at least much more cheaply. Google will provide a service level agreement with higher levels of availability than we could achieve ourselves. In addition there are other services included such as instant messaging that we don’t currently provide to students but could help them to connect more with each other.”

However the decision has interesting implications for pedgogic approaches. Niall says:

“These systems will increasingly start to compete with some of the features of learning management systems / virtual learning environments such as Moodle and Blackboard. They provide a higher level of individual control for students and potentially remove some of the administrative burden from the university. …

Another area for investigation is the use of Google Apps as an eportfolio system. Our initial research has shown that it would work for some of the key aspects of eportfolio provision such as the storage of documents under the control of the user, the exporting of these so they can be taken with them through life, and the creation of templates for the collection of structured data for a variety of purposes. We still need to work out how we can freeze or export eportfolio content where it is being for formal assessment.”

In a comment on the blog, Tim Hunt, also from the Open University, says:

“The VLE is the University’s space where it publishes its courses, and students come to study that material and perform some course-specific activities.

Google tools / ePortfolio / PLE / student’s own laptop are the student’s spaces for keeping and managing their learning.

In a traditional bricks a and mortar, chalk and talk setting, the VLE is the lecture room and labs; and Google tools are the student’s room in the hall of residence, or possibly their leaver-arch file.

I think it is clear that you need both types of space, and that they complement each other. However, there are some activities that could take place in either space.”

Manish Malik from Portsmouth University, which is already giving access to Google cloud services to all students, tries to distinguish between PLEs, VLEs, loosely coupled applications and what he calls a “CLE or Cloud Learning Environment”

The cloud can be seen as one big autonomous system not owned by any educational institution. Let the Academics or Learners be the users, of some cloud based services, who all equally share the privelages like control, choice, sharing of content etc on these services. Then this is different from a PLE, a VLE and a PTE. For example Google Apps for universities is hosted on the cloud, not fully controlled by any educational institution and certainly not owned by one. The tools on it are to a great extent academic or learner controlled. Each “Google Site”, for example, can be owned by an academic or a Learner and both users be given the same rights/control by one another (depending on who creates first). Likewise Google Docs can be owned and shared between learners themselves or learners and academics under their own control.

This gives all parties the same rights on same set of tools. This clearly has potential to enable and facilitate both formal and informal learning for the learner. Both the academic and the learner are free to use the tools the way they wanted and share and collaborate with anyone they wanted.”

I think Malik is wrong is distinguishing between PLEs and CLEs (and to be honest, we really need just to advance our understandings of PLEs, rather than invent yet more acrobyms and terminology). If we go back to the blog entry which strated it all – Scott Wilson’s “The Future VLE?”, it was always clear that a PLE would include different third party services  (even though cloud computing was not a term invented then as far as I know).

However, there are a number of interesting issues raised by the move towards cloud services for students.

Firstly, the services provided by Google make it very easy for s student to develop their own PLE. One of the long running concerns about PLEs has been whether or not all students have the knowledge and skills with technology to develop their PLE. This may overcome such concerns. Furthermore, in a podcast interview with Niall I made three years ago, he expressed the concern that university computer services had a duty to provide support for all applications a university was using for tecahing and learning. If PLEs were to be introduced he argued, this would be impossible due to the very diversity of different platforms and applications. Presumably, the deal with Google overcomes that issue.

Of course it is all to easy to see Google as the new evil empire, taking over education. But unless the nature of the deal between universities totally ties down systems, it should be relatively easy to integrate third party services with the Google apps, at least for someone with reasonable digital skills. And although Niall Sclater refers to ePortoflios, I see little difference in the way this is developing to a PLE.

Of course, there are worries about trusting a PLE to third party commercial companies. But data is not locked down on Google in the way it is on platforms like Facebook. it should be relatively simple for a learner to keep copies of important work and data on their own computers (and indeed to update those copies when they change computers).

Interesting, from my present interests, it  should be relatively simple to integrate Google apps with the Android platform, this making mobile learning much cimpler (ignoring of course the problems with cross paltform use).

Of course the proof will be in the use. Will teachers start moving to Google apps rather than use the Open Univeristiy’s Moodle platform? Will learners develop their own PLEs? How will the Google apps integrate with univeristy services and applications. Will data be secure and will Google continue to support student PLEs even after they have left university: Is this just a new form of lockin? And how reliable are Google services? Do the moves by Portsmouth and the Open University herald a large scale shift by educational institutions to cloud services?

Most of all – will the use of these services provide new pedagogic affordances which will lead to changing practices in teaching and learning? Tims will tell.

Is the way we are using Twitter changing?

January 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I was idly wasting time reading my twitter stream and it occurred to me that I seem to be getting less tweets these days. So I twittered out “Is it my impression or do i get less tweets these days. Following more people so are they just tweeting less?: And in the wonderful way that twitter works back came a reply from @paulbrichardson: “I am getting fewer tweets too. But there is more substance to them – usually expressing or referencing an idea..” This was quickly followed up by “Worried that my last tweet points to an attempt at a taxonomy of tweets. I am definitely not going there though…” And of course @tmartinowen couldn’t resist the bait: “here is a totally unsubstantial tweet – just to keep the classification going – or does the parenthesis give it substance?”

Nor would I wish to risk a classification. But there do seem to be a few things going on in the way we are using twitter (or at least the people I follow). There are far less of the straight forward “good morning Twitterverse” or “had a great lunch” or “tired and going to bed now” type tweets. u suspect this was a leftover from the Facebook status update days (in the same way few people are bothering to update their skype status nowadays). Have we simply become bored with our own mundane lives?

And Paul is right – most of the tweets I receive do seem to be on points of substance and many point to a resource. This may be due to the increasing use of sophisticated Twitter clients and to cross application linking through the API (e.g posting Diego links to twitter). Twitter is becoming a rich repository of links to resources. However discovery remains problematic and harvesting is tricky due to lack of longevity.

This is all to the good. But I am increasingly missing the social nature of Twitter which also seems to be on the wane. We are using twitter for reporting and shouting out but does it still retain the social and collaborative nature of its early days? Of course there remain the odd maverick – @johnpopham’s #uktrains series is strangely compulsive.

A further trend is to increase the ability of machines to read twitter through hash tag taxonomies. As reported in the ReadWriteWeb a group of hackers ” in collaboration with Project EPIC, developed a new syntax to make it easier for computers to read tweets from areas that are affected by a disaster. If adopted widely, this new hashtag-based syntax will make it easier to automatically extract data about locations or the status of a road or person.”

But as comments on the blog pointed out such taxonomies are far from people friendly. is there a trade off between machine readable functionality and human and social uses of media?

Twitter is an interesting platform because of the wide affordances in its social use. The changing ways in which we are using Twitter may point to the evolution of the use of wider social media in the future.

Anyway – time to send a tweet announcing this post 🙂

Crowd sourcing the European foresight study: your chance to be an expert

January 20th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Here is a bit of fun. I have been invited as an ‘expert’ “to participate as an expert in a vision-building process on the future of learning aimed at assisting European policy-makers in addressing the challenges that lie ahead. This is a great opportunity for you to have an impact on European policy making and actively shaping the Future of Learning.”

The invitation continues: “Before giving you instructions on what we are asking you to do, we would like to briefly introduce the context and methodology of the study.

The context of this study
The European Commission has recently launched a foresight study on “The Future of Learning: New ways to learn new skills for future jobs”. This study intends to develop visions and scenarios on the ways in which new skills and competences will be learned in Europe in 2020-2030. The study addresses the following dimensions:
(1) Emergent skills and competences associated with future jobs
(2) New ways and practices of acquiring knowledge, skills and competences
(3) Associated changes in the roles of the participants in the learning process, i.e. learners and teachers
(4) Implications for existing Education and Training institutions, systems and policy frameworks
(5) The role of information and communication technologies in transforming and supporting creative and innovative learning
(6) Changes and challenges to assessment, certification and accreditation
(7) Implications of the envisaged changes for present policy action and support

The project team is made up of researchers from the European Commission Institute for Prospective Technology Studies (IPTS) in Seville; TNO, the applied research and technology organisation of the Netherlands; the Open University of the Netherlands; and AtticMedia, a specialist learning communications agency from London. This team will, over the next 12 months, develop a number of visions and scenarios on the future of learning and review their implications for policy making.

Your contribution to the study
As a first step in this project we would like to invite you as an expert to contribute to a vision building process using the group concept mapping method (GCM). As communicated in the invitation, you will be involved online (using e-mail) in two stages of the methodology, namely (a) individual brainstorming of ideas and (b) individual sorting and rating of ideas. In the brainstorming phase you will be asked to generate ideas about specific aspects of education of the future. This phase will typically take between 10 and 15 minutes. A week later, you will receive an aggregated list of ideas generated by all experts involved to, first, sort the statements in groups of similarity and then rate them on some scales (e.g. importance and feasibility). If you would like to know more about the GCM methodology, a short description with examples from various projects is attached to this e-mail (Concept System Introduction). Those of you familiar with the classical concept mapping approach, will probably notice substantial differences with the GCM methodology.

Please read the following instruction for the brainstorming phase of the study carefully.

Instruction to the first phase of the study
We all have the feeling that education in 20 years will have to be different from education today. Education then will possibly deal with a new set of skills and competences, new curriculums or types of curriculums, innovative ways of learning and assessment, different roles for teachers and educational institutions, different impacts of technology, just to mention a few.

1.       We ask you to generate statements about your thoughts about education in 20 years, and to do this using the following format:

One specific change of Education in 20 years will be that:”

I am not sure about my qualifications as an expert in this study, nor indeed that experts are the answers to such a study.

Anyway my somewhat esoteric list is posted below. But what do you think. Post your ideas in a reply – who knows, we might do better than the “experts”, and if enough reply I will find a way to move to stage 2 which involves the sorting and rating  of proposed changes

My ideas

  • We will recognise people for what they do rather than what qualifications they have
  • Open learning through the internet will become common
  • Learners will be expected to take control of their own learning
  • Formal learning  will become more episodic with people entering and leaving education at various points in their career path
  • Digital identities (and portfolios) will replace traditional CVs
  • Management of digital identities will become a crucial competence
  • The workplace will become a major context for learning
  • Mobile internet enabled devices will become the major tool for learning
  • Practice will become a focus for learning and will be captured through mobile devices and integrated with cloud based portfolios
  • Augmented reality applications will be a major tool for learning
  • Schooling will become a less important focus for learning as learning moves into the workplace, community and home
  • Higher education will return to its traditional core purpose of research
  • Vocational education and training become the major organisational form of learning
  • Systems and services will be developed to allow mutual peer group learning between groups of interested learners
  • Text books will be replaced by electronic multi media publications
  • Blogs and other internet based multi media will be recognised as legitimate publications for researchers
  • Multi User Virtual Environments will render physical attendance in school and university unnecessary
  • The financial crisis will lead to the increasing privatisation of universities
  • High course fees will deter many working class students from attending higher education
  • Open Educational Resources will become widely adopted
  • Virtual mobility will break down barriers between national education systems
  • There will be a lowering of the school leaving age as it is recognised that other contexts for learning may be more effective and more motivating than school
  • We will cease to rely on experts as the source of knowledge and curriculum and move towards quality based on use and endorsement through internet systems
  • Context specific learning materials and tasks will lead to more localised learning
  • Personal Learning Environments will replace institutional Virtual Learning environments
  • Occupational profiles will become broader incorporating elements of what are now seen as individual occupations
  • It will become common for people to move between occupations with learning key to supporting such moves
  • Traditional disciplinary boundaries will break down with learners pursuing individual learning programmes based on multi and inter disciplinary learning
  • Educational institutions will be reinvented as community knowledge centres serving both geographical communities and wider dispersed communities
  • Inter sector and inter subject networks of institutions will combine to form networks based on purpose and interest

Projects, groups, networks, collaboration, sharing and social software

January 20th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Pontydysgu is involved in a number of European projects. Typically, these projects involve partners from five or more organisations in different countries working together around a hared work plan. Projects can last from two to four years.

One of our main roles is to provide technologies to support project development. This is not unproblematic.

Whilst three or four years ago most projects were content with a simple web page giving access to project objectives and results, we have been trying to use technology to improve collaboration between the partners, who due to distance will usually only meet face to face two or three times a year.

Levels of experience and confidence in technologies varies greatly.

One of the biggest changes in the last two years has been the use of Skype and Flash Meeting for regular audio and video communication between meetings. Both are far from ideal. ‘Can you hear me?’ is still the most common sentence to be heard in many of these meetings. Talking participants through the Windows microphone and video set up panels is still a pain. But overall the use of such simultaneous communication tools has changed both the form and intensity of collaboration.

We have also seen a slow move towards using multimedia. The days when the outputs of projects were limited to downlaodable Word or PDF files is passing. More and more project members are experimenting with podcasts and video, although once more levels of expertise and confidence vary greatly.

Platforms have remained problematic. We experimented with ELGG and Joomla before moving to WordPress. The problem with all is that they were really too difficult for project participants to use. We largely failed to break the pattern to project partners ending us their content to put on the site. And without regular participation, project web sites remained largely static, with only flurries of activity as they were updated.

We have also experimented with social software platforms including Ning and Facebook. Ning is relatively easy to use, although limited in terms of design etc. And critically you lose control over your own data, when using externally hosted applications. Facebook groups are great for notification of events etc. but offer little else. Ownership issues are even more problematic.

We have also initiated a number of bulletin boards but these once more require a critical mass of activity before they really become of social use.

The reason we have looked at these platforms is the desire for more sociability in platforms for projects. That includes the look and feel and ease of use, but especially the foregrounding of presence. Who are the members of a project or network. Who are they working with? What are their interests and what are they doing? WordPress blogs are great but the reality is that few participants can be dissuaded to blog regularly on a project platform.We customised WordPress with a plug in called Freefolio and that helped in terms of showing presence but it was still hard showing participants remotely how to use the back end of WordPress.

Our latest experiment is with the Network for Trainers in Europe website.

The Network has the following aims:

  • Provide an opportunity for exchanging experiences and knowledge though an easy to use web portal. Enable policy makers, managers and trainers to access ideas, materials and opportunities for professional development.
  • Undertake a small-scale survey of the work of trainers and their professional support.
  • Provide access to research and ideas through the organisation of workshops and on-line conferences.
  • Enhance the quality of support for trainers by sharing effective practice.
  • Stimulate new approaches to the training of trainers related to the concept of lifelong learning, knowledge sharing and peer learning.
  • Encourage researchers and trainers to share information and materials based on practical experience.
  • Bring together research and practice from different projects and initiatives throughout Europe.

Essentially the network is designed to bring people interested in the training and support of trainers together to share materials and experiences. We have migrated from the previous WordPress Freefolio site to Buddypress. And although the site is by no means finished (especially the stylingl, NB setting up new accounts is suspended at moment but will be back on by the weekend), I am enthusiastic about the potential of Buddypress. Firstly Buddypress is centred around people and the activities of members, offering much functionality often associated with commercial social software sites. secondly it is easy to use, with little need for users ever to go to the back end. thirdly, through the affordances of the individual and group wires (walls), friending etc. it makes it easy for members to contribute through gesturing rather than being forced to write substantial blog posts.

The proof of the pudding is of course in the eating. Will members use the new site. To some extent that will depend of what activities the project undertakes. But it will be very interesting to see if the use of a full blown social networking application can lead to enhanced communication and collaboration between researchers and trainers drawn form every European country.

Regulation is a big motivator

January 18th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

DSC07321I have often written about personal interest as a motivator for training. But a big problem for many is gaining access to learning opportunities. Yes, open education and the proliferation of open elearning mate rails plus social networks offer many opportunities for learning. But, especially in vocational education and training, learners often require access to equipment and facilities, as well as to learning support. Employers are reluctant to spnosor learning and training is usually one of the first casualties of a recession.

Regulation is a possible answer in this respect. It is notable that in Germany where many occupations are regulated, vocat6ional training is both more popular and carries a higher scoail expertise than in the UK, where regulation is limited.

Regulation can be important not only for providing access to training, but in improving health and safety and living conditions for workers.

Over the last three months Pontydysgu has been working in a consortium looking to improve training for ships cooks.

François Eyraud, 
Director of the International Labour Organisation’s Conditions of Work and Employment Programme, has said: “There is a clear link between good nutrition and high productivity. Decent food at work is not only socially important and economically viable but a profitable business practice too. For employers and workers, proper nutrition at the workplace is a win-win-win proposition.”

However, for the maritime industry the main concerns onboard have often been safety, wages and job security. How seafarers eat while at sea is not given much thought. Too often the meal programme is either an afterthought or not even considered by employers. But access to healthy food on board is essential for “fitness for duty” and is good business leading to gains in productivity and seafarers morale, prevention of accidents and reductions in health-care costs. Adequate nourishment can raise productivity levels by 20% and 1% kilocalorie increase results in 2.27% increase in general labour productivity, according to ILO research.

Present onboard lifestyles are not healthy. The MAT-IQ study showed seafarers have between 70 – 100 % more tobacco abuse than general the population, undertake few physical activities and have a bigger intake of “empty calories” (fat, sugar etc.) than the general population. More than 50% are dissatisfied with food onboard.

Now the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is set to change this. The MLC is a global instrument known as the “fourth pillar” of the international regulatory regime for Quality Shipping, complementing the International Maritime Organisation key conventions on safety, education & training, and pollution prevention.

Under the MLC it is becoming mandatory for shipowners to ensure that seafarers are served with food of appropriate quality, nutritional value, quantity and variety such quality food is provided free of charge. Ship’s cooks and catering staff must be competent and must be trained and qualified. Training courses must be approved or recognized by the competent authority, which covers practical cookery, food and personal hygiene, food storage, stock control, environmental protection and catering health and safety.
Furthermore, shipowners must consider the implementation and promotion of health and safety policies and programmes including risk analysis and training to seafarers.

Pontydysgu are particularly interested in how elearning and mobile learning can contribute to training ships cooks. More on this in a future post….

Open Education: The Nature of Competence

January 12th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Last week I wrote about Framing Curricula for Open Education.  In the past few years it has become common to describe curricula in terms of outcomes, rather than the more traditional learning objectives. On the face if it, this makes sense. Whilst learning objectives might be said to describe the teaching and learning environment from the viewpoint of a teacher, outcomes describe what a student or leaner can achieve following a programme.

However the definition of learning outcomes is problematic and contested. Yo a certain extent this reflects different ideas about teh purpose and intent of education, but just as in the debate over Open education, it masks ideological differences.

The European Commission has devoted much work to the development of the European Qualification Framework, designed to allow comparability of qualifications (and thus mobility). The EQF is based on qualifications described in terms of learning outcomes.

The EQF definition of competence is “the proven ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social and/or methodological abilities, in work or study situations and in professional and personal development … described in terms of responsibility and autonomy.”  (European Commission, 2006)

Skills ‘means the ability to apply knowledge and use know-how to complete tasks and solve problems’ (ibid.). A distinction is made between cognitive and practical skills.

Knowledge ‘means the outcome of the assimilation of information through learning. Knowledge is the body of facts, principles, theories and practices that is related to a field of study or work’ (ibid.). In the EQF, knowledge is described as theoretical and/or factual.

This distinction between knowledge and skills is problematic and stems primarily through an Anglo Saxon understanding of competence as being functional. As Sandra Bohlinger explains, in the German speaking countries competence is more commonly seen as “action-related ability, while most authors agree that whereas qualifications define position, competence is a matter of disposition (Arnold, 1997, p. 269ff.; Erpenbeck and Heyse, 1996, p. 36), while the concept of competence also embraces individual aspects of personality that are directed towards (vocational) utility. In this connection, the main aim of the development of competence is the ‘formation of personality structures with a view to coping with the requirements of change within the process of transformation and the further evolution of economic and social life.’

Such a description of competence is more akin to Richard Hill‘s framing of curricula in my article of last week in which he talks of the need to develop “a curriculum that enables individuals-in-communities to learn and adapt, to mitigate risks, to prepare for solutions to problems, to respond to risks that are realised, and to recover from dislocations”.

Sebastion Fielder has also addressed this issue in work undertaken for the iCamp project.

“Like the more traditional concept of ability, competence conceptualizations are generally referring to an individual’s potentiality for action in a range of challenging situations. It is thus a concept that foremost indicates a precondition for future problem solving and coping (including the use of adequate tools) in a particular area of action.

The more elaborated contemporary conceptualizations of competence are best understood as a programmatic attempt to expand older notions of what constitutes the necessary dispositions for successful problem solving and coping in a given area of action. In general what used to be emphasized was the role of well trained, standardized, and largely automated procedural skills and of factual knowledge for successful problem solving and coping. Now, this emphasis is increasingly coming under scrutiny, since situational challenges in many work and life contexts cannot be mastered by applying routine procedural skills and knowledge anymore. Instead, the changing conditions for life and work produce situations that can be described as dynamic, complex, open-ended, and ambiguous, and that regularly require novel, creative and sometimes surprising solutions. This is where the old notion of qualification that is based on requirements analysis oriented in the past and on the acquisition and performance of standardized procedural skills and factual knowledge clearly shows its limits.

Erpenbeck and Heyse (1999) thus emphasize, for example, the importance of internalized orientations, values and attitudes for coping with dynamic, open-ended and complex problem situations where actors cannot exclusively rely on a stock of factual knowledge and procedural skills previously acquired. They argue that factual knowledge and procedural skills can only be viewed as necessary but not as sufficient for the execution of successful (“competent”) action in many areas of human activity. They propose to conceptualize competence as a set of (interrelated) dispositions for the execution of self-organizing action in a particular area of challenge. This broad set of dispositions entails 1) factual knowledge and procedural skills previously acquired, 2) internalized orientations, values and attitudes, understood as “order parameters” (see for example Haken, 2004, on Synergetics) for self-organizing action that requires continuous decision making under (cognitive) uncertainty, and 3) volitional aspects (notions of volition, motivation, drive, etc.) that are understood as the ability to activate and realize the other personal assets.”

In many ways this fits in with Vykotsky’s ideas of Learning through Zones of Proximal Development. Vygotsky said that people must be able to use words and other artefacts in ways that extend beyond their current understanding of them, thereby coordinating with possible future forms of action. “If we ask what makes such intermental functioning possible, we must certainly speak about issues such as context, the existing level of intramental functioning, and so forth. However, there is an essential sense in which intermental functioning and the benefits it offers a tutee in the zone of proximal development would not be available if one could not perform, or at least participate in performances, that go beyond one’s current level of competence. In this sense, social interaction is not a direct, transparent, or unmediated process. Instead, it takes place in an artefact-saturated medium, including language, and this is a point that Vygotsky took into account in a thoroughgoing manner” (Cole and Wertsch, 1996).

This debate over the nature of competence is a further key aspect of developing an expansive idea of Open Education.

Social networks – not new but different

January 11th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

An interesting post by Tim Kasteele on Networks and the Information Glut. Tim links to the video above by Dan Edelstein showing the social networks of correspondence among 18th Century scientists:

As Tim says:

“It’s great research that illustrates some important points:

  • When we talk about ’social networks’ we don’t just mean facebook and twitter. People have always functioned within networks, and these have always been important in the development and spread of ideas. James Fowler makes this same point in his interview with Stephen Colbert.
  • Ideas diffuse through networks. The structure of the networks through which we are trying to get our ideas to spread has a significant influence on the diffusion of our innovations. Our connections within the network can enhance or hinder our ability to get our ideas to spread. One of the reasons that Darwin gets credited with the idea of evolution through natural selection instead of Alfred Russell Wallace is that Darwin’s connections within the scientific community at the time were more numerous, more widespread, and better.
  • Even though we often feel like we’re overwhelmed with information and data to be absorbed, the information glut is nothing new. Think about the volume of connections shown in the video. Or think about Charles Darwin – over the course of scientific career he sent over 15,000 letters. It’s safe to assume that he received just as many. Think about how much time he would have spent reading & writing letters, and how much new information and ideas would have been included in that – it’s probably more than we’re spending writing our blogs, updating our statuses and twittering. In fact, if you just look at the networks, you might argue that Darwin was the Chris Brogan of the 19th Century.”

Of course Tim is right in saying that social networks are not new. But it may be worth considering what has changed through the spread of social software powered networks.

One change is speed. I do not know how fast the post was in the 19th Century (probably no slower than today 🙂 ) but today’s communication is almost instant. When I have finished this post I will press the publish button and the article is in the open. I wonder though if the speed of communication is leading to less reflection on what we are writing.

There are changes in power relations. Notwithstanding Facebook’s claim to own our data and to control our privacy, today we can all publish our ideas, rather than in the past when publishing was limited to those with money or to selected researchers and writers.

Moreover Twitter, blogs and wikis have opened up access to ideas. Perhaps more important than access to scholarly writing such as papers is access to discourses as they happen.

Of course, the use of new media raises the question of form and content. I can very much imagine that Darwin would have loved to have a wiki for his research. I can imagine him blogging from his iPhone in the Guadaloupe Islands. Twitter could have been useful for sending messages back home but I am not so sure it has the same affordances as a letter. Mind, Jo says Darwin might have Twittered “Got new theory, check out my new blog on it”. I am not so sure.

One question which would be very interesting to see is the patterns and interaction between social networks. My guess is that today we have denser patterns of overlapping networks – though I may be wrong.

And one of the most interesting things about today’s forms of social networks is the straying between discipline areas. Whilst I guess 19th century networks tended to be organised in fairly strict disciplinary or subject groups, today’s networks tend to wander across different subject areas and domains. It seems Time Kasteele is in the French department at Stanford. And when his video came to an end up came the video on Welsh and the importance of minority languages which we are currently featuring featuring on the front page of this site.

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    Learning about technology

    According to the University Technical Colleges web site, new research released of 11 to 17-year-olds, commissioned by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity which promotes and supports University Technical Colleges (UTCs), reveals that over a third (36%) have no opportunity to learn about the latest technology in the classroom and over two thirds (67%) admit that they have not had the opportunity even to discuss a new tech or app idea with a teacher.

    When asked about the tech skills they would like to learn the top five were:

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    MOOC providers in 2016

    According to Class Central a quarter of the new MOOC users  in 2016 came from regional MOOC providers such as  XuetangX (China) and Miríada X (Latin America).

    They list the top five MOOC providers by registered users:

    1. Coursera – 23 million
    2. edX – 10 million
    3. XuetangX – 6 million
    4. FutureLearn – 5.3 million
    5. Udacity – 4 million

    XuetangX burst onto this list making it the only non-English MOOC platform in top five.

    In 2016, 2,600+ new courses (vs. 1800 last year) were announced, taking the total number of courses to 6,850 from over 700 universities.


    Jobs in cyber security

    In a new fact sheet the Tech Partnership reveals that UK cyber workforce has grown by 160% in the five years to 2016. 58,000 people now work in cyber security, up from 22,000 in 2011, and they command an average salary of over £57,000 a year – 15% higher than tech specialists as a whole, and up 7% on last year. Just under half of the cyber workforce is employed in the digital industries, while banking accounts for one in five, and the public sector for 12%.


    Number students outside EU falls in UK

    Times Higher Education reports the number of first-year students from outside the European Union enrolling at UK universities fell by 1 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

    Data from the past five years show which countries are sending fewer students to study in the UK.

    Despite a large increase in the number of students enrolling from China, a cohort that has grown by 12,500 since 2011-12, enrolments by students from India fell by 13,150 over the same period.

    Other notable changes include an increase in students from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and a fall in students from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.


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