Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Organising online meetings

February 10th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Comments and informal discussions about my past post on virtual classrooms and online simultaneous meeting platforms seem to confirm my feelings. Adobe Connect is seen as very good, but also very expensive. Elluminate is also pretty good, but also costs money. DimDim and other Flash based systems are trying – but the audio is extremely unreliable. I was interested to see today that Scribblar is adding skype support to its platform – although at the moment only for one to one communication.

For meetings, I still think FlashMeeting, free and supported by the UK Open University, is the best of the bunch. The design does not really scale for large groups, neither is the feature set particularly extensive. But it is adequate and functional for project meetings.

Last week we were asked if we could support a board meeting of VETNET, the vocational education and training network of the European Educational Research Association (EERA). With little funding not all the members could afford to travel to a meeting in Germany. Around seven would be present face to face, but would it be possible to link in with four more members online?

Of course there are wonderful video conferencing suites which make this very easy. But once more they cost money. How could this be done on the cheap?

We used FlashMeeting. The remote participants simply logged in as usual from their computers using headphones for audio. All but one also has a webcam. In the face to face meeting we used a video camera with a gun microphone and projected the Flash meeting with a data projector onto a screen.

At first everyone was a bit concious of the technology and we made a few mistakes with people speaking when the microphone feed form the camera was not being broadcast into online meeting. But soon people seemed to forget the technology and the meeting was highly productive.

For Angelika Wegscheider, the EERA Administrator / Geschäftsführung from the European Educational Research Association and based in Berlin, it was the first time wshe had taken part in such a meeting. Afterwards she commented: “I would also like to thank your for having me virtually in your board meeting. Two reflections on this: I found it fascinating how much I felt to actually “be” in the meeting. I did most of the previous skype and online meetings without a camera and was surprised what value was offered when almost everybody is using a camera.

What I felt a bit difficult – and this might be lack of experience with meetings like that – is the following: if you speak as a virtual participant you see the same picture as all others – which is you yourself. I a way this is irritating, because you do not reactions of others on what you said. You have no means to check if people got your point. On telephone the second signals understanding with small words, in face to face you have body language in addition. Having none of both, mislead me in talking longer and explaining more than was probably necessary ….”

Angelica’s feedback is interesting. Not only do we need better technology, but we also have to look at how we can organise such meetings to overcome some of the social limitations of online meeting software,

New Skills for New Jobs – many words but not much action

February 9th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have just finished reading the ‘New Skills for New Jobs: Action Now‘ report by the Expert Group on New Skills for New Jobs prepared for the European Commission. it is hard to know how important these advisory reports are – but there is little doubt that they reflect the direction of thinking of both the European Commission and European Member States. Furthermore, the European Commission is a major funder of training through the European Social Fund, and also sponsors research and pilot programmes through the Lifelong Learning programme.

The report is interesting in that the self congratulatory hyperbole of the Lisbon Declaration and various follow up initiatives has all gone.

No longer are we to be the most innovative and best educated region of the world by some future date.

Instead the first part of the report presents a sober and somewhat pessimistic viewpoint towards education, skills and employment in Europe.

“Nearly one third of Europe’s population aged 25-64, around 77 million people, have no, or low, formal qualifications and only one quarter have high level qualifications”, the report says. “And those with low qualifications are much less likely to participate in upskilling and lifelong learning. Furthermore, nearly one third of Europe’s population aged 25-64, around 77 million people, have no, or low, formal qualifications and only one quarter have high level qualifications. And those with low qualifications are much less likely to participate in upskilling and lifelong learning. Furthermore,of the five European benchmarks in education and training set for 2010, only one is likely to be reached. Worryingly, the latest figures show that 14.9 % of pupils leave school early with several countries suffering from extremely high drop-out rates; the performance in reading literacy is actually deteriorating. This is not only unacceptable but means that we are way off
meeting the 10 % European target of early school leavers. We are, indeed standing on a ‘burning platform’.

Europe aims to be amongst the most highly skilled regions in the world, yet many European countries are not even in the top 20.flexible learning pathways, and focus on the development of essential skills as well as job-specific skills.”

The report summarises “these essential, transversal, skills” as “mother tongue; foreign language; maths, science and technology; digital competence; learning to learn; social and civic competences; sense of initiative and entrepreneurship;
and cultural awareness/expression.”

The second half of the report is given over to a series of policy recommendations. And despite a promising start in calling for  “‘skills ecosystems’ in which individuals, employers and the broader economic and social context are in permanent dynamic interaction”, there is little new. Much seems to be an exhortation to greater activity and effort but with few practical proposals for change other than more flexibility, more openness and more attention to the labour market.

“It is essential that the European Commission, Member States and employer organisations, in close co-operation with
education and training providers and trade unions, ‘make the case’ for skills and use modern information, communication and marketing techniques to encourage greater commitment to skills upgrading by individuals, employers and public agencies.training and employment.”

Where genuinely radical proposals are put forward they seem designed to shift more responsibility on the individual for ensuring their skills needs match market demand, albeit with some incentives.

“In order to rise to these challenges, education and training must be made more relevant to labour market needs, and more responsive to learners’ needs. This requires more than tinkering with systems and institutions: it compels us to rethink what we want from education”, the report says. But where is that rethinking, other than reshaping educational organisations to meet market needs (and this is hardly new).

There are four sub areas to the recommendations:

1. Provide the right incentives to upgrade and better use skills for individuals and employers.
2. Bring the worlds of education, training and work closer together.
3. Develop the right mix of skills.
4. Better anticipate future skills needs.

Worryingly in providing an example of measures which can help promote higher skills levels the report turns to vouchers – as piloted and discredited in the UK some years ago.

“Two tools to do this are learning vouchers and learning accounts; in the latter an employee can save and accumulate public and private funding and time off from work in order to undertake periodical training.”

The report says “Public spending on labour market programmes, education and training should not be reduced in times of uncertainty (someone should tell that to Peter Mandelson). However its proposes that such funding should be “directed to effective preventive and curative measures.”

Indeed the report goes on to more directive advice for the role of public education organisations or Public Employment Services (PES). “PES should consistently design their training schemes according to market needs as well as to stimulate entrepreneurship and self-employment.”

At the level of design of training programme sand qualifications the report calls says “A systematic matching of job profiles, breaking down job vacancies to their individual components (both of job specific and generic skill requirements), can serve as the basis for effective and efficient matching.”

The call to “Prioritise guidance and counselling services and motivational support for individuals improve the quality of these services and ensure that they tackle stereotypes”, is welcome. Far less is the proposal to establish league tables for courses through  publicising ” in a visible and comparable format on the web the opportunities and offers, as well as the prices and returns, of public and private education and training courses, so that individuals can make informed choices.”

In terms of pedagogy it is little surprise that the report backs the present initiative by the European Commission to promote learning outcomes based programmes. “The learning outcomes approach can serve best the needs of both the learner and the labour market, provided that employers are involved in defining, designing, certifying and recognising learning outcomes. It can help to develop a common language: instead of classifying jobs by occupational type and required qualification, as has been the case so far, we can now move toward describing both in terms of skills and competences.”

There is an interesting section which further refers to transversal skills, here far more narrowly defined. “Moreover, young people often complain that they feel unprepared for the world of work when they get there. The missing link, in
part, lies in a set of desirable skills such as the ability to work quickly, analyse and organise complex information, take responsibility, handle crisis, manage risk and take decisive action.”

There is surprisingly little discussion of digital skills and identities. However the report does say: “Digital and media literacy will be crucial both for life and work, and we should tend to the new goal of digital fluency. For an increasing number of jobs, indeed, digital fluency is increasingly required.”

Learning through work is also promoted but with few examples as to how this can be developed. Indeed much more attention is given to the idea of mini companies within education – the report says these should be introfuced at all levels to help students learn to be entrepreneurial.

All in all a disappointment. I would share the authors concerns over the state of education and skills in Europe and also that spending should be increased and not cut back. But they have failed to propose anything new. Indeed most of the practical policies strongly resemble the attempts by the UK Labour government to reform education and training to be more responsive to market needs and to promote individuals taking more responsibility for their skills and employability. And look where that got us.

Technical woes – do online meeting systems really work?

February 8th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I spent a lot of time yesterday evaluating ‘virtual classrooms’ or spaces for online simultaneous communication.

The background: over the last two years I have recognised, presented and participated in a considerable number of seminars, workshops and conferences using Elluminate. Whilst it has its bad days, in general Elluminate is reliable and I am fairly confident in getting people online and in facilitating communication on the platform. So when I was asked to help organise an online course for careers guidance professionals, I based it around a mix of self directed activities using PBWorks and simultaneous online sessions in Elluminate.

Then came the problem. Elluminate is a Java based application and requires both Java to be installed and the opening of a couple of ports which are sometime closed by systems administrators. Indeed the ports had been closed but that obstacle could be overcome. But, for one reason or another (I am not quite sure what), the application could not be got to run on Windows XP machines on the clients network. So I was left looking for an alternative.

First on the list was Net Webinar. I was not much taken by this given the web page marketing hype (and the price) but we had been recommended to use it by our client. It is Applet based avoiding the need for Java or downloads and I could set up a free month’s trial. The application seemed very much to emphasise the role of the presenter. There was no shared whiteboard and the main role of participants seemed to be to ask text questions. Sadly last night the person I was collaborating with was unable to access the webinar I set up (I suspect an issue with Windows 7 netbook version). Today I tried again with another colleague and it all worked quite well but I couldn’t hear any audio from her. The manual is also curious, seeming to focus more on toll paid telephony than anything else!

Next we looked again at Flash meeting. Although I use it regularly for project meetings I had never tried it with the whiteboard and tools enabled. For interactivity, this requires each user to have their own account. Furthermore the design does not really work, neither are the presentation tools far developed. Flash meeting is as the name suggests a meeting tool, I think.

On to DimDIm. I like the design, although functionality is limited by only five microphones being available. And the big failing of many of these system seems to be that the Flash system they use is unreliable. When switching between modes – whiteboard, presentation etc. it seemed to do things to my audio. And this morning, trying it amongst three of us, one person could hear everyone, whilst two of us could not hear each other. Promising but two buggy to risk with a non techie audience.

At this point I tried a skype shout out. The first reply was from Nergiz Kern. “NergizK @GrahamAttwell @cristinacost Maybe a bit unconventional but what about http://www.scribblar.com/ ? (If all else fails).” I liked the approach , unconventional or not. But once more the audio failed miserably. On skype someone (by now I have forgotten who) recommended WizIQ. oh dear, the moment I tried to invite Cristina Costa (who by now I had inveigled as a fellow tester), the whole site went crazy on me. Things were moving all over the place. More Flash problems I suspect. Another one ruled out.

I tried another two systems this morning. Similar results. With he notable exception of Flash meeting, the implementation of Flash in these systems seems very buggy. It might work on a good day for most people. Or it might not. And even in Flash meeting we spend a lot of time saying “can you hear me.”

I didn’t try Adobe Connect. I cannot afford it. And the trial version is too limited to use for the sessions I am trying to organise. It should also be remembered that Elluminate is not free – it is just that I am lucky to have access to an install.

So my conclusion – Flash doesn’t really work. And none of the free systems are yet good enough for working with non technical first time users. Disappointing really. My latest thinking is to re-jig the session and use an embedded slidecast, along with an embedded chat room in PBWorks. It is all free and with a bit of luck and a following wind it might work. Or perhaps to use Edmodo.

I’d be very interested to hear of your experiences of using these, or any other online seminar or workshop tools.

We seem to be doing a lot of preparing, and supporting, but not so much inspiring

February 8th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I was greatly inspired by the Wise Kids conference on Young People in a Digital World – Preparing, Inspiring and Supporting, held in Bangor in Wales on Wednesday. This was the second of two regional conferences, with videos from the first, in Swansea earlier in the week are available now online (the video by Tanya Byron, who advices the UK government on internet safety is encouraging from a policy point of view).

Here are a few impressionistic comments which by no means express the breadth and quality of the event.

Two things which particularly encouraged me. The first was the breadth of organisations represented by participants. This included teachers, local government officers, youth workers, researchers and delegates from internet and software companies and the  voluntary sector. The second was the active involvement of young people themselves in the conference.

And for me, the highlight was the youth panel of some ten or so students from Ysgol Trfyan. They were thoughtful, articulate and above all opinionated. Having previously presented a Welsh language drama about e-safety, they went on to answer questions from participants in the conference. all but one said that if they were forced to choose they would give up television rather than the internet. But there main message was their opposition to the ban on accessing social networking sites and particular Facebook from school. They said the reason they had been told for the ban was that social networks had been used for cheating in exams (unlikely as I found this, a report in last weeks Guardian claims the use of mobile phones for cheating is on the increase!). However they could not see why Facebook has been banned when there was still access to other sites including games. “Facebook is better for learning than games”, said one. Another said: “Whatever they ban we will find a way around it:. And although there may have been an element of campaigning going on, when asked what site they accessed first when they went on the internet, nine said Facebook, one YouTube, and one shopping.

Members of the panel has obviously researched the question of e-safety in some depth in preparation for their drama performance. However, whilst they felt schools should do more to teach internet safety and that also parents should pay more attention to what their children were doing on the internet, they were against nanny programmes. They were also dubious that present age restrictions of access to sites like Facebook were working. One member of the panel said that if her younger sister insisted she was going to set up a Facebook account,, despite being under 13, at the end of the day it was pointless to try to stop her but instead she would try to watch out for her sister’s safety!

The issue of safety tended to overwhelm the conference. As chair Alan Davies said, we seemed to be doing a lot of preparing, and supporting, but not so much inspiring.

Especially in the workshop sessions there was a lot of inspiring. I enjoyed the presentation by Rebecca Newton on Moshi Monsters. But my favourites were the workshop sessions by John Davitt – Occupy the Hand and Mind – simple strategies to make learners active with New Tools – and Leon Cynch‘s brave exploration of the suddenly unfashionable Second Life.

However these sessions were very much geared towards teachers and trainers. There is a big gap – a gap between what such pioneers as John and Leon are doing and the reality of what our systems administrators and school managers are allowing. And it is that gap which was so eloquently exposed by the students from Ysgol Trfyan. The issue of firewalls, white lists and so on is not an administrative issue. If education is to keep in touch with the way young people (and older people too) are exploring and using the internet for learning, for work and for play, then we have to rethink the present absurd policy of banning social software.

Yes, online safety is an issue. But Wise Kids has shown that internet safety is computable with open systems and that educating young people is a better policy than policing them.

Our learning needs

February 2nd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Much of our work in Pontydysgu involves trying to support the learning and knowledge development needs of others – individuals and organisations. So it was interesting when I was asked what were our learning needs. This is what I wrote:

Pontydysgu is an SME, based in Wales, UK.
It employees one full time worker, one intern student and four part time workers. Pontydysgu is a research and development company, working in the field of information and technology communications for knowledge development and sharing and education and learning.
Staff are distributed, with three of the workers mainly based n Wales and three in Bremen, Germany. Although the organisation has two offices, in Pontypridd and Bremen, most staff work from home and are heavily reliant on computer based technologies for coordination and communication.
Most of the work of the organisation is project based, with projects varying in length between three months and four years. Clients include both the private and public sector, with a number of projects sponsored by the European Commission. The projects involve a considerable amount of traveling and at any one time, half of the staff may be away from the offices.
Pontydysgu is a knowledge based organisation and the work involves continuos learning in multiple disciplinary based fields. Excepting the Intern student all of the staff are qualified to degree level.
Learning is informal and on-the-job and may take as high as 33 per cent of work time. This process is not unproblematic. There are issues as to how to coordinate learning, how to support what is essentially peer based learning and how to develop a shared organisational knowledge base. Whilst staff are highly motivated in self learning, there is an issue as to how best to balance individual learning interests with organisational learning needs.
Formal courses are generally seen as too inflexible to meet learning needs. Accreditation is not required by the company, but the development and use of a portfolio would allow individual learning to become more transparent than it is at present and allow for potential transfer in future employment.
The organisation has invested in mobile devices and all employees have an iPod touch. However the use of such devices is largely  up to individual staff. The organisation is presently looking at the use of advanced smartphones to improve communication and learning.

Survey on use of Social Networking sites

February 2nd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Interesting results from the latest Pew Internet survey on adults use of social networking sites in the United States (I wish we had a European equivalent). The survey found:

  • 79% of American adults used the internet in 2009, up from 67% in Feb. 2005
  • 46% of online American adults 18 and older use a social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn, up from 8% in February 2005.
  • 65% of teens 12-17 use online social networks as of Feb 2008, up from 58% in 2007 and 55% in 2006.
  • As of August 2009, Facebook was the most popular online social network for American adults 18 and older.
  • 10-12% are on “other” sites like Bebo, Last.FM, Digg, Blackplanet, Orkut, Hi5 and Match.com?

Of adult SNS users:

  • 73% have a Facebook account
  • 48% have a MySpace profile
  • 14% have an account on LinkedIn
  • 1% each on Yahoo, YouTube, Tagged, Flickr and Classmates.com

Overall there is nothing particularly surprising in the results. The survey shows just how hegemonic Facebook has become in terms of social networking sites. I am a little surprised at how low the figures are for Flickr and YouTube. However this may be because you do not need an account unless you wish to upload material to these services. I guess it confirms the fact that only a relatively low percentage of social software and social network users are creating content.

It is also interesting to note the increasing numbers with a LinkedIn account. In the longer term I think LinkedIn may prove more sustainable than Facebook, if only because it has a real purpose behind it. And LinkedIn seem to have successfully increased the social networking functionality, whilst not allowing it to overwhelm the site.

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    News Bites

    Innovation is male dominated?

    Times Higher Education reports that in the UK only one in 10 university spin-out companies has a female founder, analysis suggests. And these companies are much less likely to attract investment too, raising concerns that innovation is becoming too male-dominated.


    Open Educational Resources

    BYU researcher John Hilton has published a new study on OER, student efficacy, and user perceptions – a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Looking at sixteen efficacy and twenty perception studies involving over 120,000 students or faculty, the study’s results suggest that students achieve the same or better learning outcomes when using OER while saving a significant amount of money, and that the majority of faculty and students who’ve used OER had a positive experience and would do so again.


    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.


    Other Pontydysgu Spaces

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