Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Green ICT in Germany

April 29th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Don’t jump to conclusions and think my German has suddenly improved. But Pontydysgu are proud to be associated with organising a seminar on Green ICT in Bremen, Germany on May 12th, along with our friends from the Institut Technik und Bildung at the University of Bremen.  The seminar features work undertaken by the Green ICT strand of the UK JISC Users and Innovations programme. JISC have also set up a Green ICT blog. Guest speakers are Josie Fraser from the JISC SSBR project, Howard Noble from Oxford University Computing Services who has been looking at low carbon computing, and  Stephen Phipps from the Univeristy of Hertfordshire, For those of you who are interested the seminar takes place from 9:30 to 17:30  at the Gästehaus der Universität Bremen, Auf dem Teerhof 58.

Das Thema »Green ICT« (grüne Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologie) gewinnt in Deutschland an Bedeutung, denn vielen Computernutzern – ob kommerziellen, öffentlichen oder privaten – wird zunehmend klar; das wir auf neue Kraftwerke verzichten könnten, wenn der Energieverbrauch in diesem Feld klein gehalten wird und wir gezielt  energiesparende Technologie und Verhaltensweisen nutzen.
Hinter dem Begriff »Green ICT«, verbergen sich technische Innovationen und Ver-haltensstrategien, die bei den Nutzern, den Betreibern von Rechenzentren und sonstiger ICT- Infrastruktur und bei denjenigen ansetzen, die über den Kauf und die Nutzung von ICT-Technologie entscheiden. Das Ziel dieser Strategien ist es zum einen, den Energie- und Ressourcenverbrauch bei der Herstellung, Nutzung und Entsorgung zu minimieren (green in ICT), und zum anderen, durch die Nutzung von ICT Energie und sonstige Ressourcen einzusparen (green through ICT). Um dieses Ziel zu erreichen, müssen Anreize gegeben werden und Einsichten vermittelt werden, um zum Beispiel den Nutzer davon zu überzeugen, nicht genutzte Computer auszuschalten statt sie im Stand-By-Modus zu betreiben.
Die Implementierung von »Green ICT« steckt in Deutschland, verglichen mit Großbritannien, vor allem in Bildungseinrichtungen noch in den Kinderschuhen. Um ein erfolgreich durchgeführtes Projekt näher kennen zu lernen, und den internationalen Erfahrungsaustausch zu befördern, hat das Institut Technik und Bildung (ITB) Experten aus Großbritannien, die am »Green ICT«-Projekt ECCILES beteiligt waren, eingeladen.
Hiermit wird die direkte und indirekte Reduzierung des Energieverbrauches eines Computers, eine Analyse der (Wirk-) Faktoren die zum An bzw. Abstieg des Energieverbrauches führen, die Entwicklung von Lösungsansätzen für diese Problemstellung und die Durchführung von Energiereduktionsmaßnahmen bezweckt. Die Veranstaltung findet in englischer Sprache statt.

Designing workplaces to support learning

April 28th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have written at length on this blog about the growing tension between the schooling system and the changing ways in which we are using the internet for self managed, networked learning, often through informal learning in the work force. The implications of this these changes are slowly working their way into the system.

The US Information Week government website draws attention to an interesting report. The report, ‘Net Generation: Preparing for Change in the Federal Information Technology Workforce,’  “surveyed federal IT workforce trends and found that young IT workers are among the most demanding employees yet, but that the federal government, in many places, has been falling short in its ability to entice these young workers to join and remain in the federal workforce.”

There are three particularly interesting findings from the report.

Firstly, instead of choosing a career and working their way upwards within a company or organisation, individuals are tending to see particular posts as learning situations, moving on when they have acquired new skills and competences. ““‘Net-Geners’ are not patiently working their way through the organizational hierarchy, but are instead sampling professional opportunities and moving on quickly when they see no clear-cut advantages, personally, professionally, or financially, to staying,” the report said. “As a result, many organizations are experiencing the loss of younger workers before they can recover their recruitment investment.”

Secondly the report suggested changes in workplace design and practice to make the workplace more attractive to younger workers. This includes IT leaderships working “actively and openly” with teams to facilitate a trusting and empowered working environment. The report urged regular assessments, as it found that young workers are constantly looking for feedback.

The report also recognised the importance of social networking for working and learning.“The Net Generation understands intuitively the power of Web 2.0,” the report said. “The deprivation of connectivity to the Internet has a visceral impact on the Net Generation.” That means agencies must strive to adopt the latest social media technologies to help accommodate the working styles of young IT workers, and that agencies need to look more strongly to the possibility of telework.

A finding from research we have undertaken in Pontydysgu is that the more responsibility people have for their work, the more likely they are to use technology for informal learning. The research also suggest that tecahing others is a powerful form of learning. the report appears recognise such findings.

The report pushed managers to give young workers early responsibility. “Younger, more technically savvy workers who demonstrate the ability to interject greater efficiency through technological solutions can provide training on these capabilities,” the report said.

The report is interesting. We have consistently pointed to the need to design workplaces to provide opportunities for learning. Sadly, all too often this is not happening. There are numerous frustrations particularly in regard to limited internet access. The report is into Federal IT employees, an area where there is likely to be a skills shortage in the future. But, longer term, it may be that such sectors can provide examples of innovative practice for future work space design.

How we use technology and the Internet for learning

April 26th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Here is the other part of the paper on the future of learning environments which I serialised on this web site last week. In truth it is the section I am least happy with. My point is that young people (and not just young people) are using social software and Web 2.0 technologies for work, play and learning outside institutions. Furthermore the pedagogic approaches to such (self-directed) learning are very different than the pedagogic approaches generally adopted in schools and educational institutions. Social networking is increasingly being used to support informal learning in work. The issue is how to show this. there are a wealth of studies and reports – which ones should I cite. And I am aware that there is a danger of just choosing reports which back up my own ideas. Anyway, as always, your comments are very welcome.

Web 2.0 and Bricolage

Web 2.0 applications and social software mark a change in our use of computers from consumption to creation. A series of studies and reports have provided rich evidence of the ways young people are using technology and the internet for socialising, communicating and for learning. Young people are increasingly using technology for creating and sharing multi media objects and for social networking. A Pew Research study (Lenhart and Madden, 2005) found that 56 per cent of young people in America were using computers for ‘creative activities, writing and posting of the internet, mixing and constructing multimedia and developing their own content. Twelve to 17-year-olds look to web tools to share what they think and do online. One in five who use the net said they used other people’s images, audio or text to help make their own creations. According to Raine (BBC, 2005), “These teens were born into a digital world where they expect to be able to create, consume, remix, and share material with each other and lots of strangers.”

Such a process of creation, remixing and sharing is similar to Levi Struass’s idea of bricolage as a functioning of the logic of the concrete. In their book ‘Introducing Levi Strauus and Structural Anthropology’, Boris Wiseman and Judy Groves explains the work of the bricoleur:

“Unlike the engineer who creates specialised tools and materials for each new project that he embarks upon, the bricoleur work with materials that are always second hand.

In as much as he must make do with whatever is at hand, an element of chance always enters into the work of the bricoleur……

The bricoleur is in possession of a stock of objects (a “treasure”). These possess “meaning” in as much as they are bound together by a set of possible relationships, one of which is concretized by the bricoleur’s choice”.

Young people today are collecting their treasure to make their own meanings of objects they discover on the web. In contrast our education systems are based on specialised tools and materials.

Social networking

It is not only young people who are using social networks for communication, content sharing and learning. A further survey by Pew Internet (Lenhart, 2009) on adults use of social networking sites 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?

Lest this be thought to be a north American phenomena, Ewan McIntosh (2008) has provided a summary of a series of studies undertaken in the UK (Ofcom Social Networking Research, the Oxford Internet Institute’s Internet Surveys, Ofcom Media Literacy Audit).

The main use of the internet by young people, by far, is for learning: 57% use the net for homework, saying it provides more information than books. 15% use it for learning that is not ’school’. 40% use it to stay in touch with friends, 9% for entertainment such as YouTube.

Most users of the net are using it at home (94%), then at work (34%), another persons house (30%) or at school (16%). Only 12% use public libraries and 9% internet cafés. Most people’s first exposure to the web is at home.

A further survey into the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises found few instances of the use of formal educational technologies (Attwell, 2007). But the study found the widespread everyday use of internet technologies for informal learning, utilizing a wide range of business and social software applications. This finding is confirmed by a recent study on the adoption of social networking in the workplace and Enterprise 2.0 (Oliver Young G, 2009). The study found almost two-thirds of those responding (65%) said that social networks had increased either their efficiency at work, or the efficiency of their colleagues. 63% of respondents who said that using them had enabled them to do something that they hadn’t been able to do before. The survey of based on 2500 interviews in five European countries found the following percentage of respondents reported adoption of social networks in the workplace:

  • Germany – 72%
  • Netherlands – 67%
  • Belgium – 65%
  • France – 62%
  • UK – 59%

Of course such studies beg the question of the nature and purpose of the use of social software in the workplace. The findings of the ICT and SME project, which was based on 106 case studies in six European countries (Attwell, 2007) focused on the use of technologies for informal learning. The study suggested that although social software was used for information seeking and for social and communication purposes it was also being widely used for informal learning. In such a context:

  • Learning takes place in response to problems or issues or is driven by the interests of the learner
  • Learning is sequenced by the learner
  • Learning is episodic
  • Learning is controlled by the learner in terms of pace and time
  • Learning is heavily contextual in terms of time, place and use
  • Learning is cross disciplinary or cross subject
  • Learning is interactive with practice
  • Learning builds on often idiosyncratic and personal knowledge bases
  • Learning takes place in communities of practice

It is also worth considering the growing use of mobile devices. A recent Pew Internet survey (Lenhart et al, 2010) found that of the 75% of teens who own cell phones in the USA, 87% use text messaging at least occasionally. Among those texters:

  • Half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month, and one in three send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month.
  • 15% of teens who are texters send more than 200 texts a day, or more than 6,000 texts a month.
  • Boys typically send and receive 30 texts a day; girls typically send and receive 80 messages per day.
  • Teen texters ages 12-13 typically send and receive 20 texts a day.
  • 14-17 year-old texters typically send and receive 60 text messages a day.
  • Older girls who text are the most active, with 14-17 year-old girls typically sending 100 or more messages a day or more than 3,000 texts a month
  • However, while many teens are avid texters, a substantial minority are not. One-fifth of teen texters (22%) send and receive just 1-10 texts a day or 30-300 a month.

Once more, of those who owned mobile phones:

  • 83% use their phones to take pictures.
  • 64% share pictures with others.
  • 60% play music on their phones.
  • 46% play games on their phones.
  • 32% exchange videos on their phones.
  • 31% exchange instant messages on their phones.
  • 27% go online for general purposes on their phones.
  • 23% access social network sites on their phones.
  • 21% use email on their phones.
  • 11% purchase things via their phones.

It is not just the material and functional character of the technologies which is important but the potential of the use of mobile devices to contribute to a new “participatory culture” (Jenkins at al). Jenkins at al define such a culture as one “with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices… Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways.”

Thus we can see the ways in which technology and the internet is being used for constructing knowledge and meaning through bricolage and through developing and sharing content. This takes place through extended social networks which both serve for staying in touch with friends but also for seeking information and for learning in a participatory culture.

PLE2010 – reflections on the review process

April 25th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A quick update in my series of posts on our experiences in organising the PLE2010 conference. We received 82 proposals for the conference – far more than we had expected. The strong response, I suspect, was due to three reasons: the interest in PLEs in the Technology Enhanced Learning community, the attraction of Barcelona as a venue and our success in using applications like Twitter for virally publicising the conference.

Having said that – in terms of format in seems to me that some of the submissions as full conference papers would have been better made under other formats. However, present university funding requirements demand full papers and inhibit applications for work in progress or developing ideas in more appropriate formats.

For the last two weeks I have been organising the review process. We promised that each submission would be blind reviewed by at least two reviewers. For this we are reliant on the freely given time and energy of our Academic Committee. And whilst reviewing can be a learning process in itself it is time consuming.

Submissions have been managed through th open source Easychair system, hosted by the University of Manchester. The system is powerful, but the interfaces are far from transparent and the help somewhat minimalist! I have struggled to get the settings in the system right and some functions seem buggy – for instance the function to show missing reviews seems not to be working.

Two lessons for the future seem immediately apparent. Firstly, we set the length of abstracts as a maximum of 350 words. Many of the reviewers have commented that this is too short to judge the quality of the submission.

Secondly is the fraught issue of criteria for the reviews. We produced detailed guidelines for submissions based on the Creative Commons licensed Alt-C guidelines.

The criteria were:

  • Relevance to the themes of the conference although this does not exclude other high quality proposals.
  • Contribution to scholarship and research into the use of PLEs for learning.
  • Reference to the characteristics and needs of learners.
  • Contribution to the development of learning technology policy or theory in education.
  • Links that are made between theory, evidence and practice.
  • Appropriate reflection and evaluation.
  • Clarity and coherence.
  • Usefulness to conference participants.

However, when I sent out the papers for review, whilst I provided a link to those guidelines, I failed to copy them into the text of the emails asking for reviews. In retrospect, I should have attempted to produce a review template in EasyChair incorporating the guidelines.

Even with such explicit guidelines, there is considerable room for different interpretation by reviewers. I am not sure that in our community we have a common understanding of what might be relevant to the themes of the conference or a contribution to scholarship and research into the use of PLEs for learning. I suspect this is the same for many conferences: however, the issue may be more problematic in an emergent area of education and technology practice.

We also set a scale for scoring proposals:

  • 3 – strong accept
  • 2 – accept
  • 1- weak accept
  • 0 – borderline
  • -1 – week reject
  • -2 – reject
  • – 3 – reject

In addition we asked reviewers to state their degree of confidence in their review ranging from 4, expert, to 0, null.

In over half the cases where we have received two reviews, the variation between the reviewers is no more that 1. But there are also a number of reviews with significant variation. This suggest significant differences in understandings by reviewers of the criteria – or the meaning of the criteria. it could also just be that different reviewers have different standards.

In any case, we will organise a further review procedure for those submissions where there are significant differences. But I wonder if the scoring process is the best approach. To have no scoring seems to be a way fo avoiding the issue. I wonder if we should have scoring for each criteria, although this would make the review process even more complicated.

I would welcome any comments on this. Whilst too late for this conference, as a community we are reliant on peer review as a quality process and collective learning and reflection may be a way of improving our work.

The Future of Learning Environments

April 23rd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A short conclusion to this weeks mini series of posts on the Future of Learning Environments.

In this series we have argued that the present ‘industrial’ schooling system is fast becoming dysfunctional, neither providing the skills and competences required in our economies nor corresponding to the ways in which we are using the procedural and social aspects of technology for learning and developing and sharing knowledge.We have gone on to propose that the development and use of Personal Learning Networks and Personal Learning Environments can support and mediate individual and group based learning in multiple contexts and promote learner autonomy and control. The role of teachers in such an environment would be to support, model and scaffold learning.

Such an approach will allow the development and exploration of Personal Learning Pathways, based on the interests and needs of the learners and participation in culturally rich collaborative forms of knowledge construction. Such approaches to learning recognise the role of informal learning and the role of context. Schools can only form one part of such collaborative and networked knowledge constellation. Indeed the focus moves from schools as institutional embodiments of learning to focus on the process and forms of learning. Hence institutions must rethink and recast their role as part of community and distributed networks supporting learning and collaborative knowledge development. Indeed, the major impact of the uses of new technologies and social networking for learning is to move learning out of the institutions and into wider society. For schools to continue to play a role in that learning, they too have to reposition themselves within wider social networks and communities. This is a two way process, not only schools reaching outwards, but also opening up to the community, distributed or otherwise, to join in collaborative learning processes.The future development of technology looks likely to increase pressures for such change. Social networks and social networking practice is continuing to grow and is increasingly integrated in different areas of society and economy. At the same time new interfaces to computers and networks are likely to render the keyboard obsolescent, allowing the integration of computers and learning in everyday life and activity. Personal Learning Pathways will guide and mediate progression through this expanded learning environment.

Personal Learning Environments and Vygotsky

April 22nd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Another section of my new paper, now entitled ‘The Future of Learning Environments. The section looks at Personal Learning Environments and Vygotsky.

The emergence of Personal Learning Environments

Dave Wiley, in a paper entitled ‘Open for learning: the CMS and the Open Learning Network‘ and co-written with Jon Mott, explains the failure of Technology Enhanced Education as being due to the way technology has been used to maintain existing practices:

“by perpetuating the Industrial Era-inspired, assembly line notion that the semester-bound course is the naturally appropriate unit of instruction (Reigeluth, 1999).”

The paper quotes Herrington, Reeves, and Oliver (2005) who argue that course management software leads universities to “think they are in the information industry”. In contrast to”the authentic learning environments prompted by advances in cognitive and constructivist learning theories”:

“the industrial, course management model has its center of gravity in teachers generating content, teachers gathering resources, teachers grouping and sequencing information, and teachers giving the information to students.”

In contrast, socio-cultural theories of knowledge acquisition stress the importance of collaborative learning and ‘learning communities’. Agostini et al. (2003) complain about the lack of support offered by many virtual learning environments (VLEs) for emerging communities of interest and the need to link with official organisational structures within which individuals are working. Ideally, VLEs should link knowledge assets with people, communities and informal knowledge (Agostini et al, 2003) and support the development of social networks for learning (Fischer, 1995). The idea of a personal learning space is taken further by Razavi and Iverson (2006) who suggest integrating weblogs, ePortfolios, and social networking functionality in this environment both for enhanced e-learning and knowledge management, and for developing communities of practice.

Based on these ideas of collaborative learning and social networks within communities of practice, the notion of Personal Learning Environments is being put forward as a new approach to the development of e-learning tools (Wilson et al, 2006) that are no longer focused on integrated learning platforms such as VLEs or course management systems. In contrast, these PLEs are made-up of a collection of loosely coupled tools, including Web 2.0 technologies, used for working, learning, reflection and collaboration with others. PLEs can be seen as the spaces in which people interact and communicate and whose ultimate result is learning and the development of collective know-how. A PLE can use social software for informal learning which is learner driven, problem-based and motivated by interest – not as a process triggered by a single learning provider, but as a continuing activity.

Personal Learning Environments are by definition individual. However it is possible to provide tools and services to support individuals in developing their own environment. In looking at the needs of careers guidance advisors for learning Attwell. Barnes, Bimrose and Brown, (2008) say a PLE should be based on a set of tools to allow personal access to resources from multiple sources, and to support knowledge creation and communication. Based on an initial scoping of knowledge development needs, a list of possible functions for a PLE have been suggested, including: access/search for information and knowledge; aggregate and scaffold by combining information and knowledge; manipulate, rearrange and repurpose knowledge artefacts; analyse information to develop knowledge; reflect, question, challenge, seek clarification, form and defend opinions; present ideas, learning and knowledge in different ways and for different purposes; represent the underpinning knowledge structures of different artefacts and support the dynamic re-rendering of such structures; share by supporting individuals in their learning and knowledge; networking by creating a collaborative learning environment.

Whilst PLEs may be represented as technology, including applications and services, more important is the idea of supporting individual and group based learning in multiple contexts and of promoting learner autonomy and control. Conole (2008) suggests a personal working environment and mixture of institutional and self selected tools are increasingly becoming the norm. She says: “Research looking at how students are appropriating technologies points to similar changes in practice: students are mixing and matching different tools to meet their personal needs and preferences, not just relying on institutionally provided tools and indeed in some instances shunning them in favour of their own personal tools.”

Vygotsky and Personal Learning Environments

A Personal Learning Environment is developed from tools or artefacts. Vygotsky (1978) considered that all artefacts are culturally, historically and institutionally situated. “In a sense, then, there is no way not to be socioculturally situated when carrying out an action. Conversely there is no tool that is adequate to all tasks, and there is no universally appropriate form of cultural mediation. Even language, the ‘tool of tools’ is no exception to this rule” (Cole and Wertsch, 2006). Social networking tools are culturally situated artefacts. Jyri Engestrom (2005) says “the term ‘social networking’ makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it’s not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term ‘social network.’ The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They’re not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object.”

Vygotsky’s research focused on school based learning. He developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is the gap between “actual developmental level” which children can accomplish independently and the “potential developmental level” which children can accomplish when they are interacting with others who are more capable peers or adults.

In Vygotsky’s view, interactions with the social environment, including peer interaction and/or scaffolding, are important ways to facilitate individual cognitive growth and knowledge acquisition. Therefore, learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them. Vygotsky said that learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his (sic) environment and in cooperation with his peers. Once these processes are internalized, they become part of the child’s independent developmental achievement (Vygotsky, 1978).

Vygotsky also emphasized the importance of the social nature of imagination play for development. He saw the imaginary situations created in play as zones of proximal development that operate as mental support system (Fleer, 2008).

Vykotsky called teachers – or peers – who supported learning in the ZDP as the More Knowledgeable Other. “The MKO is anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the leaner particularly in regards to a specific task, concept or process. Traditionally the MKO is thought of as a teacher, an older adult or a peer” (Dahms et al, 2007). But the MKO can also be viewed as a learning object or social software which embodies and mediates learning at higher levels of knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner presently possesses.

The role of a Personal Learning Environment may be not only that of a tool to provide access to ‘More Knowledgeable Others’ but as part of a system to allow learners to link learning to performance in practice, though work processes. And taking a wider view of artefacts as including information or knowledge accessed through a PLE, reflection on action or performance may in turn generate new artefacts for others to use within a ZPD.

Dahms et all (2007) say that Vygotsky’s findings suggest methodological procedures for the classroom. “In Vygotskian perspective, the ideal role of the teacher is that of providing scaffolding (collaborative dialogue) to assist students on tasks within their zones of proximal development”(Hamilton and Ghatala, 1994). ”During scaffolding the first step is to build interest and engage the learner. Once the learner is actively participating, the given task should be simplified by breaking it into smaller sub-tasks. During this task, the teacher needs to keep the learner focused, while concentrating on the most important ideas of the assignment. One of the most integral steps in scaffolding consists of keeping the learner from becoming frustrated. The final task associated with scaffolding involves the teacher modelling possible ways of completing tasks, which the learner can then imitate and eventually internalise” (Dahms et al., 2007).

Social media and particularly video present rich opportunities for the modelling of ways of completing a task, especially given the ability of using social networking software to support communities of practice. However, imitation alone may not be sufficient in the context of advanced knowledge work. Rather, refection is required both to understand more abstract models and at the same time to reapply models to particular contexts and instances of application in practice. Thus PLE tools need to be able to support the visualisation or representation of models and to promote reflection on their relevance and meaning in context. Although Vygotsky saw a process whereby children could learn to solve novel problems “on the basis of a model he [sic] has been shown in class”, in this case the model is embodied in technological artefacts (although still provided by a ‘teacher’ through the creation of the artefact).

Within this perspective a Personal Learning Environment could be seen as allowing the representation of knowledge, skills and prior learning and a set of tools for interaction with peers to accomplish further tasks. The PLE would be dynamic in that it would allow reflection on those task and further assist in the representation of prior knowledge, skills and experiences. In this context experiences are seen as representing performance or practice. Through access to external symbol systems (Clark, 1997) such as metadata, ontologies and taxonomies the internal learning can be transformed into externalised knowledge and become part of the scaffolding for others as a representation of a MKO within a Zone of Proximal Development. Such an approach to the design of a Personal Learning Environment can bring together the everyday evolving uses of social networks and social media with pedagogic theories to learning.

References

Agostini, A., Albolino, S., Michelis, G. D., Paoli, F. D., & Dondi, R. (2003). Stimulating knowledge discovery and sharing. Paper presented at the 2003 International ACM SIGGROUP conference on Supporting group work, Sanibel Island, Florida, USA.

Attwell G. Barnes S.A., Bimrose J. and Brown A, (2008), Maturing Learning: Mashup Personal Learning Environments, CEUR Workshops proceedings, Aachen, Germany

Clark, Andy. Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again. Cambridge, Massachusetts: A Bradford Book, The MIT Press, 1997.

Cole M. and Werstch J. (1996), Beyond the Individual-Social Antimony in Discussions of Piaget and Vygotsky. Michael Cole, University of California, San Diego

Conole G. (2008), New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies, Ariadne Issue 56 , http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue56/conole/

Dahms M, Geonnotti K, Passalacqua. D Schilk,N.J. Wetzel, A and Zulkowsky M The Educational Theory of Lev Vygotsky: an analysis http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Vygotsky.html

Engestrom J (2005) Why some social network services work and others don’t — Or: the case for object-centered sociality, http://www.zengestrom.com/blog/2005/04/why_some_social.html

Fischer, M. D. (1995). Using computers in ethnographic fieldwork. In R. M. Lee (Ed.), Information Technology for the Social Scientist (pp. 110-128). London: UCL Press

Fleer M and Pramling Samuelsson I, (2008), Play and Learning in Early Childhood Settings: International Perspectives, Springer

Hamilton R and Ghatala E, (1994) Learning and Instruction, New York: McGraw-Hill, 277.

Herrington, J., Reeves, T., and Oliver, R. (2005). Online learning as information delivery: Digital myopia. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(4): 353-67.

Vygotsky L.(1978) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Wiley D. and Mott J. (2009), Open for learning: the CMS and the Open Learning Network, in education, issue 15 (2), http://www.ineducation.ca/article/open-learning-cms-and-open-learning-network

Wilson, S., Liber, O., Johnson, M., Beauvoir, P., Sharples, P., & Milligan, C. (2006). Personal learning environments challenging the dominant design of educational systems. Paper presented at the ECTEL Workshops 2006, Heraklion, Crete (1-4 October 2006).

The Challenge to Education

April 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Last year I took part in an excellent confernce in Darmstadt last year on “Interdisciplinary approaches to technology-enhanced learning.” Now they have asked me to contribute to a book based on my presentation on ‘Learning Environments, What happens in Practice?. I will post the book cpater in parts on the blog as I write it, in the hope of gaining feedback from readers.

The first section is entitled ‘The Challenge to Education”

Firstly it should be said that it is not technology per se that poses the challenge to education systems and institutions. It is rather the way technology is being used for communication and for everyday learning within the wider society.

Whilst institutions have largely maintained their monopoly and prestige as bodies awarding certification, one major impact of internet technologies has been to move access to learning and knowledge outside of institutional boundaries. The internet provides ready and usually free access to a wealth of books, papers, videos, blogs, scientific research, news and opinion. It also provides access to expertise in the form of networks of people. Conferences, seminars and workshops can increasingly be accessed online. Virtual worlds offer opportunities for simulations and experimentation.

Id course this begs the question of support for learning although there are increasing numbers of free online courses and communities and bulletin boards for help with problem solving. Schools and universities can no longer claim a monopoly as seats of learning or of knowledge. Such learning and knowledge now resides in distributed networks. Learning can take place in the home, in work or in the community as easily as within schools. Mobile devices also mean that learning can take place anywhere without access to a computer. Whilst previously learning was largely structured through a curriculum, context is now becoming an important aspect of learning.

Technology is also challenging traditional traditional expert contributed disciplinary knowledge as embodied in school curricula. Dave Cormier, (2008) says that the present speed of information based on new technologies has undermined traditional expert driven processes of knowledge development and dissemination. The explosion of freely available sources of information has helped drive rapid expansion in the accessibility of the canon and in the range of knowledge available to learners. We are being forced to re-examine what constitutes knowledge and are moving from expert developed and sanctioned knowledge to collaborative forms of knowledge construction. The English language Wikipedia website, a collaboratively developed knowledge base, had 3,264,557 pages in April, 2010 and over 12 million registered users.

The present north European schooling systems evolved from the needs of the industrial revolutions for a literate and numerate workforce. Schools were themselves modelled on the factory system with fixed starting and finishing times with standardised work tasks and quality systems. Students followed relatively rigid group learning programmes, often based on age and often banded into groups based on tests or examinations. Besides the acquisition of knowledge and skills needed by the economy, schools also acted as a means of selection, to determine those who might progress to higher levels of learning or employment requiring more complex skills and knowledge.

It is arguable whether such a schooling system meets the present day needs of the economy. In many countries there is publicly expressed concerns that schools are failing to deliver the skills and knowledge needed for employment, resorting in many countries in different reform measures. There is also a trend towards increasing the length of schooling and, in some countries, at attempting to increase the percentages of young people attending university.

However the schooling system has been developed above all on homogeneity. Indeed, in countries like the UK, reforms have attempted in increase that homogeneity through the imposition of a standardised national curriculum and regular Standardised Attainment Tests (SATs). Such a movement might be seen as in contradiction to the supposed needs for greater creativity, team work, problem solving, communication and self motivated continuous learning within enterprises today.

Furthermore, the homogeneity of schooling systems and curricula is in stark contrast to the wealth of different learning pathways available through the internet. Whilst the UK government has called for greater personalisation of learning, this is seen merely as different forms of access to a standardised curriculum. The internet offers the promise of Personal Learning Pathways, of personal and collaborative knowledge construction and meaning making through distributed communities.

The schooling system is based on outdated forms of organisation and on an expert derived and standardised canon of knowledge. As such it is increasingly dysfunctional in a society where knowledge is collaboratively developed through distributed networks.

Teenagers and Mobile Phones

April 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Antother fascinating study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project on Teenagers and Mobile Phones. As I have said before, I wish we had such a similar research project in Europe.

It is well worth reading the full report. But here are just two sets of figures to give an idea what the survey is about:

Of the 75% of teens who own cell phones, 87% use text messaging at least occasionally. Among those texters:

  • Half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month, and one in three send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month.
  • 15% of teens who are texters send more than 200 texts a day, or more than 6,000 texts a month.
  • Boys typically send and receive 30 texts a day; girls typically send and receive 80 messages per day.
  • Teen texters ages 12-13 typically send and receive 20 texts a day.
  • 14-17 year-old texters typically send and receive 60 text messages a day.
  • Older girls who text are the most active, with 14-17 year-old girls typically sending 100 or more messages a day or more than 3,000 texts a month.
  • However, while many teens are avid texters, a substantial minority are not. One-fifth of teen texters (22%) send and receive just 1-10 texts a day or 30-300 a month.

Once more, of tjose who owned mobile phones:

  • 83% use their phones to take pictures.
  • 64% share pictures with others.
  • 60% play music on their phones.
  • 46% play games on their phones.
  • 32% exchange videos on their phones.
  • 31% exchange instant messages on their phones.
  • 27% go online for general purposes on their phones.
  • 23% access social network sites on their phones.
  • 21% use email on their phones.
  • 11% purchase things via their phones.

Open Source is an alternative to unsustainable freemium services like Ning

April 20th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

One of the big stories in educational technology over the last few days has been the decision of Ning to cease providing free network sites. Many educationalists have been attracted to Ning by the ease of setting up and customising community sites and the use friendliness of the application.

Ning says the reason behind the decision is business: “Our Premium Ning Networks like Friends or Enemies, Linkin Park, Shred or Die, Pickens Plan, and tens of thousands of others both drive 75% of our monthly US traffic, and those Network Creators need and will pay for many more services and features from us.

So, we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity. We will phase out our free service.”

OK, it is sad and traumatic for those who have invested heavily in building communities based on Ning and cannot afford to apy for the premium service. But is it surprising?

We have all become used to using free social software services. But, at the end of the day we live in a capitalist society. Yes, the software industry is evolving new business models. But are they in the long term sustainable. Ning, like many other services such as PBwiki, has based its economic model on providing a free ‘basic’ service and an enhanced premium service. Providing free services for education could be seen as having two benefits. the first is in publicising and popularising a particular service in the hope it will then attract sufficient premium business customers to justify the cost of the free service. The second is to hope that sufficient education customers will see the benefit of upgrading to the free service. I suspect there are three problems with this. The first is that in the present economic climate educational institutions and projects are looking to reduce expenditure on technology. The second is the increasing availability of competing services, making it difficult for any one company to dominate a market (unless the name is Google). And then there is the long tail – as the Ning press statements suggest, many of these network sites drive very little traffic. I myself have 43 PBwiki sites – many of them created for a short period of interaction with a limited number of colleagues.

The main model to support free services is advertising. Advertising is what drives Facebook’s relentless, aggressive and often unpopular innovations in their site design and functionality (and associated reduction in rights to privacy). I am not an economist but cannot understand how this market can continue to expand indefinitely. Surely there is a finite limit to the amount fo advertising the web market can absorb. Of course, it can continue to expand rapidly as long as web traffic continues to grow at a fast rate, but one day it must and will tail off. And as more players enter the market and attempt to challenge Google’s domination (Google is above all, an advertising company) the cost of advertising and therefore the returns will fall. Apple are set to enter the mobile advertising market with the release of version 4 of the iPhone software. Will companies invest yet more in advertising or will Apple’s share of the market be at the expense of someone else. In the long run this cannot be a sustainable business model.

Of course there are other ways of sustaining development. I am particularly impressed with Forio, an online application for creating simulations. Forio is free to use and the company encourages users to share their code under a Creative Commons license. The business appears to be supported by offering a service creating simulations for those without the time of ability and by providing training in how to use their application.

For education this raises issues – besides the long running issue of whether it is appropriate to provide educational sites carrying prominent advertising. Is it wise to rely on services which can be withdrawn at any time. Of course it is possible to undertake a risk assessment and I guess many large institutions do this. But for many of us working in teh long tail of education, even this may be beyond our knowledge and resources.

A major issue for me, and one which influenced me against using Ning, is that there was no obvious way of extracting my data from the site. It is good to see that Ning have said they will work to help users extract their data if they choose not to upgrade to the premium service. But surely this service should have been provided all along.

Somewhere in all this there is some kind of ethical issue. Readers with long memories may remember my posts protesting at Elgg’s proposed closure of the Eduspaces blog site, something over two years ago. I do not feel so bitter about Ning;s decision. Elgg was part of our community, Ning has never pretended to be anything other than a commercial service. And yet, in offering a free service for education and for the community, should nt there be some element fo ethical responsibility. Should companies offer a service they are unlikely to be able to sustain. And can we afford to be reliant on business’s from outside our community, with no ethical attachment to our aims and purposes?

It is also good to see the discussion within the community on different options to Ning – see for example Seven Sexiest Alternatives to Ning. Many of these are smaller companies, offering much the same service as Ning has in the past and hoping to casg in on Ning’s withdrawal of free services. It is particularly heartening to see that Buddypress rates highly in many of the discussions (as also does Elgg). Buddypress, a social networking plug in for WordPress MultiUser is Open Source Software. Buddypress is not a hosted service, although there are some companies now offering hosted sites. This means it is not free. It requires a server to run it on and expertise and knowledge in configuring and maintaining the application. But firstly the data is your own and you can archive and export the data. Secondly you are free to extend or modify your site in any way you wish. And thirdly the costs incurred tend to go into local and community employment – to provide more technicians in educational establishments or to support local software administrators – many of them working in small or medium enterprises – rather than to large international companies, even if these costs are hidden through advertising or premium services.

This, in turn, builds the pool of skill and competences in our communities, be it educational or the wider geographically based community. And research suggest that small and community based enterprises are the major driving fore for innovation, rather than the large companies that dominate so much of our economies.

Planes, volcanoes and our learning spaces

April 19th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

planesvolcanos

(Picture from informationisbeautiful.net). I was lucky enough to get away from a meeting in Vienna last week by train to north Germany. many of my colleages were not so lucky and faced a long journey by train and ferry to return to the UK.

There are a number of serious issues raised by the European flight restriction, especially for those of us who work on multi national European projects. typically, these projects involve three or four full partnership meetings a year. Indeed, one way of viewing European projects, especially with the often strange funding rules, is the the EU is providing a large and hidden subsidy to the aviation industry!

Face to face meetings are important for developing and sharing mutual ideas, meanings and trust. And of course there is the oft quoted maxim that the  real work gets done on the social time. Whilst I would probably agree, this raises a further issue. If our face to face time is so important – and so expensive in terms of the carbon we generate, do we fully take advantage of this privileged opportunity? To my mind too much time is wasted with business that could easily be conducted on-line. And too little time is spent designing our own face to face learning environments. Conversely, we are failing to seriously develop ideas of how to effectively use video and online modes of communication.

If the Icelandic volcano forces us to think about these issues, it will have been a very valuable learning exercise. I also wonder if we should be forced to consider and report on the cost of all meetings in terms of their carbon footprint. We have to justify them now in purely monetary terms, who not also in terms of their environmental impact?  Pontydysgu has a rule of thumb for travel that if a journey can be undertaken by train in six hours or less, then we do not pay for flight tickets. The European Commission could easily introduce a similar rule.

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    News Bites

    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:

    Building apps (45%)
    Creating Games (43%)
    Virtual reality (38%)
    Coding computer languages (34%)
    Artificial intelligence (28%)


    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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