Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Personal Learning Environments and Context

June 29th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am rushing to produce my paper on ‘Supporting Learning in the Workplace’ for the PLE2010 conference (and trying to resist the temptation to recycle previous material!). The paper focuses on the issue of context, building on discussions I have had with Jenny Hughes, based on her contributions to Stephen Downes and Rita Kop’s excellent Critical Literacies course.

The  key section (which is most certainly only a first draft) is called “Problematising the Learning Space: Contexts for Learning.” Any feedback very welcome.

A major issue on designing a work based PLE is in problematising the learning space. This involves examining relations, context, actions and learning discourses. Vygotsky’s approach to cognitive development is sociocultural, working on the assumption that “action is mediated and cannot be separated from the milieu in which it is carried out” (Wertsch, 1991:18).

The socio cultural milieu mediating actions and learning in the workplace includes s series of different relationships (Attwell and Hughes, 21010).

The first is the relationships between teachers and learners. Yet, as we have already pointed out, much learning in the workplace may take place in the absence of a formal teacher or trainer. It may be more appropriate to talk in Vygotskian terms of a More Knowledgeable Other. “The More Knowledgeable Other. 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),

The second relationship is that between learners themselves. The third is relationships between learners and the wider community. In the context of work based learning that community could include formal education institutions, communities of practice or local or extended personal learning networks. Institutions. And in the context of Personal Learning Environments it is important not to forget the relationships between learners and technology. Technology will play a key role in mediating both the other relationships and mediating learning itself.

The socialcultutal milieu also includes the learning contexts. The most obvious aspect of context is where the learning takes place. Learning takes place in wider physical and online communities as well as at home and in the workplace. This relates to the issue of. physical domains. We can learn through h training workshops, through online communities or even through watching a television programme. A key issue here may be the distance of that domain from our practice Learning about computing through using a computer means the learning domain is close to practice. However learning through a training workshop may be more or less close to actual practice. Equally some enterprises have developed training islands within the workplace with aim of lessoning the distance between the learning domain and practice. Obviously the context of practice is key to work based learning and we will return to this issue. A further aspect of context is the wider social political, cultural and sub cultural environment. This in itself contains a raft of issues including factors such as the time and cost of learning and rewards for learning.

A further and critical aspect of context is what is judged as legitimate in terms of process and content. How are outcomes defined, what constitutes success and how is it measured?

Another critical issue on problematising the learning space is the nature of different learning discourse s. Learning discourses are dependent of different factors.

Firstly they can be viewed as am set of practices. Wenger points out that we practice eis not learned individually but is dependent on social relations in communities.

“Over time, this collective learning results in practices that reflect both the pursuit of our enterprises and the attendant social relations. These practices are thus the property of a kind of community created over time by the sustained pursuit of a shared enterprise. It makes sense, therefore to call these kinds of communities communities of practice.”

Although the nature and composition of these communities varies members are brought together by joining in common activities and by ‘what they have learned through their mutual engagement in these activities.’

According to Wenger, a community of practice defines itself along three dimensions:

  • What it is about – its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members.
  • How it functions – mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity.
  • What capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time.

A community of practice involves much more than the technical knowledge or skill For a community of practice to function it needs to generate and appropriate a shared repertoire of ideas, commitments and memories. It also needs to develop various resources such as tools, documents, routines, vocabulary and symbols that in some way carry the accumulated knowledge of the community. In other words, it involves practice: ways of doing and approaching things that are shared to some significant extent among members.

Secondly, learning discourses can be viewed in terms of processes methodologies and structures. As we said earlier work based learning may be more or less structured and formalised and the degree of interaction of learning processes with work processes.

Learning discourses can also be seen as taking place through the exploration of boundary objects, Boundary objects are another idea associated with Vygotsky and have attracted particular interest by those interested in Communities of Practice. The idea was introduced by Susan Leigh Star and James R. Griesemer (1989): “Boundary objects are objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds.”

According to Denham (2003) “boundary objects serve as point of mediation and negotiation around intent” and can comprise a place for shared work. Denham goes on to say “Boundary objects are not necessarily physical artifacts such as a map between two people: they can be a set of information, conversations, interests, rules, plans, contracts, or even persons.”

As a class of knowledge artefacts their importance may lay in their role in dynamic knowledge exchange and are “associated with process, meaning, participation, alignment and reification.”

Whilst reports and documents may be considered boundary objects, they can also be seen as information spaces for the creation of knowledge. A boundary object could also be a space for dialogue and interaction. Ravenscroft (2009) has advocated “knowledge maturing through dialogue and the advantages of linking ‘learning dialogues’ and artefacts.” Knowledge maturing, he suggests, can be  “supported through setting up an appropriate dialogic space in the digital milieu

The key aspect of learning discourses it that they are fluid and relational. Vygotsky held that “environment cannot be regarded as a static entity and one which is peripheral in relation to development, but must be seen as changeable and dynamic.” It is this fluid and dynamic nature of learning  environments and discourses which provides the central challenge to the design of a PLE, particularly in a workplace context.

The PLE2010 Conference unKeynote

June 28th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Alec Couros and Graham Attwell have been paired together as co-keynotes at the PLE Conference in Barcelona, Spain, July 8-9. The organizers have asked us to do something different than a typical keynote, so we have been thinking about an unKeynote format. In keeping with the theme of the conference (PLEs), we’re hoping that individuals in our network would be willing to help us frame what this might look like.

How the Session is Going to Work:
We have put together a  a list of questions (see below) and are inviting your responses. We will put together a joint presentation based on your slides.

We will present the ‘keynote’ together but will be encouraging participants – both face to face and remotely – to contribute to the keynote as it develops.

Where We Need Help:

  1. We’d like you to respond to one or more of these ‘key questions’ found below. We suggest responding through the creation of a (PowerPoint) slide, or creating a very short video (less than 1 minute?). Or, if you can think of another way of representing your ideas, please be creative.
  2. We’d like you to provide questions for us. What did we miss? What are some of the important questions for consideration when exploring PLEs/PLNs in teaching & learning.
  3. Please send your responses to graham10 [at] mac [dot] com (and you may cc: couros [at] gmail [dot] com) by July 6/10.

Key Questions:

  1. With all of the available Web 2.0 tools, is there a need for “educational technology”?
  2. What are the implications of PLEs/PLNs on traditional modes/structures of education?
  3. What are the key attributes of a healthy PLE/PLN?
  4. What pedagogies are inspired by PLEs (e.g., networked learning, connected learning)? Give examples of where PLEs/PLNs have transformed practice.
  5. What are the implications of PLEs/PLNs beyond bringing educational technology into the classroom, and specifically toward workplace/professional learning?
  6. If PLEs/PLNs are becoming the norm, what does it mean for teachers/trainers (or the extension: what does it mean for training teachers & trainers)?
  7. As our networks continue to grow, what strategies should we have in managing our contacts, our connections, and our attention? Or, extension, how scalable are PLEs/PLNs?
  8. Can we start thinking beyond PLEs/PLNs as models? Are we simply at a transitional stage? What will be the next, new model for learning in society? (e.g., where are we headed?)

In England’s green and pleasant land

June 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am afraid words fail me. Whilst the right wing UK DemCon government continues to cut services and welfare benefits to fund the vast payments to the failed banks, the reality is that poverty increases.

This is from a recent report on heal;thy school meals by the official schools watchdog Ofsted and as reported in the Guardiian newspaper:

Parents from these families told inspectors that they often could not afford to pay for a school lunch, especially if they had more than one child. One family, for example, had to arrange for the two children to take turns and eat a school meal on alternate weeks.

Other parents complained about the lack of advice on how to produce balanced but inexpensive packed lunches. Also, little account was taken of the fact that many families whose income was low did not have transport and therefore had to rely on what was available in the immediate locality.

Local shopkeepers were unlikely to stock appropriate food unless they could be convinced of the financial viability of doing so. Unhealthy packed lunches did not necessarily reflect parents’ lack of commitment or cooperation but, rather, a complex set of local circumstances.

The novel act of combining

June 24th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Yesterday, Jenny Hughes and I (well, more Jenny than me) made a presentation on syntax to an seminar organised as part of the Rita Kop and Stephen Downes’ Critical Literacies online course. The idea of Syntax is based on Saussurean linguistics and is difficult stuff (at least to me). But it is also extremely interesting. Syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing a sentence. But, of course, it can also be used as a way of studying other areas, including education and training. Much of the presentation focused on the relations between paradigms and syntagms. Syntagms describe the relations between the parts of different paradigms. The sum of the associate elements has a meaning different from the parts and changes the meaning of the parts. As jen said the elements of one paradigmatic set in the presence of another may change into something we don’t know. And, according to Richard Harland, the syntagm is the site of new meaning. Syntagmatic thinking, she went on to say, is called ‘radical transcendence’. And here it gets interesting. Semes are the site of old meaning. The meaning of a single piece of understanding gets left behind – or gets lost on the meaning of the new whole. I am sure that is happening now in our understanding of what comprises or means teaching and learning. As learning becomes ever more embedded in the internet and in escapes from the institution, then both our understanding of the meaning of learning and education and of schooling will change. Schools will become juts a seme – a site of old meaning.

However syntagmatic thinking is also based on the idea focusing not on the novelty of combinations but on the novel act of combining. And I fear that in using technology for teaching and learning up to now we have f9cused on the novelty of combinations of technology and education, rather than look as the novel act of combining technology and learning together.

This post is both a note for myself but also is a trailer. We are working on producing a slidecast of the presentation which I will post here as soon as it is ready.

NB Critical Literacies is a free and open online course. Whilst not as well attended as previous course Stephen has run with George Siemens, it is raising many interesting ideas and is well worth dipping into.

Do we really share a vision?

June 23rd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

As I guess most of you will know the UK has a new right wing coalition government. As always, being a new government, they have announced a raft of new policy measures including in education. the major tenet of the government policy is to use the financial crisis to impose wide ranging cuts on public services. In the education area, early policy announcements have included allowing schools to opt out of local government control (and the introduction of private sponsorship), cuts  in funding of university places (and strongly rumoured rises in tuition costs), a two year freeze on pay rises, cuts to free school meals and the abolition of the British Education Communication and Technology Agency (Becta).

I think it would be fair to say few of these measures have found favour with educationalists! But how should we react to these policies. especially given that the government is only two or so months old? Perhaps I am old fashioned but I think the only answer is to build a broad alliance to oppose government policies. So I am a little bemused by the following letter, available on the NAACE web site,  signed by a broad coalition of organisations involved in Technology Enhanced Education seeking to enter a dialogue with government education minister Michael Gove:

At a meeting on 4 June 2010 Naace, the ICT Association, brought together leaders from key organisations from across the education system to discuss the future of Information Communication Technology in Education.

Agreement was reached on a joint vision statement. We now circulate this to you and other interested parties. We seek assurances from you that the new government recognises the importance of ICT to learning, to learners, to management, and to the overall success of the whole education system.

The freedoms promised to schools, colleges and beyond by the coalition government provide new opportunities for teachers, lecturers and learners to make the best possible use of ICT to support, enrich and extend learning across and beyond the curriculum, thereby improving achievement, enabling personalisation and ensuring employability.

Responsibility for leadership in this field must be shared between schools, colleges, providers of adult learning, local authorities, industry, and government. If we work together, through membership organisations, subject associations and looser networks and communities of educationalists, technologists and policy makers, we can provide the mutual support and challenge that will be needed if the learners in our charge are to continue to benefit.

When used well and managed wisely, ICT is a powerful tool to ensure that:

  • curriculum and pedagogy stay relevant to an increasingly digital world and economy;
  • all learners are included, protected, and empowered;
  • teachers and lecturers have efficient, effective and economic access to digital resources, together with the tools to create and deploy these resources themselves.

The education system is ripe for the development of new models that:

  • maximise the return in learner achievement from investment in ICT;
  • support effective pedagogy;
  • provide an evidence‐base to inform decision‐making;
  • enable efficient procurement of software, hardware, infrastructure, and services through improved market competition and collaborative purchasing;
  • assure the quality and independence from commercial or ideological bias of support available for those in leadership roles.

The success of the country depends on the long term strength of the economy and for this, fluency in ICT matters as much as does competence in English and Mathematics. In short, a digitally literate and digitally creative workforce is of vital importance to every citizen, and achieving this demands an entitlement to the best possible use of ICT in education – by learners, by schools, colleges and institutions, and by educational leaders.

We look forward to confirmation that the newly elected government shares our vision for ICT in education, and we look forward to working with government on putting the vision into practice.

Most of the statement seems fairly innocuous although I am not sure it amounts to a ‘vision’. And although I know we have got used to justifying projects in terms of economic goals, I am not happy with phrases like “the success of the country depends…” to say nothing of the statement recognising the opportunities of the freedoms (read cutbacks and privatisation).

I also see the need for dialogue if we are to even defend the present education system let alone provide increased learning opportunities. But to me the real subtext is – we know you are going to make cutbacks but please don’t cut our part of the system. And that is not a constructive dialogue at all.

Digital story telling stops plagiarism!

June 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

There’s an interesting aside in an article in today’s Guardian newspaper on the so called problems of plagiarism. Why do I say so called? Whilst I would agree that practices of buying and selling essays are a problem, these practices have always gone on. When, many years again pre-internet days, I was a student at Swansea University, it was always possible to buy an essay in a bar. And I would also argue that a side benefit of cut and stick technologies is that standards of referencing in universities today is much higher than it was in my time as student. Indeed at that time, you were expected to buy your tutors’ textbooks and to paraphrase (plagiarise) their work. Plagiarism is as much a social construct as it is a technological issue.

But coming back to today’s article, reporting on a three day international conference on plagiarism at Northumbria University, the Guardian reports that “The conference will also hear that the problem of plagiarism at university could be reduced if students used “digital storytelling” – creating packages of images and voiceovers – rather than essays to explain their learning from an imagined personal perspective.

Phil Davies, senior lecturer at Glamorgan university’s computing school, said he had been using the technique for two years and had not seen any evidence of cheating. “Students find it really hard but it’s very rewarding, because they’re not copying and writing an essay, they have to think about it and bring their research into a personal presentation.”

Another approach is to focus on authentic assessment – or rather assessment of authentic learning tasks. In this case students are encouraged to use the internet for research but have to reflect on and re-purpose materials for reporting on their own individual research.

In both cases this goes beyond dealing plagiarism – it is good practice in teaching and learning. And I wonder if that might be a better starting point for the efforts of researchers, developers and teachers.

Learning spaces and e-portfolios

June 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

There is an interesting interview with Rob Arntsen, the CEO of MyKnowledgeMap in the latest edition of the Eifel newsletter. Rob was asked to describe his vision of ePortfolios.

“We believe that the term is perhaps too general and becoming overtaken by events as the learning technology market evolves. On one hand I prefer the concept of a person’s individual learning space, such that the individual is in control of what they identify as their tailored learning space, which embraces their social networking space and which allows them to showcase and to grant access selectively.

On the other hand, for obvious reasons, the historic trend behind e-portfolio development has been driven by institutions to primarily address institutional interest in delivering a solution in this area. That requirement is still valid, and so we need to see the concept that allows the “bridge” between an individual in control of their own learning space and the institution’s valid need for some form of consistent method of interlocking with their students learning processes. This is why we are developing Learning Slate, which is an open source development, initially with Hull University and JISC.

……The changes we have seen in the e-portfolio market are many and varied. There has been the growth in use of significant open source solutions such as Mahara, the merging of reflective style portfolios with competency orientated assessment, and the linkage with assessment. I also am starting to get the feel that this space is becoming more important than the traditional LMS/VLE product and may perhaps take centre stage at some point. Generally we are seeing more interest in video content and e-book content alongside other content, and indeed the close integration of video and e-books within e-learning and assessment objects.

Perhaps the most dramatic and rapid change has been the very strong interest in mobile phones, especially smart phones and related technology. I suspect this will continue to evolve quickly with the advent of the i-pad and similar devices.”

Rob’s idea of a learning space is similar to the Personal Learning Environments we have described on this site. And Rob is right when he says “the historic trend behind e-portfolio development has been driven by institutions to primarily address institutional interest in delivering a solution in this area.” But I am not sure why he says this requirement is still valid if students are in control of their own learning in their own learning spaces.

The PLE unKeynote

June 19th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have been paired together with Alec Couros as co-keynotes at the PLE Conference in Barcelona, Spain, July 8-9. The organizers have recently asked us to do something different than a typical keynote, so we have been thinking about an unKeynote format. In keeping with the theme of the conference (PLEs), we’re hoping that individuals in our network would be willing to help us frame what this might look like. We would like you to write your ideas in the shared Google document. We will review all your ideas, come up with a format and then once more invite your inputs.

The document is open and can be accessed by clicking this link.

Critical Literacies, Pragmatics and Education

June 17th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Yesterday, together with my colleague Jenny Hughes, I made a presentation to participants in the Critical Literacies course being run by Rita Kop and Stephen Downes as part of their ongoing research project on Personal Learning Environments.

The course blog says: “Technology has brought changes to the way people learn and some “critical literacies” are becoming increasingly important. This course is about these critical literacies. Critical, as the course is not just about finding out how to use the latest technologies for learning, but to look critically at the Web and its underlying structures. Literacies, as it is more about capabilities to be developed than about the acquisition of a set of skills. It is all about learning what is needed to develop confidence and competence, and to feel capable of negotiating an ever changing information and media landscape.”

Our presentation was on pragmatics. Pragmatics, we said is a sub field of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning.

Today we have made a short version of the presentation as a slidecast. In the presentation we explore different ideas about context in education. In the final part of the presentation we look at Personal Learning Environments and how they relate to issues of meaning and context.

The introductory and end music is from an album called Earth by zero-project. it can be downloaded from the excellent Jamendo web site.

Writing plain English

June 15th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

For my sins I often am asked to review papers for conferences, books and journals. I think this is fair as a contribution to an emerging community of practice but i can’t say I enjoy the process. I find it very hard to decide what should be the standard and am worried that I am being fair to authors who have obviously invested a lot of time and effort into their research and writing. I struggle even more if the author is writing in a second or third language. How important is the standard of the English? And how much should style count towards the review?

One thing that does annoy me is the throwing around of unreferenced assertions. All these example are taken from papers I have reviewed recently:

“Many researchers say…… ”

“It is unquestionable that…..”

“Most students are…….”

“We have rapidly come to a point where….”

“There is a perception that….”

I like papers with attitude. And papers jammed full of references at the end of every sentence are extremely hard to read. Even so, I think that assertions of this kind need some evidence to back them up. Furthermore what does ‘most’ or ‘many’ mean.

In that respect I like the approach of the Welsh agency, Estyn. The purpose of Estyn is to inspect quality and standards in education and training in Wales. Estyn’s reports follow its guidance for the writing and editing of reports, which is available on the Estyn website (www.estyn.gov.uk). Estyn also publish a table, reproduced below, in the introduction to their reports, showing the terms that Estyn uses and a broad idea of their meaning. Whilst such an approach may seem pedantic, it greatly helps in understanding what they are saying .

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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.

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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).

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    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.

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