Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Blackboard, Elluminate, edupunk and PLEs: looking to the future

August 9th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

George Siemens has written a blog post about Blackboard’s take over of Elluminate and Wimbla.I agree with him in saying this is an astute move by Blackboard – however I am not quite sure what he means when he talks about integration allowing mangers to buy the educational process. OK – so Blackboard moves beyond being just a VLE. But the educational process is still dependent on pedagogy, whatever tools are integrated in a single application.

I am also very dubious about his view on the evolution of online learning environments. George says:

Over the last eight years, the market has experience enormous change (web 2.0, virtual worlds, social media, networked learning). But many things have settled in the process. Some universities are beginning to focus on a big-picture view of technology: making learning resources available in multimedia, integrating technology from design to delivery, using mobile technologies, and increased focus on network pedagogy. Blackboard (and LMS’ in general) have been able to present the message that “you need an LMS to do blended and online learning”.

To counter this view, the edupunk/DIY approach to learning has produced an emphasis on personal learning environments and networks. To date, this movement has generated a following from a small passionate group of educators, but has not really made much of an impact on traditional education. I don’t suspect it will until, sadly, it can be commoditized and scaled to fit into existing systemic models of education. Perhaps Downes’ Plearn research project, or OU’s SocialLearn project will prove me wrong (I really hope they do!!). For the purposes of this post, however, the brave new world of online learning will be dominated by LMS like Moodle, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and regional players like Fronter.

I have never seen edupunk being a movement which would move in and takeover the traditional education system. What edupunk does provide is an alternative to traditional pedagogy as well as showing there are other routes than commercialisation of education through technology. I don’t expect any institutional manager to announce a new policy based on edupunk? But what we are seeing is increasing numbers of teachers using social software for tecahing and learning. The impact of that is far harder to measure than the number of VLEs adopted by different educational institutions. It will also probably have a far more profound impact of tecahing and learning and pedagogic approaches to using technology.

The second impact of PLEs, edupunk and social software is in the developing ideas and practice around Open Learning. Knowledge and learning is escaping from the institution. And long term that will be the greatest impact of all.

Assistive technologies

August 5th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have been in Swindon for the last two days, visiting my elderly parents. My mother is having some problems walking and my fathers eyesight has deteriorated considerably.

Unable to get out often , my father misses particularly being able to read.  And this is where assistive technologies should come in. Surely in this MP3 driven world of connectivity he should be able to find a something to read him the football news in the morning or read a historical novel. Except no – it would seem.

The present range of assistive technologies seem to assume the ability to operate a computer. Furthermore few devices are designed for those with visual difficulties. In fact my fathers favorite gadget is a watch with two buttons to press for an audio version of the date and the time. He does get some audio books on CD ROM from a local charity. But he has no choice of what book they give him. And although the lcoal library also has CDROMs for audio books, he is unable to see to select them (and my mother unable to walk to select them!).

I know the EU is funding a research programme strand on assistive technologies. I am going to be looking with some interest in what they are actually producing. Because it seems to me that in the commercial world, developers and manufacturers are more interested in maximising their profits on the mass market, than in designing for those with disabilities.

NB I would be very grateful for any ideas you might have on this.

Reflection, metacognition and critical pedagogy

August 4th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Apologies to those of you who have been unable to access the Pontydysgu web site over the past couple of days. We have some issues with our Apache server which we are trying to track down. Hopefully we should get a permanent fix soon (may thanks to Raymond Elferink for all his efforts to help us).

Some more quick notes on pedagogy – an issue that is somewhat obsessing me at the moment.

One of the issue which is constantly arising is that of reflection. Reflection is seen by many as a powerful tool for learning and especially for metacognition. Yet reflection is seen as problematic. As teachers we cannot force learners to reflect. And many teachers – especially in the upper school systems and in universities complain that students do not want to reflect – they want just to be told what they have to learn to pass their exams.

I have taught in many sectors (or domains) in the education system. I have worked as a detached youth worker, in adult education, as  as a teacher trainer and as a trainer for continuing educational development. I have also (occasionally) taught undergraduate students in university. And what strikes me is  very different approaches to reflection and to pedagogy in those different domains.

We seldom talked about reflection when I was working as a youth worker or  trainer. We often talked about reflection when i worked as a university teacher. Yet despite this, there were far higher levels of refection in training courses I have run than on university courses I have taught on. Why?

University courses are geared around a subject based curriculum. Essentially we are involved in dividing up that curriculum into chunks and providing lectures, seminars and assessed assignments to ensure the curriculum is fully covered in a semester or module.

In contrast trainers – be it in professional development or in youth work have a very different starting point and pedagogic focus. Essentially trainers are concerned above all with designing learning. This includes

  • A focus on the needs of the learners, rather than the demands of a syllabus
  • The development of aims and objectives for learner achievement
  • The design of the learning environment
  • The design of learning activities
  • Formative assessment for learners to measure their own (both individual and collective) progress
  • Mechanisms for evaluation, feedback and iterative programme development

In terms of activities we were often looking for active and authentic learning activities – activities designed to help learners develop their own ideas. And we would build in methods for discussion and exchange of ideas. Programme planning and design used to take much longer – in professional development we had a rule of thumb which said two days development time for each days delivery. Of course this is resource intensive. But would a change to focus on the needs of the learners and to design authentic learning activities not facilitate the kind of reflective learning to which we aspire. That might mean tearing up rigid curricula. It might mean developing new learning environments outside a classroom. It might mean moving away from individual assessment. But it might be worth it.

Notes on open education and critical pedagogy

August 2nd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

The last week saw some interesting posts on Open Education – see  Richard Hall’s recent blog post Open education: the need for critique, Terry Wassall on Open education, people, content,  process . This debate will not go away and although it is progressing at a frustratingly slow speed it is central to attempts to use technology for changing tecahing and learning, rather than replicating and managing the present educational systems.

I also suspect that one of the drivers of such a debate is the increasing pressures on education – on the one hand cutbacks in funding, on the other hand increasing pressure for higher levels of education and for lifelong learning.

Having said that it is perfectly legitimate to advocate open educational resources as improving existing institutional provision. But even at that level, OERs challenge ideas around the ownership of knowledge and the use of that knowledge.

It is also striking that we are developing a linked set of ideas – Open Educational Resources, Personal Learning Environments, Personal Learning Networks. I share some of Richard Hill’s concerns over individualisation. At the end of the day learning is a social process. And indeed there are risks, if PLEs and PLNs are merely seen as different ways of pursuing learning within educational institutions. It is striking that the right wing English education minister, Michael Grove, has been promoting private profit driven universities as a means of increasing the use of distance learning and educational technology. However, there is an alternative discourse within the PLE / PLN development looking to promote social and community based learning to reach outside the educational institutions, very much as posed by Illich in his ground breaking treatise on deschooling society.

Whilst I agree with Terry Wassall in placing the act of tecahing and learning at the centre of debates over critical pedagogy, I also think that the widening contexts and domains of learning also could play a key role in such a critique. It has been the very narrowing down of what has been seen as legitimate in terms of learning practice and domains that has led to the hierarchical systems of education and knowledge that we see today and to the devaluing of both certain forms of learning – such as vocational education – and the disregarding of different learning domains – especially the workplace and community.

In that respect, a critical pedagogy needs to reach back and link with older traditions of workers self education as well as embrace the potentials of technology/

To be continued……..

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    News Bites

    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.


    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time


    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”


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