Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Personal Learning Environments, division and interpersonal dissent

December 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Norm Friesen has taken a look at the use of commercial and social software applications for Personal Learning Environments in a paper published in First Monday and entitled ‘Education and the Social Web. Connective learning and the Commercial Imperative‘.

The major thrust of his argument is that services such as Facebook, Twitter and Digg or even Google are designed around the interests of advertisers rather than of users.

Particularly interesting is Friesen’s point  that such services deny any negative responses or the ability to express disapproval or dissent. So whilst the Facebook ‘like ‘ button populates thousands of web sites there is no such button for dislike. Equally Twitter tells you when you have followers, but not when someone has chosen no longer to follow you. The business model of commercial social networks is based on advertising, assisted by data collection and powerful tracking and analysis capabilities.

Freiesen concludes that the pattern of suppressing division, negativity and interpersonal dissent runs counter to common models for pedagogic engagement and interaction. Commercial software services by design serve other priorities than learning, indeed they are often opposed to it.

Friesen reiterates the social process of education, but does not see knowledge as being exclusively embodies in networks of connection an affiliation, in the way some researchers have.

It is hard to argue with much that Norm Friesen says in this paper. However, there are other models for social software applications, other than advertising. Indeed, the last sic months has seen increasing numbers of previously free applications launching premium services (either for extra fiunctionaility or file space or to get rid of the advertisements!).

Nevertheless I have always been wary of the idea of basing a Personal Learning Environment on Facebook or Google.  Facebook offers far too little user control. Google, on the other had, produces some excellent software tools, which can be used as part of a PLE without long term dependencies, I think.

Norm Friesen limited himself to commercial providers in his paper. However applications like Buddypress and Elgg, both available as Open Source, have growing social functionality. Furthermore for those users willing to learn a little, they offer plenty of opportunities for designing their use. It may be that it is that process of design which is mots important in developing a Personal Learning Environment. I have written before of how the PLE itself should be seen as outcome of learning as well as a process. Probably the major failure of commercial social software services is that they deny the user that involvement in the design process.

And going beyond the issues Norm raises, the issue of control is once more bubbling near the surface. Whilst most institutions have been looking at the possible cost advantages of using cloud services, the service providers have shown though the wikileaks saga how susceptible they are to governmental and commercial pressures.

Using technology to support different forms of knowledge

December 13th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am ever more interested in how we can use technologies for knowledge development and sharing. In terms of research I think we need to bring together ideas and insights from different academic and research communities. Although there has been a traditional of discourse between those working in education and technology developers, this is less so when it comes to ideas about organisational learning and different forms of knowledge.

I have just read an interesting paper by Bengt-Ake Lundvall, Palle Rasmussen and Edward Lorenz on ‘Education in the Learning Economy: a European Perspective’. Let me first say I have always been sceptical about such terms as ‘learning economy’ and ‘knowledge economy ‘which seem to be too often bandied about as a mantra, rather than with any exact meaning. But I would agree with the authors observation that knowledge is becoming obsolete more rapidly than before so that employees have to learn and acquire new competencies. the authors say “It makes a major difference whether economic growth is seen as being fuelled by investments in codified scientific and technological knowledge, or whether it is seen as being driven by learning processes resulting in a combination of codified and tacit knowledge.”

International comparisons tend to focus on the first measure,. looking, for example at expenditure on research and development (R&D) and at the number of science and technology graduates. The latter perspective – captured by the term the learning economy –they say,  “can be seen in work focusing on the way informal networking relations, practical problem-solving on the job, and investments in lifelong learning contribute to competence building.”

At the heart of their argument is the nature of different forms of knowledge. They propose “a taxonomy of knowledge where it is divided into four categories (Lundvall & Johnson, 1994):

  • Know-what refers to knowledge about ‘facts’. Here, knowledge is close to what is normally called information – it can be broken down into bits and communicated as data.
  • Know-why refers to knowledge about causality nature, in the human mind and in society. This kind of knowledge is important for technological development in science-based industries.
  • Know-how refers to the ability to do something. It may be related to the skills of artisans and workers. But actually it plays a role in all economic activities, including science and management.
  • Know-who involves information about who knows what and who knows what to do as well as the social ability to cooperate and communicate with different kinds of people and experts.

Lundvall, Rasmussen and Edward Lorenz point to important differences in the degree to which these four categories of knowledge can be codified and in how education systems are affected by the degree of codification. the main point of their paper is to look at how traditional schoolings systems have become isolated from society and how the organisation into subjects and disciplines fails to maestro the needs of how we are developing and using knowledge. they also point to dramatic difference sin work organisation and opportunities for work based learning in different countries in Europe concluding that “Educational principles and cultures focusing on collaboration, interdisciplinarity and engagement with real-life problems are needed to prepare people for flexible and innovative participation in the economy and society.”

They do not deal with the issues of how we are using technology for learning  and knowledge development although they acknowledge that “data bases can bring together know-what in a more or less user friendly form”. Interestingly they piontyt0 to “the failure of IBM, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard to develop management information systems that could substitute for ‘the art of managing’ ” despite considerable investment and incentives to do so,
Traditional, Technology Enhanced Learning has focused on the know what and know-why. There has been little attention on the know how. yet it is this form of knowledge which is perhaps the most important within many enterprises and is changing most rapidly.  True, we have access to increasing numbers of know-how videos. yet we have possibly failed to develop pedagogical and learning approaches to how to use video and audio in an active sense. We tend to use it in the old English pedagogic sense of ‘watching Nellie’ rather than in any thought through way. and even though the web allows us to find people, their is only limited linkages to knowing who does what well, and even less to “the social ability to cooperate and communicate with different kinds of people and experts.”

Can social networking fill such a gap? Once more my feeling is that it can, but only to a limited extent. Social networki9ng allows us to tell what we are doing and what we are thinking. recommender systems allow the development of patterns. Yet they lack the idea of purpose and intent.

There are many instances of exchange of knowledge through different platforms in communities of practice. equally companies like CISCO or IBM have set up platforms to promote the process of turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge though for example podcasts and other companies such as Shell-BP have established extensive wikis for the same purpose. However these initiatives fail to ‘scale=down’ for use in smaller enterprises. One of the issues may be that of fragmentary knowledge and the difficulty of how we can scaffold fragments of knowledge gained through practice – or know how = into wider knowledge bases, which necessarily have to build on purpose and context.

Furthermore, looking at practice in smaller enterprises, the nature of collaboration and social exchange becomes critical, Lundvall, Rasmussen and Lorenz cite the work of Marshall (1923), “who was concerned to explain the real-world phenomenon of industrial districts, (and) emphasised the local character of knowledge. He found that specific specialised industries were concentrated in certain regions and that such industrial districts remained competitive for long historical periods.”

So another issue is how to support that local character of knowledge – and indeed to rethink what local might mean in a connected world.

(More to come in a later post)

Back from Berlin

December 7th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am just about recovering from an interesting but hectic five days in Berlin last week.

On Monday and Tuesday we had a meeting of the European funded G8WAY project. Just to recap for new readers this project is looking at the issues involved in educational transitions, particularly between school and university and university and work, and is seeking to develop social software to support such transitions.

Much of the first year of the project has been taken up in researching the issues. Particularly interesting is the stories of young people which have been collected by the partners and posted on the web site. From these stories we have refined down three key persona and in parallel have been looking at the potential for interventions. This in itself raises a series of ethical issues. Do young people want us to intervene? (teacher leave the kids alone!). How much can the ‘collective’ project team claim expertise to intervene? And if we are merely raising opportunities for story telling and peer support is that an intervention?

And of course last week came the hard part. Just what can we expect to achieve in a small funded two year project. How from all the ideas we have do we take this decision? These issues not withstanding, the meeting made progress and I will report further on our next years plan of work in the near future.

On Wednesday, we held an On-line Educa Berlin pre-conference workshop on ‘Careers 2.0 – Supporting educational transitions with Web 2.0 and social software.’ (I have a horrible feeling I wrote the title. I promise I will stop putting 2.0 after everything now – I know it is an annoying habit).

The workshop was a lot of fun, because of the lengthy and detailed planning that had gone into it, the enthusiasm of our guest speakers and the participation of the audience. I am not sure if we videoed it but I thought that Tabea, Magda and myself ‘acting’ or role playing young people telling their transition stories was one hundred times more effective than if we had done the usual powerpoint presentation of our findings. Participants also gave us much useful feedback for the project which once more I will publish here as soon as it is written up.

And then on to Online Educa itself. It was a somewhat hectic three days for me. Besides the pre-conference workshop, we presented two on line radio shows in our Sounds of the Bazaar series, I presented a paper on Vygotsky and Personal Learning Environments, I chaired a session on Open Education Resources and took part in a debate – Is the LMS dead?

This pretty much took up all of my time so my impressions of the conference may be a bit limited. Online Educa is a great social occasion and it was brilliant to catch up with so many friends from many different countries. But to me at least the conference felt a little flat – it was hard to detect any discernible buzz. If there was a meme it was that the future is mobile but that is hardly new! The debate on the Is the LMS Dead? was a little strange. there were four of us in the debate – Larry Johnson, from The New Media Consortium, USA, Roger Larsen, formerly from Fronter and now taken over by Pearson Platforms, Norway, Richard Horton, from Blackboard International, UK and myself.

I was ready for a good bad tempered debate with lots of sneaky point scoring (especially after having consorted with the enemy from Blackboard over a bottle of wine the previous evening). But they never offered any real defence. Roger basically said we need an LMS as an extra layer of software – to enable single sign on and that sort of thing to provide easy access to social software. Indeed he opened up by saying he agreed the LMS was dead! And all Richard could say to defend Blackboard was that institutions needed applications for management and administration. But neither pretended any learning value for their respective platforms – indeed neither really seemed to want to talk about learning. So maybe the LMS is dead – they are simply giving up. And maybe the real debate is not with fronter or Blackboard but with Moodle.

Anyway a big shoutout to everyone I met last week. And many thanks to our ;crew for all their hard work – to Eileen, Judith, Klaus, Dirk and Jen.

Online Educa Berlin 2010 LIVE Radio 2nd Day

December 3rd, 2010 by Dirk Stieglitz

Here the podcast of Friday’s “Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE Radio Programme” from Online Educa Berlin 2010.

Online Educa Berlin 2010 LIVE Radio 1st Day

December 2nd, 2010 by Dirk Stieglitz

We had a great time this morning at Online Educa Berlin. For the third year in a row, we broadcast an internet radio show live from the conference. And we had some brilliant guests. Amongst others on the show, Josie Fraser talks about digital literacies, Larry Johnson explains the work of the New Media Consortium and their annual “Horizon Report”, John Traxler talks about mobiles, Steve Wheeler explains Web X, Tabea Schlimbach and Erik Wallin give an update on the G8WAY project on educational transitions and Helen Keegan tells Jenny Hughes what she has been up to over the last year.

If you missed the programme or just want to listen agin here is the podcast. And you can listen live to tomorrow’s extended programme from 11.00 to 12.00 CET at http://radio.jiscemerge.org.uk:80/Emerge.m3u

The programme last 40 minutes. Many thanks to all on the crew – Judith Seipold, Jenny Hughes, Klaus Rummler, Eileen Lübcke and Dirk Stieglitz.

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