Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Diversity and Divide in TEL: the case for Personal Learning Environments

January 24th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Crisi-tunity

 危机 – wēijī is the Chinese word for “crisis”. It comprises the symbols 危 wēi (danger) and 机 jī (opportunity)

Next week I had planned to be at the Alpine Rendezvous in France, at a workshop entitled ‘Technology Enhanced Learning: crisis and response’.

The aims of the workshop are to:

  • discuss the relationships between TEL and varieties of change, discontinuity and dislocation we observe in the wider world;
  • explore how communities and research traditions involved in TEL can learn from each other, particularly to bring about more open, participative, emancipatory and fluid models of TEL;
  • consider and shape a research agenda for TEL that will allow relevant, rigorous and useful responses on the part of educational organisations and actors to the various discontinuities we have identified.

As specific outcomes we will have:

  • contributed to a clearer and more politically engaged formulation of the Grand Challenges for TEL as part of the ARV process;
  • clarified, refined and challenged our own ideas, leading to a special issue or publication.

The ever indefatigable Ilona Buchem and myself had submitted an abstract called ‘Diversity and TEL: the case for Personal Learning Environments. Sadly I have managed to double book myself and cannot go to the workshop. But Ilona will be there and she has just updated our position paper (reproduced below). And I hope the workshop will be the start of something longer term, where we can explore the social impact of TEL and how it can develop a response to the ongoing social and economic crisis.

Abstract

In this position paper, we discuss whether current TEL promotes diversity or divide and the current barriers in promoting diversity in TEL. We discuss these issues based on the example of Personal Learning Environments (PLE), which is as an approach to TEL aiming at empowering learners to use diverse technological tools suited to their own needs and connecting with other learners through building Personal Learning Networks. We argue that this approach to TEL promotes diversity through boundary-crossing and responding to the diverse needs and prerequisites that each individual learner brings in. At the same time we discuss how the PLE approach challenges current educational practices and what tensions arise when Personal Learning Environments are implemented in educational institutions.

Dangers

How can and should TEL address the numerous challenges of our times, such as economic, demographic, environmental and social challenges? One of the most straightforward contributions of TEL would be to address persisting educational inequalities across age groups, which are often determined by such factors as socio-economic background, geographic location, native language, race, ethnicity, health and gender. Shouldn’t TEL be aiming at providing all people with affordable opportunities to learn and connect with others, with open access to resources, with options of choosing how, when and where they want to learn, with support to learn when no other support is given, taking into account different educational expectations, desires, and dispositions? This may sound utopian, but the penalties for ignoring the challenge of educational disparities are immense, and pose danger on employment, mobility and social cohesion.

Divide

To provide equal opportunities of participation in an increasingly global and increasingly digital world, diminishing digital divide should become the visible agenda of TEL. The digital divide cannot be discussed only as a gap between technology haves and have-nots. Below the inequalities in access and usage, there is also a problem of a divide between contexts, domains and communities that different learners operate in. Following Gorski (2005) in his postulate for a significant paradigm shift in framing digital divide, digital inequalities have to considered from the perspective of larger educational and social inequalities:

As such, we must keep at the fore of the digital divide discussion the fact that the groups most disfranchised by it are the same groups historically and currently disfranchised by curricular and pedagogical practices, evaluation and assessment, school counseling, and all other aspects of education (and society at large).

Innovation

The need for empowered learners as citizens engaging in cross-boundary, problem-solving has been advocated as a necessary means for social innovation. It is through boundary-crossing or bridging the divides that individual and sociocultural differences can become a resource. However, mainstream TEL has not fully recognised the opportunity of boundary crossing and engaging diverse learners in collective action related to solving real life problems. Much of TEL is developed to fit the prevailing educational paradigm, focusing on ever more efficient management of learning and more reliable methods of assessment rather than encouraging learners to explore diverse ideas, experiment with diverse formats or build bridges to diverse communities.

Diversity

Can promoting diversity through TEL be a response to crisis? Certainly, in view of the growing complexity of societal, environmental and economic challenges and the ever increasing amount of information and communication possibilities, diversity may raise new questions, challenges and concerns. However, both research and practice provide evidence that diversity, in terms of individual or group attributes as well as in terms of different content, resources and tools provides valuable opportunities for intellectual engagement, personal growth and the development of novel solutions. How can we promote diversity through TEL? One possible approach would be to grant “access” to learning while at the same time broadening the meaning of “access” beyond physical access and usage rates to include access to an array of media and choices, access to support and encouragement, access to inclusive content and experiences (Gorski, 2005).

Personal Learning Environments

Personal Learning Environments, as an approach to TEL, focus on the learner-controlled and learner-led uses of technologies for learning with no centralised control over tools, information or interactions. This strong focus on autonomous, literate learners as agents and decision-makers taking control and claiming ownership of their learning environments is of course in contrast with regulated and planned processes at schools and universities, demanding radical changes in the prevailing educational paradigm. TEL, based on the Personal Learning Environments approach, vests learners with control over learning processes and outcomes, including planing, content, interactions, resources and assessment. In this way, the PLE approach challenges not only the prevailing educational paradigm, but also TEL approaches inspired by this paradigm, such as Learning Management Systems and pre-programmed, locked-down systems, such as some types of video games or mobile apps, which place learners in the role of recipients and consumers of systems devised by others, while failing to foster both generativity and boundary-crossing.

Boundary-crossing

Such pre-programmed, quality-controlled and locked-down approaches to TEL have led to “walled gardens in cyberspace”, isolating different learners and learning contexts, posing external constraints on what learners can do in such environments in terms of activities, resources and tools. Alternatively, learner-controlled uses of technologies, as embodied in the Personal Learning Environments approach, have facilitated boundary crossing and merging multiple learning contexts, domains and communities. The postulate of boundary-crossing through the PLE approach has a human and technological dimension. On one hand, the PLE approach calls for learners to claim and make use of ownership and control over their learning environment, exerting agency in terms of the human capacity to make choices and uses those choices in real world interactions. On the other hand, the PLE approach calls for openness, decentralisation, connectivity and permeability of technological systems.

Attributes

PLE-triangle

With learner ownership, control and agency combined with openness, decentralisation, connectivity and permeability of technological systems being the core attributes of the PLE approach to TEL, diversity becomes natural (Buchem, Attwell, Torres, 2011). The PLE approach promotes diversity of social interactions, diversity of learning contexts and diversity of learning practices. Personal Learning Environments entail diverse people and communities coming together, diverse technology tools and platforms used and combined by learners, diverse content production and consumption modes, diverse access points and modes of learning.

Conflicts

However, diversity promoted by the PLE approach is a source of conflict when PLEs and other systems interact. Specifically, tensions arise at the points traditionally considered as legitimate divides in the education system including TEL, for example (a) private vs. public access, (b) course members vs. non-members, (c) disciplinary knowledge vs. practice-based knowledge, (d) formal vs. informal learning context, (e) expert vs. novice, (f) individual vs. collective practice, (g) assessment vs. reflection, (h) planning vs. implementation, or (i) standards vs. innovation.

Opportunities

We argue that challenging these presumably legitimate boundaries in TEL as postulated by the PLE approach is a way to innovation which may bring viable responses to the crises.

Literature

Buchem, I., Attwell, G., Torres, R. (2011). Understanding Personal Learning Environments: Literature review and synthesis through the Activity Theory lens. pp. 1-33. Proceedings of the The PLE Conference 2011.

Gorski, P. (2005). Education equity and the digital divide. Association for the Advancement of Computers in Education Journal, 13(1), 3-45.

Announcing Serennu ar sgeip

January 24th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I seem to have spent the last two weeks in meetings. Breakfast meetings, slype meetings, FlashMeeting, pub meetings (my favourite). Anyway one of the best of the meetings was with a team of students at HsKa – the technical university of Karlsruhe in Germany. The students have been working with us over the last five months on a project to develop a new platform called Serennu ar sgeip for school teachers to manage virtual presentations form people in different occupations to students in their class.

Today we had the final review presentation with the students and their teachers. And it was awesomely good – both the presentation and the platform. This is a teaser post. Both the teachers and members of the team have promised ot right up their experiences of the project to post on this blog. We will also talk about our perceptions of the project in a mini series which we will be running here. And of course we will tell you more about the platform based on wordpress and available under an open source license.

Congratulations to the HsKa team. We are looking forward to your reflections.

What happens when you privatise vocational education and training

January 15th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Interesting paragraph in the Marchmont Observatory Web Flash:

The new Pearson boss, John Fallon, just last week took a £120 million hit, as he announced plans to close its UK adult-education arm — less than three years after buying the core business, Melorio, for £99 million.

Now I didn’t even realise that Pearson was a big UK vocational training provider. Neither were they, it seems, until 2010 when they bought Meloria which according to the Financial Times provided “training courses for the IT, construction and healthcare industries, areas which Pearson believes will be in demand in its key target markets such as the Middle East, Brazil, India and China.” The company was renamed Pearson in Practice.

At the time Meloria, according to company documents, had 49 training centres in the UK training 150000 people a year. In 2009-10 on revenue of £58.4 million they made an operating profit of £13.6 million.

But it was nothing to do with the so called key target markets that led to Pearson pulling out. The Evening Standard newspaper quotes Dame Marjorie Scardino, predecessor of present Pearson boss John Fallon,  of warning last year that adult training was suffering, after trading took a turn for the worse when the Government changed the way apprenticeships were funded.

The Evening Standard goes on to say: “Pearson is now working with the Government-backed Skills Funding Agency and further education colleges to transfer students to other training providers “with a minimum of disruption”. Last year, Pearson in Practice helped to “deliver” 170,000 apprenticeships in the UK and overseas.”

So what can we make of all this? Apprenticeship training in the UK was largely privatiscd with Pearson prepared to pay a big premium for what it saw as easy profits based on government funding. And when that funding didn’t raise the same profits that they had dreamed of they just pulled out. No wonder there have been so many complaints at the quality of apprenticeship training in the UK.

If the UK properly funded vocational education and training providers in the public sector these messes would never happen. And if apprenticeship is to become a proper route for skills and competence, then private companies like Pearson cannot be trusted to provide it.

RadioActive Europe

January 14th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

A lot of the work we do in Pontydysgu is sponsored by the European Commission through its various programmes for supporting life long learning and the use of technology for learning. this has its advantages and its downsides. It allows us to undertake work which would be too risky on a commercial basis. And it is great to develop partnerships with organisations in different European countries. On the other hand, communication can be tricky. It is time consuming to develop project proposals, the funding is increasingly highly competitive and it is sometimes hard to see why some projects are approved whilst others are not. And, the reporti8ng, especially the financial reporting is increasingly bureaucratic and time consuming. In reality, too, the funding is often not sufficient for the work we want to do and thus we end up subsidising the publicly funded projects with income from better paid private contracts.

Having said all that, I am delighted with the launch of our latests Lifelong Learning Project, RadioActive Europe. I will write again about what we hope to achieve from the project. But this, somewhat stilted Eurospeak text, comes from the summary in the application document. And if you might be interested in getting involved we cannot fund you, but will be very happy to share with you all our project development. Just add a comment here or email me.

This project will develop and implement a pan-European Internet Radio platform, incorporating Web 2.0 functionality, linked to innovative community based pedagogies to address themes of employability, inclusion and active citizenship in an original and exciting way. The Internet Radio will provide an innovative way to engage, retain and develop those who are excluded or at risk of exclusion, and its low-cost, extensibility and sustainability, compared with fm radio for example, is a key dimension in ensuring the success of this project.

Through actively developing, implementing and running the RadioActive station and its national channels, the target groups – of older schoolchildren, young people and other older people – will develop digital competencies and employability skills ‘in vivo’ that are relevant to the 21C workplace. These competencies and skills will be accredited to provide a platform to further education or employment related to the knowledge and creative and digital industries. To quote one of the UK Youth workers who will be involved in this project: ‘I can’t think of one young person who I work with who would not want to be involved’.

The consortium is led by the University of East London (UK), with other partners from Portugal (CIMJ), Germany (UKL), UK (Pontydysgu), Malta (KIC) and Romania (ODIP). We will fully interface with at least 10 National Organisations and 450-500 direct beneficiaries, who will broadcast or link with over 5000 listeners or web-site users.

The outcomes of the project will be: a transferable and reusable model for developing internet radio and social media initiatives to address exclusion; a robust internet radio and social media platform (RadioActive Europe) incorporating 5 national Channels; an extensive and sustainable network of users and user organisations maintained through a European Support Hub (ESH); and, measured improvements in individual and community developments that address exclusion.

 

How long does it take to build a mobile app?

January 14th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

How long does it take to make a mobile app?

Kinvey Backend as a Service

Another in my occasional series of infographics. I have tried several times to make infographics myself but have never managed to do anything I am happy with. I particularly like this one as it tries to answer a question which few people I asked could give me a clear answer to. And it also shows the amount of effort it takes to produce a good App. I guess that Pontydysgu is going to have to enter the app market this year.

Incidentally, Kinvey, the company behind this infographic who seem to be selling Back end as a Service (a new term to me), also provide access to downland a free ebook, ‘How to make an Android App‘. This seems to be a growing trend of providing free ebooks in return for providing them with your email address. I don’t mind this as long as they use their database sparingly!

What might open learning mean in 2013?

January 7th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

A new year and it is time to return to the blog. I have been back in work for a week but bogged down with a project financial report. Anyway happy new year to everybody.

New year is traditionally the time bloggers make their predictions for the year ahead. There doesn’t appear to be anything startling in predictions for educational technology. As Stephen Downes says

I’m always thinking about the future of learning technology, even if I don’t write about it so much these days. This is partially because it has become a bit predictable. Learning will become more open and content cheaper and easier to produce – hence, the move to flips, MOOCs and son-of-flips-and-MOOCs will continue. Computer hardware will continue to outpace need, so we’ll see an increase in cloud and virtualization. Always-connected and mobile will continue to grow and increase capacity with LTE and processing power, so we’ll see always-on learning. And then of course there are the things that have happened in the past, which are the easiest to predict, things like 3D printing, gamification and analytics. All good. These are the easy predictions, and everyone is making them.

He goes on to make an interesting prediction that publishers will regain power from the move to HTML5 which is harder to use than previous mark up technologies. I am not so sure about this – there are a growing number of software development kits which may make HTML5 quite easy to use.

I also think the move towards open learning needs a bit of unpicking. Open could and should go way beyond higher education institutions offering MOOCs – be they of the c or x variant. Way more important for me is the potential for knowledge to be shared openly and to be applied in context. Always-connected and mobile moves learning out of the classroom and into the context in which both knowledge might be acquired practically and at the same time applied. And if learning analytics could be extended beyond its present institutional focus to look at real life learning there is the potential to merge learning and knowledge development as well as formal and informal learning and develop a whole new ecosystem of learning. That is my hope and my prediction for 2013.

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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.

    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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