Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Managing data and managing projects

September 23rd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I’m sure I have written about this before but it is worth retelling. I first coordinated a multi country, multi partner European project in 1995. And for the first six months as well as ending emails, all project communications were sent by post. After six months I announced I was stopping the printed postal versions and would only communicate via telephone or email. Several of the partners protested, most of them the more advanced users who had Apple computers and who feared incomparability with Windows generated data.

Over the years software and systems have evolved and so has the way we run these projects. For many years we used to write in the box entitled innovation that we would hold regular video conferences. We never did because the software never worked. Skype and other applications like FlashMeeting changed all that. Indeed, sometimes it seems like we spend all our time in online meetings.

The recent big development has been the widespread use of Cloud storage. Although some projects set up repositories using various protocols, the reality is most partners could not access or use such applications. Then along came Dropbox. But even with extra storage for introducing new users, our Dropbox free storage rapidly filled up. Some of us paid for premium accounts but unless all project partners, and more important their institutions agreed, this was of limited value.

With the Learning Layers project we started out using Dropbox this worked pretty well, apart for Dropbox’s tendency to create conflicted versions. But as free storage ran out it was decided to move to Google Drive. Although Google Drive only provides limited free storage, it only counts documents you have added, rather than including document shared with you.

At the same time we started experimenting with all kinds of other cloud and social software applications – Pinterest, Diigo, Flipboard and so on. The result – we have more shared data and more active collaboration than ever before but it is all pretty chaotic. The traditional folder and file structures and naming conventions don’t really work in an intensively collaborative and active work environment without  lot of disciple and agreement users.

Of course we do have various paid for project management systems like Basecamp and also the excellent free Trello. The former I find over structured (but that;s just me). I think Trello is great but it is hard to get other partners to use it.

I am not sure what the answer is or where we will move next. There is growing unease about the security of our data and I guess in future people may be persuaded to pay for the Cloud – especially if applications are simple to use. Or maybe we will all migrate to the new free services – mainly form China offering huge amounts of free storage.

Wales goes OER

September 19th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

There has been lots of interest today in the announcement that Wales has become one of the first nations to agree to make university course material publicly available so that academics do not have to create their lectures from scratch.

According the The Times Higher Education Supplement: “Vice-chancellors from the country’s eight universities were expected to commit from 19 September to the principles of the open educational resources movement, which makes materials freely available online.”

Also welcome is that the Welsh government is to fund workshops to help staff learn how to use the resources, to be hosted on institutional web servers but accessible through a portal.

However there do appear to be some limitations to the agreement. “It’s up to each university to determine what they want to make available,” Professor Mulholland explained. Some would give away “significant elements” of their courses, while others could give away “very little” in the beginning. Furthermore, the resources would consist “mostly lecture notes and course materials.”

In the fast changing context of higher education, a move to share e-learning content would be an even more welcome step.

Thinking about a career developing apps?

September 16th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Last week I wrote about projections of future demand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM – or in Germany – MINT) occupations. I suggested that predictions of skills shortages were overstated.

The same applies to computer programmers. According to the European Commission, “many vacancies for ICT practitioners cannot be filled, despite the high level of unemployment in Europe. While demand for employees with ICT skills is growing by around 3% a year, the number of graduates from computing sciences fell by 10% between 2006 and 2010.

If this trend continues, there could be up to 900 000 unfilled ICT practitioners’ vacancies in the EU by 2015.”

This is not the first time the European Commission has predicted skills shortages for ICT practitioners. Prior to the Millennium bug, there were once more predictions of a massive shortage of programmers. And I suspect, with a little internet searching, it would be possible to find annual predictions of skills shortages and unfilled vacancies, especially from industry lobby bodies.

One reason for this, I suggested in my previous article, is that the ICT industry has an interest in keeping wages down by ensuring an over supply of qualified workers. In this respect, a report last week on the size and value of the apps industry in Europe is interesting. The  report published by industry trade body ACT, claimed that there are currently 529,000 people in full-time employment directly linked to the app economy across Europe, including 330,000 app developers with another 265,000 jobs n created indirectly in sectors like healthcare, education and media, where apps are increasingly prominent.

At first glance then, this is a rosy area for young people with a good future. But digging deeper into the data suggests something different. According to the Guardian newspaper, “In the UK specifically, the report claims that 40% of organisations involved in developing apps are one-man operations, while 58% employ up to five people. It also points out that 35% of UK app developers are earning less than $1,000 a month from their work.”

1000 dollars a month is hardly a living wage, let alone a sufficient level of remuneration to justify the expense of a degree course. However this does not discourage the industry group who amongst other measures are lobbying the European Commission to strengthen the single market and develop “a flexible and supportive business environment for startups and entrepreneurs.” In other words, more deregulation.

There are a number of problems in looking at skills shortages in this area. My suspicion would be that although the numbers graduating from computer science have fallen, graduates in computer and ICT related courses has risen. And demand for ICT practitioners covers a wide range of occupations. Rather than increasing the number of computer science graduates, more useful would be to ensure that ll graduates are skilled in designing and using new technologies. Of course developing such skills and competences should start at a much younger range. It is encouraging the ICT has been included in the primary school curriculum in England from next year.

The EU policy on future employment is based on the idea of job matching – of trying to match skills, qualifications and vacancies. Of course this does not work. What they should be doing is looking at prospective competences and skills – at giving young people the educations and skills to shape the future of workplace3s and employment. That could include the ability to use technology creatively in a socio-technical sense. But of course that would not suit the various industry lobby groups who are more concerned with protecting there profits than shaping the future of our society.

 

 

Where are the real skills shortages?

September 13th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

The debate over skills shortages is looming again. For some years national governments and the European Commission have been warning over shortages of qualified workers in Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) . Yet a number of studies refute these claims.

A blog post on SmartPlanet quotes Robert Charette who, writing in IEEE Spectrum,  says that despite the hand wringing, “there are more STEM workers than suitable jobs.” He points to a study by the Economic Policy Institute that found that wages for U.S. IT and mathematics-related professionals have not grown appreciably over the past decade, and that they, too, have had difficulty finding jobs in the past five years. He lists a number of studies that refute the presence of a global STEM skills shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for one, estimates that there was a net loss of  370 000 science and engineering jobs in the U.S. in 2011.

I doubt that figures in Europe would be much different. One of the issues is how to define a ‘STEM” job. In the UK jobs are classified through a system called Standard Occupational Classification. This itself has its problems. Given the desire for comparability, SOC is only updated every ten years (the last was in 2010). In a time of fast changing occupations, it is inevitably out of date. Furthermore jobs are classified to four digits. This is simply not deep enough to deal with many real occupations. Even if a more detailed classification system was to be developed, present sample sizes on surveys – primarily the Labour Force Survey (LFS) would produce too few results for many occupations. And it is unlikely in the present political and financial environment that statistical agencies will be able to increase sample sizes.

But a bigger problem is linking subjects and courses to jobs. UK universities code courses according to the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS). It is pretty hard to equate JACS to SOC or even to map between them.

The bigger problem is how we relate knowledge and skills to employment. At one time a degree was seen as an academic preparation for employment. Now it is increasingly seen as a vocational course for employment in a particular field and we are attempting to map skills and competences to particular occupational profiles. That won’t really work. I doubt there is really a dire shortage of employees for STEM occupations as such. Predictions of such shortages come from industry representatives who may have a vested interest in ensuring over supply in order to keep wage rates down (more on this tomorrow). For some time now, national governments and the European Union, have had an obsession with STEM and particularly the computer industry as sources of economic competitiveness and growth and providers of employment (more to come about that, too).

However, more important may be the number of occupations which require use of mathematics or programming as part of the job. One of the problems with the present way of surveying occupational employment is that there is an assumption we all do one job. I would be pretty pushed to define what my occupation is – researcher, developer, write, journalist, project manager, company director? According to the statistics agency I can only be one. And then how the one, whichever it is, be matched to a university course. Computer programmers increasingly need advanced project management skills.  I suspect that one factor driving participation in MOOCs is that people require new skills and knowledge not acquired through their initial degrees for work purposes.

My conclusions – a) Don’t believe everything you read about skills shortages, and b) We need to ensure academic courses provide students with a wide range of skills and knowledge drawn from different disciplines, and c) We need to think in more depth about the link between education and work.

RadioActive: Inclusive Informal Learning through Internet Radio and Social Media

September 3rd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Andrew Ravenscroft, Casey Edmonds and James Dellow are presenting the Radioactive project at the British Educational Research Association co0nference in Brighton, UK today. Below is a summary of the presentation.

Addressing how disenfranchised young people can be included and engaged within relevant work-related vocational learning paths is one of the key challenges within the UK and across the globe. Weakening social and economic conditions linked to cut-backs in education is arguably producing a ‘lost generation’ of young people who are excluded from education and training, particularly within the UK and Europe. The challenge of including, engaging and educating these marginalised young people, in innovative and low-cost ways, so that they can become active and engaged citizens, who contribute to legitimate economies, is a substantive problem linked to research priorities within the UK and EU.

Our RadioActive initiative addresses these challenges directly, through two related Community Action Research projects, one focussed in London and the UK (RadioActive UK, funded by Nominet Trust), and the other focussed on the broader European landscape (RadioActive EU, funded by the EU Lifelong Learning Programme). Collectively, these projects provide a broad international application of internet radio for inclusion, informal learning and employability.

The project is implementing a radical approach to conceptualising, designing and developing internet radio and social media for informal learning within ‘lived communities’. It embodies the key pedagogical ideas of Paulo Freire (1970) and his notion of transformational (or emancipatory) learning through lived experience.  This is achieved in the UK context through embedding the radio and content production within the existing practices of established youth organisations. The internet radio is used to catalyse, connect and communicate developmental practices within these organisations, leading to rich personal and organisational learning, change and development. In particular, exploring rich and varied personal and community identities, and promoting their articulation, expression and positive transformation, are pivotal to RadioActive. It also embodies a new approach to social media design – that is conceived as an intervention in existing digital, and mixed-reality, cultures. Hence, the application of our approach captures, organises and legitimises the digital practices, content production and critical and creative potential of disenfranchised young people to provide a new and original community voice. This voice combines the intimacy, relevance and ‘touchability’ of local radio with the crowd sourcing power of social media.

This talk will present:  our original rationale and pedagogical approach; the new learning design methodology linked to the resulting RadioActive platform; some exemplar broadcasts and content; and, an evaluation of the degree to which RadioActive has led to personal and community learning and development within participating youth organisations.

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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).

    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.


    Peer Review

    According to the Guardian, research conducted with more than 6,300 authors of journal articles, peer reviewers and journal editors revealed that over two-thirds of researchers who have never peer reviewed a paper would like to. Of that group (drawn from the full range of subject areas) more than 60% said they would like the option to attend a workshop or formal training on peer reviewing. At the same time, over two-thirds of journal editors told the researchers that it is difficult to find reviewers


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