Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Are job algorithms good enough?

February 22nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

We’ve all made jokes about the jobs that various ‘professional’ social networks recommend for us.  This morning I had a message from ResearchGate:

LinkedIn is no better. Here are tworesearchgate jobs it recently found for me:

linkedin

Goodness knows how they  vaguely thought I was qualified for these jobs. But never mind – it is only the usual nonsense form free social networks, we think. But it does matter. These reconsiderations come through algorithms. And nearly every Public Employment Service I have talked to is either trialling or considering trialling software which matches applicants to jobs. OK, the algorithms may be better written. And probably the employment services have more data on both applicants and jobs that has the likes of ReseachGate and LinkedIn. But in seeking to provide a better service at less cost through the use of technology the employment services are ignoring that many people need guidance and support when seeking employment form qualified professionals. Taking a job is not like ticking a like on a social website.  It involves serious decisions which can affect peoples futures and the future of their family.  And, at the moment, Artifical Intelligence is not enough for helping in those decisions.

Personal Learning Environments on Serbian TV

February 21st, 2018 by Graham Attwell

I don’t suppose so many of the readers here speak Serbian. And that is a shame since this fantastic fulm made by Serbian TV at the conference and workshop on “Are We lost in Online Space?” brilliantly picks up the energy and ideas from the 50 or so youth workers, mainly from east Europe, who attended the two day event.

I was interviewed about Personal Learning Environments, one of the central themes for the conference. And in the first section of the video you can see the participants in a workshop drawing their own PLEs.

Are we lost in online space?

February 14th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Last November I was invited to give a presentation at a conference “Are we lost in online space?” organised by in Belgrade.

As the report on the conference web site says, the conference brought together 48 participants, most from east Europe, and 6 experts in the field of online learning. Participants had the opportunity to learn, experience and discuss about digital pedagogy, personal learning environment, online counseling for youth at risk, the possibility to educate youth workers in the online context, the ability of young people to use online tools when they are used for educational purposes, using games with young people, the potentials of using the virtual reality packages in youth work.

The web site also has video of all the presentations. I particularly liked the presentation on How to approach young people at risk to use the opportunities of online counseling by Anni Marquard, from the Centre for Digital Youth Care, Denmark and on Using games & gaming culture for educational purposes by Uroš Antić from Serbia)

It was a lively conference with a wide range of different experiences and views and some great participatory workshops and activities. It was apparent that at least from the countries represented in the conference, technology is a relatively new field in youth work, but also that many youth workers are ready to engage with young people through technology. However, tools and platforms such as Moodle seemed really not to support the pedagogy of youth work, nor to engage with young people. Youth work is more about informal learning – and ed-tech has tended to focus on formal learning.

There was a quick straw poll at the end of the conference on whether or not we were (still’ lost in online space. Participants were divided – some lost, some not and some not sure!

The problems of assessing competence

February 12th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

It was interesting to read Simon Reddy’s article in FE News,  The Problem with Further Education and Apprenticeship Qualifications, lamenting the low standard of training in plumbing the UK and the problems with the assessment of National Vocational Qualifications.

Simon reported from his research saying:

There were structural pressures on tutors to meet externally-imposed targets and, judging from the majority of tutors’ responses, the credibility of the assessment process was highly questionable.

Indeed, teachers across the three college sites in my study were equally sceptical about the quality of practical plumbing assessments.

Tutors in the study were unanimous in their judgements about college-based training and assessments failing to adequately represent the reality, problems and experiences of plumbers operating in the workplace.

In order to assess the deviation away from the original NVQ rules, he said, “it is important to understand the work of Gilbert Jessup, who was the Architect of UK competence-based qualifications.

Jessup (1991: 27) emphasised ‘the need for work experience to be a valid component of most training which leads to occupational competence’. Moreover, he asserted that occupational competence ‘leads to increased demands for demonstrations of competence in the workplace in order to collect valid evidence for assessment’.

As a representative of the Wesh Joint Education Committee, I worked closely with Gilbert Jessop in the early days of NVQs. Much (probably too much) of our time was taken with debates on the nature of competence and how assessment could be organised. I even wrote several papers about it – sadly in the pre digital age.

But I dug out some of that debate in a paper I wrote with Jenny Hughes for the European ICOVET project which as looking at the accreditation of informal learning. In the paper – with the snappy title ‘The role and importance of informal competences in the process of acquisition and transfer of work skills. Validation of competencies – a review of reference models in the light of youth research: United Kingdom.’

In the introduction we explained the background:

Firstly, in contrast to most countries in continental Europe, the UK has long had a competence based education and training system. The competence based National Vocational Qualifications were introduced in the late 1980s in an attempt to reform and rationalise the myriad of different vocational qualifications on offer. NVQs were seen as separate from delivery systems – from courses and routes to attain competence. Accreditation regulations focused on sufficiency and validity of evidence. From the very early days of the NVQ system, accreditation of prior learning and achievement has been recognised as a legitimate route towards recognition of competence, although implementation of APL programmes has been more problematic. Thus, there are few formal barriers to access to assessment and accreditation of competences. That is not to say the process is unproblematic and this paper will explore some of the issues which have arisen through the implementation of competence based qualifications.

We went on to look at the issue of assessment:

The NVQ framework was based on the notion of occupational competence. The concept of competence has been a prominent, organising principle of the reformed system, but has been much criticised (see, for example, Raggatt & Williams 1999). The competence-based approach replaced the traditional vocational training that was based on the time served on skill formation to the required standard (such as apprenticeships). However, devising a satisfactory method of assessing occupational competence proved to be a contentious and challenging task.

Adults in employment who are seeking to gain an NVQ will need a trained and appointed NVQ assessor. Assessors are appointed by an approved Assessment Centre, and can be in-house employees or external. The assessor will usually help the candidate to identify their current competences, agree on the NVQ level they are aiming for, analyse what they need to learn, and choose activities which will allow them to learn what they need. The activities may include taking a course, or changing their work in some way in order to gain the required evidence of competence. The opportunity to participate in open or distance learning while continuing to work is also an option.

Assessment is normally through on-the-job observation and questioning. Candidates must have evidence of competence in the workplace to meet the NVQ standards, which can include the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL). Assessors will test the candidates’ underpinning knowledge, understanding and work-based performance. The system is now intended to be flexible, enabling new ways of learning to be used immediately without having to take courses.

The system is characterised by modular-based components and criterion-referenced assessment. Bjornavald also argues that the NVQ framework is output-oriented and performance-based.

We outlined criticisms of the NVQ assessment process

The NCVQ methods of assessing competence within the workplace were criticised for being too narrow and job-specific (Raggatt & Williams 1999). The initial NVQs were also derided for applying ‘task analysis’ methods of assessment that relied on observation of specific, job-related task performance. Critics of NVQs argued that assessment should not just focus on the specific skills that employers need, but should also encompass knowledge and understanding, and be more broadly based and flexible. As Bjornavald argues, ‘the UK experiences identify some of these difficulties balancing between too general and too specific descriptions and definitions of competence’. The NVQs were also widely perceived to be inferior qualifications within the ‘triple-track’ system, particularly in relation to academic qualifications (Wolf 1995; Raffe et al 2001; Raggatt 1999).

The initial problems with the NVQ framework were exacerbated by the lack of regulatory powers the NCVQ held (Evans, 2001). The system was criticized early on for inadequate accountability and supervision in implementation (Williams 1999), as well as appearing complex and poorly structured (Raffe et al 2001).

We later looked at systems for the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL).

Currently the system relies heavily on the following basic assumptions: legitimacy is to be assured through the assumed match between the national vocational standards and competences gained at work. The involvement of industry in defining and setting up standards has been a crucial part of this struggle for acceptance, Validity is supposed to be assured through the linking and location of both training and assessment, to the workplace. The intention is to strengthen the authenticity of both processes, avoiding simulated training and assessment situations where validity is threatened. Reliability is assured through detailed specifications of each single qualification (and module). Together with extensive training of the assessors, this is supposed to secure the consistency of assessments and eventually lead to an acceptable level of reliability.

A number of observers have argued that these assumptions are difficult to defend. When it comes to legitimacy, it is true that employers are represented in the above-mentioned leading bodies and standards councils, but several weaknesses of both a practical and fundamental character have appeared. Firstly, there are limits to what a relatively small group of employer representatives can contribute, often on the basis of scarce resources and limited time. Secondly, the more powerful and more technically knowledgeable organisations usually represent large companies with good training records and wield the greatest influence. Smaller, less influential organisations obtain less relevant results. Thirdly, disagreements in committees, irrespective of who is represented, are more easily resolved by inclusion than exclusion, inflating the scope of the qualifications. Generally speaking, there is a conflict of interest built into the national standards between the commitment to describe competences valid on a universal level and the commitment to create as specific and precise standards as possible. As to the questions of validity and reliability, our discussion touches upon drawing up the boundaries of the domain to be assessed and tested. High quality assessments depend on the existence of clear competence domains; validity and reliability depend on clear-cut definitions, domain-boundaries, domain-content and ways whereby this content can be expressed.

It’s a long time since I have looked at the evolution of National Vocational Qualifications and the issues of assessment. My guess is that the original focus on the validity of assessment was too difficult to implementing practice, especially given the number of competences. And the distinction between assessing competence and assessing underpinning knowledge was also problematic. Easier to move to multiple choice computerized testing, administered through colleges. If there was a need to assess practical competences, then once more it would be much simpler to assess this in a ‘simulated’ workshop environment than the original idea that competence would be assessed in the real workplace.  At the same time the system was too complicated. Instead of trusting workplace trainers to know whether an apprentice was competent, assessors were themselves required to follow a (competence based) assessors course. That was never going to work in the real world and neither was visiting external assessors going to deliver the validity Gilbert Jessop dreamed of.

If anyone would like a copy the paper this comes from just email me (or add a request in the comments below). Meanwhile I am going to try to find another paper I wrote with Jenny Hughes, looking at some of the more theoretical issues around assessment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public policy is key to the digital economy

February 7th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Interesting research from Harvard Business Review who have introduced the Digital Evolution Index  to trace the emergence of a “digital planet,” how physical interactions — in communications, social and political exchange, commerce, media and entertainment — are being displaced by digitally mediated ones.

They outline five “features of the global digital economy”:

  • Digital players wield outsize market power.
  • Digital technologies are poised to change the future of work
  • Digital markets are uneven.
  • Digital commerce must still contend with cash.
  • Digital technology is widespread and spreading fast.

Each of these five features, they say, “contains both upsides and challenges. Moreover, how strongly each of them is felt varies depending on where you are in the world”

The report produces a map of counties digital development divided into four zones: Stand Out, Stall Out, Break Out, Watch Out.

But by far the most interesting comments come in the conclusions:

Digital innovators should recognize that public policy is essential to the success of the digital economy. Countries with high-performing digital sectors, such as those in the EU, typically have had strong government/policy involvement in shaping the digital economies.

This comes despite the popular business press obsession with so called digital disruption which poses public policy as a barrier to change and innovation.

Communities of Practice and the world of Academia

February 6th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

A suffrage march through Stratford on Avon in 1911

I have worked in and out of academia over the last thirty years including five years working for what used to be called Gwent Tertiary College, a large vocational education college in south east Wales and another five years working at the University of Bremen in Germany. Communication between departments in large academic colleges is notoriously problematic. I once went to a meeting in Brussels and ended up talking with a researcher working in a very similar area to me. I could actually see his office from the window of mine. But he was in a different institute and our paths had never crossed in Bremen.

Talking about Communities of Practice in an article entitled  “Negotiating place, technology and identity – a postmodern narrative of places to meet in a community of practice” Patricia Arnold, John D. Smith and Beverly Trayner say “The distinguishing characteristic of a community of practice is that it is the location for an “economy of meaning” (Wenger 1998, 209) where the meaning of shared practice is negotiated among participants. Fundamental to this perspective is an understanding that communities of practice are a dynamic interaction of participation (action and connection between people that combines doing, talking, thinking, feeling, and belonging) and of reification (where a certain understanding of something is given form).”

It is possible to argue that such communities are based on practice based disciplines (and I am also aware there is a debate over the meaning of research as a practice). Yet it is possible to argue that negotiated “economies of meaning” most often happen in a cross disciplinary dialogue. Here universities seem to struggle.

At present I have an appointment as an Associate Fellow at the University of Warwick. The ‘internal comms’ department of the university send out a weekly staff newsletter by email. The well written newsletter contains section with short links on new, Get Involved, What’s on and Features. I usually flick through it but it is of limited value to non campus based staff.

This week’s newsletter however had a feature entitled Five things about women and the vote. “On the 100th anniversary of it becoming legal for some women to vote in national elections for the first time, Dr Sarah Richardson shares five things you may not know about women and the vote.” It is a great example of communicating about research to a wider audience. And it left me wanting to find out more.

Warwick Campus has many well designed ‘places’ for informal meetings and exchange. But the online ‘spaces’ are informational, rather than provoking the discourses needed to develop an economy of meaning. I think academic places need to explore how they can link to online participation and exchange through spaces. It will take time – a small first step would be to stream Dr. Richardson’s forthcoming talks on Warwickshire Women and the Fight for the Vote.

 

 

 

Skills on their own are not enough

February 5th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

electrnicengineerI have been involved in research in Vocational Education and Training for a long time. Vocational  Education and Training is a strange thing. Although always popular in the German speaking countries, for a long time it went out of fashion in many countries.  With the emergence of the Knowledge Economy, went the story, we needed more people with higher qualifications. Mass university education was the answer.

With the financial crash in 2008 and the onset of austerity and ‘the crisis’, this argument started to fall apart.  For one thing universities are expensive to run and where in countries like the UK, students were charged fees, many started to bulk at the debts they were running up. At the same time employers were complaining about the lack of ‘employability skills’ from university leavers. And questions started to be raised about the best way of learning the technical skills which economies were now deemed to require.

Especially in south European countries, the crisis led to very high and persistent levels of youth unemployment (in Spain and Greece over 50 per cent). This was seen as politically uncomfortable.

The answer was to reinvent vocational education and training. The European Commission and many national governments alike have returned to the idea of apprenticeship for mediating the school to work process and offering an alternative route to qualification for unemployed young people.

Generally, this may be seen as a good thing. Offering structured and high quality work based learning can provide young people with a route to a career. However, there are a number of problems. It is not possible to simply transfer the German Dual system of apprenticeship to other countries which lack a culture of employer commitment to training, even if the infrastructure and skilled trainers were to be available. Establishing an apprenticeship programme does not come cheap and requires investment.

Although economists seem these days to see high quality training as the answer to all evils from low productivity to high unemployment, reality is a little different. Productivity and employment are dependent on many different factors, including government policies, investment and a willingness to look at longer term returns on capital than has been common in some countries. Having a skilled workforce is one thing – but making the most of those skills is another

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    Learning and Work Institute is organising this year’s adult learning conference in partnership with the Adult Learning Partnership Wales. It will take place on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at the Cardiff City Stadium.

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    Industry 4.0

    The UK Education Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the challenges posed and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.The Committee is inviting written evidence on:

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    Online Educa Berlin

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    To support the move, the city will employ 65 new developers to build software programs for their specific needs. they also plan the development of a digital market – an online platform – whereby small businesses will use to take part in public tenders.


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