Archive for the ‘Lifelong learning’ Category

Back at work – facing the challenges of the new year 2015

January 22nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

So, after a lengthy holiday break I am back at work. As usual, when being one of the last ones to return from the holidays, you get overwhelmed by things that are on the move and you have to jump into running trains. With the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project we are doing the homework that we got from the Year 2 review meeting – preparing a Critical path Analysis. Partly within this process and partly alongside it we are finalising our plans for the year 2015.

The Critical Path Analysis was recommended by the reviewers to clarify our priorities (what is taken on board in the critical paths) and to specify our approach to less critical activities (sandboxing them as reserve activities). In many respects this has pointed out to be useful since this is not merely a routine updating of the work plan. Instead, the analysis has pushed us to become more aware of the key activities for the whole project and to find synergies between them. Due to this task we are getting clearer about the synergies at the level of software development, technology packages, linked services and framework tools etc.

While we are working with this task we are preparing proposals for conferences and plans for field activities. Furthermore, it is one of the key features of the LL project that we are looking for opportunities for transfer projects and opportunities to exploit the results alongside the project work. So, this all keeps us busy at the moment.

More blogs to come …

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

September 1st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

It is the end of the holidays and time to return back to work. And of course with September starts the autumn conference season. This week I am at the ALT C Conference at Warwick University and then at the European Conference for Educational Research in Porto. More on The ECER conference later.

At Alt C we are organising a workshop on the UKCES open data project (abstract below). And we will also have an exhibition stand. So if you are coming to the conference make sure to drop by the stand – No 16 in the Arts Centre – free coffee and sweets! and say hello.

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

People make important decisions about their participation in the labour market every year. This extends from pupils in schools, to students in Further and Higher education institutions and individuals at every stage of their career and learning journeys. Whether these individuals are in transition from education and/or training, in employment and wishing to up-skill, re-skill or change their career, or whether they are outside the labour market wishing to re-enter, high quality and impartial labour market information (LMI) is crucial to effective career decision-making. LMI is at the heart of UK Government reforms of careers service provision. Linking and opening up careers focused LMI to optimise access to, and use of, core national data sources is one approach to improving that provision as well as supporting the Open Data policy agenda (see HM Government, 2012). Careers focused LMI can be used to support people make better decisions about learning and work and improve the efficiency of labour markets by helping match supply with demand, and helping institutions in planning future course provision.

A major project, funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, is underway led by a team of data experts at the Institute for Employment Research (University of Warwick) with developers and technologists from Pontydysgu and Raycom designing, developing and delivering a careers LMI webportal, known as LMI for All. The presentation will focus on the challenge of collaborating and collecting evidence at scale between institutions and the social and technological design and development of the database. The database is accessed through an open API, which will be explored during the presentation.

Through open competition developers, including students in FE, have been encouraged to develop their own applications based on the data. Early adopters and developers have developed targeted applications and websites that present LMI in a more engaging way, which are targeted at specific audiences with contrasting needs.The web portal is innovative, as it seeks to link and open up careers focused LMI with the intention of optimising access to, and use of, core national data sources that can be used to support individuals make better decisions about learning and work. It has already won an award from the Open Data Institute.

The presentation will highlight some of the big data and technological challenges the project has addressed. It will also look at how to organise collaboration between institutions and organisations in sharing data to provide new services in education and training.Targeted participants include developers and stakeholders from a range of educational and learning settings.

The session will be interactive with participants able to test out the API, provide feedback and view applications.

Developing the capacity to mdoernise workplace learning

June 21st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I like Jane Hart’s work on learning in organisations. And I like this presentation on 20 small changes to modernise the workplace learning experience. However, I am not so sure that the changes she advocates are so small. True each one on its own may represent just a small step forwards. But to be effective the changes need to be taken together. And that requires a big change on organisational practice. Many, if not most, organisations, especially Small and Medium Enterprises do not have the capacity to take these steps. That is why in the Learning Layers project we see capacity building as central to developing technology supported informal learning in SMEs. Capacity involves the confidence and competence of trainers and others who support learning, the understanding and support of managers, the physical infrastructure and perhaps most critically the culture of organisations.
We are working to produce an ‘e-learning readiness tool’ to help organisations assess where they are in termsn of capacity and plan the steps they need to take in order to develop tehir capacity. I will publish a draft of the tool in the next few weeks if anyone is interested.

Using technology to support informal learning in SMEs

June 11th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Last week was the deadline for submissions to the Online Educa Berlin 2014 conference. I like Online Educa. If nothing else, it is a great end of year opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends from around the world. And it is also a great opportunity to engage in wider dialogues around the work we are doing. Online Educa has for some years been experimenting with the format of sessions and attempting to introduce more interaction, rather than just slides and talk. This year they are limiting presenters to just five slides. And they have asked everyone submitting a proposal to send  short video describing their proposed session.

So here is my video. It is based on the work we are doing in the EU funded Learning Layers project, developing and implementing technologies for informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises.

Learning literacies do not come free with the latest technology

May 21st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I have always liked David White’s ideas about digital visitors and residents. And in the training sessions we run we find an increasing individual differentiation in people;s confidence and competence in using digital technologies. In this video David White (@daveowhite, http://twitter.com/daveowhite) of the University of Oxford explains how the Visitors and Residents model provides a framework to understand individuals’ engagement with the Web based on motivation and context. In part 1 of this series, he argues that the metaphors of ‘place’ and ‘tool’ best represent the use of technology in contemporary society and allow us to better adapt to the challenges of new forms of academic practice.

What is happening with Learning Analytics?

April 7th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I seem to be spending a lot of time looking at the potential of various technologies for supporting learning at work. I am not talking here about Virtual Learning Environments. In the construction industry we are looking at how mobile devices can be used to support learning and knowledge sharing between the different contexts of the vocational school, the industrial training centre and the workplace. And through the Employ-ID project we are looking at how to support continuing professional development for workers in public employment organisations across Europe.

None of these is particularly easy. Pedagogically we looking at things like co0counselling and at MOOCs for professional development. And another target on our horizon is Learning Analytics. Like so many things in technology advanced learning, Learning Analytics launched with a big fanfare, then seems to haver sunk under the surface. I was excited by the potential of using data to support learning and wanted to get in there. But there seems to be a problem. Like so often, rather than looking to use the power of Learning Analytics to support learners and learning, institutions have hijacked the application as a learning management tool. Top of the list for UK universities at least is how to reduce drop out rates (since this effects their funding). Rather than look at the effectiveness of teaching and learning, they are more interested in the efficiency of their approach (once more to save money).

So we are back where we have been so many times. We have tools with a great potential to support learners, but institutional managerialism has taken over the agenda. But perhaps I am being overly pessimistic and looking for information in the wrong places. If anyone can point me to examples of how to use Learning Analytics to support real learning please post below.

NB. Another issue concerning me is how to tell users what data we are collecting and how we are using it. Once more, does anyone have any pointers to good practice in this respect

 

Survey on online learning in the UK

January 14th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

The Guardian newspaper has published the headline results of an interesting survey of people in the UK, undertaken in conjunction with the Open University. I’ll comment on a few of the findings.

48% of (presumably those with degrees) stated that they felt their degree has been beneficial in terms of getting a job in today’s economic climate. And that leaves a somewhat surprising 52% who felt their degree had not helped them get a job! Over 50% of 18-24 year olds feel obliged to get additional qualifications – once more possibly casting doubt of the value of an initial degree, especially given how expensive higher education is in the UK.

39% if those who have spent time developing their skills have done so online and one in five people have done or are currently doing an online course. However 45% said they would only consider doing an online course if it led to an official certificate and only 8% had heard of MOOCs.

This leads to a lot of questions. Sadly the original data – including the wording of the questions is not available on the Guardian web site. It would also be important to know more about how the sample was selected. And whilst the form of the presentation is graphically engaging, I am not sure how useful such headlines are for serious research.The Guardian has published the survey to Extreme Learning, “a special series run in association with the Open University, which will examine how online learning is evolving – and what this means for students, lecturers and universities.”

The problem with the launch article is that they appear to be conflating online learning with MOOCs and then using current academic and press scepticism about MOOCs with the future of online learning. I suspect that after the MOOC hype dies down MOOcs will become another a regular part of the online learning scene. But they will be by no means the only part. And once more depending on how the sample was selected, its seems to me more remarkable that 8% of the population has heard about MOOCs rather than the 92 per cent who had not.

The accreditation issue is concerning. Here i have only questions. To what extent is it the case that employers do not recognise learning achievement without certification and to what extent is that a perception by learners. If it is so, is this a cultural peculiarity of the UK, or a wider phenomenon (I know that in Spain everything seems to have a certificate). What chance does this give for initiatives like Mozilla badges to take off and what would they have to do to get badges (socially) recognised.

I hope the Guardian and the Open University will move on to consider other forms of online learning. In particular I would hope they think about informal and self directed learning which is probably more important than all the online university courses put together. And I hope too they look at work based and vocational learning, rather than just focusing on university courses.

 

 

 

The Erasmus Plus programme, innovation and policy in Europe

December 19th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

We sometimes forget the role of politicians and policy makers as major stakeholders in education and training. Yet decisions, particularly at the level of structures, qualifications and funding have a major say in how education and training is provided in different regions and countries.

Despite the limitations on their power in the filed of education and training, in the last two decades the European Commission has come to play a major role through their sponsorship of various funding programmes. Probably the most important has been the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP), sponsored by the DG Education and Culture. The LLP, which ended earlier this year has funded a series of sub programmes for projects and exchanges for higher education, vocational education and training , schools and adult education, with a transversal programme around policy, language learning and the use of technology for learning. And although sometimes seemingly over bureaucratic, in general the programme has worked well.

The major thrust of the LLP, as the name suggests, has been to promote innovation and social inclusion for lifelong learning. At the same time exchange programmes like Erasmus and language projects and the development of a European educational credit programme have promoted mobility and discourse between institutions, teachers and learners.

Now the EU has adopted a new programme, called Erasmus Plus. Although claiming to be a continuation and further development to the previous programmes, Erasmus Plus is very different. Apart from lip service, at first glance (of the over 200 page guidelines) there appears little focus on lifelong learning. With limited exceptions, innovation and the exchange of best practice also no longer appear to be a priority for Europe. Instead the major focus is on individual exchanges visits between institutions and institutions and companies. It is not difficult to guess why. The European Union is panicking at the level of youth unemployment and the potential instability this may cause. And to ameliorate the impact of youth unemployment they are diverting resources into producing temporary education and training opportunities. Spending on education and training is not a bad answer to the economic crisis. Indeed it is noticeable that whilst the UK and many other European countries have been cutting back on education spending and provision, Germany has been increasing the number of university places as a reaction to the crisis. However I cannot help thinking that the new Erasmus Plus programme is a short term answer and that moving away from proper funding of innovation and the development of new practices and pedagogies of teaching and learning represents a retrograde move. Of course, the LLP and successor programmes were only ever supposed to be additional and transnational programmes, on top of national and regional initiatives and funding. But the reality has been that in the face to such severe cutbacks in expenditure of educational research and development they have become an important source of funding for educational innovation in many European States.

It is possible that I am not properly understanding the new programme. I hope so. But at least on first reading, it seems to be a reaction to many different and countering lobby groups, with concessions made to the strongest of the lobbies. The only hope is that as it is put into action, some coherence and sense may emerge.

 

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.

About theory and practice

June 20th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

We have been running a series of workshops for the RadioActive project on developing internet radio stations. Part of this is about content and part around the technical side of streaming internet radio.

In theory the technical side should be easy – we take a series of feeds – from microphones, MP3 players, from a computer and mix them through a 8 track mixing deck before returning the signal to the computer, streaming it to a streaming server in London and hence to the internet. Indeed, so easy we thought it, that we designed the technical training as a breakout session from the main workshops.

We were wrong. The struggle with the technocracy has proved to be the main problem with the RadioActive project. And we came to realize the problem. We had showed people how to set the computer and deck up. But we had not explained the underpinning theories and ideas behind the audio set up. Fine if it all worked our of the box. But if it didn’t then without an understanding of what different components are doing, it is mighty hard to diagnose where the problem is.

Secondly we paid insufficient attention to the issue of leveling. Fairly obviously different inputs will have different levels (just like people – I am make an incredibly loud input). And one of the skills of the technician is leveling those inputs, both using presets during a sound check and adjusting the faders (and if necessary, the gain) during the broadcast. Also, post processing on pre-recorded items can help in getting a common level.
I could sort of operate the deck and system myself. But I had just picked it up as I went along and had no real knowledge of what the different buttons did.

And one of the issues was that people kept asking for us to tell them the ‘right’ why to do it, when , in truth there are many different ways to set the system up. But, once more, to understand the different possible set ups, which is useful when you discover you have left a key connecting cable behind, means having a more theoretical understanding of what we are doing than just following a diagram.
So we have revamped our technical training for internet radio. We have turned it into a two-day module and are experimenting with outcomes based accreditation. Dirk delivered the first workshop for the London partners two weeks ago. And I followed the same programme in Bucharest with our partners from Romania.

One of the critical aspects is we go far further into the theory, explaining what each part of the equipment does before even trying to connect it all up.
And it seems to work. Our Romanian partners broadcast a wonderfully smooth programme last Friday lunchtime. We still have some things to learn – we had forgotten to teach them how to use remote recorders. But the programme is getting set on the right course. Next step I think – is to try to produce some open educational resources and multimedia to supplement the face to face training

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    Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE from the Online EDUCA Berlin 2014

    We will broadcast from Berlin on the 4th and the 5th of December. Both times it will start at 11.15 CET and will go on for about 30 minutes.

    Go here to listen to the radio stream: SoB Online EDUCA 2014 LIVE Radio.

    News Bites

    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


    Consultation

    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at http://goo.gl/LwR65t.


    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100′s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”


    Code Academy expands

    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

    Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.


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