Welcome to the Wales Wide Web

    October 25th, 2007 by Dirk Stieglitz

    Wales Wide Web is Graham Attwell’s main blog. Graham Attwell is Director of the Wales based research organisation, Pontydysgu. The blog covers issues like open-source, open-content, open-standards, e-learning and Werder Bremen football team.

    You can reach Graham by email at graham10 [at] mac [dot] com

    Wales Wide Web

    Live internet Radio this week from Online Educa Berlin

    November 29th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    In what by now has become an annual event, we will be presenting Sounds of the Bazaar, the official online radio from Online Educa Berlin, on Thursday 3 and Friday 4 of December this week. The broadcasts will be from 11:00 to 11:45 CET. If you are a regular, we have a new venue this year –  in the area of the Internet Café. If you are lucky enough to be at the conference and  are willing to come on the programme could you email Graham Attwell – graham10 [at] mac [dot] com – saying which day is most convenient for you and what time in the programme suits you best. In general each slot lasts around 5 minutes.

    And if you would like to catch up in person we will be preparing the shows in the Marlene Bar from about 1500 onwards tomorrow afternoon.

    If you can’t make to to Online Educa in person, don’t despair. You can listen to all the best of the conference in our live radio shows. Just tune in at 11:00 CET on Thursday and Friday by pointing your internet browser to SoB Online EDUCA 2015 LIVE Radio  and the live stream will open up in the MP3 player of your choice. Or go here to our new stream webpage.

    This years The OEB Debate, provides discussion on one of the hottest topics for learners with the motion: ’This House believes 21st Century skills aren’t being taught – and they should be´.

    Keynotes this year include Prof Ian Goldin, Chair at Oxford’s Martin Institute and former Vice President of the World Bank; Cory Doctorow, activist, author and journalist; David Price, learning futurist and the author of OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn In The Future'; Anka Mulder, Vice President for Education of the Delft University of Technology; Toby Walsh, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales; John Higgins, Director General of DIGITALEUROPE and Lia Commissar, leader of the ‘Education and Neuroscience Initiative’ at the Wellcome Trust.

    Leave a Reply

    Recognising competence and learning

    November 16th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    As promised some further thoughts on the DISCUSS conference, held earlier this week in Munich.

    One of the themes for discussion was the recognition of (prior) learning. The theme had emerged after looking at the main work of Europa projects, particularly in the field of lifelong learning. The idea and attraction of recognising learning from different contexts, and particularly form informal learning is hardly new. In the 1990s, in the UK, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (as it was then called) devoted resources to developing systems for the Accreditation of Prior Learning. One of the ideas behind National Vocational Qualifications was teh decoupling of teaching and learning from learning outcomes, expressed in terms of competences and performance criteria. Therefore, it was thought, anyone should be able to have their competences recognised (through certification) regardless of whether or not they had followed a particular formal training programme. Despite the considerable investment, it was only at best a limited success. Developing observably robust processes for accrediting such learning was problematic, as was the time and cost in implementing such processes.

    It is interesting to consider why there is once more an upsurge of interest in the recognition of prior learning. My feeling was in the UK, the initiative wax driven because of teh weak links between vocational education and training and the labour market.n In countries liek Germany, with a strong apprenticeship training system, there was seen as no need for such a procedure. Furthermore learning was linked to the work process, and competence seen as the internalised ability to perform in an occupation, rather than as an externalised series of criteria for qualification. However the recent waves of migration, initially from Eastern Europe and now of refugees, has resulted in large numbers of people who may be well qualified (in all senses of the word) but with no easily recognisable qualification for employment.

    I am unconvinced that attempts to formally assess prior competence as a basis for the fast tracking of  awarding qualifications will work. I think we probably need to look much deeper at both ideas around effective practice and at what exactly we mean my recognition and will write more about this in future posts. But digging around in my computer today I came up with a paper I wrote together with Jenny Hughes around some of these issues. I am not sure the title helped attract a wide readership: 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. Below is an extract.

    “NVQs and the accreditation of informal learning

    As Bjørnåvold (2000) says the system of NVQs is, in principle, open to any learning path and learning form and places a particular emphasis on experience-based learning at work, At least in theory, it does not matter how or where you have learned; what matters is what you have learned. The system is open to learning taking place outside formal education and training institutions, or to what Bjørnåvold terms non-formal learning. This learning has to be identified and judged, so it is no coincidence that questions of assessment and recognition have become crucial in the debate on the current status of the NVQ system and its future prospects.

    While the NVQ system as such dates back to 1989, the actual introduction of “new” assessment methodologies can be dated to 1991. This was the year the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and its Scottish equivalent, Scotvec, required that “accreditation of prior learning” should be available for all qualifications accredited by these bodies (NVQs and general national qualifications, GNVQs). The introduction of a specialised assessment approach to supplement the ordinary assessment and testing procedures used when following traditional and formal pathways, was motivated by the following factors:

    1. to give formal recognition to the knowledge and skills which people already possess, as a route to new employment;
    2. to increase the number of people with formal qualifications;
    3. to reduce training time by avoiding repetition of what candidates already know.

    The actual procedure applied can be divided into the following steps. The first step consists of providing general information about the APL process, normally by advisers who are not subject specialists, often supported by printed material or videos. The second and most crucial step includes the gathering and preparation of a portfolio. No fixed format for the portfolio has been established but all evidence must be related to the requirements of the target qualification. The portfolio should include statements of job tasks and responsibilities from past or present employers as well as examples (proofs) of relevant “products”. Results of tests or specifically-undertaken projects should also be included. Thirdly, the actual assessment of the candidate takes place. As it is stated:”The assessment process is substantially the same as that which is used for any candidate for an NVQ. The APL differs from the normal assessment process in that the candidate is providing evidence largely of past activity rather than of skills acquired during the current training course.”The result of the assessment can lead to full recognition, although only a minority of candidates have sufficient prior experience to achieve this, In most cases, the portfolio assessment leads to exemption from parts of a programme or course. The attention towards specialised APL methodologies has diminished somewhat in the UK during recent years. It is argued that there is a danger of isolating APL, and rather, it should be integrated into normal assessments as one of several sources of evidence.”The view that APL is different and separate has resulted in evidence of prior learning and achievement being used less widely than anticipated. Assessors have taken steps to avoid this source of evidence or at least become over-anxious about its inclusion in the overall evidence a candidate may have to offer.”We can thus observe a situation where responsible bodies have tried to strike a balance between evidence of prior and current learning as well as between informal and formal learning. This has not been a straightforward task as several findings suggest that APL is perceived as a “short cut”, less rigorously applied than traditional assessment approaches. The actual use of this kind of evidence, either through explicit APL procedures or in other, more integrated ways, is difficult to overview. Awarding bodies are not required to list alternative learning routes, including APL, on the certificate of a candidate. This makes it almost impossible to identify where prior or informal learning has been used as evidence.

    As mentioned in the discussions of the Mediterranean and Nordic experiences, the question of assessment methodologies cannot be separated from the question of qualification standards. Whatever evidence is gathered, some sort of reference point must be established. This has become the most challenging part of the NVQ exercise in general and the assessment exercise in particular.We will approach this question indirectly by addressing some of the underlying assumptions of the NVQ system and its translation into practical measures. 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.

    As in the Finnish case, the UK approach immediately faced a problem in this area. While early efforts concentrated on narrow task-analysis, a gradual shift towards broader function-analysis had taken place This shift reflects the need to create national standards describing transferable competences. Observers have noted that the introduction of functions was paralleled by detailed descriptions of every element in each function, prescribing performance criteria and the range of conditions for successful performance. The length and complexity of NVQs, currently a much criticised factor, stems from this “dynamic”. As Wolf says, we seem to have entered a “never ending spiral of specifications”. Researchers at the University of Sussex have concluded on the challenges facing NVQ-based assessments: pursuing perfect reliability leads to meaningless assessment. Pursuing perfect validity leads towards assessments which cover everything relevant, but take too much time, and leave too little time for learning. This statement reflects the challenges faced by all countries introducing output or performance-based systems relying heavily on assessments.

    “Measurement of competences” is first and foremost a question of establishing reference points and less a question of instruments and tools. This is clearly illustrated by the NVQ system where questions of standards clearly stand out as more important than the specific tools developed during the past decade. And as stated, specific approaches like, “accreditation of prior learning” (APL), and “accreditation of prior experiential learning” (APEL), have become less visible as the NVQ system has settled. This is an understandable and fully reasonable development since all assessment approaches in the NVQ system in principle have to face the challenge of experientially-based learning, i.e., learning outside the formal school context. The experiences from APL and APEL are thus being integrated into the NVQ system albeit to an extent that is difficult to judge. In a way, this is an example of the maturing of the system. The UK system, being one of the first to try to construct a performance-based system, linking various formal and non-formal learning paths, illustrates the dilemmas of assessing and recognising non-formal learning better than most other systems because there has been time to observe and study systematically the problems and possibilities. The future challenge facing the UK system can be summarised as follows: who should take part in the definition standards, how should competence domains be described and how should boundaries be set? When these questions are answered, high quality assessments can materialise.”

    Leave a Reply

    A video tutorial: Getting started with the LMI for All API

    November 11th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    Regular readers will know that together with Philipp Rustemeier, I have been working on  the UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ LMI for All project. Through the project we are developing a database providing access to open data around the Labour `market. This includes data about occupations, pay, present and projected employment, qualifications and much more. So far, UKCES has focused on the use of the data for careers guidance but I suspect it may have far wider potential uses, including for education and local government planning. When mashed with other data I see LMI for All as pointing to the future is of open data as part of smart cities or rather as providing data about cities for smart citizens.

    The LMI for All project does not itself produce applications.Instead we provide access to a open APi, which developers can query to build their own desktop or mobile apps.

    One thing we are working on is providing more help for developers wanting to use the API. As part of that we are developing a series of ‘how to’ videos, the first of which is featured above.The video was originally recorded in real time using Google Hangouts and  YouTube.  The 31 minute original was cut to about 15 minutes and a new introduction added.

    Any advice about how to make this sort of video will be gratefully received. And the code which Philip developed live in the video can be accessed on GitHub

    Leave a Reply

    Refugees and the challenge for education in Germany

    November 5th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    One of the big talking points at last weeks DISCUSS conference in Munich was the current influx of refugees into Germany and the challenges for public services. It seems up to 5000 refugees are arriving daily at Munich’s main railways station.

    Most participants at the conference would agree with Marcel Fratzscher, the head of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), who is reported in today’s Guardian newspaper as saying  the hundreds of thousands of newcomers this year as well as the hundreds of thousands more expected over the coming years, are a major opportunity for Germany and that its strong financial position makes it ideally placed to welcome them.

    “In the long run the refugees are an incredible opportunity for Germany,” Fratzscher said. “Because of the surplus in the public budget, and a labour market that’s doing incredibly well, there’s probably never been a better moment in the last 70 years for Germany to deal with the challenge.”

    But the concerns expressed by participants in the DISCUSS conference were more short term. Germany has an incredibly well structured and functioning state and local government bureaucracy. But at a time when under pressure it is proving insufficiently flexible to deal with new demands, a position made worse by the rigid hierarchies common in European public services. Furthermore there is little communication between the different services involved in supporting the refugees, resulting individuals being sent from department to department and back again.

    For education one of the longer term challenges will be developing infrastructure for instance the need for more kindergartens. In the short term the major challenge is developing provision for language learning and skills and knowledge for employment. Traditionally, refugees have attended language learning courses, prior to enrolment on work orientated programmes. instead now a new programme is being developed called “Living and Working in Germany” which will integrate language learning within work orientated education and training. This programme is designed to last for eight months, with five hours a day of attendance. However, at present the curriculum is still being developed (I only talked with researchers from two German Lander, or regions, and provision may well be different in other German states). Responsibility for the programmes is with the adult education services, often allied to the universities. But they clearly do not have enough teachers for these programmes. In response to this the requirement for teachers to have a special qualification for teaching German as a foreign language is being relaxed. A major pedagogic issue is that the refugees are being treated as a homogeneous group, with well qualified graduates in classes alongside those lacking basic education.

    The challenge of ramping up provision is considerable. It was estimated that at the moment less than five per cent of newly arrived refugees are enrolled on courses. Just who gets a place on the courses seems to be somewhat random and this is leading to tensions. Whilst their asylum applications are being processed refugees are not allowed to work in Germany and boredom is seen as a major issue.

    One of the learning cafe session groups at the conference focused on the challenge of providing education for the refugees looking for ideas for immediate initiatives and projects. Ideas included the need for better careers advice and occupational guidance, traditionally in Germany integrated in the education and training system. Another idea was to involve Meisters, qualified trade crafts people and owners of Small and Medium Enterprises, in the training programmes. A further idea was to develop mobile applications for language learning and vocational orientation. Although access to computers is limited, many of the refugees have smart phones which are critical to keeping in touch with families. A big issue is how to identify the skills and competences of the refugees and how to recognise or accredit these (I will write a further article on this). It was also pointed out that the European Commission has funded many projects for working with refugees but the results of these projects has all too often failed to be sustainable or properly disseminated.

    If anyone would like to be interviewed around ideas of how to deal with these challenges or indeed about the immediate responses, please get in touch by Skype or email. My skype address is GrahamAttwell.

    Leave a Reply

    Recognising Prior Learning

    November 3rd, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    I greatly enjoyed the DISCUSS project conference in Munich last week at which I spoke together with Steve Wheeler. After the morning speeches, there was a cafe type session in the afternoon looking at four key challenges the project has identified for education in Europe. All were interesting and given the venue tended to be reflected through the lens of the present refugee crisis.

    One of the issues was the recognition of prior learning. Interestingly, this seems to have been the subject of more European funded projects in education and training than any other subject. Needless to say there was considerable discussion and some divergence of opinion on ways forward on which I will report my view tomorrow.

    But Randolph Preisinger Kleine has dug out something I wrote on a previous project, which seems to make some sense of why we have such misunderstandings. (Mind, you can tell how old it is when I say that the UK has a comprehensive system of careers guidance!).

    Informal Learning

    There is increasing recognition in most European countries of the importance of informal learning. Informal learning can provide a bridge between formal subject based learning and occupational practice. Furthermore, informal learning may be important as a tool for the continuing or lifelong learning seen as economically important in a period of rapid economic and technological change. And informal learning is viewed as a way of assisting socially excluded and under-qualified individuals to re-enter formal education and training or gain access to the labour market.

    Integration of informal learning
    But if there is increasing recognition of the importance of informal learning, there is less convergence in terms of how informal learning is integrated in vocational education and training practice. The differences may be ascribed to the different histories of vocational education and training, to different cultural practices and to different institutional and systemic structures within different countries. This short article will look at activities in Germany and the UK to illustrate different possible approaches to recognising and valuing informal learning.How can we recognise that learning has taken place? The most general measure is taken to be a change in behaviour. In vocational education and training that change in behaviour or acquisition of new abilities is usually expressed in terms of competences. Competences refer to the practical ability to perform an occupational task or tasks. Whilst the word competence exists in most European languages, our understanding of the meaning of competence differs widely.

    Different understandings of competence
    So, whilst in Germany, competence is generally linked to beruf (a word untranslatable in English) and refers to the internal, holistic ability to act as part of as profession or occupation, in the UK competence refers to the ability to perform externally prescribed and more atomistic tasks.This, in turn, affects the recognition and perceived role of informal learning. In Germany informal learning is seen as an intrinsic part of formal vocational education and training, especially through the Dual System which brings together school and work based learning. In the UK, informal learning is regarded as an external adjunct to formal training. This might be seen as a somewhat abstract description. But these differences take stark structural forms.In Germany apprenticeship is generally age bound, being undertaken as part of the transition from school to work. Although in the UK some young people do undertake vocational courses, (including apprenticeships) on completion of compulsory schooling, vocational courses are open to students of any age and it is quite common for older students to pursue a vocational training programme. For those students who may have failed to gain initial qualifications or those who have some substantial work experience despite lack of formal qualifications, the UK has evolved formal measures for recognising informal learning. This is known as the Accreditation of Prior Learning.

    The labour market
    There are also important differences in terms of the relation of vocational education and training to the labour market. Germany has a relatively highly regulated labour market. This means for many occupations formal vocational qualifications are required as the basis for employment. There are far fewer regulated occupations in the UK and the role of the trade unions in enforcing regulation is much weaker. Academic qualifications have usually a higher prestige than vocational qualifications and the numbers of those possessing formal vocational qualifications is less. Thus employers are more inclined to look at academic qualifications plus proof of informal learning as the basis for employment.

    In both the UK and Germany, as in other European countries, there has been increased interest in informal learning as a means of reintegrating socially excluded and unemployed people in the labour market, although once more this tends to take different directions and forms in the different countries. Indeed, both Germany and the UK are characterised by a considerable number of projects, programmes and experiments, making it difficult to provide more than a general overview of trends.

    Recognition of informal learning in Germany and the UK
    In Germany, there is little room for formal recognition of informal learning, because of the strength of the regulatory system. On the other hand, the very strength of this system has mitigated against the development of a formal careers guidance system.This has become problematic with high levels of employment and rapid structural economic change. Thus, the identification and recognition of informal learning is increasingly being used as a means for career and occupational guidance, as a mechanism for recognising aptitude for further vocational training or work experience. This is especially seen in the so called one euro job schemes. Recognition of informal learning may also be used as a way of promoting social and civic integration, regardless of employment opportunities, for instance with long term unemployed or ethnic minorities. In the UK, with a well developed, albeit structurally somewhat incoherent and under-resourced, careers advisory service, there has been more focus on the direct recognition and certification of informal learning. This has taken the form of both supplemental qualifications, often as a precursor to entry to more advanced education or training, or as direct recognition of informal learning for part certification of a formal training course, or rarely, even for a complete qualification.


    Leave a Reply

    Digital Disruption or Digital Transformations

    October 20th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    I have spent a good deal of time in the last few weeks thinking and reviewing the progress we have made in the European Research Programme funded Learning Layers project

    . The project aims to research, develop, implement and promote technologies for learning in Small and Medium Enterprisse (SMEs). As with all projects funded under the Research Programme, we are subject to an annual review and have to submit reports on the work undertaken for the review.  This in itself is an interesting exercise, involving at least four or five authors from different countries and often different disciplines working together.

    I have written the introduction to the report, focusing on the impact of what I describe as digital transformations on SMEs and on learning. Although our work focuses on the construction and health sectors, I think the development processes and the research findings are relevant to far wider sectors. Over the next week I will blog sections of the report. I see this as opening up our internal review procedure to a wider audience and welcome any feedback, critical or otherwise. The first section is on digital transformations, as opposed to digital disruptions.

    There has been a great deal of focus, especially in the popular press, on the impact of Information and Communication Technologies on society through the term ‘digital disruption’. Digital disruption posits the inability of existing organisations and companies to respond to emerging new technologies and thus leaving them open to disruptive entrants who are more innovative and flexible in organisational approaches and technology adoption.

    We see little evidence of such digital disruption in either the healthcare or construction sectors. However there is no doubt of the fast growing impact of digital technologies in both sectors, for example 3D printing and Building Information Modelling in construction and self diagnosis applications, big data, health apps and telemedicine / telehealth in healthcare (see the following sections below for more details of these changes). But rather than seeing these as disrupting existing organisations, there is more evidence that these organisations themselves are being transformed in order to adapt to and exploit new technologies. This we would see as digital transformations.

    Digital transformation refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society (Stolterman and Croon Fors, 2004). It is seen as involving the application of digital competence and digital literacies to enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods (Lankshear, 2008), In November 2011, a three-year study conducted by the MIT Center for Digital Business and Capgemini Consulting concluded that only one-third of companies globally have an effective digital transformation program in place (Capgemini Consulting. 2011).

    The study defined an “effective digital transformation program” as one that addressed

    • “The What”: the intensity of digital initiatives within a corporation
    • “The How”: the ability of a company to master transformational change to deliver business results. (ibid)

    Our research in health and construction paints a rather more complicated picture, although we would generally concur with the MIT study outcomes. In this it is notable that we are working primarily with SMEs rather than with corporations and that SMEs rarely have the resources to develop complex programmes of transformation. Our research suggest a very uneven pattern, with enterprises and especially training organisations increasingly aware of the challenges digital technologies play, but with differentiated drivers for change in different trades in construction and different organisational impulses in health care, along with continuing barriers to transformations that also impact on the adoption of new forms of learning. It should also be noted that our own project research and development processes have led to a greater awareness of the impact of digital technologies and the capacity building activities that the project has undertaken are designed precisely to develop the ability of SMEs to master transformational change.

    Leave a Reply