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

    How Web 2.0 and Open APIs made it easy to create and share Open Educational Resources

    October 6th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    Another post on Open Educational Resources. Last week I talked about the early days with the SIGOSEE project, seeking to build awareness of the possibilities of Open Educational Resources and Open Source in education and to start to change policy directions, especially at European Commission level.

    In these early projects, we had three main lines of activity. The first was awareness about changing what Open educational Resources were and especially about Creative Commons Licenses. The second was talking with all manner of different stakeholders, including educational organisations and administration, developers and even the more enlightened publishers about the advantage of OERs and pushing for policy changes. But by far the most time consuming work was with practitioners, organising workshops to show them how they could produce Open Educational resources themselves.

    And whilst primary school teachers were long used to developing their own learning materials, with the help of sticky back paper, glue, paint and the like, teachers in secondary schools and higher education were much more used to using bought in materials. True, the photocopier had replaced the Banda machines, and data projectors were well on the way to spelling redundancy for overhead projectors. But teachers had little or no experience in producing ICT based learning materials themselves.

    With the value of hindsight is was the development of reasonably easy to use content creation applications and even more the advent of Web 2.0 which changed this situation. I can’t quite remember the different work flows we originally created but I think most involved using Open Office to make materials and then using various work arounds to somehow get them into the different VLEs in use at that time (I also seem to remember considerable debates about whether we should allow the use of proprietary software in our workflows).

    Interestingly at that time we say standards and metadata as the key answer, especially to allow materials to be played in any Virtual Learning Environment. But it was Web 2.0 and Open APIs allowed not only easy content creation but provided easy means of distribution. Video was expensive and difficult even 10 or so years ago. Even if you had a powerful enough computer to edit and render raw video (I used to leave my computer running overnight to render 30 minutes videos) the issue was how to distribute it. Now with YouTube and a basic WordPress site anyone can make an distribute their own videos (and add a Creative Commons License). Ditto for photos, audio cartoons etc.

    Over the last few years the emphasis has shifted from how to create and share Open Educational Resources to how to use them for teaching and learning. And whist there seems to be progress that issue is not yet overcome.

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    How Open is Open Education?

    October 4th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    For the second in this mini series on open education we ask ‘How open is open education’? How open is open sounds a bit of a stupid question. But lets just start by looking at some of the definitions of Open Education. According to wikipedia: “Open education is a philosophy about the way people should produce, share, and build on knowledge.”

    Proponents of open education believe everyone in the world should have access to high-quality educational experiences and resources, and they work to eliminate barriers to this goal. Such barriers might include high monetary costs, outdated or obsolete materials, and legal mechanisms that prevent collaboration among scholars and educators.”

    But the European Union is backing Open Education with their open education europa web site providing a “gateway to open education resources”. However they say they are enacting the Europe policy on ‘Opening up education’. This “proposes actions towards more open learning environments to deliver education of higher quality and efficacy and thus contributing to the Europe 2020 goals of boosting EU competitiveness and growth through better skilled workforce and more employment.”

    These seem rather different goals. Is open education about a believe that everyone in the world should have access to high-quality educational experiences and resources of is it about boosting EU competitiveness and growth?

    Lets make no mistake. The spread of open education resources, MOOCs, open access journals and of course Open Source Software are big steps forward. But how far have they taken us: how open is open. I am not sure whether by plan or serendipity but three of the keynote speakers at this years EDEN conference, held in Barcelona in June addressed this question, albeit with different accents.

    Jim Groom attacked the soulless of corporate-driven ed tech saying “it robs the field of any deep, meaningful interrogation of the issues we need to be struggling with, such as digital identity, digital fluency the new cultures around piracy and privacy, student empowerment, and how we can begin to think like the web.” None of this happens in an LMS (or VLE), he said. “in fact, that systematic design of that system is anathema to all of these crucial elements of educating in the digital era.”

    Jim highlighted how the edupunk discourse had been subverted by corporate and political interests. Rather than talking about new cultures they wanted to highlight the failure of public institutions.

    Martin Weller’s speech was entitled the battle for openness (the title of his recent book). In an interview prior to the conference he said: “Generally I think the use of new tech has allowed education to be more flexible, and opened it up beyond the traditional notion of what constituted a university student. But there has also been some terrible hype about new developments, and technology can also been seen as a route for commercial interests to undermine the role of the university.”

    And in a brainstorming performance Audrey Waters pointed out the contribution of education to the creation of the web. The web and open education is reliant on an open infrastructure but private and corporate interests were fighting to take control. She called this cultural imperialism.

    There seems to be a common message here. Whilst there are advances in opening up education corporate interests (including governments) are subverting the discourses for their own purposes. Rather than seeing MOOCs as an opportunity to provide education to those who had no access or could not afford traditional courses (which is the same thing) Silicon Valley investors pumped money into private MOOC providers to the hope of disrupting education and opening upo the market for private capital (and profit). When investors started losing patience with how long this disruption was taking, founder of Udacity, Sebastion Thrun announced MOOCs were a “lousy product” and he saw the future in selling paid for closed inline training courses.

    And rather than moving to genuine open publishing through federated online repositories, the UK government has backed the so called Gold Model which guarantees publishers a rick future income stream form authors (an article entitled ‘Open access fees hike universities’ journal bills‘ in this weeks Times Higher says universities are paying more than ever to publishers).

    So Martin Weller is right – there is a battle for open. And that battle is getting ever wider. But as well as fighting on a day to day level over actions, we also need to become clear as to what our vision for openness is and how open we think open should be.

    Graphic Recording of Keynotes by Maria Calvet. Video editing by Gabriel Gómez.

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    Open Source and Open Educational Resources in Europe – a look back to ten years ago

    September 30th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    As promised the first in a mini series about Open Education. Pontydysgu originally got into educational technology through using closed and proprietary software. The first ‘educational technology’ I can remember using was FirstClass running on an Open University / BBC server (accessed through I think, the Mosaic browser). Ironically it was a print book which stimulated our move into Open Source technologies – Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, first published as a book in 1999.

    In 2003 we submitted the SIGOSSEE project to the European Commission. SIGOSSEE stood for Special Interest Group on Open Source software in Education. Essentially we were exploring the potential uses of open source software and holding a series of workshops all over Europe, whilst building a Special Interest Group. Whilst the Special Interest Group failed to survive beyond the period of funding, it did kick off a flurry of activities, including a later spin out project on Open Education Resources. At the time the European Union has an ambivalent attitude towards OSS and OERs. Whilst there was strong support from a number of enlightened officials and programme administrators, the EU was being heavily lobbied by publishers and by the software industry not to endorse open source.

    As part of their cautious move towards Open Source Software and Open Educational Resources, in 2004 the EU Directorate responsible for education, held a seminar entitled Creating, Sharing and Reusing e-Learning Content : Access Rights for e-learning Content. They invited a wide range of participants including from teh publishing industry and asked for the pre-submission of position papers. Below I publish the SIGOSSEE position paper, written by myself and Raymond Elferink. In the next post I will look at some of our recommendations and consider to what extent (if at all) we got it right.


    This short position paper is addressed to both consultation workshops as we feel the issue of access rights to e-learning content and the more technical issues around reusable content are intrinsically interlinked. Whilst the position paper is presented by Graham Attwell and Raymond Elferink, it represents the position of the steering committee of the Special Interest Group for Open Source Software for Education in Europe.

    The lack of easy access to attractive and compelling educational content is one of the major barriers to the development and implementation of e-learning in Europe. Most educational content is pedagogically poor, consisting overwhelmingly of sequenced text based materials and exercises. Furthermore, the subject and topic range is limited. This is particularly so for vocational and occupational subjects and in lesser-used languages.

    Time and cost of production are major barriers to the production of quality learning content leading to the present interest in standards based, reusable content and to the sharing of content between institutions. In many areas content developers require not only technical and pedagogic skills but also deep subject knowledge.

    Publishers have an important role to play in the development of content. However, as with traditional learning materials, much content in the future will of necessity be produced by teachers. There are also intriguing possibilities for learner developed content and there is great potential from public content repositories especially from cultural heritage and media organisations. It could be argued that there is already a wealth of rich learning materials available through the web. The problem lies in how these materials can be described and accessed and pedagogically deployed.

    Key issues

    Pedagogy and content

    Pedagogy remains the key issue in terms of delivering content. As with any new technology, there has been a tendency on implementing ICT for learning to imitate previous paradigms – the ‘electronic classroom’ for example. There is some evidence to suggest we are now beginning to move beyond such paradigms and develop new scenarios for learning. However, the monolithic nature of much educational software and the need to implement ‘whole systems’ are barriers to developers seeking to pilot innovative pedagogic applications. The development of standards based content repositories and of Service Oriented Approaches (SOA) or modular approaches to learning architectures (see below) promises to allow far more advanced pedagogic innovation

    Reuse of content

    The potential reuse of content is a critical issue. Central to this is the development and adoption of standards. There remain problems in this area. Standards are being developed and adopted and the new Learning Design standard promises a major step forward in terms of recognising pedagogy, but the software engines and support are still in a development phase. There remain issues over defining metadata schemas and over who will (and should) enter metadata classifications. In the longer term the use of distributed metadata may provide some answers to these issues. Nevertheless the standards should be supported in order to allow reuse.

    In pedagogic and technical terms there is still much work to do in developing tools and engines for content sequencing and assembly. Equally, more work is needed on how to base content on activity.

    Licensing, property rights and open content

    We believe a key issue is to involve the wider educational community in the development and sharing of learning content. One issue raised here is the question of licences. Traditional copyright licences are far too restrictive to develop an ecology of e-learning content. The Creative Commons Licence provides an effective answer to this issue providing an easy way of indicating possibilities for reuse. The OKI development by MIT and the Connexions project by the University of Rice in Texas – based on different open content models – have shown the potential of open content repositories.

    There remain many issues to be resolved – not the least is the question of quality assurance. The difficulty in using content production tools is still a barrier for many to producing their own content.

    Software and architectures and content

    Monolithic architectures for learning and learning management have held back content production and deployment. Migration and reuse of content is often difficult due to lack of interoperability. Services Oriented Approaches and modular software designs can allow the development of standards based component architectures. Content would be either contained in a repository or accessed through distributed systems. Developers – open source and proprietary – could focus on particular components based on need and on their skills and interests. Content could then be easily reused between systems. The implementation of DRM systems should allow easy access to both proprietary and open content in centralised and distributed resource repositories (see for example the Canadian edu-source initiative).

    Culture change and content

    Implementing of this vision will require culture change at both institutional and individual level. Whilst much of the discussion has focused on teachers and trainers producing content, more important may be the ability and willingness to search for content and to develop coherent learning and activity plans from content produced elsewhere.

    Recommendations to the e-learning community and to the European Commission

    These recommendations are addressed to the e-learning community as a whole. However, the European Commission could play an important role in supporting pilot developments and implementations.

    1. Further develop standards and the implementation of standards. At the very least, funded projects should be required to consider and report on standards implications of any content development. Further work is needed in disseminating information of standards and their use. In this respect it may be worth considering European links to the UK based CETIS service on educational standards. Further research and development on standards and standard implementation related to educational content should be supported by the European Commission.

    2. Support the Creative Commons License. There seems little reason why education content produced with public funding – national or European – should not be required to be released under a Creative Commons Licence.

    3. Initiate and develop pilot implementations based on open content in institutions and networks. These pilots will be invaluable in exposing and testing many of the issues raised in this position paper.

    4. Explore the potential of a framework for e-learning based on a Service Oriented Approach. Work in this is already being developed by the UK based JISC in conjunction with Industry Canada and DEST in Australia. At a European level, an initiative to encourage developers to focus on services oriented or modular approaches and to share in the development of software, rather than continuing to reinvent the VLE wheel, is needed.

    5. Support the development of tools for content production, distribution, sequencing and deployment. Access to easy to use tools is more important at present than is directly subsidising the production of content itself.

    6. Support experiments in different pedagogical implementations of content including content from cultural and media organisations.

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    What does Open Education mean?

    September 30th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    Next week, together with edupunk pin up bog, Jim Groom, I am delivering (? facilitating) an unkeynote session as the TEEM conference in Porto, Portugal.The session is entitled the the People’s Open Educational JAM Mix.  Instead of standing up and delivering a lecture to the conference we want to hold a dialogue with participants using slides, pictures, videos, quotations, metaphors or even better animated gifs from the education community. There will be the chance for participants in the conference to contribute on the day. But the JAM is open to everyone.

    The theme (as the title suggests) is Open Education. Open Education is big news these days. Its a buzzword being embraced by publishers, universities and even governments, as well as the European Union. MOOC providers have leapt on the meme. But what does it mean? The idea that education should be open to everyone seems fine. But even as they talk of open journals, publishers are charging authors a fee, in the so called gold model of open open journals. And whilst universities and governments talk about open education, austerity is leading to cuts in funding and increasing student fees. However open it may or may not be, in The UK many young people simply cannot afford to go to university.

    Its time for the educational community to have their say on what open education means. We hope this event can help build a dialogue around a European vision of Open Education.

    Over the next five days I will write a series of posts about open education. But in the meantime we would welcome your contribution. We’ve tried to make it easy for you to contribute. Just add your ideas to the form on the front page of the POEJAM web site at We promise your contributions will turn up somewhere in the JAM event and afterwards on the internet. And also feel free to forward to your friends and colleagues

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    Recommenders or e-Portfolios

    September 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    I was interested by a comment by Stephen Downes in yesterdays OLDaily. Stephen says:

    (People rating) will replace grades and evaluations. Because, when you have an entire network evaluating people, why on earth would you fall back on something as imprecise as a test? (p.s. smart network-based evaluations are what finally break up ‘old boy networks’ that mutually support each other with positive recommendations).

    He was commenting on an article on the CBCNews website about the development of a new App being developed in Calgary. The CEO and co-founder of the people App Julia Cordray said: “You’re going to rate people in the three categories that you can possibly know somebody — professionally, personally or romantically.”

    As Stephen commented there is really nothing new about this App. And we have experimented with this sort of thing in the MatureIP project. But instead of asking people to rate other people we rather asked them to list other peoples skills and competences. Despite my misgivings it worked well in a six month trial in a careers company in north England. What we found, I think, was that official records of what people can do and what their skills are are scanty and often not accessible and that people are often too shy to promote their own abilities.

    But coming back to Stephens comments, I tend to think that smart network based recommendations may only strengthen old boys networks, rather than break them up. In research into Small and Medium Enterprises we found that owner . managers rarely worried too much bout qualifications, preferring to hire based on recommendations form existing employees or from their own social (off line at that time) networks.Yes of course tests are imprecise. But tests are open(ish) to all and were once seen as a democratising factor in job selection. Indeed some organisations are moving away from degrees as a recruitment benchmark – given their poor performance as a predictor of future success. But it doesn’t seem to em that recommendation services such as LinkedIn already deploy are going to help greatly even with smart network based evaluations. I still see more future in e-Portfolios and Personal Learning Networks, which allow users to show and explain their experience. I am a bit surprised about how quiet the ePortfolio scene has been of late but then again the Technology Enhanced Learning community are notorious for dropping ideas to jump on the latest trendy bandwagon.

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    Talking sense about assessment

    September 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    In recent years educations seems to have become obsessed with metrics and assessment, comparisons and league tables. I do not think teh outpourings, enquiries, research and recommendation and so on have done much if anything to improve the standard of education, let alone learning and certainly nothing to improve the experience of learners.

    So I found this blurb for the Brian Simon memorial lecture by Alison Peacock refreshing:

    Alison will focus on her experience of leading the Wroxham School, a primary school where children and adults are inspired by the principles of ‘Learning without Limits’ to establish a learning community which is creative, inclusive and ambitious for all.  She will talk about ways of enabling assessment to be an intrinsic part of day to day teaching that builds a culture of trust in which children can think and talk about their learning confidently.  Alison will also discuss her role as a member of the government’s Commission on Assessment without Levels,  and her optimism that the removal of levels provides space for a more equitable approach to assessment within classrooms.

    Years ago, I was part of a working team for the UK National Council for Vocational Qualifications looking at the whole issue of levels. We concluded that levels were an unworkable construct and that the *then new) national Vocational Qualifications would work much better without them. Needless to say our advice was ignored. So it is nice to see the proposal coming round again.

    A flyer on Alison’s lecture can be downloaded here.

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