Introduction

    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

    Having fun at the Taccle2 Conference

    October 18th, 2014 by Angela Rees

    This week we are in Brussels for the final meeting and conference of the Taccle2 project. More info and ideas to come but for now, here’s a sneak peek of what went on!

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    Marx, use value, exchange value and social networks

    October 13th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

    I have to admit I am not a great fan of lectures on line. there seems far to little human interaction and the slick production of things like the TED talks has got both ‘samey’ and somewhat tedious. But I loved this lecture by David Harvey on Karl Marx delivered in Amsterdam with no slides and no notes! As the blurb says “David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and the author of numerous books. He has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for over 40 years.”

    David Harvey does not shy away from the politics of Karl Marx. But his focus is on Marx’s writings and ideas as a tool for social science and analysis. For those of you without the time, interest or patience to listen to the whole video the particular bits I found interesting include his ideas around rational consumption (about 30 minutes in), the idea of accumulation by dispossession (some 38 minutes in), the idea of management of the ommons important (after about 47 minutes) and contradictions over the role of the state (towards the end of the lecture and before the discussion).

    Harvey talks a lot about contradictions – the biggest being the contradiction between use value and exchange value. As Wikipedia explains: “In Marx’s critique of political economy, any product has a labor-value and a use-value, and if it is traded as a commodity in markets, it additionally has an exchange value, most often expressed as a money-price. Marx acknowledges that commodities being traded also have a general utility, implied by the fact that people want them, but he argues that this by itself tells us nothing about the specific character of the economy in which they are produced and sold.”

    Much of David Harvey;s work has been in the area of urban development and housing and he explains how this contradiction applies there and its implications. But it may also be a useful explanation of understanding what is happening with social networks. Social networks have a use value for us all in allowing us to stay in touch with friends, develop personal learning networks, learn about new ideas or just letting off steam to anyone who will listen. OK – the exchange value is not expressed as a money price. But most people now realise that social networking applications are seldom free. Instead of paying money we give our data away for them to use. And in turn they use this data to try to extract money from us through buying commodities. This is all fine as long as the use value exceeds the exchange value. But as social network providers try to monetise their products they are constantly upping the ante in terms of exchange value. In other words we are increasingly being required to sign over our data as well as our privacy in order to use their applications.

    Alternatively social networks are trying to push ever more commodities at us. An article in the Gaurdian newspaper yesterday over Twitters attempts to build a business model noted: “Chief executive Dick Costolo has talked longingly about growing, and eventually making money from, the huge number of people who view tweets without signing up. This is fine on YouTube, where most of us watch the content without producing it and only sigh a little as we’re forced to watch ads when we do so. In contrast, sponsored tweets are a bit like being asked to pay for gossip from your colleague over the coffee machine.”

    All this means more and more people are questioning whether the use value of Facebook and Twitter is worth the exchange value.

    And such contradictions are hard to resolve!

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    Sustaining learning

    September 23rd, 2014 by Graham Attwell

    I am in Tallinn in Estonia experiencing an early reminder of how cold and wet north European winters can be. I am here for a consortium meeting of the EU sponsored Learning layers project. Consortium meetings in these large projects can have a considerable number of participants, some 50 researchers and application partners attended the last meeting in Bad Zwischenahn in Germany.

    Tomorrow am am helping organise a two and half hour workshop with the perhaps not particualrly sexy title of Sustainability, Scalability & Replicability. Whats it all about?  The problem is that far too many projects – esepcially in the area of technology enhanced learning – fail to develop finished products. And even those that do usually fail to get ream traction around such products let alone work out how to sustain the development. We don’t want that to happen with Learning layers. We think we are well on the way to developing tools which can support informal learning and provide learning support to thousands of people in the workplace. But of course there are issues. We do not have the money to do everything we want to. Sometimes our software designs seem hopelessly ambitious. And the research universities in the project may not have any interest in trying to sustain product development, once EU funding for research has ended.

    So those are the issues we want to explore in the workshop looking at the progression from a research project to a full product, working out who are the stakeholders and developing an initial business pitch for how future development can be sustained. Watch this blog for what we discover.

     

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    Opening up data and research

    September 19th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

    Much of the focus of the open education movement has been on Open Educvational Resources and MOOCs. But just as important, in my humble opinion, is opening up research to a wider public. This is not only confined to opening up access to the results of research but allowing access to a wider audience than acandmicsx to raw research data. And there are a growing number of web sites that are doing this. One of the sites i am loving is the Understanding Society website based on the UK Households survey and run by designed and managed by a team of longitudinal survey experts at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), at the University of Essex.

    Understanding Society, they say, “is a unique and valuable academic study that captures important information every year about the social and economic circumstances and attitudes of people living in 40,000 UK households.

    It also collects additional health information from around 20,000 of the people who take part.

    Information from the longitudinal survey is primarily used by academics, researchers and policy makers in their work, but the findings are of interest to a much wider group of people including those working in the third sector, health practitioners, business, the media and the general public.”

    One study based on the survey and recently posted on the Understanding Society web site  looks at Gender differences in educational aspirations and attitudes land examined the ambitions and approaches to study of 11-15 year olds participating in the British Household Panel Survey.

    The sudy says that “while girls have more positive aspirations and attitudes than boys, the impacts of gender on children’s attitudes and aspirations vary significantly with parental education level, parental attitudes to education, child’s age and the indirect cost of education.

    Boys are more responsive than girls to positive parental characteristics, while educational attitudes and aspirations of boys deteriorate at a younger age than those of girls.

    Girls also acknowleged the impact of the recession and increased youth unemployment by working harder. Boys however appear unresponsive to the business cycle. This might reflect misplaced confidence where they believe they will be able to find a job independently from the economic climate. Policies targeting boys with more information on the benefits from investing in education will increase their awareness about the consequences of an unfavourable youth labour market, which may improve their educational attitudes and aspirations and consequently their educational attainment.”

    I’m not sure what is make of all this. But I wonder if there is any comparative data from other countries? No doubt it would be a chnallenge to norm such data, but it could greatly help in understanding why boys in the UK are underperforming. If you know of such data plese just add a comment or drop me an email.

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

    September 16th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

    As promised, a post on our stand and presentation at Alt-C on the LMIforAll Labour Market Data project, sponsored by UKCES. Working together with the Institute for Employment Research at Warwick University and Raycom, we have developed a database and APi providing access to a range of data about a wide variety of different occupations in the UK including data about:

    • Pay
    • Gender
    • Numbers employed
    • Future employment projections
    • Occupational profiles
    • Skills and competences
    • Job vacancies
    • University destinations

    The API is self documenting and is available free of charge to both for profit and not for profit organisatio0ns and developers. Working with Loud Source we have run a competition for Apps built on the API and together with Rewired State we have organised a series of Hack Days and Mod Days. We are currently redesigning the website to provide better access to the data and to the different applications that have been built to date.

    One strange thing that took people visiting our stand some time to understand was that we were not selling anything (I think ours and Jisc were the only non commercial stands).  The second thing was that we were not trying to ‘sell’ them a shiny out of teh box project. To get added value from our database and API requires some thought and development effort on the part of organisations wanting to use the data. We provide the tools, they provide the effort to use them. But when people got that concept they were enthusiastic. And most interestingly they were coming up with completely new ideas for where the data might be valuable. As you can see in our presentation above, we have largely focused on the use of LMIforAll for careers planning. University and Further Education researchers and developers saw big potential using the API as a planning too for future courses and curriculum. Others saw it as a valuable resource for measuring employability, a big agenda point for many UK institutions. It was also suggested to us that the labour market data could be mashed together with data derived from learning analytics, providing possibly a more learner centred approach to analytics than has previously been deployed.

    If you are interested in any of these ideas have a play on the LMIforAll web site. And feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

     

     

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    Ed tech community has grown up!

    September 15th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

    I have spent most of the first half of September travelling to meetings and conferences around Europe. Now I have a few days to write up some of the things I learned – or more accurately of the interesting conversations I had.

    I started out at the ALT-C 2014 conference at Warwick University in the UK. I used to be a regular at ALT-C but have missed the last few years conferences. September is a busy moth for conferences and project meetings anyway but the main reason for not going is that ALT-C is horribly expensive! This year I was able to go thanks to sponsorship from the UKCES LMIforAll project which had a stand at the conference. More on that in a second posting – first some general impressions about the conference. This is necessarily a bit impressionistic as I was on the stand for much of the two and a half days. However I got to catch up with David White who like me had not attended the past few years events and we shared ideas. Indeed, as usual, the best bit of the conference was meeting up with old friends and colleagues.

    It seemed to us that the atmosphere of the conference had changed a little – not necessarily for the worse. Whilst in the past we saw ourselves as pioneers changing the world, Ed Techs have come of age. This was a conference of recognised professionals going about their daily jobs – almost a trade conference. At the same time many people seemed concerned with their future employment in the light of cut backs in university and Further Education funding. In the past much of the innovation was driven by government funded agencies – especially JISC and Becta. With the demise of Becta and severe downsizing at Jisc, innovation seemed thin on the ground. And maybe I am wrong, but with the increasing competition between institutions, coupled with the relative dearth of funded collaborative projects, their seems to be a danger of isolation – with everyone struggling on their own on the same problems.

    It was tricky to find out just what was going on at the conference. To stop us all going to see our friends’ presentations and to give an opportunity to new presenters, presumably, the programme was hard to follow, taking considerable time and clicks to link sessions, papers, topics and people. I sort of see where Alt-C were coming from but one of the reasons I go to these events is to see and discuss with people whose research and development I follow online. And with a conference theme of  “Riding Giants – how to innovate and educate in front of the wave”, many of the title of contributions were somewhat opaque in terms of what they were about! Still much discussion seemed to be about MOOCs and Learning Analytics as well as the more mundane world of platforms and online presence.

    Still, all in all, an enjoyable conference with some great keynotes (will publish videos of those to the front page of this site). More on the data stuff tomorrow.

     

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