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

    Predicting mid and long term skills needs in the UK

    June 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    Labour Market Information (LMI)  is not perhaps the most popular subject to talk about. But with the advent of open and linked data, LMI  is increasingly being open up to wider audiences and has considerable potential for helping people choose and plan future careers and plan education programmes, as well as for use in research, exploring future skills needs and for social and economic planning.

    This is a video version of a presentation by Graham Attwell at the Slovenian ZRSZ Analytical Office conference on “Short-term Skills Anticipations and Mismatch in the Labour Market. Graham Attwell examines ongoing work on mid and long term skills anticipation in the UK. He will bases on work being undertaken by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and the European EmployID project looking, in the mid term, at future skills needs and in the longer term at the future of work. He explains the motivation for undertaking these studies and their potential uses. He also explains briefly the data sources and statistical background and barriers to the wok on skills projections, whilst emphasising that they are not the only possible futures and can best serve as a a benchmark for debate and reflection that can be used to inform policy development and other choices and decisions. He goes on to look at how open and linked data is opening up more academic research to wider user groups, and presents the work of the UKCES LMI for All project, which has developed an open API allowing the development of applications for different user groups concerned with future jobs and future skills. Finally he briefly discusses the policy implications of this work and the choices and influence of policymakers in influencing different futures.

     

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    Some thoughts on the EDEN conference

    June 17th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    Last week I attended the EDEN Conference In Barcelona. It was the first time I had gone to the conference for three years – indeed I think I am developing an allergy to large formal conferences.

    However, it was great to catch up with old friends and as usual the informal social activities were excellent!

    I’m not sure quite what to make of the conference sessions (I will write a separate blog about the keynotes). There did not seem to be anything particularly new but that may not be a bad thing. Instead many of the presentations appeared to focus on implementing technologies in practice. That may well reflect a trend towards increasing use of technology for learning. And although of course MOOCs get the hype, it would appear much of the practice is based on either traditional distance learning programmes or blended learning.

    A quick word though about the conference programme. For many years I have been trying to mess with the structures of presentations at conferences, arguing that more time should be given to discourse and discussion, rather than the formal (bullet point) presentation of papers which are available on the internet anyway. And slowly we are seeing more variety in conference formats and even some experimentation with unconferencing.

    So it is good to see EDEN rethinking their format. Except changing one monolithic framework for another imposed single format does not really get the idea. So this year all papers sessions were run according to a so called “speed dating” format, with presenters given 6 minutes to pitch their wares with four (template) slides and then sessions split into groups to discuss the themes raised in the papers. Its not a bad format – although I don’t really get the four slide restriction – I could easily get through 12 slides in 6 minutes. But when every session is run according to the same format it gets tedious.

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    Workplace Learning Analytics

    June 16th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    EmployID is an EU-funded, four-year project which aims to support Public Employment Services staff to develop competences that address the need for integration and activation of job seekers in fast changing labour markets. According to the official flyer: “It builds upon career adaptability and resilience in practice, including quality and evidence- based frameworks for enhanced individual and organisational learning. It also supports the learning process of PES practitioners and managers in their professional identity development by supporting the efficient use of technologies to provide advanced coaching, reflection, networking and learning support services as well as MOOCs.”

    One of the aims for research and development is to introduce the use of Learning Analytics within Public Employment Services. Although there is great interest in Learning Analytics by L and D staff, there are few examples of how Learning Analytics might be implanted in the workplace. Indeed looking at research reported by the Society for Learning Analytics Research reveals a paucity of attention to the workplace as a learning venue.

    In this video, Graham Attwell proposes an approach to Workplace Learning Analytics based on the Social Learning Platform model (see diagram) adopted by the Employ ID project. He argues that rather merely fathering together possible data and then trying to work out what to do with it, data needs to be sought which can answer well designed research questions aiming to improve the quality of learning and the learning environment. socialllearningplatform

     

    In the case of EmployID these questions could be linked to the six different foci of the Social Learning Platform, namely:

    • Support for facilitation roles
    • Structuring identity transformation activities
    • Supporting networking in personal networks
    • Supporting organisational networks
    • Supporting cross organisational dialogue
    • Providing social networking facilitation
    • Supporting networking in teams

    For some of these activities we already have collected some “docital traces” for instance data on facilitation roles through within a pilot MOOC. In other cases we will have to think how best to develop tools and approaches to data gathering, both qualitative and quantitative.

    The video has been produced to coincide with the launch of The Learning Analytics Summer Institute, a strategic event, co-organized by SoLAR and host institutions and by a global network of LASI-Locals who are running their own institutes.

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    Does technology destroy jobs

    May 18th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    Infoposter_V1The argument over whether technology creates or destroys jobs has been going on for as long as I can remember.

    Only yesterday John Naughton, in an article entitled “We are ignoring the new machine age at our peril“, worried about the impact of self driving cars and other technology on the future of employment. Naughton argued that there are “radical discontinuities that nobody could have anticipated”, driven by “combinatorial” effects of different technology trends coming together. These, he siad, include: “the near-infinite computing power provided by Moore’s law; precise digital mapping; GPS; developments in laser and infrared sensor technology; and machine-learning algorithms plus the availability of massive data-sets on which to train them.”

    He warned the outcome could be “that vast swaths of human activity – and employment – which were hitherto regarded as beyond the reach of “intelligent” machines may now be susceptible to automation.” he went on to quote a studyby  Dr Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, two researchers at the Martin School in Oxford,T heir report, The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?,  estimates the probability of computerisation for 702 detailed occupations, based on US government classifications of those occupations.  About 47% of total US employment, they conclude, is at risk from technologies now operational in laboratories and in the field.

    However a study entitled ‘Are ICT Displacing Workers? Evidence from Seven European Countries‘ by Smaranda Pantea, Federico Biagi and Anna Sabadash from the Institute of Prospective Technologies in Seville comes up with a different answer. Looking at micro data ins even European countries for companies in the manufacturing, ICT producing and service sector the study found “a non-significant relationship between employment growth and ICT intensity among ICT-using firms.: The authors say: “Since our estimates mainly capture the “substitution” effects of ICT on employment (i.e. those due to ICT substituting for some type of labour and to ICT increasing productivity and hence reducing demand for inputs, for constant values of output), our results indicate that these effects are statistically insignificant.”

    Of course this study and the American study are not directly comparable. They looked at different things and used different methodologies. One conclusion might be that whilst technology is not being directly substituted for overall employment, it is changing the nature of jobs available. Some labour market studies (for instance based on the US O*Net surveys) have suggested that what is happening is a bifurcation of labour, with an increasing number of high qualified jobs and of low skilled (and consequently low paid) service sector jobs. And of course another impact may be on the ;content’ and different skills required in different jobs. For instance our work in the construction industry through the Learning layers project suggests increasing adoption of technology is leading to the need for new (and higher) skills levels within what was traditionally seen as a lower skills sector. This has considerable implications for vocational education and training. ather than training for presents skills demands VET systems need to be looking at future skills. And by providing those future orein3eteds kills this could provide a workforce and society with the abilities and motivation to shape our use of technology in society, rather than as John Naughton fears that “we’re bound to lose this race against the machine” and in the course “enrich the corporations that own it.”

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    Designing Applications To Support Mobile Work Based Learning In The Construction Industry

    April 28th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    Along with Joanna Burchert, Gilbert Peffer and Raymond Elferink, I am presenting a paper at the EDEN conference on Expanding Learning Scenarios in Barcelona in June. the paper is based on work undertaken as part of the Learning Layers project. Below is the abstract. And if you would like to read the full paper you can download it from the link at the bottom of this page.

    This paper focuses on the use of technology for (mainly informal) learning in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the construction sector. It is based on work being undertaken by the EU funded Learning Layers project. The project is aiming to develop large scale take up of technology for informal learning in two sectors, health and construction.

    The project includes both research and development strands, aiming to facilitate and support the development, testing and deployment of systems and tools for learning. The wider goals of the project are to develop sustainable models and tools for supporting learning in other countries and sectors. The paper describes the outcomes of empirical research undertaken in the construction sector as well as the co-design process contributing to the development of the Learning Toolbox, a mobile application for apprentices. The empirical research has been undertaken with a wide range of stakeholders in the construction industry, including surveys of apprentices whilst the co-design process has focused on trainers and apprentices.

    Any use of mobile technology in and for work depends on the very specific situation and general conditions within a business sector. Hence research and development for mobile digital media includes both peoples’ needs and practices as workers and learners as well as specific business challenges, directions of development and needs concerning knowledge, skills and competencies. Testing and guiding the introduction of such solutions in enterprises and organisations could be understood as one kind of action research. Thus in researching and developing mobile learning applications and digital media for use in SMEs it is important to examine the possible impacts on employees and work processes as well as just the impact or potential for learning. The research in enterprises differentiated four lines of argumentation around the use of digital media: a) anxious-avoiding, b) critical, c) optimistic and d) pragmatically oriented,

    Our interviews confirmed that technology is fast changing the world of construction, with increased work pressure and the demand to document work. It was noted that mobile devices are increasingly being used to produce a photographic record of construction work, as part of quality assurance processes. However, there was pronounced scepticism towards what was termed as “VET researcher fantasies” for instance in developing knowledge exchange networks. Companies were not prepared to share knowledge which was seen as giving them a competitive advantage over others.

    The initial interviews were followed up with a survey of over 700 first, second and third year apprentices. The survey confirmed the desire for more use of mobile learning and a frustration with the limitations of existing commercial applications. Whilst only a limited number of companies permitted the use of mobile devices in the workplace, 53% of apprentices said they used them for learning or for obtaining work related information, explaining this was in their own time in breaks or after work.

    The project is developing a ‘Learning Toolbox’, designed as a comprehensive architecture and framework for apprentice training and continuing training as well as for other services for the building and construction sector. Rather than training the main interest craft trade companies in web tools and mobile technologies is related to real-time, knowledge sharing, communication and problem-solving. Experience with earlier web tools has shown that they do not necessarily contribute to optimisation of work and business processes. However, flexible framework solutions like Learning Toolbox can be customised to their needs. Supplier companies (e.g. vendors of machinery, equipment and materials) want to customise user guidelines, maintenance manuals and instructional media for different users. They also need to develop real-time feedback mechanisms to improve error control mechanisms.

    The implementation of Technology Enhanced Learning in SMEs will require capacity building in organisations, networks and sectors. This includes the capacity of trainers to support pedagogically the implementation of technology for learning, the development of technical infrastructure and the capacity of organisations and managements to support the use of technologies.

    Finally is the importance of context in work based learning. Mobile learning applications need to be able to adapt to different contexts. These include, but are not limited to, the context of what kind of work is being undertaken, different forms of work organisation and different locations and forms of learning. The Learning Toolbox application is particularly designed to bridge formal and informal learning and to take account of the different contexts of learning in the vocational schools, learning in the industry training centre and learning on the construction site.

    Download full paper (Word format) – mobileLearningEDENFIN

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    Researching MOOCs

    April 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

    In February we held the first annual review meeting for the EmployID project, which is focused on identity transformation and continuing professional development in European Public Employment Services. As part of the review process we have to deliver a series of (substantial) reports detailing the work we have done in different work packages in the project. Pontydysgu are involved in a range of work across the project and additionally coordinate work on Networking, Structuring and Coordination Tools. Having authored the report on this area I am now checking back through it to make sure there is nothing confidential before we publish the reports. And at the same time I thought I would publish selected highlights on this blog.

    One focus for our work is around MOOCs. The following section summarises our background research into MOOCs. A future post will outline how we are taking this forward.

    MOOCs continue to feature highly at conferences, seminars and events in the Technology Enhanced Learning community and are a subject of some debate and contention. Given the fast moving discussions, this section can only aim to summarise some of the subjects of debate.

    There are now hundreds of open online courses available through branded MOOC platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, FutureLearn and Iversity along with self‐hosted courses direct from Universities and even individual lecturers offering open courses outside of their institutions. The vision of the MOOC is exactly that, Massive ‐ anyone can join in, Open ‐ materials available free of charge for all to use and repurpose, Online Course. The extent of the openness of many courses branded as MOOC is questionable, most materials are locked behind logins, passwords and time limits. Some courses come with a fee. As described above, a MOOC is not always a MOOC.

    Research by the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) in 2013 highlighted two conflicting strands of thought amongst MOOC professionals.

    A strand of enthusiasts welcomes the shake‐up and energy MOOCs bring to learning, teaching and assessment. They report positively on learning experiences and innovative formats of pedagogy, and spotlight themes such as access, empowerment, relationship building and community. This strand is particularly prevalent in the general press. Examples include Shirky and Legon.A strand of sceptics tempers the general enthusiasm along two themes. The supposed benefits of MOOCs were already realised in previous generations of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) innovation – and the innovations of MOOCs are the victory of packaging over content. The MOOC format itself suffers from weaknesses around access, content, quality of learning, accreditation, pedagogy, poor engagement of weaker learners, exclusion of learners without specific networking skills.

    The themes emerging from both sides of the argument are those of access and inclusion of learners, quality of content, teaching and learning, networks and communities, and accreditation.

    A recent study of MOOCs run by MIT showed that the most typical registrant in the courses were males aged 26 or older with a Bachelor’s degree. However, when the data is viewed in context it is notable that this demographic accounts for less than one in three registrants. Other statistics collected from 17 courses comprising over 600,000 registrants showed that 33% had high school or lower levels of education, 6.3% were over 50, and 2.7% had IP or mailing addresses from countries on the United Nations’ list of least‐developed countries (Rutter, 2014, Ho et.al., 2014, DeBoer et.al., 2014).

    The formulaic structure of the branded courses such as Coursera make it easy for a course provider to quickly create an attractive looking sequence of lessons with video, text and assignments. One downside to this method is that there are now hundreds of identical looking courses consisting of video lectures, further reading and the occasional multiple choice quiz. The format has been referred to by critics as “The sage on a stage” and pedagogically reflects the paradigm that teaching is a one‐way process of giving knowledge to another. It is of course possible to use such a platform without being a slave to the formula, but more interaction with students requires more input and more time on the part of the course providers. The issue for the course facilitator is that online courses take time; a survey of professors running MOOCs recently reported that over 100 hours of work occurs before the course has started with a further 8 to 10 hours a week on upkeep (Kolowich, 2013). Factor in that the number of enrolled students on a MOOC can be as high as 160,000 (Rodriguez, 2012) and it becomes evident that dealing with individuals can be an almost impossible task.

    Research carried out by MIT into 17 courses on the edX platform suggests that course completion may not be a valid success criteria for online courses or learners. “Course completion rates, often seen as a bellwether for MOOCs, can be misleading and may at times be counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses.”

    The researchers found evidence of large numbers of registrants who may not have completed a course but still accessed substantial amounts of course content.” (Rutter, 2014)

    One of the most contentious debates has been dropout and completion rates. MOOCs in general have a very high dropout rate when compared to conventional courses (both face to face and online). Critics have pointed to this as evidence of the poor quality of courses and the lack of support for learning. Proponents of MOOCs have countered by pointing out how easy it is to sign up for free and open courses and that many learners join only wishing to undertake part of a programme. Openness, they say, is allowing more learners to embark on courses and that conventional measurements of quality such as completion rates are inappropriate for MOOCs.

    The openness and availability of the resources will have some impact on the uptake of an online course by students. Participants can be put off by long registration processes or constant requests for login information. It is interesting to note that when materials are easy to access a number of students continue to access, study and participate in online courses beyond the official synchronous running times. Campbell (2014) describes these participants as “archived‐learners”;

    “Despite the lack of a defined cohort, deadlines, strong instructor‐ presence, and the ability to earn a Statement of Accomplishment, archived‐learners indicate similar intent and exhibit similarbehavior to live‐learners. And this behavior extends beyond watching videos to completion of assessments and interaction on the discussion forums.” (Campbell, 2014)

    The way in which students interact with online course content can be compared to the way in which people interact with other Web‐based media such as video or social network sites. (Rutter, 2014).

    Research shows that students tend to navigate a non‐linear pattern through course content with students deemed successful (in that they achieved the certification available for the course) skipping around 20% of the content (Guo & Reinecke, 2014).

    BIS (2013) summarises that “Learners who have completed MOOCs emerge from the literature as relatively enthusiastic about the MOOC format. Different kinds of learner experience have been identified, and passive consumption or lurking in a MOOC is a common pattern. The consensus is growing that lurking and auditing have validity as a learning activity within MOOCs, and that non‐completion is not a significant problem in this learning format.”

    The early cMoocs were developed using a mixture of Open Source and homegrown software and some providers continue to follow such an approach. The last two years have seen the rapid emergence of MOOC platforms, driven in part by the need to ensure scalability and in part by attempting to standardise and facilitate MOOC design. Most, although not all, of these platforms have been developed by private organisations, often backed by venture capital funding and working in partnership with academic organisations for providing content. There have been some innovations, for instance in allowing designers to annotate video.

    There has been some criticism by course developers of the limitations of platforms, particularly the xMooc platforms.

    It is likely that more platforms will be released over the next two years and that some will be available as Open Source Software


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