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

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

    September 1st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Are computers being used less for learning in schools in England?

    August 4th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

    Another in this emerging series of how to interpret strange findings in evaluation studies. The OECD has published a lengthy report called “Measuring Innovation in Education“. And if you go to page 194 of the report (direct link here) it appears to show that between 2003 and 2011 there was a considerable fall in the use of computers to analyse data and to conduct scientific experiments in Grade 8 maths and sciences in England. the data comes from the  ‘Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)’ which according to Wikipedia ” is a series of international assessments of the mathematics and science knowledge of students around the world. The participating students come from a diverse set of educational systems (countries or regional jurisdictions of countries) in terms of economic development, geographical location, and population size. In each of the participating educational systems, a minimum of 4,500 to 5,000 students are evaluated. Furthermore, for each student, contextual data on the learning conditions in mathematics and science are collected from the participating students, their teachers and their principals via separate questionnaires.”

    Assuming that the data is rigorous and comparing like with like etc. the result is a little hard to understand. It is probably worth noting that in 2003, England, along with Norway, had comparatively high levels of use of computers for these subjects in school. Maybe, computers are being used more effectively now? Or maybe it was just trendy to 2003 and is less trendy now? Or is the rigid curriculum in England blocking innovation in the classroom? Any thoughts or ideas welcome

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    Why do computer science students drop out?

    August 4th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

    It takes hard work to design a good survey – and more hard work to collect responses. But often the hardest job is not just analysing the data, but making sense of it. A new survey on student drop outs from Uk universities is a case in point.

    The data from the Higher Education Funding Council for England show that in 2011-12, 6.6 per cent of full-time UK students doing a first degree in England had quit after their first year.

    This is almost one percentage point less than the previous year, and is the latest in a series of declines since 2003-04, when the dropout rate was 9.2 per cent.

    Times Higher Education (THE) reports that the survey shows differences in dropout rates between subjects remain stark. “Eleven per cent of computer science students dropped out in 2011-12, according to the data. …..A detailed breakdown of the figures shows that software engineering has a particularly poor retention record, with nearly 17 per cent of students dropping out after the first year. Artificial intelligence courses, on the other hand, do much better.”

    THE goe son to say thatDigital Skills for Tomorrow’s World, a report released earlier this month by the UK Digital Skills Taskforce, suggested that computer science courses are “extremely varied” and that “some students arrive at university to find that the courses do not match their expectations”.

    They report that the data also show that “men (7.6 per cent) are more likely to drop out than women (5.9 per cent). Students from areas with the lowest levels of participation in higher education also had higher dropout rates than those from other neighbourhoods. Neither of these differences could be fully explained when controlling for age, subject and qualifications on entry.”

    We have had a quick chat here in the office about possible reasons for the high drop out in computer science and have come up with a few possible explanations. One may be that computer science students tend to be socially isolated. But more likely is different expectations about the nature of such courses, even if they are extremely varied. Students expect the course to be practical and hands on, whilst often they are quite theoretical and involve a considerable amount of mathematics. That is not to say that these courses are not good. But it may be that many students enrolling on a computer science course would be far better off on a high class apprenticeship training, if such programmes were readily available to the UK.  University is not the only route to learning.

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    A good day for English education?

    July 15th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

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    The departure of Michael Gove as English education minister will be greeted with celebration and relief by most teachers and educationalists in the UK. But although his pronouncements and policies appeared as arrogant, narrow minded, reactionary and sometimes just bizarre, there was a direction and theme which underpinned such policies: privatisation. Gove and his policy advisers, not to mention friends and lobbyists, wanted to privatise schools in the UK. In a time when profits are hard to come by, public services represent a huge untapped market for capital. And the removal of Gove alone does not mean that the dream of giving education to the private sector has gone away.

    Nicky Morgan will probably be less abrasive in pursuing such a dream. But she also comes from the right wing of the conservative party. As the Guardian reports:

    Morgan, a trustee of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, voted against same-sex marriage partly because she could not reconcile it with her faith. This is likely to be the reason that Cameron split the women and equalities brief, handing the latter to Sajid Javid, the culture secretary, and leading to accusations that she was the “minister for straight women”.

    She was privately educated at a girls’ day school before reading law at Oxford University and going on to become a corporate lawyer.

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    Developing a Work Based, Mobile Personal Learning Environment

    July 6th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

    As regular readers will know, for a long time I have been fascinated by the potential of mobile technologies for developing work based learning and work based Personal Learning environments. Mobile technologies can allow learning to take place directly in the workplace. Learning can be recorded and for that matter reflection on learning take place as a direct part of the work process. In such a way the workplace becomes part of the Personal Learning Environment and conversely the PLE becomes part of the work process. At the same time, such an approach can bring together both formal and informal learning. Through sharing learning processes and outcomes, learners themselves can contribute to a growing ‘store; of learning materials.

    It hasn’t happened yet and it is worth thinking about why. One reason maybe that only recently has seen the spread of sufficiently powerful mobile devices and applications. Another is the suspicion of employers about the uses of such devices in the workplace. Most importantly may be the failure to develop pedagogic approaches for mobile learning. Most developments to date have essentially been about consumption of learning materials, albeit sometimes in innovative ways. And much of the publicity or mobile learning has emphasised consumption of short episodes of learning away from the workplace – or for that matter the classroom (for some reason we will all be learning on the bus or the train on our way home from work in the future or so the vendors say).

    That is not to say there have not been attempts to develop more radical thinking. Members of the London Mobile Learning Group have, like others developed new ideas for work based mobile learning pedagogy. Yet still, as far as I can see, there have been few attempts to implement such ideas at any scale.

    It is for these reasons that I am so interested in the development of the Learning Toolbox, initially targeted at apprentices in the construction industry, as part of the EU funded Learning layers project. Perhaps the biggest thing I have leaned from this work (apart from how difficult it is) is the need for co-development processes with end users and stakeholders in the industry. The new paper we have written for the PLE2014 conference documents the research we have undertaken and the co-development process, as well as our understanding of the issues around context and how to address such issues.

    You can download the paper here. As always any and all feedback is very welcome.

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    Would you like to work for Pontydysgu?

    June 24th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

    Pontydysgu’s hiring! If you are interested please get in touch. And please pass on to anyone you think might be interested.

    An internship with a difference!

    Have an adventure – go to Bremen in Germany to work with the team developing tools for the EU Learning Layers project www.learning-layers.eu. There is an open design library – http://learning-layers.eu/open-libraries/ – showcasing the prototypes so far which you can access via the website. The EU team operate in English, are very friendly and you will work with other technologists, researchers and other project team members. You will be collaborating closely with Bau ABC, a construction industry training centre that supports apprentices in the building trades.

    Pontydysgu has its head office in Wales UK but also has an office in Bremen, Germany. Graham Attwell, the technical lead person who works out of Bremen will:

    • Put you on a 4 week intensive  German course (you will not need to be fluent, just learn enough to get by and order a beer)
    • Help you arrange accommodation
    • Pay you 1200 Euros a month during the internship

    What do you need?

    • To start ASAP (easiest to get on language course run in August  2014)
    • Knowledge of HTML 5, CSS3, Content Mangements Systems (WordPress in particular including PHP and MySQL) and an interest in mobile app development (android and/or iOS) and work based learning (or interest in learning these skills)
    • Be flexible and willing to work to tight deadlines
    • Be willing to travel to 3 day project meetings throughout Europe
    • Be prepared to stay for a year
    • Be a good communicator with all kinds of people
    • A ‘can do’ attitude

    What will you get out of it?

    • Excellent experience on your CV in terms of your technical skills
    • Cross-cultural collaborative experience (a skill potential employers are keen on)
    • Experience of living abroad for a year (or if you already live in Germany, experience of working with a UK company)
    • Experience working with a wide range of users – apprentices, meisters, academics, researchers, technologists

    Interested? Email Graham Attwell (graham10 [at] mac [dot] com) for further information, telling him in no more than 300 words about why you would be ideal for this opportunity.

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