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

    AI Brain Drain?

    September 3rd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    It is not often I read the Daily Telegraph. Not withstanding the politics, the paper only provides a short introduction for free with the rest of the content languishing behind a paywall. But I picked up this stub of an article through Twitter.

    Britain faces an artificial intelligence “brain drain” as Silicon Valley raids its top universities for talent, data compiled by The Telegraph shows.

    Around a third of leading machine learning and AI specialists who have left the UK’s top institutions are currently working at Silicon Valley tech firms.

    More than a tenth have moved to North American universities and nearly a tenth are currently working for other smaller US companies. Meanwhile just one in seven have joined British start-ups.

    The Telegraph surveyed 150 people who had gained either a postgraduate-level degree or had…..

    The sample I think comes form just four universities so is possibly not reliable. But it possibly shows how unattractive working as a researcher in UK univeristies sis becoming compared to provate sector work abroad.

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    Vocational Education and Training Research in the UK

    August 31st, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    Next week I am going to the European Conference on Education Research (ECER) taking place in Bolzano in Italy. I am talking in three sessions, one about changing identities in work, one on research around the use of technology in vocational education and training and the third on Vocational Education and Training research and innovation agendas in Europe.

    The latter is an initiative by Monica Moso from the Bankia Foundation in Spain and is organised as a round table with researchers from Spain, UK, Germany and Switzerland.

    I am reporting on the UK in response to three questions Monica has asked:

    • Question 1: What is the characterisation of the country’s existing VET R&D?
    • Question 2: What are the major contemporary challenges to the country’s existing VET R&D?
    • Question 3: Is there a national policy or strategy for VET R&D? If not, an informal agenda? How is it?

    In order to answer the questions Monica asked us to select and prioritise the main research areas in VET in each country. For the UK I prioritised the following areas:

    1. Economic development and VET
    2. Changing Labour market
    3. Apprenticeships/ internships/ workplace learning
    4. VET policy, organization and management
    5. The Salience of work
    6. Qualification research
    7. Careers
    8. VET teacher education and teacher behaviour
    9. Vocationalisation of higher education
    10. VET and Society

    I noted that researchers in VET are drawn from a wide number fo different subject areas and attached to different university departments including:

    • Anthropology
    • Educational studies
    • Educational sociology
    • The study of higher education policy
    • Sociology
    • Psychology
    • Industrial relations/human resource management/personnel management
    • Economics
    • Labour economics
    • Geography
    • History
    • Politics and policy studies
    • Gender studies
    • Ethnic relations
    • Continuing education
    • Hotels, catering and leisure studies
    • Management studies
    • Engineering and manufacturing systems.

    Monica asked us to characterise the state of VET research in our countries and to expand on the issues researchers face. This is my reply for the UK:

    • Extreme fragmentation, with research located in a multiplicity of institutional and disciplinary settings
    • Lack of stable funding / resources – funding from a very wide range of sources.
    • Lack of central research networks / infrastructure / knowledge exchange mechanism
    • Lack of reflexivity in the research / policy process, with a lack of a feedback loop between policy makers
    • Dislocation between research, policy formation and implementation
    • Ideology driven policy agendas
    • Frequent changes in policies and lack of thorough evaluation of their impact
    • Austerity and lack of funding in further education sector
    • Poor or non existent data

     

    I noted there is no national policy or strategy for VET rsearch and development in the UK. However, at present the government is funding a VET research unit based at the London School of Economics (CVER)

    The priorities set for the LSE unit appear to reflect government priorities, namely:

    1. Describing the Further and Vocational Education landscape in England
    2. How does vocational education affect individual prosperity, firm productivity and profitability, and economic growth?
    3. How can the quantity of ‘high quality’ vocational education provision be improved?
    4. How do the costs and benefits of vocational education influence individuals’ participation decisions

    These areas reflect the informal agenda set by the government which is largely ideologically driven.

    Some VET research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council – e.g the LAKES project at the Institute of Education

    There are a wide range of different sources of funding for VET research. These include:

    • Foundations and trusts
    • Government departments and agencies
    • Political parties
    • Trade Union Congress (TUC) and trade unions
    • Confederation for British Industry and industry organisations
    • Professional bodies
    • Royal Society for the Arts
    • Careers organisations
    • Industry education bodes
    • Local Economic partnerships

    There is no central mechanism for deciding the knowledge needs of the VET system – nor for agreement between participants on the main problems. Whereas in some areas such as apprenticeship there is general consensus as to its importance the policy implementation is contested. Ultimately policy options are imposed by central government. At least in rhetoric, there is considerable reliance placed on the views of employers.

    All in all it is a fairly depressing picture. Is there anything I have forgotten?

     

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    The development of Labour Market Information systems

    August 29th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    Over the past few years, part of my work has been involved in the design and development of Labour Market Information Systems. But just as with any facet of using new technologies, there is a socio-technical background to the emergence and use of new systems.

    Most countries today have a more or less elaborated Labour Market Information system. In general, we can trace three phases in the development of these systems (Markowitch, 2017). Until the 1990s, Labour Market Information systems, and their attendant classification systems, mainly provided statistics for macroeconomic analysis, policy and planning. Between the 1990s and 2005 they were extended to provide data around the structuring and functioning of the Labour markets.

    Mangozho (2003) attributes the change as a move from an industrial society to a post-industrial society (and the move to transition economies in Eastern Europe). Such a definition may be contentious, but he usefully charts changes in Labor market structures which give rise to different information needs. “While previously, the economic situation (especially the job structure) was relatively stable, in the latter phase the need for LMI increases because the demand for skills and qualifications changes fundamentally; the demand for skills / qualifications changes constantly, and because of these changes, Vocational Education and Training (VET) system has to be managed more flexibly (ETF, 1998)’.

    He says: “In the industrial/pre-transition periods:

    • The relationship between the education and training system and the Labor market was more direct.
    • Occupational structures changed very slowly and as such, the professional knowledge and skills could easily be transferred.
    • Planning, even for short-term courses, could be done well in advance, and there was no need to make any projections about the future demands of occupations
    • The types of subjects and the vocational content required for specific jobs were easily identifiable.
    • There was little need for flexibility or to design tailor-made courses.
    • The education system concentrated on abstract and theoretical knowledge as opposed to practical knowledge.
    • Steady economic growth made it possible for enterprises to invest in on the job training.
    • There was less necessity to assess the relevance and adequacy of the VET system because it was deemed as adequate.
    • A shortage of skills could easily be translated into an increase of the number of related training institutions or student enrolments without necessarily considering the cost effectiveness of such measures. (Sparreboom, T, 1999).
    • Immediate employment was generally available for those who graduated from the education and training systems.”

    Changes in the structure and functioning of Labour markets and the VET systems led to a greater need for comprehensive LMI to aid in the process of interpreting these structural shifts and designing effective HRD policies and programs, which provide for more linkages between the education and training systems and the Labor market.

    At the same time, the reduction in the role of the state as a major employment provider and the development of market economies gave impetus to the need for a different approach to manpower planning, where the results of Labor market analysis as well as market based signals of supply and demand for skills are made available to the various economic agents responsible for the formulation and implementation of manpower and employment policies and programmes.

    This led to the establishment of formal institutions to co-ordinate the generation of LMI, for instance internet based Labour Market Information Systems and the setting up of Labour Market Observatories and the development of more tangible LMI products, which provide a broad up, dated knowledge of the developments on the Labour market for different users.

    Since 2005, Labour Market Information systems have been once more extended to incorporate both matching of jobs to job seekers and matching of supply and demand within Labour markets, particularly related to skills.

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    The definition of literacy is inherently political

    August 28th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    Over the years, I’ve written a lot of posts on this blog on digital literacy or, better put, digital literacies. The one thing you can general say, is that whatever definti0n and framework is presently popular will go out of date in the next couple of years, as we struggle to define what digital means for lietracy with changing technologies and use of technologies. So I was very happy to see Mark Brown from City University, Dublin is writing a three-part opinion piece for the ASCILITE blog focussing on different conceptions of digital literacy

    In the first part he says:

    three core threads are woven throughout this critical discussion about what it means to be digitally literate in the 21st Century. Firstly, the definition of literacy in whatever form is inherently political. Secondly, the digital literacies movement is complex and most efforts to propose definitions and develop related models and frameworks are disconnected from wider socio-political debates and underestimate the importance of the situated nature of educational practice. Lastly, most models and frameworks for digital skills, literacies or competencies fail to adequately address some of the powerful macro-level forces, drivers and entangled and contradictory discourses associated with the goal of preparing more digitally skilled learners, workers and citizens.

    Im looking forward to teh next two parts.

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    Digitalisation in / of Vocational Education and Training

    August 20th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    Last November I facilitated a workshop at the European Skills Week event on research in vocational education and training. The workshop was entitled digitalisation in /of vocational education and training. There were some five of us in the workshop and we had about two hours to answer a series of questions based on the following framework.

    vet research framework

    Despite the too short time, I think what we came up with is a good starting point and the discussion will continue in a round table session at the European Conference on Educational Research in Bolzano, Italy in September.

    Research Desiderata & Questions

    The following central research questions and / or desiderata in this field were identified:

    • How do processes of digital transitions and transformations impact on VET and what are the mediation processes and artefacts involved?
    • Digital technologies are changing the nature and organisation of work, and the skills and competences required. This is happening simultaneously at a sectoral level and a global level. The new skills and competences are mediated in interactions between different actors but also between actors and objects. These processes of mediation to a large extent shape the practices of using digital technologies.
    • In a critical appraisal of digitalisation in VET, what are the different possibilities for the future: What is and more importantly what could be?
    • There is a tendency to take technologies and replicate past paradigms – hence for instance the idea of a ‘digital classroom’. Yet digital technologies open new possibilities for vocational education and training. To understand what ‘could be’ requires a critique of existing practices in VET and of the early adoption of technologies for teaching and learning.
    • How do digital technologies and transformations affect the creation and meaning of work at a sectoral and global level?
    • As technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence are fast being adopted in different sectors and occupations, the future form of work and work organisation is being questioned. Alongside the digital transformations impacting in many sectors, sections of capitalism have advocated digital disruption based on new business models. The use of technology in this way raises Issues of social justice and values. What should be the role of VET in providing the skills and competences to shape the meaning and values of future work and innovation?

    Explanation & Justification

    Analytical Level

    Macro Level

    The changing nature of work due to the emergence of new technologies can potentially be shaped. To an extent how technology impacts on work is dependent on values. Equally digital transformations can build on existing skills and competences and older forms of knowledge. To understand these processes requires research at a sector level.

    Technological unemployment should not be viewed as simply an issue requiring upskilling, but as questioning forms and organisation of work within society. Life skills are equally important in developing resilience for future employment.

    We need a greater understanding of how old knowledge forms are transformed into new knowledge in the digital age.

    Meso Level

    Institutions mediate processes of skill and competence formation related to digitalisation. What is the relation between specific digital skills required in different sectors and occupations to basic and transversal digital skills? How can skills and knowledge acquired formally or informally in the workplace be linked to education and training in VET institutions.

    At the same time, digitalisation provides new possibilities for teaching and learning, for example through augmented reality. This in turn requires the adoption of new pedagogic approaches for VET. Present practices in the adoption of Learning Management Systems form socio-tech systems and may prioritise or marginalise different skills and knowledge.

    Micro Level

    What are the skills and knowledge required not only to deal with and shape technology in the workplace (in different occupations and sectors) but also for living in the digital age? How does technology transform the work identity of individuals and how do individuals change their own identity for dealing with the changing world of work? What are the life skills that develop the residence required by individuals to deal with digitalisation at a societal level?

    Analytical Focus

    Learners / Students

    Understanding the processes of digital transformation is critical to developing future oriented curricula for learners and students. At the same time, emergent technologies – such as robotics and artificial technologies – call into question existing societal forms of wage labour – once more requiring new curricula for life skills.

    We need to focus not only on formal initial training in VET, but on informal learning in the work process leading to identity transformations.

    Object / Process

    Objects and artefacts play a key role in mediating learning in VET. These artefacts are themselves becoming transformed through digital technologies.

    The use of technology opens up new possibilities and contexts for learning, including directly in the workplace. It also potentially empowers processes of social learning, with learners themselves acting as facilitators for other people’s learning and for developing and sharing knowledge within social settings.

    This requires research for understanding how such social learning processes can be developed, how new forms of knowledge are acquired and what role objects and artefacts play in these processes.

    Trainers / Teachers

    There are many examples of good practice in the use of technology for learning in VET and of teachers and trainers sharing knowledge and experiences online. However, many teachers and trainers also feel left behind by the rapid changes in technologies both within occupations and for teaching and training.

    Research suggests that best practices are not being generalised because existing models of professional development for teachers and trainers do not scale to meet needs.

    An understanding of the possibilities for future VET, requires an understanding by teachers and trainers of the potentials of using technology in their own practice.

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    Learning with the Open Web

    August 15th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

    I don’t generally advertise conferences on this site. There are just too many and besides most of ridiculously expensive. But I am much taken by the Learning with / On the Open Web conference taking place in Coventry, UK on 25 October. The conference promotes itself as a  “One-day event celebrating the Open Web as a socio-technical ecosystem for teaching, learning, scholarly communication and public engagement!”

    The organisers say “Join us to share, learn and participate in how the Open Web can be utilised in different educational contexts and why it is core to the development of digital literacies and critical pedagogy approaches.”

    The Open Web is acknowledged as a loosely defined term that can be interpreted in different ways. However, the organisers are keen on contributions focusing on digital practices that involve the use of online technologies that are aligned with the founding principles of the World Wide Web (WWW), imagined by its creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee as “an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.”

    Oh, and the conference is free. More details here.

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