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 unwritten rules of engagement

    January 16th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

    Fascinating research from April Yee, program officer for the James Irvine Foundation in the USA. In a report entitled “The Unwritten Rules of Engagement: Social Class Differences in Undergraduates’ Academic Strategies” and reported in Times Higher, Yee says even when students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are able to access higher education they face further challenges that their more privileged counterparts do not. This she believes is due toe different learning strategies. Whilst the learning strategies of middle class students are recognised by the institutions, the strategies of first generation working class students are not.

    “First-generation students believe that they are responsible for earning good grades on their own,” she writes.

    “First-generation students employ engagement strategies that emphasise independence while middle-class students…emphasise interaction, in addition to independence. Thus middle-class students are more likely to achieve not because they exert more absolute effort, but because they employ a wider range of strategies.”

    She adds that the research, published in the Journal of Higher Education, “points to the role of institutions in defining the implicit rules of engagement, such that middle-class strategies of interaction are recognised and rewarded while first-generation strategies of independence are largely ignored”.

    Of course all this leaves more questions than it answers (and is why people should read full reports, rather than rely on the Times Higher digest). I am interested in just what is an engagement strategy that emphasises interaction. To what degree can the design of student assignments, for instance with groupwork, support interaction – if indeed such a learning strategy needs to be supported. And if this research holds true for universities what might it mean for the schools sector.

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    Learning Analytics and the Peak of Inflated Expectations

    January 15th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

    hypecycleHas Learning Analytics dropped of the peak of inflated expectations in Gartner’s hype cycle?  According to Educause ‘Understanding the power of data’ is still there as a major trend in higher education and Ed Tech reports a KPMG survey which found that 41 percent of universities were using data for forecasting and predictive analytics.

    But whilst many universities are exploring how data can be used to improve retention and prevent drop outs, there seems little pretence any more that Learning Analytics has much to do with learning. The power of data has somehow got muddled up with Management Analytics, Performance Analytics and all kinds of other analytics – but the learning seems to have been lost. Data mining is great but it needs a perspective on just what we are trying to find out.

    I don’t think Learning analytics will go into the trough of despair. But i think that there are very real problems in working out how best we can use data – and particularly how we can use  data to support learning. Learning analytics need to be more solidly grounded in what is already known about teaching and learning. Stakeholders, including teachers, learners and the wider community, need to be involved in the development and implementation of learning analytics tools. Overall, more evidence is needed to show which approaches work in practice and which do not.

    Finally, we already know a great deal about formal learning in institutions, or at least by now we should do. Of course we need to work at making it better. But we know far less about informal learning and learning which takes place in everyday living and working environments. And that is where I ultimately see Learning analytics making a big difference. Learning Analytics could potentially help us all to self directed learners and to achieve the learning goals that we set ourselves. But that is a long way off. Perhaps if Learning analytics is falling off the peak of expectations that will provide the space for longer term more clearly focused research and development.

     

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    Informal learning in practice

    December 13th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    Last week I travelled from Derby to Manchester airport by train. It was a typical English Midlands December day – cold, damp and foggy. Waiting at the station was a train driver – I knew this because she had on an orange hi vis jacket with driver printed on the back. At some time a much older male driver came along and they started chatting. The conversation was about the weather – no surprises there. But it seems she had been driving the previous evening when the fog had been very thick and she had never encountered such conditions before. It was fairly obvious that she was new to the job. Her big worry had been not knowing where she was and failing to slow down in time for stations. The more experienced driver sympathized and advised her to slow down to 20 miles an hour. If you go at 20, he said, you will always be able to stop in time. But, he said, don’t worry – as you get more experienced you will get to know where the stations are.

    I liked that conversation – it was a great example of informal learning – learning taking place in a chat at a station. And it also illustrated communities of practice – the learning took place around a common practice of driving trains and a common problem of driving in fog.

    The next day I travelled early in the morning by train from Madrid to Valencia. This time I was on an AVE – the Spanish Renfe services high speed train. And once more there was thick fog. But this time the train did not slow all. I suppose it helps that there is only one stop between Madrid and Valencia. But I suspect the reason is that the AVE has m0re advanced technologies than the aging UK railways.

    I wonder whether in learning to use these more advanced trains knowledge is passed on in the same ways or there is more emphasis on formal learning and knowledge. And I wonder which is the most effective?

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    New Insights into UK society today from longitudinal research

    December 8th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    Understanding Society has published its fifth annual report highlighting some of theinsights new topical policy-relevant research conducted recently using data from the annual survey which began in 2009 with around 100,000 individuals from 40,000 households.

    To support the Insights 2016 launch, the team also published a topic guide on education. This guide explores the content available to analyse in Understanding Society, highlights the types of research questions which could be explored and what research has already been carried out.

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    Productivity and vocational education and training

    October 25th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    apprenticesInterest in Vocational Education and Training (VET) seems to go in cycles. Its always around but some times it is much more to the forefront than others as a debate over policy and practice. Given the pervasively high levels of youth unemployment, at least in south Europe, and the growing fears over future jobs, it is perhaps not surprising that the debate around VET is once more in the ascendancy. And the debates over how VET is structured, the relation of VET to higher education, the development of new curricula, the uses of technology for learning, the fostering of informal learning, relations between companies and VET schools, the provision of high quality careers counselling and guidance, training the trainers – I could go on – are always welcome.

    Whilst in some countries like the UK deregulation seems to have created many jobs, most of these are low paid and insecure.

    Higher productivity requires innovation and innovation is in turn dependent on the skills and knowledge of the workforce. But in a time of deregulation there is little incentive for employers to invest in workforce training.

    There are signs that some companies are beginning to realise they have a problem. There has been a notable interest from a number of large companies in supporting new apprenticeship programmes and not just in the German speaking countries. In Spain the recently launched Alliance for FP Dual is making slow but steady progress in persuading companies to support the FP Dual alternance or apprenticeship programme. There remain many obstacles, not least the continuing austerity programme, political instability and the perilous financial position of many small and medium enterprises. I will talk more about some of these issues in forthcoming articles on this web site, coming out of the findings of a  small research project in Valencia sponsored by the International Network on Innovative Apprenticeship (INAP).

    But to be successful initiatives like the Spanish FP Dual and the wider EU backed Alliance for Apprenticeships have to be linked to wider programmes to promote innovation. Without some degree of labour market regulation this is going to be hard to achieve.

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    The Challenges for Construction Sector Training in the UK

    October 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    emgineerAccording to the Daily Telegraph, a new UK Government report into the skills crisis in the construction sector has recommended a new levy on house builders in a last ditch attempt to reform the industry.

    The Telegraph reports Mark Farmer, who wrote the review, as warning that “within 10 years the industry would lose 20-25pc of its workforce. He said that Government apprenticeship policies had not done enough, and that it needed to “modernise or die.”

    Research undertaken through the EU Learning layers project has identified the challenges to the sector from both the introduction of digital technologies and ecological issues. Digital technology is impacting on the construction industry in different ways. It is enabling the development of new materials, or new ways of producing materials, for instance through 3D printing. Secondly, it is enabling new construction techniques and processes. Building Information Modelling, being phased in as a compulsory requirement for publicly funded project throughout the European Union, represents a major change in the way construction projects are planned and carried out.

    The sector also faces pressures with digital technologies from their wider deployment within society and from their potentials to solve or ameliorate societal challenges, for instance climate change.

    The European Commission sees the main challenges facing construction as being:

    • Stimulating demand: Efficiency improvements in existing buildings and renovations have the highest potential to stimulate demand.
    • Training: Improving specialised training and making the sector more attractive, in particular for blue-collar workers, technical colleges and universities.
    • Innovation: More active uptake of new technologies.
    • Energy efficiency and climate change: Buildings account for the largest share of total EU final energy consumption (40%) and produce about 35% of all greenhouse emissions.

    It is interesting that they highlight the need for more active uptake of new technologies. This may be a particular problem given the structure of the industry and the predominance of SMEs with a need for wider access to information and knowledge about new technologies and the skills and competences to use technologies in practice. Discussions with the Bau ABC training centre and construction companies in north west Germany, have raised the issue of training centres playing a more central role in technology innovation, especially with apprentices trained in the centres in using new technologies.

    The issue of the attractiveness of the sector to new entrants has also commonly been raised. In Germany it is proving difficult to recruit sufficient apprentices and one project is even running a programme for apprentices from Spain. The use of new mobile technologies for learning is seen as a measure which could promote a more modern image for construction industry.

    Technologies are also being deployed to support energy efficiency and ameliorate climate change. These include the installation of digital monitoring and control systems for buildings, geothermal bores as an energy source for new buildings and retrofitting of older buildings for energy efficiency. Although the present ‘hype’ around the Internet of Things (IoT) probably outweighs the reality, it may have a major impact on the construction industry in the near future.

    Demands of digital technologies for cabling has led to the introduction of new computer based horizontal boring machines to avoid having to dig up roads to install new cables.

    Drones are increasingly being used for surveying and monitoring progress in large construction projects. Although at an early stage in deployment there is widespread interest in the potential of augmented reality applications in construction, for instance to allow the visualisation of hidden infrastructures such as cabling in construction sites.

    Building Information Modelling has been the subject of much discussion during the Learning Layers project. European legislation has permitted the adoption of different timetables for implementation in different European Member States. In some countries such as UK and Norway, implementation is at an advanced stage. In others such as Spain and Germany it is less far forward. There is some discussion about what organisations will be responsible for managing and implementing BIM processes as well as the technical approaches to BIM. Will BIM be the responsibility of larger civil engineering enterprises or will employees of small (Craft) companies be required to have a greater or lesser knowledge of BIM? This obviously has major implications for training and skills.

    The Daily Telegraph reports that the UK’s commercial sector faces a bill of over £9bn to upgrade properties to meet the minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES), and residential buildings will cost a total of £20bn to meet the necessary level.

    Yet with looming skills shortages and the upgrade in skills and knowledge required to cope with new technologies and energy efficient buildings, it seems hard to see how the UK construction industry can adapt to the new demands. Present government proposals are for a short term levy and a reliance on the market system to overcome skills shortages. But as Norman Crowther, national official for post-16 education at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers writing in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), points out  a market is not a system per se. “Introducing market mechanisms to get the output you want is not a VET system. All the “market” systems have the same sort of problems around VET (think the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada). Of course, that’s not a problem as long as you don’t want coherent skill formation and skill utilisation. But in a time of economic uncertainty and poor productivity, a system is exactly what we need.

    The German coordinated market economy goes so far as to legislate on vocational education and training, and apprenticeships have labour-market worth. In France, the state coordinates agreement via ministerial committees. The Nordic model has positioned VET as a part of the school curriculum and produced publicly intelligible VET qualifications that resonate with the public.”

    The failings of vocational education and training in the UK are hardly new, neither are skills shortages. Yet without developing a proper system based on high quality training both in vocational schools and in the workplace it is only likely these problems will worsen

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