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 return of printed books

    July 25th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    The various reports (see for example this article in BoingBoing) detailing the upturn in the sale of printed books in the UK, and a corresponding downturn in the sales of e-books are interesting, if only because it shows that trends towards digital products are not irreversible.

    And although I eagerly embraced the ebook trend, I find myself increasingly buying traditional books. Why? Firstly, I think a book is just more enjoyable as a product, as a design artefact. Secondly, whilst I bought an early Kindle, I refuse to be tied in to Amazons social and economic ecosystem. I use a Android tablet now as an ebook reader and it generally works OK, but can be fiddly with different formats and finding downloads (NB Verso books has the answer – providing multiple formats, no DRM locks, and a variety of means of accessing copies). However, the tablet screen is not really readable in bright light, which certainly is a disadvantage in southern European countries.

    I very much like the Chrome plugin allowing users to browse books on Amazon and then providing information on where they can be bought in the nearest bookshop. But although Amazon’s recommender system was a novelty at first, that novelty has worn out. It is just too damn predictable: the joy of bookshop browsing is in finding the unexpected and of course the ability to read the first few pages before deciding whether to buy. From a research point of view I find it much easier to recall where in a paper book the quote or section I want is, although that is probably my incompetence with productivity tools in electronic media.

    And just like record shops, independent bookshops are upping their game, becoming more community and event oriented. It is difficult, if not impossible, for online bookshops to compete on these terms (although once more Verso does a pretty good job).

    So I am not surprised at the return of the book but I wonder which sector or product is next in line for reverse digital disruption (unflipping the classroom)?

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    Brexit, universities and research

    July 21st, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    bannerEmptyH2020Much of the concern expressed by UK universities regarding Brexit is linked to free movement of researchers and to the loss of income from European funded research. these are important issues and while Brexit campaigners promised national money to meet any funding shortfall, the credibility of such promises is doubtful.

    But there are other important issues raised from the probable exclusion, or at least downgrading, of UK institutions in European funded projects. In the 40 or so years since the UK joined the European Union, research has changed. The days of the lone researcher, labouring away in their office or laboratory are long gone. Research today is largely comprised of distributed and cross disciplinary teams, often at a large scale. Internet technologies have facilitated communication between distributed teams and made knowledge sharing much easier. Not only does Brexit threaten to isolate researchers in the UK from participating in such projects, but it also makes the UK institutions less attractive for ambitious researchers. And at the same time, especially in an age of austerity, core national funding for full time researchers has been greatly reduced, with the rise of short term appointments based on European and other project based research funding.

    Of course European funding is not perfect. As with any such funding programme, the bureaucracy can be annoying (to say the least). Competition to get projects is high. And the short term nature of project funding often condemns promising prototypes to a silo, whilst seeking more resources to continue the work. Despite various attempts by the EU to prompt sustainability, research exploitation routes remain perilous. But one of the great benefits of the European research programmes in education has been for professional development, although this is rarely or ever picked up in evaluation reports. Many of those leading research and teaching in European universities today have benefited from the informal learning from discourse and exchange with peers in different countries. Exclusion from that opportunity for UK researchers will be one of the greatest losses for education from Brexit.

     

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    New book: Empowering Change in European Public Employment Services

    July 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    employid bookReaders familiar with European Research projects will know how they work. The projects negotiate with the European Commission a DOW – Description of Work – which details the work to be undertaken in each year of the project. It is divided into discrete work packages. Every year the work package provides a (usually over lengthy) report on research and development undertaken which is then presented to a team of expert reviewers who can ‘pass’, recommend changes or ‘fail’ the report. Although obviously large scale multi national research projects need structures and plans. But all too often the work package structure separates research and development activities which should not be separated and the DOW become a restrictive ‘bible’, rather than a guide for action. And despite the large amount of work which goes into preparing the work package reports, they are seldom widely read (if indeed read at all), except by the reviewers.

    In the EmployID project which is working with identity transformation in European Public Employment Services (PES), we are doing things differently. The work is structured though cross work package teams, who follow an adapted SCRUM structure. The teams are reviewed at face to face meetings and recomposed if necessary. And this year, instead of producing a series of Work package reports, the project partners have jointly contributed to a book – Empowering Change in Public Employment Services: The EmployID Approach which has just been published and can be downloaded for free.

    The introduction to the 244 page PDF book explains the background to the work:

    European Public Employment Services (PES) and their employees are facing fundamental challenges to the delivery of efficient and effective services and the need to change their strategies to combat high unemployment, demographic change in increasingly uncertain and dynamic labour markets. This does not only require developing new professional skills related to new tasks, but poses for more profound developmental challenges for staff members.

    Three of these changes relate to understanding the changing world of work; a ‘turn’ towards coaching; and the increased importance of relations with employers. The staff need to learn new ways of working, with a major challenge being to enhance the power of collaborative (peer) learning in order to support staff in accomplishing their goals.

    All these changes are linked to transforming professional identity, which requires learning on a deeper level that is often neglected by continuing professional development strategies. EmployID makes its contribution here; that PES practitioners’ learning related to professional identity transformation needs to be facilitated through social learning approaches and the nurturing of social learning networks, which include the following:

    • Reflection as a way of turning one’s own and others’ experiences into general insights on multiple levels, both from an individual and a collective perspective

    • Peer coaching as a way of helping learners in changing their behavior through a structured process

    • Social learning programmes as a way of engaging learners with new topics, other perspectives, and conversations around it.

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    Supporting start up businesses

    July 5th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

     

     

     

     

    One of the best things about Twitter is the ability to follow links to all kinds of things you probably would never have been to without it. And so I find in my notes somewhere the link to an article in Quartz – an online magazine (?) about which I know nothing. The link is to a loosely researched article about entrepreneurism – making the point that there is not much thing as an entrepreneurial gene but rather propensity to take risk and to set up new businesses is more like to be related to access to money – in other words to class.

    The article, attributed to REUTERS/Allison Joyce, quotes University of California, Berkeley economists Ross Levine and Rona Rubinstein who “analyzed the shared traits of entrepreneurs in a 2013 paper, and found that most were white, male, and highly educated. “If one does not have money in the form of a family with money, the chances of becoming an entrepreneur drop quite a bit,” Levine tells Quartz.”

    Entrepreneurship is all the trend in Europe at the moment, especially in the recession and austerity hit southern countries, where setting up a business is seen as one of the few ways of getting a job. However the rhetoric seems to overplay the potential of technology (everyone can be the next Steve Jobs!), whilst ignoring sectors of the economy such as tourism which probably represent better opportunities within the existing labour market.

    At the same time programmes such as the EU Youth Guarantee fund are being used to set up support agencies for young people wishing to set ups their own business and we are seeing the increasing emergence of co-working spaces for new enterprises. But anecdotal evidence – and some reports although I cannot find them at the moment – suggest that many of these businesses are struggling to survive beyond the first one or two years. In austerity Europe bank capital remains hard to come by and most young people do not have access to their own funds to consolidate and explained their business. Although initiatives like the EU SME programme are very welcome, access to such funding is not simple and anyway the amount of grants on offer are simply insufficient. As European politicians slowly wake up to the disaster austerity policies have wrought, then establishing better support for new businesses should be a priority, tied to easy access to small business start up capital.

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    Understanding that Brexit vote

    July 4th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    Many of my friends from outside the UK have asked me however could people have voted for Brexit. And I have read countless newspaper columnists and analysts asking the smae question (with usually not very profound answers). The best explanation I have come across was posted by Ron Johnston, Kelvyn Jones and Davidn in an article entitled Predicting the Brexit vote: getting the geography right (more or less) on the London School of Economics Politics and Policy blog. Using a large body of polling data collected by YouGov they had earlier this year pointed to “clear evidence suggesting that young people and those with higher-level educational qualifications were much more likely to support Remain, whereas older voters and those with few or no qualifications were much more likely to support Leave.”-And despite they misread the likely outcome of the referendum, their findings largely tie up with a post referendum analysis of the results. Following a detailed analysis they find that:

    There are substantial parts of the country where large numbers of people have lost out from the deindustrialisation and globalisation of the last few decades of neo-liberal economic policies, and where the educational system has not helped large proportions of the young to equip themselves for the new labour market. Increasing numbers in these disadvantaged groups were won over during the last few decades by the campaigns in parts of the print media, taken up by UKIP since the 1990s, linking their situations to the impact of immigration – uncontrollable because of the EU freedom of movement of labour principle.

    From this they conclude that “class, as expressed through educational achievements, delivered Brexit.”

    Linking austerity (which has done nothing good for the vast majority of people in the UK) to the growing inequalities in the education system is important to understanding the Brexit vote. Of course the vote can be seen as an attempt to kick the ruling Tory party toffs. Yet it is very hard to argue for the EU, given that they have been one of the major transnational proponents of austerity.

    However, I have some reservations about the idea that “the educational system has not helped large proportions of the young to equip themselves for the new labour market”. On the one hand this is obviously true. But the problem is that the new labour market is largely comprised of low paid and insecure jobs, mainly in the service sector. Many of those who have been able to pay for an increasingly expensive university degree are working in what are classified as non degree jobs. Education and the labour market have to be understood as parts of a symbiotic system. Education alone will not change the reality of lack of opportunity in deindustrialised areas of the UK. Lack of opportunity for meaningful and adequately paid employment and lack of educational opportunity are two sides of the same coin in a currency called austerity.

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    We are not going away

    July 4th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    I just checked the company documents. Pontydysgu was set up on 3 February 1999. In that time our work has moved from Vocational Education and Training to embrace the use of technology for teaching and learning, working around careers, knowledge development and sharing in organisations and much more. And whilst our core staff remains largely unchanged we have employed interns from all over Europe and wider afield, including Wales (of course), Romania, India, Greece and Portugal as well as the UK. We have worked with training organisations, libraries, universities, schools, NGOs and enterprises from across the European Union, we employ staff in Germany and Spain.

    Brexit poses an existential threat to the future of our organisation. It is not just that the EU is a major funder of many of the projects and contracts that we working on. It threatens our whole pattern of collaborative research and development and our ability to develop the long lasting partnerships with individuals and organisations from all over Europe on which our work rests.

    But we are not going away. Of course we, like many other UK based organisations, are exploring the option of setting up a company based in an EU country (or countries). In the meantime, with so much political uncertainly we will continue to work on our current projects and to seek new partnerships. And we would like to thank the many friends who have contacted us expressing their regret at the outcome of the referendum and their solidarity and determination and commitment to work with us in the future.

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