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

    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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    Working places as learning spaces: part four – the internet

    September 21st, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    skypePart four of the series on working places as learning spaces focuses on the internet. Giving this just one photo would not really work so I have indulged in three.
    Dave White distinguishes between digital visitors and digital residents in their use of the internet. “When in Visitor mode, individuals decide on the task they wish to undertake. For example, discovering a particular piece of information online, completing the task and then going offline or moving on to another task. When in Resident mode the individual is going online to connect to, or to be with, other people. This mode is about social presence.”
    I am a digital resident. Increasingly my online world and off line world are intertwined and I guess much of my learning takes place on the Internet. I have combined using different tools to form a Personal Learning Environment, although it is neither particularly stable or efficient. I use a wide range of different applications and tools, depending on what I am doing.
    fmProbably most important are applications for communications. For one to one communication my app of choice is Skype. Skype has one big advantage – almost everyone I know has a Skype address and it seems to work on most platforms. OK,the video and audio quality are not great. But it is simple and it just works. With close friends and colleagues, I tend to use it like a conversation in an office, stopping to say good morning, to talk during breaks, to meet to discuss particular problems and issues. One curious thing I have noticed is that with some people I tend to mainly use text and with others video although I have no real idea why. I guess these just become habits.
    I have missed feelings about online meetings. For sure they allow people to meet from all over the world without the time and cost of travel. But sometimes I think just because they are cheap and easy, we hold more meetings than we necessarily need. And online meetings are very different from face to face meetings. Firstly they lack the many visual cues we use in face to face conversations. And there is a tendency for discussions to go round and round with little movement towards closure. Remaining focused on the screen can get very tiring – an online meeting room lacks the visual distractions of the physical environment. I think those distractions are necessary for longer meetings. Preparation and moderation are even more important in online meetings than face to face if meetings are to be open and participative and arrive at conclusions, whether shared or not.
    Twitter is my favourite social networking tool. Although it can take a bit of time curating the right people to follow (and unfollow), Twitter offers a wealth of learning. Shout-outs to followers with particular queries often elect helpful responses. More importantly I get links to ideas, to blogs, to papers, to people I would be never have heard about otherwise. The recent popularity of simultaneous tweet-meets usually lasting something like one hour in the evening and focused around responses and discussions of four or five key questions, have opened up a new self organised learning space.
    For access to academic papers I am almost completely reliant on the internet. Whilst I miss the atmosphere of the library, it is much more convenient and offers a wider range of publications. However, far too many papers and publications are still hidden behind publisher pay walls and too expensive for those who do not have a university library affiliation.
    Finally a word about books. Like many of us, I guess, a few years ago I was sold on book readers and online publications. But, similarly to many others if the market data is to be believed, I have slowly drifted  back to paper publications. True, electronic books take up less storage space. They are also cheaper. But I don’t think they offer such as attractive learning space as paper publications. It will be interesting to see how in the future we integrate our physical world including artefacts like books with the digital world.

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    Working places as Learning Spaces (part 3)

    September 19th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    image001Here is part 3 of this part 5 series.

    These pictures was taken at the 2016 Association of Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) conference in Barcelona, with some 3200 delegates. The EU Learning Layers project had a stand at the conference, organised a bar camp and presented a paper and two posters.

    In truth the stand is not a great learning space design. We only had two chairs and only really many visitors in conference coffee breaks and at lunch. But one thing about running an exhibition stand is you never know what people are going to be interested in or what they will ask. In a big project like Learning layers which has some 20 partners and is organised in different work teams developing different applications to support informal learning, it means you have to appreciate and understand the work of others in order to explain it to visitors. And with the barcamp and posters sessions we developed spaces for informal learning within the conference. The bar camp – an unconference session – allowed participants to put forward their own ideas for discussions and exploration in a series of round tables. Participants were active and motivated, unlike the usually passive engagement in formal paper sessions at conferences. I have little experience in medical education. Most of the participants were practitioners in medical education, with many ideas to learn from.  I do not really understand why more such sessions are not organised in major conferences. As an aside, conference venues are seldom designed as learning spaces. Rows of chairs facing a presenter at the front hardly inspires interaction and social learning.


    I always like the idea of poster sessions. But with some 600 posters at AMEE and proposers given only three minutes to present their papers it really failed to work as a learning space. We are working at the moment on the idea of using technology to enhance the poster sessions at next year’s conference.

    But for me the real learning at the conference was from the Learning Layers team. There were eight of us and we rotated in pairs on the exhibition stand. Like many of the big European research projects, Learning Layers in an interdisciplinary project. Partners include social scientists, pedagogists, business science specialists, designers and technical developers. We can learn from each other and from people with a different subject specialism from our own. This happens to an extent in formal project meetings but the time spent on the stand allowed more in depth conversations. And in the course of the three days spent together we bonded as a team.


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    Learning Analytics for Workplace and Professional Learning

    September 19th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    There is a small but growing community emerging in Europe around the potential and use of Learning analytics in the workplace. And there are still places available for a free workshop entitled ‘Learning Analytics for Workplace and Professional Learning’ on Friday 23 September in Leeds in the UK.

    The workshop is being organised around two main activities.During the morning all the participants will shortly present their research work or the research questions they are working on. Thus, we can find common problems, synergies and potential collaborations in future projects. During the afternoon we can work on smaller groups to discuss some community building mechanisms: follow-up workshops (maybe at LAK’17), potential grant applications, creation of an on-line community, collaboration in current or future projects, collaboration with other researchers or research communities.

    More information can be found in this PDF document. And to register, please send an email to: Tamsin Treasure-Jones (t [dot] treasure-jones [at] leeds [dot] ac [dot] uk)

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    Working Places and Learning Spaces (Part 2)

    September 16th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

    jlgBelow is part two of my series on Working Places and Learning Spaces. Meanwhile Angela Rees, Steve Wheeler and Colin Milligan have both produced their own photos and reflections on their learning spaces. Feel free to join in. You can find the original idea for the meme here.

    With new technologies, many conversations take place today over the internet. And those technologies help us develop and curate Personal Learning Networks. Yet face to face conversations can be more animated informal and allow wider ranging conversations. It is notable that many people say the best learning at conferences and meetings take place in the coffee breaks and in the evenings.

    Sometimes I contact people in advance to meet up for a chat. Other times such meetings happen by chance. Sometimes meetings are with friends I have met and worked with before, sometimes with more distant contacts. And sometimes they are with friends and family.

    This picture is of me with Jose Luis Garcia, a professor from the Complutense University of Madrid. I have worked with him on projects in the past, he is my girlfriends father and a good friend. The working space was simply my living room in Valencia. We had dinner together and afterwards were talking. I told him I was interested in learning spaces and explained the background to the Institute of Education’s project which kicked off a wide ranging discussion which went on late into the night. He told me about his interest in the idea of ‘mobilities’ which he saw as similar to spaces.

    I wrote a series of notes – on the back of an envelope. Technology often gets in the way of conversations like this –the only problem with hand written notes being my terrible handwriting.

    Learning like this happens in informal spaces – bars, restaurants, coffee houses and so on. With one friend and colleague we have on a number of occasions organised walks. We walk and talk – stop at a bar and make notes and then walk and talk again. But more often such conversations are more serendipitous than planned.

    The photo is a selfie. There was no-one else present to take the photo and I wanted both of us in that. The photo does not show much of the space we are in – and that is the point –it really does not matter as long as we are have a space in which we are both comfortable.


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