Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

Entering the post Facebook age

August 26th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I have written before about how I expect the future of social networking to eveolve towards less public and more niche social networking applications and channels. In that respect I like a recent article “How to Escape the Public Internet” in New Republic.

In the article draws attention to the increasing take up of Slack, an app we have been using for communication in some of our projects.

Ostensibly a powerful work chat app where teams can communicate with each other in channels of various topics (in the manner of its public predecessor IRC), Slack has also developed both a rabid userbase and a culture of its own as people turn its groups into communities. Its users aren’t just corporate teams, either. They’re freelancers, groups of friends, and even gaming clans. Though they use it differently, all have turned to the app for the same reason: to take their conversations from public to private.

Slack and other private modes of communication, says Alang, “offers a space hidden from the public internet. What it thus represents is a retreat into the private—or rather, a return to it.” I don’t think this is the only reason for the rise in popularity of private channels (and the return of curated newsletters). Although there have been several attempts to develop alternatives to Facebook they have all tended to look like Facebook clones. Slack is pretty, works on all platforms and is free of the distracting advertising and looks and feels nothing like Facebook.  More importantly Slack allows communication with a more limited community of ‘real’ colleagues and ‘friends’. And perhaps most important of all, as in the example Alang provides of a channel for writers and academics, Slack channels seem to be more focused on what you want to discuss, with people with the same interests. Slack for education – there’s a thought!

Golden Oldie

August 19th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

Thanks to a Tweet by @francesbell I picked up this olden but still golden video (around discussions in the first ever MOOC). As the Youtube blurb says “WARNING : This is not a real conversation. It is intended as a good-humoured parody of conversations about Groups and Networks that took place on CCK08 and elsewhere. This video is a mashup of the words of Bob Bell, Lisa Lane, Ariel Lion, Frances Bell, Stephen Downes, Ailsa Haxell, Roy Williams and possibly others, with a few extra words thrown to glue the conversation. You will have been quoted out of context, and otherwise had your words twisted but I hope you take this in good spirit.”

Some thoughts on the EDEN conference

June 17th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

Last week I attended the EDEN Conference In Barcelona. It was the first time I had gone to the conference for three years – indeed I think I am developing an allergy to large formal conferences.

However, it was great to catch up with old friends and as usual the informal social activities were excellent!

I’m not sure quite what to make of the conference sessions (I will write a separate blog about the keynotes). There did not seem to be anything particularly new but that may not be a bad thing. Instead many of the presentations appeared to focus on implementing technologies in practice. That may well reflect a trend towards increasing use of technology for learning. And although of course MOOCs get the hype, it would appear much of the practice is based on either traditional distance learning programmes or blended learning.

A quick word though about the conference programme. For many years I have been trying to mess with the structures of presentations at conferences, arguing that more time should be given to discourse and discussion, rather than the formal (bullet point) presentation of papers which are available on the internet anyway. And slowly we are seeing more variety in conference formats and even some experimentation with unconferencing.

So it is good to see EDEN rethinking their format. Except changing one monolithic framework for another imposed single format does not really get the idea. So this year all papers sessions were run according to a so called “speed dating” format, with presenters given 6 minutes to pitch their wares with four (template) slides and then sessions split into groups to discuss the themes raised in the papers. Its not a bad format – although I don’t really get the four slide restriction – I could easily get through 12 slides in 6 minutes. But when every session is run according to the same format it gets tedious.

Wales goes OER

September 19th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

There has been lots of interest today in the announcement that Wales has become one of the first nations to agree to make university course material publicly available so that academics do not have to create their lectures from scratch.

According the The Times Higher Education Supplement: “Vice-chancellors from the country’s eight universities were expected to commit from 19 September to the principles of the open educational resources movement, which makes materials freely available online.”

Also welcome is that the Welsh government is to fund workshops to help staff learn how to use the resources, to be hosted on institutional web servers but accessible through a portal.

However there do appear to be some limitations to the agreement. “It’s up to each university to determine what they want to make available,” Professor Mulholland explained. Some would give away “significant elements” of their courses, while others could give away “very little” in the beginning. Furthermore, the resources would consist “mostly lecture notes and course materials.”

In the fast changing context of higher education, a move to share e-learning content would be an even more welcome step.

Open Design

April 18th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Over the last few weeks I have been thinking hard about the role of different stakeholders and potential partners in the Learning Layers project. As regular readers will know by now, Learning Layers is a large scale EU funded project, seeking to develop the use of technology and particularly mobile technologies for (informal) learning, initially in the construction and medical sectors.

The project has adopted a user centred design approach. This involves a series of use cases and studies, with direct involvement of potential end users in design workshops, leading towards iterative software development.. At present Layers is working on four design ideas, looking at functional requirements but more importantly sketching wireframes and designs and sharing these with users.

This is a fairly labour intensive job. And even in a generously funded project, it is dubious whether we will have the resources to develop all four as full and mature applications. Furthermore, the more we talk with end users, the more ideas they are giving us for possible applications. So should we stop collecting design ideas? And how do we prioritise development activities?How do we overcome the limited resources we have in terms of developers?

I was talking with Raymond Elferink last week in Dublin. Raymond runs Raycom, a Dutch software SME. I asked him if he would like to join our stakeholder group of Layers Associate partners. And naturally he asked me what Raycom would get out of such involvement. Well, I stuttered, you will get early access to our products. And we will invite you to an annual stakeholder meet up. Oh, and yes, we will send you a half yearly bulletin. None of this really seemed to cut the ice. So we talked longer about what a project like Layers could offer to engage software developers. In line with most information technology projects funded by the EU, Learning layers is committed to releasing code under an open source license. It is also envisaged that we will try to build a community of developers to guarantee the future development of teh project following the end of EU funding. But to Raymond it was not the code that was so important. As he siad, he can write the code himself. But what he saw as potentially valuable was access to design ideas – and in particular to design ideas that have been codeveloped and validated with end user groups.

This got me thinking. Instead of waiting until we have code and developing an open source community around that code, could we develop design ideas and build communities around that. We could even run hack days and launch competitions around the best prototype for a particular design idea. And instead of shutting out new ideas and designs, we could continue to develop such designs, with the community being encouraged to come in early, take the deigns and build applications. Layers could help and advise developers, as well as giving access to user groups for feedback and validation. In other words we could open up the project at an early stage to a wider community of developers. OK, I don’t know of any European project which has done this before but this does not seem impossible to do.~ At the moment, most of our design activities are coordinated through a closed wiki. But we could ensure that each design idea has a corresponding page or space on the project web site and make sure this is updated as each ‘mature’ version of the design idea comes out, rather in the same form of versioning which is used with open source software.

In fact, we have sort of started this process. In February, we had an ‘Application Partner Day’, with medical practitioners and administrators, in Bradford in England. Jen Hughes got talking to a doctor who said the main barrier to learning for him was lack of time. The only real time he got for reflection was when he was travelling in his car between meetings, appointments and visits ot patients. Jen and me dreamt up a mobile app to allow him to structure his thoughts and ideas whilst he was in his car. And through Andreas Schmidt, a professor at the HsKa institute in Karlsruhe, in Germany, we got to pitch the idea to a group of students on a business iCT course. they have a semester long course where they undertake a project for a commercial client. happily to say, the students voted to develop our app, codenamed ‘Reflect’. So the project is based on a design idea which has come out of the Layers project, but the resources to develop it further are external to the project. I will write more about this as the project takes shape.


Was Google Wave just ahead of its time?

February 20th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Remember Google wave? As Wiikipedia explains Google Wave is a web-based computing platform and communications protocol designed to merge key features of communications media such as email, instant messaging, wikis, and social networking.Communications using the system can be synchronous or asynchronous. Software extensions provide contextual spelling and grammar checking, automated language translation,[3] and other features.

Initially released only to developers, a preview release of Google Wave was extended to 100,000 users in September 2009, each allowed to invite additional users. Google accepted most requests submitted starting November 29, 2009, soon after the September extended release of the technical preview. On May 19, 2010, Google Wave was released to the general public.

However Wave proved to be short lived. On August 4, 2010, Google announced the suspension of stand-alone Wave development and development was handed over to the Apache Software Foundation which started to develop a server-based product called Wave in a Box.

What went wrong? Certainly Wave felt clunky to use and was not always particularly reliable. The interface felt crowded and sometimes confusing. But I think the main problem was that we just didn’t get the idea. Now only three years on, it might have been so different. Just within one project I am working on, Learning Layers, we are using Flash Meeting and skype for regular synchronous communication, Doodle polls to set up meetings, dropbox to share files, Diigo to share bookmarks, Google docs for collaborative writing, to say nothing of the project internal media wiki site and the public wordpress based web site. And of course a list serve which bombards us with ever more email. We all complain that communication is not good enough and simultaneously that we have too much communication.

In reality communication has moved from being episodic, where email replaced snailmail and online meetings replaced face to face – to a stream. Managing that stream is problematic. And that, I think, was what Wave was designed to do. Sadly it was ahead of its time. Come back Wave, all is forgiven.

The participatory web in the context of academic research : landscapes of change and conflicts

February 5th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

A few weeks ago we reported that Cristina Costa had successfully completed her PhD. And now the thesis has been published on the web. You can access the document here. Below we reproduce the abstract.

“This thesis presents the results of a narrative inquiry study conducted in the context of Higher Education Institutions. The study aims to describe and foster understanding of the beliefs, perceptions, and felt constraints of ten academic researchers deeply involved in digital scholarship. Academic research, as one of the four categories of scholarship, is the focus of the analysis. The methods of data collection included in-depth online interviews, field notes, closed blog posts, and follow up dialogues via email and web-telephony. The literature review within this study presents a narrative on scholarship throughout the ages up to the current environment, highlighting the role of technology in assisting different forms of networking, communication, and dissemination of knowledge. It covers aspects of online participation and scholarship such as the open access movement, online networks and communities of practice that ultimately influence academic researchers’ sense of identity and their approaches to digital scholarship. The themes explored in the literature review had a crucial role in informing the interview guide that supported the narrative accounts of the research participants. However, the data collected uncovered a gap in knowledge not anticipated in the literature review, that of power relations between the individual and their institutions. Hence, an additional sociological research lens, that of Pierre Bourdieu, was adopted in order to complete the analysis of the data collected. There were three major stages of analysis: the construction of research narratives as a first pass analysis of the narrative inquiry, a thematic analysis of the interview transcripts, and a Bourdieuian analysis, supported by additional literature, that reveals the complexity of current academic practice in the context of the Participatory Web. This research set out to study the online practices of academic researchers in a changing environment and ended up examining the conflicts between modern and conservative approaches to research scholarship in the context of academic researchers’ practices. This study argues that the Participatory Web, in the context of academic research, can not only empower academic researchers but also place them in contention with traditional and persistent scholarly practice.”


What we’ve been doing

April 10th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

the last three months have been pretty hectic. So much that I have been somewhat lackadaisical in posting on this blog. Partly it has been due to the sheer volume of work and also traveling so much. For some reason I always find it difficult to blog when I am on the road. Another reason is that a lot of the work has been developmental and has naturally generated a series of notes and emails but little writing. Its time to make amends.

In this post I will give a short run down on what we have been up to. Over the next couple of weeks I will post in a bit more detail about the different projects and ideas. All the work shares a series of ideas in common:

  • The work is based on the ideas of open education and open data
  • The projects seek to enable practitioners to develop their own learning materials
  • Most of the project incorporate various elements of social software but more importantly seek to utilise social software functionality to develop a shared social dimension to learning and knowledge sharing
  • Most of the work supports both face to face and online learning. However we have been looking hard at how learning and knowledge development is socially mediated in different contexts.

Open Data

Over the last year we have been working with a series of ideas and applications for using open data for careers guidance. Supported by the Mature-IP project, by Careers Wales and Connexions Northumberland and more lately UKCES, we have been looking at how to use open data around Labour Market Information for careers advice and guidance. Needless to say, it has not proved as easy as we thought, raising a whole series of issues around target users, mediation,  and data sources, data reliability and data interpretation, amongst others.

We have encountered a series of technical issues but these can be overcome. More important is understanding the social uses of open data for learning and decision making which is much harder!

Webquests 2.o

The original idea of  Webquests was based around a series of questions designed to encourage learners to search for new meaning and deeper understanding using web based tools and resources. Although Webquests have been used for some time in schools and colleges, we have been working to adopt an updated Webquest 2.0 approach to the needs of learners in Small and Medium Enterprises. These inquiry–oriented activities take place in a Web 2.0–enhanced, social and interactive open learning environment (face to face and/or on–line) that combine at the same time collaborative learning with self–paced learning.

Once more, this work has posed a series of challenges. While we have been pretty successful in using webquests 2.0 with SMEs, it has proved harder to enable practitioners to develop their own online learning materials.

Work based learning

We have been continuing to explore how to use technology to support work based learning and in particular how to use mobile technologies to extend learning to different contexts in Small and Medium Enterprises. We are especially interested in focusing on work practices and how technology can be used to support informal learning and practice in the workplace, rather than the acquisition of more formal knowledge. In order to finance this work we have developed a number of funding applications entailing both background research and (more enjoyably) visits to different companies.

We are fairly confident that we will get support to take this work forward in the near future.

Social media and social empowerment

We have been looking at how to use social media and in particular internet radio, not for promoting social inclusion, but for giving a voice and opportunity for expression to those excluded form access to traditional education and media. Once more, we are confident that we will be able to launch a new initiative around this in the next couple of months.

We will be publishing more about this work over the next couple of weeks. If you are interested in any of these ideas or projects please get in touch.

Where is European educational research heading?

September 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

My promised post on the European Conference on Education Research, held earlier this month at the Freie Universitat, Berlin.

The conference attracted some 2200 delegates with hundreds of presentations spanning the different networks which comprise the European Educational Research association. the Pontydysgu team were supporting ECER in amplifying the conference through the use of different social media and through producing a series of video interviews with network conveners. On the one hand this meant my attendance at conference sessions was very limited, on the other hand the interviews with eleven different network conveners gave us perhaps a unique overview of where European educational research is heading.

A number of common themes emerged.

First was that the networks themselves seem to be evolving into quite strong communities of practice, embracing not just conference attendees but with extended networks sometimes involving hundreds of members. And although some networks are stronger n one or another country, these networks tend to suggest a European community is emerging within educational research. Indeed, this may be seen as the major outcome of European funding and programmes for education. A number of network conveners suggested that the search to develop common meaning between different educational and cultural traditions was itself a driving force in developing innovation and new ideas.

Secondly, many of the networks were particularly focused on the development of research methodologies. One of the main issues here appeared to be the development of cross domain research and how such research could be nurtured and sustained. This also applied to those considering submitting proposals to future conferences (next year’s conference is in Seville) with many of the conveners emphasizing they were keen to encourage submissions from researchers from different areas and domains and emphasizing the importance of describing both the research methodology and the outcomes of the research in abstract submissions.

There was also an awareness of the need to bring research and practice closer together, with a seeming move towards more practitioner researchers in education.

The question of the relation between research and po9licy was more complex. Despite a formal commitment by many educational authorities to research driven policy, some network conveners felt the reverse was true in reality, especially given the financial crisis, with researchers being forced to ‘follow the money’ and thus tailor their research to follow policy agendas. This was compromising the independence of research institutions and practice.

I asked each of the interviewees to briefly outline what they considered were the major trends in educational research. A surprising number pointed to a contradictory development. On the one hand policy makers are increasingly obsessed by targets and by quantitative outcomes, be it numbers of students, qualification levels or cost per student. The Pisa exercise is one example of such a development.Whilst no-one was opposed to collecting such data, there was a general scepticism of its value, on its own, in developing education policy. Such policies were also seen as part of a trend towards centralising education policy making

On the other hand, network conveners pointed to a growing bottom up backlash against this reductionist approach with researchers, parents and students concerned that educatio0n is not merely a economic function and that quality cannot be measured by targets and number crunching alone. This movement is being expressed in different ways with small scale local movements looking at alternative forms of learning, a movement also facilitated by the use of new technologies for teaching and learning.

Personal Branding, Digital Scholarship, and that thing called PhD

March 27th, 2011 by Cristina Costa
I have been meaning to blog. I actually feel the need, but in the end it’s a bit like sport. The more you do it, the more energy you find to keep doing it. Once you start ‘tricking’ the routine, … Continue reading
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    News Bites

    The future of libraries

    The NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry has released its library edition. Six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in technology are identified across three adoption horizons over the next one to five years, giving library leaders and staff, they say, a valuable guide for strategic technology planning.

    The NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Library Edition identifies “Increasing Value of the User Experience” and “Prioritization of Mobile Content and Delivery” as short-term impact trends driving changes in academic and research libraries over the next one to two years. The “Evolving Nature of the Scholarly Record” and “Increasing Focus on Research Data Management” are mid-term impact trends expected to accelerate technology use in the next three to five years; and “Increasing Accessibility of Research Content” and “Rethinking Library Spaces” are long-term impact trends, anticipated to impact libraries for the next five years or more.

    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at

    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100’s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”

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