Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

Proxies, learning, deschooling society and annotation

May 11th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Ivan_Illich_drawingSipping a glass of wine on the terrace last night, I thought about writing an article about proxies. I’ve become a bit obsessed about proxies, ever since looking at the way Learning Analytics seems to so often equate learning with achievement in examinations.

But then by chance this morning I ended up looking at the text of Ivan Illich’s 1969 publication ‘Deschooling Society‘. And I found in the first chapter Illich talks about about how we “confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.

He goes on to say pupils’ “imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.”

This seems an apposite comment on how the use and analysis of big data is being developed in the present period.

I stumbled on the Illich quote from a Twitter link to an exercise on the CLMOOC lets be creative together website. They ask “What would Ivan Illich think about CLMOOC?” and go on to suggest “we find activities like this all the more enjoyable and enriching when a variety of voices join the conversation. So this is an open invitation to the internet to join us as we use Hypothes.is to annotate an online copy of Deschooling Society together.”

I have not seen Hypothes.is before but it looks pretty nifty. I have never understood just why collective annotation has never quite taken off. It seems to me a great format for sharing and developing knowledge together. And I think Illich would have liked it.

Managing meetings

May 3rd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

There’s been a bit of a debate in social media on how to run successful meetings. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon seems to have kicked it off. According to the Guardian newspaper “Bezos told the audience at the George W Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, he has banned the PowerPoint presentations that dominate most commercial meetings. Instead, some poor devil must spend a week or more preparing “a six-page, narratively structured memo” full of “real sentences” rather than bullet points. Everyone else must then spend the first half-hour of the meeting silently – and publicly – pondering it, before moving on to a debate. Bezos calls this “a kind of study hall””

The Guardian went on to document a number of fairly bizarre ideas for how to make meetings more productive. One thing everyone seems to agree on is we spend too much time in meetings. In my view the real problem is online meetings. Online has simply made meetings too easy. At the same time, it has cut down on the need for so many face to face meetings – although some may not think that is much of an advantage.

I think there are a number of rules – for both face to face and online meetings. None are particularly new or profound. The first is to prepare meetings well. That means providing an agenda in advance – and anything people need to read or know before the meeting. The second and perhaps most important is have an active facilitator who chairs the meeting. The facilitator needs to keep things moving, make sure people stick to agreed timings, try to encourage constructive engagement and make sure everyone has a chance to contribute and to actively summarise discussions.

This is especially so with online meetings which lack the physical cues we rely on in face to face encounters. In face to face meetings we often turn up early (for the coffee) and have a chance to chat with other participants. That social action is critical but is hard (but not impossible) to reproduce on line. Closure is a particularly tricky issue online, with discussions having a horrible tendency to meander around in circles.

Finally – and this is what I am not so good at – make sure someone is keeping good notes of the meeting and try to get the conclusions out before everyone forgets what the discussion was about.

One of the problems is that there is little if any recognition of how important the facilitator is and subsequently few opportunities for training. There is often training in how to use a piece of technology, a community platform, a learning platform or an online meeting application. There is seldom training in how to facilitate its effective use in practice.

The Guardian reports Professor André Spicer from Cass Business School at City, University of London as saying: “The death of the long lunch is a tragedy for businesses.” “Many organisations had lunch together in cafeterias where everyone stopped and ate together and talked.” We lack long lunches together on line and for that matter coffee breaks. We need to find new ways of encouraging the social interactions which are so important for sharing knowledge and developing networks.

Bye bye “Pontydysgu Studio” – good luck Pontydysgu Ltd & Pontydysgu SL!

April 20th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Pontydysgu headquarters in Pontypridd, Wales and ‘Pontydysgu Studio’ as its filial in Bremen – that is how we have experienced it quite a long time. The name “Pontydysgu Studio” was used by Graham Attwell and Dirk Stieglitz when they worked with projects that had a radio program as its major contribution. Altogether, the years when that ‘studio’ was used, they were to a great extent characterised by multimedia, radio and video productions, e-learning … all this as a support for learning in the context of work. But then came the time for changes. Pontydysgu Ltd will continue as usual, but next to it there is the Valencia-based Pontydysgu SL. And alongside these changes the “Pontydysgu Studio” was closed. This week Graham and several friends have emptied it and closed that chapter of Pontydysgu history. Bye bye Pontydysgu Studio, good luck with Pontydysgu Ltd and Pontydysgu SL! I give the word to Paul McCartney to spell out his greetings:

Memories of the “Pontydysgu Studio” and of our joint activities of that era

My earliest memories on working in and with this Pontydysgu Studio go to the years 2004-2005 just before I started working in ITB and the University of Bremen (but had already got the status of Visiting Fellow). Graham had already become a renown blogger with his “Wales-Wide-Web” and he was promoting Open Source software in Education. We remember the pioneering project SIGOSSEE that brought several key actors together. And in the next phase the successor project Bazaar started to look at possibilities to spread out Open Educational Resources by different stalls under the common umbrella of the Bazaar. However, the greatest success story of this project was the radio program “Sounds of the Bazaar” that was continued in several successor projects. And it was then followed by other similar radio initiatives like the conference radio programs for Online Educa Berlin (OEB) or European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). During these years several radio interviews were also made with international guests visiting the Pontydysgu Studio – I still remember the interviews with Ji Li and Tien Je from Beijing, Nikitas from Athens, Lewis and Libby from Melbourne and several others.

But our cooperation was not only about multimedia, there were many research & development projects and initiatives in the field of vocational education and training (VET). Here it is worthwhile to mention that Graham had been recognised as a life-time Visiting Fellow (Gastwissenschaftler) of ITB. So, research in VET had a high priority. However, thanks to Graham and Dirk, the web and multimedia components started to play a greater role in these projects – one after another. And when these components started to become increasingly important, the projects became ‘learning laboratories’ for the research partners as well. Here I try to give a more or less comprehensive overview of projects or initiatives in which we (me and my ITB colleagues) have worked together with Pontydysgu during those years. After the acronym of the project and a nutshell description I have added in brackets the work with multimedia and web resources:

  • WLP – Workplace Learning Partnerships (Project website that was enriched with project blog, project wiki and a gallery of video interviews and external video clips);
  • TTplus – Framework for training of trainers (Conceptual and field-oriented project, summarised in a project wiki);
  • iKoopNet – Initiative for a networked project to introduce e-portfolios and digital tools to vocational learning (was given up because the leading industrial partner was hit severely by the economic crisis);
  • “Trainers in Europe” (EuroTrainer 2) – A network activity based on a Europe-wide consortium to promote networking among workplace trainers and trainers of training centres (Creation of a network platform with many communication and sharing functions);
  • “Consultation seminars” – Europe-wide series of ‘regional’ consultation seminars (for different stakeholders) to discuss the role of common frameworks for promoting professional development of trainers (Web platform to bring together the results of different regional workshops; enriched with video material from the latest workshops);
  • Euronet-PBL – promoting practice-based learning as a work-related learning component in higher education with focus on three domains – engineering, business management, vocational teacher education (Web platform enriched with project blog and a number of video interviews with partners and students);
  • Politics – promoting learning about politics by means of storytelling, media commentaries and informal learning (Creation of a single platform with sections using multiple languages and with different kinds of ‘educational resources’, ‘competitions’ and storytelling components);
  • Coop-PBL in VET – transnational project for sharing knowledge on problem- and project-based learning in VET with support of specific learning software and ‘virtual community’ section (Pontydysgu was not a partner but supported me in producing a large section of video interviews into the ‘virtual community’);
  • Learning Layers – Major European research, technology and development (RTD) project funded from EU FP7 with a several technical, research-oriented and intermediate partners as well as application partners from two pilot sectors (construction and healthcare); the aim was to support learning and knowledge processes in SMEs with the help of widely usable digital tools (that networked web resources and were available as mobile apps). (Pontydsygu was leading the work package in which the digital toolset “Learning Toolbox (LTB” was initiated, developed and piloted in a highly participative and interactive process).

I guess this is enough of the memories and of the project history. A lot of working and learning was involved in those activities that in many respects were linked to this famous “Pontydysgu Studio” (and to its extension, the “Pontydysgu Meeting Room” further down at Horner Strasse). Those were the days, but times – they are a-cha-anging as the old song tells us. So, we say goodbye to the Pontydysgu Studio with good memories in our minds and wish all the best to Pontydysgu Ltd and Pontydysgu SL in the new situation.

More blogs to come …

 

Remebering Curtis Finch – the American scholar in the VETNET network

January 31st, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Couple of days ago we received the sad news from Blacksburg, Virgina: Curtis Finch, the American scholar with whom we have worked in the European VETNET network, had passed away. To those, who new Curtis more closely, this was not a surprise. He had been suffering from a severe illness for quite a long time. Yet, when the final message came, then we felt the loss – Curtis was a unique personality and we will miss him.

When looking back, I remember that I first time met Curtis at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in the year 1996 in Sevilla, Spain. That was the pioneering conference in which the scattered European researchers in the field of vocational education and training (VET) came together to set up a common research network under the umbrella of the European Educational Research Association (EERA). Curtis, a prominent American professor from the Virginia Tech and State University, was also there with us. He had already created his European networks and was happy to come to Sevilla to contribute to a symposium on School-to-work transition in different countries. And Curtis was also there, when Martin Mulder invited an open meeting in which the researchers agreed to set up the VETNET network (as the Network 2 of the EERA).

Later on I heard that Curtis had shared his experiences on the regulations and working patterns of the special interest groups (SIGs) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) with his European colleagues. In this way he had already positioned himself as an active supporter of the newly created network. Consequently, he was invited to work in the first VETNET Board, which he gladly accepted. Parallel to this, Curtis was actively involved also in the global organisation International Vocational Education and Training Association (IVETA). So, it is no coincidence that the papers of the above mentioned ECER symposium were published as a special issue of the IVETA journal. This happened long before the VETNET network could reach the point of publishing its own proceedings or launching its own journal.

During the 1990s Curtis was actively there in our conferences and fulfilled his duties in a quiet and effective way. At that time I worked at Cedefop (the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) with an emphasis on supporting European cooperation projects and ‘networking the networks’. Therefore, I could not always follow that closely what Curtis was up to. But whenever I met him, it was a positive encounter – whether on our European grounds or far away in Hong Kong (the IVETA world congress 2000).

The latest European cooperation initiative in which I remember that Curtis played a central role was a comparative study on the upgrading of Polytechnics into Universities of Applied sciences. Curtis, who himself had a vocational and professional background, was interested to find out, whether these aspects are going hand in hand or getting separated. In this initiative in which he worked in 1999 – 2000 he was comparing the developments in the United States, in Scotland, in the Netherlands and in Finland. (Unfortunately the years 2001 and 2002 were gap years in my participation in ECER, so I am not aware, how the initiative worked further.)

After those years Curtis had gone to retirement and was no longer participating in ECER. But, as I see it now, he was a role model for the non-European scholars who were interested in knowledge sharing on research and development in the field of VET. And his example has been followed by many colleagues from different global regions. Today we see that this has borne fruit in the VETNET network and in the International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET). Although Curtis couldn’t witness these latest developments with us, I am sure that he would have enjoyed the progress we have made.

Farewell Curtis, your memory lives with us!

Constructing learning

March 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interesting report in the Jisc email. They say:

“Blended learning (the merging of technology and face-to-face) involves learners in the construction of their own learning. But a recent survey by Sheffield Hallam University showed that there’s inconsistency in learners’ experiences of this – a concern likely shared across the country.

Students also said that they expected the majority of their learning to be supported by an online platform. As a result, Sheffield Hallam University has created a set of “minimum expectations” for their teaching staff to encourage them to publish learning resources online, give online assessment feedback and use social media for student-staff collaboration.”

Without having read the full report from Sheffield, I wonder how much learners on blended learning programmes really are involved in the construction of their own learning and how they are supported in that process. It is also interesting to see the university turning to social media for student staff collaboration. Guess I need to read the report!

 

 

Confer – Three steps to consensus

February 9th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

I have written a number of post about the Learning Toolbox mobile app being developed through the Learning Layers project and of course Pekka Kamareinen has documented the development of the project in some detail on this site.

But Learning Toolbox is just one of a number of applications developed by the project and being rolled out for evaluation this spring. One which in my view holds some promise is Confer. Confer is a collaborative workflow tool, being launched under the banner of  “Confer – Three steps to consensus”. Confer provides online collaboration spaces for working groups that can be used both synchronously as well as asynchronously and supports groups in working collaboratively on a task or project; helping to keep the work focused and flowing, recording the discussions and reasoning along the way and producing a final summary output that can become the first draft of a report or recommendations.

Confer is based on research work in computer supported work and learning – for instance by Hämäläinen & Häkkinen, who say “the production of descriptive and surface-level knowledge, the difficulty in creating explanation-seeking questions, the reaching of mutual understanding among participants, and uneven participation are some of the main challenges that exist in computer-supported collaborative learning settings.”

Confer supports and scaffolds groups in working through a collaborative meaning making and decision process.

It first asks “What do we need?” by clearly describing the problem at hand including what, where, when and for whom? The second stage is to explore “What do we know?” through a brainstorming process identifying issues and collecting together relevant knowledge, resources, ideas and experience.

The third stage is decision making – “What should we do?” –  developing and describing options/solutions that will address the problem and identified issues. The end point is to agree on a recommendation.Whilst it may all sound simple in real life these processes are challenging especially with distributed groups who may only meet together face to face at limited intervals. Our research suggests that in reality one person is left alone to write up the results, thus both diminishing group expertise and often failing to develop shared meanings.

The pilot implementations of Confer start next week. But if you would be interested in trialling Confer please email me. You can find out more by visiting the Confer Zone.

Yishay Mor talks about Design Patterns

January 14th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

At Online Educa Berlin 2015, I had the opportunity to interview Yishay Mor (see podcast below). I was keen to talk to him as he has been one of the people pushing the idea of Design Patterns in technology enhanced learning. And in both the two EU research projects in which I am involved, EmployID and Learning Layers, we are adopting patterns as a design tool or methodology. Both projects from their inception were committed to user centred design. But that left major issues of how to do it. It is not just a matter of getting a group of potential users together and talking with them. We need a language to structure conversations and a language which can describe practice. We have experimented with Personas which I suppose can be described as ideal types. However, all too often the persona ceased to correspond to any reality – or contained a mix of practices from multiple people – rendering them extremely problematic for design purposes.

Design narratives, design patterns and design scenarios seem to offer a potentially richer process for designing for learning, furthermore they may have considerable value in describing innovations in technology. Despite releasing applications as open source, they fail to be picked up on – especially for occupational learning, as the potential uses are opaque.

The following notes are taken from Yishay Mor and Steven Warburton’s paper, ‘Assessing the value of design narratives, patterns and scenarios in scaffolding co-design processes in the domain of technology enhanced learning.

Design narratives provide an account of the history and evolution of a design over time, including the research context, the tools and activities designed, and the results of users’ interactions with these

Design narratives offer thick descriptions of innovations, but they are often too specific to lend themselves to efficient transfer to novel challenges. Design patterns fill this gap by offering a “grounded abstraction” of design knowledge distilled from design narratives. Design patterns originate in the work of Christopher Alexander and his colleagues in the theory of architecture (Alexander, 1977).

A design pattern describes a recurring problem, or design challenge, the characteristics of the context in which it occurs, and a possible method of solution. Patterns are organized into coherent systems called pattern languages where patterns are related to each other. The core of a design pattern can be seen as a local functional statement: “for problem P, under circumstances C, solution S has been known to work.

There are many different ways of describing patterns. In EmployID, reflecting its status as a research project we have adopted the following template:

Problem: What is the learning problem that has been addressed? This encompasses a sufficiently generalized version of a learning scenario

Analysis: Interpretation of the problem from a theory perspective

Context: What are the relevant contextual factors that determine if the proposed solution is actually (and maybe allegedly) successfully applicable?

Solution: What is the (socio-)technical solution?

Evidence: Accumulated evidence that the solution is a solution to the problem when the contextual conditions are met, e.g., examples in a specific context, but also feedback from external stakeholders that problem-solution pairs appear applicable in other contexts.

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.

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    News Bites

    Adult Education in Wales

    Learning and Work Institute is organising this year’s adult learning conference in partnership with the Adult Learning Partnership Wales. It will take place on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at the Cardiff City Stadium.

    They say “Changing demographics and a changing economy requires us to re-think our approach to the delivery of learning and skills for adults. What works and what needs to change in terms of policy and practice?

    The conference will seek to debate how can we respond to need, grow participation, improve and measure outcomes for citizens, and revitalise community education.”


    Industry 4.0

    The UK Education Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the challenges posed and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.The Committee is inviting written evidence on:

    • The interaction between the Government’s industrial, skills and digital strategies
    • The suitability of the current curriculum to prepare young people for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
    • The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the delivery of teaching and learning in schools and colleges
    • The role of lifelong learning in re-skilling the current workforce
    • Place-based strategies for education and skills provision; and
    • The challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for improving social justice and productivity

    The deadline for written submissions is Thursday 21 June 2018.


    Online Educa Berlin

    OEB Global (formerly Online Educa Berlin) has announced its Call for Proposals and the overall theme for 2018: Learning to Love Learning. The event will incorporate Learning Technologies Germany – a leading European exhibition on learning technologies in the workplace – for the first time this year. More details here.


    Barcelona to go Open Source

    The Spanish newspaper, El País, has reported that the City of Barcelona is in the process of migrating its computer system to Open Source technologies.

    According to the news report, the city plans to first replace all its user applications with alternative open source applications. This will go on until the only remaining proprietary software will be Windows where it will finally be replaced with a Linux distribution.

    To support the move, the city will employ 65 new developers to build software programs for their specific needs. they also plan the development of a digital market – an online platform – whereby small businesses will use to take part in public tenders.


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