Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

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

Webquests 2.0 and Collaborative Blended Learning

February 15th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

We have just started a new project on Webquests. The idea is to use Webquests and a Collaborative Blended Learning model for learning with trainers in Small and Medium Enterprise in Poland, focused on Human Resources Management.

The project is funded by the European Commission under a programme called the Transfer of Innovation. Pontydysgu’s Maria Perifanou has previously been using Webquests for language learning in Greece. Now we intend to develop the learning processes to new groups of learners in new countries and at the same time update the ‘old’ Wequest idea to utilise Web 2.0 technologies.

As in any transnational project one of the first challenges in developing a shared idea of what we are all talking about! And the presentation above by Maria is intended to help us develop that process.

Using social software for managing research and development projects

February 2nd, 2011 by Graham Attwell

In around 1995 I was appointed by Bremen University to manage a relatively well funded European project on the teaching of teachers and training for vocational education and training. The project had partners in seven or eight countries. I set up a project newsletter and after three or so months announced I would no longer be ending postal copies but it would be sent exclusively by email. There was considerable opposition to this, one person (the Swedish partner) saying he had a Mac and documents would not be compatible, others claiming that they lacked the skills and technical infrastructure to manage a project electronically (my own professor used to get his secretary to download and print off copies of any emails to him).

But the shift was made and by the end of the three year funding period no-one could imagine going back to post as the main means of project communication.

In the last two or so years we have seen a similar radical shift in the technologies we use for research communication and collaboration. At the launch workshop for a project in January I was asked what tools I wanted to use for the project. My list got surprisingly long:

  • Skype for day to day chat and audio communication
  • Flash meeting for online project meetings
  • Diigo for shred bookmarks
  • Twitter for project dissemination and sharing outwards
  • WordPress for the project website
  • PB Works for sharing work in progress
  • Flickr for sharing photographs
  • Google Docs for collaborative authoring
  • DropBox for sharing documents

Interestingly, one of the parters offered us a space on a relatively mature project management system and although we all agreed to use it I doubt we will. In my experience these systems are too restrictive and do not provide sufficient facilities for active collaboration. Of course they usually provide forums, but I have never worked on a project where there has been prolonged collaboration through a forum (despite most projects trying).

The one application not on my list is of course email. And despite having taken part in many projects where it is decided not to use email as the primary means of communication, after a short period everyone reverts back to it. Is this because of familiarity or because it perhaps is the quickest and simplest means of communication?

None of the applications listed require any great technical abilities (although firewalls and interoperability issues do sometimes arise). However they require changes in our working practices – in our socio-technical competences. And that can be difficult, especially where researchers are not used to working in an open and collaborative environment.

In terms of distributed international projects it is probably skype and Flashmeeting which have made the greatest impact. even then it takes time to get used to working online in synchronous environments. Online meetings require preparation and moderation – just as do face to face meetings. Yet because it is online there is often a tendency not to prepare in the same way as we would for a face opt face workshop.

I am not quite sure how DropBox is going to pan out in all of this. It certainly has a clever financial model – my free account was overflowing within a month of setting up an account.

And it is an uncertain science. Whilst organisations like Jisc have invested considerable expenditure into developing relatively heavyweight online research environments I do not know of any research into how we can use loosely coupled social software tools for research projects. We are maki9ng up our own practice as we go!

New Year…

January 16th, 2011 by Cristina Costa
…. some new beginnings HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!! Before I go into the new year though, let me summarise what happened in the last few weeks of 2010. It’s been a while since I last posted here, but there are … Continue reading

Beyond amplification – how to merge online and face to face events

November 1st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A very quick post on an issue I have been thinking about recently.

Over the last two years or so we have been working with a number of organisations on what has become known as amplifying events. This involves using multi media and social software to link up conferences, seminars and other events with the outside world, for instance through setting up twitter and Flickr streams and through live streaming keynote sessions.

This has proved relatively effective at projecting events outwards to a wider community, and however rudimentary at allowing those unable to attend face to face to follow ideas and debates.

Where we have proved less successful is getting the outside world into the conference, seminar or workshop. A projection of the twitter stream is a good start but is limited as we all know and some conferences such as Alt-C still see such a stream as disruptive. More disturbing, is the low level of audio contributions in events held on  online platforms such as Elluminate. As an aside, participation seems better in the less sophisticated Flash Meeting. I wonder if the permissions hierarchies in Elluminate and the rigmarole of putting your hand up to speak is a pedagogic inhibition to full participation.

What I am thinking about now is how we can better blend face to face and online participation in events. Some events have been holding pre or post conference online sessions. Although these work well ahead of events, they seldom seem to happen post event. I wonder if it is possible to start designing learning activities so online events feed into the face to face session and the face to face activities naturally generate further participation online. Of course that requires rethinking how we manage and design face to face events. But one of the big successes of a range of recent seminars and conference  I have attended is a rethinking of formats. Most popular is the introduction of learning cafes, in all their variants. OK this is becoming a little formulaic but it is a big advance on the tired rehearsals of reading of conference papers accompanied by endless text based  and bullet pointed Powerpoint presentations.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is persuading conference organisers and presenters that the form of the event is a pedagogic issue. And the extension to using technology both provides new accordances and opportunities and at the same time some restrictions in pedagogies which could be deployed.

A week of events

October 30th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
It started on Monday and it only stopped on Friday. It was literally a week full of events worth writing home about! And I just wish the days were longer or I could cope without sleeping! Yes, I do sleep, … Continue reading

Openess and Research

September 22nd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I attended the Elluminate session at #PLENK2010 this evening with a presentation by Martin Weller speaking about Research, Technology and Networks. It was heartening to see almost 100 participants log and participate in a very lively text discussion, even if fewer were willing to use the audio.
I think Martin is overly pessimistic about how social networking and social software is being used in research. Of course there are still barriers to be overcome, particularly the insistence by many institutions on traditional forms of scholarship and research as the basis for future career progression and for funding. And in a comment related to the Open University’s Social Learn, a project he previously led, he showed how business goals can impact against openness in research processes and innovation in products.
However, I am seeing a marked move twoards openess, collaboration and sharing in a number of the projects and networks in which I participate. Access to video conferences has facilitated more collaborative approaches to project reviews and to managing research tasks. Twitter, blogs and other social network applications have allowed us to share work in progress outside immediate project partnerships. And once more, social networks are allowing us to discover new colleagues and friends, outside our narrower institutional or project communities.
I am also convinced that the use of Cloud applications is going to have a major impact on the way we work. In Pontydysgu we have moved to Google Docs in the last month. And without consciously thinking about it, we are able to work together on research documents and even better to comment on each others work and ideas as a work in progress. This would never have happened through emailing drafts between colleagues.
Jen Hughes is working on ideas around Evaluation 2.0. This is also based on the idea of openness and the involvement of wider communities in evaluation processes. We hope to open out an evaluation in progress to all of you int he next week or so see what happens!

Wirtualne warszaty i mapa myśli

July 1st, 2010 by Ilona Buchem

Moi drodzy, już niedługo już za momencik odbędzie się PLE konferencja #PLE_BCN w Barcelonie (8-9 lipca), którą przygotowujemy już od dawna (od dobrych 7 miesięcy). Właśnie dopinam wszystko do końca – przygotowywuję newsletter, prezentację na pecha kucha no i na warsztaty, które poprowadzę wraz z Cristina Costa (UK), Wolfgang Reinhardt (DE) i George Couros (CA) na temat definicji konceptu osobistych środowisk uczenia się. Tutaj możecie zobaczyć początkową kolekcję definicji. Warsztaty te będą miały formę „collaborative mind mapping“, czyli wspólne tworzenie mapy myśli w grupie realne i wirtualnej. W tym celu będziemy posługiwać się programem mindmeister, który daje bardzo wiele możliwści wspólnego tworzenia map myśli w tym samym czasie i asynchronicznie. Zarówno uczestnicy konferencji, jak i wszystkie inne osoby, które mają dostęp do Internetu i konto w minmeister bedą mogły uczestniczyć w tych warsztatach! Także zapraszam Was wszystkich serdecznie do brania udziału i tworzenia wspólnej mapy myśli! Warsztaty te odbędą sie w piątek, 9 lipca 15:45 do 17:00. We wtorek podam na tej stronie linka do początkowej mapy myśli i hasło do zalogowania się w piątek … ciąg dalszy nastąpi …

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