Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Ed tech community has grown up!

September 15th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I have spent most of the first half of September travelling to meetings and conferences around Europe. Now I have a few days to write up some of the things I learned – or more accurately of the interesting conversations I had.

I started out at the ALT-C 2014 conference at Warwick University in the UK. I used to be a regular at ALT-C but have missed the last few years conferences. September is a busy moth for conferences and project meetings anyway but the main reason for not going is that ALT-C is horribly expensive! This year I was able to go thanks to sponsorship from the UKCES LMIforAll project which had a stand at the conference. More on that in a second posting – first some general impressions about the conference. This is necessarily a bit impressionistic as I was on the stand for much of the two and a half days. However I got to catch up with David White who like me had not attended the past few years events and we shared ideas. Indeed, as usual, the best bit of the conference was meeting up with old friends and colleagues.

It seemed to us that the atmosphere of the conference had changed a little – not necessarily for the worse. Whilst in the past we saw ourselves as pioneers changing the world, Ed Techs have come of age. This was a conference of recognised professionals going about their daily jobs – almost a trade conference. At the same time many people seemed concerned with their future employment in the light of cut backs in university and Further Education funding. In the past much of the innovation was driven by government funded agencies – especially JISC and Becta. With the demise of Becta and severe downsizing at Jisc, innovation seemed thin on the ground. And maybe I am wrong, but with the increasing competition between institutions, coupled with the relative dearth of funded collaborative projects, their seems to be a danger of isolation – with everyone struggling on their own on the same problems.

It was tricky to find out just what was going on at the conference. To stop us all going to see our friends’ presentations and to give an opportunity to new presenters, presumably, the programme was hard to follow, taking considerable time and clicks to link sessions, papers, topics and people. I sort of see where Alt-C were coming from but one of the reasons I go to these events is to see and discuss with people whose research and development I follow online. And with a conference theme of  “Riding Giants – how to innovate and educate in front of the wave”, many of the title of contributions were somewhat opaque in terms of what they were about! Still much discussion seemed to be about MOOCs and Learning Analytics as well as the more mundane world of platforms and online presence.

Still, all in all, an enjoyable conference with some great keynotes (will publish videos of those to the front page of this site). More on the data stuff tomorrow.

 

Dysgu Ponty

December 8th, 2013 by Jenny Hughes

The Pontydysgu website is always full of news about the big projects we are involved in, like FP7 Learning Layers or Taccle2.  This is pretty inevitable as they take up the majority of our time and budget.  However, there are lots of other, smaller Pontydysgu projects running in the background that we rarely post anything about.  This is a bit of an oversight because although we often use these projects as test beds for trying out new ideas or as vehicles for piloting specific bits of technology that we then roll together in a much bigger package, they are also successful in their own right.

All of them are running in Pontypridd, (known locally as “Ponty”) which is where the Wales half of Pontydysgu is based. Some are part funded through the LLL Partnerships programme; some are funded in-house. We thought we might write a series of posts on what these projects are all about….

First up is Dysgu Ponty, which translates to Learning Ponty.  We chose this name because apart from the play on Pontydysgu (meaning approximately Bridge to Learning), we wanted to convey the idea that the whole community of Ponty was learning and that the town called Ponty was a learning resource.

The project is based on a very simple concept – let’s cover the town with QR codes linked to a learning resource.   The codes are being printed on decals (for shop windows), enamel (for the exteriors of building) and on varnished wooden plaques for hanging around trees in the park.  Codes come in three colours – red for Welsh, green for the English translation and black for careers.

So far we have 200 and our target is at least another hundred.  The town has a population of 30,000 but this covers all of the outlying villages as well.  It also has a great sense of community, which means that the level of support has been brilliant. The whole community is involved – schools, the Town Council, shops, businesses, the local newspaper

The link from each QR code goes to a website page on which there is a question that relates to the location.  The level is approximately 8 -12 yrs olds. Following the title question is some simple information using a range of multi media.   The location of the codes will be on Google Maps and we are currently sorting them out into a ‘Maths trail’, ‘Language trail’, ‘History trail’ etc so that children can choose whether to follow a subject trail or focus on the codes in one part of the town.

The purpose of the project is really to provide a bridge between formal and informal learning and to improve home school links.

We are currently working of a way of  ‘rewarding’ children for completing a number of questions – not sure Mozilla badges quite fits.  Also thinking about how we can get kids to be able to upload pictures as well as comments. May rethink the platform.

Meanwhile here are some examples of the sorts of things we are talking about

Location:  on the bandstand in the park

  • Links to… Question:  Have you ever heard brass band music?
  • Additional ‘information’ – mp3 of Colliery Brass Band with one line of text explaining that most all the pits had their own band

Location: Outside Costa Coffee

  • Links to… Question: Do you know where coffee comes from?
  • Additional information: You Tube video of coffee being harvested and processed

Location: Outside travel agent underneath exchange rates

  • Links to… Question:  How much is it worth?
  • Additional info:  Text and image – If you had £37.50 to take on holiday, how many Euros would you get?  Which travel agent in town has the best exchange rate today?

Location:  On the river bank adjacent to the confluence

  • Links to…mQuestion:  What rivers are these and where is their source?
  • Additional info:  The place where two rivers merge is called a ‘confluence’.  Use Google Earth to trace the two rivers back as far as you can, find out their names and where the river enters the sea.

 Location:  On the war memorial

  • Links to… Question:  How many died?
  • Additional info: Look at the names on the Great War memorial and then the names on the Worls War 2 memorial.  In which war were the greatest number of people from Pontypridd killed? How many times more people?  Why do you think this was?

 Location: Market Street

  • Links to…Question:  What has changed?
  • Additional Info: Picture of the street taken 100 years ago from same spot. Text – List all the things that are different between Market Street in 1910 and the same street today.
You get the idea!
[We also have black codes for older students linked to careers information as part of the EU New Jobs project.  The codes take them to links asking "So you want to be a baker?" or "So you want to be a printer?" with videos explaining what the job involves, what qualifications or skills you need etc. Some are purpose made and some from You Tube or Vimeo.  More on this is another post.]
Next time – Learning about Art in Ponty

 

 

 

A question of trust …?

August 30th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
Trust is a subject I have been thinking a lot about lately. We have been discussing it on the Philosophy Friday (#PF600) David Roberts and Emma Coleman host at the University of Salford. And recently I have also been discussing it with my colleague Pascal Venier. It is an important matter in everyone’s professional and [...]

Social Media in Higher Education and Beyond

April 27th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
Social Media in Higher Education and Beyond New forms of collaborating and developing team work A presentation for the interdisciplinary seminar “Future Social Learning Networks” at the University of Paderborn and the Knowledge Media Research Center in Augsburg. Tag for this event is #fsln10 Below is a voicethread with some ideas about Social Media for collaboration [...]

The Challenge to Education

April 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Last year I took part in an excellent confernce in Darmstadt last year on “Interdisciplinary approaches to technology-enhanced learning.” Now they have asked me to contribute to a book based on my presentation on ‘Learning Environments, What happens in Practice?. I will post the book cpater in parts on the blog as I write it, in the hope of gaining feedback from readers.

The first section is entitled ‘The Challenge to Education”

Firstly it should be said that it is not technology per se that poses the challenge to education systems and institutions. It is rather the way technology is being used for communication and for everyday learning within the wider society.

Whilst institutions have largely maintained their monopoly and prestige as bodies awarding certification, one major impact of internet technologies has been to move access to learning and knowledge outside of institutional boundaries. The internet provides ready and usually free access to a wealth of books, papers, videos, blogs, scientific research, news and opinion. It also provides access to expertise in the form of networks of people. Conferences, seminars and workshops can increasingly be accessed online. Virtual worlds offer opportunities for simulations and experimentation.

Id course this begs the question of support for learning although there are increasing numbers of free online courses and communities and bulletin boards for help with problem solving. Schools and universities can no longer claim a monopoly as seats of learning or of knowledge. Such learning and knowledge now resides in distributed networks. Learning can take place in the home, in work or in the community as easily as within schools. Mobile devices also mean that learning can take place anywhere without access to a computer. Whilst previously learning was largely structured through a curriculum, context is now becoming an important aspect of learning.

Technology is also challenging traditional traditional expert contributed disciplinary knowledge as embodied in school curricula. Dave Cormier, (2008) says that the present speed of information based on new technologies has undermined traditional expert driven processes of knowledge development and dissemination. The explosion of freely available sources of information has helped drive rapid expansion in the accessibility of the canon and in the range of knowledge available to learners. We are being forced to re-examine what constitutes knowledge and are moving from expert developed and sanctioned knowledge to collaborative forms of knowledge construction. The English language Wikipedia website, a collaboratively developed knowledge base, had 3,264,557 pages in April, 2010 and over 12 million registered users.

The present north European schooling systems evolved from the needs of the industrial revolutions for a literate and numerate workforce. Schools were themselves modelled on the factory system with fixed starting and finishing times with standardised work tasks and quality systems. Students followed relatively rigid group learning programmes, often based on age and often banded into groups based on tests or examinations. Besides the acquisition of knowledge and skills needed by the economy, schools also acted as a means of selection, to determine those who might progress to higher levels of learning or employment requiring more complex skills and knowledge.

It is arguable whether such a schooling system meets the present day needs of the economy. In many countries there is publicly expressed concerns that schools are failing to deliver the skills and knowledge needed for employment, resorting in many countries in different reform measures. There is also a trend towards increasing the length of schooling and, in some countries, at attempting to increase the percentages of young people attending university.

However the schooling system has been developed above all on homogeneity. Indeed, in countries like the UK, reforms have attempted in increase that homogeneity through the imposition of a standardised national curriculum and regular Standardised Attainment Tests (SATs). Such a movement might be seen as in contradiction to the supposed needs for greater creativity, team work, problem solving, communication and self motivated continuous learning within enterprises today.

Furthermore, the homogeneity of schooling systems and curricula is in stark contrast to the wealth of different learning pathways available through the internet. Whilst the UK government has called for greater personalisation of learning, this is seen merely as different forms of access to a standardised curriculum. The internet offers the promise of Personal Learning Pathways, of personal and collaborative knowledge construction and meaning making through distributed communities.

The schooling system is based on outdated forms of organisation and on an expert derived and standardised canon of knowledge. As such it is increasingly dysfunctional in a society where knowledge is collaboratively developed through distributed networks.

Don’t blame the technology!

March 29th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
Sometimes I wonder why people want to use technology in their practice. Is it because it’s a recognised trend in their professional sphere/discipline? Is it because others are doing it? Is it because it makes them look cool and modern? …maybe it is a bit of all…? And in a way they are all plausible answers. [...]

Social networking in the real world

February 16th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

One thing we know about social networking is that it doesn’t stay still. Witness the decline of Bebo and My Space, which only two years ago looked all conquering. Now Facebook is in its zenith but how long will this prevail?

I am interested in the connections between the different affordances of social network sites and how we communicate (both on-line and face to face).

My Space was above all a site to talk about music and for bands to communicate with us and with each other. In those terms it remains highly stressful.

Facebook could be said to inherit the mantle of Friends Reunited. Whilst the latter sought just to allow us to stay in touch (or get back in touch) with friends from school or university – interestingly the attempt to extend it to the workplace didn’t really take off – Facebook started out primarily as a place to connect with present friends in college or university. Even following its expansion outside education the principle remained the same – friends mutually followed each other with both having to consent to the connection. Twitter changed all that by allowing non reciprocal connections i.e. I can follow people without them following me. And people rapidly grew long lists of followers. Different people use Twitter in different ways. For me, it is a great resource repository – an informal, real time feedreader if you like. And despite the long running debate as to whether Twitter is killing blogging, I find myself reading more blogs as a result following links in tweets.

Bit I wonder if the social is missing somehow from these social networking services. In an article in Wired Magazine, Clive Thompson says:

socializing doesn’t scale. Once a group reaches a certain size, each participant starts to feel anonymous again, and the person they’re following — who once seemed proximal, like a friend — now seems larger than life and remote. “They feel they can’t possibly be the person who’s going to make the useful contribution,” ….. So the conversation stops. …. At a few hundred or a few thousand followers, they’re having fun — but any bigger and it falls apart. Social media stops being social. It’s no longer a bantering process of thinking and living out loud. It becomes old-fashioned broadcasting.

In that respect I think the rise of ‘extreme; social networking site Chatrouette is interesting. According to the Guardian newspaper:

Chatroulette, which was launched in November, has rocketed in popularity thanks to its simple premise: internet video chats with ­random strangers.

When users visit the site and switch on their webcams, they are suddenly connected to another, randomly chosen person who is doing precisely the same thing somewhere else in the world.

Once they are logged in together, chatters can do anything they like: talk to each other, type messages, entertain each other – or just say goodbye, hit the “next” button and move on in an attempt to find somebody more interesting.

Perhaps predictably, Chatroulette is reportedly host to “all sorts of unsavoury characters” and the Guardian quotes “veteran blogger Jason Kottke, who has spent years documenting some of the web’s most weird and wonderful corners, tried the site and then wrote about witnessing nudity, sexual activity and strange behaviour.”

But I wonder in Chatroulette is a sign of us wanting to use the internet as a social space to meet new friends, in the way we might face to face in a bar or at a party. Despite the attempts of Mr Tweet or of Facebook to introduce us to new people, they lack the randomness and intimacy of human face to face serendipitous encounter.

And I wonder too if that may be some of teh thinking behind the new Google Buzz social networking service. I can’t find the link now, but when I first looked at Buzz (in the pub!) on my mobile phone, there was a tab for ‘local’ allowing me to specify the geographical radius for activity I wanted to see. Along with us wanting to recreate the opportunity for meeting new friends, I think the future for social networking may be local, with us wanting to use such services to be able to find out what is going on around us, at a distance in which we can physically reach.

So as social networking becomes part of our everyday life, it may be that we want to  integrate it into our everyday physical spaces, rather than extend the range of the everyday to unreachable zones of cyberspace.

Just an idea.

Winter School – some thoughts #JTELWS2010

February 9th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
I have just come back from the Joint Technology Enhanced Learning Winter School. It brought together young and senior researchers in the field of TEL in meaningful discussions. It was great fun too. Each day new topics were introduced and there was an effort to make the sessions as much interactive as possible. In [...]

Is the way we are using Twitter changing?

January 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I was idly wasting time reading my twitter stream and it occurred to me that I seem to be getting less tweets these days. So I twittered out “Is it my impression or do i get less tweets these days. Following more people so are they just tweeting less?: And in the wonderful way that twitter works back came a reply from @paulbrichardson: “I am getting fewer tweets too. But there is more substance to them – usually expressing or referencing an idea..” This was quickly followed up by “Worried that my last tweet points to an attempt at a taxonomy of tweets. I am definitely not going there though…” And of course @tmartinowen couldn’t resist the bait: “here is a totally unsubstantial tweet – just to keep the classification going – or does the parenthesis give it substance?”

Nor would I wish to risk a classification. But there do seem to be a few things going on in the way we are using twitter (or at least the people I follow). There are far less of the straight forward “good morning Twitterverse” or “had a great lunch” or “tired and going to bed now” type tweets. u suspect this was a leftover from the Facebook status update days (in the same way few people are bothering to update their skype status nowadays). Have we simply become bored with our own mundane lives?

And Paul is right – most of the tweets I receive do seem to be on points of substance and many point to a resource. This may be due to the increasing use of sophisticated Twitter clients and to cross application linking through the API (e.g posting Diego links to twitter). Twitter is becoming a rich repository of links to resources. However discovery remains problematic and harvesting is tricky due to lack of longevity.

This is all to the good. But I am increasingly missing the social nature of Twitter which also seems to be on the wane. We are using twitter for reporting and shouting out but does it still retain the social and collaborative nature of its early days? Of course there remain the odd maverick – @johnpopham’s #uktrains series is strangely compulsive.

A further trend is to increase the ability of machines to read twitter through hash tag taxonomies. As reported in the ReadWriteWeb a group of hackers ” in collaboration with Project EPIC, developed a new syntax to make it easier for computers to read tweets from areas that are affected by a disaster. If adopted widely, this new hashtag-based syntax will make it easier to automatically extract data about locations or the status of a road or person.”

But as comments on the blog pointed out such taxonomies are far from people friendly. is there a trade off between machine readable functionality and human and social uses of media?

Twitter is an interesting platform because of the wide affordances in its social use. The changing ways in which we are using Twitter may point to the evolution of the use of wider social media in the future.

Anyway – time to send a tweet announcing this post :)

Projects, groups, networks, collaboration, sharing and social software

January 20th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Pontydysgu is involved in a number of European projects. Typically, these projects involve partners from five or more organisations in different countries working together around a hared work plan. Projects can last from two to four years.

One of our main roles is to provide technologies to support project development. This is not unproblematic.

Whilst three or four years ago most projects were content with a simple web page giving access to project objectives and results, we have been trying to use technology to improve collaboration between the partners, who due to distance will usually only meet face to face two or three times a year.

Levels of experience and confidence in technologies varies greatly.

One of the biggest changes in the last two years has been the use of Skype and Flash Meeting for regular audio and video communication between meetings. Both are far from ideal. ‘Can you hear me?’ is still the most common sentence to be heard in many of these meetings. Talking participants through the Windows microphone and video set up panels is still a pain. But overall the use of such simultaneous communication tools has changed both the form and intensity of collaboration.

We have also seen a slow move towards using multimedia. The days when the outputs of projects were limited to downlaodable Word or PDF files is passing. More and more project members are experimenting with podcasts and video, although once more levels of expertise and confidence vary greatly.

Platforms have remained problematic. We experimented with ELGG and Joomla before moving to WordPress. The problem with all is that they were really too difficult for project participants to use. We largely failed to break the pattern to project partners ending us their content to put on the site. And without regular participation, project web sites remained largely static, with only flurries of activity as they were updated.

We have also experimented with social software platforms including Ning and Facebook. Ning is relatively easy to use, although limited in terms of design etc. And critically you lose control over your own data, when using externally hosted applications. Facebook groups are great for notification of events etc. but offer little else. Ownership issues are even more problematic.

We have also initiated a number of bulletin boards but these once more require a critical mass of activity before they really become of social use.

The reason we have looked at these platforms is the desire for more sociability in platforms for projects. That includes the look and feel and ease of use, but especially the foregrounding of presence. Who are the members of a project or network. Who are they working with? What are their interests and what are they doing? WordPress blogs are great but the reality is that few participants can be dissuaded to blog regularly on a project platform.We customised WordPress with a plug in called Freefolio and that helped in terms of showing presence but it was still hard showing participants remotely how to use the back end of WordPress.

Our latest experiment is with the Network for Trainers in Europe website.

The Network has the following aims:

  • Provide an opportunity for exchanging experiences and knowledge though an easy to use web portal. Enable policy makers, managers and trainers to access ideas, materials and opportunities for professional development.
  • Undertake a small-scale survey of the work of trainers and their professional support.
  • Provide access to research and ideas through the organisation of workshops and on-line conferences.
  • Enhance the quality of support for trainers by sharing effective practice.
  • Stimulate new approaches to the training of trainers related to the concept of lifelong learning, knowledge sharing and peer learning.
  • Encourage researchers and trainers to share information and materials based on practical experience.
  • Bring together research and practice from different projects and initiatives throughout Europe.

Essentially the network is designed to bring people interested in the training and support of trainers together to share materials and experiences. We have migrated from the previous WordPress Freefolio site to Buddypress. And although the site is by no means finished (especially the stylingl, NB setting up new accounts is suspended at moment but will be back on by the weekend), I am enthusiastic about the potential of Buddypress. Firstly Buddypress is centred around people and the activities of members, offering much functionality often associated with commercial social software sites. secondly it is easy to use, with little need for users ever to go to the back end. thirdly, through the affordances of the individual and group wires (walls), friending etc. it makes it easy for members to contribute through gesturing rather than being forced to write substantial blog posts.

The proof of the pudding is of course in the eating. Will members use the new site. To some extent that will depend of what activities the project undertakes. But it will be very interesting to see if the use of a full blown social networking application can lead to enhanced communication and collaboration between researchers and trainers drawn form every European country.

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    News Bites

    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.


    Consultation

    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 http://goo.gl/LwR65t.


    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.”


    Code Academy expands

    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

    Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.


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