Archive for the ‘Communities of Practice’ Category

Professional identities and Communities of Practice

April 22nd, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Technology Enhanced Learning, at least form a research perspective, has always tended to be dominated by the education sector. Coming from a background in vocational education and training, I was always more interested in how technology could be used to enhance learning in work and in particular informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises.

Much early work in this area, at least in Europe was driven by a serious of assumptions. We were moving towards a knowledge economy (remarkable how quiet that has gone since the economic crash) and future employment, productivity and profitability, required higher levels of skills and knowledge win the workplace.. Prior to the rise of the World Wide Web, this could be boosted by enhancing opportunities for individual learning through the development of instructional materials distributed on disc or CD ROM. Interestingly this lead to much innovative work on simulation, which tended to be forgotten with the move to the online environment offered by the World Wide Web.

One of the big assumptions was that what was holding back learning in enterprises was the cost of releasing employees for (formal) training. Thus all we had to do was link up universities, colleges and other training providers to enterprises through providing courses on the web and hey presto, the problem would be solved. Despite much effort, it didn’t really work. One of the reasons I suspect is that so much workplace knowledge is contextually specific and rooted in practice, and trainers and particularly learning technologists did not have that knowledge. Secondly it was often difficult to represent practice based knowledge in the more restricted learning environment of the web. A further issue was a failure to understand the relationship between learning nd professional development, work practice and professional (or occupational) identities. That latter issue is the subject on a paper entitled Facilitating professional identity formation and transformation through technology enhanced learning: the EmployID approach, submitted by my colleagues from the EmployID reject, Jenny Bimrose, Alan Brown, Teresa Holocher-Ertl, Barbara Kieslinger, Christine Kunzmann, Michael Prilla, Andreas P. Schmidt, and Carmen Wolf to the forthcoming ECTEL conference. Their key finding is that there is “a wide spectrum of how actual professional identity transformation processes take place so that an ICT-based approach will not be successful if it concentrates on prescribing processes of identity transformation; rather it should concentrate on key activities to support.” They go on to say that “ this is in line with recent approaches to supporting workplace learning, such as Kaschig et al. (2013) who have taken an activity-based approach to understanding and supporting collective knowledge development.”

The following short excerpt from the paper explains their understanding of processes of professional work identity formation:

“Professional work identities are restructured in a dynamic way when employees are challenged to cope with demands for flexibility, changing work situations and skill needs (Brown, 1997). The work activities of practitioners in Public Employment Services (PES) need to be trans- formed due to the changing nature of the labour market. As their roles change, so do their professional identities. Work identities are not just shaped by organisations and individuals, but also by work groups (Baruch and Winkelmann-Gleed, 2002) or communities of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991; Brown, 1997; Ibarra, 2003). PES practitioners in particular need to develop multi-dimensional (individual and collective) professional identities to cope with socio-economic and technological change (Kirpal, 2004). This shift is underpinned by the increased importance of communica-tions skills, a willingness to engage in learning and reflexivity, while reflection on experience over time may be particularly significant in the build-up of implicit or tacit knowledge as well as explicit knowledge (Eraut, 2000). At the individual level, emerging new demands and associated skills shifts generate a potential for conflict with traditional work orientations and associated values, norms, work ethics and work identity patterns of employees. One important focus for support are individuals’ strategies for dealing with such conflicts. While any identity formation process has to be realized by the individual, the process of acquiring a work identity also takes place within particular communities where socialization, interaction and learning are key elements. Therefore, supporting networks, of ‘new’ communities of practice (Lave, 1993; Wenger, 1998; Billett, 2007) and feedback from other practitioners are important aspects on which to focus.”

References

Baruch, Y. & Winkelmann-Gleed, A. (2002). Multiple commitments: a conceptual framework and empirical investigation in a Community Health Services Trust, British Journal of Management, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 337-357.

Billett, S. (2007). Exercising self: learning, work and identity. In: Brown, A.; Kirpal, S.; Rauner, F. (eds). Identities at work. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 183-210.

Brown, A. (1997). A dynamic model of occupational identity formation. In: Brown, A. (ed.) Promoting Vocational Education and Training: European Perspectives. Tampere: University of Tampere, pp. 59-67.

Eraut, M. (2000). Non-formal Learning and Tacit Knowledge in Professional Work. British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 70, No. 1, pp. 113 – 136.

Ibarra, H. (2003). Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career.Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Kaschig, A., Maier, R., Sandow, A., Lazoi, M., Schmidt, A., Barnes, S., Bimrose, J., Brown, A., Bradley, C., Kunzmann, C., Mazarakis, A. (2013). Organisational Learning from the Perspective of Knowledge Maturing Activities. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technol- ogies 6(2), pp. 158 – 176
Kirpal, S. (2004) “Researching work identities in a European context”, Career Development International, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp.199 – 221

Lave, J. (1993). The Practice of Learning. In S. Chaiklin and J. Lave (eds) Understanding Practice: Perspectives on Activity and Context, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Lave, J. , & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning. Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Personal Learning Environments Conference 2014

March 24th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

2plelogo2014

 

 

 

 

 

In case you missed it first time round, the PLE 2014 Conference has issues a second call for contributions. The new deadline for the submission of extended abstracts: April 1, 2014. The theme of the conference is Beyond formal: emergent practices for living, learning and working.

PLE 2014 – the 5th International Conference on Personal Learning Environments – will take place in Tallinn, Estonia, from July 16th to 18th with a preceding “pacific” event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from June 25th to 27th.

The PLE Conference intends to create an engaging, conversational, and innovative meeting space for researchers and practitioners to exchange ideas, experiences, and research around PLE related themes.

The conference invites contributions in the format of “academic papers” or “alternative session proposals”. However, authors of both types of contributions will be asked to communicate their research and ideas within session formats that look to avoid the traditional 15 minute presentation.

The 5th Edition of the PLE conference aims to move beyond discussions about definitions to explore emergent practices for living, learning and working in relation to PLEs and the new understandings and underlying needs that arise around these practices in our contemporary society. Delegates are invited to submit their ideas, research and/or practice under the topics listed below.

Topics include (but are not limited to)…

  • PLEs for managing life transitions
  • PLE and formal learning contexts: conflicts and confluences
  • PLE theoretical frameworks
  • PLE in early childhood and the family
  • PLE as literacy
  • PLE and portfolios
  • PLE and PLNs (Personal Learning Networks)
  • PLE and creative practice
  • PLEs in formal contexts (Schools, Vocational, Higher Education)
  • PLES in Lifelong Learning
  • The social PLE
  • Personal Learning and assessment
  • Digital footprints and identities
  • Ownership and agency
  • Emergent pedagogies and approaches
  • Innovative work-based learning and practices
  • PLEs and technologies
  • Personal learning and the creative economy
  • Future challenges in the PLE context

Scaling up the use of technology for learning through SME clusters

October 21st, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Much of the work we do in Pontydysgu is project based. And a lot of that work is funded by the European Union, inv0olving multi national consortia of partners working together over a period of two to four years. The two year projects are a bit tight for time, especially if this includes technology development. But the big problem is what happens after the project funding ends. In the best cases, the ideas and products get taken up, further developed and embedded in practice. For instance  work we undertook through the MOSEP project has led to the introduction of e-portfolios in German schools. And work piloted in the Mature IP project has led to the development of an open portal and database for labour market information to improve career choices and decision making in the UK.

But all too sadly, many projects just fade away at the end of the funding. Of course sometimes this is because the work turned out to be less impressive than we had initially hoped. But there are also two big problems more relater to the structuring and fincaci9ng of European projects. The major one is the scaling up of projects and innovations. If products and processes are to be used after a project ceases funding, whatever the outcome, substantial numbers of users are needed. This is true for software, for processes or for more traditional products such as handbooks. Of course it is difficult to scale up to substantial numbers of users with two years. But regardless of the length of a project it requires a strategy. And most projects do not have such a goal, let alone a strategic approach.

The EU funded Learning layers project has as a major objective, scaling the use of technology to substantial numbers of small and medium enterprises in the construction and health sectors. To do this we are looking at developing engagement with clusters of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Between 2002 and 2010, nearly 85% of new jobs in Europe were created by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are currently employing 67% of the total workforce (De Krok et al., 2011). Notably, it is the smallest and youngest SMEs that drive this trend, while more established and larger firms are shedding jobs on a net basis. Many of the new jobs created by these SMEs are knowledge intensive and demand specialised skills. According to a European Commission study, the number of low skilled jobs is expected to fall from 21% of total jobs in 2012 to 18% by 2020, while jobs that require higher skills levels are expected to rise by 20%. (European Commission, 2012).

Highly specialised and high-skill growth SMEs increasingly organise in regional clusters as competitive pressures and the difficulties in some sectors of finding skilled workers make collaboration even among competitors an attractive value proposition. At the same time, clusters have a unique negotiation advantage in the region compared to smaller actors, and have the power to influence educational institutions and policy makers. In theory, by joining clusters together with other firms and regional players, SMEs have  a means to influence educational and business development policy in their region and the bargaining power to lean on local colleges and universities to produce the skills and talents needed for economic advancement. Cluster organisations can drive innovation in learning at the workplace by helping SMEs and other cluster members in developing joint technology-enabled training and skills services, which in turn provide an additional funding source for the cluster organisation.

A recent study conducted by the Cluster Excellence Initiative (Meier zu Köcker et al., 2012) of over 300 European cluster organisations shows that the depth and breadth of services offered to their members is the most important contributor to generating impact on the business of SMEs. In terms of the type of service offered by the cluster organisation, our research indicates that currently, services focusing on training and skills development have the greatest potential in terms of generating revenues. This supports the Learning Layers project strategy of targeting cluster organisations as scaling partners and the focus on training and skills development services for SMEs in and across regional clusters. Inter-cluster collaborations in developing learning services makes economic sense since clusters in a given region share common actors, including regional policy makers in education and business development, universities, VET and general upper secondary schools, research institutions, and financial institutions and investors. (more to follow).

Taccle2 on track

May 20th, 2013 by Jenny Hughes

We are really excited about the Taccle 2 project – 5 hard copy handbooks and a website bursting with practical ideas on how to use web 2.0 apps and other e-learning tools in your classroom.

The project has reached its half way mark and we are so far on target. The E-learning handbook for Primary Teachers has just come back from the layout artist and is in its final proof reading stage. (There is a temporary version available if you want to take a look)

The E-learning handbook for STEM teachers is waiting for the layout artist to make it look pretty and the E-learning for Humanities is in its draft version. This will be available on the site within the next week.

The next book, E-learning for Creative and Performing Arts has just been started – we are still at the stage of collecting ideas but they are coming in thick and fast. The final book, E-learnig for Core Skills 14-19 is at the planning stage. All books will be ready for printing by April 2014.

Meanwhile, check out Taccle2 website It has 280 posts at the moment and our rough estimate is that there are well over a thousand ideas that can be navigated by subject, age, software, language, format and more. Even better, judging from the number of visitors who return and the number of contributions and comments, there is a growing community around the Taccle2 site which will expand rapidly once the Taccle2 training starts next month.

Please come and join us and spread the word – tried and tested ideas for using technology in the classroom, created by teachers for teachers. No theory, no research just inspiration!

PS you can also follow us on Twitter #taccle or on the Taccle2  Diigo group or on Scoop.it – so no excuses!!

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.

 

Supporting different kinds of knowledge aquisition and exchange with technology

April 16th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

In the past, I spent a lot of time researching different kinds of knowledge and how they could be supported by vocational education and training. In particular, I was trying to counter the reductionist approach, as embodied in the then National Vocational Qualifications in the UK, which came from a narrow understanding of competence. Lately I have been returning to that research to try to understand how technologies can support the development of vocational competence and knowledge in a workplace setting.

This is an extract from a paper entitled  ‘Work process knowledge, Communities of Practice and the development and introduction of mobile learning applications in the workplace’, submitted by myself, Ludger Deitmer, Lars Heinemann and Pekka Kamarainen to the ECTEL 2013 conference. You can download the full paper in PDF format here.

When thinking about knowledge development in a richer way, it may be useful to distinguish between different types of knowledge. Lundvall and Johnson (1994) identify four different kinds of knowledge, each requiring different types of mastery: know-what, know-why, know-how, and know-who.

Know-what refers to knowledge about ‘facts’: it can be considered as equivalent to what is normally called information and related to the knowledge ‘corpus’ that each category of experts must possess. Know-why refers to scientific knowledge, influencing technological development and the pace and characteristics of its applications in industries of every kind. Also in this case, knowledge production and reproduction take place within organised processes, such as university teaching, scientific research, specialised personnel recruiting, and so on.

Know-how refers to skills – that is, the capabilities to do something in different contexts (e.g. judging the market prospects for a new product, operating a machine-tool, etc.). Of course know-how is typically a kind of knowledge developed at the individual level1, but its importance is evident also if one considers the division of labour and degree of co-operation taking place within organisations and even at the inter-organisational level (for instance, the formation of industrial net-works is largely due to the need for firms to be able to share and combine elements of know-how). Know-who is another kind of knowledge which is becoming increasingly important, referring to a mix of different kinds of skills, in particular the social skills, allowing the access and use of knowledge possessed by someone else.

Rauner et al. (2013) modified these categories in order to bring it in line with the ideas of situated learning and communities of practice, emphasising the role of work processes and the corresponding work process knowledge. The categories of know-what and know-how still refer to ‘factual’ knowledge and the ways of ‘expressing’ it in a work process. The third category, know-why, refers to why to carry out a specific task in a certain way (or, if more appropriate, in another). This modification is due to the insight, that work tasks as well as work processes in post-Taylorist work organisations do not follow a logic of right/wrong. Instead, a solution to a problem can be more or less adequate. This adequacy depends on a number of partly conflicting factors, One may programme the control of a car’s motor giving different weight to factors like acceleration, fuel consumption, high speed, exhaust emissions, etc., according to the intended main use. An electrician may counsel his or her customer on the design of a lighting system regarding costs, efficiency, ecological aspects, sustainability, ease of maintenance, etc., according to the end-users’ ideas. This, then, has the consequence that vocational learning has to address all these three dimensions of knowledge as a whole. The ‘reflective practitioner’ (Schön 1983) is not someone reflecting on what he or she has done after work, using analogue or digital media. ‘Reflection’ is a category built in the expert solution of work tasks requiring a deep knowledge of the work process a given task is embedded in.

Each kind of knowledge is characterised by different channels through which learning takes place and can be supported in different ways using technologies. The easiest cases are those of know-what and know-why, that can be obtained through the typical channels of knowledge acquisition (watching videos, accessing data bases), while the other two categories are rooted primarily in practical experience and in terms of technology enhanced learning have been more problematic insofar as they require the availability of informal social channels. Apprenticeship is a fundamental channel for acquiring know-how knowledge: it represents the most important way for skilling newcomers in an organisation, but these protracted processes of learning by doing are also frequently the responsibility of those who are considered the experts in an organisation, capable of above-average performance. Technology can be used to bring together novices and experts Simulations can be used as shortcuts for reproducing the many aspects of the know-how acquisition available in real situations. Mobile technology can capture know-how in the application of knowledge within the workplace. Know-why can be facilitated by helping to make traceable the processes guiding expert workers’ decision making. In general, this points to a use of digital media going far beyond the transmission of information.

References

Lundvall. B.; Johnson, B. (1994) The learning economy, Journal of Industrial Studies, 1.

Rauner, F., Heinemann, L., Maurer, A., Haasler, B. (2013) Competence Development and Assessment in TVET (COMET), Dordrecht: Springer.

Cornerstones of an Innovation Frameowrk

April 2nd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Another one from the archives. I think Jen and me wrote this in 2001 but it still seems relevant today, especially in an age when it seems inn0vation is the universal panacea..

“Whilst in organisation learning literature in the late 1990s innovation was seen as the interplay between implicit and explicit knowledge within organisations, in a literature review into innovation Attwell and Hughes looked at the importance of external as well as internal factors in innovation. In particular they differentiated between stimulus catalyst and Imperative.

  Stimulus Catalyst Imperative
 

Internal to Organisation

 

e.g. a new manager who is ‘environmentally conscious’

 

 

e.g. falling balance sheet, falling markets, increasing materials waste

 

e.g. company  going bankrupt or workers strike because of working conditions

 

External to organisation

 

e.g. a rival business opening next door

 

e.g. growing public awareness  of environmental issues

 

e.g. change in primary legislation on environmental issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stimulus: a specific and particular action or event which provokes a specific and particular response. Typically one off or isolated events which precipitate change.

Catalyst: the presence of a factor or factors ‘in the background’ which speedup the rate of change. Typically these factors will be present over a period of time rather than being ‘one-off’ events

Imperative: the ‘must-do’ situation – an event or series of events that make change inevitable and usually urgent with identifiable negative consequences in the event of failure to change.

Much innovation in the construction industry appears to be driven by an imperative around environmental standards for building with in other cases innovation being driven by the catalyst of new materials and construction methods.

Attwell and Hughes advanced the following ideas as ‘boundary conditions’ or as cornerstones of a theoretical framework around innovation:

  • That innovation is a complex social phenomenon (and is not technologically determined);
  • That innovation takes place within spatial forms and areas – including regions, supply chains, internal organisation units and networks;
  • That innovation is developed in the interrelationships between enterprises and the environment, including suppliers, customers and other ‘knowledge development’ and business support agencies and organisations;
  •  That innovation is dependent on the interrelations between work organisation, workforce competence and technologies;
  • That there are many and complex motivators for innovation and change that may stem from economic, social and environmental factors;
  • That organisational competence and innovation are facilitated by the interplay between the development and use of tacit and codified knowledge and between abstract knowledge and practice;
  • That tacit knowledge is bounded and develops in communities of practice – which cannot be organisational prescribed;
  • That change for innovation is conceptually driven and may take an incremental form;
  • That organisational competence is central to innovation and change;
  • That developmental expertise is central to organisational competence for innovation.

Innovation is not only dependent on workforce competence and organisational competence but gives rise for new needs in competence and learning.”

Things and social practices

March 26th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

One of the issues which intrigues me about the Learning Layers project is the role of physical tools and objects. We are seeking to develop apps to support informal learning in the construction trade. And one of the big things about construction is that they use a lot of tools, machinery and materials – things that can be difficult to represent in a digital world. Indeed, that is one the the reasons I think elearning has been slow to take off in the workplace, despite the increasing power of mobile devices.

In past work we have tried to understand the learning and work eco-structures through the lens of activity theory. To an extent it is useful, but the bucket category of tools fails I think to represent the central role that artefacts play in work processes.

This morning I stumbled on a paper called ‘Towards a Theory of Social Practices‘ by Andreas Reckwitz. It is not an easy read, at least for me with my limited understanding of social theory. But i find his section on things interesting, particularly the idea that the objects – are the place of the social insofar as they are necessary components of social practices.

This is an excerpt from the section of the paper entitled ‘Things’:

For practice theory, objects are necessary components of many practices – just as indispensable as bodily and mental activities. Carrying out a practice very often means using particular things in a certain way. It might sound trivial to stress that in order to play football we need a ball and goals as indispensable ‘resources’. Maybe it is less trivial, meanwhile – after studies of the history of communicative media – to point out that writing, printing and electronic media ‘mould’ social (here, above all, discursive) practices, or, better, they enable and limit certain bodily and mental activities, certain knowledge and understanding as elements of practices (cf. Kittler, 1985; Gumbrecht, 1988). When particular ‘things’ are necessary elements of certain practices, then, contrary to a classical sociological argument, subject–subject relations cannot claim any priority over subject–object relations, as far as the production and reproductions of social order(liness) is concerned. The stable relation between agents (body/minds) and things within certain practices reproduces the social, as does the ‘mutually’ stable relation between several agents in other practices. Moreover, one can assume that most social practices consist of routinized relations between several agents (body/minds) and objects. At any rate, the social is also to be located in practices in which single agents deal with objects (besides, also in practices in which a single agent deals only with himself, with neither other subjects nor objects) and in this sense also the objects – television sets, houses and brownies – are the place of the social insofar as they are necessary components of social practices. There is no necessary link between the observability of social orderliness and ‘inter- subjectivity’.

Working, Learning and Competence

March 20th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

As part of the Learning Layers project, I am working on a paper for the ECTEL Conference taking place in Cyprus in September. In the paper I want to look at the nature of different forms of knowledge and how competence is acquired through work based learning. I am also interested in the links between learning and innovation. That got me digging into papers and ideas about innovation. And by serendipity my colleague Jenny Hughes replied to a query from another partner working on the Layers project pointing to some work we did in 2001 on a project called DISC. I can’t quite remember what DISC stands for. Anyway DISC was looking at innovation but within one particular perspective – that of the development and evaluation of the innovation potential of organisations – and that from a viewpoint heavily influenced by Human Resource Development. However, we said, in order to develop a theoretical basis and underpinning for that work it is necessary to be able to locate project ideas and development within the wider framework of innovation theory. In other words in order to understand the work DISC is undertaking it is necessary to review the wider range of literature and project development at a national and European level.

There is some good stuff in that literature review (which I don’t think was ever published and I’ll post a few excerpts over the next few days. If you want a full copy just email me. The first excerpt is on Working, Learning and Innovation. I think I still agree with it. The most interesting point I think, is that whilst Communities of Practice have been criticised as inherently conservative bodies we say just the opposite: that they avoid the ossifying tendencies of large organisations.

“In a paper entitled “Organisational learning and communities of practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning, and innovation”, Duguid and Brown (1991) explore in some depth the relationship between communities of practice and innovation.

Working, learning and innovating are closely related forms of human activity that are conventionally thought to conflict with each other. Work practice is generally viewed as conservative and resistant to change: learning is generally viewed as distinct from working and problematic in the face of change; and innovation is generally viewed as the disruptive but necessary imposition of change on the other two. To see that working, learning and innovation are interrelated and compatible and thus potentially complementary requires a distinct conceptual shift.

Within society, formal descriptions of work and learning are abstracted from practice and education, training and technology design generally focus on abstract representations to the detriment of actual practices. Without a clear understanding of the details of actual practice, the practice itself cannot be understood or engendered through training or enhanced through innovation.

This is seen in studies of the variance between organisation’s formal descriptions of work through training programmes and manuals and the actual work practices performed by its members. Reliance on espoused practice can blind an organisation’s core to the actual – and usually valuable practices of its members (including non canonical practices). It is the actual practices, however, that determine the success or failure of organisations.

This is congruent with Lave and Wenger’s practice based theory of learning as “legitimate peripheral participation” in “communities of practice”. Much conventional learning theory, including that implicit in most training courses, tends to endorse the valuation of abstract knowledge over actual practice and, as a result to separate learning from working and, more significantly, learners from workers. The work of Lave and Wenger, and the empirical investigations of the practices of photocopying technicians undertaken by Orr, indicate that this knowledge-practice separation is unsound, both in theory and in practice. Learning takes place in practice through narration, collaboration and social construction. Communities of work and learning are often non-canonical and not recognised by organisations. Significantly, communities are emergent. Their shape and membership emerges in the process of activity as, as opposed to being creating to carry out a task. Therefore the central task in promoting innovation is not the design or creation of groups but more the detection and support of emergent or existing communities. The recognition of and legitimation of community practices is central to the process of learning in communities. This involves issues of legitimacy and peripherality which are intertwined in a complex way. If either is denied then learning will be significantly more difficult.

The composite concept of “learning in working” best represents the fluid evolution of learning through practice. From this practice-based standpoint, learning is the bridge between working and innovating. The periphery is an important site for learning and for innovation.

Small self-constituting communities evade the ossifying tendencies of large organisations. Communities of practice are constantly changing both as newcomers replace old timers and as the demands of practice force the community to revise its relationship to its environment. Communities of practice develop a rich, fluid, non-canonical world view to bridge the gap between their organisations static canonical view and the challenge of changing practice. This process of development in inherently innovative “maverick” communities of this sort allow organisations means and models to examine alternative views of activity, to experiment based on practice and to step outside their limited core world view and try something new.”

Communicating with stakeholders

February 25th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Some time in the mid 1990s I can remember writing my first project web site – for a project called DETOP, I think. It was pretty crude – I got myself a teach yourself HTML book and away I went. Now of course very project has its own web site – and many have more than one. Content management Systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla have made the technical process pretty easy.

But that hasn’t done much for the quality of the content. In particular, most research projects are pretty dull stuff. The aims and objectives, a list of partners with their logos, various reports downloadable in Word or PDF format, a news page usually showing a picture of project partners at their last meeting and sometimes (but too rarely a blog).

These sites are basically a formality – to fulfil funding conditions rather than to involve users. We have been thinking about how to change this for the EU funded Learning Layers project. The project is researching and developing the use of technology for informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises. And one of our targets is to engage with significant numbers of users – initially in two ‘industrial clusters’, a health cluster in north east England and a construction industry cluster in north Germany.

To help in this task we are developing a User Engagement Model. And of course, we have to develop a dissemination plan. I have been doing some literature searches around user engagement models. Surprisingly, not much came up. Most of it is either promotional materials offering (for a price) to help you gain users or ideas social software providers can fi9nd out more about their users. Changing the search string to Stakeholder Engagement, though, provides much richer results. Although many of the ideas have been written by NGOs or charities written from the viewpoint of engaging with stakeholders in their various projects or from local authorities and other organisations wishing to consult with service users, their is much which is relevant and well though through.

One research paper which particularly interests me is ‘An Organizational Stakeholder Model of Change Implementation Communication‘ by Laurie K. Lewis.

Implementation is seen as ‘‘the translation of any tool or technique, process, or method of doing, from knowledge to practice’’ (Tornatzky and Johnson, 1982 p. 193) and the authors quote Real and Poole (2005) who argue that ‘‘without implementation, the most brilliant and potentially far-reaching innovation remains just that—potential’’ (p. 64).

The paper argues that change models and processes need to be linked to communication strategies towards different stakeholders. They advance four dimensions of communication strategy choices:

Positive versus balanced message

In considering the positivity or the balanced nature of the communication messages, implementers decide whether positive aspects of the change should be emphasized or whether emphasis of positives should be balanced with acknowledgment of negative aspects of the change or the change process……

Dissemination focus versus input focus

In considering the focus of the communication campaign, implementers decide whether to orient their communication resources toward sharing information about change or toward soliciting input from stakeholders. This is essentially a question about whether to engage in a participatory approach to implementation wherein stakeholders at various locations around the organization are invited to be heard and/or are empowered to make decisions. The alternative approach emphasizes information or instruction about the change in top-down messages that attempt to influence compliance……

Targeted message versus blanket message

This dimension of the communication campaign deals with the degree to which messages created about the change will be customized, targeted to specific stakeholders or stakeholder groups, or whether the campaign will have a more blanket strategy wherein the same basic messages are repeated across all stakeholder groups…..

Discrepancy focus versus efficacy focus

This dimension of the communication campaign concerns the degree to which the message is focused on creating an urgency that motivates the need for the change (discrepancy) or on creating a belief that the organization and the individuals in it have the resources necessary to close the discrepancy gap (efficacy)…..

And whilst the research and model is intended as a scholarly contribution, it seems to me to provide some very real ideas and choices for how we might want to deign a communication strategy for different stakeholders, of which our project web site will provide a key element (more on these issues to follow).

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    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.


    Open online STEM conference

    The Global 2013 STEMx Education Conference claims to be the world’s first massively open online conference for educators focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and more. The conference is being held over the course of three days, September 19-21, 2013, and is free to attend!
    STEMxCon is a highly inclusive event designed to engage students and educators around the globe and we encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching.

    To find out about different sessions and to login to events go to http://bit.ly/1enFDFB


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