Archive for the ‘Communities of Practice’ Category

Communities of Practice and the world of Academia

February 6th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

A suffrage march through Stratford on Avon in 1911

I have worked in and out of academia over the last thirty years including five years working for what used to be called Gwent Tertiary College, a large vocational education college in south east Wales and another five years working at the University of Bremen in Germany. Communication between departments in large academic colleges is notoriously problematic. I once went to a meeting in Brussels and ended up talking with a researcher working in a very similar area to me. I could actually see his office from the window of mine. But he was in a different institute and our paths had never crossed in Bremen.

Talking about Communities of Practice in an article entitled  “Negotiating place, technology and identity – a postmodern narrative of places to meet in a community of practice” Patricia Arnold, John D. Smith and Beverly Trayner say “The distinguishing characteristic of a community of practice is that it is the location for an “economy of meaning” (Wenger 1998, 209) where the meaning of shared practice is negotiated among participants. Fundamental to this perspective is an understanding that communities of practice are a dynamic interaction of participation (action and connection between people that combines doing, talking, thinking, feeling, and belonging) and of reification (where a certain understanding of something is given form).”

It is possible to argue that such communities are based on practice based disciplines (and I am also aware there is a debate over the meaning of research as a practice). Yet it is possible to argue that negotiated “economies of meaning” most often happen in a cross disciplinary dialogue. Here universities seem to struggle.

At present I have an appointment as an Associate Fellow at the University of Warwick. The ‘internal comms’ department of the university send out a weekly staff newsletter by email. The well written newsletter contains section with short links on new, Get Involved, What’s on and Features. I usually flick through it but it is of limited value to non campus based staff.

This week’s newsletter however had a feature entitled Five things about women and the vote. “On the 100th anniversary of it becoming legal for some women to vote in national elections for the first time, Dr Sarah Richardson shares five things you may not know about women and the vote.” It is a great example of communicating about research to a wider audience. And it left me wanting to find out more.

Warwick Campus has many well designed ‘places’ for informal meetings and exchange. But the online ‘spaces’ are informational, rather than provoking the discourses needed to develop an economy of meaning. I think academic places need to explore how they can link to online participation and exchange through spaces. It will take time – a small first step would be to stream Dr. Richardson’s forthcoming talks on Warwickshire Women and the Fight for the Vote.




Places and Spaces – facilitating professional learning and identity transformation in European Public Employment Services

January 31st, 2018 by Graham Attwell

I have just submitted an abstract to the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). This years conference is at the Free University Bolzano in Italy in September. The proposed paper is based on work we have been doing through the European Research programme Employ-ID project.


The world of work is undergoing fundamental transformations. Bringing employees into the position of shaping change instead of merely reacting is one of the key challenges lifelong learning as well as learning and development faces.

A neglected, but crucial aspect here is the employees’ professional identity, which is a key factor developing resilience in a world characterized by uncertainty. It empowers individuals, and determines motivation and openness to new developments – and overcomes obstructionism and frustration often associated with change processes.

Towards that end, the focus of professional learning and human resource development needs to target “deeper learning” and to shift away from training skills towards facilitating the transformation of the professional identity of employees, both individually and collectively. Identities are often communicated and developed using stories: stories we tell about our jobs and ourselves, and stories others tell about us. But todays workplaces often do not provide opportunities for exchanging narratives. But they are particularly helping in uncovering experiential and affective components, which are hidden success factors and barriers.

The paper is based on a European Research Framework project, EmployID. The project brings together research partners and partners from Public Employment Services in Europe.

Public Employment Service Employees are facing pressures in their work with austerity providing increased demand of new services with less resources and digitalisation in the delivery of services.

In the context of Public Employment Services (PES), EmployID has investigated how a technology-enhanced learning approach can facilitate identity transformation through a series of interventions in the form of social learning programmes, complemented by labour market information tools as well as reflection, and peer coaching leading to the development of reflective communities. The understanding of reflective communities of practice is based on Wenger (Wenger, 1999), who sees communities of practice as groups of people who share a domain, who work on improving themselves and who share a common practice. The common domain and practice is in our case working in a public employment as a counsellor working to bring together job seekers and employers. Communities of practice are a proven concept to facilitate exchange knowledge and experiences in companies (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002).

The technology assisted interventions have been co-designed together with managers and staff in the different Public Employment Services. They have been accompanied by the extensive programme of evaluation, designed not only as a formative tool for improvement, but to provide data for developing a deeper understanding of the concepts and ideas which underpin the approach and for developing frameworks for analysis of the use of technology for learning within communities of practice.

One focus for such understanding is the idea of places and spaces. “Place and space are both products of social practice, albeit different systems of practice. These new practices, then, transform existing spaces as sites of everyday action (Dourish, 2004). Dourish says: “The technologically mediated world does not stand apart from the physical world within which it is embedded; rather, it provides a new set of ways for that physical world to be understood and appropriated. Technological mediation supports and conditions the emergence of new cultural practices, not by creating a distinct sphere of practice but by opening up new forms of practice within the everyday world, reflecting and conditioning the emergence of new forms of environmental knowing.”

The paper will draw on the extensive evaluation data collected through the EmployId project to examine the ways in which the spaces created by the interventions from the EmployID project have led to new practices, facilitated learning and supported storytelling and professional identity transformation.

Methodology and Sources

The project partners initially worked with Public Employment Services at both European and country level in identifying problems faced along with priorities for development.

This lead to a co-design process with different PES services around a series of interventions including

  • Social learning programmes (or MOOCs) providing online courses typically of six weeks duration with 2-3 hours learning per week. The term ‘social’ reflects a pedagogic approach for participants facilitating the learning of others.
  • Peer coaching programmes have been developed and delivered both through face to face workshops and online activities
  • Reflective communities’ have been developed and launched in Public Employment services in three countries (Bunk & Prilla, 2017)
  • Systems and tools have been developed for providing access to Labour Market Information and Intelligence, also in two different countries

All the interventions have been extensively evaluating and analysis of the evaluation results is ongoing (the results are expected by May 2018).

Evaluation methods have included:

  • Interviews and focus groups with participants
  • Interviews with managers
  • Discourse analysis (from the social learning programmes and Reflective Communities)
  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Analysis of log data

The ongoing analysis of the data is focusing on not just the success or otherwise of the interventions but what the data can tell us about identity transformation, professional development and the use and appropriation of online spaces for learning and knowledge sharing.


Our earlier work has led to interim findings regarding learning and identity transformation. We have identified three ways of learning (Kunzman, C. & Schmidt, A. 2017).

Learning as becoming

Stories, as identities themselves, have both a personal and an organisational dimension and could link to ideas about learning through self-understanding; sense-making; personal agency; motivation (determination); resilience; commitment to own learning and professional development; and career adaptability.

The second way ‘learning for identity development’ can be represented as occurring is across four domains: relational development; cognitive development; practical development; and emotional development. Learning may involve development in one or more domains and development in each domain can be achieved in a number of different ways, but development can be represented thematically, although the extent of development under particular themes can vary greatly across contexts and in individual cases.

Thirdly learning in opportunities structures within which individuals in the PES operate.

The key to understanding learning for identity development is to switch between the three representations in order to get a more rounded picture.

Our present ongoing work is focusing on how participants use and develop places and spaces, the opportunities for action that spaces afford and their relation to changing social, cultural and professional practices.

Key References

Blunk, O., & Prilla, M. (2015). Prompting users to facilitate support needs in collaborative reflection. In M. Kravcik, A. Mikroyannidis, V. Pammer, M. Prilla, & T. D. Ullmann (Eds.), Proceedings of the 5th International Workshop on Awareness and Reflection in Technology Enhanced Learning (AR℡ 2015) in conjunction with the EC℡ 2015 conference (Vol. 1465, pp. 43–57). CEUR-WS. Retrieved from

Blunk, O. & Prilla, M. “Supporting Communities of Practice in Public Administrations: Factors Influencing Adoption and Readiness.” In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Communities and Technologies, 36–45. C&T ’17. New York, NY, USA

Brown, A. & Bimrose, J. (2015). Identity Development. In Hartung, P. J.; Savickas, M. L.; and Walsh, W. B. (Eds), (2015). APA handbook of career intervention, Volume 2: Applications. APA handbooks in psychology. (pp. 241-254). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

Cressey, P., Boud, D., & Docherty, P. (2006a). Productive Reflection at Work. In D. Boud, P. Cressey, & P. Docherty (Eds.), Productive reflection at work: Learning for changing organizations (pp. 11–26). New York: Routledge.

Dillenbourg, P., Järvelä, S., & Fischer, F. (2009). The evolution of research on computer-supported collaborative learning. In Technology-enhanced learning (pp. 3–19). Springer.

Dourish, P. (2006) Re-space-ing place: “place” and “space” ten years on, CSCW ’06 Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work, Pages 299-308

Eraut, M. (2004). Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 26(2), 247–273.

Hyland, N., Grant, J. M., Craig, A. C., Hudon, M., & Nethery, C. (2012). Exploring Facilitation Stages and Facilitator Actions in an Online/Blended Community of Practice of Elementary Teachers: Reflections on Practice (ROP) Anne Rodrigue Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario

Kunzman, C. & Schmidt, A. (2017) EmployID: EmployID Deliverables D[2-9].3, 2017

Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Harvard Business School Press.

Industry 4.0 and identity transformation

September 19th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I gave this presentation last week at a panel discussion on Industry 4.0 at the Bundeswehr AusBildungs Kongress in Hamburg. Firstly – for those of you who do not live in Germany where the term is verywhere, what is Industry 4.0. According to Wikipedia:

“Industry 4.0 is a name for the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing.

Industry 4.0 creates what has been called a “smart factory”. Within the modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions. Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real time, and via the Internet of Services, both internal and cross-organizational services are offered and used by participants of the value chain.”

In other words – pretty much everything going on in technology today. But the particularly German take on it is how such developments will effect manufacturing and services and what it implies for education and training.

I was a bit concerned with how the presentation would work -given that it is based on research and development in the Public Employment Services. But it seemed to work extremely well.  It is not so much the threat to jobs coming from new technologies and AI, but the impact this is having on the organisation of work and the skills and competences required in the workplace. Professional identity, is a key factor in developing resilience in a world characterised by uncertainty. It empowers individuals, and determines motivation and openness to new developments – and overcomes obstructionism and frustration often associated with change processes. Identity transformation describes the processes through which people can change their professional identity to deal with new work demands. Even more it describes how individuals and groups of people can themselves use their competence and skills to shape the processes and results of introducing new technologies.

The first half of the presentation looks at the research behind identity transformation, the second half at different activities and intervention we have undertaken in the Employ-ID project to support identity transformation for staff in Public Employment services in Europe.

Conversational learning and evidence based education

September 12th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I have missed out on this autumn’s conference circuit. I just DJg4lLdXUAAiqw8don’t have the money to pay for fees and travel (let alone beer) in attending these events. I am not sure that I actually miss the conferences themselves, but I do miss meeting friends and catching up with what is going on.

And of course, it is increasingly possible to at least dip in to conferences online these days. What with mobile phones and twitter you can almost watch the slides progressing in real time. This morning I noticed one presentation seemed to be getting a lot of my twitter feed. It was Mike Sharples speaking at the ALTALC tagged conference – it took me some time to suss out the ALC stood for the Active Learning Conference taking place at Anglia Ruskin University.

A couple of slides interested me.The slide above is based on the Open University FutureLearn platform. This sums up perfectly how we have used the platform in the EmployID project for running (sadly not open) courses on the Future of Work for employees from the UK Department for Works and Pensions (the UK Public Employment Service. The evaluation showed the courses to be a great success (more on this tomorrow). But I am not so convinced to what degree the FutureLearn platform helped our pedagogic approach – at best I would say it hindered us less than other MOOC platforms we have used.DJg2tuIXcAA5A_X

The second slide also rings true – at least to my experience in using technology for professional development. It is not always easy to link online professional development to practice. But I am ever more sure this is critical to effective learning. Learning spaced over time is an interesting idea in an age of quick bite learning. Of course it depends learning over how much time. Ideally the learning should evolve in line with the practice – but that is not easy to achieve.

Technology is only useful if it involves no extra effort!

February 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

ComputerNancy Dixon has published an interesting review of a study entitled “To Share Or Not To Share: An Exploratory Review Of Knowledge Management Systems And A.Knowledge Sharing in Multinational Corporations” (for full reference see below).

The authors define knowledge sharing as “the movement of knowledge between different individuals, departments, divisions, units or branches in Multinational Corprorations through Knowledge Management Systems (KMSs)” and study was based on semi-structured interviews with 42 participants across 32 organizations in 12 countries.

Nancy Dixon says one of the main findings of the study was that the acceptance of technology for knowledge sharing is directly related to how employees view the usefulness of the technology in supporting their job performance, without extra effort. Interviewees said they are more likely to use their KMS if it is similar to the tools they already use at home, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia.

Part of the work we have been doing in the EU Learning Layers project has been developing and evaluating tools for informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises. Our findings are similar in that tools should take no extra effort. One reason may simply be speed up and pressure in the work process, particularly in the National Health Service in the UK. Another may be lack of familiarity and confidence in the use of technology based tools, especially tools for collaboration. Although most jobs today require some form of collaboration, much of that still happens through face to face contact or by email. The move to collaborative tools for knowledge sharing is non trivial.

The findings of the study and of our own work pose particular problems for research, design and development. I remain wedded to the idea that co-design processes are critical to design and develop tools to support informal learning and knowledge sharing in teh workplace. Yet at the same time, iterative design processes will be problematic if employees are unwilling or unable to rethink work processes.

Another finding from the Knowledge Management study was that interviewees said they are more likely to use their Knowledge Management System if it is similar to the tools they already use at home, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia. While people may have said this I think it requires a little interpretation. Instead of similar, I suspect that people are referring to ease of use and to design motifs. Of course software changes. The interface to Slack is very different to that of collaborative software platforms that came before. And Facebook has undergone numerous redesigns.  But one of the big problems for relatively modestly funded research and development projects in learning and in knowledge management is that we tend not to worry too much about interface design. That is always something that can be done later. But users do worry about the interlace and about appearance and ease of use.

I increasingly suspect the acceptance, adoption and use of new (innovative) tools for learning and knowledge management rest with processes of digital transformation in organisations. Only when the tools themselves are linked to changing practices (individual and collective) will their be substantial uptake.

Abdelrahman, M., Papamichail, K. N., & Wood-Harper, T. (2016). To Share Or Not To Share: An Exploratory Review Of Knowledge Management Systems And Knowledge Sharing in Multinational Corporations. In: UK Academy for information systems (UKAIS) 21st Annual Conference – 2016, 11-13 April 2016, Oxford


Brexit, universities and research

July 21st, 2016 by Graham Attwell

bannerEmptyH2020Much of the concern expressed by UK universities regarding Brexit is linked to free movement of researchers and to the loss of income from European funded research. these are important issues and while Brexit campaigners promised national money to meet any funding shortfall, the credibility of such promises is doubtful.

But there are other important issues raised from the probable exclusion, or at least downgrading, of UK institutions in European funded projects. In the 40 or so years since the UK joined the European Union, research has changed. The days of the lone researcher, labouring away in their office or laboratory are long gone. Research today is largely comprised of distributed and cross disciplinary teams, often at a large scale. Internet technologies have facilitated communication between distributed teams and made knowledge sharing much easier. Not only does Brexit threaten to isolate researchers in the UK from participating in such projects, but it also makes the UK institutions less attractive for ambitious researchers. And at the same time, especially in an age of austerity, core national funding for full time researchers has been greatly reduced, with the rise of short term appointments based on European and other project based research funding.

Of course European funding is not perfect. As with any such funding programme, the bureaucracy can be annoying (to say the least). Competition to get projects is high. And the short term nature of project funding often condemns promising prototypes to a silo, whilst seeking more resources to continue the work. Despite various attempts by the EU to prompt sustainability, research exploitation routes remain perilous. But one of the great benefits of the European research programmes in education has been for professional development, although this is rarely or ever picked up in evaluation reports. Many of those leading research and teaching in European universities today have benefited from the informal learning from discourse and exchange with peers in different countries. Exclusion from that opportunity for UK researchers will be one of the greatest losses for education from Brexit.


New book: Empowering Change in European Public Employment Services

July 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

employid bookReaders familiar with European Research projects will know how they work. The projects negotiate with the European Commission a DOW – Description of Work – which details the work to be undertaken in each year of the project. It is divided into discrete work packages. Every year the work package provides a (usually over lengthy) report on research and development undertaken which is then presented to a team of expert reviewers who can ‘pass’, recommend changes or ‘fail’ the report. Although obviously large scale multi national research projects need structures and plans. But all too often the work package structure separates research and development activities which should not be separated and the DOW become a restrictive ‘bible’, rather than a guide for action. And despite the large amount of work which goes into preparing the work package reports, they are seldom widely read (if indeed read at all), except by the reviewers.

In the EmployID project which is working with identity transformation in European Public Employment Services (PES), we are doing things differently. The work is structured though cross work package teams, who follow an adapted SCRUM structure. The teams are reviewed at face to face meetings and recomposed if necessary. And this year, instead of producing a series of Work package reports, the project partners have jointly contributed to a book – Empowering Change in Public Employment Services: The EmployID Approach which has just been published and can be downloaded for free.

The introduction to the 244 page PDF book explains the background to the work:

European Public Employment Services (PES) and their employees are facing fundamental challenges to the delivery of efficient and effective services and the need to change their strategies to combat high unemployment, demographic change in increasingly uncertain and dynamic labour markets. This does not only require developing new professional skills related to new tasks, but poses for more profound developmental challenges for staff members.

Three of these changes relate to understanding the changing world of work; a ‘turn’ towards coaching; and the increased importance of relations with employers. The staff need to learn new ways of working, with a major challenge being to enhance the power of collaborative (peer) learning in order to support staff in accomplishing their goals.

All these changes are linked to transforming professional identity, which requires learning on a deeper level that is often neglected by continuing professional development strategies. EmployID makes its contribution here; that PES practitioners’ learning related to professional identity transformation needs to be facilitated through social learning approaches and the nurturing of social learning networks, which include the following:

  • Reflection as a way of turning one’s own and others’ experiences into general insights on multiple levels, both from an individual and a collective perspective

  • Peer coaching as a way of helping learners in changing their behavior through a structured process

  • Social learning programmes as a way of engaging learners with new topics, other perspectives, and conversations around it.

A short note about communities

June 9th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

PodcastToday I got an email from the Yahoo podcasters group mail. It was a long time since I could remember the last. But at one point, the group was very active with usually a daily digest appearing. And at that time it felt like a real community, of people from different countries and contents with different kills and knowledge reaching out to help each other.

As podcasting has become established there is a wealth of help available online, videos and manuals as well as specialist software and hardware. Podcasting is not longer a frontier sport. And the community is no longer need, or at least it no longer plays the same function.

And I wonder if that is true of other communities of practice. Etienne Wenger has suggested that communities of practice are always emergent (a point protecting them from making a fetish of conservative and out of date practices). That is usually taken to mean through membership, with new members becoming central as others move to the edges. But it may be that communities are always emergent in the knowledge and practices which constitute their base. And when that knowledge and practices cease to be emergent – as in the case of the Yahoo podcasters group – unless the community can move on to new emergent pastures, then it simply slowly dies.

Reflections on Communities of Practice

March 17th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

Chahira Nouira sent me an email asking if I could make a short podcast around Communities of Practice. ” I am writing,” she said “because I thought you might have 15 min of your precious time to help me compile an audio playlist where you are the stars! For a year, I have been involved in a project funded by the EU and one of its products is a Community of Practice for Lifelong Learning: DISCUSS. My idea is to get insights from you on CoPs based on how your experience and stories”.

I have been involved – and still am – in a number of projects seeking to support the emergence of communities of practice – defined as groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly – with varying success. In the podcast I try to explain why I think some have worked an others less so.

In early days, in the late 1990s, we mainly saw the idea of Communities of Practice as an analytic tool to understand how informal learning develops in Communities of practice and how knowledge is exchanged. In a later stage we moved on to try to develop or foster Communities of Practice, using IST to support the emergence of dispersed communities.

All to often we thought we could form communities ourselves, not totally understanding the emergent nature and the ownership of CoPs. Too often also, we have conflated organisations with communities. Probably more importantly, whilst we have fused on communities, we have failed to properly understand the nature of the practices which bind together those communities. According to Wenger, a community of practice defines itself along three dimensions

  • What it is about – its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members.
  • How it functions ‐ mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity.
  • What capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time. (Wenger, 1998)

In seeking to support facilitation a vital prerequisite is understanding the nature of the social practices within the workplace, both through observable patterns of individual practice and through developing an overall pattern language. This includes the use of objects. Objects are necessary components of many practices – just as indispensable as bodily and mental activities. (Reckwitz, 2002). Carrying out a practice very often means using particular things in a certain way. Electronic media itself is an object which can mold social practices and enable and limit certain bodily and mental activities, certain knowledge and understanding as elements of practices (Kittler, 1985; Gumbrecht, 1988).  One approach to choosing ways to develop particular objects is to focus on what Onstenk (1997) defines as core problems: the problems and dilemmas that are central to the practice of an occupation that have significance both for individual and organisational performance.

If understanding the nature of social practices and patterns is a necessary step to developing facilitation services, it is not in itself sufficient. Further understanding is needed of how learning, particularly informal learning, takes place in the workplace and how knowledge is shared and developed. Michael Eraut (2000) points put that “much uncodified cultural knowledge is acquired informally through participation in social activities; and much is often so ‘taken for granted’ that people are unaware of its influence on their behaviour. This phenomenon is much broader in scope than the implicit learning normally associated with the concept of socialisation. In addition to the cultural practices and discourses of different professions and their specialities, one has to consider the cultural knowledge that permeates the beliefs and behaviours of their co-workers, their clients and the general public.”

Eraut attempts to codify different elements of practice:

  • Assessing clients and/or situations (sometimes briefly, sometimes involving a long process of investigation) and continuing to monitor them;
  • Deciding what, if any, action to take, both immediately and over a longer period (either individually or as a leader or member of a team);
  • Pursuing an agreed course of action, modifying, consulting and reassessing as and when necessary;
  • Metacognitive monitoring of oneself, people needing attention and the general progress of the case, problem, project or situation.

He also draws attention to the importance of what he calls mediating objects and points out that while some artifacts are used mainly during learning processes, most artifacts used for working are also used for learning. Such artefacts play an important role in structuring work and sharing information and in mediating group learning about clients or projects in progress.

In general, when seeking to support online communities, we have developed web sites and web based tools which are separate form the work process. Possibly, we should be looking instead at how we can use artifacts from work processes to support learning and knowledge exchange.

Confer – Three steps to consensus

February 9th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Online Educa Berlin

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

    Barcelona to go Open Source

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

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

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

    OER18: Open to All,

    The OER18 Conference takes place in Bristol, UK on 18 – 19 April 2018. OER18 is the 9th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy. The final keynote has now been announced: Dr Momodou Sallah is Reader in Globalisation and Global Youth Work at the Social Work, Youth and Community Division, De Montfort University.  More about the conference:

    Learning about technology

    According to the University Technical Colleges web site, new research released of 11 to 17-year-olds, commissioned by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity which promotes and supports University Technical Colleges (UTCs), reveals that over a third (36%) have no opportunity to learn about the latest technology in the classroom and over two thirds (67%) admit that they have not had the opportunity even to discuss a new tech or app idea with a teacher.

    When asked about the tech skills they would like to learn the top five were:

    Building apps (45%)
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    Virtual reality (38%)
    Coding computer languages (34%)
    Artificial intelligence (28%)

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