Archive for the ‘digital revolution’ Category

Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part Three: Glimpses to presentations of which I want to learn more

September 8th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

This blog post is the third one of a series with which I wrap up my experiences at the ECER 2019 conference that took place earlier this week in Hamburg, Germany. In the first post I focused on the Opening session of the VETNET network that is the European umbrella network for research in vocational education andt training (VET).  I also gave some background information on the role of VETNET and other networks in the ECER conferences. In my second post I focused on the two sessions that discussed the parallel TACCLE project – TACCLE 4 CPD (in which I am working) and TACCLE VET (in which my colleagues are working). With this post I want to discuss briefly three presentations that were of immediate relevance for our work in the two TACCLE projects. Here I limit myself to some first impressions – I want to learn more of the work that has been done and/or is still going on.

The Paderborn-based project: Adopting apprentice training to digital transformation – the perspective of in-company training

The presentation of Bernd Gössling and Tina Emmler was in many respects one of the highlights of this conference. I had already become aware of the work of the research group of the University of Paderborn via the report “Berufsbildung 4.0” (Sloane et alia 2018). For me it had served as a rich resource in terms of conceptual work, empirical studies and conclusions for future-oriented innovation agendas. In particular the distinction between ‘digital transformation’ (technological and organisational changes towards networked production, marketing and service processes) and ‘digitization’ (introduction of digital tools into working, training and learning processes) was very helpful. Now the presentation of Gössling and Emmler provided a closer look into the empirical studies and findings. I do not want to summarise their results here – we need to discuss them more closely. Also, the reflections on the new roles of trainers that Emmler outlined (in terms of “vita activa”) were very inspiring and reminded me of our experiences with trainers working with the Learning Toolbox at the end of the Learning Layers project.

The Bremen-based project CARO: Digital cross-action spaces in interactive nursing education

Another highlight for me was the project CARO presented by Claudia Schepers from the University of Bremen. This interdisciplinary research & development project had shaped digital learning spaces to support interactive learning arenas in nursing education. Here we need to understand the delicate nature of learning in the context of real work and the necessity to support such work with simulations, videos and reflective learning. For me this case was particularly important since I had been looking at different innovation paths for introducing digital tools into vocational learning. To me, this project appeared as a paradigmatic case for introducing digital tools and digital spaces with a ‘whole curriculum’ approach. Furthermore, all my examples that I had used were referring to technical occupations. From this perspective a case from healthcare sector was most welcome.

The Aachen-based project: Acceptance of a tutorial-creating authoring system for workplace learning in manual assembly

A third highlight for me was the Aachen-based project presented by Marvin Goppold and Fabian Handl. Their project focused on the role of low-skilled or semi-skilled workers in manual assembly and their occupational perspectives in the context of digital transformation. The key point in the project was to capture the (informal) competences and (invisible) workplace-based learning and to make it visible via an authoring tool that generates individual tutorials. In this way the workers were better prepared to encounter changes that bring robotics into picture and to point out the limits of robotics. Here I do not want to go into details, I need to learn more.

As I am concerned, the Aachen-based project served to me as a paradigmatic case for an innovation path that uses digital tools to make visible the hitherto invisible and non-formal learning of semi-skilled workers. So far I had referred to a case of process industry, but the case of assembly work and the use of authoring tools is of particular interest.

I guess that this is enough of these sessions. As I have said above, I need to learn more of these projects to make appropriate use of their approaches, results and conclusions. There is more work to be done on this front. However, with my reporting on ECER 2019 I have more points to cover – in particular concerning developments in the VETNET network.

More blogs to come …

Woodstock for Geeks

June 17th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

I love the description of big academic conferences as “Woodstock for Geeks.” This is a brilliantly made cartoon by Mike Morrison, not only explaining the problem with poster sessions at conferences but putting forward a simple template for designing research posters as a practical help to overcoming the problem.

One part of the design idea is to include a QR code providing access to further information, papers and so on. My friends from Kubify have gone one step further producing mini posters linking to ‘stacks’ of interactive and multimedia material.

Kubify’s Learning Toolbox, they say,  “is an award-winning ePoster platform and is a versatile tool that can also be used to support other event and education activities.

Learning Toolbox allows people to quickly and easily build their own stacks of interactive and multimedia material and share them with others. These dynamic stacks can be used as ePosters, research calling cards or learning resources.”

Rich ePoster content

“A Learning Toolbox ePoster can contain many different rich resources such as videos, images, audio, apps, presentations, twitter and links to interactive online resources.”

Student Experience Roadmap – what it means for teacher development

May 29th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Earlier this week the UK Jisc  launched the Jisc NUS roadmap (pdf) designed to support students, course representatives, and union and guild representatives to work with their institution on improving student digital experiences.

Jisc say “Informed by extensive research into learners’ experiences and expectations of technology, the roadmap has been updated following over 77,500 student responses to Jisc’s digital experience insights survey, gathered over three years.

The roadmap – which has been updated from a benchmarking tool Jisc previously developed with the National Union of Students (NUS) and The Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP) – is now freely available online. It enables institutions to identify gaps in their digital provision, while allowing students to compare their digital experiences to others’.”

The roadmap focuses on ‘Good Practice Principles’ which has four levels of progression: First steps, Developing, Developed and Outstanding. Whilst obviously focused on wider aspects of the student experience, one section covers teachers, with the good practice principle being that “Teaching staff are confident users of digital technologies and media.” Students were asked “What one thing would improve the quality of your digital learning and teaching?”  They were further asked to “rate your digital learning and teaching overall” and in a more open question “When digital technologies are used on my course…”

First steps were:

  • Training available for teaching staff in all core systems such as the virtual learning environment, assessment systems and lecture capture
  • E-learning specialist staff are available to support teaching staff
  • All teaching staff can use inclass digital technologies and audio visual equipment
  • All teaching staff can upload content to the VLE and use an online submission and grading system

Developing were:

  • A technology enhanced learning (TEL) or e-learning strategy with goals for teaching staff development
  • There is a growing cohort of teaching staff with digital expertise, supported by elearning specialists
  • All teaching staff can use the specialist academic/professional technologies of their subject area
  • Workshops are available to support the development of digital teaching skills

Developed were:

  • All teaching staff can design digital activities suitable to their subject area and student needs
  • Local e-learning staff or staff digital champions support digital approaches at the course or subject level
  • Staff share digital teaching ‘know how’ via one or more communities of practice
  • Dedicated funding and staff support for digital innovation projects

Developed were:

  • Teaching staff have time allocated to develop, practice and evaluate digital approaches
  • Specific rewards and career pathways for digital teaching expertise and innovation
  • Teachers and students work in partnership to develop new digital approaches
  • There are excellent digital teaching and learning projects that have been recognised outside the organisation

Foresight and the use of ICT for Learning

January 3rd, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Time to return to the Wales Wide Web after something of a hiatus in November and December. And I am looking forward to writing regular posts here again.

New year is a traditional time for reviewing the past year and predicting the future. I have never really indulged in this game but have spent the last two days undertaking a “landscape study” as part of an evaluation contract I am working on. And one section of it is around emerging technologies and foresight. So here is that section. I lay no claim to scientific methodology or indeed to comprehensiveness – this is just my take on what is going on – or not – and what might go on. In truth, I think the main conclusion is that very little is changing in the use of ICT for learning (perhaps  more on that tomorrow).

There are at any time a plethora of innovations and emerging developments in technology with the potential to impact on education, both in terms of curriculum and skills demands but also in their potential for teaching and learning. At the same time, educational technology has a tendency towards a ‘hype’ cycle, with prominence for particular technologies and approaches rising and fading. Some technologies, such as virtual worlds fade and disappear; others retreat from prominence only to re-emerge in the future. For that reason, foresight must be considered not just in terms of emerging technologies but in likely future uses of technologies, some which have been around some time, in education.

Emerging innovations on the horizon at present include the use of Big Data for Learning Analytics in education and the use of AI for Personalised Learning (see below); and MOOCS continue to proliferate.

VLEs and PLEs

There is renewed interest in a move from VLEs to Personal Learning Environments (PLE), although this seems to be reflected more in functionality for personalising VLEs than the emergence of new PLE applications. In part, this may be because of the need for more skills and competence from learners for self-directed learning than for the managed learning environment provided by VLEs. Personal Learning Networks have tended to be reliant on social networking application such as Facebook and Twitter. These have been adversely affected by concerns over privacy and fake news as well as realisation of the echo effect such applications engender. At the same time, there appears to be a rapid increase in the use of WhatsApp to build personal networks for exchanging information and knowledge. Indeed, one area of interest in foresight studies is the appropriation of commercial and consumer technologies for educational purposes.

Multi Media

Although hardly an emerging technology, the use of multimedia in education is likely to continue to increase, especially with the ease of making video. Podcasting is also growing rapidly and is like to have increasing impact in the education sector. Yet another relatively mature technology is the provision of digital e-books which, despite declining commercial sales, offer potential savings to educational authorities and can provide enhanced access to those with disabilities.

The use of data for policy and planning

The growing power of ICT based data applications and especially big data and AI are of increasing importance in education.

One use is in education policy and planning, providing near real-time intelligence in a wide number of areas including future numbers of school age children, school attendance, attainment, financial and resource provision and for TVET and Higher Education demand and provision in different subjects as well as providing insights into outcomes through for instance post-school trajectories and employment. More controversial issues is the use of educational data for comparing school performance, and by parents in choosing schools for their children.

Learning Analytics

A further rapid growth area is Learning Analytics (LA). LA has been defined as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.” [Reference] It is seen as assisting in informing decisions in education systems, promoting personalized learning and enabling adaptive pedagogies and practices. At least in the initial stages of development and use, Universities and schools have tended to harvest existing data drawn from Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and to analyse that data to both predict individual performance and undertake interventions which can for instance reduce drop-out rates. Other potential benefits include that LA can, for instance, allow teachers and trainers to assess the usefulness of learning materials, to increase their understanding of the learning environment in order to improve it, and to intervene to advise and assist learners. Perhaps more importantly, it can assist learners in monitoring and understanding their own activities and interactions and participation in individual and collaborative learning processes and help them to reflect on their learning.

Pardo and Siemens (YEAR?) point out that “LA is a moral practice and needs to focus on understanding instead of measuring.” In this understanding:

“learners are central agents and collaborators, learner identity and performance are dynamic variables, learning success and performance is complex and multidimensional, data collection and processing needs to be done with total transparency.”

Although initially LA has tended to be based on large data sets already available in universities, school based LA applications are being developed using teacher inputted data. This can allow teachers and understanding of the progress of individual pupils and possible reasons for barriers to learning.

Gamification

Educational games have been around for some time. The gamification of educational materials and programmes is still in its infancy and likely to continue to advance.  Another educational technology due for a revival is the development and use of e-Portfolios, as lifelong learning becomes more of a reality and employers seek evidence of job seekers current skills and competence.

Bite sized Learning

A further response to the changing demands in the workplace and the need for new skills and competence is “bite–sized” learning through very short learning modules. A linked development is micro-credentialing be it through Digital Badges or other forms of accreditation.

Learning Spaces

As ICT is increasingly adopted within education there will be a growing trend for redesigning learning spaces to reflect the different ways in which education is organised and new pedagogic approaches to learning with ICT. This includes the development of “makerspaces”. A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing. Makerspaces typically provide access to a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, computer numerical control (CNC) machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

Despite the hype around Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), the present impact on education appears limited although immersive environments are being used for training in TVET and augmented reality applications are being used in some occupational training. In the medium-term mixed reality may become more widely used in education.

Wearables

Similarly, there is some experimentation in the use of wearable devices for instance in drama and the arts but widespread use may be some time away.

Block Chain

The block chain has been developed for storing crypto currencies and is attracting interest form educational technologists. Block chain is basically a secure ledger allowing the secure recording of a chain of data transactions. It has been suggested as a solution to the verification and storage of qualifications and credentials in education and even for recording the development and adoption of Open Educational Resources. Despite this, usage in education is presently very limited and there are quite serious technical barriers to its development and wider use.

The growing power of ICT based data applications and especially big data and AI (see section 10, below) are of increasing importance in education.

The use of data for policy and planning

One use is in education policy and planning, providing near real-time intelligence in a wide number of areas including future numbers of school age children, school attendance, attainment, financial and resource provision and for TVET and Higher Education demand and provision in different subjects as well as providing insights into outcomes through for instance post-school trajectories and employment. More controversial issues is the use of educational data for comparing school performance, and by parents in choosing schools for their children.

Learning Analytics

A rapid growth area is Learning Analytics (LA). LA has been defined as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.” [Reference] It is seen as assisting in informing decisions in education systems, promoting personalized learning and enabling adaptive pedagogies and practices. At least in the initial stages of development and use, Universities and schools have tended to harvest existing data drawn from Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and to analyse that data to both predict individual performance and undertake interventions which can for instance reduce drop-out rates. Other potential benefits include that LA can, for instance, allow teachers and trainers to assess the usefulness of learning materials, to increase their understanding of the learning environment in order to improve it, and to intervene to advise and assist learners. Perhaps more importantly, it can assist learners in monitoring and understanding their own activities and interactions and participation in individual and collaborative learning processes and help them to reflect on their learning.

Pardo and Siemens point out that “LA is a moral practice and needs to focus on understanding instead of measuring.” In this understanding:

“learners are central agents and collaborators, learner identity and performance are dynamic variables, learning success and performance is complex and multidimensional, data collection and processing needs to be done with total transparency.”

Although initially LA has tended to be based on large data sets already available in universities, school based LA applications are being developed using teacher in putted data. This can allow teachers and understanding of the progress of individual pupils and possible reasons for barriers to learning.

Artificial Intelligence

In research undertaken for this report, a number of interviewees raised the importance of Artificial Intelligence in education (although a number also believed it to be over hyped).

A recent report from the EU Joint Research Council (2018) says that:

“in the next years AI will change learning, teaching, and education. The speed of technological change will be very fast, and it will create high pressure to transform educational practices, institutions, and policies.”

It goes on to say AI will have:

“profound impacts on future labour markets, competence requirements, as well as in learning and teaching practices. As educational systems tend to adapt to the requirements of the industrial age, AI could make some functions of education obsolete and emphasize others. It may also enable new ways of teaching and learning.”

However, the report also considers that “How this potential is realized depends on how we understand learning, teaching and education in the emerging knowledge society and how we implement this understanding in practice.” Most importantly, the report says, “the level of meaningful activity—which in socio-cultural theories of learning underpins advanced forms of human intelligence and learning—remains beyond the current state of the AI art.”

Although AI systems are well suited to collecting informal evidence of skills, experience, and competence from open data sources, including social media, learner portfolios, and open badges, this creates both ethical and regulatory challenges. Furthermore, there is a danger that AI could actually replicate bad pedagogic approaches to learning.

The greatest potential of many of these technologies may be for informal and non-formal learning, raising the challenge of how to bring together informal and formal learning and to recognise the learning which occurs outside the classroom.

Digitalisation in / of Vocational Education and Training

August 20th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Last November I facilitated a workshop at the European Skills Week event on research in vocational education and training. The workshop was entitled digitalisation in /of vocational education and training. There were some five of us in the workshop and we had about two hours to answer a series of questions based on the following framework.

vet research framework

Despite the too short time, I think what we came up with is a good starting point and the discussion will continue in a round table session at the European Conference on Educational Research in Bolzano, Italy in September.

Research Desiderata & Questions

The following central research questions and / or desiderata in this field were identified:

  • How do processes of digital transitions and transformations impact on VET and what are the mediation processes and artefacts involved?
  • Digital technologies are changing the nature and organisation of work, and the skills and competences required. This is happening simultaneously at a sectoral level and a global level. The new skills and competences are mediated in interactions between different actors but also between actors and objects. These processes of mediation to a large extent shape the practices of using digital technologies.
  • In a critical appraisal of digitalisation in VET, what are the different possibilities for the future: What is and more importantly what could be?
  • There is a tendency to take technologies and replicate past paradigms – hence for instance the idea of a ‘digital classroom’. Yet digital technologies open new possibilities for vocational education and training. To understand what ‘could be’ requires a critique of existing practices in VET and of the early adoption of technologies for teaching and learning.
  • How do digital technologies and transformations affect the creation and meaning of work at a sectoral and global level?
  • As technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence are fast being adopted in different sectors and occupations, the future form of work and work organisation is being questioned. Alongside the digital transformations impacting in many sectors, sections of capitalism have advocated digital disruption based on new business models. The use of technology in this way raises Issues of social justice and values. What should be the role of VET in providing the skills and competences to shape the meaning and values of future work and innovation?

Explanation & Justification

Analytical Level

Macro Level

The changing nature of work due to the emergence of new technologies can potentially be shaped. To an extent how technology impacts on work is dependent on values. Equally digital transformations can build on existing skills and competences and older forms of knowledge. To understand these processes requires research at a sector level.

Technological unemployment should not be viewed as simply an issue requiring upskilling, but as questioning forms and organisation of work within society. Life skills are equally important in developing resilience for future employment.

We need a greater understanding of how old knowledge forms are transformed into new knowledge in the digital age.

Meso Level

Institutions mediate processes of skill and competence formation related to digitalisation. What is the relation between specific digital skills required in different sectors and occupations to basic and transversal digital skills? How can skills and knowledge acquired formally or informally in the workplace be linked to education and training in VET institutions.

At the same time, digitalisation provides new possibilities for teaching and learning, for example through augmented reality. This in turn requires the adoption of new pedagogic approaches for VET. Present practices in the adoption of Learning Management Systems form socio-tech systems and may prioritise or marginalise different skills and knowledge.

Micro Level

What are the skills and knowledge required not only to deal with and shape technology in the workplace (in different occupations and sectors) but also for living in the digital age? How does technology transform the work identity of individuals and how do individuals change their own identity for dealing with the changing world of work? What are the life skills that develop the residence required by individuals to deal with digitalisation at a societal level?

Analytical Focus

Learners / Students

Understanding the processes of digital transformation is critical to developing future oriented curricula for learners and students. At the same time, emergent technologies – such as robotics and artificial technologies – call into question existing societal forms of wage labour – once more requiring new curricula for life skills.

We need to focus not only on formal initial training in VET, but on informal learning in the work process leading to identity transformations.

Object / Process

Objects and artefacts play a key role in mediating learning in VET. These artefacts are themselves becoming transformed through digital technologies.

The use of technology opens up new possibilities and contexts for learning, including directly in the workplace. It also potentially empowers processes of social learning, with learners themselves acting as facilitators for other people’s learning and for developing and sharing knowledge within social settings.

This requires research for understanding how such social learning processes can be developed, how new forms of knowledge are acquired and what role objects and artefacts play in these processes.

Trainers / Teachers

There are many examples of good practice in the use of technology for learning in VET and of teachers and trainers sharing knowledge and experiences online. However, many teachers and trainers also feel left behind by the rapid changes in technologies both within occupations and for teaching and training.

Research suggests that best practices are not being generalised because existing models of professional development for teachers and trainers do not scale to meet needs.

An understanding of the possibilities for future VET, requires an understanding by teachers and trainers of the potentials of using technology in their own practice.

Public policy is key to the digital economy

February 7th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Interesting research from Harvard Business Review who have introduced the Digital Evolution Index  to trace the emergence of a “digital planet,” how physical interactions — in communications, social and political exchange, commerce, media and entertainment — are being displaced by digitally mediated ones.

They outline five “features of the global digital economy”:

  • Digital players wield outsize market power.
  • Digital technologies are poised to change the future of work
  • Digital markets are uneven.
  • Digital commerce must still contend with cash.
  • Digital technology is widespread and spreading fast.

Each of these five features, they say, “contains both upsides and challenges. Moreover, how strongly each of them is felt varies depending on where you are in the world”

The report produces a map of counties digital development divided into four zones: Stand Out, Stall Out, Break Out, Watch Out.

But by far the most interesting comments come in the conclusions:

Digital innovators should recognize that public policy is essential to the success of the digital economy. Countries with high-performing digital sectors, such as those in the EU, typically have had strong government/policy involvement in shaping the digital economies.

This comes despite the popular business press obsession with so called digital disruption which poses public policy as a barrier to change and innovation.

What is industry 4.0?

August 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I’ve long wondered what is meant by industry 4.0. Some shining techno world of robots and Artificial Intelligence? Or the end of batch production for individualised goods (although we have been told this is happening for the last thirty or so years). The rise of service – although how does this relate to industry and it is hardly new? And whatever was Industry 3.0, 2.0 and 1.0 for that matter?

Erinc Yeldan, Professor of Economics at Yasar University, sums it up pretty well writing in Social Europe. In an article entitled “Beyond Fantasies Of Industry 4.0″, he says”

As a popularized futuristic concept for the 21st Century, “Industry 4.0” reveals a Messianic expectation of a technological revolution encompassing the utilization of advance techniques of digital design and robotics for the production of “high value-added goods”. It doesn’t matter in this conjuncture, nor of relevance, to ask what the characteristics of the first three episodes of industrialization were, and why do we conceptualize the emerged fourth industrial advance with a digitalized mark (4.0), rather than in plain English. It seems what matters now is the urgent need for creating an image of vibrant capitalism serving its citizens in the embrace of globalization.

If we accept the idea of Industry 4.0 as real (and I am highly dubious), Erinc thinks the question of ownership is critical for the future:

..to whom will the ownership rights of the robots belong? States as owners of public (-?) capital? Private ownership as organized along trans-national corporations under the post-imperialist phase of global capital? Men and women of the scientific community who in the first place designed and projected them? Or perhaps, a de-centralized, democratically operating societal network, above and beyond nation states?

Although I agree, this is just a part of the argument about teh future of technology. Technology is not a natural phenomenon, it is a socially derived process. How we use technology – for private profit or for public good is a political and social issue. It is long time the meanings and assumptions of the Industry 4.0 fantasy were explored from a social viewpoint.

The return of printed books

July 25th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

The various reports (see for example this article in BoingBoing) detailing the upturn in the sale of printed books in the UK, and a corresponding downturn in the sales of e-books are interesting, if only because it shows that trends towards digital products are not irreversible.

And although I eagerly embraced the ebook trend, I find myself increasingly buying traditional books. Why? Firstly, I think a book is just more enjoyable as a product, as a design artefact. Secondly, whilst I bought an early Kindle, I refuse to be tied in to Amazons social and economic ecosystem. I use a Android tablet now as an ebook reader and it generally works OK, but can be fiddly with different formats and finding downloads (NB Verso books has the answer – providing multiple formats, no DRM locks, and a variety of means of accessing copies). However, the tablet screen is not really readable in bright light, which certainly is a disadvantage in southern European countries.

I very much like the Chrome plugin allowing users to browse books on Amazon and then providing information on where they can be bought in the nearest bookshop. But although Amazon’s recommender system was a novelty at first, that novelty has worn out. It is just too damn predictable: the joy of bookshop browsing is in finding the unexpected and of course the ability to read the first few pages before deciding whether to buy. From a research point of view I find it much easier to recall where in a paper book the quote or section I want is, although that is probably my incompetence with productivity tools in electronic media.

And just like record shops, independent bookshops are upping their game, becoming more community and event oriented. It is difficult, if not impossible, for online bookshops to compete on these terms (although once more Verso does a pretty good job).

So I am not surprised at the return of the book but I wonder which sector or product is next in line for reverse digital disruption (unflipping the classroom)?

Looking back at three years of Learning Layers – Part One: Challenges and responses

October 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the moment the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing documents for the review of the Year 3 – an interim review to pave the way for the final year. In this context we have a chance to consider the development of the project and our activities in a new light. Now we have more perspective to reflect, how we have encountered the challenges and to what extent our responses have brought us further. In this first post I will focus on the challenges of of the early phase and on the role of participative design processes and capacity building initiatives.

1. Challenges met in the beginning of construction pilot (Year 1)

In the beginning phase of the Learning Layers project the application partner organisations (Bau-ABC Rostrup, Agency and Network for ecological construction work -Agentur/NNB and the construction companies) had difficulties to see, how to use digital media, web tools and mobile technologies as support for working and learning. Partly this was due to a scattered picture of single tools and apps, many of which had been designed for laymen users and only few for construction specialists. Partly this was due to general doubts that mobile devices at training and working sites provide distraction, safety risks and data privacy risks. Partly this was due to prior negative experiences with earlier generation of ‘new technologies’ (mobile offices based on laptops, faxes etc.) that did not bring the expected efficiency but added to the workload.

As a response, the research partners and the application partners started looking for solutions that would provide more transparency to training, learning and instructive activities as well as facilitate accessing, sharing and reusing digital contents. In a similar way the apprentices in Bau-ABC that participated in a User Survey  indicated that they were already using mobile devices to support learning (but had very limited awareness of relevant web tools and apps).

2. The importance of participative design activities and capacity building initiatives (Year 2 and Year 3)

After an initial search phase in the co-design activities the emphasis was shifted to the co-design and co-development of Learning Toolbox as a framework for using digital media, web tools and apps via mobile device. Here it is worthwhile to note the shift of emphasis from particular design idea (digitisation of learning materials and/or reporting documents) to a flexible framework with which users can shape their own digital working and learning environment. In this way the design idea transformed into a an integrative toolset that needs to be linked to complementary apps, tools and web resources. In order to achieve this, the project had to start capacity building measures that contributed to users’ awareness and skills.

As a response, the research partners ITB and Pontydysgu organised during Y2 a series of Multimedia Training workshops that helped Bau-ABC trainers to start working independently with their own blogs, edit video materials and use other digital tools. Based on this experience, Bau-ABC trainers produced a series of videos, in which they (together with apprentices) demonstrated potential uses of Learning Toolbox at training sites and in actual construction work situations.

In the next phase the Bau-ABC trainers continued the training as peer learning sessions and developed a new flexible training model – the “Theme rooms” – to spread the training across the whole organisation. At the same time the co-design sessions with Bau-ABC trainers have turned into co-development exercises in which they have created their own stacks to provide access to training materials and other resources (user instruction manuals, maintenance manuals etc.) that are relevant in their trades.

I think this is enough of this issue – the implementation of the Them Rooms in Bau-ABC and the reporting on parallel developments in the construction sector pilot is a matter for the reports. I wanted to highlight here the fact that our application partner (Bau-ABC) and the trainers are taking initiatives to give Internet a major role as the fourth learning venue (alongside workplace, school and intermediate training centre) and they are becoming owners of the innovations.

More blogs to come …

Digital Disruption or Digital Transformations

October 20th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I have spent a good deal of time in the last few weeks thinking and reviewing the progress we have made in the European Research Programme funded Learning Layers project

. The project aims to research, develop, implement and promote technologies for learning in Small and Medium Enterprisse (SMEs). As with all projects funded under the Research Programme, we are subject to an annual review and have to submit reports on the work undertaken for the review.  This in itself is an interesting exercise, involving at least four or five authors from different countries and often different disciplines working together.

I have written the introduction to the report, focusing on the impact of what I describe as digital transformations on SMEs and on learning. Although our work focuses on the construction and health sectors, I think the development processes and the research findings are relevant to far wider sectors. Over the next week I will blog sections of the report. I see this as opening up our internal review procedure to a wider audience and welcome any feedback, critical or otherwise. The first section is on digital transformations, as opposed to digital disruptions.

There has been a great deal of focus, especially in the popular press, on the impact of Information and Communication Technologies on society through the term ‘digital disruption’. Digital disruption posits the inability of existing organisations and companies to respond to emerging new technologies and thus leaving them open to disruptive entrants who are more innovative and flexible in organisational approaches and technology adoption.

We see little evidence of such digital disruption in either the healthcare or construction sectors. However there is no doubt of the fast growing impact of digital technologies in both sectors, for example 3D printing and Building Information Modelling in construction and self diagnosis applications, big data, health apps and telemedicine / telehealth in healthcare (see the following sections below for more details of these changes). But rather than seeing these as disrupting existing organisations, there is more evidence that these organisations themselves are being transformed in order to adapt to and exploit new technologies. This we would see as digital transformations.

Digital transformation refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society (Stolterman and Croon Fors, 2004). It is seen as involving the application of digital competence and digital literacies to enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods (Lankshear, 2008), In November 2011, a three-year study conducted by the MIT Center for Digital Business and Capgemini Consulting concluded that only one-third of companies globally have an effective digital transformation program in place (Capgemini Consulting. 2011).

The study defined an “effective digital transformation program” as one that addressed

  • “The What”: the intensity of digital initiatives within a corporation
  • “The How”: the ability of a company to master transformational change to deliver business results. (ibid)

Our research in health and construction paints a rather more complicated picture, although we would generally concur with the MIT study outcomes. In this it is notable that we are working primarily with SMEs rather than with corporations and that SMEs rarely have the resources to develop complex programmes of transformation. Our research suggest a very uneven pattern, with enterprises and especially training organisations increasingly aware of the challenges digital technologies play, but with differentiated drivers for change in different trades in construction and different organisational impulses in health care, along with continuing barriers to transformations that also impact on the adoption of new forms of learning. It should also be noted that our own project research and development processes have led to a greater awareness of the impact of digital technologies and the capacity building activities that the project has undertaken are designed precisely to develop the ability of SMEs to master transformational change.

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    News Bites

    Open Educational Resources

    BYU researcher John Hilton has published a new study on OER, student efficacy, and user perceptions – a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Looking at sixteen efficacy and twenty perception studies involving over 120,000 students or faculty, the study’s results suggest that students achieve the same or better learning outcomes when using OER while saving a significant amount of money, and that the majority of faculty and students who’ve used OER had a positive experience and would do so again.


    Digital Literacy

    A National Survey fin Wales in 2017-18 showed that 15% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Wales do not regularly use the internet. However, this figure is much higher (26%) amongst people with a limiting long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.

    A new Welsh Government programme has been launched which will work with organisations across Wales, in order to help people increase their confidence using digital technology, with the aim of helping them improve and manage their health and well-being.

    Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being, follows on from the initial Digital Communities Wales (DCW) programme which enabled 62,500 people to reap the benefits of going online in the last two years.

    See here for more information


    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.


    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time


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