Archive for the ‘digital revolution’ Category

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.

Digital Curation

May 13th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

As I wrote in an earlier post, I am signed up for a MOOC on Digital Curation. I will post each assignment on the Wales wide Web as well as in the course forum. This weeks assignment is to introduce ourselves. And I though I had better explain what I was doing lurking in a community of expert librarians, museum staff and the rest.

“I work for Pontydysgu, a small company based in Pontypridd in Wales. Most of our work focuses on the use of new technologies for learning in a range of different contexts including in primary schools, in the community and in work. I am especially interested in informal learning and how informal learning can lead to knowledge development and sharing.

One of the projects we are currently involved in s called Employ-ID. Funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Research Programme it is looking at the chafing professional identities of worker in Public Employment services in Europe and how new technologies can be used for professional development for instance through online coaching.

We are planning to run a series of MOCCs as part of this project and the project partners have agreed themselves to do a MOOC as part of our won learning project.

So why did I choose to do a course of digital curation? I have spent a lot of time working on the development of Open Educational Resources (OERs). Open Educational Resources are resources for learning and teaching that are open to use. But resources means not only content and materials but also tools for content creation and sharing as well as intellectual property licenses for using these resources freely and openly.

Open Educational Resources include: Open courseware and content; Open software tools; Open material for e-learning capacity building of faculty staff; Repositories of learning objects; Free educational courses. C Central to the idea of Open Educational Resources is not only should they be freely available for use but teachers should be able to themselves edit and change these resources to meet their needs and the needs of learner.

It strikes me that many of the digital objects being grated by participants in this course could be a very rick source of learning. more than that it also seems that many of the issues in digital cur action are very similar to those sound OERs – for example

  • how do we classify and structure resources
  • how do we ensure digital resources are discoverable
  • how do we measure the quality of resources
  • how can we encourage people to interact with resources.

And finally I think that the best answers to these questions may come through an interdisciplinary dialogue. So I am looking forward to learning from you!”

Digital Scholarship

April 18th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I have recently had a series of conversations with Cristina Costa on ideas around digital scholarship (we might even publish something together on this in the future!). And by luck I found this interesting presentation by Cristobal Cobo Romaní. The presnetation is based on a paper he has written. Cristobal says on his blog: “Widespread access to digital technologies has enabled digital scholars to access, create, share, and disseminate academic contents in innovative and diversified ways. Today academic teams in different places can collaborate in virtual environments by conducting scholarly work on the Internet. Two relevant dimensions that have been deeply affected by the emergence of digital scholarship are new facets of knowledge generation (wikis, e-science, online education, distributed R&D, open innovation, open science, peer-based production, online encyclopedias, user generated content) and new models of knowledge circulation and distribution (e-journals, open repositories, open licenses, academic podcasting initiatives, etc.).:

PISA vs Politics

November 4th, 2011 by Jenny Hughes

After a particularly tedious week and the prospect of a working weekend, Friday afternoon did not promise a lot. However, the last thing in the electronic in-tray today was to have a look at the entries for a competition Pontydysgu is sponsoring as part of the Learning About Politics project.

The competition was aimed at 8-14 year olds and asked them to write a story using any combination of digital media

“The theme for your story should be on a political event that has happened – or is currently happening – in Wales.
We are not just interested in the facts but on your opinions and impressions. For example, how do you feel about the event you are describing? Who do you agree with and why? What have been the consequences of the event you have chosen?”

Suddenly life got a lot better! The black and white world of education that I seem to have lived in for the last few weeks was in brilliant technicolour. The stories were variously funny, poignant, angry, persuasive and insightful. All of them were well researched, referenced, technically at a level that would put many class teachers to shame and above all, they entertained me and taught me a whole lot I didn’t know. Surely the definition of a good learning experience!

(And by the time I had settled down with a glass of wine and a cigarette, the learning environment seemed pretty good as well).

The thing that cheered me up the most was that these kids had opinions – well argued, well expressed and authentic. I was pretty rubbish at history (Was? ‘Am’ actually! More maths and physics, me…) but short of those exam questions which always started “Compare and contrast….” or “What arguments would you use to support …something ” I don’t ever remember being allowed to have a ‘real’ opinion on anything historical, still less encouraged to express them if I did. Especially not in primary school – I think I was doing post-grad before I earned that privilege.

Which brings me on to my main point! There is a great public panic at the moment about Wales’s performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) because they are two beans behind somewhere or other, half a Brownie point below an average or a nanopoint lower than last time. Puhlease!!

I am not being dismissive from a point of total ignorance here – some years ago I worked on the PISA statistics and the methodology for several months; I even remember doing a keynote presentation at European Conference for Education Research on PISA . Nor am I suggesting that standards do not matter. What I am saying is that the ‘Ain’t it awful’ media frenzy generated by the Smartie counting exercise that is PISA – and the politicians’ heavy-handed response – does a huge disservice to this generation of feisty, articulate and confident kids. And to the amazing generation of teachers that scaffold their learning.

Working in Pontydysgu, being a teacher trainer and a very active school governor means that I spend a lot of time in classrooms and my contention is that 99% of teachers are doing a fantastic job under pretty rubbish conditions. (Did I say this in a previous post? Yes? Well I don’t care – it needs to be shouted from the roof tops).

So what am I going to do about it? Firstly, I am tempted to rewrite the newspaper headlines showing that Welsh education is improving and is better than ‘average’. A claim I could easily back-up by a different manipulation of the PISA figures. Secondly, I could point out that the PISA survey takes place every four years but that changes at the lower age ranges – such as the introduction of the new 3-7 yr old Foundation Phase in Wales (which is awesome) will not impact on PISA results for another nine years so knee-jerk changes to ‘fix’ things seem a bit premature. Thirdly, I could argue that putting so much store on paper-based testing in Reading, Maths and Science as the measure of success of ‘a broad and balanced curriculum’ and ‘pupil-centred, experiential learning’ is a bit of an oxymoron. Fourthly, I could remind our government that Wales led the way on getting rid of SATs and league tables on the very valid grounds that comparisons are unfair because they are not comparing like with like. They funded research which showed standardised testing to be unhelpful, demotivating and did nothing to improve performance. So on a local and national level they don’t work – do they suddenly work on an international one? Or maybe I should become a politician and take on the establishment in the debating chamber – but Hey! I’ve just found there’s a whole new generation of politically astute, sussed and sorted 10year olds who are going to do that much better than I could. Fifteen years from now, it’s going to be move over Minister! Leighton Andrews – ‘your’ education system has much to be proud of.

P.S. I might put some of the entries on the Pontydysgu website over the next few weeks so that you can see for yourself. Any teacher interested in getting their kids to write and publish political stories too, have a look at the Learning About Politics website and get back to us.

Evaluation 2.0 – the Slidecast

August 2nd, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Late last year Jenny Hughes made a keynote presentation on Evaluation 2.0 for the UK Evaluation society. And pretty quickly we were getting requests for the paper of the presentation and the presentation slides. The problem is that we have not yet got round to writing the paper. And Jen, like me uses most of her canvas space for pictures not bullet points on her slides. This makes the presentation much more attractive but it is difficult sometimes to gleam the meaning from the pictures alone.

So we decided we would make a slidecast of the presentation. But, half way through, we realised it wasn’t working. Lacking an audience and just speaking to the slides, it was coming over as stilted and horribly dry. So we started again and changed the format. rather than seeing it as a straightforward presentation, Jen and I just chatted about the central ideas. I think it works pretty well.

We started from the question of what is Web2.0.Jen says “At its simplest, it’s about using social software at all stages of the evaluation process in order to make it more open, more transparent and more accessible to a wider range of stakeholder.” But editing the slidecast I realised we had talked a lot more than about evaluation. This chat really deals with Web 2.0 and the different ways we are developing and sharing knowledge, the differences between expert knowledge and crows sourced knowledge and new roles for teachers, trainers and evaluators resulting from the changing uses of social media.

Digital Transformations with Internet Radio

July 22nd, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Sorry for the lack of posts here lately. I have been travelling, firstly in Wales, then London, on to the PLE conference In Southampton, from there back to London, Bremen and then on to Porto where I am now. This has left me with a serious backlog of posts which I will try to get on topof next week.

I am in Porto for the Gary Chapman International School on Digital Transformations. The school, according to the web site, is for advanced students and emerging professionals, social entrepreneurs, and activists from around the world with an interest in digital technology and the enrichment of civil society. It aims to explore the potential for digital media to empower citizens, strengthen communities, and contribute to a more vibrant civil society.

I am still not quite sure what is really being meant by digital transformations. Indeed, I am not vven sure that we are not overly focusing on technologies, whilst lacking a shared vision of how we want society to develop. But I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to talk with so many talented epople from different disciplines, interests and cultures.

Togther with Cristina Costa, I was invited to join the ‘faculty’ for the school. And they told us that they welcomed novel and active approaches to the one and a half hours allocated for each faculty memmber to present their work. So Cristina and I pooled  our time and instead of a formal presentation ran a workshop on using internet radio. Particpants had two and a half hours working in groups to plan their slots, followed by a half hour live internet radio broadcast. It turned out to be great fun. We were not really sure how such a workshop would work with a large group of people with so much expertise in different fields. But what was very encouraging was the intense discussions the workshop tasks provoked around the meanings of the different apsects of digital transformations and how much the participants enjoyed the event (at least they told us they did!).

Many thanks to eveyone who took part. Special thanks to audio engineer Rui Silva who agreed at very short notice to support us and ended up running a workshop himself om the techncial side of internet radio. Rui also did the post processing for the podcast version posted here.

Education, the knowledge society and employment

March 3rd, 2011 by Graham Attwell

An important article in the Guardian newspaper entitled “The awful truth: education won’t start the west getting poorer”. The article challenges a number of assertions which seem to have become accepted ‘facts’ over the last few years.

Anyone who has written proposals for the European Commission will know the mantra of the Lisbon Agreement. By the year 2010 Europe will be the most advanced knowledge economy of the year. Now quietly forgotten , this bombastic policy goal was based on a number of unproved assumptions. First was the nature of the economy itself. Yes, we may have a greater proportion of knowledge as capital in the production process than in previous times and the numbers involved in service industries have increased but the capitalist economies remain relaint on production as the primary source of wealth and indeed of employment.

And whilst the number of occupations and jobs requiring higher skills and knowledge levels has increased, there remain many low skilled jobs, especially in the growing services sector.

There were two main ways Europe was to achieve its preeminent status in world economies. The first was through implementing ever higher levels of technology. Once more the link between technology, productivity and economic growth are contestable and difficult to measure. technology can increase productivity and lead to growth. however, there have been a number fo studies showing that the implementation of new technologies has actually reduced productivity, at least in the short term. And if technology merely reduces the workforce, this can inhibit economic growth and stability.

There has also been a long running assumption that higher levevls of education and qualification will also lead to higher productivity and higher wage levels. Botha re unproven. And as the data quoted in the Guardian shows real wage levels in teh UK are actually falling.

In fact it is some of those occupations lauded as the jobs of the future that pay rates have fallen most dramatically in comparative terms. Computer programmers pay has been steadily falling for the last five years in the UK.

The Guardian also points out how so called knowledge jobs are being deskilled “They are being chopped up, codified and digitised. Every high street once had bank managers who used their discretion and local knowledge to decide which customers should receive loans. Now software does the job. Human judgment is reduced to a minimum, which explains why loan applicants are often denied because of some tiny, long-forgotten overdue payment.”

The Guardian quotes Brown, Lauder and Ashton who call this “digital Taylorism”, after Frederick Winslow Taylor who invented “scientific management” to improve industrial efficiency.”

And of course with Globalisation and new forms of communciation many of these jobs are simply being shifted or outsourced to workers in other countries, especially to lower wage economies. At the same time, countries such as India and China are rapidly expanding their education systems, with a dramatic growth in science and technology graduates.

In many ways this is a perfect storm, hence the title of the Guardian article. it certaibly adds focrce to teh growing debate about the Purpose of Education abd challenges the idea that educations hould merely focus on so called employability skills. Secondly it may lead us to rethink what sort of jobs we want in society? I am interested in the survival of the craft sector in gemrany, depsite the assumption in the UK that such jobs had no future. Indeed its eems that thsoe countries with strong apprenticeship systems, valuaing handicraft and applied skills and knowledge may be better placed for the future than thiose such as UK which went down the road of developing a mass higher education system for the knowledge society.

Don’t blame the technology!

March 29th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
Sometimes I wonder why people want to use technology in their practice. Is it because it’s a recognised trend in their professional sphere/discipline? Is it because others are doing it? Is it because it makes them look cool and modern? …maybe it is a bit of all…? And in a way they are all plausible answers. [...]
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    MOOC providers in 2016

    According to Class Central a quarter of the new MOOC users  in 2016 came from regional MOOC providers such as  XuetangX (China) and Miríada X (Latin America).

    They list the top five MOOC providers by registered users:

    1. Coursera – 23 million
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    Jobs in cyber security

    In a new fact sheet the Tech Partnership reveals that UK cyber workforce has grown by 160% in the five years to 2016. 58,000 people now work in cyber security, up from 22,000 in 2011, and they command an average salary of over £57,000 a year – 15% higher than tech specialists as a whole, and up 7% on last year. Just under half of the cyber workforce is employed in the digital industries, while banking accounts for one in five, and the public sector for 12%.


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    Times Higher Education reports the number of first-year students from outside the European Union enrolling at UK universities fell by 1 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

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    Despite a large increase in the number of students enrolling from China, a cohort that has grown by 12,500 since 2011-12, enrolments by students from India fell by 13,150 over the same period.

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    According to the Guardian, research conducted with more than 6,300 authors of journal articles, peer reviewers and journal editors revealed that over two-thirds of researchers who have never peer reviewed a paper would like to. Of that group (drawn from the full range of subject areas) more than 60% said they would like the option to attend a workshop or formal training on peer reviewing. At the same time, over two-thirds of journal editors told the researchers that it is difficult to find reviewers


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