Archive for the ‘Lifelong learning’ Category

Personal Learning Environments – The book

April 22nd, 2013 by Cristina Costa

My dear friends Linda Castañeda and Jordi Adell have just published a new book on Personal Learning Environments: Key aspects of an online educational ecosystem (my translation for Entornos personales de aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red)

portadaThe book is innovative in different ways:

- It touches on very pertinent aspects of teaching and learning online. With a focus on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), the book goes on to explore several interrelated themes such as Flexible and Open Learning, Pedagogical Approaches to PLEs, Technological possibilities,  and the future of PLEs, just to name a few.

- I also like the fact that the book is divided in 4 distinct parts:

  1. An overview on PLEs (providing insights into the technological and pedagogical perspectives of a PLE as an online learning ecosystem)
  2. A practical section with useful examples on how to set up and use PLEs in different educational contexts
  3. A section on new research on PLEs
  4. And a final section on complementary perspectives of PLEs as a learning ecosystem

- There is an open access version of the book that is super easy to navigate and use. (Like… it a LOT)

- And as a bonus, it is licensed in Creative Commons!  It’s a winner

Well done Linda and Jordi, and all the authors as well. It’s a great project.

 

Ricardo Torres and I also wrote a chapter for the book Professional development, lifelong learning, and Personal Learning Environments.

Thank you 3 for the opportunity! ;-)

How can we make work in construction trendy?

March 25th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

For some reason the construction industry is not a sexy research area. Motor cars, yes, machine tools, yes, the computer industry, yes, yes, yes. But poor old construction, boring. Yet in economic terms, construction could be seen as the most important sector in Europe.

Our initial research under the Learning Layers project reveals some interesting contradictions. The construction industry is probably the biggest victim of the present recession. Even the neo liberal UK government is now taking actions to stimulate house building – through the partial nationalisation of mortgage debts. Probably an emphasis on infrastructure projects or on social housing would have had a bigger impact and would have avoided the risk of another house price bubble. But the fact they are doing anything at all shows the problem.

But whilst the recession has badly hit profitability and employment another concern has arisen in our interviews with construction companies. Managers are severely worried about the ability to recruit new trainees and particularly to recruit the better educated apprentices they see as critical to cope with the increasing use of technology in construction. Managers point to the major issue as being the image of the industry – just as in research they consider the industry not to be sufficiently sexy. They are less likely to discuss issues such as wages, opportunities for progression or just the sheer hard physical work involved in many construction trades. Having said that, reality may be very different from practice in other images which have a positive image. Work in the games industry can be hard, poorly paid and boring. And for every kid who makes a fortune out of a mobile app, thousands make no money at all.

Either way they are right in that there will almost certainly be demand for new skills to deal with technology – both in the uses of technology for construction but perhaps more important the changing materials being used in building today, not least due to ecologiocal and energy saving concerns and legislation. Whilst improving initial education training programmes is one response and attempting to improve the image of the industry, the big challenge may be to improve research and development and to develop more continuous training for existing employees. In this short extract form previous research, below, we provide an overview of the industry in Europe and Germany, together with issues in how training – or informal learning – might be improved.

The total turnover of the construction industry in 2010 (EU27) was 1186 billion Euros forming 9,7% of the GDP in 2010 (EU27). The construction industry is the biggest industrial employer in Europe with 13,9 million operatives making up 6,6% of the total employment in EU27. In addition it has a substantial influence on other industries represented by a multiplier effect. According to a study by the European Commission, 1 person working in the construction industry is responsible for 2 further persons working in other sectors. Therefore, it is estimated that 41,7 million workers in the EU depend, directly or indirectly, on the construction sector. Out of the 3,1 million enterprises 95% are SMEs with fewer than 20 and 93% with fewer than 10 operatives.   The level of investment in R&D in the European construction sector is low compared to other sectors. The construction sector only invests a small portion of its total production value in research, development, and innovation.

The developments of new processes and materials provide substantial challenges for the construction industry. The traditional educational and training methods are proving to be insufficient as the rapid emergence of new skill and quality requirements (for example those related to green building techniques) require much faster involvement and action on all three levels (individual, organisational and cluster) in order to react quickly to these changes and exploit opportunities. Without this the market potential is hampered by lack of innovation skills and training gaps (Dittrich, Deitmer 2003). The increased rate of technical change introduces greater uncertainty for firms, which, in turn, demands an increased capacity for problem solving skills (Toner 2011, 7). This situation is aggravated in some fast developing European Regions because skilled craftspeople are missing. Therefore there is increasing need for rapid re- and upskilling of the building workforce across the construction cluster.

The construction industry in Germany is one of the country’s most stable economic sectors. Providing jobs to more than 2,2 million people it holds a market share of 21% making the German construction sector the largest in the EU27 in terms of production value. In Germany the federal states, enterprises and the apprentices share the costs of the dual education system (practical training in schools and on-site training). The German compensation fund for construction industry SOKA-BAU reported a total of 270 million Euros of training allowances and job training costs in 2010 making it just a little more than 0,1% of the total production value. In fact, the building trade has one of the lowest participation rates for employees towards further training provision than any other sector (TNS INFRATEST 2008). This is because much of the formal training offering is only weakly connected with real work tasks. The cost pressure in building enterprises limits chances for time-consuming training measures far away from the workplace (Schulte, Spöttl, 2009). Any mobile support for learning and informing at the work place would be welcomed by companies as well as by building workers themselves. With enterprises paying for all the costs associated with the on-the-job training, SMEs need a cost effective solution to overcome the issues that occur with the rapid development in the technologies, processes and materials.

Learning Layers: supporting the emergence of innovation clusters

February 4th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

My colleague Pekka from the University of Bremen has posted a series of useful reports on this site about the Application Partner Days, held as part of the Learning Layers project, funded by the European Commission IST programme.

Learning layers is aiming to increase the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises in Europe, particularly through the use of mobile devices for informal learning in two ‘industry clusters, in the north German construction industry and in the medical sector in north east England.

Obviously such a project faces a number of challenges, given the slow take up of technology enhanced learning in SMEs. The Application Partner Days are designed to bring developers and researchers together with potential end users in organisations in the two sectors. And prior to the Application partner Days in north Germany, we also spent two days visiting companies and organisations in the sector responsible for education and training and for policy development in this area.

Rather than repeat Pekka’s excellent summary of the proceedings, I will offer a few observations, based on my own attempts to make sense of all we saw and of our discussions.

Firstly there is a perception that there are barriers to introducing technology for learning in small enterprises. But most people we spoke to were overwhelmingly positive about the potential especially of mobile devices. Although it was felt there may be some individual resistance, due to lack of familiarity or fears over privacy, in general it was felt that mobile devices would be easily accepted, especially by younger workers. Indeed, some people we talked to felt that introducing technology could make the construction industry more attractive and help overcome recruitment problems. The big driver for this seems to be the increasing everyday use of internet enabled phones. And  flat rate data contracts mean more workers are prepared to use the ir own device for work purposes.

The issue of sharing between enterprises is more problematic. Some seem willing to share data, others less so. My impression is that this is a new situation where companies are undecided on the implications of sharing. And, of course there are worries over privacy and security, particularly and understandably in the medical sector. Interestingly, I was talking last weekend with someone responsible for the introduction of mobile devices in a major agency in the UK. One of their key requirements is that data is not held in the USA, due to fears over US security policies.

During the different workshop and focus group sessions we held in the Application Partner Days, we sought to gather ideas for applications which could be useful within the SMEs. A number of these =focused on better communication and information flows. The boundary between applications that support learning and those supporting communication and information exchange is becoming blurred. Better information provision can support informal learning but this may not be an automatic process.

Even though the Learning Layers project has relatively generous funding support from the European Commission, there are of course limits to what we can do. Even with the increasing functionality of Software Development Kits and frameworks, development takes time and resources. How do we decide what developments we wish to prioritise. And at the same time there is an avalanche of commercial applications being made available for both Apple and Android operating systems.

One answer may be to develop interlinked physical and on-line ‘Demonstration Centres’ which can bring together both relevant commercial Applications with apps produced through the Layers project.

A second approach may to to focus on boundary points. Obviously the medical and construction sectors both contain workers from different occupations organised through various structures and networks. These I would characterise as Communities of Practice. It is where innovations – both technical and social – occur that innovation occurs and new cluster emerge transcending the boundaries between traditional Communities of Practice and occupations and challenging existing occupational practices. It may be that it is at these points that the need for learning and new forms of collaborative working are at there greatest. Of course much of this learning is informal. And if the boundary points offer opportunities for the emergence of new innovation clusters, they may also serve to frustrate innovation where learning is impeded by existing organisational and occupational practices.

Lets try and provide a couple of examples to make this discussion a little less abstract! In the construction industry we can see a series of emergent innovation networks in the area of green or ecological construction. these involve collaboration by workers from different occupations using new materials, or old materials in new ways and developing new practices. Similarly, the use of Programmable Logic Controllers is crossing boundaries between programming and electrical installation. In the medical industry, we are looking at new practices and forms of organisation for supporting those with diabetes.

If we focus resources on such emergent practices, the result might be both to stimulate economic and social sustainability for small enterprises, to promote sustainable growth and the generation of new employment and at the same time support the development of knowledge maturing and informal learning within and between Communities of Practice.

Lastly but not least. The Learning layers project will run for four years and is keen to involve organisations and researchers interested in our work. You can sign up on the Layers website to become part of a Stakeholder Network, giving enhanced access to the work and to the applications being developed.

 

 

RadioActive Europe

January 14th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

A lot of the work we do in Pontydysgu is sponsored by the European Commission through its various programmes for supporting life long learning and the use of technology for learning. this has its advantages and its downsides. It allows us to undertake work which would be too risky on a commercial basis. And it is great to develop partnerships with organisations in different European countries. On the other hand, communication can be tricky. It is time consuming to develop project proposals, the funding is increasingly highly competitive and it is sometimes hard to see why some projects are approved whilst others are not. And, the reporti8ng, especially the financial reporting is increasingly bureaucratic and time consuming. In reality, too, the funding is often not sufficient for the work we want to do and thus we end up subsidising the publicly funded projects with income from better paid private contracts.

Having said all that, I am delighted with the launch of our latests Lifelong Learning Project, RadioActive Europe. I will write again about what we hope to achieve from the project. But this, somewhat stilted Eurospeak text, comes from the summary in the application document. And if you might be interested in getting involved we cannot fund you, but will be very happy to share with you all our project development. Just add a comment here or email me.

This project will develop and implement a pan-European Internet Radio platform, incorporating Web 2.0 functionality, linked to innovative community based pedagogies to address themes of employability, inclusion and active citizenship in an original and exciting way. The Internet Radio will provide an innovative way to engage, retain and develop those who are excluded or at risk of exclusion, and its low-cost, extensibility and sustainability, compared with fm radio for example, is a key dimension in ensuring the success of this project.

Through actively developing, implementing and running the RadioActive station and its national channels, the target groups – of older schoolchildren, young people and other older people – will develop digital competencies and employability skills ‘in vivo’ that are relevant to the 21C workplace. These competencies and skills will be accredited to provide a platform to further education or employment related to the knowledge and creative and digital industries. To quote one of the UK Youth workers who will be involved in this project: ‘I can’t think of one young person who I work with who would not want to be involved’.

The consortium is led by the University of East London (UK), with other partners from Portugal (CIMJ), Germany (UKL), UK (Pontydysgu), Malta (KIC) and Romania (ODIP). We will fully interface with at least 10 National Organisations and 450-500 direct beneficiaries, who will broadcast or link with over 5000 listeners or web-site users.

The outcomes of the project will be: a transferable and reusable model for developing internet radio and social media initiatives to address exclusion; a robust internet radio and social media platform (RadioActive Europe) incorporating 5 national Channels; an extensive and sustainable network of users and user organisations maintained through a European Support Hub (ESH); and, measured improvements in individual and community developments that address exclusion.

 

Where are we going with Peronal Learning Environments?

November 26th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Linda Castaneda emailed me. “As I have already told you,  Jordi Adell and myself, are editing a book about PLEs in Spanish. It is not a commercial book, we are going to edit some hard copies for free and an open ebook in the Web. The idea is to offer an overview of PLE for teachers (as complete as possible), in plain, trying to explain what PLE means in general but, specially, what PLEs mean for formal education.

The idea is how understand better PLE and how PLE could transform education and the teachers practice…. in order to give a wider perspective, we would love to include a kind of “chapter of basics around the world” which include some “basic” texts (preferible blogposts), regarding some topics around pedagogical things around PLEs and emergent pedagogies from international relevant authors, even if those texts has been already published in English…

We think sometimes our teachers don’t have access to those texts because of the language, or because of the format (from our experience, school teachers are not usual blogsphere readers), or because of the context (they don’t understand  how include those texts ¡n their day to day needs. So we want to include some texts like this, translated into Spanish in order to  complete the PLE perspective we want to offer.

The question is we would love to include one of your texts (blogposts) on it. Something already published in a non problematic format (no journal papers  for Copy Right problems) that could give some light on the PLEs topic or better, on the Pedagogies around PLEs. In your case the “link with all the informal part would be great and crucial).”

And she offered me a beer and a good meal. How could I resist? I couldn’t find anything suitable that I had already written so I wrote this short text on Sunday.

PLEs and Hype cycles

Gartner has used hype cycles to characterize the over-enthusiasm or “hype” and subsequent disappointment that typically happens with the introduction of new technologies. Hype cycles apply as much to educational technologies as they do to consumer products.

Yet the discussion and development of Personal Learning environments does not follow the normal hype cycle pattern. Although the idea has been in widespread use since 2004, there is a steady increase in research and development and in initiatives to implement PLEs in practice.

Perhaps this is because although the idea of PLEs can lead to the development of new technology applications, it is predominantly an approach to using technology for teaching and learning, rather than an educational technology per se. As such the developments of PLEs interact with both wider societal discussions around the future and purpose of education and with different pedagogical initiatives around Technology Enhanced Learning. This short article will look at these interactions.

The purpose and future of education

The debate over the purpose and future of education has spread beyond the educational community to enter mainstream political and social discourses. In part this is a product of the economic crisis and pressure for fiscal savings by national governments. It is also due to attempts by capitalism to open new markets through commodification and marketisation. This in turn has led to both movements to defend state funded education and to open access to learning. At a more fundamental level, the debate may reflect the growing dysfunctionality of education systems which were developed to meet the needs of an earlier form of industrial capitalism and no longer meet the perceived needs of late capitalism. And whilst in the past education systems, curricula and pedagogy were able to balance the needs of industry with the ideas and aspirations of educators, there is a growing tension as to the very purpose of education today.

Interestingly, Personal Learning Environments offer something to all sides in this debate. On the one hand they offer a tool to recognise learning from all contexts and to allow new and open approaches to pedagogy to develop the potential of every learner. On the other hand they can be used for lifelong and continuing learning to develop and improve employability, regardless of institutional arrangements.

Technology and learning
Of course, the rapid development and implementation of new technologies is impacting on education, as it is on all other sectors of society. Technology Enhanced Learning is not a new phenomenon. Both radio and television were extensively used for learning and web 1.0 offered widespread access to information. But these were essentially push technologies. Web 2.0 has opened up discourse and interactivity further blurring the roles of teacher and learner.  At the same time improved bandwidth has facilitated the production and sharing of multimedia challenging the primacy of print as a paradigm of education. Near ubiquitous access to the internet and the development of mobile devices means learning can take place almost anywhere. And social software has allowed the development of dispersed personal networks outside the school and the creative application of technology for learning in the classroom.

Research and development of PLEs

Given such developments, PLE research could almost be seen as a description and analysis of how people are using technology for learning, rather than as an idea as to how they might. Of course many young people use their personal networks on facebook to discuss their homework. Wikipedia is an increasingly universal reference point for information and knowledge and thousands of teachers, amongst other, contribute to it. And when we want to find out how to do something we often turn to crowdsourced video sites.

However PLE thinking goes further than this. The PLE movement is not based on a single artefact or thing or a simple pedagogic approach but represents diverse ways and perspectives on how we can change process and form of education and in particular as to how we can facilitate learning in multiple contexts.

As such the development of PLEs interacts with many different experiments, projects and initiatives with using technology for teaching and learning.

These include:

The design of new schools and learning spaces
The Telefonplan School, in Stockholm has been designed so children could work independently in opened-spaces while lounging, or go to “the village” to work on group-projects.Such open environments facilitate flexible learning and personal learning pathways. Other spaces such as libraries, museums and cultural centres are increasingly seen as learning environments.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
The fast growth in provision of Massive (and not so massive) Open Online Courses has been enabled by the use of Personal Learning Environments and even if some of the more institutionally driven MOOCs are quite traditional in form it is likely that students are using their online personal networks as a support for learning

Learning analytics
Although in its infancy, learning analytics could pathways for navigating and structuring learning through a Personal Learning Environment

The recognition of informal learning
The spread of Personal Learning Environments is leading to new initiatives to recognise informal learning and learning in different contexts. Such initiatives include the Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges project

New Standards
The ADL sponsored Experience API is designed to allow learners to track and record their personal learning.

The use of social software and multimedia in the classroom
Teachers are increasingly bypassing the restrictions of Virtual Learning Environments to integrate social software and multimedia for creative and explorative learning in the classroom (see for example the work of the EU funded Taccle 2 project).

Shaping our Learning

Marshall McLuhan said “we shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” As a community we need to consciously shape our tools for learning, just as those tools shape the forms and learning which plays such a key role in our personal lives and in our society.

And of course the shape of those tools will inform the future design of our educational institutions and schools. PLEs are not just a tool but are an approach to how we develop and shape those tools.

This in turn will increasingly impact on the role of teachers as supporters and facilitators of learning. PLEs, along with other developments represent a move towards learners taking more responsibility for their learning. However for this to happen they will need support. It also raises the issue of what literacies learners need not just to access and evaluate information but to themselves shape their tools.

At the same time, the contexts in which we are learning are widening. Whilst we are developing an understanding of context in terms of location, through the use of mobile devices, we have still to fully understand different aspects of context including, perhaps critically, what we are trying to learn.

The debate over the role of educational institutions will continue. Our increasing understanding of the role of PLEs in learning can contribute to this debate. PLEs do not invalidate or diminish the role of institutions but can inform how we view institutionally based learning within wider communities, be they online or geographically based. PLEs may also help to overcome some of the tensions between the different purposes and directions for education in the coming years.

 

Seven things we have learned about MOOCs

November 11th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

With the explosion of interest in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), both in numbers of courses and students, and in press reporting on the rise of MOOCs, it is worth thinking about the significance of all this. Here is a short version of five things that we have learned – a longer version (possibly) to follow.

  1. There is a huge pent up demand for education. MOOCs provide free and flexible access tot hose who could not previously take part in education. That includes not only from poorer countries with a limited education infrastructure but also from rich countries. And whilst some of the demand my be due to people wishing to improve their qualification, for many others the main motivation is personal interest.
  2. After a long period when Technology Enhanced Learning was seen as a supplement to traditional systems or as only for more technologically confident learners, Technology Enhanced Learning is now part of the mainstream and for many learners may be the mode or context of learning of choice.
  3. Education is now a global industry. National borders are no longer a barrier to participation in on-line courses and universities are being forced into international alliances to deliver courses to a global student body. At the same time, investors see Technology Enhanced Learning as an opportunity to develop new markets and are pumping money in accordingly.
  4. There does not seem to be any confidence about what the future financial market is for MOOCs. Some institutional managers see it as an way of recruiting more paying students to their university, others talk of a future market in selling accreditation.
  5. The new so called X-MOOCs such as Udacity or Coursera offer little in terms of new or radical pedagogies. Instead they rely on relatively well established approaches to online learning. However, they may reflect the growing experience in developing online courses and the reduced cost and ease of production of videos and, for students, the ease of access through ubiquitous connectivity.
  6. MOOCs are disruptive to the traditional university model. However such disruption may be more from globalisation and the financial crisis than from the introduction of new technologies per se.
  7. Innovation comes from outside the institutions. Despite being ignored in the popular press, MOOCs were developed and pioneered by people such as Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier (See Stephen Downes’ MOOC blog for more). The so called c (connectivist) MOOCs were far more innovative in pedagogic approaches but the idea was taken over and adapted by the mainstream institutions once they had proved their viability and attraction.

 

 

Disruptive Education

October 29th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Last Friday, Fred Garnett and I made presentations to the weekly virtual Teaching and Learning Conversations (TLC) organised by Cristina Costa and Chrissie Nerantzi from Salford University. The title of the conversation, which took place on the Blackboard Collaborate platform, was disruptive education.

Fred lives in London and I was also in London for meetings, so we decided to meet up at the Westminster Hub (more on that later this week). And it was great fun! Fred and me both shared our presentations and so it evolved into a genuine conversation. I don’t know about the others, but i learned a lot (including that there is nothing like face to face proximity for a real conversation. We both agreed that globalisation is probably more disruptive to educatio0n at the moment than the introduction of new technologies, which are only an enabling factor.

I will post my slides tomorrow (and a link to the recording which seems to be broken at the moment). Here are Fred’s slides – slightly changed after the session. I especially like his distinction between disruption applied to education, which he says needs

  • new distance learning resources
  • new business models
  • globalisation
  • competition
  • capitalism
  • You!

and disruption applied to learning, which needs:

  • critical pedagogies
  • new collaborations
  • human-scale
  • Per to peer
  • social
  • Us!

Personal Knowledge Management: a Learning Layer?

October 2nd, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I like the ideas put forward by Harold Jarche on personal knowledge management (PKM) in the workplace. Jarche says the idea of personal knowledge management “questions our basic, Taylorist, assumptions about work; assumptions like:

  • JOB can be described as a series of competencies that can be “filled” by the best qualified person.
  • Somebody in a classroom, separate from the work environment, can “teach” you all you need to know.
  • The higher you are on the “org chart”, the more you know (one of the underlying premises of job competency models).”

Personal knowledge management, he says, ” is a framework that enables the re-integration of learning and work and can help to increase our potential for innovation.

Jarche puts forward a Seek-Sense-Share framework. “Seeking includes observation through effective filters and diverse sources of information. Sense-making starts with questioning our observations and includes experimenting, or probing (Probe-Sense-Respond). Sharing through our networks helps to develop better feedback loops.”

Such a framework corresponds with the aims of the Learning layers project, due to start on November 1st. through Learning layers we are attempting to develop technologies to support informal learning in clusters of Small and Medium Enterprises, initially in north Germany in the building and construction industries and in north east England in the medical profession. In my experience SMEs are far less convinced of the Taylorist assumptions about work than large companies. And certainly the managers I have been talking to are well aware of the challenge of how to embed learning in working practices and to redesign work environments to support learning. However it is not just in the design of workplaces that we make assumptions. Educational technology also has embodies a series of assumptions around learning – such as learning takes place through courses and learning is dependent on the transmission of ideas and practices form an expert to a novice.

Our idea in Learning layers is to develop lightweight apps which can be used in the work process and which support both working and learning. We see learning materials being generated through the work process and shared though networks of organisations.

In teh course of this we hope to reshape both workplace design and learning designs.

Knowledge is social

September 25th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I like this presnetation by Harold Jarche. In another post on his website, Harold says: “Innovation is inextricably linked to both networks and learning. We can’t be innovative unless we integrate learning into our work. It sounds easy, but it’s a major cultural change. Why? Because it questions our basic, Taylorist, assumptions about work; assumptions like:

A JOB can be described as a series of competencies that can be “filled” by the best qualified person.

Somebody in a classroom, separate from the work environment, can “teach” you all you need to know.

The higher you are on the “org chart”, the more you know (one of the underlying premises of job competency models).

PKM is a framework that enables the re-integration of learning and work and can help to increase our potential for innovation. It’s time to design workplaces for individuals, and their Personal KM, instead of getting everyone to conform to a sub-optimal structure that maximizes capital but not labour.”

Diversity and Divide in TEL: The Case for Personal Learning Environments

August 19th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Ilona Buchem and myself have submitted a proposal, Diversity and Divide in TEL: The Case for Personal Learning Environments, for the workshop on TEL, The Crisis and the Response, to be held at next years Alpine Rendez-Vous.

The digital divide cannot be discussed only as a gap between technology haves and have-nots. Below the inequalities in access and usage, there is also a problem of a divide between contexts, domains and communities that different learners operate in. The need for empowered learners as citizens engaging in cross-boundary, problem-solving has been advocated as a necessary means for social innovation. It is through boundary-crossing or bridging the divides that individual and sociocultural differences can become a resource. However, mainstream TEL has not fully recognised the potential of boundary crossing and engaging diverse learners in collective action related to solving real life problems. Much of TEL is developed to fit the prevailing educational paradigm, focusing on ever more efficient management of learning and more reliable methods of assessment rather than encouraging learners to explore diverse ideas, experiment with diverse formats or build bridges to diverse communities.

Can promoting diversity through TEL be a response to crisis? Certainly, in view of the growing complexity of societal, environmental and economic challenges and the ever increasing amount of information and communication possibilities, diversity may raise new questions, challenges and concerns. However, both research and practice provide evidence that diversity, in terms of individual or group attributes as well as in terms of different content, resources and tools provides valuable opportunities for intellectual engagement, personal growth and the development of novel solutions.

In this position paper, we discuss whether current TEL promotes diversity or divide and the current barriers in promoting diversity in TEL. We discuss these issues based on the example of Personal Learning Environments (PLE), which is as an approach to TEL aiming at empowering learners to use diverse technological tools suited to their own needs and connecting with other learners through building Personal Learning Networks. We argue that this approach to TEL promotes diversity through boundary-crossing and responding to the diverse needs and prerequisites that each individual learner brings in. At the same time we discuss how the PLE approach challenges current educational practices and what tensions arise when Personal Learning Environments are implemented in educational institutions.

Personal Learning Environments, as an approach to TEL, focus on the learner-controlled and learner-led uses of technologies for learning with no centralised control over tools, information or interactions. This strong focus on autonomous, literate learners as agents and decision-makers taking control and claiming ownership of their learning environments is of course in contrast with regulated and planned processes at schools and universities, demanding radical changes in the prevailing educational paradigm. TEL, based on the Personal Learning Environments approach, vests learners with control over learning processes and outcomes, including planing, content, interactions, resources and assessment. In this way, the PLE approach challenges not only the prevailing educational paradigm, but also TEL approaches inspired by this paradigm, such as Learning Management Systems and pre-programmed, locked-down systems, such as some types of video games or mobile apps, which place learners in the role of recipients and consumers of systems devised by others, while failing to foster both generativity and boundary-crossing.

Such pre-programmed, quality-controlled and locked-down approaches to TEL have led to “walled gardens in cyberspace”, isolating different learners and learning contexts, posing external constraints on what learners can do in such environments in terms of activities, resources and tools. Alternatively, learner-controlled uses of technologies, as embodied in the Personal Learning Environments approach, have facilitated boundary crossing and merging multiple learning contexts, domains and communities.

The postulate of boundary-crossing through the PLE approach has a human and technological dimension. On one hand, the PLE approach calls for learners to claim and make use of ownership and control over their learning environment, exerting agency in terms of the human capacity to make choices and uses those choices in real world interactions. On the other hand, the PLE approach calls for openness, decentralisation, connectivity and permeability of technological systems.

With learner ownership, control and agency combined with openness, decentralisation, connectivity and permeability of technological systems being the core attributes of the PLE approach to TEL, diversity becomes natural. The PLE approach promotes diversity of social interactions, diversity of learning contexts and diversity of learning practices. Personal Learning Environments entail diverse people and communities coming together, diverse technology tools and platforms used and combined by learners, diverse content production and consumption modes, diverse access points and modes of learning.

However, diversity promoted by the PLE approach is a source of conflict when PLEs and other systems interact. Specifically, tensions arise at the points traditionally considered as legitimate divides in the education system including TEL, for example (a) private vs. public access, (b) course members vs. non-members, (c) disciplinary knowledge vs. practice-based knowledge, (d) formal vs. informal learning context, (e) expert vs. novice, (f) individual vs. collective practice, (g) assessment vs. reflection, (h) planning vs. implementation, or (i) standards vs. innovation.

We argue that challenging these presumably legitimate boundaries in TEL as postulated by the PLE approach is a way to innovation which may bring viable responses to the crises.

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    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


    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”


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