Archive for the ‘literature review’ Category

Cities of Learning

June 5th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

posterPontydysgu’s Spanish organisation is part of the EU CONNECT project. Funded under the Erasmus Plus programme, the CONNECT project aims to leverage the impact of Learning Cities through building urban ecosystems of lifelong learning that harness the assets of European cities and transform them into a network of seamless pathways of learning experience for adult learners. The project application says: “In a society where existing educational pathways no longer guarantee opportunity, and with a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, connected learning for all citizens can open up new entry points and pathways to opportunity; in particular when integrating both the potential of ubiquitous learning technology and learning opportunities created by European cities.”

Pontydysgu have been working on two main things. Firstly, we have been doing a field study on Russafa, an area of Valencia, looking at different opportunities for non formal and informal learning, as well as at formal adult learning provision. One of our main conclusions is the importance of public spaces for learning to take place. To this extent history, culture and context play an important role and not least climate: in Valencia many learning opportunities take place outdoors! Urban design is another key contextual factor.

Secondly, we have been undertaking a literature review. One of the most interesting documents we have come across is ‘Cities of Learning in the UK’ – a “prospectus” published by the RSA. Cities of Learning (CofL), they say “is a new approach for activating a grassroots, city-based, mass engagement movement around learning and skills. It seeks to close gaps in opportunity and empower places to promote lifelong learning as core to their cultural and civic identity.”

“CofL can be a galvanising force for bringing people together with a city’s economic and social aspirations. It can open new sources of city leadership, learning potential and civic energy. Cities can both make visible and amplify nascent systems of learning – involving learners, institutions, employers, civil society and the voluntary and cultural sectors. Learners, especially those from underserved communities, can benefit from much greater access to the wealth of enrichment experiences and opportunities their city offers. By deepening social and civic connections, CofL can be a means to developing a sense of place, identity, mission, ambition – and learning.”

The Cities of Learning movement started in the USA but the Prospectus has been “adapted for UK.”

One thing I very much like about the CofL approach is the emphasis on place. As the RSA say “Learning systems – formal, non-formal, informal – are experienced by people in places and form a fundamental part of how they experience life within their neighbourhoods, communities, and towns and cities. They operate outside of the silos of traditional programmes, allowing organisations to work together to focus on shared outcomes rather than individual concerns.”

They go on to say that CofL “capitalise on crucial intangible factors that drive collective action, such as identity, heritage and community.” Certainly, from our research in Valencia we would concur – although I am not sure that heritage and community are intangible.

The Prospectus emphasises the widening participation and opportunity gap in society today.

It stresses the importance on non-cognitive as well as cognitive skills for future employment. Skills and calls for cities to develop learning pathways leading to Open Badges, recognizing learning or formal and informal learning experiences. Learning networks would incorporate a skills spine using both OECD core skills and competences as well as more locally developed learning needs. The report points to different Interest driven and destination driven learning pathways – destination driven meaning learning for employment. This seems to us too binary a division. Interest driven learning can often lead to skills for employment and vice versa. In reality people often cross over between different pathways.

Dense networks and relationships are seen to be central to the development of CofL with “anchor organisations” and “influential change makers” acting as “network hubs and stewards.” Three key factors are identified for developing CofL initiatives – leadership, networks and platform.

Although stressing the importance of networks and of community organisations, the examples provided seem to be driven by city governments. And the report also provides the example of a large employers overhauling their recruitment policy as driving change through their supply network, but there is no discussion of the importance of Small and Medium Enterprises who provide the majority of employment in cities like Valencia.

Cities are of course important but I do not see why the approach to learning in place based networks should not also include more dispersed population areas, including rural areas and towns in the south Wales valleys with different population structures.

One thing definitely welcome is that the technology plays an enabling function, supporting learning. Technology Enhanced Learning may have a weak link to place, but place is key to practice in learning.

Less welcome is the unnecessary emphasis on CofL as disruptive or as they call it a “quiet disruption.” Neither do I see Open Badges as a “disruption.” I can only see CofL and Open Badges as developing and extending traditional ideas of adult education.

The report also claims that CoFL challenges the fragmented rigid and centralised nature of public services. Certainly, education services have become fragmented but the major challenge is not that but is government austerity policies which have decimated adult education provision.

However, despite this, City of Learning is an exciting vision, and one I think which could spread beyond the RSA sponsored experiments and networks.

Peer Production

May 2nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

I don’t normally publish new journal releases – there are simply to many. But I very much like the approach of the  special issue of the Journal of Peer Production on CITY.

According to their email, it showcases a wide variety of case studies in cities from different geographies of the Global North and Global South namely Barcelona, Berlin, Brisbane, Brussels, Ciudad Juárez, Dhaka, Genoa, London, Melbourne, Milan, New York, Paris, Rosario.Some of those case studies focus more on peer production technologies and others more on the social and political processes on the ground, all with different research methodologies and approaches. They invite us to reflect  on various forms of peer production of knowledge and representation of the city as a commons, where technology should be considered as both a tool (infrastructure) and a contested space. They look at challenges of governance focusing on citizen-driven models of peer production in the city where local governments are called to be in dialogue and build synergies with different stakeholder communities. They use participatory and collaborative methods to collect their data following co-creative research approaches. They are transdisciplinary as much as interdisciplinary in both the methodological and theoretical approaches taken by contributors who merge together urban studies, architecture, informatics, political and social sciences, and ethnography to name a few. The authors collaborated directly – as activists or through their research with other activists, communities and/or stakeholders- giving voice to all those involved in the making and sharing of those projects

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Understanding Personal Learning Environments: Literature review and synthesis through the Activity Theory lens

August 22nd, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Ilona Buchem proposed to me and Ricardo Torres that we should undertake a systematic review of literature on Personal Learning Environments as our contribution to this years PLE conference held in early July in Southampton. We set out to review some 100 journal articles and blog posts in three langauges.

The major challenge was how to classify and analyse the material. We set out with an original framework comprised of  three tiers of analytic categories:

●      A top tier with the three dimensions: “Personal”, “Learning” and “Environment”;

●     A  middle tier with two domain perspectives: “Pedagogy” and “Technology”;

●      A bottom tier with a set of core concepts and a scale from “high” to “low”.

However, the first reading and analysis of selected literature led us to the conclusion that focusing only on the three dimensions at the top tier level as described above leaves out other central aspects related to PLEs. At the same time the three original categories are too broad and encompass different notions that need further disaggregation.

Thus we decided to use Activity Theory as a basis for our analysis reasoning that the idea of PLEs places the focus on the appropriation of different tools and resources by an individual learner and there is a general agreement on viewing learners as being situated within a social context which influences the way in which they use media, participate in activities and engage in communities. Learning outcomes are considered to be created in the process of tackling the problems and challenges learners meet in different contexts by using tools and resources leading to outcomes. The perspective on learning as tool-mediated, situated, object-directed and collective activity is the basic tenet of Activity Theory (Engeström 1999; Engeström, 2001).

Overall, I think the approach works well. We found that the core concepts around PLEs such as ownership, control, literacy, autonomy or empowerment are often mentioned in the literature but seldom defined, theoretically grounded or differentiated. This obscures the overall picture and understanding of PLEs. We identified a series of ‘open research questions’:

  • What types of ownership and control are relevant to PLEs?
  • What motivates and demotivates learners to establish own PLEs?
  • Which norms and values guide the development of PLEs in different contexts?
  • What roles are played by different actors in a PLE?
  • What is the relationship between ownership and collaboration in a PLE?
  • How do PLEs contribute to identity development?
  • How to balance power between different participants in a PLE?
  • How to support the development of literacies necessary to establish a PLE?

You can read the full paper below or download a copy. We would very much welcome feedback from readers.

Thanks especially to Ilona for all the hard work she put in in getting this paper ready for publication.
Understanding Personal Learning Environments: Literature review and synthesis through the Activity Theory lens

Understaning Academic Tribes (trying…)

December 21st, 2009 by Cristina Costa
Academic Tribes and Territories, Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines by Tony Becher and Paul R. Trowler [Random thoughts about texts I have been reading. Please notice that I am still trying to make sense of this all and therefore welcome your critical comments. I am sure they will help me look at the topic [...]
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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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