Archive for the ‘Mature’ Category

New website launched

October 3rd, 2011 by Graham Attwell

We are happy to announce the launch of a new webs site, CareersTalk. The site, developed jointly between Pontydysgu and the Institute for Employment Research, Warwick University, provides access to the ongoing research and development we are undertaking into careers guidance and in particular, the use of new technology to support careers guidance. Much of this work has been undertaken with support from the EU Mature-IP and G8WAY projects.

The introduction says: “The web site is designed to provide leading-edge ideas for careers work – including information-advice-and-guidance, careers education, career counselling, mentoring, coaching, personal-and-social development, learning for well-being, for a changing world, portfolio development and individual action-planning. In particular it focuses on the use of technology for careers information, advice and guidance. Technology has already influenced, and will continue to influence, not only the ways in which guidance services are accessed by clients, but how they are used by them.”

The web site also provides links to working versions of our data visualisation tools.

Social networks, research and education

September 8th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Warning – this article is not based on any reliable research. However it is based on talking to a lot of people over the summer about their attitudes towards social networks and how they use them. Most of the people are working on various educational projects and are based in Europe although some were from north America and the Middle East. So in no way a representative sample but an interesting one.

Firstly there seems to be an increasing number of people who are opting out of Facebook or, if maintaining accounts, merely forwarding posts from Twitter or another social networking service. Reasons vary from Facebook privacy issues, difficulty in managing ‘friends’, social network overload, disliking the Facebook apps (Farmville is often quoted) to just feeling Facebook is a personal network not suitable for business or educational use.

Against that there seem to be a growing number of people who are separating out their use of different social networking accounts, for example using Facebook for keeping in touch with family and friends and Twitter for work.

There seem to be less people who ‘don’t get Twitter’ although against that a growing skepticism about its future with some feeling it will become increasingly taken over by commercial interests.

Many I have spoken too are thinking about the longevity of social networking services, especially free services. This seems to be increasing as so many people have invested time and effort into Flickr which they fear may be in danger due to Yahoo’s financial woes.

Google+ is the big unknown. Firstly its insistence on real names is alienating substantial numbers of social network evangelists. However, many also see its use as a business and research tool, particularly the use of circles and hangouts for project communication. However, many, like me, are struggling to maintain a presence in so many different networks!

And finally blogging. Without wishing to revive the old #F-Alt debate that micro-blogging is killing blogging, I sense a return to blogs, as offering a form and medium which can be used for substantial writing and reflection.

Regardless of feelings and preferences over individual services, there seems to be a general acknowledgement that social networking is here to say and that it is becoming an integral part of research, communication and exchange for projects and education. Probably the fastest growing services being used for project management and communication are Dropbox, Google docs and Skype.

Be interested in any of your opinions.

Designing Open and Linked data apps is not easy

September 2nd, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Over the last two years there has been much excitement about the idea of Open and Linked Data. This is especially so in countries like the UK where there has been a pronounced policy commitment to opening the use of public data for commercial and non commercial use. The UK government open data store boasts links to over 5400 sets of data saying “This can then be used by people to build useful applications that help society, or investigate how effective policy changes have been over time.”

There is no doubt that this data is of immense value to researchers. But despite various hack days, the number of genuinely useful applications seem limited.

We have been working with the data for the last nine months attempting to use labour market data to assist careers professionals and young people in choosing careers pathways. As Leia says in a comment on a recent post on this site “so many of our learners arrive with a complete incorrect (or no) idea about what skills are in demand and what’s realistic to expect in terms of looking for work and training.” We are not saying that labour market data and skills demand alone should guide young peoples’ choices. But it is certainly an important factor especially with university education becoming so expensive.

Why are we finding it hard to do? Firstly as the similar Salami project run by the University of Nottingham noted in a recent report much of the official data is collected for economic purposes, not for social use. For instance, much of the labour market information is collected through the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) which although useful for analysing economic trends, is of limited use for occupational guidance. Instead, we really need Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) data. It doesn’t help that despite the data store which provides links to different data sets, the raw and interpreted data is scattered across a number of different web sites. Most of them are in the course of updating their sites, probably in order to make the data more accessible. But at the same time his is breaking links. And although there are a growing number of on-line tools, these all have their own idiosyncratic interfaces and processes (and often seem just not to work).

I was never very interested in statistics until I got involved in this project. And now I am desperately trying to teach myself SPSS but it is not easy and once more is time consuming.

Even when we have obtained the data it has to be cleaned. much of the data also requires manipulation if it is to be visualised. Visualisation tools are becoming more powerful, but still are not always simple to handle.

Using Open and Linked Data is a design process. And some of the most important people who have to be involved in any design process are the end users. Once more this is time consuming. And of course it is necessary to show them what the possibilities are. each different group of users will have different needs. We have spent a long time thinking about what data we should show to young people and what might be relevant for careers advisers.

Finally we have to remember that data is just data – however well visualised. The use of data has to involve meaning making. meaning making is not a precise science. Different people will make different meanings from the same data. The real added value comes when we allow them to participate in collective sense making through sharing and negotiating meanings.

We have developed the idea of a Technology Enhanced Boundary Object which is able to bring together data and data vidsualisations with a  social software layer to explore meanings. We hope to pilot this in the autumn. And we will provide access to a working version of some of our tools in the next week.

So in conclusion – I remain very excited about the potential of Open and Linked Data. But to design apps which are useful takes a lot of work.

What we are working on

August 30th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Here is a quick update on some current work at Pontydysgu. With funding from the European Lifelong Learning Programme G8WAY project and the European Research Framework Mature-IP project, and working with a growing community of partners, we have been developing a series of Web 2.0 tools to support careers guidance. At the moment we are developing a  new web site which will give full access to these tools and applications, as well as to research about the use of Web 2.0 and social software for careers information, advice and guidance. Below is a summary of these tools. If you are interested in finding out more about any of these tools or about our approach to using technology to support careers guidance please get in touch.

Labour Market Visualisation Tools

We are developing tools and applications for visualising Labour Market Information in order to provide young people with an informed basis for decision making around career directions and to support the careers guidance professionals who advise young people. This work has been undertaken in conjunction with the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick and Careers Wales.

RadioActive

RadioActive is a project using internet radio to assist young people, particularly those from a NEETS (Not in Employment, Education, or Training) background in developing decision making and communication skills. This approach focuses on informal learning and the development of communities of practice through the use of new technologies. The approach is being piloted in conjunction with the University of East London, Yoh, a Hackney based youth agency, and Inspire!, the Education Business Partnership for the London Borough of Hackney.

Storiboard

Storiboard is a Web 2.0 tool for storytelling. In the first year of the G8WAY project we found that storytelling is a powerful tool for developing and reflection on careers biographies. Storiboard allows young people to use multimedia including video, audio and graphics to tell their careers stories and aspirations. It is initially being tested  through using the original stories collected in year one of the project and will then be piloted with UK based careers services.

Webquests

We are developing a series of Web 2.0 webquests designed to support professional development for Careers Guidance professionals. The first two are on the use of the internet for Careers Guidance and on careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). Along with our technical partners, Raycom, we are developing a lightweight repository which combined with the Storiboard interface, will provide for easy editing and development of Webquests.

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

The future of social media

July 31st, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Although Google+ has been generally welcomed the advent of yet another social networking site has given rise to some thoughts on just exactly what value such sites are.

In a perceptive blog post George Siemens writes:

I’ve concluded that most of the hype around social media is nonsense and that people, particularly the self-proclaimed social media elite are clothing-less……What has social media actually done? Very, very little. The reason? Social media is about flow, not substance…….Twitter/Facebook/G+ are secondary media. They are a means to connect in crisis situations and to quickly disseminate rapidly evolving information. They are also great for staying connected with others on similar interests (Stanley Cup, Olympics). Social media is good for event-based activities. But terrible when people try to make it do more – such as, for example, nonsensically proclaiming that a hashtag is a movement. The substance needs to exist somewhere else (an academic profile, journal articles, blogs, online courses).

It is difficult not to agree. Even on twitter – to date my preferred social network – the ratio of conversation to proclamation – or information sharing – seems to be decreasing. Or is this a reverse power  effect – is it that the more people you follow the less the social interactions?

I think the problem is context. Social media work well in a particular context – be it talking with close friends and family – keeping people up to date on your movement or planning holidays – or around conferences and events, planning projects or seeking jobs. However social media is far less strong in the context of everyday life flows. Indeed the only aspect of context that social media seems good at is geo-awareness with all the privacy issues that brings.

It may be important though to distinguish between social media ‘in the wild’ – Facebook, Twitter and Google+ web sites – and the integration of social media within more specific and contextually defined web tools to support activities, learning or communities. Twitters success may be down to its relatively open development environment making it easy to embed twitter flows into blogs or community web sites.

Not withstanding the debate over the use of real names in Google+ and acknowledging the interest in the playful use of alternative identities, the issue of linking real life worlds and social media worlds seems an important one. As George says “substance needs to exist somewhere else”. But whilst George is posting that substance in the academic world, such substance may lie in different facets of our lives – within work, play or the community.

Yet I suspect those corporations developing social media applications have little interest in such substance. The substance for them is in the advertising and commercial world which produces them profit, the ultimate arbiter of success for social media companies. I have written before that the future of social media may lie in more focused and niche networks and communities – communities which can link our online and off line activities and enrich both. But such communities will have to be developed from  the bottom up. And in this context the issue of design will involve much more than cool tools and applications – or indeed encouraging us to follow ever more ‘friends’.

Jam Hot! A new take on Personal Learning Environments

July 11th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

It is conference season. Today marks the start of the PLE2011 conference in London. Together with Andrew Ravenscroft, Dirk Stieglitz and David Blagborough, I am presenting a paper with the snappy name ‘‘Jam Hot!’ Personalised radio ciphers through augmented social media for the transformational learning of disadvantaged young people.’

Although the paper is very much a work in progress, there are a series of ideas here which I find interesting and will return to on this blog in the future. In the meantime any feedback very welcome.

‘Jam Hot!’ Personalised radio ciphers through augmented social media for the transformational learning of d…

Technology and Careers Education

June 7th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

I am ever more interested in how we can use technology for supporting young people (and not just young people) in making future careers choices. Talking to a focus group of young people last year, they  make use of the internet, particuarly using Google to search for details about possible future education choices, jobs and careers. I also asked them how far they explored the results of a Google search and not surpisingly they told me that they usually looked at the first three or four results. Try doing this yourself – type in your job of choice and see what comes up. All too often the results can be highly misleading.

Anyway we are working on new tools to asisst young people in choosing their future careers (more details to follow quite soon, I hope). And here is a conference paper, prepared by my colleague Sally Anne Barnes from the University of Warwick and describing the emprirical research we undertook on the use of technology in careers education in the UK (requires html5 compliant browser to view). Comments welcome – I would especially like to know what is happening in other countries than the UK.

The Potential Role of Technology in Careers Education in the UK

Knowledge development and Personal Learning Environments

May 16th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

I am in Innsbruck for four days for a meeting of the EU funded research project, Mature-IP. Over the next few days I will try to report on what theproject is doing.

The Mature project has always interseted me in its approach to Personal Learning Environments. Whilst most projects based on PLEs have looked at learning within schools and univeristies, Mature looks at knowledge maturing processes in work.

And the project has adopted a user based approach working with a number of different user groups, in the UK from the Careers services, in developing and iterating a PLE based on knowledge development services. The project has also developed a series of knowledge indicators, based on these services.

Is it working? It is a little early to tell. But the project acknowledges the importance of different forms of learning leading to knowledge development and sharing in the workplace and also takes account of differences in context. The services developed have been based on the idea of represneting, modellinga nd reseeding knowledge delopment or maturing processes as seen in the diagramme above. Twenty seven services have been developed to date and can be combined in what are being called insubstatiations to take account of such contexts. I realise these may seem somewhat abstract but they have served in bridging between social and educational researchers working on the project and software develers. These services are:

Representation Services:

Content

  • Content metric service: Provides a wrapper for encapsulating various content metric implementations
  • Classification service: Classifies resources to a given set of categories based on their content. Classification can be improved by the help of user feedback
  • Clustering Service: Groups items regarding a special feature

Structure

  • Task Similarity Service: Computes the similarity between tasks
  • Tag Mortality Analysis Service: analyses tags / concepts and their activity to predict their death
  • Concept Relationship Analysis Service: Analyzes concept hierarchy and usage of concept for annotations to derive recommendations for adding broader/narrower relationships
  • oSKOS Analysis Service: analyzes a SKOS ontology for potential redundant or missing information

Usage

  • Usage Logging Service: collects usage data from the user’s interaction with the MATURE systems
  • Process Tracking Service: logs process and task execution

Model Services

User

  • User Modeling Service: Detects a user’s knowledge from his or her usage data
  • Topical User Modeling Service: Provides an aggregated topical profile of a person

Task

  • Process Monitoring Service: Provides the means to query and browse log data provided by the Process Tracking Service in aggregated form
  • Process Model Refinement Service: Compares the modelled process with the actual process executions and suggests improvements on the process model based on it

Resource

  • Resource Model Service: Describes resources based on usage data
  • Document Similarity Service: Derives the textual similarity between two documents
  • Resource Quality Profile: Creates a qualitative profile for each resource

Reseeding Services

Reseeding of Knowledge about contents

  • Quality Based Resource Recommendation: Provides a set of ranked resources based on the qualitative status of the resource and quality requirements of the user
  • Context Aware Notification Service: Provides information about activities related to artefacts
  • Reseeding of Knowledge about SemanticsTag Recommendation Service: Provides tag recommendations to achieve a consistent personal and organisational tag vocabulary
  • Keyword Recommendation Service: Provides a list of synonyms and hyponyms for tags
  • Ontology Gardening Recommendation Service: provides recommendation for improving a SKOS ontology based on the ontology itself and information on its application

Reseeding of Knowledge about Processes

  • Case-based Resource Recommendation Service: suggests resources based on resource-use in historical process executions.
  • Historical Case Service: searches for historical cases based on a given input

Reseeding of Knowledge about People

  • Expertise Analytics Service: Provides an aggregated overview and comparison of available and requested expertise based on tag assignments and search query analysis within a certain timeframe
  • People Ranking Service: Provides a ranked list of people that are relevant for a given topic
  • Expert Ranking Service: Based on past tag assignments (user-document-tag triple marked with a timestamp), this service recommends knowledgeable colleagues working on a specific topic
  • People Awareness Service: Based on a user/person’s profile, this service recommends other persons with a similar profile

An update on the PLE2011 conference

May 9th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

I am extremely busy today but time for a quick catch up on the Personal Learning Environments Conference 2011, being held from July 11- 13 in Southampton UK.

Last years conference in Barcelona attracted nearly 90 submissions, far in excess of what we expected. This year we had less, with 65 papers, symposia and workshops. I don’t think the lesser number was due to reduced interest, but rather that in the present economic climate, many researchers are finding it hard to gain funding for conferences (I will write a further blog on how we can deal with this). I suspect also that beautiful though Southampton may be, it does not match Barcelona in terms of conference pulling power! We have just finished the review procedure with all the attendant difficulties of establishing shared criteria and quality standards for reviews and persuading overworked colleagues tos pare the time for an unpaid for activity.

Out of the 65 submissions we have rejected two for not meeting the submission guidelines. A further four are ‘borderline’ and we are further reviewing those proposals. Happily the rest are considered good enough fro acceptance.

The good news – in general the standard of submissions is much higher this year than last year. I suspect there are two main reasons for this – firstly an improved common understanding in our communities around the idea of Personal Learning Environments. Last year we had problems in that in many proposals it was hard to relate the focus of the paper to the idea of PLEs – this year that relationship is much clearer. The second reason is that we extended the length of abstracts this year and that seems to have improved the quality.

But I still get the feeling that a number of submissions do not do justice to the ideas and research on which they are based. I do not find it easy writing proposal abstracts and wonder if there is some mileage in firstly a little collective thinking in what we are looking for in a proposal and how we can convey that to potential contributors and secondly a more inclusive and supporting procedure to help those – especially ’emerging’ researchers in writing quality proposals. Any ideas welcome.

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    Learning about technology

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

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

    Building apps (45%)
    Creating Games (43%)
    Virtual reality (38%)
    Coding computer languages (34%)
    Artificial intelligence (28%)


    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
    2. edX – 10 million
    3. XuetangX – 6 million
    4. FutureLearn – 5.3 million
    5. Udacity – 4 million

    XuetangX burst onto this list making it the only non-English MOOC platform in top five.

    In 2016, 2,600+ new courses (vs. 1800 last year) were announced, taking the total number of courses to 6,850 from over 700 universities.


    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%.


    Number students outside EU falls in UK

    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.

    Data from the past five years show which countries are sending fewer students to study in the UK.

    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.

    Other notable changes include an increase in students from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and a fall in students from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.


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