Archive for the ‘networking’ Category

Learning Layers – What are we learning in the current phase of our fieldwork? (Part 3: SMEs in craft trade)

June 8th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

My previous post informed of the fieldwork activities that we had arranged with the training centre Bau ABC. In this context the construction companies were addressed in an indirect way – via apprentices who were reflecting on their working and learning experiences in the companies (and looking for new solutions). In this post I shift the emphasis from the training context to cooperation with SMEs – directly or via their network organisation (in this case the NNB/ Agentur).

In the case of Bau ABC we had a relatively easy start with the workshops. It is no major problem for training centres to involve their learners and staff members in such workshops in the course of their normal weekly schedule. However, it requires more effort from SMEs to participate in similar events (either as their own event or as a joint event hosted by trade guild or a networking agency – such as the NNB/ Agentu). Therefore, it has been necessary to find ways to present design ideas of the Learning layers (LL) project for them in such a way that they would see the benefit for them and commit themselves to the necessary preparatory events. Here our colleagues Joanna Burchert and Werner Müller as well as Tobias Funke from NNB/ Agentur have had to work hard to find ways forward. Here some remarks from an observer’s point of view. Joanna and Werner have spent the last week on a course in Verden and deepened their insights in the topic ‘ecological construction work’ and into the community. Thus, they will soon have quite a lot of fresh  first hand information to report.

Shortly after the LL Design Conference Tobias Funke raised the issue that the NNB/Agentur should develop a specific offering – a Webinar – to inform its own staff and member companies of possible uses of web applications and services that could be immediately useful. Werner and Joanna from the ITB team started to work together with this concept and agreed to take the role of trainers (to get themselves into a development-oriented dialogue with the participants). This webinar was thought to be a preparatory step to a presence workshop in which the participants could test the applications and try to customise them for their own context. However, the Webinar turned out to be an internal training event – and as such a useful one – but with no participants from the member SMEs. The planned presence workshop had to be postponed and instead a working session was organised to see how the SMEs could be approached with more targeted and customised offerings.

Without going into details it is worthwhile to mention that in our direct contacts with SMEs we have had somewhat similar experiences. It has not been easy to find an obvious way to open the discussion and design processes on other LL design ideas (although there is much good will). It is becoming clearer to us that the befits that we might be able to demonstrate in optimising work processes may lead to non-trivial issues about redistributing decision-making powers and responsibilities of risks. Thus, well-meant interventions to work processes may have problematic side-effects on the business processes. Furthermore, these issues tend to be perceived in a different light in different companies.

What we tend to see as the way forward is to develop similar exercises as the storyboard workshop in Bau ABC for apprentices and/or skilled workers in interested companies. Here the challenge is harder – the mapping of problems, hurdles and communication gaps in the process of work is though similar but the search for possible solutions may be more demanding in a mini-workshop or individual exercise. Therefore, we see it necessary to continue the interviews with company representatives and the harvesting of existing interview material.

Here, the picture is incomplete and may change soon in the light of newer information. However, the message is the same: our efforts to bring the use of ICT- and web-based tools and apps to the everyday practice of SMEs are not just simple measures of introducing new tools for those who are interested. The processes of accessing information, sharing knowledge and managing communication are very closely linked to business processes and to (re)distributing roles, powers and responsibilities. The SMEs need to get convinced that it is worthwhile taking the path that brings changes alongside developmental steps. We need to work and learn with the SMEs to see the benefits together with them.

To be continued …

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

Sharing Turbine

April 4th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Project websites are usually pretty dire. A short piece about the project taken from the project application, a list of partners, news updates of meetings and links to downloadable products.

And that was how we started our website with the Learning Layers project. However, we soon realised that this would not suffice. Our aim is to dramatically scale up the use of technology to support informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises. To do that we need a forward facing web site -something we can show off to SME managers and be proud of. But that in turn requires content which they will understand and engage with. That is a much trickier part. We need more of a newspaper or journal type website than a traditional project site. This has led to a lot of discussions and we haven’t got all the issues resolved yet. But one thing we have done is moved to an editorial model where instead of having a web site moderator we have an editor. His role is to commission content from the different partners in the project.

And I have been messing around with how to write about project development in a way that it is understandable to those without an advanced knowledge of the technologies, processes and ideas that we are developing.

Here is my first attempt – about one of the design ideas we are pursuing codenamed ‘Sharing Turbine’.

“The Learning Layers project aims to develop a number of new applications to support informal learning in the workplace.  In the first stages of the project we are working with Small and Medium Enterprises in the Construction sector in north Germany and in the healthcare sector in north England.

We are aware that for any applications to gain widespread take up, we have to work closely with managers and workers from the industries. Therefore, we have adopted a user centred design process for iterative development.

What does this mean? We started out with a series of interviews with a wide variety of people from the sector. In construction e gave now made over 50 interviews, looking at work organisation, learning and peoples present use and attitudes towards technology. This was followed up with what we called Application Partner Days in both the UK and Germany, where we visited the workplaces and held a series of workshop activities with different practitioners.

The third stage in the development process was a two-day design workshop held in Helsinki. Building on the ideas from the interviews and visits we started to sketch out a series of design ideas for new mobile applications. The working groups for the four design ideas that emerged at the workshop brought together researchers, developers and industry practitioners.

Since then, the working groups have continued to meet online and are using a wiki to develop the design ideas.

Each of the design ideas has been given a working name. The idea for the Sharing Turbine design idea came from the construction industry but we hope it may also be of use in the health sector.

Apprentices in the construction industry in Germany learn their trade in three different locations: vocational schools, on the job in companies and in a training centre. At the north German training centre – Bau ABC – they undertake a series of practical projects. These last from o0ne to three days and may involve working individually or as a team. They are given project briefing sheets and save the report of their work on paper which is collected in a white ring bound folder. This has a number of practical disadvantages. Obviously paper folders do not last well on a building site. And although they can use photographs in the report on their work, the folders are predominantly text based. The use of multi media could allow much more detailed and rich reporting. It could also allow a richer representation of the different physical objects and tools used in construction. In fact one of the reason that elearning has been slow to take off in the workplace may be just this issue of how to combine learning through digital media with the physical nature of much work activity.

So the first idea behind Sharing turbine is to transform the present folders produced at the training centre into an electronic portfolio. This would also have the advantage of making it much easier to update the task sheets. Trainees could use a variety of different media directly from heir phones including audio, photos and video.

However the idea behind Sharing turbine goes much further. One of the aims of the Learning Layers project is to capture informal learning. Obviously when apprentices are working in their companies much of this informal learning takes place on the building site. And if they were able to use mobile devices and multi-media learning on the site could be linked to the skills and knowledge gained at the training centre. The portfolio could also become a resource both for dealing with practical problems occurring when undergoing training, but also after they have qualified. At the same time they can be linked to personal social networks, both as a means of sharing learning and knowledge, but also as a human resource for getting help and advice.

The German so called Dual System is rightly admired in Europe for providing high quality apprentice training> one of its bedrocks is combining practical training on the job with theory gained from block period in vocational schools. However, in practice it often proves difficult to link the different phases of training. Sharing turbine could be a critical tool in allowing these different phases of training to be brought together.

The use of Learning Analytics, a process of recording and analyzing learning as it happens – could also allow apprentices and trainers to understand what learning has happened and what new learning is needed – and to develop and refine curricula and training and learning opportunities and processes.

At the moment the Sharing Turbine working group is at the phase of developing wireframes. Wireframes are graphic mock ups of applications. They can be developed rapidly and used in design workshops to test and refine ideas, prior to programming prototypes.

In the next month workshops are planned with companies to get feedback from apprentices and skilled workers. These are not confined to project partners. If you are interested in our work and would like to contribute please get in touch.”

How trade unionists are using the Internet

April 2nd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

The results of the annual Labour Start survey of trade union use of the internet are interesting. The summary of results from the 3000 trade unionists who answered the survey found:

  • More and more of you use tablets and smartphones – though your unions haven’t tended to keep up, with very few of them creating applications specifically designed for small screens.
  • Very large numbers of you are using social networks other than Facebook – most notably Google+ and LinkedIn.  But your unions, which have been pretty good about using Facebook and Twitter, have largely ignored those other networks.
  • While most of you seem pretty happy with how your unions now use the net, large numbers of you don’t actually know if your unions are creating videos or smartphone apps.
  • We asked people what they most wanted to see on union websites and here are the top three: tips on workers’ rights, training for activists, and describing working conditions in companies

To read a much more detailed account of the results, click here to download the PDF file.

Learning Layers – What can we learn during on-site visits? (Part 1)

December 20th, 2012 by Pekka Kamarainen

My latest blog postings on Learning Layers focused on lessons to be learned from predecessor projects. We still need to follow that track. There is surely something to be discussed when we get statements from colleagues who have been involved (and taken the opportunity to think aloud about their learning gains).

However, now the current phase of the Learning Layers is pushing forward the on-site visits and the work with interview materials. At the moment we are just making the very first interviews and the editing of recordings and the detailed analyses are on the agenda in January 2013. Yet, already at this point it is worthwhile to consider, what we (as researchers) can learn during the on-site visits when talking to people who know their trade (and the issues  to be studied)  via their own practical experience.

Three members of the  ITB team visited earlier this week our Application Partner organisation “Agentur für Nachhaltiges Bauen” in Verden near Bremen. We didn’t have much time to look around at their exhibition areas or at their test sites. Yet, we got interesting insights into the wide area of  ‘ecological construction work’.  Here some points as starters while waiting for the analyses and the Application Partner Days (that provide an opportunity for more partners to make such on-site visits):

 1) Who are our counterparts and what do they represent: We were told that we would be having interviews with a student (doing his Praktikum at the Agentur) and with two architects. During the discussion we learned that they all seemed to have a background as skilled workers (and eventually as master craftsmen - Meister) in the construction sector before starting their studies. Thus, their learning histories and occupational careers combined practical work experience and academic studies.

2) What is “ecological construction work” about: Another issue to be considered was the diversity of approaches to ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecological construction work’. Some approaches emphasise sustainability without thinking that much on ecological impact of preparatory processes, logistic chains etc. Some approaches are very thoroughly committed to ecological materials and to construction tehniques with minor ecological consequences. These different positions may also have implications on the use and acceptance of mobile devices and ICT in general.

3) What is the relation between ‘competitiveness’ and ‘knowledge sharing’: Our counterparts gave us a colourful picture of constraints to share knowledge (and make the construction site work together) and to keeping one’s professional secrets to themselves. Both pressures are there – at the individual level and at the level of organisations. It was interesting to discuss, what kind of experiences and observations our counterparts had made about readiness to share knowledge (and with whom, in particular).

4) What works in knowledge transfer and what doesn’t: Each of our counterparts had made experiences of the use of different media to support knowledge transfer.  They drew our attention to personal trust and to social relations (how to get good communication work) above any ranking of possible (old or new media). Yet, they had interesting views on, what kind of media are OK for certain target groups and what might not be considered OK.

5) Cultural changes – readiness or resistance: The pioneers of ecological construction work had made a lot of experiences with changes in construction techniques – both regarding the resistance and regarding the readiness to accept new ideas once you had tried. This was also important for the discussion on usability of web tools and services.

I could go on with this list but prefer to stop here. As I said before, these were just first impressions and rather vague answers to the question, what we as researchers can learn during on-site visits.

The story will be continued …

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

Who owns the e-Portfolio?

September 4th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Over the years I have had a fair bit of interest, in this diagramme, produced in a paper for the the e-Portfolio conference in Cambridge in 2005.

I has some discussion about it with Gemma Tur at the PLE2012 Conference in Aveiro. And now Gemma, who is writing her doctoral dissertation in ePortfolios, has written to me to remind me of our discussion. Gemma says:

I thought I could add that eportfolios built with web 2.0 tools may have another process which is based on networking. Cambridge (2009, 2010) argues about the construction of two selves, the networked self and the symphonic self. The first is about documenting learning quickly, in everyday life, taking brief notes with short and quick reflection, sharing and networking. The second is about presenting learning, reorganizing learning, linking learning evidence, with longer and more profound reflection… no networking in this final stage, as it is an inner process

As I am working with learning eportfolios, with web 2.0 tools, networking is a learning process for my students. Therefore, they are building their networked self.

So, if I argue networking is an eportofolio process of web 2.0 eportfolios, who owns the process? Looking at your article and your illustration, I thought it could be a process owned by both the learner and the external world. If networking is a process of sharing, visiting, linking, connecting, commenting, does it mean that it involves both the learner and the audience? this is what I thought before you told me that it is the learner’s process for sure.

So do you think that definitely I should argue that it is only owned by the learner? Then although it could need someone else to comment and connect, in fact, the act of networking is the student’s responsibility? is this the reason why you think that?, do you think I should argue it is owned by the learner?

These are interesting discussion impacting on wider areas than ePortfolios. In particular I think the issue of control is important to the emerging MOOC discussion.

Returning to Gemma’s questions – although I have not read the paper – I don’t think I agree with Cambridge’s idea of he networked self and the symphonic self – at least in this context. I think that networking becomes more important when presenting learning, reorganizing learning, linking learning evidence, and longer and more profound reflection. these processes are inherently social and therefore take place in a social environment.

However it is interesting that social networking was hardly on the radar as a learning process in 2005. And when I referred to the ‘external world’ I was thinking about external organisations – qualification and governmental bodies, trade unions and employers rather than broad social networks. Probably the diagramme needs completely redrawing to reflect the advent and importance of Personal Learning Networks.

However, despite the fact that personal social networks exist in the external world (the ‘audience’), I think the owner of the process is the learner. AZnd I would return again to Ilona Buchems study of the psychological ownership of Personal learning Environments. Ilona says:

One of most interesting outcomes of the study was the relation between control and ownership. The results show that while perceived control of intangible aspects of a learning environment (such as being able to determine the subject matter or access rights) has a much larger impact on the feeling of ownership of a learning environment than perceived control of tangible aspects (such as being able to choose the technology).

Personal Learning Networks are possibly the most important of the intangible aspects of a learning environment. The development of PLEs (which I would argue come out of the ePortfolio debate) and the connectivist MOOCs are shifting control from the educational institutions to the elearners and possibly more important from institutions to wider communities of practice and learning. Whilst up to now, institutions have been able to keep some elements of control (and monopoly through verifying, moderating, accrediting and certifying learning, that is now being challenged by a range of factors including open online courses, new organisations such as the Social Science Centre in Lincoln in the UK and Open Badges.

Such a trend will almost inevitably continue as technology affords ever wider access to resources and learning. The issue of power and control is however unlikely to go away but will appear in different forms in the future.

Wales to encourage schools to make full use of social networking technologies

August 31st, 2012 by Graham Attwell
Leighton Andrews, Wales Assembly Government Minister for Education and Skills, has announced an ambitious agenda in response to an independent review of digital classroom teaching. Of particular note is the commitment to “a new approach to the use of social networking technologies in education” through “encouraging schools to make full use of social technologies in order to engage learners and improve learning outcomes.”
Andrews says:

In previous years, local authorities have been asked to block access to social networking sites in schools, libraries and youth clubs, as a result of very understandable concerns about online predators, cyberbullying and the risk of disruption to classroom activities. However, this policy can have adverse effects. It deprives schools of access to tools and resources which might otherwise be used creatively and constructively in education both within and beyond the classroom. More importantly, it means that children are most likely to be using these sites outside the school, at home, or on mobile devices, in environments which may be unsupervised and where they have less access to informed guidance and support on how to stay safe online.
In 2008, Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce the teaching of safe and responsible use of the Internet into both the primary and secondary school curriculum. The underpinning approach was that we first teach children to use the Internet safely under supervision, and then help them to develop the skills and understanding they need to manage their own risk as they use the Internet independently. Enabling access to social networking sites in schools will be consistent with this approach, providing pupils with the opportunity to learn safe, responsible and considerate online behaviours in the context of supported educational activities. It will also help schools to include parents in these activities.”

We have long argued that blocking of social networking (and other web sites) in schools was a backward and futile step. Lets hope that other countries follow the lead of Wales.

The importance of understanding participatory media

November 13th, 2011 by Cristina Costa
For the past 3 1/2 years I have been looking at the impact the web has had on the practices of Academics who are highly engaged in virtual environments. This inevitably takes me to explore the social side of their … Continue reading

Personal Branding, Digital Scholarship, and that thing called PhD

March 27th, 2011 by Cristina Costa
I have been meaning to blog. I actually feel the need, but in the end it’s a bit like sport. The more you do it, the more energy you find to keep doing it. Once you start ‘tricking’ the routine, … Continue reading

The Purpose and Funding of Research

March 13th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Most of the debate over the future of Higher Education in the UK has focused on funding and within that of funding for teaching. And regarding research, the major concern has been obviously cutbacks in research funding. Of course that is a valid concern.

There has been less attention to the nature of research funding. The government’s main thrust would appear to be to encourage private sector funding of research. Of course there are trust funds concerned with the longer term benefits of research and of developing a public knowledge base. But much private sector funding is looking for short term return on funding. Nothing wrong with that. But in terms of developing knowledge it will inevitably skew the subjects of research. Secondly private sector companies will often be unwilling to share or make public the results fo such funded research. In the long term it all amounts to another step in the privatisation of education.

There are also concerns over the nature of public sector research funding. Talking in the Times Higher Education Supplement about the UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), Professor Delpy says:

… the RAE, which still determines the distribution of about £1.5 billion in annual quality-related research funding, had “driven a fantastically efficient and very competitive research base that has not helped people collaborate, because institutions have been measured against what they as individual institutions have done”.

He added: “You didn’t get extra brownie points because one-third of your research was collaborative.”

This in turn meant that universities’ promotion criteria typically did not reward collaborative efforts such as “enabling a whole area of research to gain large-scale funding from the European Union” by “corralling and marshalling” individual researchers to put together joint bids, Professor Delpy said.

In other words, the nature of funding and the policy drive for competition between universities and even between departments, is inhibiting the development of collaborative research. Yet it is just such collaboration which can lead to new knowledge development and to the development of careers for emerging researchers.

Once more this illustrates the importance of the emerging debate over the purpose of education and the role of research within society.

Conference time

January 14th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Pontydysgu is sponsoring the Mobile learning: Crossing Boundaries in Convergent Environments 2011 conference being held in Bremen on March 21 – 22. And as I did with the PLE2010 Conference last year, I will be writing the occasional bog about how we are organising the conference and why.

We held a meeting of the organising committee today. The committee is small, Klaus Rummler, Judith Seipold, Eileen Luebcke and myself. The advantage of such a small group is that meetings are informal (and generally productive) and we can all meet face to face. The disadvantage, of course, is that there are not many people to do all the work. Informal is key for me. Long gone re the days when conferences could only be organised by the great and the good, and organising committees were full of Professors with many letters after t5heir name. This is one of the democratising effects of social media. In the past it was necessary to have such grand committees in order to get word out of an event. Now we use twitter and facebook and viral info0rmation flows. In additio0n I think researchers are changing their attitudes towards events. In the past it was the authority of the organisation running the vent which was key – were they and their organising committee respected academics with many publications to their name. Now people are more interested in the subject of the conference and on the possibilities for fruitful exchange of ideas and knowledge.

Of course there remain issues. It is often difficult for researchers – and especially students – to get funding to attend a conference. for that reason we have tried to make the event as cheap as possible. We are only charging 50 Euros, and even though we have no sponsorship, we are confident we can break even. I was disappointed last year that the conference on Open education in Barcelona was charging something like 500 Euros to attend.

We rely on the goodwill and input of the community to organise the event. The hardest job is reviewing. We are sending all of the submissions for the conference to two reviewers. With something like 50 submissions that means 100 reviews. the open source Easychair system helps in organising this but is by no means perfect. And I remain sceptical about how review systems work. However clear the instructions, different reviewers seem to have very different perceptions of submissions. however, I have no ideas of a better system for quality. And at the end of the day, the success of the event depends on the quality of the inputs.

One of the more bizarre problems in organising such events is collecting the mo0ney. It is extremely hard to get systems for universities to accept money in (and often just as hard to get the money out again. Furthermore, an overview of who has paid is vital and university finance systems are rarely geared to providing such information on demand. however Paypal makes setting up your own payments system fairly easy.

We started  talking about the programme design today. One thing we are keen to do is to separate between the submission of a high quality research paper and the traditional academic form of presentation. Endless paper presentations do not stimulate discourse and ideas, and seldom lead to the generation of new knowledge. Thus we are looking at different forms of presentations, including cafe type sessions and debates. It is also very heartening that we have received some excellent proposals for workshops with real interaction with participants. And once we have got an outline programme we will be looking at add different unconferencing sessions.

Submissions for the conference officially closed last Friday. But if you do want to make a last minute proposal email it to me by Sunday. But even if you haven’t got a proposal in their will be plenty of ways to participate. Hope to see many of you in Bremen in March

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    Open online STEM conference

    The Global 2013 STEMx Education Conference claims to be the world’s first massively open online conference for educators focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and more. The conference is being held over the course of three days, September 19-21, 2013, and is free to attend!
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    A special issue of the online journal eLearning Papers has been released entitled MOOCs and beyond. Editors Yishay Mor and Tapio Koshkinen say the issue brings together in-depth research and examples from the field to generate debate within this emerging research area.

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