Archive for the ‘Quality’ Category

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.

Reviews, quality and the development of communities of practice in academic networks

February 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have just spent the morning reviewing proposals for the Vocational education and Training Network strand at the European Conference for Educational Research.

I have never enjoyed reviewing papers. I worry that my own knowledge of the subject is often too little, still more that I only have an abstract idea of what comprises quality.

However, as a community building process, I find it more interesting. I haver been involved with VETNET for fourteen years. In the early days nearly everything used to be accepted. But as time went on a discussion emerged over improving the quality of VETNET and a formal review procedure was developed.

VETNET remains a somewhat traditional academic conference with paper and sumposium presentations. I suspect that the community’s desire for Vocational Education and Training to be taken seriously as a part of mainstream education research has tended to make us somewhat conservative in our approaches to formats and quality.

Over time as a community we have started defining quality indicators – even though they may be contested. We have had long debates about the relation between research focused on a particular system or country and its relation to wider European agendas. We have discussed how important the quality of language (English) is in assessing a contribution? Should leeway be given to emerging researchers to encourage them to contribute to the community? How important is a clear methodology when considering a submission?

This years debate has been over work in progress. It started innocuously enough with one reviewer emailing that he was concerned that many submissions referred to research which was not yet finished. Should we only consider completed research with clear results, he suggested? This provoked a flurry of replies with major differences between the reviewers. Some agreed with the original email; others (including myself) saw presentations based on work in progress as a potentially useful contribution to the community and a means of researchers testing their ideas in front of a wider international audience. In the normal way of things this debate will be reviewed at the VETNET board meeting at this years conference and revised guidelines agreed for next years conference.

In this way I think the review process does work well. It allows community rules and standards to emerge over time.

The other big change in the review system has been the use of an electronic reviewing system ‘conftool‘. The major benefit is to support the management fo the review process. VETNET receives some 120 proposals each year. The use of the system ensures every paper receives at least two reviews. More interestingly it makes transparent where there are disagreements between reviewers, providing a view showing the overall score for each proposal and the span between reviewer’s scoring. I was allocated nine proposals to review. Four of them have already been reviewed by a second reviewer. And somewhat to my surprise the span between my score and the other reviewers was small (the highest of the four was 1.7 (however the other reviewer has recommended rejection of this proposal and I have recommended acceptance!).

I welcome that when we have finished our reviews we are able to see other reviews of the same submission. This provides for me an opportunity for reflection and learning – and strengthens the potential of the academic review  becoming part of the process of community emergence.

Young people associate on-line innovation with cutbacks to face-to-face services

November 16th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

On Friday, I wrote up a report based on notes from a focus group which i led on the possible uses of technology for supporting Careers Guidance, Advice and counselling. The session was with a group of young people, aged between 12 and 16 and forms part of a project in which I am participating.

There was little of surprise in most of the findings. All the participants used mobile devices (phones) for voice and text and half of them to access the internet. Most had at least one games console, all had access to he internet and home.

It was interesting to note that all had unmonitored access to the internet at home, yet in general supported restrictions on access at school, because they feared unregulated surfing would distract them for learning.

For on-line careers advice they all just used Google to find out details of different jobs. None accessed official careers services on-line. And they were sceptical about an extension of on-line services. They were very quick to say that any such services should not be at the cost of existing face to face service provision. That seems to be a problem to me. They instantly associated any extension of on-line services with cut backs in face to face provision. In other words, innovation is seen as a move to reduce services. Perhaps this is not surprising if you look at what has happened with industries like banks. But it is troubling that such young people should be so cynical.

Oh and yes, they were not keen on the idea of careers advice via Facebook. That is our space, they said.

How can we best use technology at conferences?

October 3rd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Last weeks video adventure at the European Conference on Educational Research (#ECER2009) – where we interviewed some 40 or 50 participants on video plus more on audio – has provoked quite some discussion on how we can use educational technology to support conferences. First lets provide a little background information.

ECER is a long running and popular conference. It attracted some 2050 enrolled delegates and covers a multitude of themes in educational research, organised by semi autonomous networks and coordinated by the European Educational Research Association (EERA). Whilst interest and participation in ECER is growing fast in terms of size, the conference is probably at its maximum. As ex EERA Secretary General, Martin Lawn explained to us on video, ECER is traditional hosted in university accommodation and few – if any – European universities have space for many more delegates than 2000. And talking to delegates – whilst they appreciated the breadth of the conference and the chance to talk to researchers from different areas of educational research – the very size of the conference was felt to be problematic. With many sessions running in parallel it was difficult to select sessions from the 229 page paper based programme.

ECER has done little with technology in the past. The web site (based on Typo 3) provides access to a PDF version of the programme and to standard information on travel and accommodation but little more. Although the use of technology for learning is obviously a theme in some of the sessions and networks (notably the Vocational Education and Training Network) and there is a relatively small network focused on ICT and learning (Network 16), Technology Enhanced Learning has never been a major theme at ECER.

There are four main arguments for embracing more technology. First is to ease the undoubted difficulties in administration and managing the conference. Second is to provide timely updated information to participants. Thirdly is to make the face to face conference more accessible, for instance through interactive programmes. Fourthly is to facilitate networking between delegates. but perhaps the most compelling argument for the use of technology is the idea of Open Education. Technology could allow the conference to turn itself outwards and to allow participation by those unable to afford either the time to attend or the quite expensive delegate fee. Access is obviously particularly problematic for younger researchers – who possibly might benefit most from a conference of this nature. Rather than being an episodic event on the educational research calendar, ECER could be at the centre of what is called by the European Commission the European Research Area. At the same time this would allow ECER to grow, whilst remaining limited in terms of physical attendance.

So at a practical level what technologies could be used?

First and most important is to set up a social networking site for the conference. Cloudworks, BuddyPress, Ning or Mixxt are all possibilities. However, in my mind CrowdVine is probably the best for the ability to create individual conference programmes. If this was done, I am sure it would encourage more delegates to attend network events, other than those of their own immediate network.

Attention needs to be paid as to how to provide rich information about sessions. I posed this question in a previous blog post about the #AltC conference. Seb Schmoller from ALT put forward a number of interesting suggestions in a comment on the post:

“What is it about a session that you need to know to make a decision about whether to go to it?
Inclusion of a micro-abstract – 140 characters max?
Themes addressed?
Type of session (demo, workshop, symposium, etc)?
Level of experience aimed at?
Where on tech/learning spectrum it lies?
Extent to which it has a strong data or numerical component?
X?
Y?”

Other comments and suggestions included encouraging presenters to make a short video or audio about their contributions. In terms of the participants to ECER (for the most part non-techies), this would require a very simple web based facility to do this – maybe CrowdVine could consider this?

Thirdly stream the keynote sessions and other selected sessions and publicise this in advance. Encouragement and support could also be provided to the different networks to consider streaming some of their sessions. A second screen should be provided in streamed sessions for allowing feedback from those participating remotely.

Fourthly continue what we did this year in producing videos and podcasts from the conference (probably with a little more organisation and preparation than we did this year :) ).

Fifthly, consideration needs to be paid as to how to easily allow presenters to upload their papers and presentations to a central or distributed repository. ECER does not require full papers to be produced and this is a weakness of the conference. However, VETNET has now over 60 of the 90 or so presentations on-line and other networks should be encouraged to follow suit.

One small but key measure would be to adopt a common hashtag and publicise this in advance. As far as I can see only four or five delegates twittered this years conference – but it may be that different people used different tags.

One way of encouraging more use of Twitter – or whatever microblogging service is trending next year – would be to distribute large screens around conference spaces. These could not only be used to show real time aggregated feedback, but also to provide information on upcoming conference sessions.

This is of course only a starting point. But if these steps were taken, they could allow ECER to turn itself outwards, not only to researchers in Europe but to researchers in other continents. With the announcement of the formation of the World Education Research Association at this years ECER, it would be a timely move forward

Work based learning and apprenticeship

February 5th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I have always been interested in the potential of work based learning. Although much of what I have written about is informal learning, formal work based learning programmes also seem to me to be important. Apprenticeship is probably the largest such organised form of work based learning. And, if speakers at last weeks INAP conference in Vienna are to be believed, apprenticeship programmes seem alive and kicking. Indeed, some countries like Italy, have witnessed a dramatic increase in apprentice numbers in the last five years.That is not to say that apprenticeship training is without problems – especially in those countries which have developed mass university education, like the UK, apprenticeship lacks prestige. Drop out rates are sometimes alarmingly high. Quality of apprenticeships may vary. School or workshop based training may lack authenticity.Apprenticeship programmes are probably strongest in the German speaking countries. In Germany and Switzerland some two thirds of all young people embark on apprenticeship training, in Austria around 40 per cent do so. In Germany and Switzerland occupations prepared for by apprenticeship cover all economicsectors i.e. in craft, industry and trade, liberal professions, and services. In Austria, apprenticeship prepares predominantly for artisan-type occupations and full-time higher level vocational colleges prepare for associate professional and technical occupations. Apprenticeship in the German-speaking dual-system countries is structured by the concept of Beruf and apprenticeship training can only be provided in a recognized occupation. The Beruf or professional occupation is defined by a coherent set of skills that combine together to form both an occupational and a social identity (Steedman, 2005).A major threat to the future of the apprenticeship programmes -and one that is not limited to the German speaking countries is a lack of training places. Moral responsibility to provide training opportunties is no longer sufficient motivation for employers who are concerned at the cost of training. Of course one answer coudl be large state subsidies but this seems hardly realistic.On my way back from Vienna I talked to Lars Heinemann from the University of Bremen who is working on a project called IBB 2010. Lars has just completed a major study into apprenticeship (I will provide link as soon as I have one). Essentially, the IBB project has developed a complex statistical tools for looking at the cost and quality of apprenticeship. Initial results suggest vast differences in the cost. Cost is far lower in the craft trades. The major variable appears to be whether training takes place in a training workshop or directly in the workplace. Where training takes place in the workplace, apprentices contribute more to the production process (or services) and thus the overall cost to the employer is lower. Now the project is looking at what practices could be transferred – both to improve quality and to reduce costs.I think this is important work. Only last week I lambasted UK prime minister Browns announcement that Mac Donalds amongst others are to become awarding bodies for qualifications gained in their workplaces. the reason I guess for this is to address precisely the same problem that faces the German speaking countries – a lack of willingness on the part of employers to provide training. But I think the German answer sounds potentially much more appealing in maintaining broader training programmes and refusing to let companies take over the curriculum.

Talking about practice

January 2nd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

The first post of the year. And practice seems as good as any a subject for short entry. For the last couple of hours I have been searching the internet for examples of appropriate and effective (or good, but I never liked that term) practice in blended learning. It is for a European funded project producing a guide for teachers on blended learning. And although the subject may seem a little old fashioned for UK based e-learning researchers, in many European countries this is a new concept. I also like the project because of its focus on pedagogy and pedagogic practice rather than on technology and platforms as is all too common.

It should be easy, I thought. Most e-learning in the UK is, in reality, a mix of different modes and forms of learning. But it was to prove not so – or perhaps my search strategies were uninspired. Whilst it is relatively easy to find research articles about blended learning – and tehir are a number of handbooks etc. these tend to focus on rubriucs of curriculum and technology design. It is much haredr to find anything which really dives into the practice of deisgn and delivery of blended learning.

I started wondering why. Perhaps it is because we still seem to have problems in evaluating effective and approariate learning using technologies. Is it because we do not know what we are really looking for? Is it because we have inadequate understanding of what makes for effective learning? Or is it because we do not understand the processes of inetraction in teaching and learning.

I was talking about this with my friend and colleague Jenny Hughes. Jenny has worked for many years in training teachers and trainers. We were discussing the difficulty in recognising and researching effective teaching practices. In truth we know little about what actually happens behind the closed classroom door. Of course teachers and trainers exchange experiences – mostly, I suspect, through telling stories. Some teachers and trainers exchange materaisl they have found to be useful. We have some pretty good programmes for school managers. Yet we still have great difficulty in explaining what makes for effective teaching – even more so in passing that on to others. Indeed it sometimes seems that teacher training colleges teach everything else except how to teach. Jen and I went on to talk about how we might design a research project to identify effective teaching practice based on observation and developing shared metadata for describing practice.

More on this next week. And I will give you my list of examples of effective and appropriate practice when I finish it. In the meantime, if you have any examples, I would be very happy to hear from you.

Happy new year.

Public sector targets to be scrapped | Society | SocietyGuardian.co.uk

July 22nd, 2007 by Graham Attwell

I am increasingly interested in issues of quality in teaching and learning. So this announcement of the scrapping of public sector targets reported in the Guardian has to be welcomed. It is very clear that targets do not work as a measure of quality…….has the UK government finally realised it?

Mr Burnham said: “We will avoid wherever possible the more crude approach of setting a one-size-fits-all target that is dropped down from on high … The direction of travel is for public services to look and feel differently in different parts of the country. We want them to face downwards and outwards, having a dialogue with their local communities rather than with the centre.”

Thats fine but I’m not in the least but sure what looking downwards and outwards mean. Does this mean being imposed top-down? And what form does such a dialogue mean. I fear this may be just more focus groups. And that equally does not guarantee quality

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Web 2.0 and quality – rate your teacher

November 13th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

I spent a tedious morning yesterday subtitling a video into five different languages (and in the course of it discovering every bug in i-Movie). To entertain myself I was listening to BBC Radio 5 – mainly because I’m thinking about chat show formats and their applicability to simultaneous on-line teaching and learning.

And on came this fascinating report.

“Five Live Report: ‘Bullied Teachers’

Teachers have always had to face cruel gossip from kids, but until very recently the trouble has usually been contained within the school building. Now – with the advent of the video mobile phone and websites like Bebo.com and ratemyteacher.com, they are finding themselves publicly humiliated and even falsely accused of sexual impropriety. Reporter James Silver looks at the internet phenomenon encouraging school children to grade their teachers and talks to those in the profession at the receiving end of malicious comments and allegations.”

The big discussion was over the web site, ratemyteacher.com. Students create their accounts and are able to rate their teacher. There is a flag for alerting to inappropriate content which the site managers say will then be taken down and investigating. One cause of controversy is whether this does happen and if so, how long it takes. Clearly the process is not as effective as the service claims.

The second, and here the teachers unions in the UK were most unhappy, was over the stress it can cause to teachers. My fear is that students are probably quite fair – teachers are unlikely to be stressed by unwarranted invective but may well get stressed by learning the truth of how students perceive their teaching.

There appears little effort by the (commercial) service developers to educate students in providing constructive feedback, neither is their a mechanism for discourse between teachers and students.

Given that such services will flourish in the future, education providers are going to have to rethink how students can be involved in the development, design and management to teaching and learning. It is only by giving learners a voice (and by listening to that voice) that constructive and inclusive approaches to quality (for this is – albeit crude) a quality system) can be developed.

NB. The programme is available to listen to over the internet for the next six days. But you will have to listen tot he whole programme and I think this report occurs about half way through. What a pity that the BBC does not make this sort of content available as a download for remixing – this would be a great piece of content for starting a discussion with learners over the use of the internet and quality systems.

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Open Educational Resources and Quality

October 27th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

I am still at the OECD meeting on Open Educational Resources.

There is a recurring discourse on quality. How do we ‘measure’ or represent quality. Many of the initiatives presented here are from higher education. Higher Education has a tradition of peer review and projects such as the Merlot repository are working to extend the peer review process to Open Resources.

In vocational education this would be a non starter. We do not have the resources, infrastructure or traditions and cultures for such a process to work. But even in Higher Education I am unsure such a process really can work. Who chooses the ‘expert’ reviewers? On what basis? What are the criteria for review?

More fundamentally the quality of materials depends to a considerable extent on the context of use. What is of high quality for me may not be for another user. Surely we need to find some way of representing users in any quality mechanism. That could be as simple as star rating systems. However, I think we need a more sophisticated mechanism which can capture the context of use as well as a quality rating – and ways of displaying such distributed metadata.

In other words – we need to build / adapt social social software for developing, sharing and re-purposing open educational resources. If you are interested in this work, please get in touch.

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