Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

Workplace Learning Analytics for Facilitation in European Public Employment Services

April 29th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

This week I have been at the pre-conference workshops for the Learning analytics conference in Edinburgh. This is my presentation at the workshop on Workplace Learning Analytics. And below is the abstract of my paper together with a link to download the full paper, if you should wish. In the next few days,  I will write up a reflection on the workshops, plus some new ideas that emerged from talking with participants.
Abstract

The paper is based on early research and practices in developing workplace Learning Analytics for the EU funded EmployID project, focused on identity transformation and continuing professional development in Public Employment Services (PES) in Europe. Workplace learning is mostly informal with little agreement of proxies for learning, driven by demands of work tasks or intrinsic interests of the learner, by self-directed exploration and social exchange that is tightly connected to processes and the places of work. Rather than focusing on formal learning, LA in PES needs to be based on individual and collective social practices and informal learning and facilitation processes rather than formal education. Furthermore, there are considerable concerns and restraints over the use of data in PES including data privacy and issues including power relations and hierarchies.

Following a consultation process about what innovations PES would like to pilot and what best meets their needs, PES defined priorities for competence advancement around the ‘resourceful learner’, self-reflection and self-efficacy as core competences for their professional identity transformation. The paper describes an approach based on Social Learning Analytics linked to the activities of the EmployID project in developing social learning including advanced coaching, reflection, networking and learning support services. SLA focuses on how learners build knowledge together in their cultural and social settings. In the context of online social learning, it takes into account both formal and informal educational environments, including networks and communities. The final section of the paper reports on work in progress to build a series of tools to embed SLA within communities and practices in PES organisations.

Download the paper (PDF)

Reflections on Communities of Practice

March 17th, 2016 by Graham Attwell


Chahira Nouira sent me an email asking if I could make a short podcast around Communities of Practice. ” I am writing,” she said “because I thought you might have 15 min of your precious time to help me compile an audio playlist where you are the stars! For a year, I have been involved in a project funded by the EU and one of its products is a Community of Practice for Lifelong Learning: DISCUSS. My idea is to get insights from you on CoPs based on how your experience and stories”.

I have been involved – and still am – in a number of projects seeking to support the emergence of communities of practice – defined as groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly – with varying success. In the podcast I try to explain why I think some have worked an others less so.

In early days, in the late 1990s, we mainly saw the idea of Communities of Practice as an analytic tool to understand how informal learning develops in Communities of practice and how knowledge is exchanged. In a later stage we moved on to try to develop or foster Communities of Practice, using IST to support the emergence of dispersed communities.

All to often we thought we could form communities ourselves, not totally understanding the emergent nature and the ownership of CoPs. Too often also, we have conflated organisations with communities. Probably more importantly, whilst we have fused on communities, we have failed to properly understand the nature of the practices which bind together those communities. According to Wenger, a community of practice defines itself along three dimensions

  • What it is about – its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members.
  • How it functions ‐ mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity.
  • What capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time. (Wenger, 1998)

In seeking to support facilitation a vital prerequisite is understanding the nature of the social practices within the workplace, both through observable patterns of individual practice and through developing an overall pattern language. This includes the use of objects. Objects are necessary components of many practices – just as indispensable as bodily and mental activities. (Reckwitz, 2002). Carrying out a practice very often means using particular things in a certain way. Electronic media itself is an object which can mold social practices and enable and limit certain bodily and mental activities, certain knowledge and understanding as elements of practices (Kittler, 1985; Gumbrecht, 1988).  One approach to choosing ways to develop particular objects is to focus on what Onstenk (1997) defines as core problems: the problems and dilemmas that are central to the practice of an occupation that have significance both for individual and organisational performance.

If understanding the nature of social practices and patterns is a necessary step to developing facilitation services, it is not in itself sufficient. Further understanding is needed of how learning, particularly informal learning, takes place in the workplace and how knowledge is shared and developed. Michael Eraut (2000) points put that “much uncodified cultural knowledge is acquired informally through participation in social activities; and much is often so ‘taken for granted’ that people are unaware of its influence on their behaviour. This phenomenon is much broader in scope than the implicit learning normally associated with the concept of socialisation. In addition to the cultural practices and discourses of different professions and their specialities, one has to consider the cultural knowledge that permeates the beliefs and behaviours of their co-workers, their clients and the general public.”

Eraut attempts to codify different elements of practice:

  • Assessing clients and/or situations (sometimes briefly, sometimes involving a long process of investigation) and continuing to monitor them;
  • Deciding what, if any, action to take, both immediately and over a longer period (either individually or as a leader or member of a team);
  • Pursuing an agreed course of action, modifying, consulting and reassessing as and when necessary;
  • Metacognitive monitoring of oneself, people needing attention and the general progress of the case, problem, project or situation.

He also draws attention to the importance of what he calls mediating objects and points out that while some artifacts are used mainly during learning processes, most artifacts used for working are also used for learning. Such artefacts play an important role in structuring work and sharing information and in mediating group learning about clients or projects in progress.

In general, when seeking to support online communities, we have developed web sites and web based tools which are separate form the work process. Possibly, we should be looking instead at how we can use artifacts from work processes to support learning and knowledge exchange.

First cycle of Multimedia Training in Theme Rooms – Part 4: Interim reflections of participants

December 6th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my three previous posts on the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project I have written a series of reports on the Multimedia Training of the training centre Bau-ABC with the concept “Theme Rooms”. The concept was initiated by the training staff of Bau-ABC.  In my first blog I reported on the preparations by the LL teams of Bau-ABC, ITB and Pontydysgu) . The second post focused on the work with the theme ‘Social media’. The third post focused on the theme ‘Preparing  Digital Learning Materials’. The final fourth part gives a report on the joint interim assessment event of the participants in Bau-ABC Rostrup (with video connection with the group in ABZ Mellendorf).

Here it is worthwhile to mention that this interim assessment was clearly an event of the Bau-ABC trainers to assess whether the November workshops had provided the kind of learning experience that they had outlined with the initial ‘Theme Room’ concept.  In this respect there was a clear difference to the earlier Multimedia Training initiated by the LL project partners – to support the advanced trainers as testers and multipliers of LL tools. Now the groups involved all training staff and the aim was to get all participants into a learning process that enables them to use digital media, web resources and mobile technologies as means to support vocational training and workplace learning. Here some main points on the discussion:

a) The learning experiences in the groups

On behalf of the organisers Melanie Campbell opened the event, gave an overview of the concept of Theme Rooms and on the adaptation for November workshops and on the goal-settings. Then she invited participants from different groups to give feedback. The participating Bau-ABC started with comments on their special learning experiences and with positive feedback on the learning climate in the groups.  Here, it was worthwhile to note that several positive comments came from participants who clearly indicated themselves as less advanced learners. Director Emke Emken (in the role of a participant and learner) emphasised the importance that everyone had a chance to participate as a peer learner and to learn more in one’s own pace (Lernruhe). In this respect there was no pressure to pretend to know more and to show more than one was able. Also, in the group process we could encounter technical difficulties and other hurdles without getting frustrated.

b) Feedback on practical arrangements

Concerning the practicalities, we had several comments. Firstly,the timing of the sessions on Friday afternoon was not considered quite ideal  for such learning new things.  Yet, we could agree that the groups had always overcome the fatigue and got inspired during the sessions. We got a clear signal that it was worthwhile to have two workshops for the same theme and a to maintain continuity across the themes. In a similar way the trainers appreciated the continuation with the same tutors from one theme to another and in the same groups. Concerning the use of Google Drive folder we got a clear message that the participants could not use it for preparation (lack of time) but found it very useful as archive of the materials and documents on learning results. A great praise was given for the Estonian intern student Jaanika Hirv (TLU) who had worked two months in Bau-ABC during the preparation and implementation of the Theme Room program. She kept the trainers well informed of the schedules and visited the trainers at their training areas to collect feedback and to provide  assistance to those who had not been present in all workshop sessions.

c) Organisational implications

Several comments discussed organisational consequences for Bau-ABC. Director Emken referred to the need for Bau-ABC to position itself as users of digital media, web tools and mobile technologies in training. In this respect Emken emphasised that Bau-ABC is in the position of learner and has to make progress but it is clearly moving on step by step. Here, Emken reminded that Bau-ABC needs to keep its industrial counterparts with it on the journey. From this perspective it was clear to him and to the participants that there is a commitment to continue with the Theme Room program and to make the best of it. In this context Emken encouraged the participants to consider the new tools and media as their own personal ‘White Folder’ or ‘Toolbox’ and what they could best start using in the coming times. This, to us served as a preparatory phase for the phase to introduce the Learning Toolbox in the training.

In more specific comments the participants raised issues for internal discussions of Bau-ABC (e.g. how to make the best use of blogs and how to position regarding their openness vs. password protection). We (the co-tutors from ITB) raised some points of consideration regarding the equipment and software (to ensure the learning results and access to appropriate tools). Also, we had discussion on measures to keep the learning process continued (with some sessions of tutoing in one room in Bau-ABC and one room in Mellendorf on topics chosen by interested participants). We took note that January and February are the high seasons of Continuing Vocational Training (CVT) schemes. Yet, it appeared that there seemed to be a readiness to start a new cycle of workshops at the end of February and in March.

With all these positive comments and expressions of commitment to work further we were pleased to conclude the event looking forward to good continuation after the holiday break. We took also several points for further consideration concerning the next cycle of workshops. Altogether, the Theme Room program had made its case and provides a good basis for the next steps. We were already able to convey this message to the Year 3 Review meeting of the LL project one week before and now we could confirm it.

More blogs to come …

Looking back at three years of Learning Layers – Part Two: Role of research in construction pilot

October 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I drew attention to the fact that the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing  for the review of the Year 3.  This has given rise to consider the development of the project and our activities as an evolution of the context and development of the actors and activities working in the context. In the first post I discussed the challenges of the early phase and the responses of the project. In the second post I will discuss the role of accompanying research in the construction pilot. I will also make some remarks on the role of research dialogue within the project and across the boundaries of the current LL project.

1. Interaction between theoretical work and co-design activities in construction pilot (Year 2 and Year 3)

In the beginning of the Year 2 the Learning Layers project agreed to organise a “Theory Camp” activity with lengthy preparatory phase, and intensive symposium during the Y2 Integration Meeting in Aachen and a follow-up phase. This activity brought into picture the specific interactive relations between theoretical work and co-design activities in the construction pilot.

A considerable part of the contributions to the Theory Camp articles represented different aspects of learning, knowledge development etc. or different accents on design processes. These were to be applied to the fields of application via design processes that focus on specific problems and respective tools. As a contrast, the research partners in construction sector build upon the experience of participative innovation programs that have emphasised the social shaping of work, technology and work organisations from the perspective of whole work processes and holistic occupational qualifications, see Landesprogramm Arbeit und Technik, Bremen (Deitmer 2004); BLK-Programm Neue Lernkonzepte in der Dualen Berufsausbildung (Deitmer et. al. 2004). In this respect the research partners in construction pilot drew attention to themes ‘acquisition of work process knowledge’ (see also Fischer et al. 2004) and ‘vocational learning’ in their contributions.

In the follow-up phase the research partners worked with the themes ‘reviewing accompanying research’ (ECER 2014) and ‘reviewing activity theory’ (Bremen conference 2015). With this theoretical and methodological work the research partners reviewed the theoretical insights and discussed experiences with developmental research approaches, such as the ‘change laboratory processes’ and ‘expansive learning cycles’ (based on the work of Yrjö Engeström and affiliated project teams).

As a consequence, the research partners were in the position to work in the complex and manifold process of designing and developing Learning Toolbox with sufficient openness. This was needed to give time for capacity building and growing readiness for co-development (on all sides of the process). This was also crucial for making the toolsets appropriate to support (holistic) vocational learning and enhancing (holistic) work process knowledge. This has required manifold feedback loops and intensive reporting from field workshops. In this way the research partners in construction pilot have supported process dynamics that have enabled the application partners to become themselves the drivers of the piloting with Learning Toolbox in their own trades (Bau-ABC trainers) or in their specific contexts and activities to promote ecological construction work (Agentur and the affiliated network NNB).

2. The role of research dialogue – internal and external

In the light of the above it is worthwhile to emphasise that the construction pilot has not been developed in isolation. Instead, research dialogue activities – both internal (with  LL partners) and external (with other counterparts) have played an important role in the development of the project. The internal research dialogue activities have been shaped by working groups that focused on transversal themes – such as ‘contextual knowledge’, ‘trust’ – that were equally relevant to both pilot sectors. This work has been covered by other colleagues with their contributions to the reports. In this context I wish to draw attention to two threads of external research dialogue:

a) Exhanges on Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

As I have mentioned above, this thread was taken up by the ITB team as a follow-up of the Theory Camp and pursued further in a workshop of the Bremen International VET conference (see the report in my recent post). Here it is worthwhile to note that we gathered experiences on the use of Change Laboratory methodology in intervention projects and of theory of Expansive Learning as an interpretative framework in comparative projects. Also, we engaged ourselves in critical re-examination of some concepts used in Activity Theory (such as Vygotsky’s concept of ‘mediation’ and concepts like ‘contradiction’ and ‘transformative practice’). These discussions will be continued as the LL project proceeds deeper to the exploitation of results.

b) Exchanges of parallel approaches to intervention research

Already in ECER 2014 (in Porto) the ITB team had started a cooperation with researchers from HAN University of Applied Sciences with focus on intervention research (see the report in my earlier blog). This was followed up in the Bremen conference and in ECER 2015 (in Budapest). In the Budapest session the colleagues from HAN presented a new project that focuses on practice-based learning in HE programs with strong vocational elements. In this context they worked further with process models and with ‘stealthy intervention’ strategies. In a similar way a Danish project from the National Centre for Vocational Education presented a ‘Vocational Education Lab’ approach for promoting innovations and networking across vocational schools. (See the report in my recent post.) Also these exchanges will be continued when the LL project proceeds with the exploitation activities.

– – –

I think this is enough for the moment. We are now looking forward to next steps with our fieldwork and our exploitation activities.

More blogs to come …

Learning Layers has given new emphasis on Development Projects

March 22nd, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

The last event of the Learning Layers (LL) project  in the year 2013 of which I blogged was the Y1 Review meeting in Barcelona. One of the measures with which we have responded to the feedback of reviewers has been the shift of emphasis from overarching Design Ideas to more specific Development Projects. This shift of emphasis was already discussed during the Y1 Review meeting, but it really took off during the preparation of the LL consortium meeting in Innsbruck (that took place in February).

What has this shift of emphasis meant to us:

Firstly, it has provided us an opportunity consider, to what extent the co-design processes are going on with an overarching agenda (of the original Design Teams set up in March 2013) or whether they have moved to more differentiated processes.

Secondly, it has provided us an opportunity to give shape for sub-initiatives or complementary initiatives that may play a role in different contexts.

Thirdly, it has provided us an opportunity to reconsider, in what ways we share experiences and knowledge on co-design activities.

Here it is not necessary to give a comprehensive account on call changes or to go into very specific details. Yet, I can give some examples of the changes that have occurred with reference to the above mentioned reorientations:

1) In the Design Team “Sharing Turbine” the original idea was the digitisation of the White Folder (learning and working resource of the apprentices in Bau ABC). In the current phase the work has differentiated to several parallel Development Project:

1a) The Development Project “Learning Toolbox” is developing a toolbox of mobile apps and resources that supports the work with the White Folder (and paves the way for digitisation of documents and reports).

1b) The Development Project “Multimedia/ Web 2.0  Training “ is giving shape for the training activities that have been piloted with the staff of Bau ABC (and are to be supported by online learning).

1c) The Development Project “Baubildung.net” is developing a platform for professional networking platform for construction sector. This platform will also provide the basis for online learning in the context of the above mentioned training activities.

2) The Development Project “Reflect app” (that was initially developed with support of an affiliated students’ project) is being developed further by the LL project. The audio-based app that helps the users to record their learning experiences and learning gains (and convert them into documents) will be piloted both in healthcare and in construction sector.

3) The flashmeetings of Design Teams have to some extent given way for more comprehensive design forums of the two sectors healthcare and construction sector.

As we are talking of recent changes in dynamic processes, it is not yet the time to conclude, to what extent the Development Projects have shaped the daily work of the LL project. Yet, we can already see that the picture of the LL project is getting more networked and more colourful.

More posts to come …

 

 

 

 

REFLECT: Community-Driven Scaffolding for Voice-enabled Reflection on the Go

August 16th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Together with my colleagues, Christine Kunzmann, Andreas P. Schmidt, Graham Attwell1, Elizabeth Chan2, Marius Heinemann-Grüder, Jenny Hughes, Wenlin Lan2, Andreas Vratny and Andreas Heberle, we have produced a short paper for the forthcoming ARTEL workshop on Awareness and Reflection in Technology-Enhanced Learning at the ECTEL conference.

The paper explains the thinking behind the Reflect App which we hope to launch as a Beta next week.

Abstract

REFLECT is a mobile app that promotes a regular reflective routine. It is voice-based so that it can be used, e.g., while driving a car or in similar situations. The reflection session is scaffolded through decks of questions that can be configured by the other and shared with others, who in turn can reuse the questions.

Introduction

Reflective learning is seen as one of the key activity for workplace learning that is most neglected because of time pressure in everyday business. This particularly ap- plies to General Practitioners (GPs) who are on a tight schedule between slots for consultation and home visits. From the need to make learning activities traceable for re-certification, there is, however, an interest from doctors to reflect on learning experiences and to follow-up on learning opportunities arising from everyday practice. Key approach is to create reflection opportunities by utilizing time slots like when driving in the car from/to a home visit, or commuting.

Concept

The key idea behind REFLECT is that reflection support is based on voice interactions, which allows for hands-free operation. Users can record their reflection sessions, and the system transcribes it and sends it to them via e-mail for further processing, e.g., for including in a personal note-taking or task management tool, or a personal portfolio for future reference.

But reflection also needs scaffolding, particularly if it is supposed to take place embedded into working processes like in between home visits. This is achieved through recording the reflection session in the form of a structured interview along a deck of questions. The app reads the question (via text-to- speech) and then records the user’s responses. Via special voice commands (e.g., “next question”), the user can skip questions.

Useful questions for reflection cannot be pre- defined by the app designer, as they are situation- dependent (reflecting on the day/last patient, reflection on a longer period of time, reflecting after a training session) and there is no general knowledge about (i) which situations are relevant, and (ii) which questions are useful for which type of user. Therefore the app is complemented by a web-based interface that allows for choosing decks of questions that have been shared by others, for rating their usefulness, and – as soon as the learning becomes more confident and experienced in reflective practice to define own new questions and to share them with others.

This results in a lightweight and community-driven approach to scaffolding reflection, which also provides the opportunity for maturing the collective knowledge how to best structure such reflection sessions.

System

The system consists of an app to be installed on a smartphone or tablet (the current version requires Android 4.1 or higher – other systems are planned), and a web-based backend. The app allows for choosing a deck of questions, reads the questions to the user and transcribes the responses of the user and reacts voice commands. Towards that end, the Google Text-to-Speech and Speech-to-Text APIs are used. While this voice recognition does not deliver 100% accuracy, first tests have shown that under realistic conditions (e.g., in a car) the system produces a sufficient of quality of the resulting transcript to be useful for the user.

The backend is based on PHP, and users the Bootstrap framework. It gives the user the possibility to configure decks of questions, share them with others, use shared questions from others and rate them.

The app will be available from the Google Play Store and from the Pontydysgu website.

Outlook

As part of the Learning Layers project, this app is planned to be evaluated with a larger number of users as part of General Practitioners’ everyday work practice. Further- more, it is planned to complement the Android app with an iOS solution to cover the different types of smartphones used by the target group.

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

Reflect – an App for recording ideas and learning

July 23rd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Reflect is a free Android App for phones and tablets developed by students from Hochschule Karlsruhe (Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences) for Pontydysgu as part of the Learning Layers Project.

The app is presently in closed beta but will be open for use by everyone in August 2013. If you would like more details please email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com.

We demoed the App at a workshop jointly hosted by the UK National Health Service developers network Handi and the Learning Layers project in Bradford last month and share here the report we produced on the feedback.

Aim:

  • To elicit user feedback from developers and healthcare professionals
  • Evaluate potential of the App

Background and Key Idea:

The original idea came from talking with a doctor in the UK at a Learning layers workshop. He explained how little time he had to reflect on his ongoing learning. The most time he had, he told us, was when he was in his car between meetings and visiting patients.

The Reflect App was originally designed to make the recording of learning, both formal and informal, easy.

The App is voice controlled and translates voice recordings into text.

Users can build a ‘stack’ of questions by typing them into a simple form on a web interface. Then they can use an Android Phone App which reads them the questions. They can skip to the next question, resubmit their answer or ask for help. The answers are automatically converted to text and can be downloaded to their own computer or tablet.

What we hoped to learn:

We were concerned to get feedback about:

a)    The general idea and potential interest in the app

b)    Usability and UI

c)    Ideas for further development

Feedback from developers and healthcare professionals:

Negative feedback:

  • GPs are concerned about the level of security, regarding sensitive data.
  • Developers were concerned about quality of voice recognition and difficulties with background noise

Questions that were raised:

  • What is the maximum recording time?
  • Where does the voice recognition processing take place?
  • Is an off-line mode possible?
  • could Reflect be integrated into other systems (e.g. NHS)
  • What are business models for future sustainability?

Positive feedback and further potential:

  • Reflect could be a good tool to report back the first impressions on meetings
  • A future approach could be to develop an APi to allow use with other systems
  • Domains for groups to work together
  • Reflect could be used for research purposes e.g surveys
  • Learning tasks could be created for students (microanalysis)
  • Link to Evernote
  • Reflect provides strong support for scaffolding learning

Suggested Business Models:

  • Advertising
  • Premium domain accounts
  • Develop market ins tacks of questions for different occupations / domain and license under revenue sharing model

What Next?

We are continuing to test the App on a closed beta and are working on an open beta release for Reflect.

We are hoping to get further developer support for:

a)    Exploring off line potential

b)    Developing a API

c)    Porting to iOS

Evaluation of the activity:

From our point of view we were delighted with the critical and positive feedback. We especially noted the concern from external developers that there is a strong business model and suggest that this should be noted by other Learning layers development teams / design groups.

The workshop was very well organised. Whilst it would have been useful to have more health care professionals, the opportunity for engagement with so many developers and with commercial companies was extremely valuable.

Mobile work based Personal Learning Environments

July 8th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

This week is my favourite annual conference – the Personal Learning Environments Conference. And tomorrow I am off to Berlin, where the conference is being held at the Beuth University. The deadline for full papers was last weekend – so I am might relieved to have at least got a first draft of it out by today. It is co-authored with my colleagues Ludger Deitmer and Lars Heinemann from the University of Bremen and is based on work we are doing under the Learning layers project, seeking to develop and up-scale the use of apps for informal learning in the construction and health sectors. The paper focuses on the nature of knowledge used within work processes – what we call work process knowledge and how we can develop co-design processes to support work based learning.

The introduction is posted below and you can download a PDF copy of the full paper.

Introduction

While Technology Enhanced learning (TEL), Personal Learning Environments and the use of mobile devices have been suggested as a means to address the challenge of supporting learning at the workplace, their potential has not yet been fully realized. Despite much theoretical research in the use of mobile devices for work based learning there are still few compelling example of effective practice. Where there are case studies of both mobile devices and PLEs supporting work based learning, these tend to remain isolated with limitations on upscaling or wider adoption.

A critical review of the way information technologies are being used for workplace learning (Kraiger, 2008) concluded that most solutions are targeted towards a learning model based on the idea of direct instruction. TEL initiatives tend to be based upon a traditional business training model transferred from face to face interactions to onscreen interactions, but retaining the standard trainer / learner relationship and a reliance on formal and to some extent standardized course material and curricula.

However research suggests that (not only) in SMEs much learning takes place in the workplace and through work processes, is multi episodic, is often informal, is problem based and takes place on a just in time basis (Hart, 2011). Rather than a reliance on formal or designated trainers, much training and learning involves the passing on of skills and knowledge from skilled workers (Attwell and Baumgartl, 2009). In other words, learning is highly individualized and heavily integrated with contextual work practices.

In the past few years, emerging technologies (such as mobile devices or social networks) have rapidly spread into all areas of our life. However, while employees in SMEs increasingly use these technologies for private purposes and to a lesser extent for information seeking and informal learning, enterprises have not generally recognized the potential of such technologies for supporting learning.

As a consequence, the use of these emerging technologies and support for Personal Learning Environments have not been systematically taken up as a sustainable learning strategy that is integrated with other forms of learning at the workplace.

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.”

Linking mobile learning to real world artefacts and tools

February 5th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

More on work based mobile learning.

One of the major problems with Technology Enhanced Mobile Learning has been the split between the digital and analogue worlds. The digital world enables all kinds of personal interactions and interactions with digital artefacts. Some things are easier to digitalise than others. So books, diagrammes, audio, video can all easily be transmitted through digital media. But some artefacts are more difficult to capture in digital media – for instance a hammer, a saw, an earthmover. Of course it is possible to simulate some of these things – for instance flying an aircraft.

It is much more problematic to capture the haptics of using a hammer. Thus Technology Enhanced Learning has tended to focus on cognitive processes of learning. When it comes to practice we tell learners they should use their computers to assist in the process of reflection. That is fine but it is not enough. Many areas of work require real world interactions with both people and with physical artefacts. And I think that is why Technology Enhanced Learning has made only a limited inroad into work based learning and for that matter into learning in Small and Medium Enterprises.

The importance of tools and physical artefacts should not be underestimated. Artefacts are closely linked to practice. Wenger (1998) points out that amongst other features a Community of Practice is defined by “what capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time.”

There are different approaches we can take to integrating physical artefacts with applications and technology for learning (and in a further post I will outline some ideas). At a more abstract level I think we have to progress beyond seeing technology (like Learning Management Systems) as a container for learning into using mobile technologies as a tool for working and learning. In other words mobile technologies themselves become an artefact, on the same level as other work tools. We also need to look at integrating learning with the increasingly sophisticated data that many machines and artefacts produce – data that at the moment often exists in a silo.  Of course that means integrating learning in the work process, and bringing together digital work tools with digital learning tools. That learning needs to be scaffolded seems obvious. But the scaffolding should move seamlessly between the use of digital devices and interactions with real life objects.

And that again requires co-design approaches, involving potential suers from the start in designing and developing learning processes and applications. Learning layers is making good progress with this and I am increasingly confident that the project can transcend the divide between the physical and digital worlds.

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