Archive for the ‘SMEs’ Category

New steps in the Layers fieldwork – Part 2: Pilot workshops with craft trade companies go ahead

September 12th, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started to report on the recent steps in the fieldwork of the Learning Layers (LL) project in the construction sector. I firstly reported on the participation of LL partners in the large German construction sector fair NordBau and on the stakeholder talks we had their with several companies. A major topic was to engage them into pilot activities on the LL tools in particular with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). This post will give insights into the recent Pilot workshop with craft trade companies on LL tools. This workshop was organised and documented by our ITB colleague Werner Müller. He has written a more detailed report for internal use. I will highlight here some points that give a general picture, how our pilot activities are moving on.

The workshop was planned as a follow-up to the stakeholder engagement activities that we carried out during the Well-builders’ fair in May 2014 (65. Brunnenbauertage) in Bau-ABC Rostrup. However, before launching a wide range of workshops, we agreed to have first a smaller pilot workshop. We invited two companies that we had interviewed during the initial phase of the project and with which the LL partners had good contacts.

The company K is a carpentry company with currently 36 employees. It is involved in the network for ecological construction work (Netzwerk Nachhaltiges Bauen – LL partner organisation) and in several domain-specific networks. The company has been pioneering with company-specific apps and is in the process of introducing tablet PCs for team leaders. At the same time the company is paying attention to the fact that introduction of new ICT tools will not cause a digital divide in access to information and communication. The company has regular meetings to discuss quality issues (QT-Runde).

The company W is a larger medium-sized company with ca. 430 employers and specialised on pipeline-building. It has most of its staff working on missions in teams of two or three skilled workers. This company has a long-term cooperation with Bau-ABC. The company W has been pioneering with digital pens, mobile offices (laptops with internet access) allocated to teams and with centralised databases. Yet, the company has had mixed experiences with the effectivity of such tools regarding time used for searches vs. finding adequate solutions. The company itself has centralised databases and is concerned of knowledge management and confidentiality issues. Concerning knowledge sharing and learning across teams, there are very limited possibilities to provide face-to-face meetings.

In the workshop we presented a general picture on the Learning Layers project and invited the companies to present their own situation assessment on their use of ICT, Web tools and digital media (including use of mobile technologies). Then, we presented a demonstration on the emerging Learning Toolbox (LTB) as a framework for managing web resources and apps with a mobile device. in the next rounds of discussions we were mapping different situations for piloting with the LTB and needs to which it could respond.

At this point it is not appropriate to go into details of the subsequent discussion. For the LL project it was important that both companies found their specific entry points to pilot activities. For the company K these were more in the intra-company communication and knowledge sharing and in the network-wide knowledge sharing. For the company W they were in the filtering of different quality guidelines and requirements (provided by different electricity providers or public authorities). Altogether, both companies agreed to continue the cooperation with the project and to organise further talks and pilot workshops in their companies.

After this pilot event and after the stakeholder talks during the NordBau fair (see my previous post) we are looking forward to the next pilot workshops.

More blogs to come …

 

Developing a Work Based, Mobile Personal Learning Environment

July 6th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

As regular readers will know, for a long time I have been fascinated by the potential of mobile technologies for developing work based learning and work based Personal Learning environments. Mobile technologies can allow learning to take place directly in the workplace. Learning can be recorded and for that matter reflection on learning take place as a direct part of the work process. In such a way the workplace becomes part of the Personal Learning Environment and conversely the PLE becomes part of the work process. At the same time, such an approach can bring together both formal and informal learning. Through sharing learning processes and outcomes, learners themselves can contribute to a growing ‘store; of learning materials.

It hasn’t happened yet and it is worth thinking about why. One reason maybe that only recently has seen the spread of sufficiently powerful mobile devices and applications. Another is the suspicion of employers about the uses of such devices in the workplace. Most importantly may be the failure to develop pedagogic approaches for mobile learning. Most developments to date have essentially been about consumption of learning materials, albeit sometimes in innovative ways. And much of the publicity or mobile learning has emphasised consumption of short episodes of learning away from the workplace – or for that matter the classroom (for some reason we will all be learning on the bus or the train on our way home from work in the future or so the vendors say).

That is not to say there have not been attempts to develop more radical thinking. Members of the London Mobile Learning Group have, like others developed new ideas for work based mobile learning pedagogy. Yet still, as far as I can see, there have been few attempts to implement such ideas at any scale.

It is for these reasons that I am so interested in the development of the Learning Toolbox, initially targeted at apprentices in the construction industry, as part of the EU funded Learning layers project. Perhaps the biggest thing I have leaned from this work (apart from how difficult it is) is the need for co-development processes with end users and stakeholders in the industry. The new paper we have written for the PLE2014 conference documents the research we have undertaken and the co-development process, as well as our understanding of the issues around context and how to address such issues.

You can download the paper here. As always any and all feedback is very welcome.

Changes in Learning and Development

May 21st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

This is an interesting video. Donald H Taylor explains how Learning and Development Departments need to change their attitude to risk in order to keep pace with the rest of the business in today’s modern world. He describes 4 quadrants in which L&D departments fit: Learning Leadership, Unacknowledged Prophet, Comfortable Extinction and The Training Ghetto and explains how and why all L&D departments should join the quadrant of Learning Leadership. However I am not convinced that the major problem is that Learning and Development departments are failing to keep up with changing organisations. In my experience all too often it is the organisations themselves who are holding back change. And don’t forget that most Small and Medium Enterprises, who it could be argued are the prime drivers of change do not have a Learning and Development Department (interesting in that regard that Donald cites Pinterest with 12 employees as an example of a fast changing organisation).

Learning Layers – What are we achieving with our fieldwork of Year 1 (Part 4: Concluding remarks)

December 8th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my first post to this series of blogs I raised he question: What are we achieving with the fieldwork activities of Year 1 in the Learning Layers (LL) project?  In the two subsequent posts I gave an account on the developments in the co-design activities and in the training activities.

In this post I want to make three concluding remarks to complete the picture that may otherwise look a bit inward-looking and self-sufficient:

1) It is necessary to pay more attention to external support activities that can enrich the co-design and training activities – in particular the so-called Layers PBL projects;

2) It is necessary to have a closer look at the studies on regional innovation policies and the role of organised clusters (that are being carried out by the WP7 team).

3) It is necessary to pay attention to the potentials of and challenges for accompanying research.

1. Concerning the external support activities it is essential to note the valuable contribution that is provided by student groups working in the “Layers PBL” projects that work with particular tasks/apps proposed by LL partners. At the moment we have such projects working in several universities (HSKA, RWTH, Metropolia UAS). In the co-design activities and training activities of the year 2 we can count on the possibility to integrate their results into project work and to initiate new ones.

2. Concerning the studies on regional innovation policies and organised clusters, we have hosted several working visits of the WP7 team and attended to several sessions of stakeholder talks. We have also got several reports on other working visits of the WP7 team. This all has brought us closer to the understanding of regional and sectoral potentials and how to use ‘scaling up’ opportunies that are supported by other funding programmes. This is particularly important when we see the chance to involve other innovation regions with similar initiatives.

3. Concerning the role of accompanying research it is worthwhile to pay attention to the twofold relation of such research and the design/development activities. Firstly, the researchers have to be sufficiently closely involved in the design and development processes to sense the changes (progress or obstacles) in the process dynamics. Secondly, the researchers have to keep a relative distance to be able to document and analyse the developments (without being overly guided by their first impressions). In this respect the LL activities pose additional challenges to carry out the twofold duties of accompanying research in a balanced way.

I think this is enough on these issues at this moment. After the review of the Year 1 activities we need to get back to these issues when launching the Year 2 activities.

The discussion will be continued …

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

Learning Layers – What are we achieving with our fieldwork of Year 1 (Part 1: Overview)

December 7th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I looked back at my blogging on the Learning Layers (LL) project during its first year of activities. I explained how the most recent weeks have been characterised by reporting and preparation for the Year 1 review. I also made the claim that our fieldwork has progressed from a transition phase (August/September) and made clear steps forward. Now it is time to have a closer look at what has happened and why I give it such an importance.

However, before we go into details, it is worthwhile to clarify on what basis I am making these comments and what status I assume them to have.

Firstly, I do not try to give an overall picture of the LL project as a whole – and not even on the work in the construction sector. During the recent months I have been mainly involved in the cooperation with Bau ABC (with focus on LL Design team Sharing Turbine and its prototype Rapid Turbine). Thus, I have not been able to follow parallel developments as thoroughly.

Secondly, my role has varied in different activities – sometimes I have been in charge of the interpretation but most often I have been the one to make notes and reports. Thus, I have had to keep an eye on the whole process and the details as well.

Thirdly, I am not trying to write these comments only from the perspective of ITB but looking at the fieldwork as our joint effort – the research & development partners, technical support partners and application partners working together.

I formulated deliberately my question as follows: What are we achieving with our fieldwork of Year 1?I didn’t ask: What have we achieved …? What is the great difference ? Does it really matter, how the question is posed. To me and to us it does. The latter question draws attention to the results but leaves aside the process, how they have been achieved. The question that I have raised draws attention to the process and results as preconditions for each other. In this respect, what we see as results now, may not be the whole truth of the achievements, if the process has more potential and is only becoming mature.

Finally, I do not wish to give a list of separate achievements or indicators of improvement. Instead, I try to give a picture of (initially) separate initiatives and activities that are growing together as mutually supporting processes. Moreover, I want to give a picture of growing user engagement. Here we can give examples of the empowerment of trainers as contributors to participative processes – as dialogue partners in design sessions and as peer learners and peer tutors in training activities. And finally, what we have been seeing in the recent phases, is the growing interest to involve others once the activities are getting consolidated.

In the next blog articles of this series I will focus on the following activities and demonstrate, how they exemplify the process dynamics that I have outlined above:

 a) The developments in the work of the LL design team Sharing Turbine and in the work with the Y1 prototype Rapid Turbine (see the next blog post – Part 2);

b) The developments in the training activities – progress from singular initiatives towards a coherent and scalable training concept (see the following post – Part 3.

I stop my introductory remarks here and try to get to the two above promised blog articles without further delay.

To be continued …

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

Scaling up the use of technology for learning through SME clusters

October 21st, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Much of the work we do in Pontydysgu is project based. And a lot of that work is funded by the European Union, inv0olving multi national consortia of partners working together over a period of two to four years. The two year projects are a bit tight for time, especially if this includes technology development. But the big problem is what happens after the project funding ends. In the best cases, the ideas and products get taken up, further developed and embedded in practice. For instance  work we undertook through the MOSEP project has led to the introduction of e-portfolios in German schools. And work piloted in the Mature IP project has led to the development of an open portal and database for labour market information to improve career choices and decision making in the UK.

But all too sadly, many projects just fade away at the end of the funding. Of course sometimes this is because the work turned out to be less impressive than we had initially hoped. But there are also two big problems more relater to the structuring and fincaci9ng of European projects. The major one is the scaling up of projects and innovations. If products and processes are to be used after a project ceases funding, whatever the outcome, substantial numbers of users are needed. This is true for software, for processes or for more traditional products such as handbooks. Of course it is difficult to scale up to substantial numbers of users with two years. But regardless of the length of a project it requires a strategy. And most projects do not have such a goal, let alone a strategic approach.

The EU funded Learning layers project has as a major objective, scaling the use of technology to substantial numbers of small and medium enterprises in the construction and health sectors. To do this we are looking at developing engagement with clusters of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Between 2002 and 2010, nearly 85% of new jobs in Europe were created by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are currently employing 67% of the total workforce (De Krok et al., 2011). Notably, it is the smallest and youngest SMEs that drive this trend, while more established and larger firms are shedding jobs on a net basis. Many of the new jobs created by these SMEs are knowledge intensive and demand specialised skills. According to a European Commission study, the number of low skilled jobs is expected to fall from 21% of total jobs in 2012 to 18% by 2020, while jobs that require higher skills levels are expected to rise by 20%. (European Commission, 2012).

Highly specialised and high-skill growth SMEs increasingly organise in regional clusters as competitive pressures and the difficulties in some sectors of finding skilled workers make collaboration even among competitors an attractive value proposition. At the same time, clusters have a unique negotiation advantage in the region compared to smaller actors, and have the power to influence educational institutions and policy makers. In theory, by joining clusters together with other firms and regional players, SMEs have  a means to influence educational and business development policy in their region and the bargaining power to lean on local colleges and universities to produce the skills and talents needed for economic advancement. Cluster organisations can drive innovation in learning at the workplace by helping SMEs and other cluster members in developing joint technology-enabled training and skills services, which in turn provide an additional funding source for the cluster organisation.

A recent study conducted by the Cluster Excellence Initiative (Meier zu Köcker et al., 2012) of over 300 European cluster organisations shows that the depth and breadth of services offered to their members is the most important contributor to generating impact on the business of SMEs. In terms of the type of service offered by the cluster organisation, our research indicates that currently, services focusing on training and skills development have the greatest potential in terms of generating revenues. This supports the Learning Layers project strategy of targeting cluster organisations as scaling partners and the focus on training and skills development services for SMEs in and across regional clusters. Inter-cluster collaborations in developing learning services makes economic sense since clusters in a given region share common actors, including regional policy makers in education and business development, universities, VET and general upper secondary schools, research institutions, and financial institutions and investors. (more to follow).

Closing the gap: notes on developing a mobile workplace elearning App

August 23rd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Mind the Gap, says Geoff Stead referring to the gap between theory and practice in mobile learning. And it is this gap which is perplexing me as we attempt to develop an App (code named Rapid Turbine) for use by German construction apprentices.

Writing in a blog for last year’s MobiMOOC Geoff says:

There are a few academic frameworks that can be useful in evaluating, and reflecting on m-learning:

  1. Laurillard’s Conversational framework (2002) – showing the different roles that technology can play in the process
  2. Park’s Pedagogical Framework for Mobile Learning (2011) – offering a simple matrix to map the transactional and/or social closeness of a learning intervention
  3. Koole’s Model for Framing Mobile Learning (FRAME) – 2009 – showing how the mobile learning is an interaction between the technology, the learner and the context.
frame-venn-i1.png
FRAME model

The one that most connects with my own thinking is FRAME, because it is quite clear that you any theory about m-learning needs to engage with the technology itself (the device), AND the learner (who they are, what they want), AND their social context.

The reason the definition works for me is exactly the reason why I suspect m-learning has proved so problematic to define precisely. It just isn’t one thing. There may well be one core idea in the middle, but this is heavily influenced by factors that are different in different contexts.

Here are some examples, and contrasting ideas:

  • while m-learning at work might be about performance support tools, and access to small nuggets of information; m-learning in the classroom might be more about exploring ideas together, and collaborating on a project
  • while m-learning on a field trip might be exploring your environment (GPS / augmented reality / mapping / camera), m-learning in a lecture theatre might be about taking notes, and looking up references.
  • while BYOD m-learning might be about sharing critical information via any device; a specific iPad activity will be rely on a specific app on a specific, named device

Folks, these are ALL m-learning, but because the circles in the Venn Diagram are filled with different questions, the resulting answer is different.

The core idea behind Rapid Turbine is that it brings teogther learning in different contexts – in the vocational school, in the industry training centre and in the workplace

Thus the pedagogic design of the App needs to be ‘mutable; to reflect these different designs. In the vocational school learning may be more formal and the app needs to scaffold and support apprentices in linking that formal knowledge to the work based learning gained in practice.

In the training centre the use of the App is focused on gaining practical work based knowledge and the presentation of learning materials and learning support needs to reflect that use. In the workplace, the App may be more needed to provide information and knowledge based on the other settings.

The different dimensions of the App should adapt to these different contexts of use. Collaboration, communication and data sharing will vary in each context of use. Thus a use case based on a single scenario or context will only provide us limited help.

Perhaps a dimension or scale lacking in these frameworks is that of depth and breadth, which can be seen as key in linking both the different kinds of knowledge and learning and the different resources which support scaffolded learning.

If we take a particular work task as the basis for an application (as Rapid Turbine does which is why it is high in authenticity and situatedness) then at some points apprentices will want to progress in more depth which perhaps brings in more theoretical learning and in other cases with more breadth which provides more contextual links to other work tasks (and arguably to more holistic work tasks).

The App needs to overcome not just a gap between theory and practice in mobile learning design but the gap between theory and practice in skilled construction work and the gap between informal and formal learning. And that is not easy

Some thoughts about MOOCs

August 14th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I’ve avoided writing  much about MOOCs lately. Not because I am not interested or because I don’ think MOOCs are important, but mainly because I have been overwhelmed by the deluge of announcements and developments, blog posts, studies and lets face it, just hype.

Some couple of weeks ago, I was invited to join a partnership for a tender application to the EU about MOOCs for web developers. So I have spent soem time looking rather more intensively at the literature and trying to make some sense of it. Here are a few observations.

Firstly are MOOCs really disrupting universities. I guess the answer is yes and no. The great majority of MOOCs are free, and despite emergent business models around for example, selling e books or charging for accreditation, there remains question marks over the business models for MOOCs. Of course if the purpose and structure of universities is to provide free and open higher education then this wouldn’t be so important. But in an era where university funding in many countries is increasingly reliant on fees, this does become a major issue.

However, I am by no means convinced that those signing up for MOOCs – and there are a lot of enrolments – are students who would have previously signed up for a fee bearing course. Instead I think the real phenomenon of MOOCs is that they show the massive pent up demand for education. Some of this is to learn new skills but I suspect many participants are just driven by personal interest. Indeed a study we undertook some six or seven years ago on the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) (download book as PDF here), found that although few employers were aware of the potential, many employees were participating in job related on-line learning, more often through participation in communities, out of personal interest.I suspect that MOOCs should better be compared to community and adult education, rather than to university programmes. In some countries such as Germany face to face provision of community education is continuing to thrive, but in other countries like the UK the economic crisis and subsequent cuts in public expenditure have devastated provision.

We also found out through the SME study that most SME employees were not particularly concerned with accreditation and certification – indeed some told us that if the learning programme was to be assessed that would be a deterrent to their participation. So although it is often said that the lack of accreditation or credentialism other than certificates of participation is a problem for MOOCs I am far from convinced this is so.

A further much commented issue is the very high drop out rates – or non completion – on MOOC courses. Once more, I am unconvinced this is a major issue. I suspect that many MOOC curriculum designers may be underestimating the time it takes to properly participate in a course and that of course is a problem. But I suspect that many people are dropping in and out of courses, following the parts in which they are most interested. I suspect that large MOOC providers like edX and Coursera may change their design to provide shorter or unit based programmes.

There is nothing new in this of course. Curriculum designers have been providing modular or unit based courses for years, and despite the danger of incoherence, these have been largely successful. In our study of the use of technology in SMEs, we were surprised at the ability of learners to structure their own learning and to judge the level of learning resources that they needed.

The lack of feedback and support for learners through a MOOC may be a more serious issue. Of course this varies greatly, with cMOOC providers seeking to develop community peer support.  I think MOOC designers are going to have to rethink how support can best be developed in the future.

Many observers have pointed out that in reality there is nothing new about MOOCs and in a densely cited Wikipedia article on MOOCs traces their precursors back to the correspondence courses of the late 19th Century. And indeed, although there is considerable innovation in the original cMOOC design, many of the ‘mass produced; MOOCs show little different than online courses which have been available for some time. To that extent MOOCs may just mark the final coming of age of Technology Enhanced Education or whatever we choose to call it. Possibly the interest may reflect a younger generation who have grown up with Google and are used to managing their own learning to a greater or lesser extent through the web. Possibly it may also reflect more ubiquitous connectivity, the spread of mobile devises and the ease of producing, distributing and consuming video. Indeed perhaps most worrying is that many MOOCs retain the weakness of previous incarnations of online learning with little interactivity or social learning.

having said this, there are many flavours of MOOcs and I suspect that we will see more and very different models develop over the next year or so. Perhaps calling them all MOOcs is not particularly helpful and there have been many suggestions of different names of different varieties. Yet the term MOOC has seized public attention – or more prperly the attention of teh press. Incidentally, the fact that some of the more right wing news media are using MOOCs to announce the end of public education should not put us off; such pronouncements can be found with the advent of radio and television as well.

More important is the learner experience and here more work is needed on design rubrics and evaluation tools: data mining cannot provide sufficient feedback alone.

My own interest is in the potential of MOOCs for vocational and occupational learning, both initial training and perhaps more importantly continuing education and training. Here I think their are some significant challenges which I will write more of tomorrow.

 

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.

Reaching out to Developers

May 27th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

One of the things I am working on in the Learning layers project is user engagement.

Learning Layers is based on user centred design model, involving end users and organisations in developing solutions to promote both formal and informal learning using technology in clusters consisting of:

  • Small and Medium Enterprises.
  • Regional Education and research institutions; typically upper secondary level and tertiary level)
  • regional authorities, national and European – policymakers responsible for incentive systems for regional growth and innovation, and for developing policies and initiatives for initial and continuing vocational education and training
  • Investors, banks, investment funds, business angels, public bodies- funding and supporting innovation.

Engaging with users and involving them in design of new solutions is also part of the research strategy. Layers researchers obtain research data from the interaction with users in the design based research model.

I am basing the strategy on a model of open innovation and will publish more about our ideas on this over the next few days. One of the things is to move away from the traditional project approach of dissemination of the end results to potential users and stakeholders to a model based on active participation – and on an architecture of participation. We have produced a table of different stakeholders in the project and are trying to understand from what direction their interest might come, what they want to get out of the project and what active contribution they might make.

Based on this we are putting forward a number of concrete initiatives the project can take over the next three and a half years.

One such idea is Layers PBL, standing for Layers Problem Based Learning, Practice Based Learning or Project Based learning depending in your way of looking at it (I see it as all three). This involves connecting outwards to engage with student groups, who in computing or business ICT are often required to undertake a one semester programme undertaking a real project in conjunction with companies.

We have piloted this approach with a team of students from HsKA, the Technical University of Karlsruhe. They are working on an idea for an app based on talks we had with a doctor at a Layers meeting held in Bradford earlier this year. The idea is that in their limited free time (in the car between appointments and meetings) users can reply to a series of questions on their phone. They can move between questions through a voice command and the app will communicate with a webs interface to produce a transcript of their answers which can then be edited and downloaded. The web interface also allows people to build their own (scaffolded) sequence of questions – which we call a stack – and to share them with other users if they wish. They can also rate different stacks.

So far it is going pretty well. The web interface is pretty much finished and they are now developing the mobile interface. The students are using SCRUM programming with weekly sprints. We usually meet online for about 20 minutes a week for them to present their progress and for us to provide feedback.

Last week I talked with Chris Whitehead who ia programmer with Tribal, another partner in the Layers project. Chris has helped develop m-learning. a content development tool for mobiles. And he suggested that we could link the app being developed by the Karlsruhe students (code named Reflect) to the m-learning application. I talked about this to Andreas Vratny, one of the Karlsruhe lead developers, on Friday. And hey presto, by Sunday we had an API and an OAuth system to allow single log in to the two systems.

The present version of the app is being developed for the Android operating system. We will release it on the Pontydysgu site as soon as it is ready, as well as on the Android store. If it catches on we will try to port it to iOS. And we are thinking about extending our development activities to further universities with a the development of a Layers Design Library to support developers. If anyone is interested please get in touch.

 

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    News Bites

    Consultation

    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at http://goo.gl/LwR65t.


    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100′s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”


    Code Academy expands

    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

    Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.


    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!
    STEMxCon is a highly inclusive event designed to engage students and educators around the globe and we encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching.

    To find out about different sessions and to login to events go to http://bit.ly/1enFDFB


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