Archive for the ‘Social networking’ Category

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.

Bremen talks on young refugees’ access to training and labour market – Part One: The event and the Bremen study

February 13th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the recent times my blogs on this site have focused almost exclusively on our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This time I will shift the emphasis to a major issue that we are discussing in the Bremen region: Measures to support the reception and integration of refugees. In particular Bremen is struggling with a large number of unaccompanied young people (under 18 years). On Thursday I attended with several other ITB colleagues a public event that brought into discussion a new study from Bremen, an ongoing model project in Bavaria and several views of stakeholders (from different organisations). In the first post I will give some background information and present insights int the Bremen study. In the second post I will give insights into the model project in Bavaria and highlight some key points of the discussion.

1. The background of the event

One of the specific institutions of the Hanseatic City of Bremen is the Chamber of salaried employees (Arbeitnehmerkammer). This is a public body and all salaried employees in Bremen are also members of the chamber. This is a similar arrangement as is the case with Chambers of Commerce or with Chambers of Craft and Trade (which comprise all the enterprises in their respective domains). Given this co-existence of public representative bodies, they have developed several forms of practical cooperation with different societal issues. Also, they have a tradition to contribute to each others’ events.

From the year 2015  on (when the amount of refugees coming to Bremen grew rapidly) the Arbeitnehmerkammer has taken several initiatives to get information on refugees’ situation, to facilitate cooperation between different support organisations and to promote public discusssion on necessary policy measures. In this context the Arbeitnehmerkammer had initiated with the research institute of the University of Bremen for Work and Economy (Institut für Arbeit und Wirtschaft) a special study on the prospects of young refugees to enter training and labour market in Bremen. This event was called to

  • make public the main results of the study,
  • make comparisons to an ongoing model project in Bavaria and to
  • promote public discussion between  different stakeholders who engage themselves with problems of young refugees.

2. Insights into the study on young refugees in Bremen

In the first part of the event the author of the Bremen study, René Böhme gave a comprehensive overview on the context, design and results of the study. Here I will not try to reflect its richness. Instead, I try to draw attention to some points that were of vital importance for the discussion:

 a) Concerning the amount of refugees arrived in Bremen: Whilst in 2014 the number of refugees was slightly over 2000, in 2015 it was over 10.000. In addition, the number of unaccompanied young refugees was in 2014 ca. 500, whilst in 2015 it was over 2500.

b) Concerning attitudes of employees: In general, employees are ready to receive refugees (given the shortage of skilled workforce) and to make extra efforts to support their training and integration into working life. Yet, they are aware of problems and risks (e.g. of high drop-out rates).

c) Concerning efforts to overcome formal hurdles: Preconditions for flexible and supported entry to training (e.g. via pre-vocational measures) have already been created. Yet, they alone do not guarantee successful completion of training.

d) Concerning parallel support measures and initiatives: At the moment the services and initiatives have been brought into picture in rapid tempo and separately by different actors. Therefore, they appear as uncoordinated patchwork of activities. However, as such they are not merely limited to educational and career guidance but cover also everyday life problems.

In the light of the above the study drew attention to the following needs:

  • to make the formal frameworks more flexible at Federal level,
  • to improve the pre-vocational learning opportunities in vocational school (with linked career guidance and counselling)
  • to improve the cooperation of public authorities, companies and service providers to create a coherent support system for refugee-trainees and -apprentices,
  • to strengthen complementary support  and mentoring networks to support overall integration into society and everyday life.

I think this is enough of the background of the event and of the Bremen study that was presented as a basis for joint situation assessment. In the next post it is appropriate to present the Bavarian model project and some insights into the discussion.

More blogs to come …

 

Thinking about Practice and Design

January 13th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

Sometimes writing reports for European projects can be a chore. Long, boring and nobody reads them. At the moment I am writing sections for the EmployID project second annual report. Instead of writing individual work package reports, as is the normal convention, we are writing a single report in the form of a book. And that provides more incentive to get it right. Plus the sections I am writing are all difficult – social learning, Learning Analytics and Labour Market Information tools, but are making me think. So I am quite enjoying it – I think. This last two weeks I have been working on design – or more specifically design for learning. How can we develop designs for tools to support informal learning in public service organisations. I am going to publish here a short series of posts outlining the way I am thinking. I am not sure if this stuff is write but would appreciate any feedback. The first post, today is about practice. Tomorrow I iwll look at the idea of Design Patterns and follow that up on Friday with a draft of a design pattern for Labour market Information tools.

Social Learning

EmployID aims to support and facilitate the learning process of Public Employment Services (PES) practitioners in their professional identity transformation process. The aims of the project are born out of a recognition that to perform successfully in their job they need to acquire
a set of new and transversal skills, develop additional competencies, as well as embed a professional culture
 of continuous improvement. However it is unlikely that training programmes will be able to provide sufficient opportunities for all staff in public employment services, particularly in a period f rapid change in the nature and delivery of such services and in a period with intense pressure on public expenditures. Therefore the EmployID project aims to promote, develop and support the efficient use of technologies to provide advanced coaching, reflection and networking services through social learning. The idea of social learning is that people learn through observing others behaviour, attitudes and outcomes of these behaviours, “Most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action” (Bandura, 1977). Facilitation is seen as playing a key role in structuring learning and identity transformation activities and to support networking in personal networks, teams and organisational networks, as well as cross-organisational dialogue.

Proposals and initiatives to utilise new technology for learning and professional development in organisations is hardly new. However, 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. Technology Enhanced Learning 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 standardised course material and curricula.

Research suggests that much learning that 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 (Attwell 2007; 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 both highly individualized and heavily integrated with contextual work practices and is inherently social in its nature.

To succeed in supporting identity transformation it is not enough merely to develop or deploy technologies which support training and information transmission. Rather, EmployID needs to develop approaches and pedagogies which can support social facilitation services within PES organisations and which empower individuals to engage in peer learning and facilitation around their own practices.

Although there is much research around the use of technology for learning, far less attention has been paid to informal learning and facilitation processes in the workplace. Research around social practice has largely remained the preserve of social science with different approaches based on structuralism, phenomenology and intersubjectivism amongst others. In his paper on theories of social practice, Reckwitz (2002) draws attention to the dual meaning of the English word practice in German.

“Practice’ (Praxis) in the singular represents merely an emphatic term to describe the whole of human action (in contrast to ‘theory’ and mere thinking). ‘Practices’ in the sense of the theory of social practices, however, is something else. A ‘practice’ (Praktik) is a routinized type of behaviour which consists of several elements, interconnected to one other: forms of bodily activities, forms of mental activities, ‘things’ and their use, a background know- ledge in the form of understanding, know-how, states of emotion and motivational knowledge. A practice – a way of cooking, of consuming, of working, of investigating, of taking care of oneself or of others, etc. – forms so to speak a ‘block’ whose existence necessarily depends on the existence and specific inter-connectedness of these elements, and which cannot be reduced to any one of these single elements.

Likewise, a practice represents a pattern which can be filled out by a multitude of single and often unique actions reproducing the practice (a certain way of consuming goods can be filled out by plenty of actual acts of consumption). The single individual – as a bodily and mental agent – then acts as the ‘carrier’ (Träger) of a practice – and, in fact, of many different practices which need not be coordinated with one another. Thus, she or he is not only a carrier of patterns of bodily behaviour, but also of certain routinized ways of understanding, knowing how and desiring. (pp249-250)”

In this understanding knowledge is more complex than ‘knowing that’. It embraces ways of understanding, knowing how, ways of wanting and of feeling that are linked to each other within a practice.

In seeking to support facilitation within public employment services 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:

1.     Assessing clients and/or situations (sometimes briefly, sometimes involving a long process of investigation) and continuing to monitor them;

2.     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);

3.     Pursuing an agreed course of action, modifying, consulting and reassessing as and when necessary;

4.     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 mediat9ing group learning about clients or projects in progress.

Among informal learning processes that Eraut lists are participation in group processes, consultations, problem solving, trying things out and working with clients. Working alongside others is important in allowing “people to observe and listen to others at work and to participate in activities; and hence to learn some new practices and new perspectives, to become aware of different kinds of knowledge and expertise, and to gain some sense of other people’s tacit knowledge.”

Tackling challenging tasks and roles requires on-the job learning and, if well- supported and successful, leads to increased motivation and confidence.

 

According to De Laat (2012) informal learning in the workplace is often described as observing how others do things, asking questions, trial and error, sharing stories with others and casual conversation (Marsick and Watkins, 1990). Boud and Hager (2012) argue that learning is a normal part of working and professional development should be placed in a social context where professionals work and learn together, changing and innovating both their professional practice as well as their professional identity.

De Laat (2012) argues that we need to find a new balance between formal and informal learning and provide opportunities for what Fuller and Unwin (2003) call expansive ‐ as opposed to restrictive learning ‐ through developing an organisational culture that values and supports learning and by so doing, opens doors to various opportunities for professional development. Informal professional development through engagement in social learning spaces can enable participation, construction and ‘becoming’ (De Laat, 2012).

Lave and Wenger (1991) also stress the importance of both practice and the social nature of learning in their conception of Communities of Practice.  Interestingly for them, collective learning results in practices that reflect both the pursuit of our enterprises and the attendant social relations. “These practices are thus the property of a kind of community created over time by the sustained pursuit of a shared enterprise. It makes sense, therefore to call these kinds of communities communities of practice.”

“Communities of Practice are important to the functioning of any organisations, but they become crucial to those that recognise knowledge as a key asset. An effective organisation comprises a constellation of interconnected CoPs, each dealing with specific aspects of the company’s competency, from the peculiarities of a long standing client, to manufacturing safety, to esoteric technical inventions. Knowledge is created, shared. organised, revised, and passed on within and among these communities.” (Wenger, 1998).

Connecting people in parallel, across disciplines, roles and departments of the business, is fundamentally different from connecting people in project teams or interest groups. Although the nature and composition of these communities varies members are brought together by joining in common activities and by ‘what they have learned through their mutual engagement in these activities’

According to Wenger (1998), 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)

A number of issues emerge in studies of attempts to develop communities of practice. One is a tendency to build a platform and ‘declare’ the existence of a community of practice, rather than supporting emergence and therefore ownership. The second is to fail to recognise that such a process of emergence is continuous and ongoing. A third is to conflate organisational structures with communities and to focus on the organisational nature of the community rather than the routines and artefacts that define the capability of practices.

In a similar way social learning is not something which can be done to people. Instead an approach to social learning has to be based on facilitation of social learning processes with organisations and within Communities of Practice. Such facilitation needs to relate to the social practices of people. Murphy (2004) has conceptualized collaboration as a continuum of processes, and developed an instrument with six stages for the purpose of identifying and measuring online asynchronous collaboration: “(1) social presence (2) articulating individual perspectives (3) accommodating or reflecting the perspectives of others (4) co-constructing shared perspectives and meanings (5) building shared goals and purposes, and (6) producing shared artefacts.” However, these six stages can also serve as a template for social learning processes and inform the work of EmployID in developing tools which can facilitate social learning.

References

Attwell, G. (ed.) (2007). Searching, Lurking and the Zone of Proximal Development. E-Learning in Small and Medium Enterprises in Europe, Vol.5, Navreme Publications, Vienna

Attwell, G. & Baumgartl, B. (Eds.) (2009): Creating Learning Spaces: Training and Professional Development for Trainers. Vol.9, Navreme Publications, Vienna

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Boud, D. & Hager, P. (2012). Re-thinking continuing professional development through changing metaphors and location in professional practice. Studies in Continuing Education, 34(1),17-30

De Laat, M. (2012) Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?, Open University of the Netherlands, Hagen

Eraut, M. (2000) Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work, British Journal of Educational Psychology (2000), 70, 113–136

Fuller, A., & Unwin, L. (2003). Learning as apprentices in the contemporary UK workplace: Creating and managing expansive and restrictive participation. Journal of Education and Work, 16(4), 407-42

Gumbrecht, H. U. (Ed.) (1988) Materialität der Kommunikation. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp.

Hart, J. (2011) Learning is more than Social Learning, http://www.elearningcouncil.com/content/social-media-learning-more-social- learning-jane-hart, retrieved 5 July, 2012

Kittler, F. (1985) Aufschreibesysteme 1800/1900. München: Fink.

Kraiger, K. (2008). Transforming Our Models of Learning and Development: Web- Based Instruction as Enabler of Third-Generation Instruction. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1(4), 454-467. doi:10.1111/j.1754-9434.2008.00086.x

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning. Legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press,

Marsick, V. J., & Watkins, K. (1990).Informal and Incidental Learning in the Workplace.London: Routledge

Murphy, E. (2004). Recognizing and promoting collaboration in an online asynchronous discussion. British Journal of Educational Technology, 35(4), 421-431.

Onstenk, J. (1997) Lerend leren werken: Brede vakbekwaamheid en de integratie van leren, werken en innovere

Reckwitz A (2002) Toward a Theory of Social Practices, European Journal of Social Theory 2002 5: 243

Tennant, M. (1999) ‘Is learning transferable?’ in D. Boud and J. Garrick (eds.) Understanding Learning at Work, London: Routledge.

Wenger, E. (1999), Communities of Practice. Learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wenger, E. (1998) ‘Communities of Practice. Learning as a social system’, Systems Thinker,

 

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 …

Recommenders or e-Portfolios

September 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I was interested by a comment by Stephen Downes in yesterdays OLDaily. Stephen says:

(People rating) will replace grades and evaluations. Because, when you have an entire network evaluating people, why on earth would you fall back on something as imprecise as a test? (p.s. smart network-based evaluations are what finally break up ‘old boy networks’ that mutually support each other with positive recommendations).

He was commenting on an article on the CBCNews website about the development of a new App being developed in Calgary. The CEO and co-founder of the people App Julia Cordray said: “You’re going to rate people in the three categories that you can possibly know somebody — professionally, personally or romantically.”

As Stephen commented there is really nothing new about this App. And we have experimented with this sort of thing in the MatureIP project. But instead of asking people to rate other people we rather asked them to list other peoples skills and competences. Despite my misgivings it worked well in a six month trial in a careers company in north England. What we found, I think, was that official records of what people can do and what their skills are are scanty and often not accessible and that people are often too shy to promote their own abilities.

But coming back to Stephens comments, I tend to think that smart network based recommendations may only strengthen old boys networks, rather than break them up. In research into Small and Medium Enterprises we found that owner . managers rarely worried too much bout qualifications, preferring to hire based on recommendations form existing employees or from their own social (off line at that time) networks.Yes of course tests are imprecise. But tests are open(ish) to all and were once seen as a democratising factor in job selection. Indeed some organisations are moving away from degrees as a recruitment benchmark – given their poor performance as a predictor of future success. But it doesn’t seem to em that recommendation services such as LinkedIn already deploy are going to help greatly even with smart network based evaluations. I still see more future in e-Portfolios and Personal Learning Networks, which allow users to show and explain their experience. I am a bit surprised about how quiet the ePortfolio scene has been of late but then again the Technology Enhanced Learning community are notorious for dropping ideas to jump on the latest trendy bandwagon.

Entering the post Facebook age

August 26th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I have written before about how I expect the future of social networking to eveolve towards less public and more niche social networking applications and channels. In that respect I like a recent article “How to Escape the Public Internet” in New Republic.

In the article draws attention to the increasing take up of Slack, an app we have been using for communication in some of our projects.

Ostensibly a powerful work chat app where teams can communicate with each other in channels of various topics (in the manner of its public predecessor IRC), Slack has also developed both a rabid userbase and a culture of its own as people turn its groups into communities. Its users aren’t just corporate teams, either. They’re freelancers, groups of friends, and even gaming clans. Though they use it differently, all have turned to the app for the same reason: to take their conversations from public to private.

Slack and other private modes of communication, says Alang, “offers a space hidden from the public internet. What it thus represents is a retreat into the private—or rather, a return to it.” I don’t think this is the only reason for the rise in popularity of private channels (and the return of curated newsletters). Although there have been several attempts to develop alternatives to Facebook they have all tended to look like Facebook clones. Slack is pretty, works on all platforms and is free of the distracting advertising and looks and feels nothing like Facebook.  More importantly Slack allows communication with a more limited community of ‘real’ colleagues and ‘friends’. And perhaps most important of all, as in the example Alang provides of a channel for writers and academics, Slack channels seem to be more focused on what you want to discuss, with people with the same interests. Slack for education – there’s a thought!

Workplace Learning Analytics

June 16th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

EmployID is an EU-funded, four-year project which aims to support Public Employment Services staff to develop competences that address the need for integration and activation of job seekers in fast changing labour markets. According to the official flyer: “It builds upon career adaptability and resilience in practice, including quality and evidence- based frameworks for enhanced individual and organisational learning. It also supports the learning process of PES practitioners and managers in their professional identity development by supporting the efficient use of technologies to provide advanced coaching, reflection, networking and learning support services as well as MOOCs.”

One of the aims for research and development is to introduce the use of Learning Analytics within Public Employment Services. Although there is great interest in Learning Analytics by L and D staff, there are few examples of how Learning Analytics might be implanted in the workplace. Indeed looking at research reported by the Society for Learning Analytics Research reveals a paucity of attention to the workplace as a learning venue.

In this video, Graham Attwell proposes an approach to Workplace Learning Analytics based on the Social Learning Platform model (see diagram) adopted by the Employ ID project. He argues that rather merely fathering together possible data and then trying to work out what to do with it, data needs to be sought which can answer well designed research questions aiming to improve the quality of learning and the learning environment. socialllearningplatform

 

In the case of EmployID these questions could be linked to the six different foci of the Social Learning Platform, namely:

  • Support for facilitation roles
  • Structuring identity transformation activities
  • Supporting networking in personal networks
  • Supporting organisational networks
  • Supporting cross organisational dialogue
  • Providing social networking facilitation
  • Supporting networking in teams

For some of these activities we already have collected some “docital traces” for instance data on facilitation roles through within a pilot MOOC. In other cases we will have to think how best to develop tools and approaches to data gathering, both qualitative and quantitative.

The video has been produced to coincide with the launch of The Learning Analytics Summer Institute, a strategic event, co-organized by SoLAR and host institutions and by a global network of LASI-Locals who are running their own institutes.

Marx, use value, exchange value and social networks

October 13th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I have to admit I am not a great fan of lectures on line. there seems far to little human interaction and the slick production of things like the TED talks has got both ‘samey’ and somewhat tedious. But I loved this lecture by David Harvey on Karl Marx delivered in Amsterdam with no slides and no notes! As the blurb says “David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and the author of numerous books. He has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for over 40 years.”

David Harvey does not shy away from the politics of Karl Marx. But his focus is on Marx’s writings and ideas as a tool for social science and analysis. For those of you without the time, interest or patience to listen to the whole video the particular bits I found interesting include his ideas around rational consumption (about 30 minutes in), the idea of accumulation by dispossession (some 38 minutes in), the idea of management of the ommons important (after about 47 minutes) and contradictions over the role of the state (towards the end of the lecture and before the discussion).

Harvey talks a lot about contradictions – the biggest being the contradiction between use value and exchange value. As Wikipedia explains: “In Marx’s critique of political economy, any product has a labor-value and a use-value, and if it is traded as a commodity in markets, it additionally has an exchange value, most often expressed as a money-price. Marx acknowledges that commodities being traded also have a general utility, implied by the fact that people want them, but he argues that this by itself tells us nothing about the specific character of the economy in which they are produced and sold.”

Much of David Harvey;s work has been in the area of urban development and housing and he explains how this contradiction applies there and its implications. But it may also be a useful explanation of understanding what is happening with social networks. Social networks have a use value for us all in allowing us to stay in touch with friends, develop personal learning networks, learn about new ideas or just letting off steam to anyone who will listen. OK – the exchange value is not expressed as a money price. But most people now realise that social networking applications are seldom free. Instead of paying money we give our data away for them to use. And in turn they use this data to try to extract money from us through buying commodities. This is all fine as long as the use value exceeds the exchange value. But as social network providers try to monetise their products they are constantly upping the ante in terms of exchange value. In other words we are increasingly being required to sign over our data as well as our privacy in order to use their applications.

Alternatively social networks are trying to push ever more commodities at us. An article in the Gaurdian newspaper yesterday over Twitters attempts to build a business model noted: “Chief executive Dick Costolo has talked longingly about growing, and eventually making money from, the huge number of people who view tweets without signing up. This is fine on YouTube, where most of us watch the content without producing it and only sigh a little as we’re forced to watch ads when we do so. In contrast, sponsored tweets are a bit like being asked to pay for gossip from your colleague over the coffee machine.”

All this means more and more people are questioning whether the use value of Facebook and Twitter is worth the exchange value.

And such contradictions are hard to resolve!

Managing data and managing projects

September 23rd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I’m sure I have written about this before but it is worth retelling. I first coordinated a multi country, multi partner European project in 1995. And for the first six months as well as ending emails, all project communications were sent by post. After six months I announced I was stopping the printed postal versions and would only communicate via telephone or email. Several of the partners protested, most of them the more advanced users who had Apple computers and who feared incomparability with Windows generated data.

Over the years software and systems have evolved and so has the way we run these projects. For many years we used to write in the box entitled innovation that we would hold regular video conferences. We never did because the software never worked. Skype and other applications like FlashMeeting changed all that. Indeed, sometimes it seems like we spend all our time in online meetings.

The recent big development has been the widespread use of Cloud storage. Although some projects set up repositories using various protocols, the reality is most partners could not access or use such applications. Then along came Dropbox. But even with extra storage for introducing new users, our Dropbox free storage rapidly filled up. Some of us paid for premium accounts but unless all project partners, and more important their institutions agreed, this was of limited value.

With the Learning Layers project we started out using Dropbox this worked pretty well, apart for Dropbox’s tendency to create conflicted versions. But as free storage ran out it was decided to move to Google Drive. Although Google Drive only provides limited free storage, it only counts documents you have added, rather than including document shared with you.

At the same time we started experimenting with all kinds of other cloud and social software applications – Pinterest, Diigo, Flipboard and so on. The result – we have more shared data and more active collaboration than ever before but it is all pretty chaotic. The traditional folder and file structures and naming conventions don’t really work in an intensively collaborative and active work environment without  lot of disciple and agreement users.

Of course we do have various paid for project management systems like Basecamp and also the excellent free Trello. The former I find over structured (but that;s just me). I think Trello is great but it is hard to get other partners to use it.

I am not sure what the answer is or where we will move next. There is growing unease about the security of our data and I guess in future people may be persuaded to pay for the Cloud – especially if applications are simple to use. Or maybe we will all migrate to the new free services – mainly form China offering huge amounts of free storage.

The future of social networks?

August 30th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Regular readers of this blog will know I have never been a great fan of Facebook. It was probably my own fault – I just approved almost everyone who wanted to be friends with me and did not get round to creating groups. But the constant interface tweaking, the intrusive adverts – not to say the paid for entries – and Facebook’s obvious conflict of interest between personal privacy and their desire to make money out of the site, all put me off. However, I recognise the appeal of the network for other people – it is just not for me.

I have long thought that the future of social networking lies in more niche networks – geared to individuals interests. At one time it seemed like Ning could break through in this direction, until they lost their nerve and started charging for networks. In the education field ELGG had its day, before  becoming a more general content management system. And of course, many educationalists have been active on Twitter, but that too has arguably become less useful for professional or work purposes as entertainment has taken over.

Two things started me off thinking about the future evolution of social networks in the last week. The first was I finally accepted an invitation to join ResearchGate. ResearchGate describes itself as a site “built by scientists, for scientists.” It started, they say, “when two researchers discovered first-hand that collaborating with a friend or colleague on the other side of the world was no easy task.” It is not new, having launched in 2008, but now has more than 3 million researchers as members. Not everyone is a researcher, and not all researchers will find it to their taste. But, if like me, you forget what you have published, if you want to make your research freely available, if you want to find useful and freely available research by others and talk to other people working in the same area as you, it appears very good.

The second article which got me thinking was a ‘White Paper’ by Jane Hart entitled  Building an Enterprise Learning Network in your Enterprise Social earning Network: The way to integrate social learning in the workplace. Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) are internal platforms that are designed to foster collaboration, communication and knowledge sharing among employees.

Jane points to the growing use of social networks in enterprises citing a report from Deloitte that 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies will have a enterprise social network by the end of 2013. She proposes setting up Enterprise Learning Networks within an Enterprise Social Network offering the opportunity to offer a range of new services, activities and initiatives – many of which have been adapted from popular approaches on the Social Web.In fact I worked on a project some three of four years ago doing just this – working with an English careers company with some 400 employees and it was highly successful. Its just we didn’t have the jargon at the time!Within the Learning Layers project we are looking at how to scale the use of technology for learning within industrial clusters,. and it struck me that establishing social learning within a (cross enterprise) social network might be a useful approach. One critical question would be the extent to which companies are prepared to share knowledge – and what sorts of knowledge. That is the subject of plenty of theoretical and empirical research – but I wonder if establishing a  network and exploring what happens might be a more productive approach.I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone else with experience or ideas in this area.

 

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