Archive for the ‘Social networking’ Category

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.


How trade unionists are using the Internet

April 2nd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

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

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

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

Where we work and how we collaborate

March 14th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

This is the first of a new mini series of articles on the impact of technologies on how we work. I started thinking about it after Yahoo announced they were ending the practice of employees being able to work from home. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with physically being together.” Mayer has said the change in policy was necessary to foster more collaboration among employees and restore Yahoo’s competitiveness. A number of other companies have since followed suit.

I think Yahoo has got it completely wrong. When I first started work, working from home was virtually unknown, except for consultants or university researchers. The first signs of things changing came with the invention of telecottages, enabling internet access at a time when connectivity was slow, expensive and tenuous. With the availability of cheap and reliable bandwidth and apps, home working took off rapidly. I might be wrong, but my suspicion is that not only did organisations save on infrastructure costs – imagine what would happen if every university employee turned up on the same day, but with the blurring between home life and the word of work, many employees actually worked longer hours. Years ago Saturday and Sunday working or working in the evening incurred time and a half or double pay, that has long since gone.

In many occupations, work is changing rapidly especially because of the use of video, conferencing and networking applications. This includes not only research but occupations in sectors like construction. But coming back to the Yahoo decision the point is not whether people are at home or at work but how they are working. I used to work physically in a university but would rarely see others, individuals spent all day locked away ion their offices with closed doors. Equally, I now work from home and probably spend much too much of my time discussing with others on skype or in conference calls.

Developing collaboration, quality and innovation depend on work organisation. Technology is disrupting work organisation, both allowing new ways of working and challenging how we are used to doing things. This requires far more subtle interventions that just requiring employees to clock on at a set time in a set place each day. And to a considerable extent we are all still struggling to realise the most effective forms of collaboration. Research is lagging behind practice. So Yahoo needs to look at the process of collaboration within their organisation and the culture of the organisation. Maybe they are doing this but it doesn’t appear to be from their press releases. Rather than focus on where people work, they need to look at how the work is organised including how learning takes place at both a individual and organisational level. This is much harder but much more effective in the long term.


Was Google Wave just ahead of its time?

February 20th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Remember Google wave? As Wiikipedia explains Google Wave is a web-based computing platform and communications protocol designed to merge key features of communications media such as email, instant messaging, wikis, and social networking.Communications using the system can be synchronous or asynchronous. Software extensions provide contextual spelling and grammar checking, automated language translation,[3] and other features.

Initially released only to developers, a preview release of Google Wave was extended to 100,000 users in September 2009, each allowed to invite additional users. Google accepted most requests submitted starting November 29, 2009, soon after the September extended release of the technical preview. On May 19, 2010, Google Wave was released to the general public.

However Wave proved to be short lived. On August 4, 2010, Google announced the suspension of stand-alone Wave development and development was handed over to the Apache Software Foundation which started to develop a server-based product called Wave in a Box.

What went wrong? Certainly Wave felt clunky to use and was not always particularly reliable. The interface felt crowded and sometimes confusing. But I think the main problem was that we just didn’t get the idea. Now only three years on, it might have been so different. Just within one project I am working on, Learning Layers, we are using Flash Meeting and skype for regular synchronous communication, Doodle polls to set up meetings, dropbox to share files, Diigo to share bookmarks, Google docs for collaborative writing, to say nothing of the project internal media wiki site and the public wordpress based web site. And of course a list serve which bombards us with ever more email. We all complain that communication is not good enough and simultaneously that we have too much communication.

In reality communication has moved from being episodic, where email replaced snailmail and online meetings replaced face to face – to a stream. Managing that stream is problematic. And that, I think, was what Wave was designed to do. Sadly it was ahead of its time. Come back Wave, all is forgiven.

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    Skills in Europe

    Cedefop is launching a new SKILLS PANORAMA website, online on 1 December at 11.00 (CET).

    Skills Panorama, they say,  turns labour market data and information into useful, accurate and timely intelligence that helps policy-makers decide on skills and jobs in Europe.

    The new website will provide with a more comprehensive and user-friendly central access point for information and intelligence on skill needs in occupations and sectors across Europe. You can register for the launch at Register now at

    Talking about ‘European’ MOOCs

    The European EMMA project is launching a  webinar series. The first is on Tuesday 17 November 2015 from 14:00 – 15:00 CET.

    They say: “In this first webinar we will explore new trends in European MOOCs. Rosanna de Rosa, from UNINA, will present the philosophy and challenges behind the EMMA EU project and MOOC platform developed with the idea of accommodating diversity through multilingualism. Darco Jansen, from EADTU (European Association of Distance Teaching Universities), will talk about Europe’s response to MOOC opportunities. His presentation will highlight the main difference with the U.S. and discuss the consequences for didactical and pedagogical approaches regarding the different contexts.

    OER – update 2

    Open Education Europa has compiled and is releasing today as open data the analytical list of European Repositories of Open Educational Resources (OER).

    It includes:

    • European OER Portals and Repositories
    • Educational material repositories/directories
    • Larger Repositories rather than very specific ones
    • Focus on those who include Creative Commons license and on National/public OER repositories
    • Focus on material for teachers  (for the classroom/schools) rather than on higher education
    • Collaborative OER production initiatives (LeMill, RVP.CZ Portal,, KlasCement”)

    OER – update 1

    From the Universidad a Distancia de Madrid (UDIMA) – Madrid Open University – we are pleased to present the European Research Network of Open Educational Resources (ERNOER), a collaborative space in which more than fifty internationally educational institutions and prestigious universities are involved which can be accessed through the following link:

    The entire educational community can benefit in this web repository of more than three hundred image banks, two hundred fifty audio file repositories, two hundred and fifty video resources and more than three hundred programs and applications that can be used in education.

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