Archive for the ‘Social Software’ Category

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!

The problem with free social software

May 7th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Over the last few years, we have been doing some great things with free social software. All too often teachers and trainers do not have a budget for buying software or online services. Secondly, free social software allows users to experiment with different applications without having to commit limited funds.

Bur there is no such thing as a free lunch. And that is becoming ever more problematic. Firstly many services are maintained through advertising revenue. These adverts are not necessarily appropriate in an educational setting! Of course ad blockers will deal with many of those (but not all – for instance where the advert is superimposed on a video clip). And companies like Facebook and Google provide free services and applications because they want our data.Ignoring ethical consideration around data mining and the use of our data, there is a further problem with free social software.

If enterprises decide services are not generating enough income, or if business models change, software providers can just close services down. And they do often. In the last year three applications that we have used frequently in Pontydysgu have disappeared. the first, which most people will know about, was Google Reader. At least because of all the fuss, we were alerted to its coming demise and able to download our feeds. The second which caused us serious grief was Blip TV which we had been using at one time for hosting videos. At the time YouTube quality was poor and Vimeo was yet to be launched. Therefore when we produced a number of commissioned videos for the European Conference for Educational Research we put them up on Blip, using embed codes to play them in the ECER web site. A month ago we had an emeail from ECER saying the videos had disappeared. We went to Blip and sure enough there was a notice saying they had changed policy (and I guess business model) and were no longer hosting videos. They had sent me an email going me notice but this was lost in the deluge of emails from social software providers. Fortunetely we had kept copies of the videos and were able to restore the embeds, this time using Youtube.

The latest service to disappear is Slidecasts. Slidecasts were built on top of Slideshare, using a night online tool to sync audio to slides.We spent quite a lot of time making a series of slide casts. OK Slideshare gave us notice and allowed us to download the audio and slide files. But now of course they will have to be synced agin using I guess something like iMovie.

I am getting to the point of not trusting anything to free social software services. Or certainly nothing which I do no0t have a local backup for. But this leaves a big gap in creative tools and services for education.

Shiny technology and social media

February 3rd, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Last weekend I went to the British Educational technology (BETT) show in London. If nothing else, the sheer numbers of exhibitors and visitors show how educational technology has become a big business. I am afraid such events are not my favourite. There was many, many shiny displays of stunning technology and I suspect, if I had had the patience to explore, many great ideas for new approaches to teaching and learning. However, I found the latter tended to get hidden behind the ever increasing size of the big screens. I was also struck by how much of the kit supplied could be developed or put together much cheaper by the determined hacker- teacher. Anyway a couple of hours wandering and I was exhibitioned out. So I turned my attention to the wide range of supporting events. I ended up an a couple of sessions in the Technology in Higher Education Summit.

One of these was a panel session on Incorporating Social Media into the Learning Space, advertised as “A group of educators will discuss how content creation from different social platforms has impacted on student learning. Looking at how these institutions have exploited…” It featured my old fried, Helen Keegan, along with Sue Beckingham and Stuart Miller, both of whom I have long followed on Twitter but never met face to face.

The session was well attended and the panellists did a great job of outlining ways in which social media could be used, particularly for enhancing the skills and employability of students. Yet, I felt frustrated that they had not gone far enough in explaining the potential of such media to transform the teaching and learning experience and particularly in developing and fostering creativity and innovation. Unfortunately I tweeted this, and was taken to task by some of my Twitter followers for basically not understanding where universities and university teachers were at in understanding and using new media. And, looking back, they were right. Helen, Sue and Stuart have much more experience than me in the UK university sector and had pitched their talks well for their audience. Yet, this still leaves me frustrated. If so much money is being spent on educational tech, why are we still having to teach teachers how to use Social Media within the Learning Space. Social software is hardly a new phenomenon. And at the end of the day, in an age of austerity – particularly in educati0on – incorporating social media is a lot cheaper than buying ever more complicated shiny gadgets!

How do we report on our work?

October 9th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Sorry for the gaps in posts – was travelling and then we had technical issues with the server. But the site is back and so am I.

Since returning from my travels last week, most of my time has been focused on the Year 1 Deliverable for the EU Research Framework Learning Layers project. Each year the project has a review meeting with three external reviewers, who have a frightening amount of power to stop the project or require work to be redone. However, in my experience the process is useful as most reviewers provide constructive feedback and useful ideas.

Whilst that aspect of the reviews is fine, it is the reporting format which puzzles me. The project is organised into some nine separate work packages. Each work package is required to produce report – the deliverables – on its work. And the culture is that these reports are long. We are trying to keep our reports down to about 50 or 60 pages, not including appendices. But one project i acted as a reviewer for produced a 160 page report from one work package. I wasn’t amused!

If the format of the reports is traditional so too is the organisation of the review meetings. Generally each work package presents their report through a half an hour formal presentation, with standardised, bullet pointed Powerpoint templates. Its not very stimulating, and knowledge exchange is somewhat limited.

I find all this a bit ironic, since our project focused on the uses of technology for informal learning and knowledge development. We certainly are not practising what we preach. But it is not just a question for the European Research Framework projects. Despite all the opportunities that Web 2.0 and social software offer for innovation and creativity in the way we present and share knowledge, project reports, in most instances, remain unchanged. In the past I have experimented with formats of evaluation reports, – using video and cartoon books. These had a much greater impact. However the powers that be still like to weigh the project outcomes.

What I would like to see is review and reporting processes to become part of the research, development and dissemination of a project. But I fear until we see a change in the culture and practice of academia this will not happen.


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.


Overcoming the academic media divide

June 27th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

If I was paid for the number of times i have heard researchers / teachers / lecturers / managers saying they discourage / ban / mark down students from using Wikipedia I would be a rich man (and I am not!). The reasons vary. The usual one is that Wikipedia is unreliable because it is crowdsourced. Another is that they want students to use ‘proper’ sources. Yet another is that Wikipedia makes life too simple.

Anyway the divide between academia and Wikipedia seems to be narrowing. In a welcome press statement, the UK universities based JISC announce:

Jisc and Wikimedia UK are collaborating on a project to bring the academic world and Wikipedia closer together. This will create opportunities for researchers, educators, and the general public to contribute to the world’s freely available knowledge.

They go on to say:

This is a national project, based at the University of Bristol. It will train experts in their workplaces and also run ‘editathon’ events which will be open to the public. Dr Martin Poulter, who is a Wikipedia editor as well as a professional creator of educational materials in the university, will be an ambassador between the two communities. This will include working with Jisc’s communities to identify specific topics for development.

Give us back our data

June 27th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

We’ve always joked that security services were listening in on our email and chat. I suspect many of us thought it was not a joke but it sounded so madly paranoid we didn’t like to admit it. Some of my techy friends steered clear of social networks, others encrypted their email. This sounded a little over the top. Not any more. Thanks to public hero, Edward Snowden, we know the US and UK security services have been illegally intercepting millions of internet based communications (and of course the internet includes telephone) and mining the data for goodness knows what.

And guess what, people don’t like it.

In a recent article referring to “Without Permission: Privacy on the Line” published in the International Journal of Information Security and Privacy, by Johanne Pratt and Sue Conger the editors say:

This feeling of victimization and violation of privacy is the fuel behind the recent public outrage directed toward the NSA and companies utilizing big data in marketing. A recent post on NPR’s blog Monkeysee discusses the differences between the information gathering done by Apple and Target, for marketing purposes, and the government’s motives for data collection:

“Government has no such transparent single motive, like profit, but a variety of motives, not all of which people are confident they know about. What you believe to be the motives of a particular administration or government agency depends on a complicated, often highly charged calculus of politics, policy, media consumption, and internalized constitutional theory that you may not have even verbalized but know in your gut.”

Over the last week I have been having a series of conversations with different project partners about how we should react. We don’t really have anything to hide, nor do we carry commercially sensitive data. But it is just the feeling of outrage at the fact that they intercept and mine our data, Google for commercial reasons and the NSA for perhaps more sinister reasons. We were already uneasy about letting Google have our data. We were already looking for more efficient tools for project management. And I think overall we are looking for systems we can install on our own servers and maintain ourselves. Of course that will not stop intercepts, nor will it stop our data being hacked. But al least we will have some element of control back over how we store and manage our data. Longer term this could have quite profound implications for how the internet develops.

LMI for All API released

June 9th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I have written periodic updates on the work we have been doing for the UKCES on open data, developing an open API to provide access to Labour Market Information. Although the APi is specifically targeted towards careers guidance organisations and towards end users looking for data to help in careers choices, in the longer term it may be of interest to others involved in labour market analysis and planning and for those working in economic, education and social planning.

The project has had to overcome a number of barriers, especially around the issues of disclosure, confidentiality and statistical reliability. The first public release of the API is now available. The following text is based on an email sent to interested individuals and organisations. Get in touch if you would like more information or would like to develop applications based on the API.

The screenshot above is of one of the ten applications developed at a hack day organised by one of our partners in the project, Rewired State. You can see all ten on their website.

The first pilot release of LMI for All is now available and to send you some details about this. Although this is a pilot version, it is fully functional and it would be great if you could test it as a pilot and let us know what is working well and what needs to be improved.

The main LMI for All site is at  This contains information about LMI for All and how it can be used.

The APi web explorer for developers can be accessed at  The APi is currently open for you to test and explore the potential for  development. If you wish to deploy the APi in your web site or application please email us at graham10 [at] mac [dot] com and we will supply you with an APi key.

For technical details and details about the data go to our wiki at  This includes all the documentation including details about what data LMI for All includes and how this can be used.  There is also a frequently asked questions section.

Ongoing feedback from your organisation is an important part of the ongoing development of this data tool because we want to ensure that future improvements to LMI for All are based on feedback from people who have used it. To enable us to integrate this feedback into the development process, if you use LMI for All we will want to contact you about every four to six months to ask how things are progressing with the data tool. Additionally, to help with the promotion and roll out of LMI for All towards the end of the development period (second half of 2014), we may ask you for your permission to showcase particular LMI applications that your organisation chooses to develop.

If you have any questions, or need any further help, please use the FAQ space initially. However, if you have any specific questions which cannot be answered here, please use the LMI for All email address lmiforall [at] ukces [dot] org [dot] uk.


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    News Bites

    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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