Archive for the ‘teaching and learning’ Category

PLE Special Edition

January 13th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

OK – the ed-tech world moves on to its latest craze. But Personal Learning Environments have not gone away as the new call for papers for the PLE Conference 2015 (Special Edition) makes clear:

Since the emergence of the term Personal Learning Environments (PLE) in the scientific discussion around the year 2004 in Oxford, PLE have become a field of research that has opened up great opportunities for reflection on almost all important aspects of education and learning with technology at all levels; from the study and development of tools, interaction processes among participants, cognitive mechanisms of individual learning, learning in groups and networked learning; life long learning; personal learning networks; even organizational learning environments, and so on.

In these years, the discussion has also transcended the traditional boundaries of academia and has been amplified in both the forms and contexts in which it takes place. The communities created around the concept and practices of PLE, have been responsive not only in the reflections on the realities concerning to learning, but also to the way in which these reflections are made.

Therefore, in this particular special issue supported by the PLE Conference community and its reflections during 2015, we would like to have a compilation of the current state of the field, papers that allow readers to have a vision of what are the most topical ideas and practices around the PLE nowadays, but with a clear vision of where the analysis is headed.

Find the full details here.

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,

 

Who wants to be a teacher

December 10th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

From OECD:

PISA in Focus shows, in many countries the teaching profession is having a hard time making itself an attractive career choice – particularly among boys and among the highest-performing students.

PISA 2006 asked students from the 60 participating countries and economies what occupation they expected to be working in when they are 30 years old. Some 44% of 15-year-olds in OECD countries reported that they expect to work in high-status occupations that generally require a university degree; but only 5% of those students reported that they expect to work as teachers, one of those professional careers.

The numbers are even more revealing when considering the profile of the students who reported that they expect to work as teachers. If you read our report on gender equality in education published earlier this year, you may remember that girls tend to favour “nurturance-oriented” careers more than boys do – and teaching is one of those careers. In almost every OECD country, more girls (6%) than boys (3%) reported that they expect to work as teachers. This statistic is particularly worrying when you recall that the majority of overall low achievers in school are boys, who could benefit from the presence of more male role models at school.

Recognising competence and learning

November 16th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

As promised some further thoughts on the DISCUSS conference, held earlier this week in Munich.

One of the themes for discussion was the recognition of (prior) learning. The theme had emerged after looking at the main work of Europa projects, particularly in the field of lifelong learning. The idea and attraction of recognising learning from different contexts, and particularly form informal learning is hardly new. In the 1990s, in the UK, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (as it was then called) devoted resources to developing systems for the Accreditation of Prior Learning. One of the ideas behind National Vocational Qualifications was teh decoupling of teaching and learning from learning outcomes, expressed in terms of competences and performance criteria. Therefore, it was thought, anyone should be able to have their competences recognised (through certification) regardless of whether or not they had followed a particular formal training programme. Despite the considerable investment, it was only at best a limited success. Developing observably robust processes for accrediting such learning was problematic, as was the time and cost in implementing such processes.

It is interesting to consider why there is once more an upsurge of interest in the recognition of prior learning. My feeling was in the UK, the initiative wax driven because of teh weak links between vocational education and training and the labour market.n In countries liek Germany, with a strong apprenticeship training system, there was seen as no need for such a procedure. Furthermore learning was linked to the work process, and competence seen as the internalised ability to perform in an occupation, rather than as an externalised series of criteria for qualification. However the recent waves of migration, initially from Eastern Europe and now of refugees, has resulted in large numbers of people who may be well qualified (in all senses of the word) but with no easily recognisable qualification for employment.

I am unconvinced that attempts to formally assess prior competence as a basis for the fast tracking of  awarding qualifications will work. I think we probably need to look much deeper at both ideas around effective practice and at what exactly we mean my recognition and will write more about this in future posts. But digging around in my computer today I came up with a paper I wrote together with Jenny Hughes around some of these issues. I am not sure the title helped attract a wide readership: The role and importance of informal competences in the process of acquisition and transfer of work skills. Validation of competencies – a review of reference models in the light of youth research: United Kingdom. Below is an extract.

“NVQs and the accreditation of informal learning

As Bjørnåvold (2000) says the system of NVQs is, in principle, open to any learning path and learning form and places a particular emphasis on experience-based learning at work, At least in theory, it does not matter how or where you have learned; what matters is what you have learned. The system is open to learning taking place outside formal education and training institutions, or to what Bjørnåvold terms non-formal learning. This learning has to be identified and judged, so it is no coincidence that questions of assessment and recognition have become crucial in the debate on the current status of the NVQ system and its future prospects.

While the NVQ system as such dates back to 1989, the actual introduction of “new” assessment methodologies can be dated to 1991. This was the year the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and its Scottish equivalent, Scotvec, required that “accreditation of prior learning” should be available for all qualifications accredited by these bodies (NVQs and general national qualifications, GNVQs). The introduction of a specialised assessment approach to supplement the ordinary assessment and testing procedures used when following traditional and formal pathways, was motivated by the following factors:

1. to give formal recognition to the knowledge and skills which people already possess, as a route to new employment;
2. to increase the number of people with formal qualifications;
3. to reduce training time by avoiding repetition of what candidates already know.

The actual procedure applied can be divided into the following steps. The first step consists of providing general information about the APL process, normally by advisers who are not subject specialists, often supported by printed material or videos. The second and most crucial step includes the gathering and preparation of a portfolio. No fixed format for the portfolio has been established but all evidence must be related to the requirements of the target qualification. The portfolio should include statements of job tasks and responsibilities from past or present employers as well as examples (proofs) of relevant “products”. Results of tests or specifically-undertaken projects should also be included. Thirdly, the actual assessment of the candidate takes place. As it is stated:”The assessment process is substantially the same as that which is used for any candidate for an NVQ. The APL differs from the normal assessment process in that the candidate is providing evidence largely of past activity rather than of skills acquired during the current training course.”The result of the assessment can lead to full recognition, although only a minority of candidates have sufficient prior experience to achieve this, In most cases, the portfolio assessment leads to exemption from parts of a programme or course. The attention towards specialised APL methodologies has diminished somewhat in the UK during recent years. It is argued that there is a danger of isolating APL, and rather, it should be integrated into normal assessments as one of several sources of evidence.”The view that APL is different and separate has resulted in evidence of prior learning and achievement being used less widely than anticipated. Assessors have taken steps to avoid this source of evidence or at least become over-anxious about its inclusion in the overall evidence a candidate may have to offer.”We can thus observe a situation where responsible bodies have tried to strike a balance between evidence of prior and current learning as well as between informal and formal learning. This has not been a straightforward task as several findings suggest that APL is perceived as a “short cut”, less rigorously applied than traditional assessment approaches. The actual use of this kind of evidence, either through explicit APL procedures or in other, more integrated ways, is difficult to overview. Awarding bodies are not required to list alternative learning routes, including APL, on the certificate of a candidate. This makes it almost impossible to identify where prior or informal learning has been used as evidence.

As mentioned in the discussions of the Mediterranean and Nordic experiences, the question of assessment methodologies cannot be separated from the question of qualification standards. Whatever evidence is gathered, some sort of reference point must be established. This has become the most challenging part of the NVQ exercise in general and the assessment exercise in particular.We will approach this question indirectly by addressing some of the underlying assumptions of the NVQ system and its translation into practical measures. Currently the system relies heavily on the following basic assumptions: legitimacy is to be assured through the assumed match between the national vocational standards and competences gained at work. The involvement of industry in defining and setting up standards has been a crucial part of this struggle for acceptance, Validity is supposed to be assured through the linking and location of both training and assessment, to the workplace. The intention is to strengthen the authenticity of both processes, avoiding simulated training and assessment situations where validity is threatened. Reliability is assured through detailed specifications of each single qualification (and module). Together with extensive training of the assessors, this is supposed to secure the consistency of assessments and eventually lead to an acceptable level of reliability.

A number of observers have argued that these assumptions are difficult to defend. When it comes to legitimacy, it is true that employers are represented in the above-mentioned leading bodies and standards councils, but several weaknesses of both a practical and fundamental character have appeared. Firstly, there are limits to what a relatively small group of employer representatives can contribute, often on the basis of scarce resources and limited time. Secondly, the more powerful and more technically knowledgeable organisations usually represent large companies with good training records and wield the greatest influence. Smaller, less influential organisations obtain less relevant results. Thirdly, disagreements in committees, irrespective of who is represented, are more easily resolved by inclusion than exclusion, inflating the scope of the qualifications. Generally speaking, there is a conflict of interest built into the national standards between the commitment to describe competences valid on a universal level and the commitment to create as specific and precise standards as possible. As to the questions of validity and reliability, our discussion touches upon drawing up the boundaries of the domain to be assessed and tested. High quality assessments depend on the existence of clear competence domains; validity and reliability depend on clear-cut definitions, domain-boundaries, domain-content and ways whereby this content can be expressed.

As in the Finnish case, the UK approach immediately faced a problem in this area. While early efforts concentrated on narrow task-analysis, a gradual shift towards broader function-analysis had taken place This shift reflects the need to create national standards describing transferable competences. Observers have noted that the introduction of functions was paralleled by detailed descriptions of every element in each function, prescribing performance criteria and the range of conditions for successful performance. The length and complexity of NVQs, currently a much criticised factor, stems from this “dynamic”. As Wolf says, we seem to have entered a “never ending spiral of specifications”. Researchers at the University of Sussex have concluded on the challenges facing NVQ-based assessments: pursuing perfect reliability leads to meaningless assessment. Pursuing perfect validity leads towards assessments which cover everything relevant, but take too much time, and leave too little time for learning. This statement reflects the challenges faced by all countries introducing output or performance-based systems relying heavily on assessments.

“Measurement of competences” is first and foremost a question of establishing reference points and less a question of instruments and tools. This is clearly illustrated by the NVQ system where questions of standards clearly stand out as more important than the specific tools developed during the past decade. And as stated, specific approaches like, “accreditation of prior learning” (APL), and “accreditation of prior experiential learning” (APEL), have become less visible as the NVQ system has settled. This is an understandable and fully reasonable development since all assessment approaches in the NVQ system in principle have to face the challenge of experientially-based learning, i.e., learning outside the formal school context. The experiences from APL and APEL are thus being integrated into the NVQ system albeit to an extent that is difficult to judge. In a way, this is an example of the maturing of the system. The UK system, being one of the first to try to construct a performance-based system, linking various formal and non-formal learning paths, illustrates the dilemmas of assessing and recognising non-formal learning better than most other systems because there has been time to observe and study systematically the problems and possibilities. The future challenge facing the UK system can be summarised as follows: who should take part in the definition standards, how should competence domains be described and how should boundaries be set? When these questions are answered, high quality assessments can materialise.”

What does Open Education mean?

September 30th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

Next week, together with edupunk pin up bog, Jim Groom, I am delivering (? facilitating) an unkeynote session as the TEEM conference in Porto, Portugal.The session is entitled the the People’s Open Educational JAM Mix.  Instead of standing up and delivering a lecture to the conference we want to hold a dialogue with participants using slides, pictures, videos, quotations, metaphors or even better animated gifs from the education community. There will be the chance for participants in the conference to contribute on the day. But the JAM is open to everyone.

The theme (as the title suggests) is Open Education. Open Education is big news these days. Its a buzzword being embraced by publishers, universities and even governments, as well as the European Union. MOOC providers have leapt on the meme. But what does it mean? The idea that education should be open to everyone seems fine. But even as they talk of open journals, publishers are charging authors a fee, in the so called gold model of open open journals. And whilst universities and governments talk about open education, austerity is leading to cuts in funding and increasing student fees. However open it may or may not be, in The UK many young people simply cannot afford to go to university.

Its time for the educational community to have their say on what open education means. We hope this event can help build a dialogue around a European vision of Open Education.

Over the next five days I will write a series of posts about open education. But in the meantime we would welcome your contribution. We’ve tried to make it easy for you to contribute. Just add your ideas to the form on the front page of the POEJAM web site at http://poejam.com/. We promise your contributions will turn up somewhere in the JAM event and afterwards on the internet. And also feel free to forward to your friends and colleagues

Talking sense about assessment

September 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

In recent years educations seems to have become obsessed with metrics and assessment, comparisons and league tables. I do not think teh outpourings, enquiries, research and recommendation and so on have done much if anything to improve the standard of education, let alone learning and certainly nothing to improve the experience of learners.

So I found this blurb for the Brian Simon memorial lecture by Alison Peacock refreshing:

Alison will focus on her experience of leading the Wroxham School, a primary school where children and adults are inspired by the principles of ‘Learning without Limits’ to establish a learning community which is creative, inclusive and ambitious for all.  She will talk about ways of enabling assessment to be an intrinsic part of day to day teaching that builds a culture of trust in which children can think and talk about their learning confidently.  Alison will also discuss her role as a member of the government’s Commission on Assessment without Levels,  and her optimism that the removal of levels provides space for a more equitable approach to assessment within classrooms.

Years ago, I was part of a working team for the UK National Council for Vocational Qualifications looking at the whole issue of levels. We concluded that levels were an unworkable construct and that the *then new) national Vocational Qualifications would work much better without them. Needless to say our advice was ignored. So it is nice to see the proposal coming round again.

A flyer on Alison’s lecture can be downloaded here.

Crossing boundaries at the Bremen International VET conference – Part One: Learning Layers and Employ-ID work together

September 13th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent blog was about a field visit to training centre Bau-ABC (2.9.2015) in the context of the fieldwork of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. The very next day the ITB and Pontydysgu teams, together with Raymond Elferink (RayCom) presented Learning Toolbox at the Bremen International Conference on Vocational Education and Training (VET). This post will focus on this session, the next one on other sessions of the conference.

Insights into the Bremen Conference

Firstly, it is worthwhile to say some words of the Bremen International VET Conference. This conference has been initiated as part of an international project of ITB that has been launched by the University of Bremen (in the context of its Excellence University framework). The project studies transfer of the dual VET model by German companies working abroad (in China and in the USA). As a part of its work program the project has committed itself to organise international conferences. This one was the first of its kind and focused on crossing the boundaries and learning from each other. The conference was designed to keep it rather small (about 100 participants at the maximum) and to enable more discussion and more participative sessions (see below). I will give more information on the contents in my second blog post on this conference.

Presenting Learning Toolbox in the Bremen Conference

For the Bremen Conference we had prepared a Research Workshop session to avoid the typical impression of ‘talking heads’ in the front and passive listeners in the audience. Therefore, we kept the presentations rather short and then divided the audience into two working groups to discuss the presentations and to have some hands-on exercises. Here some snapshots on the contributions and activities:

Firstly, I gave a quick introduction to the Learning Layers project and to the script of the session. In this context I emphasised the continuity of themes between the participative design of Learning Toolbox (LTB), the functionality that is coming up in the LTB, the capacity building measures initiated in the training centre Bau-ABC and the lessons to be learned from the parallel European project Employ-ID (and its piloting with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Secondly, Werner Müller (ITB) gave a presentation on the co-design process that led to the development of the LTB. He referred to the starting points in the sectoral pilot contexts (construction work not having the reputation of high-tech occupations). Then he gave a picture of the co-design activities, different phases of work and a general characterisation of LTB as a framework for tools and apps linked to each other in mobile devices.

Thirdly, Raymond Elferink (RayCom) gave a live demonstration on the LTB Beta version that we had just presented and tested on our field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC the day before (see my previous blog post). Alongside the general presentation (of the tile structure of the framework and of the process of creating focused stacks) he drew attention to the newly created stacks of the Bau-ABC trainers for their respective trades.

Fourthly, I (as a replacement of Melanie Campbell from Bau-ABC) gave a presentation of their training programs for their staff. This presentation drew attention firstly to the project-initiated training that equipped the Bau-ABC trainers with general know-how on multimedia and web tools and enabled them to produce and edit video material for their training. In the second part the presentation outlined the new training model initiated by the Bau-ABC trainers themaselves. In this new model they tried to ensure a flexible training arrangement that enables all trainers to work their way through parallel “theme rooms” that make them fit to use the LTB in their own training activities.

 Fifthly, Graham Attwell informed of the parallel European project Employ-ID and its work to support professional development and mastery of changes in Public Employment Services (PES). In this context the research & development worked with development of labour market data for guidance and counselling purposes. At the same time the project developed new training models for staff members in PES with limited possibilities to participate in traditional training measures. For this purpose the project developed an adapted version of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with limited participation and limited openness but with similar technologies for online learning. Crucial for this pilot was the emphasis on interactivity and changing roles between trainers and learners. Here, the key point in this report on this recent pilot is to demonstrate the usability of these technologies for well-thought pedagogical pilots that emphasise the use of MOOC platforms as Social Learning Platforms.

After the presentations we split the audience into two working groups. In one group the participants had the opportunity for hands-on tests with the LTB (with Raymond Elferink and Dirk Stieglitz as tutors). In the other group we discussed possible success factors and criteria for acceptance in the above presented training models (of Bau-ABC and Employ-ID). Since we had half an hour for these sub-sessions, the participants could engage themselves in the testing and/or give freely their views on the training models. This was very much appreciated by all parties involved.

I guess this is enough of the main session of the Learning Layers project in this conference. In the next blog post I will give insights into other sessions in the Bremen International VET Conference.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

The value of vocational qualifications

August 27th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

NFER have been commissioned by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) to carry out a small-scale rapid literature review of the value of vocational qualifications offered in the UK by JCQ. The review was carried out February-April 2015 and sought to answer the following questions: (1) How is the value of vocational qualifications defined? (2) What is the reported value of vocational qualifications (e.g. benefits for the individual learner, business, and the economy)? (3) Are there gaps in the research on the value of vocational qualifications, and if so, what further information would be useful to have for policy and practice?

Following a systematic search of databases and websites, the project team scrutinised 73 texts making an independent ‘best evidence’ selection of 16 to be reviewed, based on relevance to the research questions and the quality of the evidence. The reviewed texts focused on young people aged 14-25 and were published in English in the United Kingdom from the year 2009.

Key Findings:

The literature review identified benefits for all stakeholders in young people taking vocational qualifications:

  • Learners: increased likelihood of being in employment and a significant wage return for all levels and most types of vocational qualifications. Increased access to higher education for the poorest learners.
  • Businesses: increased productivity and a more skilled workforce.
  • Economy/Exchequer: a positive financial return for most qualifications, with particularly high returns associated with Level 3. A reduction in benefit dependency and increase in income tax.

The full report can be downloaded here.

After the LL Design Conference – Part 2: Talks on Activity Theory and Change Laboratory processes

March 19th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I have reported on the Year 3 Design Conference of the Learning Layers (LL) project that took place in Espoo, Finland last week. Immediately after the Design conference I had a chance to discuss with researcher Marianne Teräs (University of Helsinki) on her work with Change Laboratory processes. For me this discussion is part of the follow-up of the Theory Camp of the LL project – Reviewing Activity Theory and the related methodologies of intervention research (of which the Change Laboratory has become most famous). I had approached Marianne because her work had focused on healthcare sector and vocational education of nurses (which are both relevant to the LL project as a field of piloting and as context for potential spin-off initiatives. Below I try to summarise the main issues of our discussion and my impressions and conclusions.

1. Change from practitioner to intervention researcher

Firstly we discussed the development of Marianne’s career from trained nurse (with occupational background) and the transitions to vocational teacher and teacher educator (working in a vocational college for healthcare). From this background she was one of the teachers/teacher educators who were involved in a pilot project to develop a pre-vocational education scheme for migrant youngsters who wanted to be trained for healthcare occupations. Since the project team in the college had encountered several problems they were looking for a structured process to work through the challenges and issues. From this point of view they volunteered as a  counterpart for the research group of Yrjö Engeström to work with a Change Laboratory process (at that time called Culture Laboratory). During this project (that started in 2001) Marianne was contracted as an intervention researcher whilst a colleague of hers worked as project manager on behalf of the college. When the project was over, she returned to her job as a vocational teacher educator. However, after some time another project was started to develop models of integrative vocational education of learners with migrant background within ordinary vocational education programs. In this phase Marianne took over the role of project manager on behalf of the intervention researchers (supported by other members of the research team and participating teachers). After this latter project she has continued her career as researcher in other projects.

2. Whose initiatives, whose innovations

As already indicated above, the initiative for the first Change Laboratory was taken by the vocational teachers/ teacher educators struggling with a new pilot scheme. At that time preparation of migrant youngsters (with very heterogeneous ethnic and educational backgrounds) was a new experience to most of them. Also, the pre-vocational education scheme was a new construct to be piloted with new target groups. From this point of view the first project was characterised by voluntary participation of teachers/ teacher educators committed to the pilot. The work of the Change Laboratory gave rise to several parallel working groups (with respective educational change agendas). Some of them faded away soon but some of them sustained and their work was continued years after (when the second project was started).

Whilst the first Change Laboratory project focused on a specific preparatory scheme dedicated for migrants, the second project focused on integration of migrants into ordinary vocational education programs. The background was given in the national educational policy and at the local level the director of the college wanted their college to become an innovation leader within this initiative. In this respect the director gave this project a high priority and the participation of teachers was made mandatory. Partly the implementation of the project could benefit of the prior project but to a great extent it had work with a stronger integration between occupational subjects, language learning and intercultural education.

3. Collecting background materials, documenting the laboratory sessions and drawing conclusions

In our discussion Marianne made me aware of the intensive participation of practitioners within the research work. Although the intervention research mainly focused on the process of the Change Laboratory sessions, it was essentially supported by the collection of background materials (or ‘mirror materials’). In this process both teachers and vocational learners played an important role by producing their own notes or audio or video clips to document facts, episodes or impressions with relevance to language learning, vocational learning and intercultural encounters. It is worthwhile to note that the learners were immediately involved in the first Change Laboratory project but not in ia a the second one which became more a teachers’ project. Yet, via a broad involvement of learners (alongside teachers) in the production of the background material the project could ensure the presence of their voices in the Change Laboratory.

These materials were used mainly as support materials to prepare the scripts for the Change Laboratory sessions in which the work with the curricular initiatives was promoted. These sessions were documented by videos, individual notes of the intervention researchers and by written analyses of the videos. By such thorough documentation the researchers could ensure that they covered the richness of the discussions, paying attention to main themes (laid down by the script) and corollary themes (that may have given rise to spin-off processes).

4. Encounters between theory and practice

Research articles often give a picture of the Change Laboratory projects as heavily theory-driven projects. Marianne admitted that the articles give priority on presenting the theoretical background (Activity Theory, Activity Systems) and its adaptation and utilisation in the Change Laboratory processes (identification of generative themes/contradictions, expansive learning cycles and boundary crossing practices). However, when looking at the everyday life practice of the projects, she drew attention to the need to find a balance between the conceptual tools of researchers and the practice-related tools and instruments of teachers. In this balancing process the intervention researchers had to negotiate, to what extent the conceptual tools could be used as common tools and to what extent they should be left to secondary analyses. The strategies to manage these encounters have often remained as ‘tacit knowing’ although some researchers have paid attention to the epistemological aspects of such dialogical research processes.

5. Lessons for the Learning Layers project and its spin-out initiatives?

I had initiated our talks as an initial step in preparing a forthcoming workshop on methodological lessons from Activity Theory, Change Laboratory processes and on their relevance for intervention research projects like the LL project. Here it is not possible to enter this discussion in detail. Yet, it is worthwhile to note the far more complex character of the interventions in the LL project vis-à-vis the ones we had discussed. Having said that we took note of several analogies between the participative processes, user-engagement and expectations on expansive learning. Given the fact that the LL project is expected to roll out and scale up innovations in using mobile technologies, digital media and web tools in workplace learning, we noted several points of common interest for further cooperation.

More blogs to come …

PS. Acknowledgements and References:

I got acquainted with Dr Marianne Teräs via Professor Johanna Lasonen who has worked a long time with Marianne in projects that deal with intercultural education and the role of vocational education in the integration of migrants. Also, it was thanks to Johanna that I started to have a closer look at Activity Theory, Developmental Work Research and the Change Laboratory methodology.

Here some references to the development of Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research (in general) and to work with sectoral projects in Healthcare and/or with Change Laboratory (in particular):

Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1) 133-156.

Engeström, Y., Engeström, R. & Vähäaho, T. (1999). When the center does not hold: The importance of knotworking. In S. Chaiklin & U. J. Jensen, Activity Theory and Social Practice, (pp. 345-374). Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press.

Engeström, Y. & Sannino A. (2010). Studies of expansive learning: Foundations, findings and future challenges. Educational Research Review 5(1), 1-24.

Teräs, M. & Lasonen, J. (2013) The development of teachers’ intercultural competence using a Change Laboratory method. Vocations and Learning, 6(1)

Engeström, R. (2014). The Interplay of Developmental and Dialogical Epistemologies. In Outlines. Critical Social Studies, 15 (2), 119-138.

 

3 practical ideas for using ICT in STEM teaching – How Science Works

February 26th, 2015 by Angela Rees

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 21.54.01

Over the coming weeks I’m going to share some practical ideas from the Taccle2 Handbooks on e-learning for teachers of Primary, STEM, Humanities, Creative and Performing Arts and Key Skills.  Here are some ideas for exploring How Science Works.

Ask your students to 
create a social networking profile for a scientist on MySpace explaining their discoveries. Find a list of scientists and see our Einstein page for inspiration.  Get each person in the class to add a Facebook profile for a famous scientist – who would their ‘friends’ be? What would their favourite books or music be? What sort of conversations or arguments would they have with each other? (it’s more fun if you assume that they they can communicate over time as well!)

Find present day scientists on Linked-In or academia.edu or MyExperiment.  What research are they doing right now? Create a class blog where students can record what they have learned and use the comments to discuss who was the most important scientist in history.

Talking of debates, check out aMap to start an argument.  Students follow the on-screen instructions in order to join an existing argument or start a new argument. They’ll have to provide an email address, name and location but you can use the same email for multiple users. They are prompted to add reasons and supporting evidence for their argument.  When they have finished they get an embeddable mind map which others can reply to by creating their own “argument map”.  See the Taccle2 blog for an example.

All of the Taccle2 handbooks are available to download for free from the Taccle2 website.

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