Archive for the ‘technologies’ Category

Jobs of the Future

August 22nd, 2016 by Graham Attwell

There is a lot of speculation at the moment as to the jobs of the future. On the one hand, it is said that we are educating young people for jobs which do not yet exist; on the other hand there are dire predictions that up to of existing 55 per cent of jobs may disappear to automation in the next five years.

If it is hard as a researcher who works with labour market data to make sense of all this, imagine what it is like for young people trying to plan a career (and if doing a degree in the UK, running up major debt).

However, there is beginning to appear some more nuanced research on the future of jobs. Michael Chui, James Manyika, and Mehdi Miremadi have just published the initial report on a research project looking at how automation will affect future employment. The report, entitled ‘Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet)’, is based on detailed analysis of 2,000-plus work activities for more than 800 occupations. Using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*Net, they have quantified both the amount of time spent on these activities across the economy of the United States and the technical feasibility of automating each of them.

Their overall finding is that while automation will eliminate very few occupations entirely in the next decade, it will affect portions of almost all jobs to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the type of work they entail.
Each whole occupation is made up of multiple types of activities, each with varying degrees of technical feasibility. In practice, they explain, automation will depend on more than just technical feasibility. Five factors are involved: technical feasibility, costs to automate, the relative scarcity, skills and costs of workers who might otherwise do the activity, benefits (e.g. superior performance) of automation beyond labour costs substitution and regulatory and social acceptance considerations.
The likelihood and ease of automation depends on the types of activities organised on a continuum of less susceptible to automation to more susceptible to automation: managing others, applying expertise,  stakeholder interactions, unpredictable physical work, data collection, processing data, predictable physical work. Thus occupations like accommodation, food service and manufacturing which include a large amount of predictable physical work are likely to be automated, similarly work in finance and insurance which involves much processing of data. On the other hand jobs in construction and in agriculture which comprise predominantly unpredictable physical work are unlikely to be automated, at least at present. And there is good news for teachers: “the importance of human interaction is evident in two sectors that, so far, have a relatively low technical potential for automation: healthcare and education.”

The return of printed books

July 25th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

The various reports (see for example this article in BoingBoing) detailing the upturn in the sale of printed books in the UK, and a corresponding downturn in the sales of e-books are interesting, if only because it shows that trends towards digital products are not irreversible.

And although I eagerly embraced the ebook trend, I find myself increasingly buying traditional books. Why? Firstly, I think a book is just more enjoyable as a product, as a design artefact. Secondly, whilst I bought an early Kindle, I refuse to be tied in to Amazons social and economic ecosystem. I use a Android tablet now as an ebook reader and it generally works OK, but can be fiddly with different formats and finding downloads (NB Verso books has the answer – providing multiple formats, no DRM locks, and a variety of means of accessing copies). However, the tablet screen is not really readable in bright light, which certainly is a disadvantage in southern European countries.

I very much like the Chrome plugin allowing users to browse books on Amazon and then providing information on where they can be bought in the nearest bookshop. But although Amazon’s recommender system was a novelty at first, that novelty has worn out. It is just too damn predictable: the joy of bookshop browsing is in finding the unexpected and of course the ability to read the first few pages before deciding whether to buy. From a research point of view I find it much easier to recall where in a paper book the quote or section I want is, although that is probably my incompetence with productivity tools in electronic media.

And just like record shops, independent bookshops are upping their game, becoming more community and event oriented. It is difficult, if not impossible, for online bookshops to compete on these terms (although once more Verso does a pretty good job).

So I am not surprised at the return of the book but I wonder which sector or product is next in line for reverse digital disruption (unflipping the classroom)?

More thoughts on labour markets

April 12th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

Predicting the future of labour markets is not easy at the best of times. And this is not the best of times. The problems include the long lasting effects of the financial crash, the impact of government austerity policies (and non impact of qualitative easing) as well as rapid changes in the way we work and in the technologies we are using.

Essentially future labour markets are modelled using existing labour markets, with the proviso of different scenarios according to disruption. At the moment disruptions are seen to be overriding the base model, resulting in much uncertainty.This is a big issue for young people setting out on a career or indeed for those thinking of changing jobs or of entering education  and training.

The real problem with modelling is that there is no consensus on what is happening with today’s labour markets. Lately  this debate has spilled out from more academic and economic journals into the popular press, with predictions of a severe squeeze on middle skilled work, especially office work, due to the introduction of robots, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Yet a new  study by Dr Andrea Salvatori of the Institute for Social and Economic Research calls such concerns into doubt.

Although she recognises a bifurcation of labour markets with a decline of middle skilled jobs, rather than robots, the cause, she suggests, is the expansion in university education, “which has led to a tripling in the share of graduates among employees, accounting for the entire growth in top-skilled occupations, as well as a third of the decline in middling occupations.”

“In parallel, the relative performance of wages in high-skill occupations has deteriorated relative to mid-skill ones, indicating that the supply of workers for these jobs outpaced demand and contributed to the continuing shift from the middle to the top. These facts are highly suggestive that the improvement in the education of the workforce has contributed significantly to the reallocation of employment from mid- to high-skill occupations.”

Andrea Salvatori says that far from being threatened by technology the wages of middle skilled occupations have risen in line with high skilled professions, which she suggests may be due to the increased use of technology.

This debate is important. It suggests that rather than the disruption by technology (which it is always presumed as inevitable) it is government policies over education and training that are responsible for the shrinkage in middle skilled jobs. It could also be suggested that that lack of such jobs may in part be to blame fo the persistently low rate of increase in productivity in the UK, especially when compared with Germany which has continued to train for middle skilled jobs through its apprenticeship system.


Children in UK spend more time on the internet that in front of TV

January 27th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

The Guardian newspaper reported yesterday on a survey finding that for the first time children in the UK are spending more time on the internet than in front of the TV.

Research firm Childwise found that on average five- to 15-year-olds were spending three hours a day using the internet, compared to 2.1 hours watching TV.

While time spent watching television has been in decline for some years, time online has seen a huge surge according to the research, up 50% from two hours last year.

However, there are  some problems with the survey results. The research, which is based on an online survey of more than 2,000 children, did not distinguish between TV-like services on the internet, such as Netflix and iPlayer, and other forms of browsing such as Facebook, meaning it is unclear whether children are merely watching shows in different ways.

However, says the Guardian “the report says that YouTube has taken “centre stage in children’s lives” with half accessing it every day and almost all using it at least occasionally.

The majority of children who use YouTube visit the site to access music videos (58%), while around half watch “funny content” and a third say they watch gaming content, vlogs, TV programmes or “how to” videos.”

The survey also reported that time spent reading books for pleasure has declined from an hour a day on average in 2012 to just over half an hour on average this year. However, once more this does not include time reading books on computers.

I am not sure that raw figures of time spent watching TV versus time spent on the internet, be it computers, tablets or mobiles is the real story, although it might be of concern to advertising executives. More interesting would be to know more about patterns of use of computers, what levels of interaction there are with others and the degree to which computers are used actively or creatively compared to the passive entertainment which marked most television viewing.

A blog is just a blog

January 11th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

2016 and it is time to return to the blog after a crazy December of meetings, conferences, travel and exhaustion.

First a quick catch up from Online Educa Berlin. Online Educa is always enjoyable if only because so many friends and colleagues attend it. I am also always interested in the very large exhibition which provides a quick overview of market and to a lesser extent pedagogic trends in technology supported learning. Decembers exhibition was strange, though. Firstly there were no big stands. Go back five or six years and the big stands were from the public organisations supporting the adoption of technology in universities and education in general. The UK Jisc always had a big presence, so too did the Netherlands SURF network. When they dropped away – probably as a result of funding cuts, The Middle East countries took over with colourful booths, even if somewhat lacking in content. And of course there were the VLE suppliers – Blackboard (later to become Pearsons) could always be relied on for a free glass of wine at the end of a busy conference day. At Online Educa 2015 they were all missing. The largest stand was Egypt Arising. However – whether because of their materials not arriving or for some other reason- they has no content and seemingly no representatives on what remained an empty stand. Instead the exhibition was dominated by the cheaper to rent small stands, some from projects but mainly it appeared from start up companies.

It was hard too to discern any particular trends. A few years ago the exhibition was dominated by virtual world type apps. Another year it was all about interactive whiteboards. And the next year it was video apps that were dominating the scene. In 2015 it seemed to be a bit of everything and a bit of nothing.

It left be wondering if the days of educational technology are numbered. Yes we are moving to software as a service and this will impact of education. And of course data (sometimes big data) is making an impact in the form of Learning analytics. Learning management Systems or VLEs stubbornly refuse to go away although all the suppliers seem to stress how their platforms support personal learning pathways. But in truth much of the technology used for learning is little different from the productivity apps and social software being used in everyday business and living. Will 2016 be the year when – depending on how you look at it – educational technology becomes part of the mainstream or the mainstream is just technology used for learning. After all a blog is just a blog.

Results & Conclusions of our Tallinn meeting – Part Two: The 1st session on construction pilot

June 26th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest post I started a series to report on the Tallinn meeting of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In that first post I gave a picture of our productive preparation day (Tuesday 16th of June). In the two further posts I will focus on  our consortium meeting with an emphasis on the construction sector pilot. For the sake of completion I need to mention that we had firstly some general sessions that tuned us into the key issues. Yet, the highlights of the meeting to me were the consecutive sessions on ‘integrated learning arrangements’ (healthcare, construction) and ‘technical integration’ (healthcare, construction). In this blog post I have chosen to cover the first session on the construction sector pilot.

Presentations on the construction sector pilot and on the Learning Toolbox

Our original plan was to give the main emphasis on the use of Learning Toolbox in the Bau-ABC training projects and to highlight different ways in which both trainers and apprentices can be involved. We assumed that the basic ideas of Learning Toolbox had become familiar to the partners during the previous meetings. We also assumed that it would be better to have an up-to-date demonstration on the functioning of the Learning Toolbox later in the second session that focuses on ‘technical integration’. As it often happens, we had to modify these plans during the sessions.

In the beginning we had firstly a guest input by Adolfo Ruiz and the student group of TLU who presented shortly the application on “Locations” that we had discussed during the preparation day (see my previous blog). The quick input and brief discussion showed us that we can easily work with applications that can be adjusted to the training workshops (or outdoor training areas) of Bau-ABC and raise questions that are relevant for working and learning projects.

This was followed by a quick update message by Edwin Veendendaal (RayCom) on the technical development of the Learning Toolbox. In his message he linked to the presentation of Petru Nicolaescu (RWTH) on the technical development of the Layers Box (installation package for users). Both these reports gave us an impression that the LL project is making good progress in overcoming the technical hurdles that had bothered us for some time.

Our (ITB and Bau-ABC) main contributions in this session were the power points with which we illustrated implementation of training projects in the apprentice training of Bau-ABC and how the use of LTB and digital media can be integrated into such projects. Our examplary cases brought different issues into discussion. The first case was the road-builders’ project on constructing a barrier-free (hindrance-free) parking place for vehicles transporting users of wheelchairs. With this example we drew attention to different phases of self-organised project work of the apprentices (and possible points of intervention). The second example – building old-timer staircases with unique (not standardised) scaffolding – demonstrated the possibility to use LTB and digital media as means to conserved older construction techniques that are no longer present in up-to-date handbooks and learning materials. In addition to these examples Melanie Campbell (Bau-ABC) presented her visualisation on the work process and on the use of LTB during a four-day project (with the peak points in the beginning and and completion phase and in the reflection phase after the project).

Once we had presented these inputs we noticed that some colleagues had many questions that required a better insight into the idea of Learning Toolbox and into its current phase. Therefore, Edwin Veendendaal and Raymond Elferink (RayCom) agreed to give their online presentation on the functioning  of Learning Toolbox already in this session. They guided us through the opening menu, to the structure of stacks and tiles and to the process of making new stacks (for bundling different kind of contents) and new tiles (for certain type of contents). In this way we completed the picture on the uses of LTB and how the current design tries to respond to users’ needs.

Altogether, we got an overview on the Learning Toolbox in the kind of shape in which we want to start the first field pilots. And at the same time we invited other partners to think what they could propose for us as complementary tools and applications. This discussion was scheduled for the ‘technical integration’ session that is covered in the next post.

More blogs to come …


Developing trust in our work

December 15th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

In the Learning Layers project we are aiming to produce tools to help Small and Medium Enterprises support informal learning. For most of the first two years of the project we have been focused on a co-deign process – working with small groups of users to iteratively develop the tools and applications. Our user groups are, at the moment at least, drawn from the construction sector in north Germany and the health sector in north east England.

In years three and four of the project, we are aiming to roll out these tools to significant numbers of users. In preparing for this we have had discussions with literally hundreds of stakeholders  including managers of SMEs. Three big concerns have emerged. the first is whether our work is sustainable. Many are interested in what we are doing but want to know how as a research project we can guarantee our applications will still be around and supported after the project ends. To deal with this not unreasonable concern we have had to seriously explore business models and are in the process of using the Business Model Canvas approach to identify and develop business models for each of our applications.This is new to me – but I can see the value. I have worked on too many projects where systems and tools are developed and tested with small user groups and then abandoned as project funding ends. Of course such processes are legitimate as a research aim. But all too often promising developments are wasted just because no-one has though out how to make their work sustainable At the end of two, three or four years, researchers and developers move on to the next project – and so it goes on.

Secondly people are concerned that our tools and applications will integrate with systems they already use. they do not want yet another stand alone system – and certainly do not want another log in to circumnavigate. We are implementing Open ID Connect for our own services and this offers the possibility for integration with the LDAP systems more commonly used by companies.

The third big concern is data security and server hosting. Our original idea was to use a cloud system developed by the University of Aachen. however we have encountered a surprising degree of distrust of cloud systems. This is not necessarily based on any particular technical reason. The aftermath of the Snowden affair seems to be that in Germany at least company owners and Systems Administrators want to be able to control their own data. This means they want it inside their systems – and cloud is not trusted. Data being held in the USA is not on. As Ben Werdmuller says:

There are all kinds of reasons why you should care about where your data is stored. If you’re a business or institution, there may be legislative and auditing requirements relating to your servers. Many educational institutions in Europe, for example, can’t store data in the US without jumping through numerous hoops – and requiring service providers to jump through more.

My feeling is that managers in small businesses know they should care and that it is important where their data is held. However they do not have the expertise and time to research legislative and auditing requirements. The answer for them is to hold data on their own servers – preferably where they can touch it. And I suspect this situation is not going to change in the near future. For the Learning layers project, as well as a hosted cloud solution, we are now developing the Layers Box, a box containing the Learning Layers software which can simply be plugged in to existing server systems. We will see if this helps allay people’s fears.

Exciting and inspiring students

December 2nd, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Loving this video. Veritasium points out the history of hype around successive technologies and media. One common factor is that in each phase the end of the need for teachers is predicted, Teachers have a vital role to play, say Veritasium, in guiding social processes of learning and exciting and inspiring students. The use of technology for learning is not a revolution but an evolution and teachers have a vital role to play in using technology for learning.

Summer of Innovation, business models and culture

November 28th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

On Wednesday I attended the JISC Summer of innovation event at Reading University. This was a showcase for projects undertaken in summer 2014. Jisc is running an elevator system, selecting some 20 student projects a year who each get £5000 in funding. The format of the competition, says Jisc, “allows students to get full credit for their ideas, and have an ongoing role into their development. As well as showcasing the results of this work the event was designed to seek partners to work with to develop the ideas further.

Each of the project made a short pitch to those attending. And there was ample time to go around the presentation stands for demos and talks with developers. The projects were on the whole very impressive. It almost seems unfair to pick anyone out, but since I was on the lookout for projects I might want to work with further, then my pick of the bunch has to be evaloop. Evaloop developed by Shanghavi and Thiemo Fetzer, both postgraduates at LSE, have developed a mobile app which provides teachers or trainers with an easy way to collect feedback from students. According to the LSE web site “Amar and Thiemo have ten years of teaching experience between them which helped them to identify the difficulty of getting timely feedback in a cost effective way and to create ‘evaloop’.”

As a whole, the products looked pretty cool and you could see at least some of the picking up traction. Talking to the students, though, I was less convinced about the sustainability and business plans. Most had formed companies and were putting forward subscription models. All assured me that their services scaled technically and they probably do. But when I asked them how their company scaled socially they looked at me blankly. I asked a number whether they expected to be selling the same subscriptions to the same applications in two or three years time. This seemed reasonable since I was talking to a bunch of young, ambitious, clever entrepreneurs – or would be entrepreneurs. They admitted they had not thought about that. And although many were seeking to sell subscription services to universities, they did not really seem to know who might have the power to sign up to such a package.

Only Evaloop seem to have considered the Open Source Model. And I guess that is part of the present culture of software development. Apps are not released as open source, instead the business approach is to provide paid for services or at best a premium model. I think that is a shame, since, working with a wider community, many of these projects could make a real difference and get significant take up. However, I suppose another way to look at it is that if say only two projects go on to develop as viable products or services and sustainable enterprises, that has to be seen as a success, especially given the very limited pump priming funding from Jisc. I’ve signed up with five or six of the projects to get future updates, in addition to planning a trial of evaloop. And I will keep readers here in the loop on any updates. In the meantime check out the projects on the Jisc Summer of Innovation website.

Intelligent machines or intelligent humans? Herebe monsters!

September 16th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I’m not normally a big fan of keynote speeches. But I greatly enjoyed Audrey Waters presentation at Alt C 2014. According to the video blurb: “What does it mean to create intelligent machines? What does it mean to create intelligent teaching machines? What does this mean in turn when we talk about using these technologies to create intelligent humans? A romp through literature and the cultural history of ed-tech to talk about teaching machines and monsters.” And I love a good romp.

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    Peer Review

    According to the Guardian, research conducted with more than 6,300 authors of journal articles, peer reviewers and journal editors revealed that over two-thirds of researchers who have never peer reviewed a paper would like to. Of that group (drawn from the full range of subject areas) more than 60% said they would like the option to attend a workshop or formal training on peer reviewing. At the same time, over two-thirds of journal editors told the researchers that it is difficult to find reviewers

    Teachers and overtime

    According to the TES teachers in the UK “are more likely to work unpaid overtime than staff in any other industry, with some working almost 13 extra hours per week, according to research.

    A study of official figures from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that 61.4 per cent of primary school teachers worked unpaid overtime in 2014, equating to 12.9 additional hours a week.

    Among secondary teachers, 57.5 per cent worked unpaid overtime, with an average of 12.5 extra hours.

    Across all education staff, including teachers, teaching assistants, playground staff, cleaners and caretakers, 37.6 per cent worked unpaid overtime – a figure higher than that for any other sector.”

    The future of English Further Education

    The UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee has warned  the declining financial health of many FE colleges has “potentially serious consequences for learners and local economies”.

    It finds funding and oversight bodies have been slow to address emerging financial and educational risks, with current oversight arrangements leading to confusion over who should intervene and when.

    The Report says the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Skills Funding Agency “are not doing enough to help colleges address risks at an early stage”.

    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

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