Archive for the ‘technologies’ Category

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.

Social Tech Guide

May 30th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100’s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”

Barriers to learning with technologies in enterprises

May 22nd, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Most of my work at the moment involves the use of technology for learning in work, including in the construction sector, the health sector and in public employment services. It is s subject I have been working on – on and off – for the past 15 years. Although I cannot prove it, my feeling is that there is a greater awareness of the potential of technology for learning now, particularly in those organisations with training departments. And there is growing interest in the potential of mobile devices for embedding learning within work processes.

However practice in patchy at best. Of course there are differences between individual sectors and between different companies within sectors. But the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises, increasingly seen as the loci of future employment growth, is very limited. Which once more raises the question of why and of what the barriers are.

The biggest barrier for me is the capacity of organisations to adopt TEL. This includes a number of different things including the attitude and support of managers for TE, the availability of learning materials, the confidence and competence of trainers and learners in using technology and the technical infrastructure. As I said above, I see increasing support from managers. The movement to open educational resources and the wider use of web 2.0 tools for content creation is overcoming previous problems with the lack of learning materials for occupational learning. Confidence and competence of trainers and learners is harder to assess. If anything, in workshops we are finding greater differentiation – from very confident and keen users to those barely able to operate a computer. This means we need to foster processes of peer learning – with more advanced users and trainers supporting those with less confidence.

The biggest problem we are finding is infrastructure. Whilst I read with enjoyment all these papers about social learning and the web and how it can be transformational in organisations, the reality is most computers and networks in organisations are locked down.  How locked down varies – in some it requires the sys admin to install any new software, in others individual websites have to be white listed on the server before they can be accessed. Of course we all love to hate system administrators. But there are real reasons behind this. Most systems contain confidential data and critical systems. They have not been built for learning. And with the increasing risk of hacking – administrators are looking how to tighten up their systems, not open them up. The only answer I can see is to provide completely separate networks for learning. Of course this is not going to be cheap. So once more we are back to persuading organisational managers of the importance of investing in infrastructures for learning. In this at least, nothing has changed

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.

What is happening with Learning Analytics?

April 7th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I seem to be spending a lot of time looking at the potential of various technologies for supporting learning at work. I am not talking here about Virtual Learning Environments. In the construction industry we are looking at how mobile devices can be used to support learning and knowledge sharing between the different contexts of the vocational school, the industrial training centre and the workplace. And through the Employ-ID project we are looking at how to support continuing professional development for workers in public employment organisations across Europe.

None of these is particularly easy. Pedagogically we looking at things like co0counselling and at MOOCs for professional development. And another target on our horizon is Learning Analytics. Like so many things in technology advanced learning, Learning Analytics launched with a big fanfare, then seems to haver sunk under the surface. I was excited by the potential of using data to support learning and wanted to get in there. But there seems to be a problem. Like so often, rather than looking to use the power of Learning Analytics to support learners and learning, institutions have hijacked the application as a learning management tool. Top of the list for UK universities at least is how to reduce drop out rates (since this effects their funding). Rather than look at the effectiveness of teaching and learning, they are more interested in the efficiency of their approach (once more to save money).

So we are back where we have been so many times. We have tools with a great potential to support learners, but institutional managerialism has taken over the agenda. But perhaps I am being overly pessimistic and looking for information in the wrong places. If anyone can point me to examples of how to use Learning Analytics to support real learning please post below.

NB. Another issue concerning me is how to tell users what data we are collecting and how we are using it. Once more, does anyone have any pointers to good practice in this respect

 

User Stories and Persona

March 24th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I worked with Owen Grey on the slides for my presentation on ‘Developing Context and Work Based Mobile Learning in the Construction Sector’ at the Bristol Ideas in Mobile Learning symposium. And I included a series of Persona developed through early work in the Learning Layers project. Owen was not impressed – they are dreadful he said, they do not match reality. He was right and indeed I deleted the slide. But during my presentation, I stated my difficulty with Persona and this led to some discussions (to say nothing of tweets).

In the past I have been fond of persona as a working methodology. Indeed, I even wrote a guide to how to develop Persona for the EU G8way project. Here is an extract:

Identifying Personas

Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behaviour set that might use a site, brand or product in a similar way (Wikipedia). Personas can be seen as tool or method for design. Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of users in order to help to guide decisions about a service, product or interaction space for a website.

A user persona is a representation of the goals and behaviour of a real group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesised from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in one to two page descriptions that include behaviour patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. Personas identify the user motivations, expectations and goals responsible for driving online behaviour, and bring users to life by giving them names, personalities and often a photo. (Calabria, 2004).

Personas can be based on research into users and should not be based purely on the creator’s imagination. By feeding in real data, research allows design teams to avoid generating stereotypical users that may bear no relation to the actual user’s reality.

Tina Calabria (2004) says personas are relatively quick to develop and replace the need to canvass the whole user community and spend months gathering user requirements and help avoid the trap of building what users ask for rather than what they will actually use.”

The problem is that all too often in synthesising data to produce a representation of a real group of users we do end up with a caricature. This is not just because creators rely purely on their imagination and fail to take account of the research. But (and I will talk more about this issue in a future blog post on Transdisciplinary Action Research), all too often the researcher or creator is just too far from the users to understand the meaning of the research. This distance can include class, geography, language (including domain language) culture and perhaps most critically (at least for the Learning layers project) occupation. And thus, rather than building what users ask for rather than what they will actually use, we build software that only a caricature would use.
That is not to say we should give up on developing Persona. Indeed, a later revision and rewriting of the Learning Layers Perosna was a great improvement. But I think we need to re-examine how we are developing perosna, how we combine them with other tools and approaches and what limitations there may be to their use.

Aumented Reality, practice and performace

March 12th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Last week I went to the Bristol Mobile Ideas in Mobile Learning Symposium (programme and links here). I thoroughly enjoyed the event. Just a general point before I get to the specifics. I am increasingly bored with large conferences where you sit passively listening to string of paper inputs – good bad or indifferent – and then perhaps get to ask one or two questions. Smaller events such as the Bristol symposium, allow a real discussion and best of all, continued debate in breaks and in the evening. This is the kind of event which promotes learning!

I made a presentation on the Learning Toolbox mobile application we are developing for the Learning Layers project in the penultimate session of the symposium. I followed an intriguing presentation by Daniel Spikol on Using Augmented Reality, Artistic Research and Mobile Phones to Explore Practice-based Learning (see video above). Daniel has been working with Dance groups in Sweden, using the Aurasma Augmented Reality app for recording and augmenting dance performances. At first sight that would seem a long way from my work on developing an app for apprentices in the construction industry. But there were many links. Amongst other things Daniel made two key points which I could relate to. One was the need for continuing and iterative development in the use of apps (and here it was interesting that they had used an existing application, rather than trying to develop their own code). Second was the use of technology in capturing and representing physical performance. And in terms of work based learning, that is exactly what we are trying to do (and struggling with) in using mobile devices. In this regard I am interested in the ideas about practice.  Practice is related to competence and qualification and includes cognitive, affective, personal and social factors (trying to find citation for this). In terms of learning (and using technology for learning) practice based activities – whether based on formal or informal learning – are:

  • Purposeful
  • Heavily influenced by context
  • Often result in changes in behaviour
  • Sequenced in terms of developing a personal knowledge base
  • Social – involving shared community knowledge

Returning to Daniel’s questions, the challenge is how we can design and shape technology to augment practice.

 

 

 

It’s my web! A ten week course to teach the basics of web design

January 6th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

One of our current interests at Pontydysgu is teaching children to code. Jen Hughes has been doings some great work producing and testing floor cards for use with primary school children to learn how to create basic algorithms (for more on her work see the Taccle 2 site). The Mozilla Foundation is also working on this and over Christmas published ‘Its my Web!’ – a ten week course to teach the basics of web design. I guess this is aimed at 10 year olds and above and it looks pretty good.

I’d be interested to hear about other resources for all age groups.

Below is the introduction to the Mozilla course.

The Web is a good place to begin learning about how technology works, and fundamental ICT concepts such as programming. It is everywhere and familiar, easy to learn compared to other programming platforms, and there is a lot of help available due to the Web’s largely free and open nature. This course will aim to teach children some background information on how the web works and why the web is so interesting, the basic fundamentals of HTML (the language used to structure data on the Web) and CSS basics (the language used to style and layout the Web), possibly then moving on to some more advanced CSS and JavaScript (the web’s main programming/logic language) if there is time.

via It’s my web! A ten week course to teach the basics of web design.

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.

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