Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

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.

Sustaining learning

September 23rd, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I am in Tallinn in Estonia experiencing an early reminder of how cold and wet north European winters can be. I am here for a consortium meeting of the EU sponsored Learning layers project. Consortium meetings in these large projects can have a considerable number of participants, some 50 researchers and application partners attended the last meeting in Bad Zwischenahn in Germany.

Tomorrow am am helping organise a two and half hour workshop with the perhaps not particualrly sexy title of Sustainability, Scalability & Replicability. Whats it all about?  The problem is that far too many projects – esepcially in the area of technology enhanced learning – fail to develop finished products. And even those that do usually fail to get ream traction around such products let alone work out how to sustain the development. We don’t want that to happen with Learning layers. We think we are well on the way to developing tools which can support informal learning and provide learning support to thousands of people in the workplace. But of course there are issues. We do not have the money to do everything we want to. Sometimes our software designs seem hopelessly ambitious. And the research universities in the project may not have any interest in trying to sustain product development, once EU funding for research has ended.

So those are the issues we want to explore in the workshop looking at the progression from a research project to a full product, working out who are the stakeholders and developing an initial business pitch for how future development can be sustained. Watch this blog for what we discover.

 

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.

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

September 16th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

As promised, a post on our stand and presentation at Alt-C on the LMIforAll Labour Market Data project, sponsored by UKCES. Working together with the Institute for Employment Research at Warwick University and Raycom, we have developed a database and APi providing access to a range of data about a wide variety of different occupations in the UK including data about:

  • Pay
  • Gender
  • Numbers employed
  • Future employment projections
  • Occupational profiles
  • Skills and competences
  • Job vacancies
  • University destinations

The API is self documenting and is available free of charge to both for profit and not for profit organisatio0ns and developers. Working with Loud Source we have run a competition for Apps built on the API and together with Rewired State we have organised a series of Hack Days and Mod Days. We are currently redesigning the website to provide better access to the data and to the different applications that have been built to date.

One strange thing that took people visiting our stand some time to understand was that we were not selling anything (I think ours and Jisc were the only non commercial stands).  The second thing was that we were not trying to ‘sell’ them a shiny out of teh box project. To get added value from our database and API requires some thought and development effort on the part of organisations wanting to use the data. We provide the tools, they provide the effort to use them. But when people got that concept they were enthusiastic. And most interestingly they were coming up with completely new ideas for where the data might be valuable. As you can see in our presentation above, we have largely focused on the use of LMIforAll for careers planning. University and Further Education researchers and developers saw big potential using the API as a planning too for future courses and curriculum. Others saw it as a valuable resource for measuring employability, a big agenda point for many UK institutions. It was also suggested to us that the labour market data could be mashed together with data derived from learning analytics, providing possibly a more learner centred approach to analytics than has previously been deployed.

If you are interested in any of these ideas have a play on the LMIforAll web site. And feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

 

 

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

September 1st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

It is the end of the holidays and time to return back to work. And of course with September starts the autumn conference season. This week I am at the ALT C Conference at Warwick University and then at the European Conference for Educational Research in Porto. More on The ECER conference later.

At Alt C we are organising a workshop on the UKCES open data project (abstract below). And we will also have an exhibition stand. So if you are coming to the conference make sure to drop by the stand – No 16 in the Arts Centre – free coffee and sweets! and say hello.

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

People make important decisions about their participation in the labour market every year. This extends from pupils in schools, to students in Further and Higher education institutions and individuals at every stage of their career and learning journeys. Whether these individuals are in transition from education and/or training, in employment and wishing to up-skill, re-skill or change their career, or whether they are outside the labour market wishing to re-enter, high quality and impartial labour market information (LMI) is crucial to effective career decision-making. LMI is at the heart of UK Government reforms of careers service provision. Linking and opening up careers focused LMI to optimise access to, and use of, core national data sources is one approach to improving that provision as well as supporting the Open Data policy agenda (see HM Government, 2012). Careers focused LMI can be used to support people make better decisions about learning and work and improve the efficiency of labour markets by helping match supply with demand, and helping institutions in planning future course provision.

A major project, funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, is underway led by a team of data experts at the Institute for Employment Research (University of Warwick) with developers and technologists from Pontydysgu and Raycom designing, developing and delivering a careers LMI webportal, known as LMI for All. The presentation will focus on the challenge of collaborating and collecting evidence at scale between institutions and the social and technological design and development of the database. The database is accessed through an open API, which will be explored during the presentation.

Through open competition developers, including students in FE, have been encouraged to develop their own applications based on the data. Early adopters and developers have developed targeted applications and websites that present LMI in a more engaging way, which are targeted at specific audiences with contrasting needs.The web portal is innovative, as it seeks to link and open up careers focused LMI with the intention of optimising access to, and use of, core national data sources that can be used to support individuals make better decisions about learning and work. It has already won an award from the Open Data Institute.

The presentation will highlight some of the big data and technological challenges the project has addressed. It will also look at how to organise collaboration between institutions and organisations in sharing data to provide new services in education and training.Targeted participants include developers and stakeholders from a range of educational and learning settings.

The session will be interactive with participants able to test out the API, provide feedback and view applications.

Why do computer science students drop out?

August 4th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

It takes hard work to design a good survey – and more hard work to collect responses. But often the hardest job is not just analysing the data, but making sense of it. A new survey on student drop outs from Uk universities is a case in point.

The data from the Higher Education Funding Council for England show that in 2011-12, 6.6 per cent of full-time UK students doing a first degree in England had quit after their first year.

This is almost one percentage point less than the previous year, and is the latest in a series of declines since 2003-04, when the dropout rate was 9.2 per cent.

Times Higher Education (THE) reports that the survey shows differences in dropout rates between subjects remain stark. “Eleven per cent of computer science students dropped out in 2011-12, according to the data. …..A detailed breakdown of the figures shows that software engineering has a particularly poor retention record, with nearly 17 per cent of students dropping out after the first year. Artificial intelligence courses, on the other hand, do much better.”

THE goe son to say thatDigital Skills for Tomorrow’s World, a report released earlier this month by the UK Digital Skills Taskforce, suggested that computer science courses are “extremely varied” and that “some students arrive at university to find that the courses do not match their expectations”.

They report that the data also show that “men (7.6 per cent) are more likely to drop out than women (5.9 per cent). Students from areas with the lowest levels of participation in higher education also had higher dropout rates than those from other neighbourhoods. Neither of these differences could be fully explained when controlling for age, subject and qualifications on entry.”

We have had a quick chat here in the office about possible reasons for the high drop out in computer science and have come up with a few possible explanations. One may be that computer science students tend to be socially isolated. But more likely is different expectations about the nature of such courses, even if they are extremely varied. Students expect the course to be practical and hands on, whilst often they are quite theoretical and involve a considerable amount of mathematics. That is not to say that these courses are not good. But it may be that many students enrolling on a computer science course would be far better off on a high class apprenticeship training, if such programmes were readily available to the UK.  University is not the only route to learning.

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.”

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.

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    Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE from the Online EDUCA Berlin 2014

    We will broadcast from Berlin on the 4th and the 5th of December. Both times it will start at 11.15 CET and will go on for about 30 minutes.

    Go here to listen to the radio stream: SoB Online EDUCA 2014 LIVE Radio.

    News Bites

    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


    Consultation

    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at http://goo.gl/LwR65t.


    Social Tech Guide

    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.”


    Code Academy expands

    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

    Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.


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