Archive for the ‘TEL’ Category

Changing perspectives on VLEs/PLEs, eLearning and MOOCs

March 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent posts have been reports on my efforts to catch up with debates in EdTech communities and with recent pilots with MOOCs. I made use of a relatively quiet period in our work for the Learning Layers (LL) project to read what Graham Attwell has recently written on these issues. (With quiet I don’t mean that we would have had nothing to do. My point was that we have been more occupied with preparatory tasks – not much to blog about them.)

Now it seems that I have to move on to the actual preparation of the forthcoming Design Conference. Therefore, I have to postpone my further reading to some other time. At this point I make only few comments and notes for myself what to read next.

1. Changing concepts – changing perspectives

It strikes me that in the long run several changes in terminology in EdTech (and before EdTech became a big number) have paved the way from teaching-centred to learning-oriented approaches. Just thinking the changes from ‘distance teaching’ to ‘distance learning’, ‘remote learning’ and finally to ‘open distance learning’. In the beginning phase ‘eLearning’ was hyped as an alternative paradigm – the new promising mainstream to push into periphery the traditional academic teaching and learning culture. Gradually the initiatives with ‘eLearning in practice’ have brought into picture far more realistic approaches (with emphasis on technology enhanced learning TEL).

A similar transition seems to have taken place in the debates on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) vs. Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). As Graham put it a quote that I have picked from his earlier blog: “At a development level, there is little point in trying to develop a new PLE to replace the VLE. Instead we need to provide flexible tools which can enhance existing technologies and learning provision, be it formal courses and curricula or informal learning in the workplace or in the community.”

To me, the above repeated quote might be also the key to understand adequately the potential of MOOCs. I have the impression that the early phase of the MOOCs has been misused or misinterpreted to create a picture of a renaissance of e-teaching (by global missionaries) in the form of massively open online courses. What I see coming up in the newer blogs is increasingly a picture of scalable learning opportunities via which professional communities reach new dimensions. If I have understood it correctly, the initiative LangMOOC is looking for opportunities to develop language support practices for transnational cooperation activities. To me, the pilots in the employment services point to a similar direction. But I am eager to learn from those who are involved.

2. What should I/we look more closely

Even with the risk that I will not have that much time I will list some blog articles that I should try to go through in the coming time. I have sadly neglected a most valuable resource – the blog Wilfred Rubens over Technology Enhanced Learning – but with these issues I must catch up with some topics. My priority issues will be the following ones (published quite recently but to the very point I want to catch up with):

Vormen van e-learning (February 25th 2015)

Here Wilfred gives a differentiated view on different forms of e-learning (I think he identifies 11 variants).

Nieuwe EMMA MOOCS van start #EUMOOCS (February 27th 2015)

Here Wilfred gives insights into European cooperation intiatives to develop MOOCs.

Hoe lerenden binnen MOOCS opereren? (March 2nd 2015)

Here Wilfred reports on a study that has analysed the activities of learners of MOOCs.

So let us see when I get to deepen my understanding of MOOCs and similar learning arrangements that transform the perspective from ‘courses’ to social learning in professional communities.

More blogs to come …

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 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.

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.


Using technology to support informal learning in SMEs

June 11th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Last week was the deadline for submissions to the Online Educa Berlin 2014 conference. I like Online Educa. If nothing else, it is a great end of year opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends from around the world. And it is also a great opportunity to engage in wider dialogues around the work we are doing. Online Educa has for some years been experimenting with the format of sessions and attempting to introduce more interaction, rather than just slides and talk. This year they are limiting presenters to just five slides. And they have asked everyone submitting a proposal to send  short video describing their proposed session.

So here is my video. It is based on the work we are doing in the EU funded Learning Layers project, developing and implementing technologies for informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises.

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.

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.




PLE Conference 2014 – Beyond formal: emergent practices for living, learning and working

November 10th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

The PLE conference in 2010 was only intended to be a one off. But here we are, busy organising the 2014 conference.  Why has it been so successful_ Whilst trends and fads in educational technology come and go Personal Learning Environments haven’t gone away.  They couldn’t. They were not just a trendy new bit of technology but an approach to both explaining how people are using technology for learning today and at the same time an approach to reforming and recasting pedagogic approaches to teaching and learning.

And the PLE conference is itself a flipped conference and has built a reputation as one of the best learning events on teh annual conference calendar.

The theme for PLE 2014 conference, announced today will be: “Beyond formal: emergent practices for living, learning and working”. And the European conference, usually held in the first two weeks of July, will be in Tallinn in Estonia. The southern hemisphere version of the conference, held for the last two years in Australia, will be at the  UNITAR International University in Malaysia.

Hopefully the call for contributions will be released in early December. More details on this page when available.

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    News Bites

    The future of libraries

    The NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry has released its library edition. Six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in technology are identified across three adoption horizons over the next one to five years, giving library leaders and staff, they say, a valuable guide for strategic technology planning.

    The NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Library Edition identifies “Increasing Value of the User Experience” and “Prioritization of Mobile Content and Delivery” as short-term impact trends driving changes in academic and research libraries over the next one to two years. The “Evolving Nature of the Scholarly Record” and “Increasing Focus on Research Data Management” are mid-term impact trends expected to accelerate technology use in the next three to five years; and “Increasing Accessibility of Research Content” and “Rethinking Library Spaces” are long-term impact trends, anticipated to impact libraries for the next five years or more.

    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.


    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

    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.”

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