Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Productivity and vocational education and training

October 25th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

apprenticesInterest in Vocational Education and Training (VET) seems to go in cycles. Its always around but some times it is much more to the forefront than others as a debate over policy and practice. Given the pervasively high levels of youth unemployment, at least in south Europe, and the growing fears over future jobs, it is perhaps not surprising that the debate around VET is once more in the ascendancy. And the debates over how VET is structured, the relation of VET to higher education, the development of new curricula, the uses of technology for learning, the fostering of informal learning, relations between companies and VET schools, the provision of high quality careers counselling and guidance, training the trainers – I could go on – are always welcome.

Whilst in some countries like the UK deregulation seems to have created many jobs, most of these are low paid and insecure.

Higher productivity requires innovation and innovation is in turn dependent on the skills and knowledge of the workforce. But in a time of deregulation there is little incentive for employers to invest in workforce training.

There are signs that some companies are beginning to realise they have a problem. There has been a notable interest from a number of large companies in supporting new apprenticeship programmes and not just in the German speaking countries. In Spain the recently launched Alliance for FP Dual is making slow but steady progress in persuading companies to support the FP Dual alternance or apprenticeship programme. There remain many obstacles, not least the continuing austerity programme, political instability and the perilous financial position of many small and medium enterprises. I will talk more about some of these issues in forthcoming articles on this web site, coming out of the findings of a  small research project in Valencia sponsored by the International Network on Innovative Apprenticeship (INAP).

But to be successful initiatives like the Spanish FP Dual and the wider EU backed Alliance for Apprenticeships have to be linked to wider programmes to promote innovation. Without some degree of labour market regulation this is going to be hard to achieve.

The Challenges for Construction Sector Training in the UK

October 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

emgineerAccording to the Daily Telegraph, a new UK Government report into the skills crisis in the construction sector has recommended a new levy on house builders in a last ditch attempt to reform the industry.

The Telegraph reports Mark Farmer, who wrote the review, as warning that “within 10 years the industry would lose 20-25pc of its workforce. He said that Government apprenticeship policies had not done enough, and that it needed to “modernise or die.”

Research undertaken through the EU Learning layers project has identified the challenges to the sector from both the introduction of digital technologies and ecological issues. Digital technology is impacting on the construction industry in different ways. It is enabling the development of new materials, or new ways of producing materials, for instance through 3D printing. Secondly, it is enabling new construction techniques and processes. Building Information Modelling, being phased in as a compulsory requirement for publicly funded project throughout the European Union, represents a major change in the way construction projects are planned and carried out.

The sector also faces pressures with digital technologies from their wider deployment within society and from their potentials to solve or ameliorate societal challenges, for instance climate change.

The European Commission sees the main challenges facing construction as being:

  • Stimulating demand: Efficiency improvements in existing buildings and renovations have the highest potential to stimulate demand.
  • Training: Improving specialised training and making the sector more attractive, in particular for blue-collar workers, technical colleges and universities.
  • Innovation: More active uptake of new technologies.
  • Energy efficiency and climate change: Buildings account for the largest share of total EU final energy consumption (40%) and produce about 35% of all greenhouse emissions.

It is interesting that they highlight the need for more active uptake of new technologies. This may be a particular problem given the structure of the industry and the predominance of SMEs with a need for wider access to information and knowledge about new technologies and the skills and competences to use technologies in practice. Discussions with the Bau ABC training centre and construction companies in north west Germany, have raised the issue of training centres playing a more central role in technology innovation, especially with apprentices trained in the centres in using new technologies.

The issue of the attractiveness of the sector to new entrants has also commonly been raised. In Germany it is proving difficult to recruit sufficient apprentices and one project is even running a programme for apprentices from Spain. The use of new mobile technologies for learning is seen as a measure which could promote a more modern image for construction industry.

Technologies are also being deployed to support energy efficiency and ameliorate climate change. These include the installation of digital monitoring and control systems for buildings, geothermal bores as an energy source for new buildings and retrofitting of older buildings for energy efficiency. Although the present ‘hype’ around the Internet of Things (IoT) probably outweighs the reality, it may have a major impact on the construction industry in the near future.

Demands of digital technologies for cabling has led to the introduction of new computer based horizontal boring machines to avoid having to dig up roads to install new cables.

Drones are increasingly being used for surveying and monitoring progress in large construction projects. Although at an early stage in deployment there is widespread interest in the potential of augmented reality applications in construction, for instance to allow the visualisation of hidden infrastructures such as cabling in construction sites.

Building Information Modelling has been the subject of much discussion during the Learning Layers project. European legislation has permitted the adoption of different timetables for implementation in different European Member States. In some countries such as UK and Norway, implementation is at an advanced stage. In others such as Spain and Germany it is less far forward. There is some discussion about what organisations will be responsible for managing and implementing BIM processes as well as the technical approaches to BIM. Will BIM be the responsibility of larger civil engineering enterprises or will employees of small (Craft) companies be required to have a greater or lesser knowledge of BIM? This obviously has major implications for training and skills.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the UK’s commercial sector faces a bill of over £9bn to upgrade properties to meet the minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES), and residential buildings will cost a total of £20bn to meet the necessary level.

Yet with looming skills shortages and the upgrade in skills and knowledge required to cope with new technologies and energy efficient buildings, it seems hard to see how the UK construction industry can adapt to the new demands. Present government proposals are for a short term levy and a reliance on the market system to overcome skills shortages. But as Norman Crowther, national official for post-16 education at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers writing in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), points out  a market is not a system per se. “Introducing market mechanisms to get the output you want is not a VET system. All the “market” systems have the same sort of problems around VET (think the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada). Of course, that’s not a problem as long as you don’t want coherent skill formation and skill utilisation. But in a time of economic uncertainty and poor productivity, a system is exactly what we need.

The German coordinated market economy goes so far as to legislate on vocational education and training, and apprenticeships have labour-market worth. In France, the state coordinates agreement via ministerial committees. The Nordic model has positioned VET as a part of the school curriculum and produced publicly intelligible VET qualifications that resonate with the public.”

The failings of vocational education and training in the UK are hardly new, neither are skills shortages. Yet without developing a proper system based on high quality training both in vocational schools and in the workplace it is only likely these problems will worsen

Working places as learning spaces: part four – the internet

September 21st, 2016 by Graham Attwell

skypePart four of the series on working places as learning spaces focuses on the internet. Giving this just one photo would not really work so I have indulged in three.
Dave White distinguishes between digital visitors and digital residents in their use of the internet. “When in Visitor mode, individuals decide on the task they wish to undertake. For example, discovering a particular piece of information online, completing the task and then going offline or moving on to another task. When in Resident mode the individual is going online to connect to, or to be with, other people. This mode is about social presence.”
I am a digital resident. Increasingly my online world and off line world are intertwined and I guess much of my learning takes place on the Internet. I have combined using different tools to form a Personal Learning Environment, although it is neither particularly stable or efficient. I use a wide range of different applications and tools, depending on what I am doing.
fmProbably most important are applications for communications. For one to one communication my app of choice is Skype. Skype has one big advantage – almost everyone I know has a Skype address and it seems to work on most platforms. OK,the video and audio quality are not great. But it is simple and it just works. With close friends and colleagues, I tend to use it like a conversation in an office, stopping to say good morning, to talk during breaks, to meet to discuss particular problems and issues. One curious thing I have noticed is that with some people I tend to mainly use text and with others video although I have no real idea why. I guess these just become habits.
I have missed feelings about online meetings. For sure they allow people to meet from all over the world without the time and cost of travel. But sometimes I think just because they are cheap and easy, we hold more meetings than we necessarily need. And online meetings are very different from face to face meetings. Firstly they lack the many visual cues we use in face to face conversations. And there is a tendency for discussions to go round and round with little movement towards closure. Remaining focused on the screen can get very tiring – an online meeting room lacks the visual distractions of the physical environment. I think those distractions are necessary for longer meetings. Preparation and moderation are even more important in online meetings than face to face if meetings are to be open and participative and arrive at conclusions, whether shared or not.
Twitter is my favourite social networking tool. Although it can take a bit of time curating the right people to follow (and unfollow), Twitter offers a wealth of learning. Shout-outs to followers with particular queries often elect helpful responses. More importantly I get links to ideas, to blogs, to papers, to people I would be never have heard about otherwise. The recent popularity of simultaneous tweet-meets usually lasting something like one hour in the evening and focused around responses and discussions of four or five key questions, have opened up a new self organised learning space.
For access to academic papers I am almost completely reliant on the internet. Whilst I miss the atmosphere of the library, it is much more convenient and offers a wider range of publications. However, far too many papers and publications are still hidden behind publisher pay walls and too expensive for those who do not have a university library affiliation.
Finally a word about books. Like many of us, I guess, a few years ago I was sold on book readers and online publications. But, similarly to many others if the market data is to be believed, I have slowly drifted  back to paper publications. True, electronic books take up less storage space. They are also cheaper. But I don’t think they offer such as attractive learning space as paper publications. It will be interesting to see how in the future we integrate our physical world including artefacts like books with the digital world.

Working places as Learning Spaces (part 3)

September 19th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

image001Here is part 3 of this part 5 series.

These pictures was taken at the 2016 Association of Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) conference in Barcelona, with some 3200 delegates. The EU Learning Layers project had a stand at the conference, organised a bar camp and presented a paper and two posters.

In truth the stand is not a great learning space design. We only had two chairs and only really many visitors in conference coffee breaks and at lunch. But one thing about running an exhibition stand is you never know what people are going to be interested in or what they will ask. In a big project like Learning layers which has some 20 partners and is organised in different work teams developing different applications to support informal learning, it means you have to appreciate and understand the work of others in order to explain it to visitors. And with the barcamp and posters sessions we developed spaces for informal learning within the conference. The bar camp – an unconference session – allowed participants to put forward their own ideas for discussions and exploration in a series of round tables. Participants were active and motivated, unlike the usually passive engagement in formal paper sessions at conferences. I have little experience in medical education. Most of the participants were practitioners in medical education, with many ideas to learn from.  I do not really understand why more such sessions are not organised in major conferences. As an aside, conference venues are seldom designed as learning spaces. Rows of chairs facing a presenter at the front hardly inspires interaction and social learning.


I always like the idea of poster sessions. But with some 600 posters at AMEE and proposers given only three minutes to present their papers it really failed to work as a learning space. We are working at the moment on the idea of using technology to enhance the poster sessions at next year’s conference.

But for me the real learning at the conference was from the Learning Layers team. There were eight of us and we rotated in pairs on the exhibition stand. Like many of the big European research projects, Learning Layers in an interdisciplinary project. Partners include social scientists, pedagogists, business science specialists, designers and technical developers. We can learn from each other and from people with a different subject specialism from our own. This happens to an extent in formal project meetings but the time spent on the stand allowed more in depth conversations. And in the course of the three days spent together we bonded as a team.


Learning Analytics for Workplace and Professional Learning

September 19th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

There is a small but growing community emerging in Europe around the potential and use of Learning analytics in the workplace. And there are still places available for a free workshop entitled ‘Learning Analytics for Workplace and Professional Learning’ on Friday 23 September in Leeds in the UK.

The workshop is being organised around two main activities.During the morning all the participants will shortly present their research work or the research questions they are working on. Thus, we can find common problems, synergies and potential collaborations in future projects. During the afternoon we can work on smaller groups to discuss some community building mechanisms: follow-up workshops (maybe at LAK’17), potential grant applications, creation of an on-line community, collaboration in current or future projects, collaboration with other researchers or research communities.

More information can be found in this PDF document. And to register, please send an email to: Tamsin Treasure-Jones (t [dot] treasure-jones [at] leeds [dot] ac [dot] uk)

Working Places and Learning Spaces (Part 2)

September 16th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

jlgBelow is part two of my series on Working Places and Learning Spaces. Meanwhile Angela Rees, Steve Wheeler and Colin Milligan have both produced their own photos and reflections on their learning spaces. Feel free to join in. You can find the original idea for the meme here.

With new technologies, many conversations take place today over the internet. And those technologies help us develop and curate Personal Learning Networks. Yet face to face conversations can be more animated informal and allow wider ranging conversations. It is notable that many people say the best learning at conferences and meetings take place in the coffee breaks and in the evenings.

Sometimes I contact people in advance to meet up for a chat. Other times such meetings happen by chance. Sometimes meetings are with friends I have met and worked with before, sometimes with more distant contacts. And sometimes they are with friends and family.

This picture is of me with Jose Luis Garcia, a professor from the Complutense University of Madrid. I have worked with him on projects in the past, he is my girlfriends father and a good friend. The working space was simply my living room in Valencia. We had dinner together and afterwards were talking. I told him I was interested in learning spaces and explained the background to the Institute of Education’s project which kicked off a wide ranging discussion which went on late into the night. He told me about his interest in the idea of ‘mobilities’ which he saw as similar to spaces.

I wrote a series of notes – on the back of an envelope. Technology often gets in the way of conversations like this –the only problem with hand written notes being my terrible handwriting.

Learning like this happens in informal spaces – bars, restaurants, coffee houses and so on. With one friend and colleague we have on a number of occasions organised walks. We walk and talk – stop at a bar and make notes and then walk and talk again. But more often such conversations are more serendipitous than planned.

The photo is a selfie. There was no-one else present to take the photo and I wanted both of us in that. The photo does not show much of the space we are in – and that is the point –it really does not matter as long as we are have a space in which we are both comfortable.


Working and Learning Spaces

September 14th, 2016 by Graham Attwell


Here is the first of the series on working places as learning spaces, produced for the Institute of Education in London as a contribution to the  Lifelong Learning Hub (ASEM LLL Hub) international network.

I work for a small research and development company called Pontydysgu, based in Pontypridd in Wales. We have something like 14 employees, most of us part time, and living in Wales, England, Germany and Spain. Although we have two offices, in Pontypridd and in Bremen, Germany, most of us work from home. We make extensive use of technologies for day to day communication (that will be the subject of another picture).

I have two of what the Germans call ‘home offices’ in my two homes in Spain and Germany. I suppose these are the nearest I have to a ‘traditional’ working space.

The offices serve a number of purposes. One of the big advantages of working from home is that it does not take long to get to work (in one of my previous jobs I was travelling nearly three hours every day, to and from my official workplace). But there are downsides. One is that I am not careful I can end up working very long hours – another is that it is hard to get away from the work. At least with an office it is possible to escape form the clutter of work instruments and tools – papers, files, computer equipment, printers, stationary and so on. Secondly, the office provides a place to flee to avoid disturbing other people in my flat.

Neither office is really ideal – nor am I quite sure what an ideal office would look like. Certainly in summer both suffer from a surfeit of sunlight! But at least in my larger Bremen office, I have an old sofa and an Ikea chair for when I get fed up at sitting at the desk.

The big problem with an office I think – and this applies just as much if not more to working in an institutional environment – is social isolation. I used to work in an institution in the university in Bremen. It was a modern architect designed, environmentally friendly building. It certainly was not the breeze blog and concrete UK researchers have had to get used to. And in terms of learning probably one of the worst places I have worked. The blinds went up and down automatically according the not so intelligent decisions of the central computer. Lights were automatic too. In evenings if you did not move enough you were plunged into darkness. But worst was that although everyone had =very nice offices, the building had been designed without any social spaces (apart from two small kitchens). And it is in those (informal) social spaces where learning takes place.

There are similar downsides to working at home despite the ease of telecommunications. But I frequently move around the flat to different rooms and there is usually some kind of everyday social interaction, certainly with the environment, often with other people. Indeed, I noticed that in both of my offices I have a large computer screen but I rarely plug them in, preferring instead the mobility of a 11inch laptop. I have never really got used to playing music while I work (although I wish I had). But frequent social interaction somehow makes a working place more human and that interaction in turn helps social learning in one way or another. I think it is connectivity – being connected from the world of research and development to the wider world outside us.



Working places as learning spaces

September 13th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

WorkplaceAt the 2015 European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), I attended an interesting symposium led by Natasha Kersch and Karen Evans from the Institute of Education in London on learning spaces. I promised to contribute some pictures and ideas to the project. Predictably perhaps, I forgot, but due to their very welcome persistence have finally got my act together. I find the whole area fascinating: my working spaces have changed so much over the years. I am not quite sure I am providing what they want – instead of a few lines I think I am telling a story and instead of one photo have taken the indulgence of providing two for most of those short stories. Anyway below is the invite and scoping of the task. Over the next few days I will post my photos and stories on this biog.

We would be very grateful if you could take part in ASEM ‘Working places as learning spaces’ research. Established in 2005 by the intergovernmental Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the Lifelong Learning Hub (ASEM LLL Hub) is an international network of higher education institutions and educational policymakers from these two world regions. Its members, as institutions and individuals, work and learn together towards three aims: to achieve excellence in comparative research on lifelong learning; to offer research-based education policy recommendations; and to develop mutual understanding between Asia and Europe. The ASEM LLL Hub provides a platform for dialogue between researchers and policymakers, thereby contributing to evidence-based educational reform and innovation.

We are currently undertaking research on ‘workplace spaces as learning spaces’, specifically focusing on the ways people learn at work through different kinds of spaces: physical, virtual etc. As part of this process we are hoping to interview a small number of professionals involved with VET/adult education/ICT, specifically asking them to talk about their perceptions of ‘learning spaces’ at work (i.e. how people view their learning spaces at work). We would be most grateful if you could talk to us about your experiences of “learning spaces’ within your own professional practices . The interview will take around 30-40 min. As part of this research, we would also be really grateful if you could send us some photos that capture the idea of learning spaces that are important for you in your work and work practices (with a couple of lines of explanation for each picture). Those could relate to a variety of spaces: areas of your office, your desk, meeting room, , virtual space at your computer, cafeteria, etc.

Unconferencing at AMEE

September 12th, 2016 by Graham Attwell


I am way behind writing things up at the moment – too much going on.

Anyway two weeks ago I was with the Learning Layers team at the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) conference in Barcelona. We organised a Barcamp session, had a stand, Tamsin and Sebastion presented a paper and a couple of colleagues presented posters.

Obviously with the stand I didn’t get a chance to go to many sessions but did get to talk at some length to quite a few delegates. The conference was big, with over 3200 individuals attending. What impressed me was that the conference seemed to be made up predominantly of practising educators- and at least from looking at some of the over 600 posters to be extremely practice focused. Regard9ing educational technology, there was a perhaps to be expected interest in the potential of Augmented Reality and simulations. But generally delegates (or at least those I talked too) seemed to regard educational technology as a given.

Once more, this may have been a self selected sample of those interested in Learning Layers technologies designed more to support informal learning than traditional classroom teaching, but there seemed to be a growing frustration with the limitations of Learning Management Systems.

The double unconferencing session we ran – promoted as a Barcamp was very well received. After a short introduction into the idea of a Barcamp, participants themselves decided on the topics to be discussed at a series of four round table sessions. Some of the action was captured on a Google doc which can be viewed here.

And there have a number of participants writing about their own experiences of the BarCamp in blogs about the conference (more about the Joycards in a future blog entry).

Natalie Lafferty’s Highlights from AMEE – mention the BarCamp, Learning Layers, Learning Toolbox and the informal learning JoyCard. She shared these reflections on twitter as well.

The Learning Layers BarCamp and the informal learning JoyCard are two of Barbara Jenning’s Top 10 Highlights of AMEE in her storify which was also shared on twitter.

Given the positive feedback – and the obvious knowledge sharing and learning which took place, it makes me wonder why more conference have not adopted BarCamps or similar unconferencing sessions. It seems AMEE is open to different formats and we hope to repeat the experiment again next year. But all too often conferences are sticking to the tried and tested, despite the frequently repeated observation that more is learned in informal chats at breaks and in the evening than n formal paper presentations.

Workplace Learning Analytics workshop

September 7th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

It is not easy developing a community around Workplace Learning Analytics but there are some signs of emerging interest.

On 23 September 2016, in Leeds, there is an open workshop on Workplace Learning Analytics, sponsored by the Learning Layers project. The invitation to the workshop runs as follows.

Up to now, the Learning Analytics community has not paid much attention to workplace and professional scenarios, where, in contrast to formal education, learning is driven by demands of work tasks and intrinsic interest of the learner. Hence, learning processes at the workplace are typically informal and not related to a pedagogical scenario. But workplace and professional learners can benefit from their own and others’ learning outcomes as they will potentially increase learning awareness, knowledge sharing and scaling-up learning practices.

Some approaches to Learning Analytics at the workplace have been suggested. On the one hand, the topic of analytics in smart industries has extended its focus to some learning scenarios, such as how professionals adopt innovations or changes at the workplace; on the other hand, the Learning Analytics community is increasing its attention to informal scenarios, professional training courses and teaching analytics. For this reason, we consider that it a great moment to collect all this interest to build up a community related to workplace and professional Learning Analytics.

  • We invite you to take part in the workshop which will have two main activities:
    During the morning all the participants will shortly present their research work or the research questions they are working on. Thus, we can find common problems, synergies and potential collaborations in future projects.
  • During the afternoon we can work on smaller groups to discuss some community-building mechanisms: follow-up workshops (maybe at LAK’17), potential grant applications, creation of an on-line community, collaboration in current or future projects, collaboration with other researchers or research communities… etc.

To register, please send an email to: Tamsin Treasure-Jones (t [dot] treasure-jones [at] leeds [dot] ac [dot] uk)

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    News Bites

    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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