Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Improving the skills and competences of VET teachers and trainers in the age of Artificial Intelligence

October 11th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Pontydysgu are partners in a new project on Artificial Intelligence and vocational Education and Training, starting this month. The project will last for two years and is funded through the EU Erasmus Plus programme. It is coordinated by the Institut Technik und Bildung at the University of Bremen and includes partners from Greece, Italy and Lithuania.

Below is a description of the project. There is also a short form to sign up for project newsletters and if your organisation is interested, to join the project as associate partners.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be defined as a computer system that has been designed to interact with the world in ways we think of as human and intelligent. Ample data, cheap computing and AI algorithms mean technology can learn very quickly. The transformative power of AI cuts across all economic and social sectors, including education. UNESCO says AI has the potential to accelerate the process of achieving the global education goals through reducing barriers to accessing learning, automating management processes, and optimizing methods in order to improve learning outcomes. Education will be profoundly transformed by AI.Teaching tools, ways of learning, access to knowledge, and teacher training will be revolutionized.

A recent European Joint Research Council policy foresight report suggests that “in the next years AI will change learning, teaching, and education. The speed of technological change will be very fast, and it will create high pressure to transform educational practices, institutions, and policies.” They say it is therefore important to understand the potential impact of AI on learning, teaching, and education, as well as on policy development.

AI is particularly important for vocational education and training as it promises profound changes in employment and work tasks. There have been a series of reports attempting to predict the future impact of AI on employment, producing varying estimates of the number of jobs vulnerable to automation as well as new jobs which will be created. But the greatest implications for VET lies in the changing tasks and roles within jobs, requiring changes in initial and continuing training, for those in work as well as those seeking employment. Cooperative robotics offers new work designs and job scenarios for occupations avoiding repetitive work tasks. This will require changes in existing VET
content, new programmes such as the design of AI systems in different sectors, and adaptation to
new ways of cooperative work with AI.

If teachers are to prepare young people for this new world of work, and to excite young people to engage with careers in designing and building future AI ecosystems, then VET teachers and trainers themselves require training to understand the impact of AI and the new needs of their students. There is an urgent need for young people to be equipped with a knowledge about AI, meaning the need for educators to be similarly equipped is imperative. This requires cooperation between policy makers, organisations involved in teacher training, vocational schools and occupational sector organisations, including social partners.

For VET teachers and trainers there are many possible uses of AI including new opportunities for adapting learning content based on student’s needs, new processes for assessment, analysing possible bottlenecks in learners’ domain understanding and improvement in guidance for learners. AI systems can provide diagnostic data to learners so that they can reflect on their metacognitive approaches and areas in need of development. New pedagogical possibilities include learning companions based on affective computing and emotion AI. AI systems can help in interpreting
activities undertaken in VET, linking theoretical and practice-based learning.

AI can be a key technology in the modernisation of VET by providing new opportunities for adapting
learning content based on student’s needs, new processes for assessment, analysing possible bottlenecks in learners’ domain understanding and improvement in guidance for learners. The project will promote open innovative methods and pedagogies and develop learning materials, tools and actions in the form of Open Educational Resources that support the effective use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to provide initial training and continued professional development for VET teachers and trainers in Artificial Intelligence. The project will extend the European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators, a reference framework tool for implementing regional and national tools and training programmes to include AI.

The project will seek to support VET teachers and trainers in extending and adapting open curriculum models for incorporating AI in vocational education and training. Furthermore, the project will develop an Open Massive Open Online Course in AI in education in English and German, open to all teachers and trainers in VET in Europe. The course materials will be freely available for other organisations to use for professional development.

The realisation of the potential of AI for VET requires the involvement of European teachers and trainers in designing solutions to the key educational challenges facing VET. Technologists alone cannot design effective AI solutions. The implications of AI for VET curriculum and for teaching and training in schools and the workplace are profound and educators must engage in discussing what needs to change as a matter of urgency

 

 

 

An Ethics of Artificial Intelligence Curriculum for Middle School Students

September 23rd, 2019 by Graham Attwell

With all the bad news emanating from MIT Media Lab in the last few weeks it is good to have something positive to report. MIT have released ‘An Ethics of Artificial Intelligence Curriculum for Middle School Students’ created by Blakeley H. Payne with support from the MIT Media Lab Personal Robots Group, directed by Cynthia Breazeal under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC license. This  license allows you to  remix, tweak, and build upon these materials non-commercially as long as you include acknowledgement to the creators. Derivative works should include acknowledgement but do not have to be licensed as CC-BY-NC.

Details of the curriculum can be found in a Google docs document which they say includes a set of activities, teacher guides, assessments, materials, and more to assist educators in teaching about the ethics of artificial intelligence. These activities were developed at the MIT Media Lab to meet a growing need for children to understand artificial intelligence, its impact on society, and how they might shape the future of AI.

The curriculum was designed and tested for middle school students (approximately grades 5th-8th). Most activities are unplugged and only require the materials included in this document, although unplugged modifications are suggested for the activities which require computer access.

Pontydysgu are partners in a new project working with vocational teachers and trainers around the imapct of AI in their work. Although this curriculum was designed for middle school stdents a quick look suggests much of it can be amended for our users.

 

 

Ponty gets Cycle-ing

September 23rd, 2019 by Angela Rees

It’s not unusual to find the Pontydysgu staff in a bar on a Saturday but I was there before the staff this weekend.

Pontypridd’s Clwb y Bont played host to an event to promote the Cycle project. Cycle aims to promote circular economy ideas to teachers and trainers in adult learning who can in turn promote the ideas through their work with learners. Fortunately Pontypridd is a hotbed of circular activities and I am still being contacted by people who want to get involved.

Circular economy sounds far more complicated than it is. It means that instead of buying a product, using it and then throwing it away, we aim to get the absolute maximum use out of it, ideally reusing it over and over. The aim is to produce zero waste. This requires thought and planning at all levels of the production/supply chain but it is something that everyone can play a part in.

At the start of 2019 I sat down with a local group of adult educators and community group leaders, told them about the Cycle project and asked what sort of event would be most useful for them. They knew far more about circular economy that I did!

What resulted was a day long circular economy and sustainability festival in the glorious Welsh summer combining workshops and discussions about implementing circular economy ideas in practice, about teaching those ideas to others and about making what adult educators already do more circular. At the same time there were practical demonstrations of the work and teaching including willow craft, home brew and sustainable gardening.

We called it Your Ponty Needs you because the whole town needs to pull together to reduce waste and improve sustainability.

The school run is an outdated anachronism

September 20th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

schoolrunIn two hours I will be off to join the students striking over climate change in Valencia. One of the schools which are taking part is in my street. Wednesday lunchtime I was sitting on the terrace opposite the school for an aperitif prior to lunch. Suddenly the street became chaotic, jammed with parents in cars and on motorbikes waiting to pick up their children. I suspect the same school students will be walking to the city centre for today’s demonstration. The school run seems an international phenomenon and one which putting a stop to is long overdue.

Ok if the school is in the middle of a rural area – although most countries seem to operate bus services for rural schools. But in a dense urban setting where most of the students live in easy walking distance and where there are good public transport services there really si no need to perpetuate this old fashioned tradition.

Career Development: Identity, Innovation and Impact

September 17th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

On Thursday, 10th October 2019 I am delighted to be speaking at the conference on ‘Career Development: Identity, Innovation and Impact’ in Birmingham UK

The conference will focus on career development policies, research and practice for young people and adults. It will explore practical ways of harnessing individuals’ talents, skills and learning experiences in fast changing and uncertain labour markets. Here is the abstract for my presentation:

Graham Attwell, technical lead for the UK ‘LMI for All’ project (funded by the Department of Education and led by the University of Warwick, IER) will explain latest labour market intelligence/information developments applied in career education, guidance and counselling settings. He will reflect on the changing world of work and examine the impact of technology on the future labour market and implications of Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) on employment and the jobs of the future. He will consider how can we best advise young people and adults on courses and employment.

The conference, organised by Deirdre Hughes for DMH Associates, will be exploring the changing nature of identities on a lifelong basis, innovative ways of working with young people and adults in education, training, employment and other community settings. In times of austerity and the impact on services users, there becomes an urgent need to provide evidence on the impact of careers work.

Participants will also get the chance to hear about a series of recent international policy and research events and your own ‘Resource Toolkit’. It is, the conference newsletter says, an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate innovative and impactful careers work.

Deirdre Hughes will be announcing ambitious plans to help inspire others to engage in career development policies, research and practice and saying more about what they are doing with their partners on careers work in primary schools, post-primary schools and colleges (city-wide approaches), youth transitions, evidence and impact approaches and adult learning both within and outside of the workplace. To receive regular copies of their newsletter go to http://eepurl.com/glOP2f.

Productivity, innovation, learning and ‘Place’

September 3rd, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Fig 7Antiguo-cauce-del-río-Turia-3The UK Centre for Cities has been undertaking a lot of interesting research on the future of cities. In a recent article on their website, they look at ‘why place matters when thinking about productivity. Productivity has been persistently low in the UK and the article discusses “‘Place’, one of the pillars of productivity identified by the Government’s Industrial Strategy” and how it interacts with the other four pillars – ‘People’, ‘Ideas’, ‘Business Environment and ‘Infrastructure’.

Perhaps not surprisingly they find that. city centres offer inherent advantages to some businesses compared to those offered by rural areas. They also draw on previous research in finding that “broadly speaking, density is good for innovation…. the proximity of researchers to each other through co-location improves quality of output. Our work also finds that jobs in city centres are more productive than their counterparts elsewhere” although this preference is not universal.

Infrastructure’ , they say, “is the pillar where the impact of ‘place’ is the most obvious. Proliferation of public transport systems is the most efficient solution to get people around in dense city centres where as a private car is the best way to travel in the countryside.”

However it is the people pillar that I find most interesting and where I disagree with the article. “For the ‘people’ pillar, ‘place’ is indiscriminate – skill levels are the biggest determinant of outcomes everywhere.” The research has been taking place as part of the government drive to develop Local Industrial Strategies in England. Yet I do not think ‘place’ can be reduced to providing skills training courses. Our work in the EU funded CONNECT project suggests that as important, if not more so, is the promotion of opportunities for learning, through networks of different organizations including both the public and private sectors. Such organisations embrace cultural and social activities and adult education as well as formal skills training. And especially in dense cities like Valencia or Athens informal learning taking place in public spaces is critical. Such public spaces are frequently under pressure  from developers and policies need to be developed to preserve and extend such places. Thus any policy which looks at productivity and skills needs to take a wider viewpoint and in relation to cities, consider how public places play a role in sharing knowledge and developing social innovation.

 

Is this the right way to use machine learning in education?

September 2nd, 2019 by Graham Attwell

An article ‘Predicting Employment through Machine Learning‘ by Linsey S. Hugo on the National Association of Colleges and Employers web site,confirms some of my worries about the use of machine learning in education.

The article presents a scenario which it is said “illustrates the role that machine learning, a form of predictive analytics, can play in supporting student career outcomes.” It is based on a recent study at Ohio University (OHIO) which  leveraged machine learning to forecast successful job offers before graduation with 87 percent accuracy. “The study used data from first-destination surveys and registrar reports for undergraduate business school graduates from the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years. The study included data from 846 students for which outcomes were known; these data were then used in predicting outcomes for 212 students.”

A key step in the project was “identifying employability signals” based on the idea that “it is well-recognized that employers desire particular skills from undergraduate students, such as a strong work ethic, critical thinking, adept communication, and teamwork.” These signals were adapted as proxies for the “well recognised”skills.

The data were used to develop numerous machine learning models, from commonly recognized methodologies, such as logistic regression, to advanced, non-linear models, such as a support-vector machine. Following the development of the models, new student data points were added to determine if the model could predict those students’ employment status at graduation. It correctly predicted that 107 students would be employed at graduation and 78 students would not be employed at graduation—185 correct predictions out of 212 student records, an 87 percent accuracy rate.

Additionally, this research assessed sensitivity, identifying which input variables were most predictive. In this study, internships were the most predictive variable, followed by specific majors and then co-curricular activities.

As in many learning analytics applications the data could then be used as a basis for intervention to support students employability on gradation. If they has not already undertaken a summer internship then they could be supported in this and so on.

Now on the one hand this is an impressive development of learning analytics to support over worked careers advisers and to improve the chances of graduates finding a job. Also the detailed testing of different machine learning and AI approaches is both exemplary and unusually well documented.

However I still find myself uneasy with the project. Firstly it reduces the purpose of degree level education to employment. Secondly it accepts that employers call the shots through proxies based on unquestioned and unchallenged “well recognised skills” demanded by employers. It may be “well recognised” that employers are biased against certain social groups or have a preference for upper class students. Should this be incorporated in the algorithm. Thirdly it places responsibility for employability on the individual students, rather than looking more closely at societal factors in employment. It is also noted that participation in unpaid interneships is also an increasing factor in employment in the UK: fairly obviously the financial ability to undertake such unpaid work is the preserve of the more wealthy. And suppose that all students are assisted in achieving the “predictive input variable”. Does that mean they would all achieve employment on graduation? Graduate unemployment is not only predicated on individual student achievement (whatever variables are taken into account) but also on the availability of graduate jobs. In teh UK  many graduates are employed in what are classified as non graduate jobs (the classification system is something I will return to in another blog). But is this because they fail to develop their employability signals or simply because there simply are not enough jobs?

Having said all this, I remain optimistic about the role of learning analytics and AI in education and in careers guidance. But there are many issues to be discussed and pitfalls to overcome.

 

Reading on screen and on paper

September 1st, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Do you read books and papers on screen or do you prefer paper. I am conflicted. I used to have an old Kindle but gave it up because I am no fan of Amazon. And I used to read books on firstly an ipad and latterly an Tesco Huddle tablet – both now sadly deceased.

Like many (at least if the sales figures are to be believed) I have returned to reading books on paper, although I read a lot of papers and such like on my computer, only occasionally being bothered to print them out. But is preferring to physical books a cultural feel good factor or does it really make a difference to comprehension and learning?

An article in the Hechinger Report reports on research by Virginia Clinton, an Assistant Professor at the University of North Dakota who “compiled results from 33 high-quality studies that tested students’ comprehension after they were randomly assigned to read on a screen or on paper and found that her students might be right.”

The studies showed that students of all ages, from elementary school to college, tend to absorb more when they’re reading on paper than on screens, particularly when it comes to nonfiction material.

However the benefit was small – a little more than  a fifth of a standard deviation and there is an important caveat in that the studies that Clinton included in her analysis didn’t allow students to use the add on tools that digital texts can potentially offer.

My feeling is that this is a case of horses for courses. Work undertaken by Pontydysgu suggested that ebooks had an important motivational aspect for slow to learn readers in primary school. Not only could they look up the meaning fo different words but when they had read for a certain amount of time they were allowed to listen to the rest of teh story on the audio transcription. And there is little doubt that e-books offer a cost effective way of providing access to books for learners.

But it would be nice to see some further well designed research in this area.

 

Learning, education outcomes and socioeconomic class

August 30th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

We have long known that educational outcomes are heavily influenced by social class. But little has been done to try to understand how social class affects learning. In that respect the article by Lien Pham on ‘How socioeconomic background makes a difference in education outcomes‘ is very welcome.

Pham notes that although “PISA publishes its PISA context assessment framework to supplement its regular international PISA testing of reading, maths and science”, ” these are just snapshots rather than an analysis of the impact of students’ background characteristics on their participation in these processes, or whether the educational system, schooling processes and classroom practices may favour certain groups over others” and “they do not help to shed light on how and why some students perform better than others.”

Pham says “In order to truly understand what is happening with inequality I believe we have to recognise the implicit social relationships and social structures in the schooling processes that position students in different vantage points.”

Pham goes on to look at what PISA says about students’ family backgrounds, student ethnicity and polices to improve educational inequality, adding his own comments and analysis. His overall conclusion is that reducing inequality neds more than just access to economic resources

We need to deeply understand students’ “real” opportunities within our systems of education. I believe we need to look more closely at what students can reasonably do (or not do) with those resources given their backgrounds and situations.

Resources are important, but just because a school has a wide variety of resources doesn’t mean all of its students will benefit from those equally.

I am arguing that policy attention to improve educational inequality should place student agency and diversity at the forefront, rather than focussing on resources with the assumption that all students will be able to access them in similar ways with similar outcomes.

You can read more in his paper: Capital and capabilities in education: Re-examining Australia’s 2015 PISA performance and context assessment framework

 

 

Back to school

August 30th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

It’s the last day of the summer holidays.

On Sunday I am traveling to Hamburg for the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). I am not a great fan of conferences – al least the formal part. I have long campaigned for the ‘flipped conference’. All too often conferences just consist of researchers reading out their bullet points from their slides. Their is little chance to interrogate the ideas, less so to have a proper discussion about the work they are presenting. All too often presentations overrun with it being accepted that the ten or so minutes scheduled for discussion at the end of three or four presentations will be eaten up. And it is interesting that people still hark back to the Personal Learning environment conferences where we did at least try to do things differently. In reality the best bit of the conferences are usually in the informal discussions which take place outside the official sessions.

Having said that I like the ECER conferences. One strength is the priority given to emerging researchers. Another is the international focus for ECER, not just in terms of attracting delegates from all over the world, but in stressing that presentation should focus on at east the European dimension of the research. A third advantage of ECER is that it covers many different areas of education through the 31 or so networks which organise the programme. This year, I am in a privileged position as I have been commissioned by the European Educational Research Association to make a series of short videos, interviewing the network conveners. The idea is that the videos provide a quick and informative way of people understanding the focus of the networks and the activities they are undertaking, including the increasing number of what EERA call ‘season schools’ (formerly summer schools but the changed nomenclature reflecting the fact that most take place outside the summer time). This week we are aiming to record 21 videos. It will be hard work but a lot of fun and for me a great learning opportunity.

Of course, one of the attractions of conferences is the chance to meet up with old colleagues and friends. I will be in Hamburg all week. If you would like to meet up just drop me a line.

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    News Bites

    Open Educational Resources

    BYU researcher John Hilton has published a new study on OER, student efficacy, and user perceptions – a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Looking at sixteen efficacy and twenty perception studies involving over 120,000 students or faculty, the study’s results suggest that students achieve the same or better learning outcomes when using OER while saving a significant amount of money, and that the majority of faculty and students who’ve used OER had a positive experience and would do so again.


    Digital Literacy

    A National Survey fin Wales in 2017-18 showed that 15% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Wales do not regularly use the internet. However, this figure is much higher (26%) amongst people with a limiting long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.

    A new Welsh Government programme has been launched which will work with organisations across Wales, in order to help people increase their confidence using digital technology, with the aim of helping them improve and manage their health and well-being.

    Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being, follows on from the initial Digital Communities Wales (DCW) programme which enabled 62,500 people to reap the benefits of going online in the last two years.

    See here for more information


    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.


    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time


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