This week we are in Brussels for the final meeting and conference of the Taccle2 project. More info and ideas to come but for now, here’s a sneak peek of what went on!
This week we are in Brussels for the final meeting and conference of the Taccle2 project. More info and ideas to come but for now, here’s a sneak peek of what went on!
I have to admit I am not a great fan of lectures on line. there seems far to little human interaction and the slick production of things like the TED talks has got both ‘samey’ and somewhat tedious. But I loved this lecture by David Harvey on Karl Marx delivered in Amsterdam with no slides and no notes! As the blurb says “David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and the author of numerous books. He has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for over 40 years.”
David Harvey does not shy away from the politics of Karl Marx. But his focus is on Marx’s writings and ideas as a tool for social science and analysis. For those of you without the time, interest or patience to listen to the whole video the particular bits I found interesting include his ideas around rational consumption (about 30 minutes in), the idea of accumulation by dispossession (some 38 minutes in), the idea of management of the ommons important (after about 47 minutes) and contradictions over the role of the state (towards the end of the lecture and before the discussion).
Harvey talks a lot about contradictions – the biggest being the contradiction between use value and exchange value. As Wikipedia explains: “In Marx’s critique of political economy, any product has a labor-value and a use-value, and if it is traded as a commodity in markets, it additionally has an exchange value, most often expressed as a money-price. Marx acknowledges that commodities being traded also have a general utility, implied by the fact that people want them, but he argues that this by itself tells us nothing about the specific character of the economy in which they are produced and sold.”
Much of David Harvey;s work has been in the area of urban development and housing and he explains how this contradiction applies there and its implications. But it may also be a useful explanation of understanding what is happening with social networks. Social networks have a use value for us all in allowing us to stay in touch with friends, develop personal learning networks, learn about new ideas or just letting off steam to anyone who will listen. OK – the exchange value is not expressed as a money price. But most people now realise that social networking applications are seldom free. Instead of paying money we give our data away for them to use. And in turn they use this data to try to extract money from us through buying commodities. This is all fine as long as the use value exceeds the exchange value. But as social network providers try to monetise their products they are constantly upping the ante in terms of exchange value. In other words we are increasingly being required to sign over our data as well as our privacy in order to use their applications.
Alternatively social networks are trying to push ever more commodities at us. An article in the Gaurdian newspaper yesterday over Twitters attempts to build a business model noted: “Chief executive Dick Costolo has talked longingly about growing, and eventually making money from, the huge number of people who view tweets without signing up. This is fine on YouTube, where most of us watch the content without producing it and only sigh a little as we’re forced to watch ads when we do so. In contrast, sponsored tweets are a bit like being asked to pay for gossip from your colleague over the coffee machine.”
All this means more and more people are questioning whether the use value of Facebook and Twitter is worth the exchange value.
And such contradictions are hard to resolve!
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.
Much of the focus of the open education movement has been on Open Educvational Resources and MOOCs. But just as important, in my humble opinion, is opening up research to a wider public. This is not only confined to opening up access to the results of research but allowing access to a wider audience than acandmicsx to raw research data. And there are a growing number of web sites that are doing this. One of the sites i am loving is the Understanding Society website based on the UK Households survey and run by designed and managed by a team of longitudinal survey experts at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), at the University of Essex.
Understanding Society, they say, “is a unique and valuable academic study that captures important information every year about the social and economic circumstances and attitudes of people living in 40,000 UK households.
It also collects additional health information from around 20,000 of the people who take part.
Information from the longitudinal survey is primarily used by academics, researchers and policy makers in their work, but the findings are of interest to a much wider group of people including those working in the third sector, health practitioners, business, the media and the general public.”
One study based on the survey and recently posted on the Understanding Society web site looks at Gender differences in educational aspirations and attitudes land examined the ambitions and approaches to study of 11-15 year olds participating in the British Household Panel Survey.
The sudy says that “while girls have more positive aspirations and attitudes than boys, the impacts of gender on children’s attitudes and aspirations vary significantly with parental education level, parental attitudes to education, child’s age and the indirect cost of education.
Boys are more responsive than girls to positive parental characteristics, while educational attitudes and aspirations of boys deteriorate at a younger age than those of girls.
Girls also acknowleged the impact of the recession and increased youth unemployment by working harder. Boys however appear unresponsive to the business cycle. This might reflect misplaced confidence where they believe they will be able to find a job independently from the economic climate. Policies targeting boys with more information on the benefits from investing in education will increase their awareness about the consequences of an unfavourable youth labour market, which may improve their educational attitudes and aspirations and consequently their educational attainment.”
I’m not sure what is make of all this. But I wonder if there is any comparative data from other countries? No doubt it would be a chnallenge to norm such data, but it could greatly help in understanding why boys in the UK are underperforming. If you know of such data plese just add a comment or drop me an email.
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:
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.
I have spent most of the first half of September travelling to meetings and conferences around Europe. Now I have a few days to write up some of the things I learned – or more accurately of the interesting conversations I had.
I started out at the ALT-C 2014 conference at Warwick University in the UK. I used to be a regular at ALT-C but have missed the last few years conferences. September is a busy moth for conferences and project meetings anyway but the main reason for not going is that ALT-C is horribly expensive! This year I was able to go thanks to sponsorship from the UKCES LMIforAll project which had a stand at the conference. More on that in a second posting – first some general impressions about the conference. This is necessarily a bit impressionistic as I was on the stand for much of the two and a half days. However I got to catch up with David White who like me had not attended the past few years events and we shared ideas. Indeed, as usual, the best bit of the conference was meeting up with old friends and colleagues.
It seemed to us that the atmosphere of the conference had changed a little – not necessarily for the worse. Whilst in the past we saw ourselves as pioneers changing the world, Ed Techs have come of age. This was a conference of recognised professionals going about their daily jobs – almost a trade conference. At the same time many people seemed concerned with their future employment in the light of cut backs in university and Further Education funding. In the past much of the innovation was driven by government funded agencies – especially JISC and Becta. With the demise of Becta and severe downsizing at Jisc, innovation seemed thin on the ground. And maybe I am wrong, but with the increasing competition between institutions, coupled with the relative dearth of funded collaborative projects, their seems to be a danger of isolation – with everyone struggling on their own on the same problems.
It was tricky to find out just what was going on at the conference. To stop us all going to see our friends’ presentations and to give an opportunity to new presenters, presumably, the programme was hard to follow, taking considerable time and clicks to link sessions, papers, topics and people. I sort of see where Alt-C were coming from but one of the reasons I go to these events is to see and discuss with people whose research and development I follow online. And with a conference theme of “Riding Giants – how to innovate and educate in front of the wave”, many of the title of contributions were somewhat opaque in terms of what they were about! Still much discussion seemed to be about MOOCs and Learning Analytics as well as the more mundane world of platforms and online presence.
Still, all in all, an enjoyable conference with some great keynotes (will publish videos of those to the front page of this site). More on the data stuff tomorrow.
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.
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.
Another in this emerging series of how to interpret strange findings in evaluation studies. The OECD has published a lengthy report called “Measuring Innovation in Education“. And if you go to page 194 of the report (direct link here) it appears to show that between 2003 and 2011 there was a considerable fall in the use of computers to analyse data and to conduct scientific experiments in Grade 8 maths and sciences in England. the data comes from the ‘Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)’ which according to Wikipedia ” is a series of international assessments of the mathematics and science knowledge of students around the world. The participating students come from a diverse set of educational systems (countries or regional jurisdictions of countries) in terms of economic development, geographical location, and population size. In each of the participating educational systems, a minimum of 4,500 to 5,000 students are evaluated. Furthermore, for each student, contextual data on the learning conditions in mathematics and science are collected from the participating students, their teachers and their principals via separate questionnaires.”
Assuming that the data is rigorous and comparing like with like etc. the result is a little hard to understand. It is probably worth noting that in 2003, England, along with Norway, had comparatively high levels of use of computers for these subjects in school. Maybe, computers are being used more effectively now? Or maybe it was just trendy to 2003 and is less trendy now? Or is the rigid curriculum in England blocking innovation in the classroom? Any thoughts or ideas welcome
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 that “Digital 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.
The departure of Michael Gove as English education minister will be greeted with celebration and relief by most teachers and educationalists in the UK. But although his pronouncements and policies appeared as arrogant, narrow minded, reactionary and sometimes just bizarre, there was a direction and theme which underpinned such policies: privatisation. Gove and his policy advisers, not to mention friends and lobbyists, wanted to privatise schools in the UK. In a time when profits are hard to come by, public services represent a huge untapped market for capital. And the removal of Gove alone does not mean that the dream of giving education to the private sector has gone away.
Nicky Morgan will probably be less abrasive in pursuing such a dream. But she also comes from the right wing of the conservative party. As the Guardian reports:
Morgan, a trustee of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, voted against same-sex marriage partly because she could not reconcile it with her faith. This is likely to be the reason that Cameron split the women and equalities brief, handing the latter to Sajid Javid, the culture secretary, and leading to accusations that she was the “minister for straight women”.
She was privately educated at a girls’ day school before reading law at Oxford University and going on to become a corporate lawyer.
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.
Open online STEM conference
The Global 2013 STEMx Education Conference claims to be the world’s first massively open online conference for educators focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and more. The conference is being held over the course of three days, September 19-21, 2013, and is free to attend!
STEMxCon is a highly inclusive event designed to engage students and educators around the globe and we encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching.
To find out about different sessions and to login to events go to http://bit.ly/1enFDFB