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Training Day in Bau-ABC – Part Two: How to work with the Learning Toolbox?

May 15th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

This post continues the reports on the recent highlight event of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and its construction sector pilot in North Germany – the Training Days of the training centre Bau-ABC (that took place on Monday and Tuesday this week). On Monday the LL teams of ITB and Pontydysgu organised three workshop sessions to present the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and to plan further pilot activities with LTB in Bau-ABC. In my previous post I gave an overview on the event as such and on our contributions. In this post I will focus on the issues that were raised and on the results of different sessions and working groups.

1. General issues to be taken into account

Already after the general presentations we were confronted by several issues that we need to consider when preparing the actual pilot activities with LTB to be used with mobile devices:

  • Officially the use of mobile phones is prohibited in the training centres – mainly because the use of them is perceived as distraction. When using their smartphones, the apprentices seem to have their attention elsewhere than in their working and learning tasks. Even if the trainers can see that these devices can be used to support work and learning, there is a need to get others convinced.
  • Use of mobile devices is often a safety risk in traffic and in working life – therefore, many companies have prohibited the use of mobile devices at construction sites (or allowed only the site manager/ supervisor to use one). These issues need to be reflected in the code of conduct for users.
  • Video recordings from working and training contexts need to pay attention to specific sensitivity issues – are these recordings documenting good or bad practice, is the behaviour of the people appropriate, are the videos showing something that is confidential … These issues need to be reflected in the code of conduct for users.
  • From the pedagogic point of view use of multimedia and web can support different types of learning behaviour: a) It can lead to ‘light learning’ that uses quick searches and quick documenting solutions that seem to give appropriate answers (without paving the way to adequate understanding of the problems and the solutions). b) Or it can lead to ‘smart learning’ in which digital media and web resources are used as illustrations that give insights into problems, solutions and understanding of appropriate practice.

These introductory discussions brought us (once again) to the picture that the use of mobile devices, digital media and web resources has to be introduced in a work- and context-adjusted way.

2. The first workshop on initial training: picking exemplary themes for particular occupations

In the first workshop session we had groups that represented the following occupations/occupational fields: concrete builders (one group), carpenters and indoor builders (one group), road builders and pipeline builders (one group). Each of these groups had as their starting point a specific project for apprentices in the respective occupation. The trainers were looking for ways to introduce Learning Toolbox into the project work. In this session the groups had somewhat different concerns and interests:

a) The group of concrete builders (Betonbauer) was concerned of the lack of written instructions for older techniques to build frames for concrete constructs. Currently, most of the frames for concrete builders are standardised and often pre-fabricated. Thus, the transfer of craftsmen’s know-how on building special-shaped frames is not supported by up-to-date learning materials. This could be compensated by video recordings that are edited into digital learning materials.

b) The group of carpenters (Zimmerer) listed several points in which the use of digital media and access to web were found useful, starting form general health and safety instructions, access to drawings, QR codes referring to appropriate tools, Barcode scanner that refers to materials, tools for documentation of learning achievements.

c) The group of road builders and pipeline builders (Strassenbauer, Rohrleitungsbauer) discussed the possibilities to link drawings, photos and DIN norms to each other, creative ways to introduce technical terminology, creative ways to control learning gains and smart ways to use videos for presenting essential ‘tricks of the trade’.

As a common point of interest the groups of the first workshop session drew attention to differentiated communication channels (messages to all vs. bilateral communication between apprentice and trainer), collecting examples of good practice to be presented to all and on differentiated ways to document learning progress at different stages of apprentice training.

3. The second workshop on initial training: developing core themes for groups of occupations

In the second workshop session the parallel groups consisted of mutually linked occupations or occupational fields and the participants had selected integrative ‘core projects’ in which they explored the use of digital media and web resources:

d) The group of well-builders and tunnel-builders (Brunnenbauer, Spezialtiefbauer) had chosen a project task on disassembling, maintenance & testing and assembling of pumps used in their trades. Here the discussion focused on the uses of digital media to visualize the processes, to draw attention to key concepts and to safety precautions. Here, a critical issue was, how to guide the work with video recording so that the documents are appropriate for the project and for the apprentices’ learning processes.

e) The group representing occupations in metal and machine techniques (Metall- und Maschinentechnik, Baugerätetechnik) had also selected a project that drew attention to the core knowledge of all these occupations – producing a threaded plate according to technical drawing (Herstellen einer Gewindeplatte gemäß Zeichnung). The group discussed different phases of the project and then drew attention to points of intervention with digital media and web tools (e.g. digital access to references, producing user-generated learning contents with apprentices, using QR-codes to demonstrate health and safety risks and using digital tools and apps to simulate use of real tools plus to discuss quality criteria and tolerances).

f) The group of road-builders, bricklayers and plasterers (Strassenbauer, Maurer, Fliesenleger) had also selected an integrative project – building a parking place for vehicles transporting disabled people (Behindertenparkplatz). Here the discussion focused on the special challenges of such task (e.g. search for information on the requirements, making the scattered information accessible for the groups of construction workers, using special techniques for constructing adequate slopes and surfaces, documentation of the work and simulation of the final inspection and acceptance of the work by public authorities).

Here, the groups focused on integrating the use of digital media and web resources into the logic of the selected projects.

4. The workshop on continuing training: identifying uses for LTB and other tools/apps promoted by LL project

The final workshop focused on the usability of the Learning Toolbox and other LL tools in the continuing training schemes. Here, the basic problem was that we could not rely on similar projects as in the initial training. Secondly, we were still demonstrating tools that were not yet finalised. And thirdly, most of the participants were only getting familiarised with the LL project on the whole. Finally, we were discussing issues that can partly be implemented as spin-offs and by-effects of the LL project work in the initial training, but partly require major spin-out activities.  Yet, given these limitations the participants could make several points for further discussion alongside the pilot activities in apprentice training.

5. Next steps to be taken

I think this is as much as I can say about the workshops and on the way the prepared us for working with the Learning Toolbox. We saw (once again) that the trainers are willing to start working with it. We also noticed, that we (the accompanying LL teams of ITB and Pontydysgu) need to join them when the domain-specific piloting with LTB applications will start. There are several technical, practical and pedagogic issues coming up in that phase. So, we are looking forward to a new collaborative phase in the fieldwork with Bau-ABC trainers.

More blogs to come …

Rethinking blogging

November 12th, 2014 by Graham Attwell


I used to post on this blog almost every day. Lately I haven’t been posting much. I am not worrying too much about it, but have been thinking about why.

I think it is largely to do with changes in my work. In the past, I was primarily a researcher, working on all manner of reports and projects, mostly in the field of elearning and knowledge development. My primary mode of work was desk research: in other words I read a lot. I can remember twenty years ago when I first moved to Bremen in Germany I used to travel about once every four months to the University of Surrey at Guildford (which was the easiest UK university to get to from Gatwick airport). I would spend thirty pounds on a photocopying card, spend an entire day in the university archives and travel back with photocopies of 60 or 70 research papers. I kept these for years before I realised I never looked at them. By 2000 of course, access to research was moving to the web. One of the big changes this heralded was the arrival of grey literature. Interestingly this term which was much used at the time, seems to have gone out of fashion, as it has slowly become accepted that web based materials of all kinds have at least some validity in the research process. So called grey literature gave access to a wider range of thinking and ideas than could be gained from official journal papers alone, although the debate over how to measure quality is far from resolved.

And to bring this up to date, the emergence of Open Educational Resources, Open Journals and specialist networks like the excellent ResearchGate, have increased the discoverability of research ideas and findings.

I used to enjoy the research work. And it was easy to blog. There would always be something in a paper, on a web site, in a network to comment on. I wrote a lot about Personal Learning Networks, a popular subject at the time, and through speaking at conferences and seminars got new ideas for more blog posts. But there were some frustrations to this work. Although we talked a lot about PLEs and the like, it was hard to see much evidence in practice. Our ideas were often just that: ideas which had at best limited evaluation and implementation in the field. Most frustratingly, few of the projects were

A tale of two conferences

September 19th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

In the first week of September, I attended two conferences – the Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C) at Warwick University in the UK and the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) hosted by Porto University in Portugal.

I guess there were some 500 people at ALT-C. Most seemed to be juggling two devices online at most times. And there were literally thousands of tweets using the Alt-C hashtag. the ECER conference was mush bigger with over 2600 registered delegates. I didn’t see too many onine. And there were very few tweets using the ECER hashtag. It was suggested to me this was because a singly hashtag is too broad to encompass the woide range of topics covered in ECER’s different networks. But I don;t think that was the reason. Although for those of us working with technology, online immersion has become a way of life, the culture of educational researchers has not yet embraced such an idea. Of course most – if not all 0 educational researchers are computer literate and of course teh internet is a key tool for accessing documents and for communication. But for most that is it.

A personal reality check

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

May 8th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Its several years since I have been to the AltC conference in the UK. And I have missed the chance to catch up with friends and colleagues workings in Technology Enhanced Learning in the UK. One reason I have not been going to the conference is it usually takes place in September, the high season of conferences, and there always seem to be clashes with something else. The main reason is simple though – the cost. With a conference fee of something over £500 excluding accommodation and travel, without a sponsor it is pretty hard to justify so much expenditure. The saddest thing about that cost is I suspect it excludes many young and emerging researchers, unable to meet the fee from their own pocket and with institutions increasingly limiting conference expenditure. My daughter tells me that, albeit in a different field, her university provides her conferences fees of just £500 a year!

Anyway, this year I am lucky enough to have a project to pay and have submitted, together with my colleagues working on the project the following abstract. You can find out more about the LMIforAll project at

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

Authors: Attwell, G., Barnes, S-A., Bimrose, J., Elferink, R., Rustemeier, P. & Wilson, R.


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 focussed 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 focussed 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.


HM Government (2012). Open Data White Paper: Unleashing the Potential. Norwich: TSO.

Storytelling with cartoons

February 13th, 2014 by Angela Rees

Always on the lookout for practical ways to use technology in the classroom, Pontydysgu were scoping out new ideas at Bett 2014.

We liked the new Lego storytelling kit. One set gives you a tray of Lego bits, there are minifigs, cats, frogs, brooms, Christmas trees and more.  You also get a book of lesson plans and ides and the accompanying software. There’s also a spinner to help choose a genre or character for storytelling inspiration.  The idea is that children work in groups to tell a story, each group has a kit with enough lego bits to recreate the same scene 5 times only each one is slightly different as their stories progress.  They then take photos of their scenes and upload them to a computer where they can drag and drop the photos into a comic strip style template, add backgrounds and captions and print their story.

The software is nice and simple to use, the lego kit has been carefully selected for optimum storyline coverage and it has the lego brand – guaranteed to spark some interest in even the most reluctant of storytellers.

Now, here at Pontydysgu we like a good idea, but what we like even more is a free idea.  So in the tradition of those catwalk-fashion at highstreet-prices magazine articles I bring you “BETT on a budget”


To create your own comic strip you will need;

A collection of small-world-play or dolls house characters and accessories.

A camera/ webcam/ cameraphone with the ability to transfer your photos to a computer.

Internet access.

An app or web based tool for comic strip creation using photographs.

Here are some I’ve been trying out this week;

Web based

Toondoo – Free- You need to create account but it is easy to do. Upload photos, edit, cut shapes out and save, then go to  cartoon creator, choose comic strip layout and you can put your own images into a cartoon, choose layout template, drag and drop backgrounds and cliparts, callouts and thought bubbles to create a story.


Lego Storystarter software – for creating comics, and other styles Newspaper, old manuscript £107.99 inc VAT (the whole kit based on a class of 30 is £779.99 in VAT)

Comic Life – Cost £11.99 for a single user license or £1,049 for a site license.

Apps for iOS/Android

Comic touch – Free – From the creators of comic life this App cartoonises one photo at a time with no comic strip mode so you would have to print them and reassemble into a comic strip or download the pictures after editing and then use a different tool to put your story together.



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August 31st, 2012 by Graham Attwell

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    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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