Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Communities of Practice and Learning

March 31st, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Great discussions on learning and communities at a workshop hosted by IPTS in Seville. I particularly enjoyed the contribution by Ettiene Wenger this morning (see Wordle of twitterstream above).  I have been twittering the event and will write a longer post when i have 20 minutes to spare. In the meantime Grainne Conole has set up an excellent Cloudworks site for the event and you can also follow the twitter traffic by searching on the #ipts09 tag.

The Culture of Facebook

March 27th, 2009 by Graham Attwell


“But the more interesting question is whether this will mean any change in the culture of Facebook – always assuming that it has any discernible culture.”

An interesting question raised in an otherwise somewhat flip article in the Guardian, commenting on the news that most Facebook users are over 25 and the fastest growing demographic group on Facebook are woman over 55, according to new research from Inside Facebook. (The article is curious, the author appears unsure as to whether a newspaper of the Guardian’s perceived gravitas should report seriously on the demographic makeup of Facebook users).

One thing this research does confirm, once again, is the misleading nature of terms like the ‘Net Generation; and ‘Digital Natives’.

But does Facebook have a discernible culture? No, I would say, Facebook is merely a social networking platform. But of course communities if users develop culture. And our use of adoption and use of tools and media help shape our cultures. Social networks are hardly new. it is just that digital platforms and tools allow the development of distributed networks – over space and time – and allow the sharing and of artefacts  developed as part of that culture. witness the way (yes I know I keep going on about it) allows us to develop networks and communities around music.

According to Wenger (1998), a community of practice defines itself along three dimensions:

  • What it is about – its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members.
  • How it functions – mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity.
  • What capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time. (see, also Wenger 1999: 73-84).

Most communities on Facebook or are not communities of practice as defined by Wenger. They might better be defined as communities of interest. But they do show features of the different dimensions identified by Wenger especially in terms of capability and that capability is in turn mediated by tools in the form of affordances. And yes, of course communities have cultures!


Wenger, E. (1998) ‘Communities of Practice. Learning as a social system’, Systems Thinker, Accessed March 27, 2009.

Wenger E 1999, Communities of Practice. Learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

What can we learn from

March 25th, 2009 by Graham Attwell


This is my favourite site of this year. In fact I could see me wasting so much time on that i have limited my access to after seven in the evening (may have to fit kid proof software to reinforce my will).

For the initiated what is It is a site which allows you to search for music, play music and share it through a 150 character message. Integration with twitter means what you are playing is automatically posted to your twitter friends (although there is an easy override if you feel embarrassed about your musical tastes. You can follow people and their music appears on your home page. And friends can send you ‘props’ as an acknowledgement of a track they like, which you can in turn pass on to others. That’s about it.

Why does it work so well? Partly because it features an attractive interface, it works every time and it is a very short learning curve. But above all because it enables something we all like to do – to play music and share it with our friends. And it makes that just a little bit easier. I have spent many happy evenings sharing utube and tracks over skype. But this is just so much better. And why am i going on about it? Not i assure you because i am looking for more listeners – although if you want to check out my cool grooves my user name is GrahamAttwell.

Over the past few weeks i have been restling with use cases and requirements for a Personal Learning and Maturing Environment (and in the enxt two days I will try to tell you want differentiates a PLME form a PLE). But it seems to me that shows the way forward in helping people do something they want to do in a social environemnt. When we can design sowfatre for learning as good as this we will be making progress.

NB many thanks to CosmoCat and MariaPerif for encouraging my new career as a DJ!

Stop commodification – it is time to nationalise the universities

March 22nd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

“The vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, Brian Roper, resigned today in the wake of accounting mistakes which left the university £56m in the red.

Roper will remain at the university until December but has left his role as vice-chancellor with immediate effect, the university said.” Guardian, 19 March, 2009.

According to the Guardian, “the university is facing up to 550 job cuts among its 2,300-strong staff, following the revelation that it had been overpaid for students who failed to complete courses. It is understood to be taking a £15m funding cut this year and is in negotiations with the government’s university funding agency about how it will pay back a further £38m.”

Why am I writing a post on something so unexceptional  as a University Vice Chancellor resigning? After all, it happens with increasing frequency.

The reason is I think it exemplifies what has gone wrong with our universities (at least in the UK). Education, as I have written before in an article called “e-Learning and the social shaping of technology” in a  German language book entitled “Wissensgesellschaft”. Mythos, Ideologie oder Realität”, has become commodified. I don’t think the original English language text has ever been published so here is an extract and the full English and German versions are dnloadable at the bottom of this post.

“Perhaps the most notable discourse which has shaped the development of e-learning is that of privatisation. Richard Hatcher (2000) (cited in Ball, 2004) distinguishes between endogenous and exogenous privatisation. the latter refers to the bringing in in various ways, of private providers to public services. The former refers to the re-working of existing public sector delivery into forms which mimic the private and have similar consequences in terms of practices, values and identities. This is what Glenn Riwowski refers to as the process of “capitalism making public schools / universities into value / commodity providing enterprises…institutionally rearranged on a model of capitalist development”. Privatisation requires the  commodification of education: “social relations conducted as and in the form of relations between commodities and things” (Bottomore, Harris et al, 1983). “Commodification encompasses both an attention to the naturalisation of changes which are taking place in the everyday life of our production and consumption activities and more general processes of capitalism and its inherent crises and instabilities which underpin the search for new markets, new products and thus new sources of profits” (Ball, 2004).
Commodification also embraces the displacement of use values by exchange values and describes how consumer culture becomes embedded in daily lives through an array of subtle process (Gottdiener, 2000).
There processes can be seen as taking a number of different forms in education. One is the replacement of exchange value for use value in academic labour (Wilmott, 1995). More fundamental possibly is the repositioning of learners or students as customers or consumers of education. Education becomes a service to be consumed, based on standardised curriculum products which can be exchanged through a market mechanism and delivered by private sector providers. In order to provide a transparent market, quality has to be measured and quantified through comparable indices (piloted by the UK through Standard Assessment Tests and taken to its ultimate limit in the international Pisa study). Knowledge must be available as objects and consumption acknowledged through exchangeable credit based on outcomes.
The development and implementation of e-learning, from the 1970’s onwards corresponded with the emergence of life long learning as a major theme on educational policy discourse. The shortening of the product life-cycle, the growing rate of technological change and implementation and increasing global competition required the extension of learning throughout the working life (Attwell and Heidegger, 2001). Computer based learning offered the promise of the cheap provision of mass continuing training. Furthermore, distance learning could be extended to allow the expansion of university education without commensurate investment in faculty and infrastructure.
However this limited conception of lifelong learning was accompanied by three further policy prerogatives. First was that learning should be linked to the needs of the employment market, rather than to any broader conception of educational goals.  Second was the idea of employability: that it was the responsibility of the learner (or consumer) to maintain and update their personal skills and knowledge to meet market demand (in the form of employment). The third and linked policy was that the extension of training would be controlled and provided by the market, with training ‘on demand’ and delivered by the private sector. Thus e-learning technologies would be developed by the Information Technology sector (despite their frequent lack of educational experience and expertise) and regulated by demand. This did not obviate the need for market intervention which took different forms in different countries. In some cases it took the form of measures to stimulate demand, as in the case of the UK government’s ill judged attempt to provide individual training vouchers or in other cases attempt to regulate supply as in Greece through the regulation of training providers.
Of course there are multiple discourses in education and contradictory developments and trends in the introduction of e-learning. But as Basil Bernstein, referring to public general education policy, has pointed out “market relevance is becoming the key orienting criterion for the selection of discourse, their relation to each other, their forms and their research. This movement has profound implication from the primary school to the university” (Bernstein, 1996). The implication was far stronger for e-learning. In this regard it is interesting to note that the implementation of e-learning tends to be most advanced in those countries following an Anglo Saxon model where moves towards privatisation and commodification are also most developed and most accepted (for discussion of different models see Wickham ,2005).
Underpinning education policy was and attempt to respond to changing economies and society. E-learning represented the opportunity for the expansion of capitalism into new markets. The commodification and privatisation of learning and the emergence of lifelong learning represented a potentially huge market. At the same time e-learning was not subject to the same localised constraints of traditional education and training delivery (or at least was not seen to be), thus providing the promise of considerable economies of scale. Thus educational technologies could be co-opted to the globalisation of economies and social exchange and production. Lifelong learning could be utilised in the liberalisation of labour markets, with just-in-time computer based learning allowing the development of a flexible and skilled labour force to meet short term employment needs.
It is no coincidence that e-learning has made most impact in multi-national companies and in large enterprises. This will be explored further later in this paper. But one important point is that it was possible to portray e-learning as outside the ‘normal’ education system. Indeed the very process of naming e-learning as such (whoever heard of over-head projector based learning) and thus distinguishing between learning using computer based technologies and any other technology, was important in overcoming opposition to the privatisation of the sector. Where public sector institutions were to provide e-learning this should be predominantly as a separate ‘project’ to their normal education and training provision, essentially offering a  service in competition to existing market providers. And in return, private e-learning providers should be allowed to compete with public education providers though the expansion of corporate universities.
Although the strength and penetration of these discourses varies in different countries, or different capitalisms, any reader familiar with European education projects will recognise most of these terms. So to will those working in the field of education technology. Most liberal educationalists, critical of these deep seated changes in education, have tended toward blaming e-learning as a causal factor or at best noted that educational technology has been used to advance such unwelcome erosion of education as a public good. Indeed, the evidence is plentiful.
However it can also be said that the development of e-learning systems and applications has largely been constricted and shaped by the dominant discourses. In particular e-learning systems have been shaped by managerialism, standardisation and commercialisation, in turn driven by the  move towards privatisation and commodification and by the drive to transform the social process of teaching and learning into a set of standardised and measured products (Hall, 2005).
Managerialism represents the changing role of the education system, and of workers within the system, not to imbue and distil learning but to manage the education process. Success is based on efficiency and numbers, in achievement of measured and reported outcomes. Educational technology could be co-opted to improve the efficiency of the education process. Instead of focusing on technology for learning, major investment has been in the development of Learning Management Systems (LMS), designed to handle the registration of students, the delivery of learning materials, testing and reporting. Learning Management Systems (or Virtual Learning Environments) are designed as a walled area outside the wider environment of the web, an institutionally controlled space into which students must enter if they are to be allowed to learn. Despite the recent spread of Open Source LMS, the development and maintenance of these monolithic systems is largely controlled by the private sector e-learning technology industry with a recent spate of mergers leaving control in the hands of a limited number of major multinational companies.
Commodification requires the development of a mass of standardised products which in e-learning terms have taken the form of Learning Objects. Learning objects are small chunks of learning materials, conforming to a standard technical specification, which can then be sequenced for delivery through an LMS to particular target groups. It is perhaps unsurprising the the driving force behind the SCORM technical specification for Learning Objects was the US Ministry of Defence (who, incidentally, provide a vast subsidy to the private e-learning industry).
Where once teachers were responsible for designing learning materials, now institutions are encouraged to buy learning materials from private providers, form the e-learning industry and from educational publishers. In the UK, newspaper advertisements encourage parents to pressurise their children’s schools to buy learning materials from one or another company. Digital rights management is designed to ensure only those institutions who are so licensed are able to use the learning materials.
Learning is supposed to take place not through engagement with the wider environment and through social processes but through interaction with the sequenced learning objects albeit with the help of an on-line mentor and through participation in a closed forum.
Assessment takes place through interaction with a bank of machine readable questions and answers. One of the driving forces behind the agreement and adoption of the QTI standard for computer based assessment was to create a market in question banks.
Even the development of individual learning portfolios has been inhibited by the desire to control and commodify learning. Rather than learners being encouraged to develop an account of all their learning experiences, many systems constrain the recording and reflection on learning to the learning outcomes prescribed by the curriculum (Attwell, 2005) and by the desire to present the results of the portfolio in a standard way.”

Ok, this was written in 2005 and there have been many advances since based on the use of social software for learning. But the basic premise remains the same. Education is something to be bought and sold. the value of a university education is judged in terms of value added earnings potential. Research is judged in terms of numbers of publications. departments are judged by the money they bring in. education. ‘Leaders’ are bought in form industry and commerce – which is seen as a model to emulate.

And now as the world financial system crashes then so do univerity finances. Not a surprise and it is quite right that those who pushed such policies, usually against the wishes of staff in the institutions, take the can. But getting rid of the leaders is only a symbolic act. We need to reassess the values we place on education and the role that universities play as knowledge institutions within society.  And just as banks should be nationalised, not merely be bailed out under government ownership, so to should universities be brought back under democratic, community scrutiny and control.

You can download full copies of the paper here:

commodenfin (English language)

beitrag-graham-atwe126dc47 (German langauge)

More on those pesky digital natives

March 17th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Last nights rant against the idea of digital natives seems to have caused a bit of a stir.
My frustration with the term is not just because it is bad research. It is because we need models and concepts for understanding the profound changes emanating for the ways in which we are using technologies for communicating, sharing and learning. I work both as a part time researcher and a part time developer / implementer (and part time administrator and part time office cleaner! Research is important for us in helping design applications to support learning and working. Of course ideally we would do it ourselves but time and work pressure precludes the in-depth studies I would like to undertake (to say nothing of shortage of funding). So research findings and models are important in informing design and development. And Prensky’s model of the digital native is just wrong. It leads us down a blind alley and diverts us away from an understanding of the real world.

Anyway the rant followedthe joint Jisc Emerge project / Educamp open online seminar on Enterprise 2.0. If you missed the seminar you can watch the recording on the Jisc Elluminate site.

And here is a few of the many tweets I received in answer to my 140 character version of the post – Lets stop taking about digital natives – it is such a useless term –

jamesclay @GrahamAttwell and let’s stop talking about the Google Generation while we’re at it.

jurijmlotman @GrahamAttwell  you are right, but maybe the term is useful for tactical reasons #changemanagement

kevhickeyuk @GrahamAttwell Have you read Prenskys paper where even he is moving away from these terms?

darkone @GrahamAttwell Agreed! After careful consideration, we have concluded the ‘digital natives, beloved of the mee-ja, are merely early-adopters

dianadell @josiefraser @GrahamAttwell What term should we use to replace “digital natives” … do we need a label at all? Millennial learners

jpallis001 @GrahamAttwell    learners, the environment and experiences are different, their expectations are different  but

cspannagel @GrahamAttwell I fully agree with you. This would change the focus from “generation” to “competence”

josiefraser @GrahamAttwell hope you can make the digital literacy discussion on the 27th

hwilliamson @GrahamAttwell the isthmus project agrees, see

tmartinowen @GrahamAttwell  I think Vygotsky and Leont’ev have a fairly good framework on how mediation changes our being in the world

tmartinowen @GrahamAttwell  Activity Theory

CosmoCat RT @GrahamAttwell Change(s in) how we think, how we learn. also situated in diversity rather than dichotomy

Can we please stop taking about Digital Natives

March 16th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Just finished our latest Jisc Evolve / Educamp online seminar. This one was on the topic of Enterprise 2.0 and featured presentations by Pat Parslow and Willms Buhse. I thoroughly enjoyed Pat’s presentation which should be online tomorrow.
But Willms’ presentation and the subsequent discussion became bogged down over the issue of digital natives (which he defined as anyone born after 1980) although he later agreed that the term was possibly not too useful.
I would go further than that. The term was dreamed up with no research to support it but became popular in the media. OK – these things happen. But it is totally useless for trying to discuss any real development and use of new technologies.
Repeated research has shown that age is not the only or even the main determinate in patterns of uptake and use of technologies for learning and exchange of knowledge. My own modest research into the use of ICT for learning based on case studies in 106 enterprises in Europe suggested that older workers were more likely to use social software for developing and exchanging learning and knowledge. This, we hypothesised, was because they often had more autonomy in undertaking their work and in using learning in the workplace. If that is true, then work organisation would seem to be the most important factor in introducing social software in enterprises. Amd that has nothing to do with digital natives!

Enterprise 2.0 – open online seminar today

March 16th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Today, Monday 16 March, sees the latest in our series of free, open online seminars jointly hosted by the Jisc Evolve project and The German EduCamp network. The seminar will take place on the Elluminate platform at 1800 UK time, 1900 CET.

The guest speakers include Willms Buhse and Pat Parslow. Isn’t that reason enough not to miss it!! 😉

The discussion will focuses on the following sub-topics:

  • How will communication and collaboration change when digital natives are employed in senior positions?
  • Changed knowledge management through chats, Twitter and so on?
  • How and to what extent will blogs, wikis and so on promote the productivity and creativity of employees?
  • Collaboration tools in the social web permit decentralized work. What is the workplace, what are the working places of the future?
  • Where is the limit? How far can the boundaries of classic corporate structure in the sense of Enterprise 2.0 be driven?

Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE from Loughborough – the podcast

March 14th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Another great edition of Emerging Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE from Loughborough. This show was broadcast from the Jisc Users and Innovations programme Next Generation Technologies in Practice Conference.

The show was presented by Graham Attwell and Josie Fraser.

It features George Roberts talking about the development of the JISC Emerge community, about building sustainable communities of practice in general and about Open Space technologies.

George is followed by Mark Van Harmelen talking with Graham Attwell about Personal Learning Environments. Mark reflects on the stage of development of PLEs and whether or not it is possible to prescribe the use of an institutional PLE. He goes on to describe the so called Manchester PLE that he is developing with support from the Users and Innovation programme.

Nicola Whitton and Rosie Jones talk to Josie Fraser about the potential of Augmented Reality Games for enhanced learning based on their work for Jisc on the Argosi project.

And Bob Rotherham from the Sounds Good project talks about the use of audio and MP3 recordings for giving feedback to students on their work.

Many thanks to everyone who helped out with the programme, including Steven Warburton who hosted the chatroom, Joe Roso who acted as producer and Dirk Stieglitz for sorting out the technical set up.

Music is by the Drunk Souls from the On Verra Plus Tard album from the Craetive Commons supported Jamendo web site.

Back to the blog

March 13th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Back to the blog after far too long travelling around England and Wales. Amongst a series of meetings, I have been at the fantastic #Thoughtfest09 workshop in Salford and at the Jisc Users and Innovations programme Next Technologies in Practice Conference in Loughborough. there were so many ideas and so many great people I met I really do not know where to start.

#Thoughfest09 was particularly good in that we got to do and try things. Doing things included sessions on podcasting and mixing music, on producing digital cartoons and playing the wonderful Argosi game (my group came last 🙂 ). And great project demos including the Jisc Users and Innovations funded Awesome and (as it is now called) the Manchester PLE project. The other factor was size. The venue limited us to 30 or so participants and that allowed everyone to actively contribute to the workshop.

The Next Technologies in Practice Conference had perhaps less interactivity but once more featured an array of excellent projects. The Users and Innovations programme projects are now coming to maturity and the focus on user centred development can be seen in the imagination and creativity of the projects.

A number of common themes are emerging. Firstly, we are now seeing the emergence of mature and lightweight user centred Web 2.0 and social software applications for learning.  These applications break the mode of traditional approaches to e-learning. In short they are disruptive. This Wordle based on tweets from from the second day of the Jisc conference provides a pretty accurate illustration of the issues.


And whilst the edupunk approach remains attractive for small scale implementation and trialling, there is an increasing discussion on approaches to institutional innovation and change.

Gwen van der Velden, Director of Learning and Teaching Enhancement at the University of Bath in a presentation entitled “Engaging the sector: An institutional perspective on raising awareness to embedding new and emerging technologies” provided an overview of many of the issues to do with institutional change. Institutions, she said, are “devolved, centralised, bicameral, hierarchical, collegiate, managerial, entrepreneurial, bureaucratic, research intensive, teaching minded, ‘customer focused.'”

Popular pitfalls in project development were

  • We need to train staff before they use it
  • It doesn’t talk to the student data system/ staff data system/ etc
  • Depending on middle managers
  • Resource hungry development
  • Nefarious proposals
  • Solving non-existent problems

The issue of staff training raised considerable discussion on Twitter. If true, it probably condemns most e-Portfolio applications to the dustbin!

Gwen posed the following questions for project developers

  • What is your strap line?
  • Why would I support you?
  • What problem do you solve for me?
  • What evidence do you have to show me that your solution works?

Whilst this list might be seen as coming from an intsitional management perspective, it is not bad as a rubric for rapid and innovative project development.

Probably the biggest hit of the two events was the presentation by Carlos Santos and Luis Pedro from the University of Aveiro in Portugal. As Josie Fraser reported they “are moving away from the managed learning system model and providing a supported Personal Learning Environment (PLE) service linking in University functionality with member selected and supported web 2.0 distributed activity.” As Josie says “Why is this amazing? The global edtech community have been talking about how institutions can engage with learner-centered PLEs for a while now, but Aveiro and the SAPO team are putting it into practice. Campus wide. In September.”

This will definitely be one to watch. But right across education things are getting interesting as innovation and social software allied to new approaches to learning challenges the old ways of doing things,

UK governement wants to fast track failed bankers to teaching

March 10th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I get more angry everyday over the UK government’s total mishandling of the economic crisis and its associated social impact. This is the latest ridiculous announcement as reported in the Guardian newspaper.

“High-fliers who lose their jobs in the recession will be able to retrain as teachers in just six months …..And those who are particularly gifted could become headteachers within four years …..The initiative, which is part of Labour’s public service reforms, will from September halve the minimum time it takes to train as a qualified teacher in England from a year to six months.

Ministers hope it will attract credit crunch victims from the City and the country’s brightest university graduates, many of whom are now looking for jobs in the public sector.

At least 200 people will be fast-tracked into headteacher roles from next year. Some will qualify for “golden hellos” of £10,000 for choosing schools in deprived areas.”

I totally fail to see what skills and competences former high fliers in the banking and finance sector have that makes them so suited for being a teacher. And besides anything else, they would need an extra six monthes course in ethics if they were seriously to enter a classroom.

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    News from 1994

    This is from a Tweet. In 1994 Stephen Heppell wrote in something called SCET” “Teachers are fundamental to this. They are professionals of considerable calibre. They are skilled at observing their students’ capability and progressing it. They are creative and imaginative but the curriculum must give them space and opportunity to explore the new potential for learning that technology offers.” Nothing changes!

    Graduate Jobs

    As reported by WONKHE, a survey of 1,200 final year students conducted by Prospects in the UK found that 29 per cent have lost their jobs, and 26 per cent have lost internships, while 28 per cent have had their graduate job offer deferred or rescinded. 47 per cent of finalists are considering postgraduate study, and 29 per cent are considering making a career change. Not surprisingly, the majority feel negative about their future careers, with 83 per cent reporting a loss of motivation and 82 per cent saying they feel disconnected from employers

    Post-Covid ed-tech strategy

    The UK Ufi VocTech Trust are supporting the Association of Colleges to ensure colleges are supported to collectively overcome challenges to delivering online provision at scale. Over the course of the next few months, AoC will carry out research into colleges’ current capacity to enable high quality distance learning. Findings from the research will be used to create a post-Covid ed-tech strategy for the college sector.

    With colleges closed for most face-to-face delivery and almost 100% of provision now being delivered online, the Ufi says, learners will require online content and services that are sustainable, collective and accessible. To ensure no one is disadvantaged or left behind due to the crisis, this important work will contribute to supporting businesses to transform and upskilling and reskilling those out of work or furloughed.


    The European Commission has published an annual report of the Erasmus+ programme in 2018. During that time the programme funded more than 23,500 projects and supported the mobility of over 850,00 students, of which 28,247 were involved in UK higher education projects, though only one third of these were UK students studying abroad while the remainder were EU students studying in the UK. The UK also sent 3,439 HE staff to teach or train abroad and received 4,970 staff from elsewhere in the EU.

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