Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Adding internet radio to the mix

July 30th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

The Jisc SSBR Institutional Innovation project conference on Institutional Impact, held last month, featured a series of accompanying internet radio broadcasts produced by Dirk Stieglitz and myself.  The radio was also streamed into the Elluminate platform and into the Second Life social event in the evening. The keynote presentation by John Cook was broadcast live,  ande radio programmes featured music, interviews and phone in sessions with guests.

Following the event I was asked to produce a short piece for the Jisc SSBR Create project newsletter, which is sent to all the programme projects. I hammered something short and sweet into an email and forgot about it. Anyway a week or two later, Goerge Roberts got back to me asking for “something a little more reflective and analytical about the intention, effect and outcome of the radio, not just what happened.”

That I have done and emailed off to George and to Emma Anderson who edits the newsletter. But I thought the ‘reflection’ might be of interest to a wider audience. So here you go….

“The radio show was seen as an experiment and had a number of objectives. One aim was to experiment with mixing different media in an online conference. Different media provide different affordances, and a mix of media can provide a richer online learning environment. However, anecdotal evidence would suggest that participants can be confused by multiple platforms especially when each requires a separate login. The radio programme was streamed through Elluminate allowing easy access, despite offering lower quality than the online internet stream. Although other conferences and events – notably those organised by Webheads – have used internet radio as part of the ‘mix’, as far as we are aware this was the first time internet radio had been streamed through an online platform in this way.

A second issue with online conferences is continuity. Experience of previous events suggests that the concentration involved in participating in such events is tiring and that frequent breaks are desirable between sessions. However, with the lack of proximately of co-participants in a shared physical environment, the continuity of the event is lost. The radio programme provided continuity by ensuring there was always something happening, whilst at the same time allowing for less intensive concentration and participation than the regular conference sessions. At the same time the radio was able to offer both a continuity link in terms of the themes of the conference and an opportunity to extend, explore and reflect on those themes through pre-recorded and live interviews with those involved in similar or related projects and initiatives.

Whilst parts of the radio broadcasts were streamed into the Elluminate portal, the broadcast also allowed those not registered for the conference (for which registration was limited to Jisc programme participants) to listen to the keynote presentation by John Cook. Although the radio was announced in advance, we suspect that most listeners learnt about the broadcast from Twitter.

Although our statistics are limited, it is interesting to note that a considerable number of listeners appear to be from outside the UK and particularly from continental Europe. This could be of potential importance in dissemination or ‘benefits realisation’ for Jisc projects.

All the radio broadcasts have been made available after the conference as MP3 podcasts. The podcasts of previous live radio programmes have been relatively popular, usually attracting at least 500 downloads over a six month period. The podcast of last year’s Jisc emerge project live broadcast form Alt C in Leeds has had over 2500 downloads!

Getting the feel and atmosphere right for the broadcasts is an ongoing issue. We had a slightly different approach to the different programmes broadcast through the day. The morning programme, prior to the conference was mainly music, with some preview of the days activities. The morning and afternoon coffee break programmes featured Jisc projects and initiatives, whilst the lunch time programme featured interviews with Jisc programme managers. Finally the evening programme was seen as a magazine style ‘wrap-up’ to the day, featuring live interviews with organisers of other UK and European projects as well as providing an opportunity for reflection by the conference organisers. Our broadcasting of music in the radio programmes has proved highly popular, However, it is difficult to choose a mix of music which suits everyone’s tastes. All the music is from the Creative Commons Jamendo web site, meaning that we remain legal whilst at the same time promoting open content. However, this does mean we are unable to play music which is familiar to people and this may be challenging, especially early in the morning! Next time we will try to provide a wider mix of music.

In conclusion, we feel the radio was successful, enhancing the conference, providing a showcase for multi channel and multi platform connections and allowing for reflection and continuity in the overall event.

The shows were presented by Graham Attwell and Dirk Stieglitz selected the music, produced the programme and undertook the post processing.”

Tensions in PLE development

July 28th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

It is heartening to see the increasing interest in Personal Learning Environments. Indeed, in terms of research into Technology Enhanced Learning, it is probably not going too far to say that PLEs have now mainstreamed.

However, with increasing research, and especially as developers and practitioners move towards implementing PLEs – or rather implementing an approach to learning based on Personal Learning Networks and PLEs, tensions are emerging.

One particular point of tension became very apparent at last weeks ROLE project expert workshop between an approach to personalisation based on a (corporate or institutional) VLE or Learning Management System providing more space for self supported learning and those wishing to empower learners in developing their own learning environment based on social software.

A related tension is between seeing learners essentially using PLEs to follow programmes of learning – be they courses or online learning – and those seeing PLEs as primarily a space to reflect on informal learning.

And yet a further tension is in the extent to which recommender systems can assist learners in developing their own learner systems. Or is the prime function of a PLE to enable individuals to develop their own networks for peer assisted learning?

All these approaches have their strengths and are not mutually incompatible. However with growing numbers of projects aiming to develop, test or implement PLEs, it is becoming important that project partners gain a shared understanding of both the meaning of a PLE and the particular objectives of any project development.

Twitter experts on Personal Learning Environments

July 23rd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I am in Leicester in the UK at a “Personal Learning Environment Expert Workshop organised by the EU ROLE project.

In one group activity this morning they asked us to discuss three questions. I twittered the questions and was surprised by the number of replies i received. So I though I would share with you your collective expertise!

But first the questions:

  1. What constitutes as a PLE for you?
  2. What constitutes learning ….within PLEs. Are such constituents of learning measurable and how?
  3. How do you interpret ‘responsiveness” of a PLE?

And your replies (many thanks to all of you – these have been passed on to the ROLE project partners):



Thoughts from the Open Source Schools Conference

July 21st, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I had an excellent time yesterday at the UK Becta sponsored Open Source Schools unconference.

As always with Open Source events, the energy and enthusiasm of participants was encouraging.

But this was not just an event about Open Source. It was about how we can make creative use technologies to promote and support explorative learning. My keynote presentation will be available on video and audio next week, I am told. But one of my main points was that the idea of bricolage, as put forward by Levi Strauss – about how we make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand – regardless of their original purpose – to learn and to create – applies to the learning environment just as much as to materials, documents, media etc. In other words, in the process of creating, we shape the learning environment, and the outcomes of the process of bricolage will in turn help to reshape the design of the environment. Open Source is valuable because it affords us the opportunities to shape or design its use in the learning process.

I was greatly impressed with a demonstration of the Sugar Learning platform – originally developed for the One Laptop per Child XO-1 netbook and now available to run on most computers. The sugar platform,  say the developers, promotes collaborative learning through Sugar Activities that encourage critical thinking, the heart of a quality education. Sugar is seen as an alternative to the traditional ‘office- desktop’ software.

I am certainly going to have a play with Sugar. I think most of us in the workshop were greatly excited, despite problems we were experienced with the BT network. But what was worrying some of the teachers was just the possibilities of such interfaces for play and exploration. This, they felt, would be wonderful with 6 or 7 year old children. But, sad to tell, the UKs rigid, overcrowded and overly prescriptive curriculum leaves no time for such explorative play.

The dimensions of context

July 18th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

In my last post I included excerpts of a paper I have written looking at the development of a Work Oriented MoBile Learning environment (WOMBLE). One of my main interests in such a system is the ability to support contextual learning in different environments. However that poses the problem of developing a model of context. And, I think, such a model needs to be based on a true ontology, rather than merely developing taxonomical lists of, for instance, different competences.

Last night I was discussing this in the pub (a rich contextual environment for learning!) with my friend and colleague Pekka Kamarainen. he came up with the following model – which he calls ‘dimensions of contextual images’ – based on the work of the German sociologist, Ritsert.

Pekka identified three main dimensions of context:

  • location
  • social meaning
  • horizons of practice

Each of these dimensions can be further divided into three categories:

  • normal
  • extended
  • transformative

Taking the dimension of practice this could be developed along the following schema:

  • Normal – what I do in this location
  • extended – what are the rules and norms which apply in this location
  • transformative = what could be done in another way

Similarly for social meaning:

  • normal- everyday life meanings
  • extended – citizenship or societal meaning
  • transformative – potentials for societal change

And for practice:

  • normal – what do I do knowing the basic tenets and operations of this practice
  • extended – what do I know about this practice as a more holistic design
  • transformative – how can this practice be transformed

I am aware that it all sounds a little abstract. But I think such a model could form the basis for an advanced learning design, capable of being implemented through mobile, ambient and context aware devices.

Appropriating technologies for contextual knowledge: Mobile Personal Learning Environment

July 15th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Along with John Cook and Andrew Ravenscroft from London Metropoliatn University, I have submitted a paper to the 2nd World Summit on the Knowledge Society (WSKS 2009) to be held in Crete in September. Our paper, entitled ‘Appropriating technologies for contextual knowledge: Mobile Personal Learning Environments’, looks at the potential of what we call a Work Oriented MoBile Learning Environment (WOMBLE). The abstract goes like this:

“The development of Technology Enhanced Learning has been dominated by the education paradigm. However social software and new forms of knowledge development and collaborative meaning making are challenging such domination. Technology is increasingly being used to mediate the development of work process knowledge and these processes are leading to the evolution of rhizomatic forms of community based knowledge development. Technologies can support different forms of contextual knowledge development through Personal Learning Environments. The appropriation or shaping of technologies to develop Personal Learning Environments may be seen as an outcome of learning in itself. Mobile devices have the potential to support situated and context based learning, as exemplified in projects undertaken at London Metropolitan University. This work provides the basis for the development of a Work Orientated MoBile Learning Environment (WOMBLE).”

Below is the key section of the paper explaining about the environment. And I am also attaching a word file if you wish to download the full paper. As always I would be very interested in any feedback.

“Educational technology has been developed within the paradigm of educational systems and institutions and is primarily based on acquiring formal academic and expert sanctioned knowledge.
However business applications and social software have been widely appropriated outside the education systems for informal learning and for knowledge development, through social learning in communities of practice.
Is it possible to reconcile these two different worlds and to develop or facilitate the mediation of technologies for investigative and learning and developing developmental competence and the ability to reflect and act on the environment?
Based on the ideas of collaborative learning and social networks within communities of practice, the notion of Personal Learning Environments is being put forward as a new approach to the development of e-learning tools [25,26]. In contrast to Virtual Learning environments, PLEs are made-up of a collection of loosely coupled tools, including Web 2.0 technologies, used for working, learning, reflection and collaboration with others. PLEs can be seen as the spaces in which people interact and communicate and whose ultimate result is learning and the development of collective know-how. A PLE can use social software for informal learning which is learner driven, problem-based and motivated by interest – not as a process triggered by a single learning provider, but as a continuing activity. The ‘Learning in Process’ project [27] and the APOSDLE project [28] have attempted to develop embedded, or work-integrated, learning support where learning opportunities (learning objects, documents, checklists and also colleagues) are recommended based on a virtual understanding of the learner’s context. While these development activities acknowledge the importance of collaboration, community engagement and of embedding learning into working and living processes, they have not so far addressed the linkage of individual learning processes and the further development of both individual and collective understanding as the knowledge and learning processes mature [29]. In order to achieve that transition (to what we term a ‘community of innovation’), processes of reflection and formative assessment have a critical role to play.
John Cook [30] has suggested that Work Orientated MoBile Learning Environments (Womble) could play a key role in such a process. He points out “around 4 billion users around the world are already appropriating mobile devices in their every day lives, sometimes with increasingly sophisticated practices, spawned through their own agency and personal/collective interests.”
However, in line with Jenkins at al [31] it is not just the material and functional character of the technologies which is important but the potential of the use of mobile devices to contribute to a new “participatory culture.” They define such a culture as one “with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices… Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways.”
The specific skills that Jenkins and his coauthors describe as arising through involvement of “average consumers” in this “participatory culture” include ludic forms of problem solving, identity construction, multitasking, “distributed cognition,” and “transmedial navigation.”
Importantly modern mobile devices can easily be user customized, including the appearance, operation and applications. Wild, Mödritscher and Sigurdarson [32] suggest that “establishing a learning environment, i.e. a network of people, artefacts, and tools (consciously or unconsciously) involved in learning activities, is part of the learning outcomes, not an instructional condition.” They go on to say: “Considering the learning environment not only a condition for but also an outcome of learning, moves the learning environment further away from being a monolithic platform which is personalisable or customisable by learners (‘easy to use’) and heading towards providing an open set of learning tools, an unrestricted number of actors, and an open corpus of artefacts, either pre-existing or created by the learning process – freely combinable and utilisable by learners within their learning activities (‘easy to develop’). ”
Critically, mobile devices can facilitate the recognition of context as a key factor in work related and social learning processes.  Cook [33] proposes that new digital media can be regarded as cultural resources for learning and can enable the bringing together of the informal learning contexts in the world outside the institution with those processes and contexts that are valued inside the intuitions.
He suggests that informal learning in social networks is not enabling the “critical, creative and reflective learning that we value in formal education.”
Instead he argues for the scaffolding of learning in a new context for learning through learning activities that take place outside formal institutions and on platforms that are selected by learners.
Cook [30] describes two experimental learning activities for mobile devices developed through projects at London Metropolitan University. In the first, targeted at trainee teachers an urban area close to London Metropolitan University, from 1850 to the present day, is being used to explore how schools are signifiers of both urban change and continuity of educational policy and practice.
The aim of this project is to provide a contextualised, social and historical account of urban education, focusing on systems and beliefs that contribute to the construction of the surrounding discourses. A second aim is to scaffold the trainee teachers’ understanding of what is possible with mobile learning in terms of field trips. In an evaluation of the project, 91% of participants thought the mobile device enhanced the learning experience. Furthermore, they considered the information easy to assimilate allowing more time to concentrate on tasks and said the application allowed instant reflection in situ and promoted “active learning” through triggering their own thoughts and encouraging them to think more about the area
In the second project, archaeology students were provided with a tour of context aware objects triggered by different artifacts in the remains of a Cistercian abbey in Yorkshire. The objects allowed learners to expire not only the physical entity of the reconstructed abbey through the virtual representation, but also to examine different aspects including social and cultural history and the construction methods deployed. According to Cook [30] “the gap between physical world (what is left of Cistercian), virtual world on mobile is inhabited by the shared cognition of the students for deep learning.”
The use of the mobile technology allowed the development and exploration of boundary objects transcending the physical and virtual worlds. Boundary objects have been defined as “objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds.” [33].  The creation and management of boundary objects which can be explored through mobile devices can allow the interlinking of formal and academic knowledge to practical and work process knowledge.
Practically, if we consider models for personalized and highly communicative learning interaction in concert with mobile devices, whilst employing context aware techniques, startling possibilities can arise. For example, we can combine the immediacy of mobile interaction with an emergent need for a collaborative problem solving dialogue, in vivo, during everyday working practices, where the contextual dimensions can constrain and structure (through semantic operations) the choices about a suitable problem solving partner or the type of contextualised knowledge that will support the problem solving. In brief, combining dialogue design, social software techniques, mobility and context sensitivity means we have greater opportunities for learning rich dialogues in situations where they are needed – to address concrete and emergent problems or opportunities at work.
Such approaches to work oriented mobile learning also supports Levi Strauss’s idea of bricolage [34]. The concept of bricolage refers to the rearrangement and juxtaposition of previously unconnected signifying objects to produce new meanings in fresh contexts. Bricolage involves a process of resignification by which cultural signs with established meanings are re-organised into new codes of meaning. In such a pedagogic approach the task of educators is to help co-shape the learning environment.
Of course, such approaches are possible using social software on desktop and lap top computers. The key to the mobile environment is in facilitating the use of context. This is particularly important as traditional elearning, focused on academic learning, has failed to support the context based learning inherent in informal and work based environments.
Whilst the use of context is limited in the experiments undertaken by London Metropolitan University, being mainly based on location specific and temporal factors, it is not difficult to imagine that applications could be developed which seek to build on wider contextual factors. These might include tasks being undertaken, the nature of any given social network, competences being deployed, individual learner preferences and identities and of course the semantic relations involved.”

You can download the full paper here

Social networking research – are we missing the point?

July 14th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I agree with Charlie Beckett, director of journalism thinktank POLIS at the London School of Economics, as quoted in today’s Guardian newspaper, who challenges the whole idea of the digital native:

“As Matthew Robson describes, most teenagers use a variety of digital devices, but when you talk to people who work with teenagers they describe a much more complex picture of what they actually do.

The same teenagers who have literacy problems have media literacy problems. Many of the teenagers apparently comfortable with new media are in fact only using a very limited range of applications and in a very limited way.

Other researchers indicate that teenagers are getting just as frustrated as the rest of us with the complexity and cost of many online and mobile applications.”

But I can’t help thinking many of these researchers are missing the point, possibly because of who is sponsoring their work. The research seems often to focus on the degree of interest, engagement, activity or time spent on particular social networking sites or applications. In other words, it is looking at the degree of  participation in an approved manner in what is being provided for them. And often the studies seem to disconnect engagement with social networking sites from the rest of the person’s life. What I suspect is really happening is that people are appropriating technologies and applications to integrate them in their studies or work or in their social life. In so doing they are using the technologies in ways which suit them, not necessarily in the way that the applications were designed to be used. And in the process the technology ceases to be a focus in itself, it is just part of everyday living. From a research point of view it would be more interesting to look at how our work and social activities are changing as technology becomes increasingly embedded in our lives, rather than focusing on the use of particular applications or services.


July 13th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Yes, F-Alt is back by popular demand. F-ALT is a fringe event organised to coincide with the annual UK Association for Learning Technology annual conference. This Year ALT-C will be back in sunny Manchester!

As the F-Alt09 wiki says: “Spurred on by the fantastic success of F-ALT 08, we’re looking forward to an even more fabulous series of unconference events.”

F-ALT 09 will consist of a variety of sessions held in public, conference and university spaces. Delegates are encouraged to experiment with format, with slots focusing discussion and allowing participants and bystanders to experiment with an alternative conference format. Participants pick the topics they are most interested in debating and negotiate session delivery on the F-Alt wiki.

So don;t forget – if you have session ideas – stick them up on the wiki and the detail can be worked later. And if you are coming to F-Alt, don’t forget to signup

Institutional impact – the podcasts

July 13th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Last week we hosted a series of radio shows to accompany the Jisc SSBR Institutional Innovation project conference on Institutional Impact.

And here are the podcasts.

The lunchtime programme features interviews with Jisc programme managers, Lawrie Phipps and Ruth Drysdale.

The afternoon show has an interview with Howard Noble from the Green ICT project.

Guests on the evening show include:

Dirk Stieglitz selected the music, produced the programme and undertook the post programme processing.

My thanks to Dirk and all my guests for making a great series of programmes.

Surfing the Mobile Wave

July 10th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Lately I have got excited about the potential of mobile devices for learning. Partly this is due to the accessibility of such devices and their growing functionality but more it is because of the potential of mobile devices to enable situated or contextual learning. Elearning until now, perhaps because of the domination of universities and to a lesser extent academic schools in implementing educational technology, elearning has focused on academic or disciplinary knowledge. Yet much of the knowledge we use is vocational or occupational in nature. Mobile applications can take advantage of different aspects of context. Of course this is a challenge to institutions, as well as for developers. I have been discussing these issues over the last four or five weeks with John Cook and Andrew Ravenscroft from London Metropolitan Univeristy.

And yesterday at the Jisc Instiutional Innovation conference, John Cook presented both ideas and examples of his work in this area. The abstract for his presentation read:

“How can learning activities that take place outside formal institutions, on platform of the learners choice, be brought into institutional learning? New digital media can be regarded as cultural resources that can enable the bringing together of the informal learning contexts in the world outside the institution with those processes and contexts that are valued inside the intuitions.The big problem is that reports show that Social Software and Google are not enabling the critical, creative and reflective learning that we value in formal education.”

Here are the slides from his presentation. And below you can find a podcast of his keynote.

  • Search

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    News Bites

    Cyborg patented?

    Forbes reports that Microsoft has obtained a patent for a “conversational chatbot of a specific person” created from images, recordings, participation in social networks, emails, letters, etc., coupled with the possible generation of a 2D or 3D model of the person.

    Racial bias in algorithms

    From the UK Open Data Institute’s Week in Data newsletter

    This week, Twitter apologised for racial bias within its image-cropping algorithm. The feature is designed to automatically crop images to highlight focal points – including faces. But, Twitter users discovered that, in practice, white faces were focused on, and black faces were cropped out. And, Twitter isn’t the only platform struggling with its algorithm – YouTube has also announced plans to bring back higher levels of human moderation for removing content, after its AI-centred approach resulted in over-censorship, with videos being removed at far higher rates than with human moderators.

    Gap between rich and poor university students widest for 12 years

    Via The Canary.

    The gap between poor students and their more affluent peers attending university has widened to its largest point for 12 years, according to data published by the Department for Education (DfE).

    Better-off pupils are significantly more likely to go to university than their more disadvantaged peers. And the gap between the two groups – 18.8 percentage points – is the widest it’s been since 2006/07.

    The latest statistics show that 26.3% of pupils eligible for FSMs went on to university in 2018/19, compared with 45.1% of those who did not receive free meals. Only 12.7% of white British males who were eligible for FSMs went to university by the age of 19. The progression rate has fallen slightly for the first time since 2011/12, according to the DfE analysis.

    Quality Training

    From Raconteur. A recent report by global learning consultancy Kineo examined the learning intentions of 8,000 employees across 13 different industries. It found a huge gap between the quality of training offered and the needs of employees. Of those surveyed, 85 per cent said they , with only 16 per cent of employees finding the learning programmes offered by their employers effective.

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