Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Open Educational Resources and the future of institutions

December 28th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

One of the most positive developments in technology Enhanced Learning over the past year has been the ‘mainstreaming’ of Open educational resources’ (OERs). What do I mean by ‘mainstreaming’? Instead of being confined to the fringes in funded projects the creation and distribution of OERs are increasingly being seen as a strategic approach ro institutional educational strategies. At the same time there has been an increase in fundfing avaiable for the creation, distribution and discovery of OERs together with added awareness of what OERs are and how they might be used.

That is not to say every issue has been resolved. The resourcing of OER creation is till an issue, although some institutions seem to be absorbing the cost into the overall budgets. There remain issues over how to develop OERs, given that materials often include artefacts that are covered by copyright. Discovery – finding suitable OERs – is still not always easy. Academic practices (and terms of service) are not always aligned with the idea of open publishing. And of course we still do not as a community have a single agreed understanding of what constitutes an OER. But all thes eissues can be resolved given a little time.

However, the movement towards OERs conceals bigger issues. Firstly what do we mean by an Open Educational Resource. I am not  talking here about definitional squabbles. More important for me is who the resources are aimed at. many of the early OER repositres have comprised of materials for teaching and not for learning. these are not the same. Of course lecture notes and overhead presentations may be helpful to support learning (and certainly helpful for teachers). But, I am not sure that reading and watching course materials constitutes a learning programme in itself. Neither have many of the institutions providing OERS intended it to be. Why make free courses available online of it would compete with courses offered by an institution.

Yet, at the same time, organisations such as the BBC, are publishing increasing amounts of  learning (not teaching) materials aimed at a wide range of age groups and a wide ability range. YouTube contains hundreds of videos providing help in how to do almost anything. Web tutorial sites abound. And the growing power of mobile devices and if rumour is to be believed, the immanent arrival of smart tablet readers, allows integration of learning into everyday work and leisure activities. In other words, learning is moving outside teh institution at an ever increasing rate. It is these materials which will be of most profound influence on the future of our education systems

My prediction of trends for 1010 is that the crisis over the future role of institutional education will continue to deepen. The crisis, engendered largely by technological and social change, can only be exacerbated by the financial cutbacks facing higher education in many countries. At the moment education institutions can fall back of their function in providing recognised qualifications. Although the degree of regulation regarding qualifications and the weight such qualifications carry for employment varies between sectors and countries, in general we might expect that increasingly employers will look to a person’s digital identity and digital record of learning, rather than accepting qualifications as the basis for employment.

So do educational institutions have a future? I think they do but this will require profound change. Already a few pioneers like Dave Wiley, George Siemens and Stephen Downes have tested new models for online courses including both participants registered for a course credit and those not registered. But more fundamentally institutions may have a role in motivating and supporting the learning of students at particular phases in their (lifelong) learning. But this requires far more flexibility than our present (higher) education systems provide. Although I do not agree with his motives the Prince of Darkness, UK Business Minister Peter Mandelson, may be right when he talks of more flexible degree offerings including both full time two year degrees and more work based degrees. And we may even have to question the degree structures. Why not start recognising the learning that takes place whilst following a course in an institution, rather than referring to the course which frames that possible learning?

And of course such (personal learning) programmes will have to start from the point of where learners are at – recognising their previous learning and their learning needs (and desires). Much of that learning will have come from engaging with OERs in a workplace or social setting. That doesn’t mean there is no place for the seminar, workshop or even lecture. But it does mean that the regimentation of courses may become a thing of the past. Different learners will have different prior experiences and different learning needs. Why not conceive of university as an university such as an extended bar camp or unconference. Students could opt to follow particular elements and could themselves support the learning of others. Support would still be needed to help learners get from where they are now to where they potentiality could be. Universities could become an intense learning experience, unlike the present exam factories, often marketed on the basis of the social life around the institution.

If course I might have been reading too many science fiction novels over Christmas. But the times are a changing, however slowly and the increasing availability of Open Education Resources or Open Learning materials are part of that change.

YouTube: Semantic ambiguity, bricolage and sign making

December 23rd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

This research rocks! At a workshop on ‘Technology enhanced learning in the context of technological, societal and cultural transformation‘, held in Garmisch Partenkirchen earlier this month, I was lucky enough to talk to Elisabetta Adami who was presenting an expellent paper on ‘Individualized participation in public forms of communication and learning: reshaping contexts in a changing world of cultural products.’

But it was her doctoral research which really got me interested.  Elisabetta’s dissertation, called Video interaction on YouTube: Contemporary Changes in Semiosis and Communication’, looks at interaction through video replies on YouTube. It is both serious research and fascinating to read.

The entire dissertation, written in English is available on the web and can also be downloaded. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion to the abstract:

“the analysis of the process of video-interaction focuses on (a) its distinctive features and structural characteristics, (b) its semiotic ‘affordances’ (Kress and van Leeuwen, 2001: 67), in terms of the material and social constraints and possibilities which the medium imposes over the semiosis, and (c) the diversified (and often conflicting) semiotic practices with which the affordances are actualized by the interactants.

Rather than following traditionally conceived cooperative or relevance principles and notions of coherence and cohesion, video-interaction works on a ‘loose’ form of individualized participation. While the structural characteristics determine the interactional possibilities, the interactants’ practices exploit the affordances of video-interaction in unexpected ways and often lead to changes in the structure itself (in the same way as the Saussurean parole, when made socially dominant, modifies the langue). Patterns of relatedness in the exchanges are driven by the sign-makers’ diversified interests. More specifically, sign-making relations in the exchanges are established through a system of differentiation-within-attuning, so that interactants bring their distinctive contribution while keeping the same (either formal or semantic) theme, set by the initial video. In this sense, video-interaction is analogous to collective forms of artistic improvisation (e.g., the genre of variation in music or the contemporary free-style). Video responses take up – and actualize – one or more prompts within the range of possibilities set by the initial video. This prompt-response relation generally disregards the interlocutor’s intended meaning, it often does not follow relevance principles, it presents (traditionally considered) marked textual organizations, and does not build coherent exchanges. Not only is (intertextual) implicitness widely practiced, but also formal attuning is sometimes more regarded than (semantic) coherence for the establishment of relatedness in the exchange.

Rather than on the interactants’ mutual understanding, video-interaction hinges on a playful and challenging engagement with the medium and with the other texts in the exchange, by exploiting maximally the representational possibilities of both.

Patterns of relatedness are established through an interest-driven selection, transformation, assemblage and recontextualization of (often formal, at times implicit or backgrounded) elements of the initial video or of other texts. This way, sign-making is often done by means of a copy-and-paste technique, which follows the interactants’ diversified interests, and disregards coherence or the signmaker’s intended meaning. Responses frequently and intentionally produce their texts through misunderstanding and exploit maximally the potential semantic ambiguity of the interlocutor’s text. Incoherent exchanges are successful and generally acknowledged and accepted by interactants. In this sense, videointeraction epitomizes the changes in representation and communication which are taking place in our contemporary semiotic landscape, whereby traditional systems of coherence are disregarded and (traditionally considered) incoherent or noncohesive exchanges are acceptable as the result of representations produced through the selection, copy and paste, recontextualization and forwarding of other texts.

These contemporary changes in representation and communication need analogous changes in the theories of communication, while their description requires adequate analytical models. Therefore the thesis concludes by hypothesizing the usefulness of the theoretical and analytical framework devised for the research to the description of contemporary forms of communication.”

Vygotsky, Activity Theory and the use of tools for formal and informal learning

December 21st, 2009 by Graham Attwell

In general I don’t like Christmas. Difficult travel, rampant consumerism, enforced jollity and all that kind of thing. But there is one thing I like about it and that is the peace away form day to day meetings to try and think and write a little. In this case I have an overdue short paper to deliver for the MatureIP project looking at teh work of Vygotsky and what we can learn from his work for knowledge maturing processes and for Personal Learning Environments.
Needless to say, I have not finished it yet and the more I read the more confused I seem to get.
The approach Vygotsky took to cognitive development is sociocultural, working on the assumption that ‘action is mediated and cannot be separated from the milieu in which it is carried out’ (Wertsch, 1991:18).Vygotsky considered that “higher mental functions are, by definition, culturally mediated.” Social processes give rise to individual processes and both are essentially mediated by artefacts.
Furthermore Vygotsky held that “environment cannot be regarded as a static entity and one which is peripheral in relation co development, but must be seen as changeable and dynamic.” The social cultural approach to learning has been extended through Activity Theory and I find that interesting in the context of comparing formal education and the use of tools compared to informal learning in social networks. Within an activity system tools or instruments – including technologies – are considered to be mediating elements.


First lets look at formal education. Formal education systems are heavily rule bound, with rule determining both the contents and usually the process of learning. The divisions of labour are strongly defined, especially with regard to the roles of managers and teachers within teh system. the community is that of the institution, which once more is heavily prescriptive regarding tools and objects with outcomes frequently being seen as formal acquisition of qualifications. In this subject – or learner – situation the selection of the tools which mediate the learning. Indeed in this activity system the selection of tools is intended more to preserve the rules and the division of labour and to contain the outcomes, than it is to support learning per se.

Then lets compare that with the use of social software for learning in the workplace. Firstly the division of labour is very different and more likely to be influenced by work place divisions than that of teachers. In this respect if the object is knowledge acquisition the outcomes may well be bounded by work processes, for instance through the need to solve a problem or through the introduction of new technologies or innovation in the workplace. The division of labour still remains important to the activity, especially the object, in permitting or restraining the time and the access of the subject to the tools they need to undertake the activity. However it is important to note that Vykotsky saw learning as taking place in Zones of Proximal development and to be influenced by the interventions of a Significant Other Person. This could be  a teacher, a trainer, a peer. However this process is once more mediated by instruments or tools thus meaning that significant person or persons could be supporting learning through a forum or through a Personal Learning Network.
Once more the tools will mediate the activity of learning. But here the prescription may be less in that the community itself will influence the tools and may be a broader community of learners or a community of practice, recommending tools based on a collective experience. However, rules may still apply especially through the Terms and Conditions of Service and use of any particular social software service. In the context of the tools, Vygotsky considered that all artefacts are culturally, historically and institutionally situated. “In a sense, then, there is no way not to be socioculturally situated when carrying out an action. Conversely there is no tool that is adequate to all tasks, and there is no universally appropriate form of cultural mediation. Even language, the ‘tool of tools’ is no exception to this rule”. (Cole and Wertsch).
In terms of informal learning and work based learning, the tools are less likely to be culturally bound to the institution of the school. Thus more often we may see the appropriation of cultural tools or artefacts used in wider society and repurposed for learning, than the use of explicitly ‘educational software’. But over a period of time, as the practice of the use of such tools for learning becomes culturally embedded within society, it may start to influence the selection of tools and instruments for learning within institutions framed through the rules and division of labour of the education systems.
Sorry if all this is not too clear. But I would very much welcome any feedback 🙂

Are VLEs the problem or is it just how we use them?

December 17th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I was in Wolverhampton yesterday for round 2 of our AltC debate on Virtual Learning Environments (watch the movie here) this time entitled the VLE is Undead . In come ways it is knockabout stuff – Steve Wheeler, James Clay, myself and Nick Sharratt all delivering a ten minute contribution on our different takes on the theme and chaired by the ever ebullient Josie Fraser.

My presentation was basically pushing the idea of Personal Learning Environments as learners spaces as opposed to the institutionally controlled VLE. There were some interesting points that came out of the discussion. John Traxler noted that we were using the theme of educational technology to discuss the future of education. He is right. The debate over PLEs and VLEs cannot be separated from discussing either where we think education is going or from larger ideas of where we want education to go. But it may be that by focusing on education technology, it makes the debate easier to get a grip on. And it may also reflect the growing importance of technology in education.

My argument was predicated on four trends (borrowed from Martin Weller 🙂 ):

  • The growing pressures for personalisation of learning – and the fact that the present standardised education systems and institutions fail to meet the needs of many learners
  • The growing demand for education – both from developing countries who lack sufficient education services (and in many cases even access to basic schooling) and demands for lifelong learning)
  • The growing diversification of contexts and sources of learning – including of course the web and mobile learning but also media organisations and importantly the workplace – with increasing recognition of the importance of lifelong learning
  • The different ways in which people are learning – including through the internet, through personal Learning Networks, through social communities and groups and in communities of practice.

In reality VLEs have failed to prove attractive for learners – they log in when they have to but with little enthusiasm. And, however we define them, Personal Learning Environments are a reality – in the way in which people are using Personal Computers, web based applications and social networks to support their own learning.

I don’t think I won the debate – if such a debate can be ‘won’. Participants in the workshop were concerned about how to manage learners. For institutions this is a legitimate concern but would be better handled by applications for administering and managing from those for learning (indeed this was what the Jisc tried to do with its approach to service Oriented Architectures although this approach appears to have been too complex and hot problems in defining services at a technical level).

There was also concern over assessment – how would this be done without VLEs (on this I think we need especially in the UK to work out what we are trying to achieve through assessment).

The ideas around digital identities and digital literacies seemed to be very new for many of the participants. I think this is a key area which we will have to do more work on in the future.

I raised the question of students not having access to their work after a module or a course had been completed. Some saw the introduction of e-Portfolios as an answer to this although one said it was the students responsibility to make sure they has personal copies of their work. This seems to me to get to the heart of the problem. VLEs are bing used as a space for handing out assignments and for collecting in the results – as a repository. I am not convinced that VLEs are best designed for such a purpose but it once more begs the question. Essentially students are having to design their own environments for learning, whilst using the VLE as a institutional space for managing their work. And institutions are not interested or do not have resources to support students in developing their learning environment.

Interestingly, those most enthusiastic about VLEs seemed to be in institutions using their own in house software or using Moodle and I would guess that reflects the degree of ownership teaching and administrative staff feel over the VLE. It is of little surprise that those least enthusiastic seemed to be using (or being told to use) Blackboard or WebCT.

Overall, I guess, the main feeling was that VLEs were not succeeding because they were being misused or badly used. And that neatly brings us back in a full circle to the discussions about the future of education and to the purpose of educational technology. But I am concerned that the debate, such as it is, is being framed within institutional concerns. Little attention is being paid to the potential for informal and work based learning and that for me is where the true potential of technology for learning lies.

The E-nigma decoder: A teacher’s guide to intercepting enemy communication

December 17th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

This is Jen blog-squatting on Graham’a blog again with another TACCLE post.

Some weeks ago I rashly promised I would try and provide some regular input to the Pontydysgu site on Practical Ideas for E-Things To Do With Kids – aimed primarily at teachers in the classroom. So far these have been on the lines of “25 things you can do with….”

This time I thought I might break the mould and introduce teachers to on-line kidspeak. This is a code that is strictly not Open Source and so probably violates Pontydysgu policy. However, thanks to clever espionage techniques, a few fifth columnists and offering bribes (and / or torture as appropriate) to enemy agents, I am now in a position to share this highly classified and restricted information.

(The only reason I will avoid capture and worse is the sure knowledge that my kids are highly unlikely to browse any site which can be described as even remotely educational)

(Code on screen in front of enemy is followed by translation into English)

9 Parent is watching
T9 Teacher is watching
99 Parent or teacher no longer watching
CD9 Parents or teachers are around (code 9)
P999 Parent alert
T999 Teacher alert
P911 Parent /teacher alert (if you are American or your kids watch too many American films)
PAL Parents are listening
PLOS Parents looking over shoulder
TOMS Teacher over my shoulder
NP Nosy parents
PRW or PAW Parents are watching
AITR Adult in the room
PIR Parent in Room

You will also be pleased that kids are actively engaging in critical reflection of their learning. Check out their screens for feedback on your lesson.

BBB boring beyond belief
DDSOS different day, same old shit
CWOT complete waste of time
FWOT more common than the one above – use your imagination!
CRAFT can’t remember a f****** thing
BTD bored to death

Or if you are lucky…..

CSA cool, sweet, awesome

And you can learn a lot about their informal learning habits and what they might have done the night before.

I&I intercourse and inebriation
Pron porn
420 dope/marijuhana
BIBO beer in, beer out
BNDN been nowhere, done nothing
n/m nothing much
EWI e-mailing while intoxicated (always a bad idea…)

And just because we have the IT support department techies looking at this site …here are some useful diagnostic phrases and feedback to give all those teachers who think you have nothing better to do all day than sort their technical problems out

CHA click here asshole
ESO equipment smarter that operator
FBKS failure between keyboard and seat
FUBAR f***** up beyond all repair
IBK idiot behind keyboard
IIIO Intel inside, idiot outside
OMIK open mouth, insert keyboard
P2C2E process too complicated to explain
SWAG scientific wild ass guess
PEBCAK problem exists between chair and keyboard
PICNIC problem in chair, not in computer
PLOKTA press lots of keys to abort
PSO product superior to operator
RTFM read the f******* manual
RTFF read the f****** FAQ
SAPFU surpassing all previous f**** ups
SEWAG scientifically engineered wild-ass guess
TARFU things are really f***** up
TFMIU the f****** manual is unreadable
YAUN yet another unix nerd
O-O nerd

OK, that’s all for now but there will be some more lists next week.

On a more serious note, there are lots of number codes and abbreviations related to on-line sex and bullying. I would like to include some of the more common ones so that you can keep a weather eye on your own children and on the children in your classroom. However, there are ethical issues around this as well as the acceptability of some of the codes appearing on a public website so I’ll wait for Graham to get back and see what he thinks.

Most teachers are aware of the dangers of cyberbullying and grooming but, as ever, I would like to move this into practice and give teachers the information and tools they need.

Would be interested in what others think.

Informal learning – linking the University to the outside world

December 14th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

One frequent comment I get from teachers when talking about the use of new technologies for learning is the need for examples of effective use in practice. And all too many projects, national and European, talk about changing practice but from a research or theoretical perspective.

The ICONET project has taken a different route. Based on the earlier ICOVET work, it sought to take a basic tool for identifying and recognising informal learning with socially disadvantaged young people, and implement it in different situations with different groups of learners. In the UK we worked in two quite different contexts, although both were located at Salford University. The first, called Cartoon Planet and working with Salford Young People’s University, has already been published on this blog.

The second sought to embed the process within a Personal Development through Enterprise initiative. In this report Helen Keegan explains the background and results of the project work.


“The University of Salford is a Widening Participation university, with a student body largely made up of ‘first generation’ students – that is, students who are the first in their family to enter higher education. For many of our students, studying for a degree is particularly challenging. Students often fail to see the bigger picture in terms of the acquisition of invaluable life-skills, preferring instead to take an assessment-driven approach where formal learning is prized (i.e. what needs to be remembered/prepared in order to pass a module) at the expense of informal learning and skills development. However, in terms of pedagogy and public policy it is increasingly acknowledged that informal skills are equally as important (if not more so) than formally learnt curricula through the course of one’s life, where participation in a rapidly changing, networked society demands significant informal competencies which lie outside of mainstream curricula.

Finding ways of developing learners’ informal competencies alongside subject specific knowledge within mainstream curricula is therefore crucial. The Personal Development through Enterprise initiative focuses on developing informal competencies alongside Enterprise within the curriculum, through nurturing reflective practice on learning that goes on outside the classroom, alongside a core suite of 21st century competencies which are recognised as being essential attributes for the successful lifelong learner. Ultimately we want to equip our learners with the skills to self-direct their learning for life, through a process of meta-learning, critical reflection, and the ability to recognise their informal skills and how these enable them to become lifelong learners.


Personal Development through Enterprise focuses on the development of innovative learning activities and teaching and mentoring methodologies as to foster the development of informal competencies and reflective skills alongside formal Enterprise curricula.

Over many years teaching in the classroom, the tutor had noticed how students appreciated being asked about what they do OUTSIDE the classroom – that is, their interests and activities in their spare time. Many of these activities have real value, and yet the students don’t think of their informal learning as being valuable as it is not being assessed. The aim was to recognise what people do outside the classroom, getting the students thinking about how the skills developed through their off-campus interests can be used across different contexts – valuing their informal learning alongside formal, and integrate the two.

Alongside this was the problem of the student’s perception of Enterprise in the curriculum. While entrepreneurial skills (and even more so, INTRAPRENEURIAL) are commonly seen as being essential skills in the workplace (the ability to lead, make decisions, and drive change from within), many students are resistant to the idea of Enterprise teaching as they see it as something which is only relevant to those who want to start their own business. This is a common misconception, but one which needs to be addressed and the skills required for Entrepreneurship are required in nearly all walks of life.

Piloting the programme

In order to engage the learners, encouraging them to reflect on their informal learning and how this leads to a set of behaviours which are transferrable across contexts – including organisational – we wanted to address the perceived lack of relevance of informal skill sets through active pedagogy and experiential learning rooted firmly in the real lives of our students, in order for them to realise their potential in the wider world as lifelong learners.

We wanted to make the classroom more dynamic, giving learners control in terms of how the sessions were run – and even what content they covered. There was a strong emphasis placed on peer mentoring.

The class were split into groups and each week a different group would lead the session. Suggested (and covered) topics were:

  • Organising
  • Leadership
  • Working across cultures
  • Assertion and negotiation
  • Using broadcast materials for presenting
  • Business ethics

Each group was only given a brief outline of the topic/goals for the session and they had to create the lesson themselves, sourcing information and using examples from their everyday lives and first-hand experiences.

They were asked to design classroom sessions which were fun and interactive – some of the things they came up with included games, debates, role-playing and even a song competition!

There was an emphasis on imaginative uses of technology to support their sessions and learning, e.g. wikis, videos, audio, visual aids and props. They were encouraged to use idea creation techniques such as brainstorming (both within groups for session planning and in the sessions they actually led). The students developed skills in using and managing information, particularly in the sense of synthesising their informal learning into what they commonly thought of as ‘learning’ (which tended to be formal). They communicated ideas to others using multiple forms of media and technology (which involved them developing a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of media), and reflected critically on their learning which helped them to develop the ability to self-direct their learning.

As in the case of Cristina Costa’s Cartoon Planet project (one of the other ICONET studies), the curriculum criteria were based on three broad aspects of teaching and learning:

  • an interactive approach;
  • a focus on informal learning and skills;
  • attractive, diverse strategies for class engagement.

A learning development journal was kept by each student in order to stimulate individual, peer and group reflection, and this gave them a structure within which to translate their informal competences – gained within, but also (and more importantly) outside the classroom – into a ‘CV-ready’ format, enabling them to recognise the links between their informal learning and how this can be reported in a more formalised manner.


As in the case of Cartoon Planet, the outcomes envisaged were:

  1. To stimulate guided reflection about the learners’ strengths and skills through different peer and group activities.
  2. To utilise Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to empower students to communicate their skills and competences in an interactive and personally meaningful way.

However, in this case one of the most empowering aspects of the project was that students were given a brief which was wide open in terms of the way that they used ICT – obviously this is much easier to do when the students are older, as in this case. Through giving the students the opportunity to develop the content and design their own sessions (the main instructions being to base everything on their experiences OUTSIDE of the university and to use whatever ICT they wanted in innovative ways), the students became highly engaged and started to realise that the concepts, knowledge and transferrable skills which are covered in Enterprise teaching are in fact everyday skills which they have been practicing throughout their lives without actually realising it!

Issues around leadership and roles were viewed through the lens of friends and family, then teased out and viewed through the lens of the workplace. Issues around presenting using broadcast materials and business ethics were viewed through the lens of file sharing on the internet (of which many students have first hand experience).

Each group delivered a final presentation outlining ideas for a business which drew on their informal learning (i.e. hobbies outside of university) but informed by concepts covered in class, and they came up with some fantastic ideas based on their informal skills which they wouldn’t ordinarily bring into the classroom environment. By leading workshop sessions themselves they developed real confidence in their ability to stand up and express their ideas, and did so in an engaging and imaginative way.

The personal development journals were particularly effective not only for the recognition of competences, but for the identification of problematic areas (some students reflected on their difficulties with time-keeping and organisation which they had not picked up on before, purely because they hadn’t needed to direct their own learning and be responsible to a team to such a great extent). They developed valuable skills in reflecting on their own learning, both inside and outside the classroom, and how they influence one another.


Feedback from the students indicated that they found their self-directed workshops to be of real value, although at first they were nervous about taking responsibility for their learning in this way. They also expressed surprise that so many of the skills they brought into the workshops were skills that they had developed outside of the classroom. Through being encouraged to work independently in groups, using a diverse range of media, they were able to develop a range of 21st century skills – particularly in terms of collaboration and creativity – based on their informal learning.

Something which worked particularly well was their final presentations, where they were asked to work in their groups and develop an idea for a business and present it without using Powerpoint. This meant that they came up with innovative ways to ‘sell’ their idea, such as panel games and role-playing. One group was made up of boating hobbyists and 2 environmental campaigners (all activities which they were involved in outside of the university), and so they came up with an idea to run water-taxis between Manchester City Centre and a new MediaCity development, cleaning up the waterways in the process. One month later there was an announcement in the local news that a water-taxi business is going ahead in the area – nearly identical to their idea! For them, to be able to bring in their informal learning and present it in a business-like way gave them a real sense of worth, and a genuine appreciation that they had been able to use their informal learning in a formal setting.

The personal development journals worked really well as they helped the learners to reflect and develop meta-skills needed for lifelong learning. Also, the PDJ gave the learners a method for the translation of informal competences into a more formal framework, which is especially useful when it comes to CV-writing.

Overall, the emphasis placed on their extra-curricula activities and ‘accidental’ learning allowed them to see themselves differently, recognising that they have valuable skills which haven’t been acquired formally and therefore valuing what goes on outside the classroom much more than they did before. In this sense, it was transformative.

In summary, the elements which really helped to engage the learners were:

  • Facilitated independence in terms of group work
  • Regular mentoring from the tutor (face-2-face)
  • An environment where they felt free to take risks
  • Socially-oriented learning
  • Opportunities for creativity across a range of media
  • An emphasis on peer interaction and collaboration
  • A sense of fun and play”

The issue of Digital Identities won’t go away

December 11th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Last week I welcomed Facrebook’s announcement of new fine grained access controls which they claimed would allow users to decide what and iwth whom they wished to share.

On Wednesday they started rolling out the new interface pushing an “important message” to all users:

“We’re making some changes to give you more control of your information and help you stay connected. We’ve simplified the Privacy page and added the ability to set privacy on everything you share, from status updates to photos.

At the same time, we’re helping everyone find and connect with each other by keeping some information—like your name and profile picture—publicly available.”

The new controls are far from simple. And after an hour playing with them it appears they provide far less potential privacy than the original settings. Name, profile picture and as far as I can see your personal wall is set to public and cannot be hidden. So what is behind this? Is Facebook really concerned to protect privacy. It seems a bit too much of a coincidence that the new settings were launched a week or so after the announcement of deals with Google and Microsoft to provide Facebook data for real time search (just an aside – what is the value of real time search – I don’t get that one).

I might be paranoid but I suspect the real point of the new controls is to make sure data is available to the search engines, rather than allowing users more control over their own data. In the discussion over the new settings in the Guardian yesterday, some commentators asked why so much fuss given that it was a free service. Well firstly is Facebook really free. We provide our data which makes the site valuable for advertisers who pay Facebook. That doesn’t sound so free to me.

The question of  access controls will not go away. Digital identities are becoming increasingly important especially for young people. A couple of weeks ago a Romanian CEO of an advertising agency said in a confernce I was at that he would not hire anyone who did not have a good digital identity. Our on line identities are fast replacing the traditional Curriculum Vitae. We have a situation where the main spaces young epopel use to meet. communicate and share their lives together are controlled by private companies who are claiming ownership of our data. That is not a minor issue. OK – we can delete our accounts (although then Facebook still retains the data). But young people are not going to do this. Regulation is probably the only answer, although it is hard to regulate international platform providers. And of course, education on not just digital safety but education about the importance of digital identities and how to develop and manage them.

In my next post I will post a report for the EU ICONET project on a great course developed at Salford University and looking at digital media and identities.

Google Goggles – an important tool for mobile work based learning?

December 10th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Is Google running short of imagination. Not when it comes to applications – there seems to be a new product announcement almost everyday. But Google Goggles – who thought that up? Its a terrible name. But in terms of developing a work based mobile learning platform it may represent a big step forward.

Goggles is a very simple application. You merely point your Android phone at an object – a building, an object, an artefact – and it produces search results based on the image (Google say they will be porting it to other platforms in the future).

If course Goggles has not been developed for learning. Google are interested in driving more search traffic to their site and have arguably paid little attention to education in the past (witness the little attention paid to developing Google scholar). But we have noted before the way in which social software applications (as well as mobile devices) are being appropriated for learning despite their original design purpose.

Work based learning poses particular opportunities and issues and for mobile learning.  Most elearning courses are based on formal programmes of study, on a curriculum, usually designed around a particular discipline. Even vocational programmes envisage steady progression through a corpus of ideas and knowledge, albeit with practice based phases. Work based learning is predicated on occupational practice. Practice is often inter disciplinary in terms of a knowledge base and progression is dependent on the nature of the work being carried out. In other words in work based learning the context of action is king. Up to now it has proved difficult to develop elearning base don widely differing contexts of practice based action.

Mobile devices have portability to be used in workplaces where access to computers may be problematic. Goggles can allow simple gesturing to allow access to a wealth of information about the particular practice being carried out. Of course this is not enough to support learning. Learning requires reflection. But it is not difficult to envisage a simple interface allowing reflection through audio, video or text input which could then be aggregated along with the original video which sparked the reflection and the results of the Google search. The addition of keywords could allow such reflections to be added to a Personal or Organisational Learning Environment. Geotagging could also allow an extension to enhanced reality applications thus allowing interaction with other learners also encountered similar learning situations.

The object or artefact opens a Zone of Proximal Development in Vygotsky’s terminology, with ‘the significant other’ supporting learning being mediated through technology.

Workplaces could become a rich learning environment with learning opportunities embedded in artefacts and in geographical spaces. And at the sameGoogle Giggles  time informal learning, that learning which takes place everyday in relation to context, can be brought together within a formal learning base.

None of this seems unrealistic to me. Who wants to build me some apps to try it?

Hearing the learners’ voice

December 9th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

One big thing was missing from last weeks Online-Educa Berlin conference was the voice of the learners. Not so strange I suppose in view of the cost of the conference. and not so strange when compared with other conferences on technology Enhanced Learning. Although we talk about leaners a lot, how often do we talk to them or, more importantly, listen.

Although many projects talk about user centred design, and research based design, I get the impression that there is more talk than action. Often technologists are happier with usability rubrics than they are sitting down with real learners.

Of course there is a problem of methodologies. How do we research what learners are doing with technologies. What research methods can help us and how can we interpret the results? Ethnographic studies are one obvious approach and one that many researchers I have talked to have advocated. However, ethnographic approaches, at least in the traditional form of the discipline, are extremely time consuming and require extended access to the subjects of study. Within the Mature project, we have used an approach dubbed Rapid Ethnography. What this really means, I think, is extended case studies.

The UK Jisc funded Learner Experiences of E-learning strand is extremely impressive in this regard. Initial project work helped us, they say, “to understand the complexity of learners’ lives and experiences.” The projects found

  • “Learners are living complex and time constrained lives. In these circumstances efficient and flexible access to learning materials, experts and communities are becoming increasingly important. Learners appreciate flexible access to course related resources.
  • Learners make frequent use of technology both at home and within their institution. They use the internet as the first port of call for information in their lives and expect to be able to locate and download relevant resources for their study.
  • Similarly, many learners are used to establishing and maintaining frequent technology mediated connections and expect frequent and responsive communications in relation to their study.
  • Personalisation and choice are core elements of technology use in learners’ lives that they expect to transfer to their study.
  • There is evidence of an ‘underworld’ of informal learning which is not expected or supported by the institution or its courses but may be enabled and sustained by use of technology.”

I am especially interested in the last of the bullet points and will return to it in a later post.

The methodology is also outlined on the project wiki pages. They found that

And best of all they have “produced a set of recipe cards for different types of data collection methods, particularly well suited to evaluations of learners’ experiences of e-learning:

This is an impressive piece of work. But I particularly like the use of the wiki, not only to provide access to the outcomes of the projects, but to share tools and methodologies with other researchers. If all projects were to follow such an approach we could collectively begin to address some of the methodological challenges for involving users in technology design.

This years most desired Christmas gift – a Blackberry of course!

December 8th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I am very fond of saying that we must look at pedagogy first. Technology is just a tool. But of course it is an important tool. And despite all the interest in mobile learning, thus far practice has been limited. One reason for this has been the limitations of the technology. Of course that has changed with the iPhone and the release of other smart phones in the last two years. However these phones are expensive and way beyond the budgets of most students.Many m-learning projects have had to lend smart phones to learners. And most schools still ban the use of students own phones in schooltime.

This could be all about to change. Firstly there seems to be a growing realisation from school and college managers that banning the use of what are effectively mini computers may not be the future way to promote learning. At the same time there are more and more examples of effective practice in using mobile devices in the classroom. Jenny Hughes’ recent blog post on 25 practical ideas for using mobile phones in the classroom is currently the most popular post on this web site. And critically, the price of smart phones is set to fall. In Germany the Palm Pre is on sale for one Euro with a 20 Euro a month contract and the Motorola Droid, named the Milestone in Europe, running the Android operating system is set to go out at the same price. These phones have full support for GPS, wifi etc. and at least in the case of the Milestone, appear less locked down than the iPhone.

Research I have been doing in the UK suggests most young people of 16 and over pay for their own mobile phones from earnings form part time work. Phones are seen as a priority – over and above clothes and entertainment. With this new generation of cheap smart phones it is not difficult to guess that their will be a rapid take up by students. Strangely, gossip suggests that this years most wanted Christmas present is a Blackberry, which is now being seen as a status symbol and fashions statement by school students in the UK.

So – students are getting the phones, teachers are developing the pedagogy. The scene is set to take off. having said all that though, I still think the major impact of mobiles will be for informal learning in work. Advanced mobiles have the potential to allow te recording and reflection on practice in a way we have never yet really been able to do with Technology Enhanced Learning.

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    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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    A new report by the Learning and Work Institute for the Local Government Association (LGA) finds that by 2030 there could be a deficit of 2.5 million highly-skilled workers. The report, Local Skills Deficits and Spare Capacity, models potential skills gaps in eight English localities, and forecasts an oversupply of low- and intermediate -skilled workers by 2030. The LGA is calling on the government to devolve the various national skills, retraining and employment schemes to local areas. (via WONKHE)

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