Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Researching Careers and Educational Transitions

May 31st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

This week sees another of our mini series of blog posts featuring particular projects or areas of research and development in Technology Enhanced Learning. This series will focus on careers and career transitions, based on a number of different projects in which Pontydysgu is involved.

The EU funded G8WAY project is looking at transitions between school and work, school and university and university and work. It aims to use Web 2.0 and social software to support learners in making those transitions. And of course that raises a series of methodological questions. What issues are effecting young people in transitions? What kind of support do they presently receive? What works and what doesn’t? How do they use information and communication technologies? How do they think such technology could help them? And, in the context of a project involving partners from six different European projects, are the issues raised specific to particular countries or educations systems or are they common to learners in the different countries? Most critically, how do we find out? We need this information in order to start designing software applications which can support young people. Of course we could undertake a large scale survey. But G8WAY has limited resources and is under some time pressure.

After some discussion we decided to undertake a methods based on identifying personas. The initial results are very promising, proving not only a basis for use cases for designing software applications, but also proving a rich picture of the issues facing young people in managing transitions. In today’s post I will outline the methodology we have used. Tomorrow I will publish some of the initial case studies undertaken as part of developing the personas.

Using story telling and perosnas to research transitions: A short guide

1. Introduction – Storytelling and personas as a way of understanding transitions

Scientific. research seeks to draw out key concepts and ideas by abstraction and the application of logic (Bruner, 1996). In a holistic approach to understanding and meaning making story telling and narrative can enhance such scientific enquiry in order to examine actions, intentions, consequences and context. (See: John Seely Brown: ‘Story telling’ for more on this approach).

A good story should be emotionally engaging, capable of application in different contexts and provide a broader framework for understanding generalities, partly because there is a certain looseness of ideas. Generalities in this sense are different from knowledge derived from abstraction: in this case learning and knowledge are the result of multiple intertwining forces: content, context, and community.

Following Brown (op cit), in purposeful storytelling people should get the central ideas quickly and stories should communicate ideas holistically, naturally, clearly and facilitate intuitive and interactive communication. Our intention therefore is use story telling to enable us to imagine perspectives and share meanings about different educational transitions by conjuring up pictures more conducive to a culture of learning and development than a formal analytical presentation which is more in the form of knowledge transmission.

The G8WAY project itself is focused upon an abstraction: processes of transition. Further it fits within the enlightenment tradition of knowledge and learning being forces for good and the path to an improved future, both individually and at a societal level.

Obviously the main focus for the G8WAY project is an analysis of real-world transition practices, resulting in the development of sound general conceptual and pedagogical models for supporting learners in the transition  process and ways to overcome barriers. This approach has considerable value but in order to understand the variety of transition processes and experiences of young Europeans a story telling approach could provide us with a richer background enabling us to develop scenarios and provide social software to support the transition process.

We propose to tell our stories in the form of personas.

2. About Personas

Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behaviour set that might use a site, brand or product in a similar way (Wikipedia). Personas can be seen as tool or method for design. Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of users in order to help to guide decisions about a service, product or interaction space for a website.

A user persona is a representation of the goals and behaviour of a real group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesised from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in one to two page descriptions that include behaviour patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. Personas identify the user motivations, expectations and goals responsible for driving online behaviour, and bring users to life by giving them names, personalities and often a photo. (Calabria, 2004)

Personas can be based on research into users and should not be based purely on the creator’s imagination. By feeding in real data, research allows design teams to avoid generating stereotypical users that may bear no relation to the actual user’s reality.

Tina Calabria (2004) says personas are relatively quick to develop and replace the need to canvass the whole user community and spend months gathering user requirements and help avoid the trap of building what users ask for rather than what they will actually use.

Here is a sample persona created by the Seventh Framework MATURE project looking at strategies for knowledge development and learning by careers advisors. This may be helpful to you in creating Personas or you can just skip to the next section.




No idea how I learned that – it just happened!

Education and professional background

Andrew has gained an off-the-job postgraduate qualification in career guidance, together with an employment based National Vocational Qualification Level 4 in information, advice and guidance (IAG).  Additionally, organisational training also formed part of his induction.  As part of his on-the-job training, there were opportunities to visit employers and research different sectors of the labour market.

Role / degree of standardization

Andrew has been working as a careers adviser for the last 3 years.  There is little standardisation to his work as has to react to the needs of the clients.

Workplace / colleagues

He works in one secondary school helping young people with career decisions ensuring that they have the skills to make informed decisions. When not in school, he works in an open administrative central office with his laptop – hot-desking.


Andrew likes to learn and is keen to find out more about different websites which can help him further his knowledge of the local labour market.


Andrew has to continuously acquire knowledge in the form of national, regional and local labour market information.  This includes: education, training and employment opportunities; occupational trends and forecasts; information on local employers etc. Over the last 3 years, Andrew has gained a significant amount of local knowledge about the labour market and the education, training and employment opportunities available.  This knowledge has not be gained through any conscious process or training.  It was considered as ‘something you get to know’.  As a new employee, Andrew asked questions of his colleagues to gain this information and knowledge.  By reading internal communications sent by email and local newspapers he has been able to gain knowledge about the local labour market, which is central to his role, exemplifying his title as a knowledge worker.

Content types

He primary uses office software, email, the internet, organisation management information systems.  Information can be received in both electronic and hard copy.


Information on clients is stored on a national MIS maintained by the organisation.  Local intranets are available for storing and retrieving information.

Problem solving and other knowledge routines

The internet has become a valuable resource for researching and developing knowledge of the local labour market and the available opportunities.  A favourite website, Planit Plus, has information on local opportunities and labour market information (LMI) and is often utilised.  Email communication for colleagues also ensures that he is aware of current opportunities for training and employment in the local area.  This soft data is vital to his work and needs to be continuously updated.  Due to work pressures, he believes that in the current work climate there is little time to undertake employer visits to gain (and develop) knowledge about local employers.  Time to research different sectors and gather LMI for analysis and synthesis is restricted and considered a luxury.  Advantage is taken any opportunity presenting itself. Andrew recognises that he would value more time to develop his local knowledge by not only supplementing it with hard data, but also by returning to knowledge development methods used during his training and induction within the organisation.

Reaction to requests from colleagues

Requests for colleagues are normal by email and are usual a general query to see if he knows a particular piece of information.  As a new employee, Andrew asked questions of his colleagues to gain this information and knowledge.  By reading internal communications sent by email and local newspapers he has been able to gain knowledge about the local labour market, which is central to his role, exemplifying his title as a knowledge worker.

Communication strategy / approach to knowledge sharing

Serendipitous knowledge maturation – Knowledge sharing and maturing is ad hoc and haphazard. Knowledge typically developed and shared as part of a development process for a product or service within the organisation or as part of training. Over the last 3 years, Andrew has gained a significant amount of local knowledge about the labour market and the education, training and employment opportunities available.  This knowledge has not be gained through any conscious process or training.  It was considered as ‘something you get to know’.

Formal training

He regularly has the opportunity to attend training courses run by the organisation and has regular review sessions with a line manager.

Important tools

Office tools, internet (including Planit Plus, organisational website), email, MIS

Motivation / drives / interests

Andrew is sceptical about some applications of IT and does not like to rely on them for information.  He says it is unprofessional to go to the organisational website with a client to show them some information and then it freezes or is unavailable.

Task management

Andrew has no daily or weekly routine as he is reactive to client needs and requests.  Task are managed by an electronic diary.

Attitude towards technology

He is keen to use technology and sees it as a way forward for many of clients in developing their research skills in locating local education, training and employment opportunities.  Email communication is central to networking and finding out what is happening in the local labour market.

3. Creating personas for G8WAY

3.1 Decide on a research approach

The purpose of the research is to identify trends or patterns in user behaviours, expectations and motivations in transitions to form the basis of the personas. The best ways to gather this data is to talk to people having completed, or are currently undergoing, educational transitions. This might be through individual interviews or through a focus group or group discussion. You should explain to them first the basic aims of the project and that all information gathered will only be used for research purposes and will be anonymised (note in some countries / institutions you may have to get them to sign formal papers agreeing to this). The information we wish to know might include the following. However, this should not be used as a questionnaire. We want to encourage participants to explore around the topic and reveal their motivations, frustrations etc. Therefore it is only a starting basis for the research. Questions should follow the natural course of conversation which is dominated to a great extend by the topics chosen by the participant.


  • Age
  • Gender
  • Educational / work background
  • Social background e.g. have they moved away from home, do they work in a group, on their own, if they at school what is their planned future careers, if at university how long have they been there?


  • What transition are they currently undergoing (or have undergone), including specific details?
  • What did they experience during this transition period?
  • How did and do they perceive this transition, before and after it happened?
  • What went well?
  • What were the problems / issues?
  • Did they get support – did they ask for support or was it a service available to them?
  • Who provided support? (examples: employment agencies, teachers, friends…)
  • What sort of support – was it providing them with information, with guidance, help with problem solving, mentoring or  access to learning? (here, it might be useful to give some ideas e.g. employment agency,
  • how and where did they get that support – in school, in social settings, in work?
  • How did it help – or did it not?
  • What motivated them to get support?
  • What kind of support would they have liked to have/ did they miss?

Information and Communication Technologies

  • Did they use the internet for support in transitions?
  • If so what did they use it for?
  • What software did they use e.g. Google for searches, forums, web sites, social networks?
  • What support did they find best for them?
  • Which other internet tools can they think of/ do they know that can be supportive
  • How proficient would they say they are in using the internet?
  • What advice would they give us in developing the project?

3.2 Analyse research data and identify persona set

Review all the research data and look for patterns in attitudes and behaviours. For example, if you interviewed people about travel, you might find patterns like users who are price driven as opposed to quality driven, users who travel frequently as opposed to infrequently, and users who prefer to research their holiday rather than asking others for suggestions.

Whilst listing these patterns, you will begin to see clusters of attitudes and behaviours that make up different personas, such as the frequent traveller that is skilled in researching holidays and finding the best prices. This persona is motivated by keeping the cost of each holiday down so they can travel more in the future. The persona’s goal is to go on as many holidays as possible.

Once you have defined these clusters of attitudes and behaviours, give each persona a brief description, such as ‘independent traveller’ or ‘bargain hunter’. There is no ideal number of personas, however try to keep the set small. Three or four personas work as effective design tools, whilst over ten personas may introduce the same confusion as a large user requirements document.

This means ideally you should try to talk to ten or so people in order to gain enough evidence for your persona. This could be through a focus group, through formal interviews or though informal chats.

3.3 Writing personas

Start writing the personas by adding details around the behavioural traits. Select details from your research, such as working environment, frustrations, relationships with others, skill level, and some demographics. Give each persona a name.

Here are some more tips to follow:

  • Keep your personas to one page, so they remain effective communication tools and can be referred to quickly during design discussions.
  • Add personal details but don’t go overboard.
  • Include goals for each persona. This can include experience goals as well as end goals.  An experience goal could be as simple as  ‘not to look stupid’, whilst an end goal would be ‘remain informed about the company’.

Once your personas are written, review them to ensure they have remained realistic and based on your research data. Check that you have a manageable number of personas, and if two personas seem close in behaviours and goals, see if you can merge them into one persona.


Bruner, Jerome S (1996) The Culture of Education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,

Calabria T, (2004) An introduction to personas and how to create them,

Seely Brown J, Story Telling,

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Working, learning and playing in Personal Learning Environments

May 31st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have been invited to deliver a keynote presentation at the PLE 2010 conference in July in Barcelona. And the organising committee has asked each of the keynote speakers – the others are Alec Couros, Ismael Peña Lopez and Jordi  Adell to make a short video or slidecast about their presentation. So here is my contribution – hope you like it.

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Digital literacy and managing reputations

May 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Danah Boyd writes a well timed blog post reporting on the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project who have released a report entitled “Reputation, Management, and Social Media” . The blog appeared on the same day that Facebook announced its latest tweaking on their privacy settings, a move already denounced as inadequate by privacy campaigners. The UK group Privacy International said “the latest changes merely correct some of the most unacceptable privacy settings on the site. Very little has changed in terms of the overall privacy challenge that Facebook and its users need to navigate.”

The Pew Internet survey found that young adults are more actively engaged in managing what they share online than older adults. 71% of the 18-29s interviewed in August-September of 2009 who use social network sites reported having changed their privacy settings (vs. 55% of those 50-64).

Danah Boyd comments:

Young adults are actively engaged in managing their reputation but they’re not always successful. The tools are confusing and companies continue to expose them without them understanding what’s happening. But the fact that they go out of their way to try to shape their information is important. It signals very clearly that young adults care deeply about information flow and reputation……

Much of this is because of digital literacy – the younger folks understand the controls better than the older folks AND they understand the implications better. …. This is also because, as always, youth are learning the hard way. As Pew notes, young adults have made mistakes that they regret. They’ve also seen their friends make mistakes that they regret. All of this leads to greater consciousness about these issues and a deeper level of engagement.

From my own experience young people do care. And they spend considerable time managing their Facebook accounts – tweaking settings, editing and deleting comments and especially editing tags to photos of themselves. However, this is not so much because they are concerned with their long term reputation and the repercussions of access by potential future education institutions or employers. It is because their digital image is part of their everyday image of themselves as they present it to others – and in that way part of the process of growing up. Identities are dynamic and always changing. Identities also face both ways – outwards and inwards. Young people often suffer considerable angst over their digital image. And it is little point saying that they can choose to delete their accounts or that they shouldn’t complain about a free service. Facebook, for better or worse, is a central focus of present youth culture. To opt out is to opt out of that culture.

Danah Boyd summarises key messages from the Pew Internet report:

  • Young adults are still more likely than older users to say they limit the amount of information available about them online.
  • Those who know more, worry more. And those who express concern are twice as likely to say they take steps to limit the amount of information available about them online.
  • The most visible and engaged internet users are also most active in limiting the information connected to their names online.
  • The more you see footprints left by others, the more likely you are to limit your own.
  • Those who take steps to limit the information about them online are less likely to post comments online using their real name.
  • More than half of social networking users (56%) have “unfriended” others in their network.
  • Just because we’re friends doesn’t mean I’m listening: 41% of social networking users say they filter updates posted by some of their friends.
  • Young adult users of social networking sites report the lowest levels of trust in them.
  • Young adults are still more likely than older users to say they limit the amount of information available about them online.
  • Those who know more, worry more. And those who express concern are twice as likely to say they take steps to limit the amount of information available about them online.
  • The most visible and engaged internet users are also most active in limiting the information connected to their names online.
  • The more you see footprints left by others, the more likely you are to limit your own.
  • Those who take steps to limit the information about them online are less likely to post comments online using their real name.
  • More than half of social networking users (56%) have “unfriended” others in their network.
  • Just because we’re friends doesn’t mean I’m listening: 41% of social networking users say they filter updates posted by some of their friends.
  • Young adult users of social networking sites report the lowest levels of trust in them.

The issue is no longer one of digital literacy awareness. Young people are aware. Their frustration is that Facebook does not listen to their concerns.

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Why teachers oppose Academies

May 26th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

In a post on Monday I explained how the UK government was planning to privatise the education system through the establishment of Academies. This post, which is an abridged version of a document written by the National Union of Teachers explains why the NUT opposes Academies. It was published last year in reaction to the Labour Parties limited programme of establishing Academies and before today’s announcement by the UK schools minister that he aims to create over 200 Academies this year.

Academies hand over state schools to sponsors

Creating Academies in place of community or foundation schools involves the transfer of publicly funded assets to unaccountable sponsoring bodies.   Academy sponsors are given control of a modern independent school set up as a company limited by guarantee. Sponsors receive the entire school budget directly from the Government. Academies on the scale proposed by the Government have the effect of transferring billions of pounds worth of publicly funded assets in the form of buildings and land into the hands of private sponsors.

Many sponsors are unsuitable

Sponsors are not required to have educational expertise or experience. As examples, Academy sponsors include Charles Dunstone, the founder and Chief Executive of Carphone Warehouse, Aston Villa football club, Christian philanthropist, Sir Peter Vardy, of Reg Vardy car dealership and David Samworth, a sausage, pies and ready meals manufacturer.

Some sponsors have used their involvement in Academies to further their business interests or in the case of some sponsors to impose their individual religious views on a school.

Academies Threaten Fair Admissions Procedures

Academies have a destabilising effect on the capacity of other neighbouring schools to achieve a balance of abilities amongst their pupil intakes.  The publicity surrounding Academies gives parents the impression that they are the “best” secondary schools in the area irrespective of the quality of other schools.  Their brand new buildings and glossy image on show during visits by Government ministers can act as magnets for parents.  This has resulted in some Academies being heavily over-subscribed, irrespective of the realities of their educational attainment.

There is a wide diversity of practice regarding admissions in Academies including entrance tests, various forms of banding, sibling places, random selection such as lotteries as well as selection by aptitude. The criteria used by Academies in respect of distance from school, however, also varies.  The complexity of these arrangements means that there is a lack of transparency for parents in understanding how the Academies’ admissions systems work.

Academies threaten teachers; pat and working conditions

All Academies are able to set their own pay, conditions and working time arrangements for newly appointed teachers joining the Academy.  In some Academies, pay and conditions arrangements for such teachers are similar or identical to those for teachers in local authority maintained state schools.  In others, teachers’ pay and conditions can be very different.

In some Academies teachers are being expected to work an extended day and for more hours in each academic year.   Also, in many Academies, teacher and support staff Trade Unions are not recognised….

Academies do not offer pupils a better education than other local schools

Academies are based on a flawed premise that standards will be raised simply through designating a school as an Academy and by transferring it to a sponsor. There is no independent evidence that Academies are delivering significantly improved results at a faster rate than Academies. PriceWaterhouseCoopers Fifth Annual Report, published in November 2008, concluded: “There is insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgement about Academies as a model for school improvement”.

Academies undermine the independent role of school governors

The governance arrangements for Academies differ substantially from those of local authority schools which have a balance of places for key “stakeholders”, particularly elected parent and staff governors, as well as representatives of the local community and the local authority.

In an Academy, the external Academy sponsor always appoints the majority of governors, even when the local authority is a co-sponsor. Academies are only obliged to have one parent governor.

The DCSF Standards website states that most Academies also have a teacher governor (either elected or appointed), a staff governor (either elected or appointed) and many include community representatives. This is not a requirement however.

Academies have a damaging impact on other neighbouring schools and on local authorities

Academies can create or reinforce local hierarchies of schools.  The entitlement of Academies to select ten per cent of their pupils means that they are able to choose more academically successful pupils.

Figures from various sources show that Academies exclude disproportionately high numbers of students. …In December 2008 the Institute of Education reported that Academies that expel large numbers of disruptive pupils are having a potentially bad impact on neighbouring schools. The Institute of Education’s findings support claims by critics that Academies are failing to meet their original objective of raising standards in deprived areas not only for their own pupils but also for their “family of schools” and the wider community.

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Where the Becta closure fits in the ConDem education policies

May 25th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Yesterday saw the expected announcement by the UK DemCon Coalition government of the closure of Becta, the British Educational Communication and Technology Agency, as part of a massive cut back in public services.

In many ways this was an easy hit for the government. Becta has always had a mixed reputation in the educational technology community; although much of its work was respected, particularly the research, other policies especially around procurement and its alleged bias against open source were less popular.

However, there is no doubt that the closure signals the end of an era in technology development and implementation in UK education. Educational technologists in many European countries have long looked at the UK in envy. Reliant on either centralised government led initiatives, or local support and projects, there has been far less opportunities for developing and implementing effective programmes and strategies for technology in learning. Germany today continues to languish far behind many other counties in the use of technology in schools. Arguably one of the reasons for this is the lack of ability of the regional Lander governments who are responsible for education to develop coherent programmes to support educational technology development. There are of course exceptions, often driven by innovative regional governments, including the Extramadura programme around open source software. But nevertheless, and despite the dubious obsession of the previous UK Labour government with output driven targets, the last ten years has seen sustained support for developing educational technology in schools which has enabled a movement beyond isolated islands of effective practice to the more mainstream adoption of education technology for learning. Becta has played an important part in this.

As Becta themselves have pointed out, the closure may well not save money with the ending of the technology procurement support for schools.

The closure  probably reflects wider ConDem policies. One is the conservative myth that somehow if we return to old fashioned rote learning and traditional pedagogies allied to stronger school discipline, rigid school uniform policies etc. then somehow school standards will improve. Naturally technology plays no part in a chalk and talk view of learning. And the end result of such policies will be the further alienation of many students from the schooling system, an increase in the already growing class nature of the educational system and a widening of the reality gap between the way young learn and the practice of schools.

The second is a movement towards privatising education. According to the Guardian newspaper, the government will announce tomorrow their intention to allow “500 secondary schools and 1,700 primary schools have the freedom of city academy status by the summer.” The Guardian explains “Academies have greater freedom to set their curriculum, pay rates and admissions policies.” Such a move heralds selective admission policies which are set to benefit students from richer families and the breaking up of collective pay bargaining for teachers. But central to the policy of City Academies, which were introduced by the previous Labour Government, was the desire to introduce private funding for schools. Academies  receive state funds but are privately sponsored and run independently of local authorities. As Fiona Miller explains they are “independently owned, run by sponsors and loosely governed by “funding agreements” – confidential commercial contracts that don’t necessarily give pupils and parents the same protection under the law in areas like admissions, special needs and exclusions.Their governing bodies are controlled by the sponsors, who are often based miles away from where the school is situated. In the Conservative free schools model, private sector companies based in other parts of the world are being groomed to take over English schools.”

Such a policy is hidden behind an rhetoric of protecting direct services. In other words money is taken from an agency such as Becta with a remit to support learning for all students and given to private organisations to spend as they wish, all under the guise of greater accountability and democracy.

The problem with Becta was not that its policy on this or that was right or wrong, or even its perceived lack of support for open source. The issue was that as a government controlled agency, or quango, it often seemed to remote from the practice and everyday experience of teachers and learners. Whilst schools in the UK have traditionally been run by elected local governments, the previous Labour government set about a policy of centralisation, introducing a relatively rigid national curriculum, setting endless performance targets and national testing and giving increased powers to central agencies. The ConDem government is set to build on that beginning by the progressive and creeping privatisation of education. Becta is but one victim of that process. Of course there will be continued development of educational technology. But expect to see less emphasis on research. Expect to see less concern over the learner experience. Expect to see less concern over support for lower achieving students.  Expect to see contracts placed with the friends of Academy directors in this brave new free world. And expect to see a widening of the class division in the provision of education.

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Youth culture, identity, ICT and guidance

May 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Another in the occasional series on the use of the internet for Careers Advice, Information and Guidance. This series is based on research undertaken by Jenny Bimrose, Sally Anne Barnes and Graham Attwell for the UK based trust CfBT. If you are interested in reading more, the full report can be downloaded for free from the CfBT web site.

The proliferation of the use of ICT has combined with other factors (like changes in family structure and decline in manufacturing industries) to bring about profound shifts in how young people make sense of themselves. For example, the traditional move from identifying with the family to a single peer group has now been replaced by identifying with family to multiple peer groups, many of which are virtual. ICT also ensures that young people now have access to an instant, international, dynamically-shifting and vast range of stories and forms of knowledge that can inform their identity management. These identities are rarely unified, but rather multiple in nature and increasingly fragmented (Murakami, 2008).

All of this has relevance for young people’s transitions into and through the world of work. The availability of technology influences the way that clients’ access and use guidance services. It also has the potential to support transitions, for example, by helping young people identify transferable skills, help connect them to the job market and support the development of the critical analytic skills for negotiating their way through both their virtual and physical worlds (Riley, 2008). To perform any of these tasks successfully, however, young people are likely to require support from a technologically confident and effective facilitator. It is also suggested that they will also need help with learning how to engage with technology without getting lost or overwhelmed, as well as protection from bullying facilitated by technology, invasion of privacy and advertising (Riley, 2008). Even where the role of ICT expands to respond to the needs of young people in transition there is, therefore, a continuing need for professional support for Careers Personal Advisors

This professional support will need to adapt and accommodate the different requirements that young people have of technology. A fourfold typology that emerged from recent research helps us appreciate the levels of differentiation that occur in the engagement with ICT amongst young people. These four types of relationships comprise:

  • Digital pioneers – advanced and innovative users of the potential of technology;
  • Creative producers – building websites, positing movies, photos and music to share with friends and family;
  • Everyday communicators – making their lives easier through texting and MSN; and
  • Information gatherers – typically Google and Wikipedia addicts, for whom cutting and pasting are a way of life.

(Green & Hannon, 2007, p.11)

These styles that young people have of interacting with technology need to be considered when designing and implementing internet-based services for young people, though a crucial factor in implementing effective guidance services will be the Personal Advisors and their managers. They typically see the world very differently from their clients and yet it is often these adults who mediate the type of ICT used in guidance and the ways it should be used. The relative lack of impact of technology in education to date highlights not only the importance of providing young people with a more active and central voice in determining the nature and role of ICT in their learning experiences, but also the need to shift away from focusing too much on hardware and more towards relationships, networks and skills (Attwell, Cook and Ravenscroft, 2009; Green and Hannon, 2007; Riley, 2008).


Attwell, G., Cook, J., and Ravenscroft, A. (2009). Appropriating technologies for contextual knowledge: Mobile Personal Learning Environments. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Second World Congress on the Information Society.

Green, H., and Hannon, C. (2007). Their Space: Education for a digital generation. London: Demos. Retrieved 3 August 2009, from

Murakami, K. (2008). Re-imagining the future: young people’s construction of identities through digital storytelling. London: DCSF/Futurelab. Retrieved 4 August 2009, from

Riley, S. (2008). Identity, community and selfhood: understanding the self in relation to contemporary youth cultures. London: Futurelab/DCSF. Retrieved 4 August 2009, from

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Facebook: Digital Literacy is not enough

May 20th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Yesterday’s OLDaily included excellent coverage by Stephen Downes of the growing Facebook privacy row. Personally I particularly enjoyed Danah Boyds rant:

What pisses me off the most are the numbers of people who feel trapped. Not because they don’t have another choice. (Technically, they do.) But because they feel like they don’t. They have invested time, energy, resources, into building Facebook what it is. They don’t trust the service, are concerned about it, and are just hoping the problems will go away. It pains me how many people are living like ostriches. If we don’t look, it doesn’t exist, right?? This isn’t good for society. Forcing people into being exposed isn’t good for society. Outting people isn’t good for society, turning people into mini-celebrities isn’t good for society.

And I very much like Frances Bell’s comment citing Tony Hirst, “Ah, but you’re not Facebook’s customer. Advertisers are their customers. You are the product they’re selling.”

My Facebook account is still hanging on, but it is getting very close to disappearing (and all I use it for is forwarding my Twitter feed anyway. I have at least 20 friendship requests ending from people who I have no idea who are!).

Of course Stephen Downes is right when he says the answer is learning to manage our digital identities. But I am not sure digital literacy alone is enough. I think young people should be able to understand why they need to manage their identities on Facebook as well as how. And this goes way beyond internet safety. They should be able to understand the reasons why Facebook is making such drastic changes to its privacy policies and what such changes mean. Of course this involves judgement. I am prepared to accept the Google Buzz balls up on privacy was just that – a balls up.

The Facebook privacy issues are not the result of bad planning or even evangelical thinking on behalf of the Facebook directors. They are driven purely by the desire to make more profit for shareholders, regardless of the opinion or interests of users. And young people need to be able to understand this: to understand the motives driving different web developments and to understand the use of the internet within wider society.

Digital literacy is not enough. Young people need to understand the  politics and economics of the web. And soon!

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Changing the ways we teach and learn

May 18th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am towards the end of a long series of meetings, hence the limited posts on this site of late. Whilst the meetings have involved far too much travel (and I wonder if some could have been better done by video), they have allowed me the privilege of meeting and talking to many interesting, motivated and talented teachers, researchers and developers from all over Europe.

Here is just a few reflections on the discussions I have had.

Compared to even two years ago, there seems to be increasing interest and understanding by teachers of the potential of using the the web for learning and especially of using Web 2.0 and social software applications. Especially there appears to be an understanding of supporting learners in constructing their own meanings and understandings, rather than passively consuming materials. Although this may be because many of those I have met are involved in projects, teachers seem more confident about their own learning and about developing their own learning materials. And there is a real excitement about the potential of using multimedia for learning, once more not just consuming but creating audio and video.

This may be just the people I mix with, but many teachers also seem to understand the Learning Management Systems and Virtual Learning Environments are for managing students, rather than providing an active tool for learning.

All this ids important. For years researchers have been saying that a major barrier to the uptake of e-learning has been the attitude of teachers, based on their lack of understanding of the technologies and their poteial for learning. I am not sure if this is true, but I think there is a change underway.

However, there remain very real barriers. Many teachers, whilst aware of the possibilities of new media, say the education system makes it difficult for them to change existing tecahing and learning practice. The reasons vary but include lack of infrastructure, lack of understanding and support from management, an overly prescriptive curriculum, lack of time, and rigid and individualistic assessment practices.

I would see these as real tensions. Teachers are increasingly adapting to the way learners are using new technologies in their daily life. And for the first time we are seeing generations of teachers who themselves have grown up with the internet. Yet still education systems are remarkably conservative and remarkably resilient to changes in society.

This leads to discussions about change. Can teachers themselves initiate such change bottom up through introducing new technologies and pedagogies in their own practice. Can we drive change through modernising teacher training? How effective are projects in embedding change? How about ‘innovation champions’? Can we persuade managements of the potential new ways of tecahing and learning offer? How effective is lobbying for changes in policy – for top down driven innovation.

I suspect the answer is all of these.But I think we have to move beyond the change management idea. This is not going to be an orderly change from ‘old’ policy and practice to a shiny new world of technology enhanced learning. It will be messy. the problem is not the modernisation of schools, but rather that our schooling systems are increasingly dysfunctional within our society and increasingly irrelevant to the way many young people communicate and develop understandings and meanings.

But I still tend to think changes in teaching and learning may come from outside the education systems. It has always seemed odd to me that most research, development and resources in the use of technology for learning have been focused on those already in education – in other words giving more to those that had. The greatest potential of Technology Enhanced Learning is to open up learning to everyone in our societies – to socially disadvantaged people, to different age groups, to those in work and those unemployed. And it is here that we are possibly more free for institutional inertia to experiment and to innovate, to develop new pedagogic approaches and new patterns of playing, working and learning.

In time who knows – the educational establishment may learn from the practice of learning outside the school.

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Diaspora challenge to Facebook

May 13th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Sometimes it it is hard to see anything stopping Facebook ruling the world. But a few years ago it was hard to see anyone ever challenging My Space. And some of us can still remember Friends Reunited. Now the tide may be beginning to change against Facebook. It is Facebook’s own financial greed and their willingness to run roughshod over privacy rights which is threatening their hold.

A new generation of entrepreneurs are emerging with a very different vision and different technologies.

A report in today’s New York Times explains: “A few months back, four geeky college students, living on pizza in a computer lab downtown on Mercer Street, decided to build a social network that wouldn’t force people to surrender their privacy to a big business.” They go onto say: “They have called their project Diaspora* and intend to distribute the software free, and to make the code openly available so that other programmers can build on it. As they describe it, the Diaspora* software will let users set up their own personal servers, called seeds, create their own hubs and fully control the information they share. Mr. Sofaer says that centralized networks like Facebook are not necessary. “In our real lives, we talk to each other,” he said. “We don’t need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn’t all that hard to do. All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren’t really rare things. The technology already exists.”

Meanwhile Facebook itself is showing some signs of recognising the danger.  Nick O’Neill on the All Facebook web site says: “Facing increasing pressure from the media and users, Facebook has called an all hands meeting tomorrow afternoon, at 4 PM Pacific, to discuss the company’s overall privacy strategy according to sources inside the company……..While it’s unknown what Facebook will announce during the meeting, it’s pretty obvious that changes will need to be made if Facebook is going to regain users’ trust. The most likely change will come in the form of a temporary removal of the “Instant Personalization” service, or at the least, a shift to “opt-in”, something many privacy advocates have been calling for.”

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Vygotsky and the pedagogcy of e-learning – the conference version

May 10th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

This week is the deadline for applications for Online Educa Berlin. Online Educa may not be the most prestigious of educational research conferences, but it is a great crack. So, I went to make a proposal. Obviously, the Educa people have been giving some serious thought to how to improve the quality of presentations (they are even asking for examples of your PowerPoint slides) And they have a completely new application form which I quite like. It starts off innocuously enough, asking fro a 500 word abstract. Here’s mine – on (no surprises here), Vygosky.

“Pedagogic approaches to e-learning remain problematic. Whilst many researchers have proposed constructivist approaches to learning, in reality there remains a gap between espoused and actual uses of Technology for learning. Technology has tended to be introduced within the present paradigms of educational and institutional organisation and management. Educational technology has focused on the management of learning rather than active learning.

This is the more so when it comes to work based learning where technology has been seen primarily as an extension of exiting training practices.

This presentation will explore research and development vbeing undertaken though a number of European projects including the Research Programme funded Mature project on knowledge maturing and the Lifelong Learning Programme G8WAY project. Both are seeking to develop new pedagogic approaches to learning using social software and web 2.0 – the first for knowledge development and maturing and the second for supporting  young people in educational transitions.

Both projects are seeking to develop and implement Personal Learning Environments  as a new approach to the development of e-learning tools (Wilson et al, 2006) that are no longer focused on integrated learning platforms such as VLEs or course management systems. In contrast, these 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.

Both projects are also seeking to develop new pedagogic approaches to social learning and knowledge development and sharing.

The presentation will examine the work of the Russian phschologist, Vygotsky, Vygotsky’s research focused on school based learning. He developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is the gap between “actual developmental level” which children can accomplish independently and the “potential developmental level” which children can accomplish when they are interacting with others who are more capable peers or adults.

In Vygotsky’s view, interactions with the social environment, including peer interaction and/or scaffolding, are important ways to facilitate individual cognitive growth and knowledge acquisition.

Vygotsky also emphasized the importance of the social nature of imagination play for development. He saw the imaginary situations created in play as zones of proximal development that operate as mental support system (Fleer, 2008).

Vygotsky stressed the importance of support for learning through a More Knowledge Other, a teacher or peer, This idea corresponds to the use of Personal Learning Networks to suppoort learning.

The paper will examine how the work of Vygostky, including the idea of scaffolding learning, can be used to develop pedagogic approaches to informal and self motivated learning and how it can assist us in developing learning environments including in the school and in the workplace.”

Then the questions get hard. In addition, they say, teh conference will be focusing on practical outcomes – so all proposals will need to answer four key questions. What did we do> Why? With what results> With what impact? Here is my answer.

“Although this may seem a theoretical presentation it is not intended as such. Instead I wish to make the links between pedagogy and practice in a vivid and radical way..

What did we do?

We researched pedagogic approaches to learning looking in particular at how young people use computers and Web 2.0 for learning and sought to explain, make sense and meanings from this.We went on to design and develop tools for social learning (a PLE) in communities of practice and in the workplace and are currently evaluating the use of those tools. We also established processes of developing ‘mini learning activities’ to scaffold learning within a Zone of Proximal Development. We provided tools to support peer group learning and collaboration. We developed workshops for teachers and others who support learning to explain how to use such a pedagogic approach and to use the tools.We told others about our ideas at Online Educa Berlin!

Why did we do it?

We observed a growing gap between the ways in which young people (and not just young people) use computers for work and for play and for learning and the pedagogic and institutional approaches to education in schools and in the workplace. We looked for pedagogic theories which could support the social construction of learning and learning through Personal Learning Networks and in communities of practice.

We were seeking to develop new pedagogic approaches which could support informal learning and lifelong learning and bring together learning from the school, from home and from the workplace. We wanted to stimulate curiosity and release the creative potential of learners.

With what results?

It is really to early to tell. There is growing interest in our pedagogic approach from researchers and developers. And our early evaluation of designs with users are favourable. Teachers too are increasingly adopting our approach to social land creative learning. We have a number of pilots currently running with early adopters participating. By the time of the conference we will be able to show much more of our work and the results of our trials.

With what impact?

At one level we can point to a high impact. People are interested in our approach to learning. We have many teachers and trainers signing up for workshops. A number of projects are adopting this approach. Evaluation work with enterprises – so called application partners – is encouraging. But the real impact can only be measured over a longer time period. Will  this be just interesting project and research work which never moves beyond a pilot stage or can we change practice on a wider level. We think we can!”

And finally they ask for web references and multimedia! Here you go.

Pontydysgu blogs posts on Vygotsky –

Pontydysgu wiki on Vyrgotsky –

Video of presentation at debate on PLEs –

Slidecast – PLEs: the future of Learning –

Mature project –

G8WAY project –  g8way.0u.nt

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    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!

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