Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Internet based Careers Information, Advice and Guidance in New Zealand

May 6th, 2010 by Graham Attwell


I have been doing a lot of work over the last year looking at how Information and communication Technologies can be used for Careers Advice, Information and Guidance, both in terms of providing direct services to young people and adults and in terms of supporting careers advisers. New Zealand seems to be leading in this work. This post is taken from a report I produced earlier this year, along with Jenny Bimrose and Sally Anne Barnes.

‘Career Services’ is the name by which the national organisation that delivers careers guidance support is known in New Zealand. It is a government funded organisation that regards itself as ‘New Zealand’s leading provider of independent career information, advice and guidance’. It aims to provide all people living in New Zealand with ‘access to the best careers information, advice and guidance to achieve their life goals’.

The Career Services’ website ( is well used and has become a focal point for service delivery. Internet-based guidance is currently being integrated into mainstream service delivery, via the telephone, chat-lines and email, with the face-to-face service remaining available as an option. Telephone guidance is a particular feature, with text-based services being developed alongside this facility. Internet-based services are described on the Careers Service website as follows:

Advice line
Our Advice Line is a small team of trained career advisers located in central Wellington. We’re here to help you with your career planning. When you contact us (by phone or online via web chat or email), we’ll assess your situation and suggest career options suited to your needs. If you need more in-depth support, we’ll make an appointment for you to talk to one of our guidance staff either over the phone or in person. We’re open from 8am – 8pm weekdays, and on Saturday from 10am – 2pm.

Following the successful pilot, the advice line (contact centre) team has grown to 15. This team currently offers a service to clients of all ‘ages and stages’ all around the country, both by telephone and face-to-face. Careers practitioners have had ‘significant training and coaching in asking more open questions, making greater use of the interactive tools on the website with the client, identifying client need and referral processes’. The practitioners actively involved in delivering this new service have indicated how the conversations they have with clients are more direct than those they have face-to-face. The pace is more intense, with pauses and silences amplified, and rapport is being built up throughout the call (rather than at the early stage of the interaction). Practitioners have also reported that this method of delivery is more demanding on their energy. Supporting practitioner self-care has consequently become more of a priority for the service.

The Quality Standards Manual for the Careers Guidance Services is currently being re-written with sections on telephone guidance and online guidance being developed. This manual contains minimum quality measures for service delivery by telephone (e.g. total delivery time will not exceed 1.5 hours per client, including administrative tasks); an outline structure for a phone career guidance sessions (that is, a six stage model of guidance); and the key skills required (micro-counselling skills; excellent listening skills; solution focused counselling skills and the ability to use scaling questions).

Text-based guidance options are advertised on the Careers Service website in the following way:

Chat online about your career options

Looking for information or want some personal help? Chat online to a career adviser, who can give you independent advice to help you with career planning. Our advice line is open from Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm, and on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm.

Use the form to the right [on-line questionnaire] to ask us a question. We’ll respond within four hours if you email us between 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

The Careers Service has also recently piloted a curriculum vitae (CV) feedback service, from October, 2008 to January 2009. As part of this pilot, young people (under 25) were offered an email based feedback service on ‘starter’ CVs, which were created using a particular CV tool. The feedback was provided by a team of four practitioners with different levels of expertise in guidance and one team leader in the advice line. The offer of e-mail feedback came at the end of the CV tool, as a client saved their CV. The response from pilot clients was overwhelmingly positive, with clients reporting how they felt more confident about putting together their CV as a result of the feedback received. Professional practice observations, detailed in the internal evaluation report on the pilot, included:

  • the importance of shared team values;
  • the advantages of combining the skills and expertise of staff at different levels in the organisation;
  • the ability to adapt practice to a more condensed and intensified medium than face-to-face or telephone guidance;
  • The introductory pilot for the telephone guidance ran from July 2007 to end of February, 2008. It involved one experienced consultant who was based at the Careers Services’ advice line. During the pilot year, the practitioner dealt with 226 clients. The process of introducing this telephone service highlighted potential advantages for clients together with challenges it poses for practitioners. Flexibility emerged as the key advantage of this service for clients, with practitioners needing to use already acquired skills in slightly different ways as well as develop some new skills (England, van Holten and Urbahn, 2008).

  • the impact on delivery of not having background contextual information about clients;
  • working with a client within an advice context rather than a full guidance context; the shift required by the pilot team around comfort levels with the final product being a starter CV and the service delivered being about learning;
  • the value of quality monitoring and peer feedback.
  • An important feature of the shift towards internet-based guidance was the introduction by the Career Services in New Zealand of a needs assessment model, based on the client’s self-efficacy, confidence with self-help via the web and level / complexity of need. As part of their change management strategy, the Careers Service created a blog for staff, where careers practitioners could express their feelings, ask questions and have debates around the use of technologies in service deliver The animator placed the following question on the blog:E-mail may be the most important, unique method for communicating and developing relationships since the telephone.’ (John Suler, The Psychology of Cyberspace, 2004).

    Most career practitioners agree that one of the career profession’s foundational and ongoing principles is that a face-to-face, facilitative relationship is an essential component for effective career counselling. There is also an unwritten assumption that visual clues and non-verbal communications are superior to written text in forming and maintaining an affective relationship.

    Do career practitioners believe that face-to-face interactions are deemed more effective than online ones, and John Suler and other online advocates are talking nonsense?’One response is typical of the views expressed by P.A.s who participated in the research undertaken for this study.

    “I’d have to say I sit firmly in the face to face camp here. So many cues are picked up at both a conscious and subconscious level that just can’t be gained otherwise. I focus a lot on interview techniques in my work, and relationship building, body language, eye contact etc. is best learned while it is being demonstrated. Sure there’s some great on-line tools, but counselling involves all the senses (…except maybe taste!)”

    ’The other response provides a more measured viewpoint: “Surely it’s about the needs of the client? For some, yes face to face is always going to be the preferred option for some but having an OPTION of telephone guidance or online or self help or group planning or a combination of these surely means that we are more responsive to the needs of our clients. One of the real beauties of having this flexibility is that someone who lives in a remote area is still able to access services.”

    For some people it might be that they start in a face to face environment and then move to telephone or email, or perhaps it’s the other way – they start with email and as they develop their confidence and trust they may feel ‘ready’ to meet face to face.’

    Whilst this service’s engagement with flexible methods of delivery, including internet-based guidance, is relatively new, it provides an illustration of a large, national service addressing the staff capability issues that this venture implies, in a measured way. From this and other respects, it can be regarded as an interesting and excellent model practice.

Crossing Boundaries

May 6th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

The conference season is fast approaching. As well as the PLE21010 conference, Pontydysgu is involved in organising a conference about the training of trainers, ‘Crossing Borders’, being held on the 14th – 15th of October in Kostelec near Prague. The conference is supported by the Network to support Trainers in Europe and the Czcch TTnet. And the good news is it is free! The conference has issued a call for papers with a deadline of 16th June. Full details can be found on the network’s web site.

There are four main themes for the conference.

Theme 1: Institutional, economic, and societal challenges to the role of trainers and teachers in vocational education and trainers

With the growing importance of initial and continuing learning in enterprises and the rapid  introduction of new technologies, the role of trainers is changing. Research suggests that ever growing numbers of people are responsible for training as part of their work. This change is accompanied by increasing pressure for economies in training resulting from the economic recession.

At the same time the move towards more authentic work-based learning is changing the role and activities of trainers. A series of studies have talked of a move away from didactic classroom and workshop-based training towards facilitating enquiry-based learning.

Theme 2: E-learning as a challenge for trainers, teachers, and learners in vocational  education

E-Learning is increasingly impacting on training. Larger enterprises are developing in-house e-learning programmes for employees. The internet is increasingly being used for informal learning. Internet-based tools offer opportunities for accessing learning in the workplace and for communication. E-portfolios can be used to record and reflect on learning. Web 2.0 tools offer opportunities to develop customised multi-media materials to support training.

Theme 3: New ways of learning and the re-definition of the role of trainers and teachers in vocational education

Studies and reports have documented a move away form classroom and work-based training towards work-based learning. Such learning is seen as being based on practice and thus developing applied work practice knowledge. Work based learning may also be more authentic and situated than classroom based training and may be more cost-effective in contributing to production processes.

At the same time some research suggests a move away from didactic training approaches towards the provision of coaching and mentoring.

Theme 4: Professional development and HRD for changing roles of trainers and teachers

With an increasing recognition of the importance of trainers and training and changing roles for trainers, the initial and continuing professional development of trainers is also coming under scrutiny. Research suggests that structures and processes for training trainers are fragmentary and differ widely in different countries, regions and sectors. In most countries there are not mandatory standards or qualifications for trainers. It may be that most trainers rely on personal networks and informal learning for their professional development.

The use of mobile devices for learning and the importance of context

May 4th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

The next in what will, I suspect, be a series of short posts from the Mature project meeting in Barcelona. Last year, the project reviewers asked us to develop more challenging social and technical scenarios for our work around using Information and Computer Technology to support knowledge development and maturing in organisations. As a response to this we started looking at the use of mobile devices for Organisational and Personal Learning Environments.

One key affordance of mobile devices, a number of us felt, was the ability to capture context in learning and knowledge development. Yet exploring and extending our understanding of the nature of context has proved challenging. In terms of mobile applications, the best developed aspect of context is location. Through GPS mobile devices are location aware. This has led to the development of context push services providing information dependent on geographical location. Users are also able to contribute data, for instance reviews of restaurants or services based on location. And GPS has facilitated the development of applications, such as On the Road, which allow users to generate personal stories including multi media, based on their location.

How importance is the context of location for learning. In some cases it obvi9usly is. Mobile devices can be used in museums for example, to provide information about exhibits. John Cook and Carl Smith have experimented with location aware learning tours, for instance for archaeological students visiting a Cistercian Abbey in Yorkshire.

But, in much of our (academic) learning location is not a key context factor. Indeed, one of the attractions of mobile devices is that learning can take place anywhere at any time. However location is important for much work based learning. E-Learning works well for vocational and occupational learning for tasks that involve the use of a computer. In this case we are using a computer to learn about computer based work tasks. Practice and learning are brought together. In other cases it may be possible to simulate work based environments through a computer. But for many work based activities a computer is not involved. In this situation, the use of a computer for learning only takes place away from the actual practice. Mobile devices have the potential to be used in proximity to practice. Furthermore, the ease of use of multi media allows the recording of learning and practice without the intervention of a keyboard. it allows us to ‘show’ and model practice, in ways which are not possible through print media. Thus mobile devices have the ability to capture the context of practice and extents Technology Enhanced Learning into the daily practice of the workplace. In so doing, we can overcome the unsatisfactory separation between formal learning and informal learning. The formal can become informal through practice and the informal, formal through reflection on that practice.

BuddyPress can change the ways we work

May 3rd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Interview with WordPress founder, Matt Mullenweg

I am in Bremen all week for the annual review meeting for the European Commission funded Mature project. More about the review in the next day or so.

Today, another quick post about WordPress and Buddypress. As I guess most of you realise this web site is powered by WordPress. However, when we first developed the web site only the Single User version was available. And although there were websites using WordPress as a Content management System, WordPress was seen primarily as a blogging system. Dirk Stieglitz, who runs the site, originally based the site on an exiting theme but quickly customised it to suit our needs. And, in general it works very well. the only problem is that with 110 categories or so, some controlling the CMS and some the tagging of posts, it is easy to make mistakes! Of course later versions of WordPress introduced a distinction between categories and tags but we are now faced with converting legacy posts to a new system.

More recently we have been excited the development of BuddyPress and have two sites underdevelopment. BuddyPress extends WordPress into a fully fledged social networking application. Matt Mullenweg’s interview is interesting in that he focuses on Buddypress and the use of WordPress as a CMS. But -at least to a non coder – there seems to be some interesting changes in the way that BuddyPress is evolving. Whilst there have always been many plug-ins to extend WordPress and also multiple themes, many of which were available for free, there is now a growing market for premium BuddyPress themes. Perhaps, that is a reflection of the idea of the app store and the growing willingness of users to pay modest fees for applications which extend Open Source Software. But it may also reflect changes in the WordPress architecture (not sure that is the right word).  Themes now do much.much more than just change the appearance of a blog. New BuddyPress themes come complete with CSS and AJAX which can change the functionality and design of a web site. Ultimately this may put considerable capacity in the hands of local developers and increase the ability for co-design of sites between users and developers. And that can be no bad thing.

#PLE2010 update – the outcomes of the review process

May 2nd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A further update on planning and preparations for the PLE2010 conference. We received 81 proposals, far more than we had expected. And whilst very welcome, this has generated a lot fo work. Each proposal was assigned two reviewers from the conference Academic Committee. This has meant some members of the Committee being asked to review six papers which is quite an effort for which we are truly grateful

One of the main points made in feedback to us from the reviewers was that a 360 word abstract is too short to make a proper judgement. And indeed some submissions did not make full use of the 360 words. We produced criteria for the submissions which were used by some reviewers. Others disagreed with this approach. Stephen Downes, commenting on my last blog post about the conference, said:

  • the stated criteria, as listed in the post above, are actually longer than many of the abstract submissions. As such, the criteria were overkill for what was actually being evaluated.
  • the criteria do not reflect academic merit. They are more like a check-off list that a a non-skilled intake worker could complete. The purpose of having academics do the review is that the academics can evaluate the work on its own merit, not against a check-off list.
  • the criteria reflect a specific theoretical perspective on the subject matter which is at odds with the subject matter. They reflect an instructivist perspective, and a theory-based (universalists, abstractivist) perspective. Personal learning environments are exactly the opposite of that.
  • In other words, it is not appropriate to ask academic reviewers to bring their expertise the material, and to then neuter that expertise with overly perspective statement of criteria.

On the whole I think I agree with Stephen. But I am still concerned with how we reach some common understandings or standards for reviewing, especially in a multi-disciplinary and multi national context.

Following the completion of the reviews, the conference organising committee met (via Skype) to discuss the outcomes of the process. We did not have time to properly consider the results of all 166 reviews and in the end accepted to unconditionally accept any paper with an average score of two or more (reviewers were asked to score each submission on a scale ranging from plus to minus three). That accounted for twenty six of the proposals. Each of the remaining proposals was reconsidered by the seven members of the organising committee in the light of the feedback from the reviewers. In many of the  cases we agreed with their reviews, in some cases we did not. 30 of the proposals were accepted but we have asked the proposers to resubmit their abstract, feeling that improvements could be made in clarity and in explaining their ideas to potential participants at the conference.

We referred nine of the proposals, in the main case because whilst they seemed interesting proposals we did not feel they has sufficiently addressed the theme of the conference ie Personal Learning Environments. These we have asked to resubmit the abstract and we will review the proposals for a second time. In a small number of cases we have recommended a change of format, particularly for research which is still at a conceptual stage which we felt would be better presented as a short paper, rather than a full proceedings paper. And, following the reviews, we did not accept five of the proposals. Once more the main reason was their failing to9 address the themes of the conference.

I am sure we will have upset some people through this process. But the review process was if nothing else rigorous. the meeting to discuss the outcome lasted late into the evening the we were concerned wherever possible to be inclusive in our approach. We also decided not to use the automatic functionality of the EasyChair system for providing feedback on the proposals. the main reason for this was that we were very concerned that feedback should be helpful and constructive for all proposers. Whilst many of the reviews were very helpful in that respect, some were less so and thus we have edited those reviews.

Four quick thoughts on all this:

  • I am not sure that people spend enough time thinking about the calls for papers. What are the themes a conference is trying to address? How does my work contribute towards those themes.
  • I wonder if many academics struggle with writing abstracts. I was surprised how many did not use their full 360 words in their proposals. Abstracts are difficult to write (at least I find them hard) and perhaps our 360 word limit constrained many. However, it was surprising how many were not really clear in focus.
  • I am still concerned with how we can develop common understandings and standards between reviewers. Maybe we need some sort of discourse process between reviewers.
  • The task of providing clear feedback and judgement about proposals whilst still proving constructive and helpful feedback to proposers is not easy. Once more, this maybe something which needs to be addressed at a community level.
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