Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Does education need its own cloud?

April 29th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

The education technology community is forever forecasting future trends – and little wonder in a fast changing technology world. And almost every list poses cloud computing as a major trend for the future provision of education services and Technology Enhanced Learning. It is not difficult to see why. Technology provision is increasingly complex and is probably not seen as a core activity by institutions. Outsourced cloud solutions may be much cheaper and can free up staff to work on teaching and learning development. many UK universities have formed partnerships with Google to provide email and other services.

Yet the events of this week with a still unexplained outage by Amazon causing many sites to be unavailable for a sustained period and a not inconsiderable data loss, coupled with the hacking of user names, passwords and bank details from Sony may cause some rethinking.

Of course it could just be seen as a technical issue. Amazon need better back up, Sony need better security. But I think we need to view these events from a socio technical viewpoint. Do we wish that educational data and services are trusted to multi national coorporations? What should the relationship be between institutions and external service providers? If so, what data? Do these organisations understand what data is critical – for institutions and for learners? What rights should learners have over their own data and how can this be provided?

In the UK Jisc is exploring the potential for joint educational cloud service provision. This seems to me the right way to go. There seems no denying the potential power of cloud based services. This could be especially important for smaller schools and colleges, many of whom are struggling to even maintain Moodle. And there is no guarantee against outages or security problems if these services are controlled by educational bodies. But if the community is in control of its own services at least there is a chance that the socio technical issues related to service provision and data security have some chance of being understood.

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Researching education and training: Notes on cultural approaches

April 29th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

I have had several requests for this paper, co-written in 1990 with Jenny Hughes, and realised it was not available on the internet. So I have published it to Scribd.

The paper looks at comparative research in Vocational education and Training and the possible uses of cultural theory as a research methodology. This extract explains some of the thinking behind such an approach.

The focus of much comparative research has been the comparison of different paradigms in VET. Set against a common background of globalisation of the economy, the rise of multi-nationals and shared technologies, these paradigms show a marked convergence across Europe and there is a seductive similarity between, for example, work organisation paradigms, curriculum paradigms and research paradigms. This has increased the tendency to undertake ‘point to point’ comparisons across member states, often based on task or functional analysis. And yet the outcomes of such research, whilst providing descriptive data which empirically reinforces the notion of converging trends is often at odds with what VET researchers ‘know’ to be true and which the general populus assumes as ‘common sense’; that is, that there are major cultural differences leading to apparently inexplicable divergences of practice. The challenge for VET research is to construct more robust tools for analysis which can accommodate and reconcile both the convergences and divergences.

Much of the existing comparative research takes as its starting point a single VET paradigm and deconstructs that paradigm into its elements. Thus, ‘VET’ would be the highest level of a tree diagram and the paradigmatic sets under observation would be branches below it.  These  may be labelled, for example, `employment patterns’,  `new production methods’, `trainer training’, `cultural issues’, `curriculum’ and so on.  The elements or items within the paradigms would form the next level of branching. For example under `new production methods’ there might be elements labelled `Just-in Time’ or `island production’ or `co-makership’.  Under  employment patterns there may be `self employed’, `employed by SME’, `unemployed’ and so on. Each of these elements can also be subdivided into properties or descriptors (which are actually paradigms in themselves).  For example `unemployed’ could be expressed as ‘average length of unemployment’ or `number of unemployed males over 25’ or `average qualification level of unemployed women’ or whatever.   The  number and type of paradigmatic sets are similar across member states as are the items within each paradigm, hence the apparent  convergence. Much quantitative comparative research maps and compares element against like element looking for differences in properties across member states. Occasionally it compares paradigm with paradigm but work at this higher level of aggregation level is more often seen in collaborative research.

What is rarely taken into account is the syntax which exists between the paradigms, a syntax which is determined by the culture which generated it and is as culturally specific as the rules of grammar are language specific. The syntagmatic relationship (or syntagm) which defines the way in which one paradigm articulates with another is, for the most part, ignored but it is here that the divergences across member states are located.

What VET needs is a grammar capable of analysis at a systemic rather than structural level. It needs a grammar robust enough and sufficiently rigorous to challenge and provide a real alternative to both functional and structural analysis but sophisticated enough to examine the cultural realisation and cultural meaning of sectoral and regional differences, national identities, gender, class and language.

Thus the model should not take  `VET’ as a starting point for the tree diagram and then simply disaggregate it – with `the cultural dimension’ being a paradigm or even an element within several paradigms and the assumption that it lends itself to comparison as readily as unemployment figures.  Rather we should put ‘culture’ at the top of the tree diagram with VET being one (disaggregated) manifestation of that culture

Functionalist analyses break down VET into a series of components that, not only .fails to recognise their significance within societies and cultures, but renders comparisons less, rather than more, meaningful.  Stucturalist and post structuralist schools continue to pursue structures of likeness and contrast, differences played against similarities. It follows that if all the factors which determine VET culture are themselves different then the component parts of those features are bound to be different.

Given the role of culture on Vet and of VET itself within its cultural context, then it may be of value to access that corpus of knowledge and theory in the field of cultural studies. The next section of this paper will look at some different ideas drawn from cultural theory and examine their applicability for comparative VET studies.

New Culture Paper

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Beyond blended learning- towards a fluid discourse of educational conversations

April 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Steve Wheeler has written an interesting bog post, which deserves unpacking and discussing.

Steve says:

Blended learning (in the established, traditional sense) means a mix of learning activities that involved students learning both in the classroom, and at a distance from the classroom, usually mediated through technology. I am claiming that this type of blended learning – in concept at least – is now outmoded because the boundaries between local and remote have now been substantially blurred.

I think I would largely agree with him although I am not so sure it is due to the blurring of the boundary between local and remote. Reading older papers on technology enhanced learning, there was great emphasis placed on the divide between synchronous and asynchronous communication and how to provide a proper ‘mix’ of technologies facilatating such modes. Today we flip between different modes without thinking about it. Take Skype – if I text someone they may reply straight away or may reply the next day. I may have a series of short episodic conversations with a colleague throughout the day. I may switch from text to audio or video for parts of these conversations. They may be one to one or we may invite others to participants for particular parts of the conversation. Instead of a divide between synchronous or asynchronous communication, tools now support multi modal communication and multi modal learning.

Steve goes on to say:

The new blend is to blur formal and informal learning

Of this I am less convinced. I am in a few problems here because I have often written myself about informal learning. But in truth I am unconvinced of the value of the concept. Indeed there is little agreement even on what the terms formal, informal and non-formal learning mean. If you are interested in this debate there is an excellent literature review by Colley, Hodkinson and Malcom who explore different definitions and uses of the terms. I have tended to use the idea of informal learning in two ways – to refer to learning which takes place outside the formal education system or to learning which takes place in the absence of formal teaching. The problem with the first use of the term is that it refers only to what it is not, rather than to what it is. And in the case of the second, it tends to ignore the influence of what Vykotsly called a More Knowledgeable Other. The More Knowledgeable Other is anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, particularly in regards to a specific task, concept or process – a friend, a peer, a colleague, who can support the scaffolding of  learning. Technology is playing a significant role in blurring boundaries here. If I read Steve Wheeler’s article, think about it and write my own ideas then surely I am learning, and in this case Steve is playing the part of the More Knowledgeable Other in guiding my thinking. Recently one of my computers was overheating. I searched for and found a web site telling me at what temperature the Northbridge chip should be running (it was running much hotter). I then found a YouTube video showing me how to take my computer apart and clean the filters. Is this formal or informal learning? Do I have scaffolding and guidance in my learning? I would suggest I do.

Even more problematic is Steve’s idea of “informal technology”. I think this may just be careless use of terminology. Of course technologies are not informal or formal. However what is certainly true is that most young people today own various technology based devices, which can be used or as John Cook calls it “appropriated” for learning. And as we move towards near ubiquitous connectivity, at least in richer countries, then these devices provide constant access to all kinds of learning – including contact to those with more knowledge than we have. It is interesting to note that most of this learning takes place in the absence of purpose built education technology, rather we appropriate applications designed for business or enterprise use or for entertainment, for learning.

I think more useful than setting a dichotomy between the formal and the informal is to explore the different relationships and contexts in which learning takes place. Last year Jenny Hughes and I made a slidecast called Critical Literacies, Pragmatics and Education as part of a Critical Literacies course being run by Rita Kop and Stephen Downes as part of their ongoing research project on Personal Learning Environments.

In this we referred to the relationships in which learning take place. These include the relationships between learners and teachers, between the learners themselves and between the learners and the wider community.

We went on to look at context. Obviously this includes place or physical context, which could be described as the learning domain. This might be a school or college, the workplace or at home. Important here is the distance between the different domains. Sometimes this distance will be short (say in the case of an apprenticeship involving workplace and school based study), but sometimes there may be a quite broad seperation between the different domains.

A second context is the social, cultural and political environment in which earning takes place. A third – and to my mind critical – context is the idea of what is legitimate learning – what is learnt and how it is learnt. Obviously this involves the idea of control.

Especially important is the context of how we recognise achievement – how outcomes are defined, what value is placed on learning, by whom and how.

We also raised the idea of discourses – the sum total of the conversations around education. In the past, we suggested, education has tended to be a top down discourse with prescribed and structured strategies  for learning. This is changing and now leaners may be more likely to start from practice without a predetermined strategy for learning.

Thus relations and context or learning are becoming fluid and are contently changing. Technology is playing a major role in these changing relationships and contexts. Such a fluid discourse inevitably leads to conflict with an educational structure based on top down educational discourses.

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Mit dem Sounds of the Bazaar auf der Moodlemoot 2011 in Elmshorn

April 15th, 2011 by Dirk Stieglitz

Here is now the radio of the second day of the Moodlemoot 2011 in Elmshorn in Germany near Hamburg. This time it only consists of German language content.

Die Interviews geben wieder einen EInblick in die zahlreichen auf der Moodlemoot behandelten Themen.

Die eingespielte Musik stammt wieder von Avi Rosenfeld. Diesmal von seinem Album “Kompozitsia V“.

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STEM and LEM – which pays the most?

April 15th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

The de facto end of free education in the UK, and in particuar the imposition of coniderable fees for univeristy courses, which is likely to be extended to vocational programmes, is going to have widespread implications for peoples’ choices of careers.

Inthe next few weeks we will be exploring some of those implications on this blog.

One issue is that people are beginning to exmaine the ‘value’ of a degree in terms fo enhnaced lifetime earnings. And the rseulkts may not be as people have assumed. Governements and goevrnmental bodies have long espoused the importance of the so called STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – but figures suggest it may not be these subjects which enjoy the best pay premium.

According to the Guardian:

Male graduates in law, economics and management (LEM), for example, enjoyed faster growth in wages early in their career lifecycle compared to other majors, including Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths). Stem graduates, or those with combined degrees, eventually catch up with those who did LEM but not till much later in the lifecycle. For those opting for arts and other social science degrees, the lifetime returns are markedly lower – especially for men. The subject you study, then, makes a big difference to the investment returns, although, so far, only one institution has suggested subject specific pricing, so the costs are broadly the same across subjects. (Note that our research shows that early-career wage levels are not a good predictor of lifetime earnings – but, be warned, the government’s guidance for students on which subjects and institutions to choose will present data on early earnings.)

Among women, the picture is different. LEM graduates saw the highest and fastest rate of return. But women who did a degree – irrespective of which subject – enjoyed substantially higher lifetime earnings than those who didn’t. This can be read as an indication of the kind of discrimination that female non-graduates still face in the labour market. Moreover, the returns were broadly similar across subjects.

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Sounds of the Bazaar auf der Moodlemoot 2011 in Elmshorn

April 14th, 2011 by Dirk Stieglitz

This time we have a mainly German language content Sounds of the Bazaar here on the WalesWideWeb. But included is an interview with Steve Wheeler in English. He is one of the keynote speaker at the Moodlemoot 2011.

Vom 12.4. bis zum 15.4.2011 findet in der FH Nordakademie in Elmshorn die Moodlemoot 2011 statt. An den zwei Tagen der Preconference (12.+13.) wurden verschiedene Workshops rund um das Arbeiten mit Moodle und auch mit Mahara (einer ePortfolio Lösung) angeboten.

Die Hauptkonferenz bietet den ca. 300 Teilnehmern verkürzt gesagt ein sehr breites Angebot zum Themenfeld “Moodle”.

Ein weiteres Programm von der Moodlemoot werden Klaus Rummler und Dirk Stieglitz morgen am Freitag aus Elmshorn präsentieren.

Die Musik dieses Podcasts ist vom Künstler Avi Rosenfeld und seinem Album “Kompozitsia I“.

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More thoughts on e-Portfolios

April 14th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

E-Portfolios just won’t go away. I has an interesting email the other day from a friend in Austria (yes I know it is old fashioned to use email, but I still do sometimes 🙂 ). Graham, she said, I am looking at e-portfolio’s from a techno-sociological view on ICT based innovation. “For me it is still strange, how many initiatives have been out there and why in – especially German-speaking countries – so little uptake is to be seen.

And I agree totally with you that it is more than the software, rather the tension of the educational
system which does not really want an individual development….”

I think the issue of e-portfolios remains interesting, not least in that we have a relatively mature, socio technical development which can provide us some understanding of the issues involved in the use of technology for learning.

Here are a few observations:

  1. Often e-Portfolios have been introduced in situations where they are not really relevant or useful. Especially in north america, they have often been viewed by students as another layer of assessment and not only unnecessary but an aditional burden of externally imposed testing.
  2. Allied to the above e_Portfolio design has too often been obsessed with outcomes and assessment systems, to the extent of ignoring any learning which cannot be accounted for within the formal course struture.
  3. When lined to more radical pedagogical thinking, the use of e-Portfolios has often been constrained by course and accreditation demands and regulation.
  4. Many people are developing e-Portfolios through the use of social software – it is just that they are not using e-portfolio software and don’t call it an e-Portfolio. But they are using technology to record their achievements and reflect on their learning. Just because this might take place on a blog, on Facebook or Twitter, does it mean it is not an e-portfolio.
  5. E-Portfolio’s have considerable potential in the vocational sector, where they can bring together work and classroom based learning and allow an interlinking of theory and practice. Yet this is one area where there has been limited piloting.

Just one final point. In the UK there seems to be a creeping take up of e-Portfoliso in those occuaptions where continuing professional development is mandatory – e.g teching, medical sector. Hoever, to my knowledge, there is no proper evalaution of this development.

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Formal structure and motivation

April 13th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Last weekend Martin Weller ran a marathon, in Llanelli. And as is his way, whilst running he reflected on the lessons of the marathon for learning. Generally I would agree with what he says:

  • You can make it achievable and manageable, but you can never make it easy.
  • It’s worth doing because it is tough.
  • The long haul is rewarding.
  • Experience pays off.
  • Never say never

­But I am far less convinced by his sixth assertion about formal structure. Martin says:

Formal structure is essential for motivation. If something is tough then you really need to be forced to do it. I could have just run my own marathon, so why pay to go to an event? Because it is a definite goal that becomes difficult to justify giving up on. For all the wonders of informal, DIY learning, the formal course provides this same legitimising and motivating structure.

My first difficulty is what he means by formal. What might be non formal or informal structure” Surely all structuring involves a degree of formalisation and yes we seek structures for iunderstanding learning and scaffolding our knowledge. But I don’t think Martin really does mean formal structure here. He seems to be referring to ‘external stuctures’ – to structures imposed form outside. Now Martin paid to go to an event, but that does nots top thousands of people, every day, structuring their own exercise and running programmes without the need for such an event. And the lack of an external course, does not stop people outside the ‘formal education system’ structuring their own learning, be it from the home, the community or in the workplace. That is not to denigrate the value of institutional courses. But “legitimising and motivating” learning can take place in many different contexts and structuring learning is ulimtely an internal and not external activity.

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Talking about Data – Careers Information, Advice and Guidance

April 6th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

This is the first in a new weekly series ‘Talking about Data’. As the name implies, each week I shall be publishing data related to education and learning and talking about it. And I hope you will join in the discussions.

This weeks ‘Talking about Data’ focuses on the provision of Careers Information, Advance and Guidance in England. The data source is Wave Six of the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England. The main objectives of the study are:

  • to gather evidence about the transitions young people make from secondary and tertiary education or training to economic roles in early adulthood
  • to enhance the ability to monitor and evaluate the effects of existing policy and provide a strong information base for future policy development
  • to contextualise the implementation of new policies in terms of young people’s current lives.

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April 5th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Yesterday the UK Telegraph and  News of the World newspapers reported that minister of education Michael Gove had announced plans to ban mobile phones from school classrooms from September 2011. This would form part of  government guidance to schools due to be published in July 2011.

Whether such reports are true or not are open to considerable doubt. It seems more likely that Give will give powers to schools to ban phones although they probably could do so anyway. What is in no doubt is Gove’s belief in a very traditional idea of education and his skepticism (or non understanding) of the potential of technology for learning. One of the coalition government’s first acts was to abolish the BECTA support agency for technology in education.

And Gove is proposing giving powers to teachers to confiscate phones form students and search their text messages although it would seem possible that this would be struck down by the European Court of Human Rights.

Anyway as the Telegraph article circulated by Twitter there was a quick reaction from the education community with a Google doc based petition being set up within two hours:

We, the undersigned, believe that such a ban would scupper successful mobile learning initiatives and is a short-sighted, reactionary move. We call for a mobile phone ban to be removed from any guidance published by the DfE.

The petition contains a comments column and elicited many interesting replies.

Danielle Bayes, a teacher, reflected the views of many saying:

Banning mobile devices won’t go any way to helping students understand how to use them appropriately and to their advantage. And for every negative news story concerning mobiles in schools, where is the publicity for the hundreds of thousands of children who are innovators of their time and creatively use them to further their learning?

Hilary Curtis added a parent’s perspective

I expect/require my son to take his phone to school, so that he can let me know if he has chosen to go to the park or a friend’s house afterwards.  This is an important element of teaching him safety and responsibility.  The only safe place for him to keep it at school is in his bag, which means it is with him in class, although he is quite properly not allowed to use it then (though I agree with other comments that there could be planned educational use of phones too).  Schools already have perfectly adequate powers to set their own rules in such matters.

Deputy Headteacher Steve Philp said:

This is just a way of discriminating against the poor. At my school (50% FSM within top 20% deprivation); most parents communicate using mobile phones – it is their way of accessing the internet and information. We are exploring ways of bringing mobile technology into the classroom to increase the links between all our stakeholders (parents, governors, staff and students particularly) and this ban will just disenfranchise students and parents, de-skill teachers and alienate governors.

And Ewen McIntosh reflected the comments of many in that modern technologies cannot be ignored in education:

The problem is not with the device, in the same way that it is not paper that is fault for those writing hateful remarks in books, or in racist pamphlets.

The problem is one of attitudes towards students’ ability, wherever they are, to communicate in private. The attitude of students can be a negative one. But it is the attitude of parents, teachers, school leaders and Governors, that allows us to take negative attitudes and practices, and educate youngsters in the huge potential these devices have for their learning and participation in the democratic process.

Mobile phone use is a crucial part of today’s information architecture, for understanding the world around us and having one’s say in it. To remove it from the principle place of learning is equivalent to removing books in the 16-19th century, televisions and overhead projectors in the 20th century, and the internet in the beginning of the 21st century.

The list continues to grow. It is encouraging that many of the signatures are from teachers and school leaders as well as researchers and developers. But it also poses a question of how a space and discussion opened up in response to reported government policy initiatives can be transformed into a longer term and positive campaign and space for exploring ideas and innovation in technology and pedagogy..

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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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    Graduate Jobs

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

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