Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

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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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.

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Reflection and people central to developing knowledge

April 14th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A quick report from the European Commission funded Mature project. I am in Vienna this week at a meeting of the project consortium. The project is researching how knowledge matures in organisations and aims to develop and test software tools to support both individual knowledge development and organisational learning.

One of the activities undertaken over the last year was a ‘representative study’ based on interviewing individuals from 125 companies in Europe and look at how knowledge was developed and shared in their enterprise. The results of the survey will be published in the near future on the project web site.

One of the most interesting findings is what processes people perceived as important for knowledge maturing within their organisation and how ell they though these processes were important. The two processes perceived as most important were ‘reflection’ and ‘building relationships’ between people. These were also the two processes seen as amongst the least supported.

This could be seen as offering a strong steer for the development of new software tools. mature is already testing the prototype of a ‘people funding’ tool, designed to make more transparent the skills, competences and interests of employees in an organisation. The issue of ‘reflection’ is more complex. e-Portfolio researchers have always emphasised the centrality of reflection to learning, yet it is hard to see concrete examples of how this can be supported. Your comments on this would be most welcome.

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Rethinking e-Portfolios

March 14th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

The second in my ‘Rethinking’ series of blog posts. This one – Rethinking e-portfolios’ is the notes for a forthcoming book chapter which I will post on the Wales wide Web when completed..

Several years ago, e-portfolios were the vogue in e-learning research and development circles. Yet today little is heard of them. Why? This is not an unimportant question. One of the failures of the e-learnng community is our tendency to move from one fad to the next, without ever properly examining what worked, what did not, and the reasons for it.

First of all it is important to note that  there was never a single understanding or approach to the development and purpose of an e-Portfolio. This can largely due be ascribed to different didactic and pedagogic approaches to e-Portfolio development and use. Some time ago I wrote that “it is possible to distinguish between three broad approaches: the use of e-Portfolios as an assessment tool, the use of e-Portfolios as a tool for professional or career development planning (CDP), and a wider understanding of e-Portfolios as a tool for active learning.”

In a paper presented at the e-Portfolio conference in Cambridge in 2005 (Attwell, 2005), I attempted to distinguish between the different process in e-Portfolio development and then examined the issue of ownership for each of these processes.

eport

The diagramme reveals not only ownership issues, but possibly contradictory purposes for an e-Portfolio. Is an e-Portfolio intended as a space for learners to record all their learning – that which takes place in the home or in the workplace as well as in a course environment or is it a place or responding to prescribed outcomes for a course or learning programme? How much should a e-Portfolio be considered a tool for assessment and how much for reflection on learning? Can tone environment encompass all of these functions?

These are essentially pedagogic issues. But, as always, they are reflected in e-learning technologies and applications. I worked for a whole on a project aiming to ‘repurpose the OSPI e-portfolio (later merged into Sakai) for use in adult education in the UK. It was almost impossible. The pedagogic use of the e-Portfolio, essentially o report against course outcomes – was hard coded into the software.

Lets look at another, and contrasting, e-Portfolio application, ELGG. Although now used as a social networking platform, in its original incarnation ELGG stared out as a social e-portfolio, originating in research undertaken by Dave Tosh on an e-portfolio project. ELGG essentially provided for students to blog within a social network with fine grained and easy to use access controls. All well and good: students were not restricted to course outcomes in their learning focus. But when it came to report on learning as part of any assessment process, ELGG could do little. There was an attempt to develop a ‘reporting’ plug in tool but that offered little more than the ability to favourite selected posts and accumulate them in one view.

Mahara is another popular open source ePortfolio tool. I have not actively played with Maraha for two years. Although still built around a blogging platform, Mahara incorporated a series of reporting tools, to allow students to present achievements. But it also was predicated on a (university) course and subject structure.

Early thinking around e-Portfolios failed to take into account the importance of feedback – or rather saw feedback as predominately as coming from teachers. The advent of social networking applications showed the power of the internet for what are now being called personal Learning networks, in other words to develop personal networks to share learning and share feedback. An application which merely allowed e-learners to develop their own records of learning, even if they could generate presentations, was clearly not enough.

But even if e-portfolios could be developed with social networking functionality, the tendency for institutionally based learning to regard the class group as the natural network, limited their use in practice. Furthermore the tendency, at least in the school sector, of limited network access in the mistaken name of e-safety once more limited the wider development of ‘social e-Portfolios.”

But perhaps the biggest problem has been around the issue of reflection. Champions have lauded e-portfolios as a natural tools to facilitate reflection on learning. Helen Barrett (2004) says an “electronic portfolio is a reflective tool that demonstrates growth over time.” Yet  are e-Portfolios effective in promoting reflection? And is it possible to introduce a reflective tool in an educations system that values the passing of exams through individual assessment over all else? Merely providing spaces for learners to record their learning, albeit in a discursive style does not automatically guarantee reflection. It may be that reflection involves discourse and tools for recording outcomes offer little in this regard.

I have been working for the last three years on developing a reflective e-Portfolio for a careers service based din the UK. The idea is to provide students an opportunity to research different career options and reflect on their preferences, desired choices and outcomes.

We looked very hard at existing opens source e-portfolios as the basis for the project, nut could not find any that met our needs. We eventually decided to develop an e-Portfolio based on WordPress – which we named Freefolio.

At a technical level Freefolio was part hack and part the development of a plug in. Technical developments included:

  • The ability to aggregate summaries of entries on a group basis
  • The ability add custom profiles to see profiles of peers
  • Enhanced group management
  • The ability to add blog entries based on predefined xml templates
  • More fine grained access controls
  • An enhanced workspace view

Much of this has been overtaken by subsequent releases of WordPress multi user and more recently Buddypress. But at the time Freefolio was good. However it did  not work in practice. Why? There were two reasons I think. Firstly, the e-Portfolio was only being used for careers lessons in school and that forms too little a part of the curriculum to build a critical mass of familiarity with users. And secondly, it was just too complex for many users. The split between the front end and the back end of WordPress confused users. The pedagogic purpose, as opposed to the functional use was too far apart. Why press on something called ‘new post’ to write about your career choices.

And, despite our attempts to allow users to select different templates, we had constant feedback that there was not enough ease of customisation in the appearance of the e-Portfolio.

In phase two of the project we developed a completely different approach. Rather than produce an overarching e-portfolip, we have developed a series of careers ‘games; to be accessed through the Careers company web site. Each of the six or so games, or mini applications we have developed so far encourages users to reflect on different aspects of their careers choices. Users are encouraged to rate different careers and to return later to review their choices. The site is yet to be rolled out but initial evaluations are promising.

I think there are lessons to be learnt from this. Small applications that encourage users to think are far better than comprehensive e-portfolios applications which try to do everything.

Interestingly, this view seems to have concur with that of CETIS. Simon Grant points out: “The concept of the personal learning environment could helpfully be more related to the e-portfolio (e-p), as both can help informal learning of skills, competence, etc., whether these abilities are formally defined or not.”

I would agree: I have previously seen both as related on a continuum, with differing foci but similar underpinning ideas. However I have always tended to view Personal Learning Environments as a pedagogic capproach, rather than an application. Despite this, there have been attempts to ‘build a PLE’. In that respect (and in relation to rethinking e-Portfolios) Scott Wilson’s views are interesting. Simon Grant says: “As Scott Wilson pointed out, it may be that the PLE concept overreached itself. Even to conceive of “a” system that supports personal learning in general is hazardous, as it invites people to design a “big” system in their own mind. Inevitably, such a “big” system is impractical, and the work on PLEs that was done between, say, 2000 and 2005 has now been taken forward in different ways — Scott’s work on widgets is a good example of enabling tools with a more limited scope, but which can be joined together as needed.”

Simon Grant goes on to say the ““thin portfolio” concept (borrowing from the prior “personal information aggregation and distribution service” concept) represents the idea that you don’t need that portfolio information in one server; but that it is very helpful to have one place where one can access all “your” information, and set permissions for others to view it. This concept is only beginning to be implemented.”

This is similar to the Mash Up Personal Learning Environment, being promoted in a number of European projects. Indeed a forthcoming paper by Fridolin Wild reports on research looking at the value of light weight widgets for promoting reflection that can be embedded in existing e-learning programmes. This is an interesting idea in suggesting that tools for developing an e-Portfolio )or for that matter, a PLE can be embedded in learning activities. This approach does not need to be restricted to formal school or university based learning courses. Widgets could easily be embedded in work based software (and work flow software) and our initial investigations of Work Oriented Personal Learning Environments (WOMBLES) has shown the potential of mobile devices for capturing informal and work based learning.

Of course, one of the big developments in software since the early e-Portfolio days has been the rise of web 2.0, social software and more recently cloud computing. There seems little point in us spending time and effort developing applications for students to share powerpoint presentations when we already have the admirable slideshare application. And for bookmarks, little can compete with Diigo. Most of these applications allow embedding so all work can be displayed in one place. Of course there is an issue as to the longevity of data on such sites (but then, we have the same issue with institutional e-Portfolios and I would always recommend that students retain a local copy of their work). Of course, not all students are confident in the use of such tools: a series of recent studies have blown apart the Digital Native (see for example Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the “Net Generation”. Sociological Inquiry. 80(1):92-113).  And some commercial services may be more suitable than other for developing an e-Portfolio: Facebook has in my view limitations! But, somewhat ironically, cloud computing may be moving us nearer to Helen Barrett’s idea of an e-Portfolio. John Morrison recently gave a presentation (downloadable here) based on his study of ‘what aspects of identity as learners and understandings of ways to learn are shown by students who have been through a program using course-based networked learning?’ In discussing technology he looked at University as opposed to personally acquired, standalone as opposed to networked and Explored as opposed to ongoing use.

He found that students:

Did not rush to use new technology

Used face-to-face rather than technology, particularly in early brainstorming phases of a project

Tried out software and rejected that which was not meeting a need

Used a piece of software until another emerged which was better

Restrained the amount of software they used regularly to relatively few programs

Certain technologies were ignored and don’t appear to have been tried out by the students

Students used a piece of software until another emerged which was better  which John equates with change. Students restrained the amount of software they used regularly to relatively few programs  which he equates with conservatism

Whilst students were previously heavy users of Facebook, they were now abandoning it. And whilst there was little previous use of Google docs, his latest survey suggested that this cloud application was now being heavily used. This is important in that one of the more strange aspects of previous e0Portolio development has been the requirement for most students to upload attached files, produced in an off line work processor, to the e-Portfolio and present as a file attachment. But if students (no doubt partly driven by costs savings) are using online software for their written work, this may make it much easier to develop online e-portfolios.

John concluded that :this cohort lived through substantial technological change. They simplified and rationalized their learning tools. They rejected what was not functional, university technology and some self-acquired tools. They operate from an Acquisition model of learning.” He concluded that “Students can pick up and understand new ways to learn from networks. BUT… they generally don’t. They pick up what is intended.” (It is also well worth reading the discussion board around John’s presentation – – although you will need to be logged in to the Elesig Ning  site).

So – the e-Portfolio may have a new life. But what particularly interests me us the interplay between pedagogic ideas and applications and software opportunities and developments in providing that new potential life. And of course, we still have to solve that issue of control and ownership. And as John says, students pick up what is intended. If we continue to adhere to an acquisition model of learning, it will be hard to persuade students to develop reflective e-Portfolios. We should continue to rethink e-Portfolios through a widget based approach. But we have also to continue to rethink our models of education and learning.

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Using mobile devices for learning in the workplace

March 4th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I’ve written a lot recently about the potential of the use of mobile devices in the workplace. Last summer, together with my colleagues John Cook and Andrew Ravenscroft, we coined the term Work Oriented Mobile learning Environment or WoMbLE to try to explain what we were trying to create. And we have written about the design idea and about work based learning. But it seems hard to people to ‘get it’. Can you give us some concrete examples, they ask. We need some use cases, they say. As did the reviewer of a recent paper I submitted for the International Journal of Mobile Learning who was concerned my paper was too abstract (and he or she was right, I suspect). So in revising the paper, I have tried to add some possible examples, all based on funding proposals we have been developing. They are not great, but I guess they are a step in the direction of explaining what we mean and I will try to develop them further in the next few weeks (thanks to all who have contributed in one way or another to developing these ideas).

Use Cases for a Work based Mobile Learning Environment

These use cases have been developed as both as part of our research into designing a WoMbLE and in pursuit of funding possibilities. In all of the use cases context is critical factor, although the nature of context varies form case to case.

1. Use case for computer students on work placement programmes

Time is precious for students on short work placements and experience has shown that these students need immediate help when they are stuck with a problem, for example debugging a Java / C++ program or using Google’s SMTP server for setting up test e-mail systems and setting up paypal payment systems. They normally try to seek help from people at the work place and the university tutors, however they prefer interacting with fellow placement students for trouble shooting and learning from each other’s experience before seeking help from company / academic staff. In the past, they have used Google groups.

The WoMbLE is designed to provide multi-user and multi-media spaces where learners can meet up with co-learners, to allow students to tag fellow students, academic staff and work colleagues (contacts); when a problem arises this service will enable collaborative problem solving. A ‘dialogue game’ service, that can be linked to the tagging of personal competencies, will be available to scaffold students in their active collaboration and ‘on the spot’ problem solving.

2. Use case for the continuing professional development of printers

Despite rapid technological change there are low rates of participation of printers in Continuing Vocational Education and Training (CVET), including traditional e-learning.

The aim is to enhance printers’ participation in CVET though self-directed, work-integrated and community-embedded mobile learning. Innovative pedagogical concepts, technical applications and implementation strategies are designed to provide flexible access to learning and authentic and enjoyable learning experience at work.

The use case addresses the emerging need for on-demand and on-the-job training in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The integration of work context, mobile learning and online communities enables authentic and immediate learning whenever needed. Combined with relevant, appealing content and services it motivates “non-learners”, intensifies interaction between peers and experts within and outside of the SME, and exploits small amounts of time and space for learning at work. Printers will use mobile devices to engage in discussion forums, blogs and wikis, document demonstrations of individual skills and activities undertaken in work-settings (e.g. video captures of technical trouble-shooting) and share digital artifacts in online communities in relation to real work-specific needs. The “pick and mix” of learning objects enhances both participation and learning outcomes maximizing choices in terms of method, content, place and time. This approach recognizes the diversity and individuality of learning, facilitates meaningful, authentic social learning and enhances motivation to learn.

3. Use case for knowledge services for Careers Information, Advice and Guidance workers

Careers Information, Advice and Guidance workers in the UK work from district offices but are often required to provide guidance for students’ future careers options in dispersed school settings.  They do not always have access to appropriate labour market information and may need to gain information about particular career and education opportunities. In this use case a range of services will be provided through mobile devices to support careers workers finding and collecting appropriate information. The system provides access to specialist databases and to previous work undertaken by colleagues and allows structuring and ranking of resources and artifacts including people and social networks. The system allows users to contribute their own results to the system and support the creation of tags and recommendations, thus developing a shared common knowledge and learning base.

All these use cases involve individuals in learning in a range of different occupations and work based settings. However, they have a number of similar features:

  • The need for continuing learning as part of the work process;
  • The need to solve problems as and when they occur;
  • A requirement for information and knowledge resources;
  • The need for access to people, through social and peer networks;
  • The need to capture contextual learning and share as part of a process of developing a common knowledge and learning resource;
  • The importance of context, including activities and tasks being undertaken, work roles, and location

In initial considerations of technical design for a WoMbLE, discussion centred around the development of a generic learning environment. This was driven by desire to produce a cost effective test bed application and to ensure use of as wide a range of different mobile platforms as possible. The latest thinking has moved towards developing what has been called a Mash Up Personal Learning Environment (MUPPLE) (Wild F. Mödritscher F. and Sigurdarson S., 2008) using widgets and provided through specific applications for different mobile platforms. The widget approach could allow services to be easily tailored for particular use cases, user groups and contexts, whilst still retaining generic service applications.

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Reviews, quality and the development of communities of practice in academic networks

February 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have just spent the morning reviewing proposals for the Vocational education and Training Network strand at the European Conference for Educational Research.

I have never enjoyed reviewing papers. I worry that my own knowledge of the subject is often too little, still more that I only have an abstract idea of what comprises quality.

However, as a community building process, I find it more interesting. I haver been involved with VETNET for fourteen years. In the early days nearly everything used to be accepted. But as time went on a discussion emerged over improving the quality of VETNET and a formal review procedure was developed.

VETNET remains a somewhat traditional academic conference with paper and sumposium presentations. I suspect that the community’s desire for Vocational Education and Training to be taken seriously as a part of mainstream education research has tended to make us somewhat conservative in our approaches to formats and quality.

Over time as a community we have started defining quality indicators – even though they may be contested. We have had long debates about the relation between research focused on a particular system or country and its relation to wider European agendas. We have discussed how important the quality of language (English) is in assessing a contribution? Should leeway be given to emerging researchers to encourage them to contribute to the community? How important is a clear methodology when considering a submission?

This years debate has been over work in progress. It started innocuously enough with one reviewer emailing that he was concerned that many submissions referred to research which was not yet finished. Should we only consider completed research with clear results, he suggested? This provoked a flurry of replies with major differences between the reviewers. Some agreed with the original email; others (including myself) saw presentations based on work in progress as a potentially useful contribution to the community and a means of researchers testing their ideas in front of a wider international audience. In the normal way of things this debate will be reviewed at the VETNET board meeting at this years conference and revised guidelines agreed for next years conference.

In this way I think the review process does work well. It allows community rules and standards to emerge over time.

The other big change in the review system has been the use of an electronic reviewing system ‘conftool‘. The major benefit is to support the management fo the review process. VETNET receives some 120 proposals each year. The use of the system ensures every paper receives at least two reviews. More interestingly it makes transparent where there are disagreements between reviewers, providing a view showing the overall score for each proposal and the span between reviewer’s scoring. I was allocated nine proposals to review. Four of them have already been reviewed by a second reviewer. And somewhat to my surprise the span between my score and the other reviewers was small (the highest of the four was 1.7 (however the other reviewer has recommended rejection of this proposal and I have recommended acceptance!).

I welcome that when we have finished our reviews we are able to see other reviews of the same submission. This provides for me an opportunity for reflection and learning – and strengthens the potential of the academic review  becoming part of the process of community emergence.

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Are we missing reflection in learning?

February 12th, 2010 by Jo Turner-Attwell

I have recently been looking into reflection within learning and was writing out some notes on this when I found myself tying in Vygotsky. Reflection within learning is something I do not feel is currently supported by the current education system, and when looking at the reasons why I found myself referring to the model of the Zone of Proximal Development, which is where Vygotsky comes in.

The ZPD is seperated into three stages:
1.Learning through assistance
2.Repeating without understanding
3.Repeating alone and understanding

Stage number three is what I understand to be the reflection process, the thinking through something you have learnt initiating full understanding. This is a bit like when learning something, running through the key points in your head so you dont forget important information. This running through information in your head is an active process: reflection, and its the most important part because its the part that makes sense of everything you have done. This process needs to be something that is supported and integrated to learning.
However within school education I feel this reflection stage is restricted to individual revision outside of class. As a general rule, particularly at higher stages of school education where the aim is for students to pass exams, maybe due to limited time for a large amount of content, information is presented but not analysed. Students get information and processes thrown at them to achieve the results required, whilst the most important stage where students understand and truly learn in a way that will stay with them is left for home revision. In school I remember being given many information sheets that when it came to revise I struggled with as I did not truly understand. Reflection to initiate true understanding is pushed to one side if you like.
For me this is clearest from my maths classes. The teacher would show us how to do a sum, and then we’d do it ourselves and she’d support us in this process. Often what was missing was summing up the key points, ie. what we had learnt, and the theory behind the mathematics. That was left to us in revision or in seeking our own understanding and we’d move onto the next topic and repeat the first two stages. In my mind this is not a flaw in the teaching but in the curriculum of maths in particular as we were simply required to answer questions not understand the reasons for the answers.
There are so many easy and interesting ways that reflection can be integrated into education. Discussion, debate, or simply summarising can contribute to the reflection process. In addition this process can be encouraged by Technology Enhanced Boundary Objects. A good example of this is the example of Video Editing explored in the Tap Into Learning newsletter Action+Reflection=Learning, as editing work requires not only revisiting the work done but cutting it into key information. In addition social networking and forum discussion systems when used in an educational context can allow students to discuss ideas from wherever they are and in ways where the conversation can later be revisited.
Reflection is concept that I feel is essential within education and can provide a richer learning experience to many students.

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Developing mobile applications to support My Learning Journey

January 25th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A quick post about mobile devices and work based learning – which I know I have been going on about a lot lately.

So far most of the work on mobile learning at a practical level seems to me to fit into four categories:

  • applications designed to provide information for students – about their courses, lecture times, venues, transport information, buildings etc.
  • what might be called learning objects – small apps designed to support learning about a particular topic or issue – often using multi media
  • apps or projects aiming to improve communication between learners or between learners and teachers
  • information – revision guides etc. designing to promote mobile access to resources

There is nothing wrong about any of these and they all may be useful in pushing mobile learning forward. But I think they may fail to really extend forward ideas about tecahing and learning 0 they are all essentially repackaging existing elearning applications for mobile devices.

The big potential I see for mobile devices is in their affordances of being always on – or almost always on, in the fact that we already accept the idea of the frequent but sporadic use of the devices for all kinds of activities such as taking photos and messaging – as well as making telephone calls – and that they are portable.

in other words – taking learning support to areas it has not been taken to before. And prime amongst these is teh workplace. It is little coincidence that many of the main take-up areas for elearning are for those occupations which involve regular use of computers e.g in ICT occupations, in marketing and management etc. Ans one of the main issues in developing elearning for vocational or occupational learning is the contextual nature of such learning and the high cost of producing specific learnng materials for relatively low numbers of learners. Vocational students often wish for learning materials to be in their own language, thus exacerbating the problem of small numbers of users for specific occupations.

It is also interesting to note that despite many researchers pointing to the importance of reflection as a key pedagogic tool, there has been limited pedagogic and technical development to facilitate such an approach.

The use of mobile devices can overcome this. They can be used in specific contexts of location, tasks, experince, colleagues and allow ready means of reflection through the use of photographs, video, text and audio.

If linked up to a server based ‘portfolio’ this could form an essential part of a Personal Learning Environment. Furthermore the learning materials become the entire work environment, rather than custom built applications. And tools such as Google Goggles could easily be incorporated (although I have to say it seems more alphe than beta ot me – I havent managed to get it to recognise a single object so far!).

I am mush taken with a free Android Ap called Ontheroad. It doesn’t do much. It is designed its ays for you to share your adventures on the road You have to set up a free account on a web site. You can publish active trips (I am going to try to make one this week). You can add articles including your position by GPS, you can add text, multimedia, dates and choose which trip to publish it to though the telephone network or by SMS. You can browse existing articles and look at comments. You can add media including photos already on your gallery. Or you can record a video (audio support seems limited).

And it is all synced through a server. It would not take much to refocus this app to a Learning Journey, rather than a road trip. And it could be incredibly powerful in terms of work based learning.

So I do not see a great technical challenge. the bigger challenge is in developing a pedagogic approach which incorporates informal learning in the workplace and such a portfolio based on practice within formal approaches ot education and training.

If you are interested in working with me to develop these technologies and ideas please get in touch.

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Informal learning – linking the University to the outside world

December 14th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

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

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

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

Background

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

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

Development

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

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

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

Piloting the programme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 8th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

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

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

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

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

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