Archive for the ‘Social Software’ Category

Using web 2.0 and social media in European projects

December 20th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Graham Attwell, Pontydysgu, UK from Web2LLP on Vimeo.

There is growing interest in how to use social media in European research and development projects. The Web2LLP project aims to improve web strategies and maximise the social media presence of lifelong learning projects. Their web site explains they provide “personalised support and training (a week-long face-to-face course and free webinars), and shares best-practices and resources.”

One of those resources is a video gallery including interviews with project managers who have used social media in European Commision sponsored Lifelong Learning Programme projects.

And when Maria Perifanou asked me for an interview how could I refuse. I talked to Maria about how we used social media in the G8WAY project. The G8WAY project was based on the idea that the growing availability of web 2.0 allows for bridging the present gap between the structures developed to support students in mastering today’s educational transition and their formulation in an institutional perspective through learner centered and connective approaches, with a chance to more effectively manage educational transition.  “G8WAY  developed web 2.0 enhanced learning environments, to enable learners to reflect and develop their creativity potentials and transitional skills in the light of their own and others’ learning experience, made visible through a variety of media sets and PLE tools, each of them designed to meet the requirements of transition envisaged, and all of which are mapped into one single pedagogy framework.”

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Open Standard for Social Apps

December 10th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I think this is important. For day to day work – both research and teaching and learning – we use a lot of different social software programmes. We  know we cannot rely on these in the long term. Intrusive and inappropriate advertising can render applications useless. Services may disappear. Others move from being free to being paid for. And yet others change the conditions of use. But with a multiplicity of services and with new applications appearing almost daily, it is usually possible to find something which will do the job.

At the same time for more critical services – such as web sites or database services – we use our own leased servers. That too works fine.

The problem comes with longer term development projects – such as the Learning Layers project. On the one had we need the advanced infrastructure that better funded social software providers are able to offer. But we also need some guarantee of longevity and stability in terms of service provision plus an openness to allow us to develop on top of these platforms. And here we have a problem.

Mozilla seems to be developing an answer to this problem. According to webmonkey, Mozilla’s “newest Social API demo removes the need for social websites entirely, tapping emerging web standards to create a real-time video calling, data sharing app — one part Skype, one part Facebook, all parts web-native.”

The Social APi is built through WebRTC, which is a proposed web standard that Mozilla and others are working on in conjunction with the W3C. The RTC in WebRTC stands for Real-Time Communications, and the core of WebRTC is the getUserMedia JavaScript API, which gives the browser access to hardware features like the camera and microphone.

As the Firefox blog explains:

Prior to WebRTC, video calling applications were either stand-alone, isolated apps (like Skype) or browser plug-ins which lacked the tight connection to the browser internals to guarantee a good quality call.

We share data in WebRTC using DataChannels, which Mozilla is the first to implement.  DataChannels is a powerful component of WebRTC that can be used by itself or combined with an audio/video chat to send almost any data that the browser can access.

This could have huge potential for developing new applications – both for business and learning – and free us from the dilemma of either using proprietary applications or being forced into substantial infrastructure development..

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European Conference on Educational Research: the Podcast (Episode 1)

September 25th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Last week we broadcast three live internet radio programmes from the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in Cadiz. Here is the first of the programmes.

ECER is a huge conference, this year attracted some 2700 participants. It is run by 27  networks who each put together their own programme. The networks cover a wide range of topics – from Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations to Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures to  Social Justice and Intercultural Education.

We wanted to reflect the diversity of the networks in our programmes and at the same time try to capture something of the feel of the conference. I don;t know if we succeeded but it was a lot of fun and also hard work.

Many thanks to the Pontydysgu crew: Nic, Jen, Dirk and Maria.

Programme participants (in running order)

  • Jennifer Collins – From the EERA office talks about her role in the conference
  • Tina Besley & Michael Peters – University of Waikato, New Zealand talk about their network’s research into Intercultural Education and Dialogue
  • Danny Durant – From the Institute of Education, London, talks about ECER London 2014
  • Kerry Facer, Helen Manchester & Howard Baker – Discuss their research into Open Learning
  • Phil Mudd – From Routledge Press talks about e-publishing and the threats and opportunities it poses to traditional modes of publishing
  • Vox Pops – Roving reporter Jen Hughes pounces on unsuspecting delegates to find out what they think about the conference

Programme length: 30 minutes

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Scaffolding learning with and about technology

September 24th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Last week we were in Cadiz at the European Conference on Educational Research. Amongst other things, we produced three live half hour radio programmes and I will upload the podcast copies in the next two days.

Today we had an online meeting of the UK Nominet Trust funded RadioActive project. This is a great new project, using Internet radio to work with young people in Hackney in London. the idea is for them to produce their own programmes, about whatever topics interest them. And in the course of the project we hope they will learn a series of different skills and competences, including interviewing, multimedia, producing and editing music etc.

The grant included funding for equipment, which we bought at the start of the work. Of course, we wanted to make sure we had all the equipment we might need in the course of the two year project (we will post this up soon in case anyone is interested). We adopted a cascade model for training, with Pontydysgu running a two day workshop for youth workers who would be working with the young people. Of course we wanted to show the best that could be done wit such equipment, using wireless microphones, a portable mixing deck and an Apple computer to broadcast a half hour radi0 programme. Although I was not there, by all accounts the workshop was a great success.

The idea was the youth workers would follow up by running their own workshops with young people. But as sometimes happens, contracting issues crept in to delay the live launch. And by the time we were ready for working directly with young people, the youth workers were not confident about using our advanced ‘outside broadcast’ radio set up.

Although we had taken a lot of trouble to design the workshop to scaffold the learning process around skills and competences such as interviewing and designing and producing media, in the course of today’s meeting it became apparent that we had failed to scaffold the learning around the technology.

This afternoon I did a one hour on line training session (using Skype) for one of the project staff. Instead of setting up the mixing deck and wireless microphones, we started simple, using just a USB microphone plugged directly into a computer and focusing on a number of simple first steps:

We did 3 things:

  1. We used GarageBand to record and edit a short voice input (if there had been more people this could have been an interview)
  2. We made a simple jingle mixing a GarageBand loop with a voice over
  3. We downloaded a Creative Commons licensed track from jamendo.com and edited it in Garageband to make our intro music for a programme.

We exported all of these to iTunes and then dragged them onto Soundboard. Sadly we did not have the server settings for Nicecast but if we did we could have then instantly broadcast a programme.

Now I am thinking how we can build a series of activities which both scaffold the content of what we are doing but also scaffold the technology which we use.

Of course I should have done this when we started, but I think it is indicative of a wider problem. We have been working in several projects using Web2.0 technology and social software with teachers and trainers. I think we can get over excited about the possibilities such applications offer. Then instead of focusing on the subject or topic of the learning, learning about the technology overwhelms everything else. I had a conversation with Jenny Hughes some time ago about this and she suggested (if I remember correctly) that we have a develop a dual system of scaffolding – one for the subject and a second for the technology. Of course these two scaffolds will overlap at some point.

I have seen a number of attempts to develop schema or even applications which suggest the best software or apps for any particular learning task but am unconvinced they work or even that this approach is possible. In most cases there will be many different technologies which could be used. I am far more impressed by the format and structure adapted by the Taccle2 project, in which Pontydysgu are a partner. This project focuses directly on teaching and learning and the technology is an enabling factor, rather than the ’50 great apps for learning’ approach so prevalent today.

i will write more on this but would be interested in any feedback / ideas.

 

 

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Using Google interactive charts and WordPress to visualise data

August 25th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

This is a rare techy post (and those of you who know me will also know that my techy competence is not so great so apologies for any mistakes).

Along with a university partner, Pontydysgu bid for a small contract to develop a system to allow the visualisation of labour market data. The contractors had envisaged a system which would update automatically from UK ONS quarterly labour market data: a desire clearly impossible within the scope of the funding.

So the challenge was to design something which would make it easy for them to manually update the data with visualisations being automatically updated from the amended data. Neither the contractors or indeed the people we were working with in the university had any great experience of using visualisation or web software.

The simplest applications seemed to me to be the best for this. Google spreadsheets are easy to construct and the interactive version of the chart tools will automatically update when embedded into a WordPress bog.

Our colleagues at the university developed a comprehensive spreadsheet and added some 23 or so charts.  So far so good. Now was the time to develop the website. I made a couple of test pages and everything looked good. I showed the university researchers how to edit in WordPress and how to add embedded interactive charts. And that is where the problems started. They emailed us saying that not only were their charts not showing but the ones i had added had disappeared!

The problem soon became apparent. WordPress, as a security feature, strips what it sees as dangerous JavaScript code. We had thought we could get round this by using a plug in called Raw.  However in a WordPress multi-site, this plug in will only allow SuperAdmins to post unfiltered html. This security seems to me over the top. I can see why wordpress.com will prevent unfiltered html. And I can see why in hosted versions unfiltered html might be turned off as a default. But surely, on a hosted version, it should be possible for Superadmins to have some kind of control over what kind of content different levels of users are allowed to post. The site we are developing is closed to non members so we are unlikely to have a security risk and the only Javascript we are posting comes from Google who might be thought to be trusted.

WordPress is using shortcodes for embeds. But there are no shortcodes for Google Charts embed. There is shortcode for using the Google Charts API but that would invalidate our aim of making the system easy to update. And of course, we could instead post an image file of the chart, but once more that would not be dynamically updated.

In the end my colleague Dirk hacked the WordPress code to allow editors to post unfiltered html but this is not an elegant answer!

We also added the Google code to Custom Fields allowing a better way to add the embeds.

Even then we hot another strange and time wasting obstacle. Despite the code being exactly the same, code copied and posted by our university colleagues was not being displayed. The only difference in the code is that when we posted it it had a lot of spaces, whist theirs appeared to be justified. It seems the problem is a Copy/ Paste bug in Microsoft Explorer 9, which is the default bowser in the university, which invalidates some of the javascript code. The work around for this was for them to install Firefox.

So (fingers crossed) it all works. But it was a struggle. I would be very grateful for any feedback – either on a better way of doing what we are trying to achieve – or on the various problems with WordPress and Google embed codes. Remember, we are looking for something cheap and easy!

 

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Taccle update

July 25th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Taccle was one of our most successful projects. The original handbook on technology for learning went out in some 7000 hard copies in six languages, with a number of further languages being added by volunteer translators and regular reprints in different countries. This is not counting the thousand of downloads. The handbook was designed for teachers wanting to introduce e-learning into their practice. There was also a series of training events for teachers based on the handbook. Both the handbook and the courses were rated highly by teachers but feedback from readers and from course participants was that there were still ‘gaps’ that needed to be filled.

Firstly, although teachers across the subject range said they found the both the courses and the handbook useful for developing generic technical skills there were many who still found difficulty in translating that into specific learning activities within their subject area or sector.

Secondly, although many teachers, as a result of reading the handbook or attending the courses, now feel confident about designing learning objects or using web 2.0 applications, they are less confident about engaging pupils in producing and publishing their own. The TACCLE 2 project addresses these issues by providing a series of 5 supplementary handbooks (in Dutch, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian) written in the same style as the original, around specific subjects –  primary education, maths, science and technology, key competences, arts and culture and humanities.

Nic Daniels and Jenny Hughes are editing the first handbook on primary education now and we hope to publish it in October (we will put out an order form in next couple of weeks).

Nic has been working on the design of the handbook. And I loved this mock up template he has circulated to project partners. It gives an idea of what you can expect from the project. You can keep up to date with development on the project web site.

 

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Personal Learning Environments: Context is King!

July 23rd, 2012 by Graham Attwell

The last few weeks have been hectic with travel, conferences, bids and more. In the next few days ~I will try to update on some of this but first, before I forget, some quick thoughts on the Personal Learning Environments 2012 conference in Aveiro.

First on the form of the conference. PLE is what is now becoming known as a flipped conference. Rather than formal paper presentations, chairs of sessions work together with presenters to find more participative forms of delivery involving interaction with participants. The aim is not just to present research findings and ideas, but to discuss and build on that work and develop new knowledge.

This was the third PLE conference and with a sufficient number of participants having been at previous conferences and enthusiastic about the format, the sessions were even better than before. This year we were better at recording outcomes and many of the sessions have been well documented on the project web site. The physical space is central to this type of event and in that respect Aveiro was perfect with flexible spaces and good connectivity.

As in previous years we continued our practice of organising two unkeynote presentations, each with two people. Antonio Dias de Figueiredo and Frances Bell involved the participants in discussing a number of key issues, crowd sourced previous to the conference (see report on Frances’s blog). On the second day Ricardo Torres and Grainne Conole presented a series of video clips reflecting on the VLE versus PLE debate. And whilst I think that the issue is somewhat out of date, it sparked a big and ongoing response on twitter and on the Cloudworks site.

Each year we try to introduce new ideas. This year we piloted the idea of ‘One Conference – Two venues’ with face to face meet ups taking place (more or less) simultaneously in Aveiro and Melbourne. The time differences prohibited any real time link ups. But with both venues using the same #PLEConf hash tag, there was an almost seamless 24 hour flow of tweets around PLEs. Interestingly it was hard at times to work out which of the venues the tweet had been sent from.

Anotehr innovation this year was experimenting with the use of Mozilla Badges. Whilst the badge titles seemed to multiply alarmingly in the run up to the conference, it provided us with a very good insight into both technical and pedagogical issues involved with badges. I think overall the verdict was positive but their are still questions to answer. You can see a full collection of the badges here.

This year the organising committee instigated a two stage review for contributions – reviewing firstly abstracts and then secondly full papers. I was personally opposed to this fearing that such a ‘heavier’ review process would discourage participants. I think I was wrong. It might be due to other factors, but the quality of the contributions this year – at least those that I have read – seemed much higher than in previous years. And, if done well, such a review can support people in developing their ideas. Overall though, I remain unconvinced about review procedures and wonder if we could try some other forms of supporting contributors in developing their ideas (open review processes or on-line review workshops? ).

There was also a noticeable change in terms of the focus on many contributions.

At the first conference, in Barcelona in 2010, PLEs were a largely new and unexplored concept. Much effort and discussion was expended in trying to arrive at a common definition of a PLE, in debating the dichotomy between technological and pedagogy approaches and constructs to developing Personal Learning Environments, and the role of PLEs in institutional strategies.

Further discussions focused on the impact and affordance of Web 2.0 and social software on developing PLEs.

The following year at the Southampton PLE conference concerns – for instance over a tension between pedagogic and technical developments – appeared less irreconcilable with the majority of participants agreeing that a PLE can be seen as a pedagogical approach with many implications for the learning processes, underpinned by a ‘hard’ technological base.

Participants also agreed on the need to continue thinking around practices for enriching the learning process through formal and non formal learning and begun to explore the different contexts in which PLEs might be used. In this process, attempts to invent new acronyms to differentiate contexts (of PLE components, or tools), often at only a theoretical level, addded little extra-value to the previous analysis.

Aveiro had a different focus. Many of these previous debates seemed slightly irrelevant. PLEs were no longer a construct but a reality 0- in part I guess due to the increasing use of social media for learning but also with the main streaming of Massive Open On-line Courses and the increasing attention being paid to extra institutional learning.

Where as before we had many discussions about what a PLE might look like, there were now many examples of applications supporting PLEs, ranging from mash ups to Cloud services to institutional provision.

Thus the focus shifted to the different contexts in which learning takes place and to pedagogic processed, in particular how to support learners in developing their learning through a PLE. And with an increased focus on context, research had broadened. Instead of being confined within the education domain, we are seeing the emergence of interdisciplinary research – for instance bringing together work science and innovation research to understand how PLEs might be of use for learning at the workplace.

The latter subject is of particular interest to me and a group of us agreed we would set up a wiki to continue working on this. Of course commitments made in the hothouse of an intensive conference are not always fulfilled but I hope we manage to do this. And if anyone else is interested please get in touch.

Finally, despite the best intentions of all of us to support the conference organisers, inevitably much of the work falls on the shoulder of the local team. Many thanks to Carlos Santos and to Luis Pedro  and all the other colleagues from Aveiro who made the conference such a success.

 

 

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Developing Work based Personal Learning Environments in Small and Medium Enterprises

July 5th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

This is a work in progress. It is the first draft of a paper by Ludger Deitmer and myself for the Personal Learning Environments Conference to be held in Aveiro next week. We are looking at how we might develop work based PLEs drawing on the work on the forthcoming Learning Layers project. there is a downloadable version (in word format) at the bottom of the post. Your feedback is very welcome.

 

Developing Work based Personal Learning Environments in Small and Medium Enterprises

Graham Attwell, Pontydusgu, Wales

Ludger Deitmer, ITB, University of Bremen, Germany

Abstract

This paper is based on a literature review and interviews with employers and trainers in the north German building and construction trades. The work was undertaken in preparing a project application, Learning Layers, for the European Research Programme.

The paper looks at the development of High Performance Work Systems to support innovation in Small and Medium enterprises. It discusses the potential of Personal Learning environments to support informal and work based learning.

The paper goes on to look at the characteristics and organisation of the building and construction industry and at education and training in the sector.

It outlines an approach to developing the use of PLEs based on a series of layers to support informal interactions with people across enterprises, supports creation, maturing and interaction with learning materials as boundary objects and a layer that situates and scaffolds learning support into the physical workplace and captures people’s interactions with physical artefacts inviting them to share their experiences.

Keywords

Building, construction, Small and Medium Enterprises, informal interactions, boundary objects, workplace learning, scaffolding

1. Introduction

Research and development in Personal Learning Environments has made considerable progress in recent years. Yet although often acknowledging the importance of informal learning, such research continues to be largely focused on formal educational institutions from either higher or vocational training and education. Far less attention has been paid to work based and work integrated learning and still less to the particular context of learning at work in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) (Gustavsen, Nyhan, Ennals, 2007). Yet it could be argued that it is in just these contexts, where work can provide a rich learning environment and where there is growing need for continuing professional development to meet demands from new technology, new materials and changing work processes, that PLEs could have the greatest impact. A work environment in which the workers plan, control and validate their work tasks can both competitive and productive (Asheim 2007). It also requires that workers are able to make incremental and continuous improvements to work processes to develop better products and services. This in turn requires continuous learning. In contrast to predominant forms of continuous training based on activities outside the workplace, and in response to the perceived lack of take up of Technology Enhanced Learning in SMEs, we propose a dual approach, based on informal learning and the development of network and mobile technologies including Personal Learning Environments. This paper will describe an approach being developed for learning in SMEs, specifically in the building and construction industry in north Germany.

Our approach is based on the development of high performance work systems in industrial clusters of SMEs. In this context, individual learning leads to incremental innovation within enterprises. Personal Learning environments serve both to support individual learning and organisational learning through a bringing together of learning processes (and technology) and knowledge management within both individual SMEs and dispersed networks of SMEs in industrial clusters. Our approach is also based on linking informal and work based learning and practice and formal training.

The paper is based on literature research and on interviews with employers and trainers in the building and construction sector. This work was undertaken in preparation for a project called Learning Layers, to be undertaken through the European Commission Seventh Framework for Research and due to commence in November 2012.

In the paper we look at the ideas behind high performance work systems and industrial clusters before examining the nature and context of the building and construction industries and particularly of SMEs within the industrial cluster.

We develop a scenario of how PLEs might be used for learning and suggest necessary developments to be undertaken to facilitate the adaptation of such technologies for learning.

2. The challenge for knowledge and skills for the workforce

Many industries are undergoing a period of rapid change with the introduction of new technologies, new production concepts, work processes and materials. This is resulting in new quality requirements for products and processes which lead to an emergence of new skill requirements at all levels of personnel, including management, workers, technicians, apprentices and trainees. These changes can be described as a paradigmatic shift from traditional forms of production towards leaner, agile and flexible production based on high performance work systems (Toner 2011).

Leaner business organisations have less hierarchical layers and develop ‘close to production intelligence’ in order to be more flexible to change and to customer demands. The qualifications required of workers within such production or service environment are broader than in traditional workplaces reflecting a shift from functional skills towards multiskilling. Skilled workers require practical and theoretical knowledge in order to act competently in the planning, preparation, production and control of work and to coordinate with other departments in or outside the company.

Information and communication technologies – including both technologies for learning and for knowledge management – are required to allow more decentralised control to support just-in-time and flexible production and services. A key to flexibility and high productivity lies in the qualification profiles of the workforce and in the development of worker-oriented production technologies, which allow more flexible control in the production process.

The following table illustrates the change in innovation management within such companies and the consequences for the skilling of workers, technicians and the apprentices. This change in production philosophy can be described as a move from a top-down management approach towards a participative management approach (Rauner, Rasmussen & Corbett, 1988; Deitmer & Attwell, 2000) which requires a commitment to innovation at all level of the workforce, not just at the management level.

Innovation management by: control Innovation management by: participation Organisational consequences for the skilling of emerging workers
function-oriented work organisation business-oriented work organisations Learn to work within the flow of the business process and at the work place through experience-based learning
steep hierarchy flat hierarchy Self regulated working and learning based on methods like plan, do, act and control cycle
low level and fragmented qualifications shaping competences Be able to shape workplaces and make suggestions for improvement of services and production processes
executed work commitment, responsibility Developing vocational identity and occupational commitment
external quality control quality consciousness professional level of training based on key work and learning tasks

Table 1 Innovation management and the skilling of workers (Deitmer 2011)

3. Learning by doing and drivers for incremental innovation

Toner (2011) points out that a ‘learning by doing’ strategy in an innovative work environment can lead to gradual improvement in the efficiency of the production processes and product design and performance (Toner 2011). Such improvements are based on high performance skills by workers. High Performance Work Structures are based on the practical knowledge of the workers underpinned by theoretical knowledge (Nyhan 2002, Rauner). Practical knowledge is generated in the context of application and is shaped by criteria such as practicability, functionality and the failure free use of technologies.

In high performance work systems (Toner 2011, Arundel 2006, Gospel 2007, Teece et.al 2000)  the following qualification profiles are emerging:

  • High levels of communication, numeracy, problem solving and team working are required as managerial authority is delegated to the shop floor including the design of the workplace, maintenance and continuous product and process innovation
  • Broad Job Classifications which allow functional flexibility by limiting occupational demarcations and requiring workers to be competent across a broader range of tasks than is conventionally expected which in turn requires broad based training.
  • Organisational learning around new patterns of activities is based on capturing the learning and work experiences of individual workers and teams of workers
  • Flat management hierarchies provide more responsibility for individual workers and work teams in problem solving and in organising work processes

High Performance Work Systems require a commitment to innovation at all levels of the workforce; this process is more inclusive, democratic and incremental rather than elitist, imposed and radical. The empowerment of the work force to make proposals for changes and improvement is key. However the adoption of such practices requires continuous learning linked to knowledge management and systems and technologies to support such processes.

Thus the development of work based PLEs could be linked to wider processes of innovation within SMEs.

4. Learning and innovation in Regional Clusters

Many SMEs organise themselves in clusters or networks in order to collaborate, to share knowledge and skill, or even to exchange staff. The network dimension is particularly important as regional clusters have been understood as an instrument of scaling learning in heavily SME dependent sectors. This is reflected by large EU projects like European Cluster Excellence Initiative. It is much easier to economically justify the creation of learning materials which can be reused in an entire cluster and hence by many organisations than just for a few individuals. The challenge from a network point of view would be to identify such high potential learning materials and to find ways to distribute them efficiently within the network. The current focus of cluster initiatives is almost exclusively on scaling up formal training by organising training across network members. While a Communities of Practice perspective has been adopted in some cases to address informal learning processes, these are usually not effectively supported through information technologies (Prestkvern & Bardalen 2008).

Effects resulting from relationships in networks of small organisations for learning processes have received little attention in Technology Enhanced Learning research to date, despite these networks having been identified as a potential way of fostering favourable learning conditions (Deitmer & Attwell 2000). However, we can build here on work in diverse fields looking into these network effects. Seminal work by Granovetter (1973) has made distinction between strong and weak ties in such networks. Further studies investigated the network effects on experience sharing (Baum, 1998), on social networks (Cross, 2001), of trust on knowledge transfer (Levin, 2004) on communication for innovation (Müller-Prothmann, 2006), on communication with new media (Haythornthwaite, 2002) and more recently on networked learning (Ryberg, 2008). However, the effects on informal learning and on the creation of shared knowledge artefacts are still open issues.

The development and implementation of Personal Learning Environments within the context of regional clusters could support this form of networked informal learning.

However there remain barriers. Research suggests (Perifanou, forthcoming) that SMEs may still be concerned about a perceived loss of competitiveness through openness in collaborative learning contexts. Similarly some SMEs regard learning materials, especially those generated within their organisation, as a potential source of future revenue.

5. Learning approaches and technological support for learning at the workplace

Research suggests that in SMEs much learning takes place in the workplace and through work processes, is multi episodic, is often informal, is problem based and takes place on a just in time basis (Hart, 2011). Rather than a reliance on formal or designated trainers, much training and learning involves the passing on of skills and knowledge from skilled workers (Attwell and Baumgartl, 2009). Dehnbostel (2009) says that learning in the workplace is the oldest and most common method of vocational qualification, developing experience, motivation and social relations. Learning at work is self-directed, process-oriented form of lifelong learning that essentially contributes to personality development and professionalism, and promotes innovation and employability (Streumer, 2001; Dehnbostel, 2009; Fischer, Boreham and Nyhan, 2004).

A survey undertaken in Germany found work based learning comprised of 43% of training and learning undertaken by enterprises (Büchter et al., 2000).

Thus work based learning is seen as a potential approach to developing continuing learning for the broader competences and work process knowledge required for high performance workplaces. Rather than a reliance on formal or designated trainers, much training and learning involves the passing on of skills and knowledge from skilled workers (Attwell and Baumgartl, 2009). In other words, learning is highly individualized and heavily integrated with contextual work practices. While this form of delivery (learning from individual experience) is highly effective for the individual and has been shown to be intrinsically motivating by both the need to solve problems and by personal interest (Attwell, 2007; Hague & Lohan, 2009), it does not scale well: if individual experiences are not further taken up in systematic organisational learning practices, learning remains costly, fragmented and unsystematic.  It has been suggested that Technology Enhanced Learning can overcome this problem of scaling and of systematisation of informal and work based learning. However its potential has not yet been fully realized and especially in many Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), the take-up has not been effective. A critical review of the way information technologies are being used for workplace learning (Kraiger, 2008) concludes that most solutions are targeted towards a learning model based on the idea of formal, direct instruction. TEL initiatives tend to be based upon a traditional business training model with modules, lectures and seminars transferred from face to face interactions to onscreen interactions, retaining the standard tutor/student relationship and the reliance on formal and to some extent standardized course material and curricula.

The development of work based Personal Learning Environments have the potential to link informal learning in the workplace to more formal training. Furthermore they could promote the sharing of experience and work practices and promote collaborative learning within networks of SMEs. Research suggests that in SMEs much learning not only takes place in the workplace and through work processes, but is multi episodic, is often informal, is problem based and takes place on a just in time basis (Hart, 2011).

Learning in the workplace draws on a multitude of existing ‘resources’ – many of which have not been designed for learning purposes (like colleagues, Internet, Intranet) (Kooken et al. 2007). Research on whether these experiential forms of learning lead to effective learning outcomes are mixed. Purely self-directed learning has been shown to be less effective than most guided learning in many laboratory studies and in educational settings (Mayer, 2004). On the other hand, explorative learning in work settings has often been reported to be beneficial, e.g. for allowing construction of mental models and improving transfer (Keith & Frese, 2005). Some form of guidance may be necessary to direct learners’ attention to relevant materials and support their learning (Bell & Kozlowsky, 2008). This is especially true for learners at initial levels (Lindstaedt et al. 2010).

One approach to this issue is to provide scaffolding. The use of scaffolding as a metaphor refers to the provision of temporary support for the completion of a task that a learner might otherwise be unable to achieve. Scaffolding extends the socio-cultural approach of Vygotsky. Vygotsky (1978) suggested that support for learning was provided by a Significantly Knowledgeable Other, who might be a teachers or trainer, but could also be a colleague or peer. Attwell has suggested that such support can be embodied in technology. However, scaffolding knowledge in different domains and in particular in domains that involve a relationship between knowledge and practice requires a closer approach to learning episodes and to the use of physical objects for learning within the workplace. Thus rather than seeing a PLE as a containers or connections- or even as a pedagogical approach – PLEs might be seen instead as a flexible process to scaffold individual and community  learning and knowledge development.

6. Developing Work based PLEs in the Building and Construction Sector

In the first section of this paper we have looked at the idea of high performance work systems and innovation and knowledge development within industrial clusters. We have suggested that Personal Learning Environments could facilitate and develop these processes through building on informal learning in the workplace.  We have recognized the necessity for support for learning through networked scaffolding. In the second section, we will examine in more depth the north German Building and Construction sector, developing a scenario of how PLEs might work in such a context. We will; go on to suggest further research which is needed to refine our idea of how to develop work based PLEs.

7. The Building and Construction Cluster

The building and construction trades are undergoing a period of rapid change with the introduction of green building techniques and materials and new work processes and standards. The EU directive makes near zero energy building mandatory by 2021 (European Parliament 2009). This is resulting in the development of new skill requirements for work on building sites.

The sector is characterized by a small number of large companies and a large number of SMEs in both general building and construction and in specialized craft trades. Building and construction projects require more interactive collaboration within as well as between different craft trade companies within the cluster.

Training for skilled workers has traditionally been provided through apprenticeships in most countries. Continuing training is becoming increasingly important for dealing with technological change. However further training programmes are often conducted outside the workplace with limited connection to real work projects and processes and there is often little transfer of learning. Costs are a constraint for building enterprises, especially SMEs, in providing off the job courses (Schulte and Spöttl, 2009). Although In Germany, as in some other European countries, there is a training levy for sharing training costs between enterprises, there remains a wider issues of how to share knowledge both within enterprises and between workers in different workplaces. Other issues include how to provide just in time training to meet new needs and how to link formal training with informal learning and work based practice in the different craft trades.

The developments of new processes and materials provide substantial challenges for the construction industry. Traditional educational and training methods are proving to be insufficient to meet the challenge of the rapid emergence of new skill and quality requirements (for example those related to green building techniques or building materials). This requires much faster involvement and action at three levels – individual, organisational and cluster. The increased rate of technical change introduces greater uncertainty for firms, which, in turn, demands an increased capacity for problem solving skills (Toner 2011). Despite the recession there is a shortage of skilled craftspeople in some European regions and a problem in recruiting young people for apprenticeships in higher skilled craft work in the building and construction industry.

In the present period of economic uncertainty, it is worth noting that the total turnover of the construction industry in 2010 (EU27) was 1186 billion Euros forming 9,7% of the GDP in 2010 (EU27). The construction industry is the biggest industrial employer in Europe with 13,9 million operatives making up 6,6% of the total employment in EU27 and if programmes were to be launched to stimulate economies, construction has a high multiplier effect.

8. Mobile technologies and work based Personal Learning Environments

Although the European Commission has pointed to the lack of take up of e-Learning in various sectors, this is probably too simplistic an analysis. It may be more that in all sectors, e-learning has been used to a greater or lesser extent for learning in particular occupations and for particular tasks. For example e-Learning is used for those professions which most use computers e.g. in the building and construction industries, by architects and engineers. Equally e-learning is used for generic competences such as learning foreign languages or accounting.

In the past few years, emerging technologies (such as mobile devices or social networks) have rapidly spread into all areas of our life. However, while employees in SMEs increasingly use these technologies for private purposes as well as for informal learning, enterprises have not in general recognized the personal use of technologies as effectively supporting informal learning. As a consequence, the use of these emerging technologies has not been systematically taken up as a sustainable learning strategy that is integrated with other forms of learning at the workplace.

9. An approach to developing PLEs in the work place

We are researching methods and technologies to scale-up informal learning support for PLEs so that it is cost-effective and sustainable, offers contextualised and meaningful support in the virtual and physical context of work practices. through the Learning Layers project we aim to:

  • Ensure that peer production is unlocked: Barriers to participation need to be lowered, the massive reuse of existing materials has to be realized, and experiences people make in physical contexts needs to be included.
  • Ensure individuals receive scaffolds to deal with the growing abundance: We need to research concepts of networked scaffolding and research the effectiveness of scaffolds across different contexts.
  • Ensure shared meaning of work practices at individual, organisational and inter-organisational levels emerges from these interactions: We need to lower barriers for participation, allow emergence as a social negotiation process and knowledge maturing across institutional boundaries, and research the role of physical artefacts and context in this process.

10. The Learning Layers concept: an approach to support informal learning through PLEs

Work based Personal Learning Environments will be based on a series of Learning Layers. In building heavily on existing research on situated and contextualised learning, Learning Layers provide a meaningful learning context when people interact with people, digital and physical artefacts for their informal learning. Learning Layers provide a shared conceptual foundation independent of the personal tools people use for learning. Learning Layers can flexibly be switched on and off, to allow modular and flexible views of the abundance of existing resources in learning interactions. These views both restrict the perspective of the abundant opportunities and augment the learning experience through scaffolds for meaningful learning both in and across digital and physical interaction.

At the same time, Learning Layers invite processes of social contribution for peer production through providing views of existing digital resources and making it easy to capture and share physical interactions. Peer production then becomes a way to establish new and complementary views of existing materials and interactions.

Three Interaction Layers focus on interaction with three types of entities involved in informal learning:

  • a layer that invites informal interactions with people across enterprises in the cluster, scaffolds workplace learning by drawing on networks of learners and keeps these interactions persistent so that they can be used in other contexts by other persons,
  • a layer that supports creation, maturing and interaction with learning materials as boundary objects and guides this processes by tracking the quality and suitability of these materials for learning, and
  • a layer that situates and scaffolds learning support into the physical workplace and captures people’s interactions with physical artefacts inviting them to share their experiences with them.
  • All three interaction layers draw on a common Social Semantic Layer that ensures learning is embedded in a meaningful context. This layer captures and emerges the shared understanding in the community of learners by supporting the negotiation of meaning. To achieve this, the social semantic layer captures a number of models and lets the community evolve these models through PLEs in a social negotiation process.

The following scenario within the building and construction industry illustrate how these technologies will be operational in the regional North West German building and construction cluster.

11. Building and Construction Scenario: Cross-organisational Learning for Sustainable Construction

A regional training provider for the building industry offers courses on how to install PLC (programmable logic control) based lighting systems, a new technology designed for more efficient energy consumption. Veronika, a vocational trainer at a regional branch, designs a course on PLC based systems where she provides electronic materials. In the course, she distributes QR tags which participants can stick on devices in order to receive information on demand. She also integrates work-based exercises in her teaching where users tag PLC systems with QR tags, take pictures or create short videos, and add their personal experiences with these systems that they make available for other people as learning experiences [Artefact Interaction Layer].

Paul is a skilled electrician working in craft trade electrician service company who has not used PLC technology before. The PLC installation instructions are difficult to understand for him because he lacks experience with such installations. He scans the QR tag attached to the PLC with his tablet PC. The system suggests course materials from Veronika’s course, relevant standards for the installation from a technical publisher, as well as a short video documenting the installation steps recorded by a colleague [Artefact Interaction Layer]. Moreover, Paul receives the information that two people have experience with this particular PLC [Social Semantic Layer]. Paul calls one of them over Skype and checks that his plan and understanding of the installation is sound and then proceeds with the installation with the help of the video. As several further questions remain, Paul posts them using voice recording and photo to a Q&A tool [People Interaction Layer].

Paul’s question is forwarded to Dieter, an Electrical “Meister” in another SME using similar devices, based on his user profile indicating that he has experience with PLC, and because he has indicated his willingness to help. Dieter briefly answers Paul’s question, including links to materials (Pictures, …) available in the learning layers repository. Dieter is a well-known “problem solver” in his SME network. By support of the Learning Layers technology he has created a training business in which he gives technical advice service and trainings to other building electrician companies. His comments can be traced by others and recognized as service from the Electrician’s Guild.

Veronika, the vocational trainer, is notified by the system that there are currently many new activities around PLC programming and views the concrete questions that occurred [Social Semantic Layer]. With the notification, she also gets recommendations for the most active and helpful discussions and for most suitable and high quality materials people have suggested [Learning Materials Interaction Layer]. She decides to include these in her course to illustrate solutions to potential problems.

The four layers described in the previous section provide the core of the conceptual and technological approach for the development of the PLEs. There are two further critical elements that will be crucial for reaching our vision. These elements are needed for effectively integrating the different layers.

12. Further Research 

Integration of work practices with learning to support situated, just-in time learning

We need further investigation into the relationship of informal learning and workplace practices on the individual, organisational and on the network level. In extending previous work, we will especially focus on physical workplaces and the opportunities and constraints that come with supporting learning. Secondly, we require a further focus on existing barriers and opportunities for scaling peer production and learning in cooperative-competitive SME networks. This work will create a model for scaling informal learning in a networked SME context and ensure that the use of tools is integrated through practice as suggested for example by Wenger, et al. (2009). But we generally acknowledge that a key factor for enterprises to staying agile and adaptive is to have a highly skilled workforce. With the rapid development of new technologies, staying up-to-date with know-how and skills increasingly becomes a challenge in many sectors.

Integration through a technical architecture for fast and flexible deployment:

Our idea is to base PLes on mobile devices, either the users’ personal devices or devices provided by the enterprises. However,  the Learning Layers concept is based on fast and flexible deployment in a networked SME setting with heterogeneous infrastructural requirements and conditions. Current learning architectures are typically deployed as monolithic in-house installations that lack flexibility for inter-SME networking in response to fast-changing environments. On the other hand, externally hosted solutions are too restricted to features, devices and environments supported by the provider, again impeding flexibility and fast development cycles. Thus, the challenge of both fast and flexible development and deployment of learning solutions is currently not optimally catered for. This issue requires further research and development.

13. First Conclusions

This paper presents the early stages of research and development towards producing a system to support Personal Learning Environments in the workplace. There remains much work to do in realising our vision. We are attempting both to theoretically bring together approaches to innovation and knowledge management with learning and at the same time to develop pedagogical approaches to scaffolding learning in the workplace and develop technologies which can support the use of PLEs in networked organisational settings.

Our ambition is not merely to produce a proof of concept but to roll out a scalable system which can support learning in large scale networks of SMEs.

Our approach to developing the use of PLEs is based on a series of layers to support informal interactions with people across enterprises, supports creation, maturing and interaction with learning materials as boundary objects and a layer that situates and scaffolds learning support into the physical workplace and captures people’s interactions with physical artefacts inviting them to share their experiences.

Acknowledgement

The authors wish to acknowledge the contribution of the partners in the Learning Layers project application, on whose work this paper draws heavily.

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Twitter and Personal Learning Networks

July 4th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I’ve not read more than the abstract so far. But I have added this Masters dissertation by Clint Lamonde  entitled “The Twitter experience : the role of Twitter in the formation and maintenance of personal learning networks” (see abstract below) to my dropbox collection of papers for reading on my iPad on long trips!

Having read some of the papers for next weeks #PLEconference in Aveiro and Melbourne, there seems to the the emergence of a great deal of serious research on Personal Learning Environments and Personal Learning Networks. I think this research is important in helping us understand how people are using technology for ICT mediated relationships and informal learning.

I will publish more links to recent papers over the next couple of weeks.

Abstract:

This qualitative phenomenological study involving in-depth interviews with seven educators in K-12 and higher education examines the role that the microblogging service Twitter plays in the formation and development of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) among educators. A double hermeneutic data analysis shows that Twitter plays a role in the formation and development of PLNs by allowing educators to; engage in consistent and sustained dialogue with their PLN, access the collective knowledge of their PLN, amplify and promote more complex thoughts and ideas to a large audience, and expand their PLN using features unique to Twitter. This research also examines the nature of a PLN and shows that participants believe their PLN extends beyond their Twitter network to encompass both face-to-face and other ICT mediated relationships. Secondary research questions examine how Twitter differs from other social networking tools in mediating relationships within a PLN, what motivates an educator to develop a PLN, how trust is established in a PLN, what the expectations of reciprocity are within a PLN, and what is the nature of informal learning within a PLN. Keywords: Twitter, microblogging, Personal Learning Network, PLN, informal learning

 

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Recognising learning with badges

June 19th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Moving into uncharted waters: are open badges the future for skills accreditation?

I am ever more interested in the idea of badges in generla and the Mozilla Badges project in particular.

Having said this I think some of the pilot work has been on the wrong track – in providing accreditation for vocational competence in fields with pre-existing qualifications, rather than looking at areas lacking existing froms of recognition.

Badges should be about recognising learning. And it is probably more important in motivating learners that they are able to recognise their own learning. So I see badges as an extension tot he assessment for learning movement. In this respect the sample badge on the Mozilla Open Badges project site is unhelpful. I know it is up to the provider to determine the forms of assessment and that Mozilla does not determine who can become a provider. But the example inevitably will influence how potential providers view badges. Assessment needs to be an active process, contirbuting both to the leaners’s understanding and facilitating the process fo recogniciton. Simple check boxes as in the example above do neither.

L like the Mozilla Backpack and obviously a great deal of effort is being put into developing a robust architecture. But just as important as the electronic badges is something learners can display. Jenny Hughes has suggested we should provide learners with a badge holder (at least for younger learners) and that they should be allowed to select one badge to wear to school each day.

The badges could look very similar to the popular football cards being distributed by German supermarkets. If youlook at the back of the card (below) thereis even space for several metadata fields.

In a follow up post I will discuss several practical ideas for piloting the badges.

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