The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

As promised, a post on our stand and presentation at Alt-C on the LMIforAll Labour Market Data project, sponsored by UKCES. Working together with the Institute for Employment Research at Warwick University and Raycom, we have developed a database and APi providing access to a range of data about a wide variety of different occupations in the UK including data about:

  • Pay
  • Gender
  • Numbers employed
  • Future employment projections
  • Occupational profiles
  • Skills and competences
  • Job vacancies
  • University destinations

The API is self documenting and is available free of charge to both for profit and not for profit organisatio0ns and developers. Working with Loud Source we have run a competition for Apps built on the API and together with Rewired State we have organised a series of Hack Days and Mod Days. We are currently redesigning the website to provide better access to the data and to the different applications that have been built to date.

One strange thing that took people visiting our stand some time to understand was that we were not selling anything (I think ours and Jisc were the only non commercial stands).  The second thing was that we were not trying to ‘sell’ them a shiny out of teh box project. To get added value from our database and API requires some thought and development effort on the part of organisations wanting to use the data. We provide the tools, they provide the effort to use them. But when people got that concept they were enthusiastic. And most interestingly they were coming up with completely new ideas for where the data might be valuable. As you can see in our presentation above, we have largely focused on the use of LMIforAll for careers planning. University and Further Education researchers and developers saw big potential using the API as a planning too for future courses and curriculum. Others saw it as a valuable resource for measuring employability, a big agenda point for many UK institutions. It was also suggested to us that the labour market data could be mashed together with data derived from learning analytics, providing possibly a more learner centred approach to analytics than has previously been deployed.

If you are interested in any of these ideas have a play on the LMIforAll web site. And feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.



The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

It is the end of the holidays and time to return back to work. And of course with September starts the autumn conference season. This week I am at the ALT C Conference at Warwick University and then at the European Conference for Educational Research in Porto. More on The ECER conference later.

At Alt C we are organising a workshop on the UKCES open data project (abstract below). And we will also have an exhibition stand. So if you are coming to the conference make sure to drop by the stand – No 16 in the Arts Centre – free coffee and sweets! and say hello.

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

People make important decisions about their participation in the labour market every year. This extends from pupils in schools, to students in Further and Higher education institutions and individuals at every stage of their career and learning journeys. Whether these individuals are in transition from education and/or training, in employment and wishing to up-skill, re-skill or change their career, or whether they are outside the labour market wishing to re-enter, high quality and impartial labour market information (LMI) is crucial to effective career decision-making. LMI is at the heart of UK Government reforms of careers service provision. Linking and opening up careers focused LMI to optimise access to, and use of, core national data sources is one approach to improving that provision as well as supporting the Open Data policy agenda (see HM Government, 2012). Careers focused LMI can be used to support people make better decisions about learning and work and improve the efficiency of labour markets by helping match supply with demand, and helping institutions in planning future course provision.

A major project, funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, is underway led by a team of data experts at the Institute for Employment Research (University of Warwick) with developers and technologists from Pontydysgu and Raycom designing, developing and delivering a careers LMI webportal, known as LMI for All. The presentation will focus on the challenge of collaborating and collecting evidence at scale between institutions and the social and technological design and development of the database. The database is accessed through an open API, which will be explored during the presentation.

Through open competition developers, including students in FE, have been encouraged to develop their own applications based on the data. Early adopters and developers have developed targeted applications and websites that present LMI in a more engaging way, which are targeted at specific audiences with contrasting needs.The web portal is innovative, as it seeks to link and open up careers focused LMI with the intention of optimising access to, and use of, core national data sources that can be used to support individuals make better decisions about learning and work. It has already won an award from the Open Data Institute.

The presentation will highlight some of the big data and technological challenges the project has addressed. It will also look at how to organise collaboration between institutions and organisations in sharing data to provide new services in education and training.Targeted participants include developers and stakeholders from a range of educational and learning settings.

The session will be interactive with participants able to test out the API, provide feedback and view applications.

Professional identities and Communities of Practice

Technology Enhanced Learning, at least form a research perspective, has always tended to be dominated by the education sector. Coming from a background in vocational education and training, I was always more interested in how technology could be used to enhance learning in work and in particular informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises.

Much early work in this area, at least in Europe was driven by a serious of assumptions. We were moving towards a knowledge economy (remarkable how quiet that has gone since the economic crash) and future employment, productivity and profitability, required higher levels of skills and knowledge win the workplace.. Prior to the rise of the World Wide Web, this could be boosted by enhancing opportunities for individual learning through the development of instructional materials distributed on disc or CD ROM. Interestingly this lead to much innovative work on simulation, which tended to be forgotten with the move to the online environment offered by the World Wide Web.

One of the big assumptions was that what was holding back learning in enterprises was the cost of releasing employees for (formal) training. Thus all we had to do was link up universities, colleges and other training providers to enterprises through providing courses on the web and hey presto, the problem would be solved. Despite much effort, it didn’t really work. One of the reasons I suspect is that so much workplace knowledge is contextually specific and rooted in practice, and trainers and particularly learning technologists did not have that knowledge. Secondly it was often difficult to represent practice based knowledge in the more restricted learning environment of the web. A further issue was a failure to understand the relationship between learning nd professional development, work practice and professional (or occupational) identities. That latter issue is the subject on a paper entitled Facilitating professional identity formation and transformation through technology enhanced learning: the EmployID approach, submitted by my colleagues from the EmployID reject, Jenny Bimrose, Alan Brown, Teresa Holocher-Ertl, Barbara Kieslinger, Christine Kunzmann, Michael Prilla, Andreas P. Schmidt, and Carmen Wolf to the forthcoming ECTEL conference. Their key finding is that there is “a wide spectrum of how actual professional identity transformation processes take place so that an ICT-based approach will not be successful if it concentrates on prescribing processes of identity transformation; rather it should concentrate on key activities to support.” They go on to say that “ this is in line with recent approaches to supporting workplace learning, such as Kaschig et al. (2013) who have taken an activity-based approach to understanding and supporting collective knowledge development.”

The following short excerpt from the paper explains their understanding of processes of professional work identity formation:

“Professional work identities are restructured in a dynamic way when employees are challenged to cope with demands for flexibility, changing work situations and skill needs (Brown, 1997). The work activities of practitioners in Public Employment Services (PES) need to be trans- formed due to the changing nature of the labour market. As their roles change, so do their professional identities. Work identities are not just shaped by organisations and individuals, but also by work groups (Baruch and Winkelmann-Gleed, 2002) or communities of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991; Brown, 1997; Ibarra, 2003). PES practitioners in particular need to develop multi-dimensional (individual and collective) professional identities to cope with socio-economic and technological change (Kirpal, 2004). This shift is underpinned by the increased importance of communica-tions skills, a willingness to engage in learning and reflexivity, while reflection on experience over time may be particularly significant in the build-up of implicit or tacit knowledge as well as explicit knowledge (Eraut, 2000). At the individual level, emerging new demands and associated skills shifts generate a potential for conflict with traditional work orientations and associated values, norms, work ethics and work identity patterns of employees. One important focus for support are individuals’ strategies for dealing with such conflicts. While any identity formation process has to be realized by the individual, the process of acquiring a work identity also takes place within particular communities where socialization, interaction and learning are key elements. Therefore, supporting networks, of ‘new’ communities of practice (Lave, 1993; Wenger, 1998; Billett, 2007) and feedback from other practitioners are important aspects on which to focus.”


Baruch, Y. & Winkelmann-Gleed, A. (2002). Multiple commitments: a conceptual framework and empirical investigation in a Community Health Services Trust, British Journal of Management, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 337-357.

Billett, S. (2007). Exercising self: learning, work and identity. In: Brown, A.; Kirpal, S.; Rauner, F. (eds). Identities at work. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 183-210.

Brown, A. (1997). A dynamic model of occupational identity formation. In: Brown, A. (ed.) Promoting Vocational Education and Training: European Perspectives. Tampere: University of Tampere, pp. 59-67.

Eraut, M. (2000). Non-formal Learning and Tacit Knowledge in Professional Work. British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 70, No. 1, pp. 113 – 136.

Ibarra, H. (2003). Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career.Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Kaschig, A., Maier, R., Sandow, A., Lazoi, M., Schmidt, A., Barnes, S., Bimrose, J., Brown, A., Bradley, C., Kunzmann, C., Mazarakis, A. (2013). Organisational Learning from the Perspective of Knowledge Maturing Activities. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technol- ogies 6(2), pp. 158 – 176
Kirpal, S. (2004) “Researching work identities in a European context”, Career Development International, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp.199 – 221

Lave, J. (1993). The Practice of Learning. In S. Chaiklin and J. Lave (eds) Understanding Practice: Perspectives on Activity and Context, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Lave, J. , & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning. Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

CareerHack competition reeps rich harvest

First the official stuff (from the press release).

“Talented UK students have won three out of four prizes in a worldwide competition to create a new app to help people develop their career.

The CareerHack open data contest was launched in November last year by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), and asked developers around the globe to build an app based on the UK Commission’s “LMI for All” open data, which contains information on the UK labour market, including employment, skills and future job market predictions.

First prize winner for the competition was Tomasz Florczak from Logtomobile in Poland, who won £10,000 for his innovative Career Advisor app, while 16-year-old school student Harry Jones, from Bath, took home a £5,000 prize for his Job Happy entry.


The contest also had a special prize specifically for entrants aged 16-24 in Further Education. In this category 22-year-old IT apprentice Phillip Hardwick won the £5,000 prize for his entry, Career Path. And judges were so impressed with the quality of entrants from the category that they introduced an additional runner-up prize of £2,500, which went to a team effort from students at Barking and Dagenham College in London.

Competition judge Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Chair of National Careers Council and a Commissioner for UKCES, said:

“As judges we were all highly impressed at the outstanding contributions made by our winners, and of the talent and ability being displayed by the next generation of up-and-coming developers and programmers.

“The quality of the submissions was so high we felt the need to introduce an additional prize, but all those that entered should be extremely proud of their efforts.”

The judging panel was made up of technology experts from Google, Ubuntu and HP, alongside representatives from the UK Commission and John Lewis. Judges made their decision based on how innovative the entry was, how viable it was as a working app, the potential it had for making an impact on society and the overall quality of the packaged app.

CareerHack judge Matt Brocklehurst, Product Marketing Manager at Google UK said:

“At Google we’re well aware of the importance of making data open and encouraging young, creative talent. CareerHack was a fantastic example of this and we were very impressed by the high standard of entries from everyone who entered – the fact that three of the four winners are young people at the start of their careers is fantastic news.  We hope these prizes will enable them to get a head start down whichever career path they choose to follow.”

Fellow CareerHack judge Cristian Parrino, Vice President of Mobile and Online Services at Ubuntu, added:

“The CareerHack competition demonstrated how an set of open data can be used to cater to the needs of people at different stages of their career paths. It was wonderful to see the different flavours of high quality applications and services built on UKCES’s data.”

LMI for All has been developed by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, working with a consortium led by the Institute for Employment Research at Warwick University and including Pontydysgu, RayCom and Rewired State.”

Pontydysgu’s bit in all this is managing the technical side. I have to say I was a bit sceptical of producing an APi and then opening it up and encouraging contributions through a competition, but having looked at the videos I am gobsmacked by the inventiveness of teh programmers who entered. We will be looking in more depth at what has been produced. We are also seeking feedback from all those who participated and planning more events later in the year. If you would like to know more (and particularly we would be interested in similar approaches to Open data for Labour Market Information in other countries) please contact me at graham10 [at] mac [dot] com.

Dysgu Ponty

The Pontydysgu website is always full of news about the big projects we are involved in, like FP7 Learning Layers or Taccle2.  This is pretty inevitable as they take up the majority of our time and budget.  However, there are lots of other, smaller Pontydysgu projects running in the background that we rarely post anything about.  This is a bit of an oversight because although we often use these projects as test beds for trying out new ideas or as vehicles for piloting specific bits of technology that we then roll together in a much bigger package, they are also successful in their own right.

All of them are running in Pontypridd, (known locally as “Ponty”) which is where the Wales half of Pontydysgu is based. Some are part funded through the LLL Partnerships programme; some are funded in-house. We thought we might write a series of posts on what these projects are all about….

First up is Dysgu Ponty, which translates to Learning Ponty.  We chose this name because apart from the play on Pontydysgu (meaning approximately Bridge to Learning), we wanted to convey the idea that the whole community of Ponty was learning and that the town called Ponty was a learning resource.

The project is based on a very simple concept – let’s cover the town with QR codes linked to a learning resource.   The codes are being printed on decals (for shop windows), enamel (for the exteriors of building) and on varnished wooden plaques for hanging around trees in the park.  Codes come in three colours – red for Welsh, green for the English translation and black for careers.

So far we have 200 and our target is at least another hundred.  The town has a population of 30,000 but this covers all of the outlying villages as well.  It also has a great sense of community, which means that the level of support has been brilliant. The whole community is involved – schools, the Town Council, shops, businesses, the local newspaper

The link from each QR code goes to a website page on which there is a question that relates to the location.  The level is approximately 8 -12 yrs olds. Following the title question is some simple information using a range of multi media.   The location of the codes will be on Google Maps and we are currently sorting them out into a ‘Maths trail’, ‘Language trail’, ‘History trail’ etc so that children can choose whether to follow a subject trail or focus on the codes in one part of the town.

The purpose of the project is really to provide a bridge between formal and informal learning and to improve home school links.

We are currently working of a way of  ‘rewarding’ children for completing a number of questions – not sure Mozilla badges quite fits.  Also thinking about how we can get kids to be able to upload pictures as well as comments. May rethink the platform.

Meanwhile here are some examples of the sorts of things we are talking about

Location:  on the bandstand in the park

  • Links to… Question:  Have you ever heard brass band music?
  • Additional ‘information’ – mp3 of Colliery Brass Band with one line of text explaining that most all the pits had their own band

Location: Outside Costa Coffee

  • Links to… Question: Do you know where coffee comes from?
  • Additional information: You Tube video of coffee being harvested and processed

Location: Outside travel agent underneath exchange rates

  • Links to… Question:  How much is it worth?
  • Additional info:  Text and image – If you had £37.50 to take on holiday, how many Euros would you get?  Which travel agent in town has the best exchange rate today?

Location:  On the river bank adjacent to the confluence

  • Links to…mQuestion:  What rivers are these and where is their source?
  • Additional info:  The place where two rivers merge is called a ‘confluence’.  Use Google Earth to trace the two rivers back as far as you can, find out their names and where the river enters the sea.

 Location:  On the war memorial

  • Links to… Question:  How many died?
  • Additional info: Look at the names on the Great War memorial and then the names on the Worls War 2 memorial.  In which war were the greatest number of people from Pontypridd killed? How many times more people?  Why do you think this was?

 Location: Market Street

  • Links to…Question:  What has changed?
  • Additional Info: Picture of the street taken 100 years ago from same spot. Text – List all the things that are different between Market Street in 1910 and the same street today.
You get the idea!
[We also have black codes for older students linked to careers information as part of the EU New Jobs project.  The codes take them to links asking "So you want to be a baker?" or "So you want to be a printer?" with videos explaining what the job involves, what qualifications or skills you need etc. Some are purpose made and some from You Tube or Vimeo.  More on this is another post.]
Next time – Learning about Art in Ponty