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.

What we are working on

Here is a quick update on some current work at Pontydysgu. With funding from the European Lifelong Learning Programme G8WAY project and the European Research Framework Mature-IP project, and working with a growing community of partners, we have been developing a series of Web 2.0 tools to support careers guidance. At the moment we are developing a  new web site which will give full access to these tools and applications, as well as to research about the use of Web 2.0 and social software for careers information, advice and guidance. Below is a summary of these tools. If you are interested in finding out more about any of these tools or about our approach to using technology to support careers guidance please get in touch.

Labour Market Visualisation Tools

We are developing tools and applications for visualising Labour Market Information in order to provide young people with an informed basis for decision making around career directions and to support the careers guidance professionals who advise young people. This work has been undertaken in conjunction with the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick and Careers Wales.


RadioActive is a project using internet radio to assist young people, particularly those from a NEETS (Not in Employment, Education, or Training) background in developing decision making and communication skills. This approach focuses on informal learning and the development of communities of practice through the use of new technologies. The approach is being piloted in conjunction with the University of East London, Yoh, a Hackney based youth agency, and Inspire!, the Education Business Partnership for the London Borough of Hackney.


Storiboard is a Web 2.0 tool for storytelling. In the first year of the G8WAY project we found that storytelling is a powerful tool for developing and reflection on careers biographies. Storiboard allows young people to use multimedia including video, audio and graphics to tell their careers stories and aspirations. It is initially being tested  through using the original stories collected in year one of the project and will then be piloted with UK based careers services.


We are developing a series of Web 2.0 webquests designed to support professional development for Careers Guidance professionals. The first two are on the use of the internet for Careers Guidance and on careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). Along with our technical partners, Raycom, we are developing a lightweight repository which combined with the Storiboard interface, will provide for easy editing and development of Webquests.

After the event – what are the lessons from organising the Bremen Mobile Learning Conference?

Just a few quick comments about the Mobile Learning Conference Bremen, which took place last week. By all accounts it was a big success – at least if the feedback from participants is to be believed. And I enjoyed it greatly.We had about one hundred delegates – from 19 different countries according to Judith Seipold. What were the lessons for the future?

1. The conference theme – ‘Mobile Learning: Crossing boundaries in convergent environments; allowed us to look at learning from a  number of different perspectives including from pedagogy, the arts and entertainment as well as from technology. As learning is embedded in ever wider contexts these perspectives can provide us with a richer and wider perspective on our work.

2. The venue is important. Although it raised some eyebrows when we said we were holding the conference in a youth hostel – the deign and location of the building – allowing different interlinked spaces with lots of light and right by the river (with a sun terrace) – facilitated informal discussions and learning linking the formal presentations and workshops with that valued ‘out of conference’ time.

3. Conferences do not need to be so expensive. We only charged 50 Euro per delegate and provided free access to students. How did we do it? Firstly the youth hostel gave us an excellent deal – considerably cheaper, I suspect, than we would have been charged by purpose built conference venues or by universities. And it was a no frills conference – no gala dinner and no free iPads. We managed all the administration ourselves using free or open source software – EasyChair, Twitter, Google forms etc. (The most tricky bit was negotiating with PayPal which took for ever).We begged and borrowed equipment.

Ok it was a bit touch and go – we haven’t paid everything yet but my guess is we will make a profit of about 45 Euro. But if we can do it so can others – the cost of conferences at the moment excludes many people resulting in a poorer discussion.

3. We encouraged multiple formats including workshops and demonstrations. the poster sessions was particularly good. And although the multiple strands meant some of the sessions were quite small it was those sessions which in my experience were the most interesting.

I think we still have some way to go in integrating unconferencing sessions properly in the agenda. Unconferencing takes a lot of organization and facilitation. But perhaps we should stop thinking about a dichotomy between conferencing and unconferencing and look at how we can encourage the maximum involvement and participation in all of our work.

4. We have got some sort of record of our conference on Cloudworks. But that took a lot of work and we need to look again at how we can pull together diverse information sources from the different places – slideshare, twitter, blogs etc which people use to show their work and ideas. This links back to the idea of how we amplify conferences and events.

5. We had a relatively small local organising committee. This has pros and cons. On the good side this allowed us to work together informally and intensely. On the down side it resulted in a few individuals ending up with a lot of work. We also had recruited a lot of reviewers prior to the conference which spread out the time consuming work of reviewing proposals. And we were extremely lucky to be able to draw on support from students from the local university who did this work for free as part of their studies.

And people are already asking about next years conference. I think we should do it again. But one suggestion is we might stick with the Crossing Boundaries theme but move on with the technology. After all mobiles are not alone in crossing those boundaries!

Using technology to support different forms of knowledge

I am ever more interested in how we can use technologies for knowledge development and sharing. In terms of research I think we need to bring together ideas and insights from different academic and research communities. Although there has been a traditional of discourse between those working in education and technology developers, this is less so when it comes to ideas about organisational learning and different forms of knowledge.

I have just read an interesting paper by Bengt-Ake Lundvall, Palle Rasmussen and Edward Lorenz on ‘Education in the Learning Economy: a European Perspective’. Let me first say I have always been sceptical about such terms as ‘learning economy’ and ‘knowledge economy ‘which seem to be too often bandied about as a mantra, rather than with any exact meaning. But I would agree with the authors observation that knowledge is becoming obsolete more rapidly than before so that employees have to learn and acquire new competencies. the authors say “It makes a major difference whether economic growth is seen as being fuelled by investments in codified scientific and technological knowledge, or whether it is seen as being driven by learning processes resulting in a combination of codified and tacit knowledge.”

International comparisons tend to focus on the first measure,. looking, for example at expenditure on research and development (R&D) and at the number of science and technology graduates. The latter perspective – captured by the term the learning economy –they say,  “can be seen in work focusing on the way informal networking relations, practical problem-solving on the job, and investments in lifelong learning contribute to competence building.”

At the heart of their argument is the nature of different forms of knowledge. They propose “a taxonomy of knowledge where it is divided into four categories (Lundvall & Johnson, 1994):

  • Know-what refers to knowledge about ‘facts’. Here, knowledge is close to what is normally called information – it can be broken down into bits and communicated as data.
  • Know-why refers to knowledge about causality nature, in the human mind and in society. This kind of knowledge is important for technological development in science-based industries.
  • Know-how refers to the ability to do something. It may be related to the skills of artisans and workers. But actually it plays a role in all economic activities, including science and management.
  • Know-who involves information about who knows what and who knows what to do as well as the social ability to cooperate and communicate with different kinds of people and experts.

Lundvall, Rasmussen and Edward Lorenz point to important differences in the degree to which these four categories of knowledge can be codified and in how education systems are affected by the degree of codification. the main point of their paper is to look at how traditional schoolings systems have become isolated from society and how the organisation into subjects and disciplines fails to maestro the needs of how we are developing and using knowledge. they also point to dramatic difference sin work organisation and opportunities for work based learning in different countries in Europe concluding that “Educational principles and cultures focusing on collaboration, interdisciplinarity and engagement with real-life problems are needed to prepare people for flexible and innovative participation in the economy and society.”

They do not deal with the issues of how we are using technology for learning  and knowledge development although they acknowledge that “data bases can bring together know-what in a more or less user friendly form”. Interestingly they piontyt0 to “the failure of IBM, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard to develop management information systems that could substitute for ‘the art of managing’ ” despite considerable investment and incentives to do so,
Traditional, Technology Enhanced Learning has focused on the know what and know-why. There has been little attention on the know how. yet it is this form of knowledge which is perhaps the most important within many enterprises and is changing most rapidly.  True, we have access to increasing numbers of know-how videos. yet we have possibly failed to develop pedagogical and learning approaches to how to use video and audio in an active sense. We tend to use it in the old English pedagogic sense of ‘watching Nellie’ rather than in any thought through way. and even though the web allows us to find people, their is only limited linkages to knowing who does what well, and even less to “the social ability to cooperate and communicate with different kinds of people and experts.”

Can social networking fill such a gap? Once more my feeling is that it can, but only to a limited extent. Social networki9ng allows us to tell what we are doing and what we are thinking. recommender systems allow the development of patterns. Yet they lack the idea of purpose and intent.

There are many instances of exchange of knowledge through different platforms in communities of practice. equally companies like CISCO or IBM have set up platforms to promote the process of turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge though for example podcasts and other companies such as Shell-BP have established extensive wikis for the same purpose. However these initiatives fail to ‘scale=down’ for use in smaller enterprises. One of the issues may be that of fragmentary knowledge and the difficulty of how we can scaffold fragments of knowledge gained through practice – or know how = into wider knowledge bases, which necessarily have to build on purpose and context.

Furthermore, looking at practice in smaller enterprises, the nature of collaboration and social exchange becomes critical, Lundvall, Rasmussen and Lorenz cite the work of Marshall (1923), “who was concerned to explain the real-world phenomenon of industrial districts, (and) emphasised the local character of knowledge. He found that specific specialised industries were concentrated in certain regions and that such industrial districts remained competitive for long historical periods.”

So another issue is how to support that local character of knowledge – and indeed to rethink what local might mean in a connected world.

(More to come in a later post)

Three dimensions of a Personal Learning Environment

First a warning. This is the beginning of an idea but by no means fully tho0ught out.It comes from a discussion with Jenny Hughes last week, when we were talking about the future direction of work on Personal Learning Environments.

Jenny came up with three ‘dimensions’ of a PLE – intra-personal, inter-personal and extra personal which I presented at the #TICEDUCA2010 conference in Lisbon

The first – intra-personal – describes the spaces we use to work on our own. This includes the different software we use and the different physical spaces we work in. It is possibel that our intra personal spaces will look quite different – reflecting both our ways of thinking and our preferred ways of working. one interesting aspect of the intra personal learning environment is the importance of aesthetics – including the look and ‘feel’ of the environment. And whilst many of the3 developers I work with undertake usability standards, I do not think they really ever consider aesthetics.

The third dimension – extra personal – refers to the things we do out in the web – to our publications, to blogs like this, to the videos we post – to the things we share with others.

But perhaps the most interesting is dimension is the intra-personal learning environment. This is the shared spaces we use to collaborate and work with others. All too often such spaces are imposed – by teachers or by project coordinators or those responsible for web site development. And all too often they fail – because users have no ownership of those spaces. In other words the spaces are not seen or felt of as part of a PLE. How can this be overcome? Quite simply the inter-personal space needs to be negotiated – to develop spaces and ways of working that everyone can feel comfortable with. Of course this may mean compromises but it is through the process of negotiation that such compromises will emerge.

The problem may be that the PLE has come to be overly associated with personalisation rather than negotiation and ownership and too little attention has been paid to collaboration and social learning. I think it would also be interesting to look at how ideas and knowledge emerge – or as the Mature project would say – how Knowledge matures. In developing ideas and knowledge I suspect we use all three dimensions of our Personal Learning Environment – with new ideas emerging say from reading something in the extra PLE, moving ideas back to the intra PLE for thinking and working and developing and then sharing and working with others in the (negotiated) inter Personal Learning Environment. Of course in practice it will be more complex than this. But i would like to see how these processes work in the real world – although I suspect it would be a methodologically challenging piece of research to carry out. Anyone any ideas?