Thinking about Entrepreneurship

For some time I have been interested in Entrepreneurship. For one thing I resented the way the Thatcher and Blair acolytes had stolen the word. Working class people have also been entrepreneurial, setting up small businesses or providing services. Yet to listen to the new reasoning, entrepreneurs were the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world, millionaires and directors of multi million pound listed software companies. Just as Puritanism equated being wealthy with being one of the saved, so neo-liberalism equated being rich with being an entrepreneur. It was something the poor should aspire to and they should study in awe rich people as role models.
Since the onset of the recession, or the crisis as it is universally called in southern Europe, some of the gloss has faded at least from the bankers.
Yet with unemployment and especially youth unemployment remaining at very high levels and with employment increasingly precarious, there seems, at least in Spain where i am living, to be ever more emphasis on entrepreneurship as the hope for the future of employment. Over the last week we have attended two conferences and workshops on innovation and entrepreneurship. On the one hand the increasing support for people trying to set up their own businesses is to be welcomed, even if coordination between the many different agencies involved seems somewhat lacking.
Yet the line of argument seems somewhat under developed. The answer for the ailing labour market is innovation Innovation is connected to entrepreneurship. The great future for innovation is technology in disrupting markets. Universities need to develop closer links to industry. We need more training in technology. Web 2.0 and social media are critical to marketing innovations. Look to Apple, look to Uber, look to AirB. Don’t forget the example of The Great Steve Jobs as a role model. And so on.
As Jim Groom and Brian Lamb said in 2014 “Today, innovation is increasingly conflated with hype, disruption for disruption’s sake, and outsourcing laced with a dose of austerity-driven downsizing.” And I fear the increasing popularity and support for entrepreneurship is also becoming conflated with hype.
I am curious about the overwhelming emphasis on technology, software and hardware. Is there any city on Spain – or for that matter anywhere else – which is not trying to develop the next Silicon Valley? Yet looking at the figures, the construction and care industries remain two of the largest industries in Europe by numbers employed. Yet they are rarely, if ever, linked to entrepreneurship. Services are continuing to grow in employment, although this covers a wide range of occupations. The number of people who make real money out of releasing Apps to the various app markets is extremely limited.
I think we need more nuanced thinking around a  number of issues. Clearly labour markets are closely tied to employment. Whatever skills we teach young people they will not gain employment if there are no jobs. Self employment and starting up a business are increasingly attractive routes for young people (especially as there is little alternative). However businesses vary greatly in size and type. Motivations and ambition can be very different. Some people are just looking for a weekend or hobby business, others may be wanting to build on skills. Disruption is probably a minor source of employment or indeed driver of entrepreneurship.
Whilst there is progress in providing support or young people in setting up their own business, advice and help is seldom geared towards them. Being told to go away and produce a profit and loss projection in a spreadsheet is only a small part of the story. And probably the major lack at the moment is help to develop businesses towards sustainability. Growth is not the only measure of sustainability. Bank capital is still in scarce supply and whilst welcome crowd funding has its downsides. And the schooling system in Spain, based on remembering facts, hardly helps young people in striking out on their own.
Above all policy and practice need to link up. Having said that there is a big contradiction between policies of austerity and policies of supporting entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship requires public support as well as private funding. Enough for today…more to come.

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.



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




Wales to encourage schools to make full use of social networking technologies

Leighton Andrews, Wales Assembly Government Minister for Education and Skills, has announced an ambitious agenda in response to an independent review of digital classroom teaching. Of particular note is the commitment to “a new approach to the use of social networking technologies in education” through “encouraging schools to make full use of social technologies in order to engage learners and improve learning outcomes.”
Andrews says:

In previous years, local authorities have been asked to block access to social networking sites in schools, libraries and youth clubs, as a result of very understandable concerns about online predators, cyberbullying and the risk of disruption to classroom activities. However, this policy can have adverse effects. It deprives schools of access to tools and resources which might otherwise be used creatively and constructively in education both within and beyond the classroom. More importantly, it means that children are most likely to be using these sites outside the school, at home, or on mobile devices, in environments which may be unsupervised and where they have less access to informed guidance and support on how to stay safe online.
In 2008, Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce the teaching of safe and responsible use of the Internet into both the primary and secondary school curriculum. The underpinning approach was that we first teach children to use the Internet safely under supervision, and then help them to develop the skills and understanding they need to manage their own risk as they use the Internet independently. Enabling access to social networking sites in schools will be consistent with this approach, providing pupils with the opportunity to learn safe, responsible and considerate online behaviours in the context of supported educational activities. It will also help schools to include parents in these activities.”

We have long argued that blocking of social networking (and other web sites) in schools was a backward and futile step. Lets hope that other countries follow the lead of Wales.

Happy birthday icould

What a difference the Creative Commons License makes.

According to the icould web site:  “icould gives you the inside story of how careers work. The icould storytellers relate, in their own words, their real life career journeys. There are over a thousand easy to search,varied and unique career videos as well as hundreds of written articles. From telecoms engineers to police officers, from landscape gardeners to web designers, from engine drivers to zookeepers; they talk about what they do, what it’s like, how they came to be where are and their hopes for the future.”

The service has just celebrated its second birthday. A email from Director, Dave Arnold says:

Happy birthday to icould! We launched icould two years ago this week and although we are still in our infancy, we are growing well and becoming better known. We’ve doubled the visitor numbers to in the past year and also now have icould content streamed on key sites such as Guardian Careers, Career Wales, Skills Development Scotland, TES and the Frog schools learning platform, extending icould’s reach to millions of young people across the UK.

We’ve continued to add to our career videos and written content, with recent additions featuring advice on student finances and more practical tips for getting a first job. We’ve also created a new ‘Focus On’ area, designed to demystify certain sectors and types of work, exploring all the jobs and career possibilities within that theme.  These Focus On areas consist of around eight to ten new video stories, new written content, competitions and specific guidance on training opportunities and company information.

Focus On Music was the first new area on sponsored by BlackBerry.  Launched over the Summer, it looks at careers of people behind the stars in the music industry. Focus On Music profiles the unseen heroes behind a music star, for example Jesse J’s choreographer and music video director and Tinnie Tempah’s publicist and photographer. We wanted to show that you don’t have to be behind the microphone to have a successful career in the music industry and hopefully we give young people an insight into the breadth of careers within the industry. This area was launched in July and has attracted considerable media attention as well as several successful partnerships, one with the iconic NME which has resulted in an icould user being offered a work taster experience with the Editor. We have also created some new free teaching resources to complement this new initiative.


We’ve recently launched the next area, a Focus On Finance sponsored by Standard Life, which looks at the range of careers and skills needed in the Financial sector, proving that you don’t have to be an expert with numbers to work in finance!  We have a number of other areas in the pipeline, including a Focus on Media, which will launch in the New Year.

We continue to listen and respond to your feedback and are currently undertaking further research on the usage of to inform future developments.  We really appreciate your input, so please keep your comments and suggestions coming in.”

Obviously icould is on a roll. But lets use the Wayback machine to take us back to spring, 2009. I don’ t know, but I suspect that at that time iCould was struggling to make much impact. And here is one of the major reasons why. The Terms and Conditions of use at that time stated:

“Use of the icould website

Unless otherwise stated, icould owns the intellectual property rights in the website and material on the website. All these intellectual property rights are reserved.

Unless otherwise stated, you are entitled to use the icould website for personal use in any way, providing you do not reproduce any of the information as your own and/or seek to profit from it. Personal use constitutes viewing the icould website online and printing pages and/or documents for review offline.

If you wish to reproduce any materials accessible on the icould website including information, graphics, images and other design elements in printed or electronic form, you must obtain written permission first. Please use the contact details at the bottom of this page if you need to obtain permission.

Linking to the icould website is permitted, although displaying our pages within a frame of another website is not as this constitutes reproducing our content as your own.”

Now let’s forward to the present day. Under Terms and Conditions we find the following statement:

“…..we give permission to use the contents of the Site on a creative commons licence which can be found at:

Attribution-Non-commercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported

This licence gives you permission to broadcast pages over the school network or use them on a whiteboard in a classroom.  You can circulate articles, use the worksheets and so on. This applies in any education or training context.

In simple terms:

  • You can copy, distribute, transmit the work and display the material with the exclusion of full length versions[i] of stories.
  • You may create derivative works with the exclusion of full length versions of stories.

Under the following conditions:

  • Attribution: You must give icould credit and make clear the resources come from
  • Non-commercial: You may not use this work for commercial purposes or make any charge for the work.
  • Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a licence identical to the Creative Commons licence.

This means you could, for instance, create electronic worksheets or create electronic careers posters or include them in an e-portfolio or personal learning environment.”

Not only that, but icould provides an API key to make it easy for developers to incorporate icould materials in their own sites.

There is a lesson here for developers and content providers and indeed for many education and learning projects. Few of us have the clout to make it on our own. But through allowing use of our materials and projects we can build impact on a vastly greater scale. And whilst going creative commons closes off some business models it opens up others.

Congratulations to icould for opening up their content. And happy birthday. Lets hope they continue building on the success they are presently enjoying.