PJ Evans

Working, learning and employability

Posted on | November 21, 2017 | No Comments

Just came across this great quote from Esko Kilpi (via Peter Goodyear):

Post-industrial work is learning. Work is figuring out how to define and solve a particular problem and then scaling up the solution in a reflective and iterative way – with technology and alongside other people.

The world is complex and standardised and procedural thinking is not applicable: employability depends on attributes of creativity, problem solving, curiosity and communication rather than lists of domain specific skills.

Kilpi, Esko. (2016). Perspectives on new work: exploring emerging conceptualizations. SITRA, p. 34. Retrieved from: http://www.sitra.fi/en/julkaisu/2016/perspectives-new-work-1

Blockchain and Higher Education

Posted on | November 6, 2017 | No Comments

This is a short post following up on my previous post on Blockcerts. Last week I attended a Block Exchange workshop as part of the Near Future Teaching initiative. These are just some of my thoughts and take aways from the event.

The workshop aimed to explore ideas on using Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) in credentialing education. The workshop started with an overview of DLTs using the example of Bitcoin that focused on how value is co-created between providers and users in constellations within networks. Within DLTs all kinds of ‘things’ that can be granted a value can be immutably recorded: products, poems, promises (of services), actions, etc.. which reminded me of a globalised or widely distributed (ie, non-local) Local Exchange Trading Scheme (LETS). This view was reinforced by a series of exercises (with Lego!) to understand DLTs.

We then broke in to groups to work on scenarios for using DLTs in education. Most of the scenarios centred around credit accumulation and transfer – pretty much 1-5 of the possible uses for DLTs in education outlined in this blog post and the basic single institute Blockcerts model being implemented by MIT. Perhaps the more radical model using DLTs to enable learners to accumulate credits mapped on to some form of learning pathway or qualification with learning activities from anywhere and, once the pathway is complete, automatically issuing an award. So universities *might* be involved in designing the learning or qualification pathway but would be unnecessary for delivering the teaching, learning and assessment.

Other scenarios envisaged by different groups was the use of DLTs to support peer-assessment processes such as students assigning social credit to one another. A number of participants raised the social credit example being planned in China (see this article).

So another interesting workshop and exploration of the potential of DLTs that opens up more interesting – albeit for the long term and with significant institutional hurdles – possibilities.










Where’s the disruption in Blockcerts?

Posted on | October 17, 2017 | 1 Comment

I’ve been engaged in some discussions around blockcerts as a implementation of blockchain (or distributed ledger) technologies in the field of education. Distributed ledger technologies (DLT) – as a term that’s removed from discussions of currencies and financial instruments associated with blockchain as bitcoin – are seen as a trust based technology that will drive various innovations. Blockcerts use DLT as a means of ensuring trust in the certification of education attainment. DLT assure other educational institutions, employers, recruiters etc. that a certificate was genuinely issued to someone – the record is “rendered immutable, transparent, auditable yet resistant to censorship and manipulation due to the technology’s cryptographic and distributed foundations (Maull et al, 2017, p.484). So blockcerts do not generate an additional layer verifying that learning occurred or that the marks reflect the skills, knowledge or competences of the certificate holder. Rather, they simply verify that institution X issued certificate Y to person A. As Doug Belshaw argues, blockcerts appear to fit best with high stakes credentials.
Maull et al identify DLT as a new unique technology that is based on transparency. However, unlike the example of Bitcoin, this transparency is, at best, partial as I note above in terms of learning or competence or skills or abilities. This technology also enables different solutions and new ways of thinking creating a disrupted future. But solutions to what ‘problem’ and what new thinking may arise? Blockcerts would drive the reduction in costs of issuing certificates assuming paper certificates are no longer issued and, assuming other assessment and credentialing costs remind the same, would make more feasible the issuing of certificates for micro-credits – could certify individual courses/ modules and/ or learning outcomes at no extra cost in terms of issuing certificates (printing, postage and later administrative costs associated with the verification of certificates). Blockcerts could also reduce costs of, e.g., employers as certificate verification would no longer be required. But this is hardly a disrupted future and all I can see here is an incremental efficiency gain as the value of the certificate comes from the trust stakeholder may have in the issuing institution. Yet, is there a possibility in DLT being a key component in enabling the realisation of credit accumulation and transfer by reducing transaction costs?
Maull, R., Godsiff, P., Mulligan, C., Brown, A., and Kewell, B. (2017) Distributed ledger technology: Applications and implications. Strategic Change, 26(5), 481 – 489

PhD handed in!

Posted on | October 6, 2017 | No Comments

The minor amendments have been completed, the thesis has been printed and bound and handed in! I’m now starting on drafting papers from the thesis but meanwhile, here’s the final abstract:

Distributed online discussion events in social media are increasingly used as sites for open, informal professional development, knowledge sharing and community formation. Synchronous chat events hosted on Twitter have become particularly prominent in a number of professional domains. Yet theoretical and critical analysis of these Twitter chat events has, to date, been limited: this thesis contributes to the development of such analysis through a socio-material, network assemblage lens employing trans-disciplinary and multi-method research approaches. This research positions the Twitter chat events as the relational effects of network-assemblages of human and nonhuman actants.

This thesis explores Twitter chat events with a particular focus on human resource development (HRD) as a professional domain that is widely seen as inherently changeable, fluid, contested and continually emergent. This study examines how practitioner-generated reportage of professional practice interact with the specific functions of Twitter to generate definitions of HRD as a professional field of practice.

A combination of descriptive statistics, Social Network Analysis and analysis of the content and structure of the Chat events has been employed in researching 32 separate chat events with 12,061 tweets. The research methods generated multiple readings of the research data and surfaced different and fluid potential lines of enquiry in to the Twitter chat events. A number of these potential lines of enquiry were then selected as points of entry to ‘zoom in’ to the data using a Critical Discourse Analysis for a smaller sample of the chat events.

The assemblages of the chat events are collective achievements involving human and non-human actants. The collective effects surfaced in the research problematise (a) the notion of online communities as the product of network
ties and (b) the humanist orientations of much of the literature on professional learning.

Within the Twitter chat events, HRD is constructed as a profession in crisis as the traditional bases of professional identity are eroded. The practitioners participating in these events position HRD as increasingly less relevant to its constituent audiences, clients and customers and as locked into organisational assemblages that cut-off the potential for new trajectories for the field to emerge. The chat events normalise technological and societal imperatives that create work intensification, demand committed lifelong learners and venerate precarious relations of employment. Hence, the domain of HRD is enacted as subservient to a new-capitalist discourse that emphasises adaptability, innovation and speed.

A key finding of the research is that, in response to these challenges, the Twitter chat events seek to generate an idealised archetype of HRD bounded by a stable set of dominant practices. These practices emphasise the importance of self-directed learning, autonomous working and the capacities to cope with continuous change. Learning and development is positioned as the responsibility of the individual to enhance their employability within increasingly competitive labour markets. Thus, the idealised archetype of HRD is aligned with conceptualisations of a global post-industrial capitalism
and with a notion of ‘enterprising selfhood’.

Patterns, approaches and systems to support teachers in designing for technology-enhanced collaborative learning

Posted on | September 26, 2017 | No Comments

These are a few notes and reflections on a research seminar hosted by the Research Centre in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh with Prof Yannis Dimitriadis from the University of Valladolid, Spain.
This seminar discussed approaches to design for collaborative learning using digital technologies – either in a blended classroom or wholly online. His  research is focused on how to support teachers to take learning design decisions and orchestrate effective and efficient learning scenarios for innovative pedagogy (efficiency here refers to feasibility rather than input/ output ratio). The research work has been largely based on the identification and replication of patterns of teaching practice in complex mediated teaching context. These patterns are being collected and shared at this online platform. So the research is based on the development and application of design knowledge in teaching and learning and to embed successful designs in professional development practices for teachers and in the tools and ecosystems of teaching. The aim is to ensure innovative practices can be sustainably delivered by ‘real’ people in the real world.
Dimitriadis referred to an orchestration framework as a learning environment ecosystem involving: 1. activities; 2. actors and 3. background (context) and alignment between these levels (Figure from Prieto, et al (2015). Orchestration in learning technology research. Research in Learning Technology, Vol 23, Fig 7). This framework appears to draw on some elements of materialist analysis with Dimitriadis citing the example of a classroom with whiteboards but no pens as a design decision that designates whiteboards as irrelevant in that particular teaching and learning ecosystem. Small-scale (atomic) teaching patterns draw in different actors and actions to enact larger pedagogical patterns. Hence patterns operate in three different social planes: individual; small group; classroom. From this, it is possible to build up toolkits for implementation of effective patterns. [presumably, at least in theory, these patterns can be built-up and replicated to allow for automation of some of the atomic teaching patterns, although this wasn’t discussed].
Dimitriadis argues that online collaborative learning can still be counted as innovative practice on the basis of the practical constraints on implementing it. These constraints can include organising synchronous events among learners, how to form effective learning groups and align different pedagogical standpoints that may exist in groups. These constraints make the accomplishment of collaborative learning in digital education especially challenging. The key work here is in identifying successful patterns of teaching activities to support collaborative learning. This, for me, was a really interesting part of the seminar with the acknowledgement of the orchestration framework as orientated to the needs of researchers and was too complicated to be a useful tool for teachers. Findings developed using the orchestration framework need to be articulated or translated in to practice tools or operationalisable design knowledge. Dimitriadis gave the examples of the Think-Pair-Share and the jigsaw patterns of classroom working that can be embedded in tools and techniques to be used by teachers as well. In repurposing of OERs, the patterns are often complex (abstract) and do not take account enactment issues so far which has limited the success of OERs.
Dimitriadis emphasised the importance of the design of spaces for learning in terms of ordering effects, sites of gathering of tools, techniques, materials and so on. Learning design innovations come into pre-existing spaces for learning rather than controlled spaces for experimentation. Innovations in design learning need to work in these existing learning spaces as real, rather than experimental, contexts. But these real contexts have emergent problems that can stop the sustainability of innovations. Here, it seemed to me that the agency of these ‘real’ learning spaces and ecosystems generate the key challenges in replicating promising teaching practices – the skills of the teachers, the attitudes and aptitudes of the learners, the configurations of physical spaces and the availability of materials and technologies all gather together as complex interactions where emergence and novelty are common and patterns of success break down.This may be why automation wasn’t discussed!  I was also reminded of arguments regarding managers or, indeed, teachers, as chefs not recipe followers and Lynda Gratton’s work on promising practices. So I’d have liked to have seen some more discussion of where and how patterns break down and what are the effects of such break downs. But it was a very interesting seminar and the importance of identifying effective patterns of activities articulated as design knowledge is an important component of sustaining teaching innovations and in working towards replicating such innovations and practices at scale.

Near Future Teaching Collider

Posted on | September 20, 2017 | No Comments

I attended a Collider event as part of the Near Future Teaching project at the University of Edinburgh. The project is about addressing questions on what should the future of teaching look like in both universities in general, and University of Edinburgh specifically. What social, cultural and technological trends will come together to drive new teaching practices? As a truly ‘wicked problem’, the Near Future Teaching project is operating on principles of collaboration and co-design. The Collider event is part of this project process.

A collider is a design process event involving short presentations from people with very different perspectives. For this event, we had presentations from:

  • Michael Rovatsos from Informatics speaking on massive human/ machine collaboration addressing human problems with complex computational solutions. He spoke on the use of technology in large-scale social orchestration [a ‘vanilla’ example being lift-sharing apps] and on the social and ethical aspects of algorithmic decision-making.
  • Jo Holtan from the Mastercard Scholars program dared us to think small. Drawing on some of the approaches of the KaosPilot programmes in Denmark to talk about focusing future teaching on the whole person and that learners and teachers should bring their ‘full selves’ to the educational experience. This is contrasted with a university view of staff and students as fragmented slices of course attendance, research outputs, etc. She also emphasised the importance of student identity and that mass higher education diminishes the students’ sense if identity and this feeds in to increasing student anxieties.
  • Fionn Tynan-O’Mahoney from the Open Experience Centre at Royal Bank of Scotland. Fionn talked about innovation in a highly regulated industry and the issues for the sector of trust, intimacy and being disliked! He emphasised innovation as generating exponential rather than incremental change and as creating meaningful impact.

Once the ‘problem’ had been outlined for us by Sian Bayne  in terms of how to design university teaching for a creative, risk-taking, values-led digital future? The rest of the session was for the participants to explore the spaces between the ideas and themes of the presentations to consider the future of higher education. The group I was in spent a lot of time discussing the values of higher education – especially whose values – as well as the potential for co-production of very flexible and emergent curricula.

After an hour or so, we presented these back as performance pieces with some very cool props. Chris Speed tweeted our group looking very cool.

All the groups really honed in on both the structural issues of the curriculum and the human experiences of higher education and especially those issues of identity-making and intimacy. The future of teaching and learning (or at least curricula design)  should embrace and enhance interdisciplinarity and fluidity in dialogue with those very human issues of identity and intimacy.

The Collider format was a great way to finish the week and a useful way of thinking about the future without simply relying on extrapolating past trends or the constraints of feasibility.

[a storify of the event can be viewed here]

The good, the bad and the ugly of digital learning

Posted on | September 14, 2017 | No Comments

Here are my slides from a session for the South of Scotland Learning & Development Group yesterday, 13 September.

Elearning cipd workshop from Peter Evans

I really enjoyed the session and the discussion was interesting with a focus on issues of engagement and cultures of learning rather than on shiny new technologies.

Cues for Creativity

Posted on | September 7, 2017 | No Comments

I’m currently dipping in to the Creativity Toolkit MOOC from the University if Illinois.
Two aspects of the course so far have been useful. One is the distinction between stories and perspectives. The professors argue that creativity occurs not in advancing a story on the same trajectory, but when your perspective (or framing) of that story changes. This reframing may advance the story in the same trajectory but understood in a new way, or it can change the direction of the story completely. This reframing can be quite a deliberate process of reconsidering a situation and reminds me of Boleman & Deal’s perspectives on organisational issues through either a structural frame, a human resource frame, a political frame and a symbolic frame – each reframes an issue in different ways, suggesting new understanding and, therefore, changing the story of possible resolutions. The more frames and the greater diversity of frames amplifies the potential for creative stories to be generated.
The other idea from the MOOC so far is on cues for kick-starting creativity. These are:
The Impasse Cue: where your story has stopped moving forward and something drastic and creative needs to happen to continue that story in any direction.
The Dissatisfaction Cue: where you are dissatisfied with the direction of the story and need to change it. This may be changes in a career or pivoting an organisation in to a new direction entirely.
The Surprise Cue: where an unexpected change or opportunity arises that either forces new direction in the story or offers a compelling potential alternative story.
The Cross Talk Cue: this is where different stories are drawn together to create new stories – cross team and interdisciplinary working are the obvious ones here.

Of course, none of these cues guarantee creativity – the impasse becomes insurmountable, the dissatisfaction is simply ‘lived with’ and so on.
I’m particularly interested in the Cross Talk Cue and the potential for innovative and creative curriculum, learning and development opportunities that can arise from interdisciplinary working. I would also argue that this will become a more important area for higher education to position graduates not simply to meet current employability expectations but to thrive in VUCA environments over the long-term.
Image from Pexels and licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license

Dealing with the email horror at the end of a holiday

Posted on | July 17, 2017 | No Comments

Before going on holiday, I’ve conducted a few sessions coaching people on self-management/ productivity and so I thought I’d write a few posts on some key aspects of how I deal with some of the major pinch-points people seem to face. As I’m back from holiday today, I thought I’d start with dealing with the email backlog.

Despite all the prescriptive advice on productivity, what works is what works for you: you need to think about what might work for you and test it over a few weeks at least. This is the process that works well for me.

So, deep breath, softly swear to yourself and start …

Firstly, check you calendar for the next two weeks or so. This is to remind yourself of key deadlines, meets, etc coming up. I know ideally you will have all your priorities sorted and scheduled before any holiday but realistically its generally a struggle to get everything wrapped up before you go, let alone plan for your return. So I check my calendar for at least the next two weeks and keep a written summary of what’s coming up next to me for the rest of the process. Give yourself a time frame of 90 minutes – you’re aiming to be quick!

  1. check any high priority emails (ignore those from people who mark all their emails as high priority). These should be processed now by dealing with those that can be responded to in 2 minutes or less. The others should be either put in to a folder to be actioned today or left in your in-box and treated like any other email – in other words, they are not really high priority for you.
  2. sort your in-box by either ‘from’ or ‘subject’ (you’ll know which makes better sense for you) to conduct a quick scan of any emails relevant to you upcoming appointments and priorities. For those that look relevant, either deal with in under two minutes, or place in the folder to be actioned today or in the backlog folder. I also delete anything obviously spammy that’s made it through my filters. It’s important to do this at speed and don’t be distracted by ‘interesting’ but irrelevant content. At the end of this stage, you should be comfortable that you’re not missing emails of urgent importance to you.
  3. I now tend to give my, much depleted, email in-box another scan incase I’ve missed anything.
  4. All remaining emails in the in-box, except those sent in the last 48 hours, now get moved to the backlog folder.
  5. I process the most recent emails in the normal way – action now, onto may task list for later, delegate, delete of file – to in-box zero.
  6. I schedule some time each day over the next ten days to process the backlog of less urgent emails.
  7. I can now work on those urgent and important emails that need to be actioned today *and* finish the day with nothing in my email in-box!

Again, this works for me but they key aspect is to prioritise to my needs and to get to a point where I’ve no sense of ’email overwhelm’ quickly.

Following this process, it took me one hour to go from 484 emails to Zero.

Creating Living Knowledge: the Connected Communities programme and what it tells us about university-community partnership

Posted on | April 21, 2016 | No Comments

These are my notes from a Digital Education Seminar at the University of Edinburgh by Professor Keri Facer on the Connected Communities research programme.

As ever with these posts, my record is partial and bias and possibly includes some inaccuracies (but not on purpose). 

The seminar was opened by Prof Sian Bayne to introduce Keri as Professor of Educational and Social Futures at Bristol University and was previously Research Director at FutureLab. Her research takes a critical stance on digital education and on the role of educational institutions in society. Today she’ll be talking about her work onConnected Communities and the newly released Creating Living Knowledge report on lessons learnt from the Connected Communities programme.
Keri Facer:
The main questions that will be explored today include: what is Connected Communities and what is shaping university-community partnership, what they are creating and the implications for the future trajectories of universities and their interface with their communities?
CC is a research council UK programme led by AHRC and currently funds 324 different projects. Projects range from 6 months to five years and involving working with external organisations from creative economy, environment, health and well-being etc…
The bigger picture of the programme is to address question of how university and community knowledge be combined to generate better research. Underpinned by the assumption that co-produced research is a ‘good thing’. The RCs are making huge claims on the potential for the co-production mode of research in terms of research quality and impact while others are concerned that this agenda is concerned with the instrumentalisation and marketisation of research.
CC enters a massively uneven playing field between large institutions through to voluntary community activists, freelancers, community organisations, etc. The HE sector is also very diversified between research/ teaching intensive interacting with socio-cultural diversity. Also, CC works with a wide diversity of motivation for engaging with research: generalists and learners engaged by interdisciplinary research; makers wanting to make something happen; scholars with a particular topic orientation; entrepreneurs interested in funding available; accidental wanderers caught up in projects; advocates for new knowledge landscape arguing for a rethink of how knowledge is generated.
The are also different research traditions in:
– participatory, collaborative, community engaged research developing grass-roots capacity
– development traditions – changing policy
– people’s history, feminist and civil rights interested in alternative narratives of history
– innovative co-design changing services and products
– open/ crowd and open innovation creating something new
– participatory arts where unsettling and exploration is the purpose.
These different traditions mobilise different performances of community and ‘publicness’. Also involving different participants and audiences and different working practices. Again, these shape the landscape of collab
Social networks and funding. Raises questions of access to social networks and how and where conversations happen. Over 50% of partners had already worked inside universities. So other possible partners face a barrier to entry to these collaborative opportunities while intensive workshops can discriminate with caring responsibilities.
So the injunction to co-produced research can reproduce and intensify existing inequalities.
Important to acknowledge that the cultures of universities can be very diverse and not only a culture of critique, e.g., engineers want to make stuff
Different groups want different things from one another: from practical help, personal value and friendships and symbolic benefits e.g., of offering authenticity and credibility and status. Everyone has to negotiate the ‘fantasy’ of the university and the community. Beyond the quick gains between partners leads to difficult questions around, e.g., the legitimacy of knowledge production or the representativeness of community groups.
Different modes of collaboration emerge:
  1. division of labour – keep to our own silos
  2. relational expertise – can we see the issue through each others eyes
  3. remake identities – about learning each others skills and knowledge so we can take on each others’ roles.
  4. colonisation – unsettled identities but no learning. Academics attempting community work or community groups attempting research data collection.
Where works well, collaboration leads to the breakdown of division and new roles are mobilised such as catalysers; integrators; designers; broker; facilitator; project managers; data gatherers; diplomats (makes things work in and between institutions); accountants; conscience; nurturer; loudhailer.
This requires time to develop trust; understand each others’ expertise, etc. so that these projects can do a different sort of work where  “The adventure of thought meets the adventure of action” (A.N Whitehead)
While their is strong legacy from these collaborations, this legacy is precarious due to key staff being junior staff and in precarious employment. This is linked to the funding environment. Short-term project funding can disturb the work of small organisations as well as disturb personal relationships. Also, the funding requires working with HEI systems that are not fit for working with smaller and precarious partner organisations. These negative effects are exacerbated by trends in HE towards marketisation
We cannot state whether such projects will democratise knowledge production as that depends on many other variables. Similarly, the idea that co-production leads to better research – well, its another set of methods but collaboration can, if done mindfully, lead to better quality research in terms of needs of all of those involved.
Recommendations from the research (from the report):
  1. improve the infrastructure
  2. recognise the need for time for collaboration
  3. explicitly address the risk of enhancing inequalities
  4. invest in and support civic society’s public learning infrastructure.
keep looking »


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