Archive for 26 November 2010

Thanks, Maggie

I read the tirades of comments against Margaret Thatcher by Labour politicians, and wondered whether the Labour identity was so thin that to call yourself a member of Welsh Labour you needed an unrelenting hatred of the former Prime Minister (Western Mail, November 22).

I’m a member of the Labour Party, born in the same year Mrs Thatcher took office.

If it were not for Mrs Thatcher the local education authority would not have been required to give me a statement of special educational needs, nor would my parents have had the right to be present at tribunals where I was being discussed.

Naturally, when I did my school project, Goodies and Baddies, I put Mrs Thatcher in the Baddies column and got a tick from my teacher.

But I was around eight at the time, unaware that the reason I was getting that specialist education was because of that Prime Minister.

Thanks in part to Mrs Thatcher, I’ve been educated to the extent where I can rationalise that I prefer co-operativism to conservativism, and market socialism to state capitalism, without being an infantile denialist of the merits of governments with ideologies in opposition to my own.

The Case for E-Learning: Past Present and Future

If I was to say to you ‘E-Learning’, ‘Computer-Based Training’, or ‘Computer-Assisted Learning’, what would you think of? Maybe you’d think about people in a classroom, learning about computers. Perhaps you’d think of people in front of a computer learning using computer software. Or maybe it conjures up something completely different.
At Glamorgan Blended Learning Ltd, we see e-learning as any form of learning or instruction, enhanced by technology. So, yes, the examples I just mentioned are e-learning, as is something as simple as a lecture supported by a Powerpoint presentation for instance.

The basic enabler of e-learning is therefore, Internet and multimedia technologies. My research has found that the e-learning industry has five key sectors; consulting, content, technology, services and support.

If I was to mention the 1930s to you, you’d probably think of troubled times. Does the rise of fascism come to mind? Perhaps the Great Depression? Well, despite the negative occurrences around this time, the 1930s signalled the start of the post-industrial era. It was the dawn of technological changes that would form the post-modern learning movement leading to the eventual realisation of the e-learning industry in the twenty first century.

This post-industrial era has also encompassed the birth and realisation of three distinct global generations. These are the Baby Boom Generation, born between 1946 and 1964, Generation X, born between 1965 and 1976 and The ‘Net’ Generation, born between 1977 and 1997.

These generations’ existence globally could be put down to the impact of the Second World War, which began in 1939 and ended in 1945, the year previous to the one in which the first Baby Boomers were born. It was in 1945 that science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clark, predicted the future of satellites into space and with the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and Telstar in 1962 the first revolution in the e-learning industry occurred.
The television began to be seen as the technology that would transform learning. I remember when I was at school taking VHSs in to watch with the other pupils, and at secondary level watching the schools programmes on BBC2. Some of you may have been at school when all the politicians and academics were talking about how television was going to replace teachers and how learners would become happy absorbing all manner of
knowledge through a television set.

While it didn’t happen, this independence from authority was a key value of Generation X, which grew up with television. The television saw a surge in its usage in the United Kingdom after the creation of the Open University, which was first proposed by the British Labour Party in 1963, as a ‘University of the Air’. Coupled with the view that this form of e-learning could lead to greater social justice, the Open University meant lower income groups could access higher education through television and radio, and came into being through Harold Wilson’s Government establishing a committee after winning the election in 1964. This led to a manifesto commitment at the 1966 election to create it.

Years later, after the 1997 UK General Election, the new Labour Government, perhaps hoping to build on the success of the Open University, proposed decades earlier, commissioned a mass computer-based learning programme called, UKeU – the United Kingdom e-University. This programme used up millions of pounds of resources to produce university-level programmes, for which there ended up being only a handful of subscribers. This difficulty is common for e-learning system developers, where the amount of resources that can be used to produce the content for these information systems may be more than is feasible.

This State-imposed learning programme was conceived by the Baby Boom generation of politicians, who were unprepared for the market and consumer-led Web-based revolution. This was not so much about the delivery of e-learning, as they envisaged, but the collaborative and social aspects of learning that was advocated by Soviet educationalist Lev Vygostky, in the 1930s as it happens. The Web has however been the key component for distributing e-learning materials, taking over from the CD-ROM. While the Web has revolutionised the e-learning industry, in that content is now delivered online more so than on CD, there is further change ahead with the drive for better provision of e-learning services.

The services sector of the e-learning industry, still reliant on broadcasted teaching, is growing significantly as the demand for blended learning increases. Blended learning, as the name suggests, involves blending e-learning with traditional methods of learning and development and it is argued that it is the most logical and natural evolution of the learning agenda.
According to the International Data Corporation the corporate training segment of the e-learning industry is estimated to have increased from about €234 million in the year 2000 to €11.4 billion in 2003. However, in the European Union only about 20% of e-learning products are produced within the common market. In keeping with tonight’s theme, you may wish to know that Ireland has over 60 firms dedicated to e-learning.

While the implementation of e-learning in organisations has required a shift in perspective for some staff, there has not been a significant change in training culture, as some organisations, such as the Army, still use e-learning in a way that mirrors the existing training culture. Some e-learning experts have argued that the various models for describing online courses show that some still essentially follow a transmission model, rather than constructionist models where the learner is able to construct their own version of truth of a subject.

Values have changed within each of the generations that have existed since the 1930, and with them the approaches to e-learning also have. Whether it is the technology changing the people, or the people changing the technology, e-learning seems to be growing in effectiveness with each generation that passes. The case for e-learning as a technology that enhances learning is clear, but the shape that it will take in the future is far from certain. Will compulsory education be delivered remotely to people’s homes, with only practical sessions such as sports and lab work happening in the community? Perhaps in the future we will all be able to access e-learning anywhere, on the bus, on the train, or on the plane. Whatever happens in the future, I’m sure e-learning will be with us, and I’m sure it will be different.

Boundary shakeup an ‘insult’

A ROYAL British Legion branch has slammed a proposed boundary change as an “insult and a humiliation to the people of Ynysybwl”.

There have been mixed reactions to the planned boundary changes within Rhondda Cynon Taff, which include the Rhondda ward of Pontypridd merging with the Graig.

Other changes planned by the Boundary Commission for Wales are the merging of Ynysybwl and Coed-y-Cwm with Abercynon, which will become the Abercynon ward.

Beddau and Llantrisant Town will combine to become Llantrisant and there will be one more councillor in the new ward.

Church Village and Tonteg will be given the new title of Church Village while the Rhondda ward of Pontypridd will combine with the Graig community of Pontypridd to form a division called Pontypridd West and Rhondda and Glyncoch will become Rhondda.

Hawthorn will merge with Taffs Well to become Hawthorn ward, with an increase from three to four councillors.

Llanharan and Brynna will become Llanharan while Talbot Green and Pontyclun will be known as Pontyclun. Treforest and Rhydyfelin will become Treforest.

The Trallwng and the Graig communities will merge as Trallwng.

Pontypridd MP Owen Smith said: “I’m delighted that common sense has prevailed and the commission has recognised the madness of what they first proposed, sticking together communities that have no traditional ties, and has instead recognised that political boundaries should reflect traditional communities and local identities.“

But the Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the latest ward boundary review claiming it is a complete waste of time and money.

Pontypridd Assembly candidate Coun Mike Powell said: “There are some very welcome changes in the final report with regard to certain wards.
“However, it seems to me that this has been nothing other than an extremely costly exercise which will have little positive impact on the lives of residents.”

Pontypridd Assembly candidate, Plaid Cymru’s Ioan Bellin, said: “It is important that Taffs Well and Nantgarw retains its own identity.
Creating a new ward of Llantrisant and Talbot Green rather than merging Talbot Green with Pontyclun seems to make sense.
Having another councillor for Pontyclun should ensure an enhanced service and level of representation for the electorate there.

The Ynysybwl branch of the Royal British Legion has attacked the proposals, claiming the proposed name of Abercynon is “an insult and a humiliation of the people of Ynysybwl“.

There was support for the proposals from Treforest Town Councillor Jonathan Bishop and Llanharan Community Councillor Jeff Williams.

The Beddau and Tynant Ward’s Labour party also back the proposals.

The commission’s chairman Paul Wood said in his report that a review had been taken of the total number of councillors representing each electoral division.

He said: “As far as possible I want to restore fairness so that councillors generally represent the same number of people.”

A spokeswoman for the Boundary Commission said that the proposals are planned to be implemented in 2012.

EU protects our data

The news that Google has been found in “significant breach” of Data Protection law by the Information Commissioner shows the importance of regulating information security.

The European Commission is now discussing bringing forward plans to give internet users further rights over how their data is collected and used by internet companies.

The new EU Data Protection Strategy says that Europeans “should be able to give their informed consent to the processing of their personal data”.

This is another example of the European Union furthering the cause of the rights of European citizens and protecting us from the big corporations, whose thirst for our personal data is like a vampire entering a blood donation centre.

IT Professionalism under the knife

Speech to the Cardiff Mixed Speakers Club in November 2010.

If I was to say the word ‘surgeon’ to you, it would probably conjure up the image of someone who is highly skilled and highly trained and who deserves a lot of respect. On the other hand, if I was to say to you ‘web designer’, or maybe ‘computer technician’, these probably wouldn’t conjure anywhere near as much respect or authority.

After all, I could program websites at the age of 15 when they first came into being, and now even 8-year-olds can knock a website together!

This may make you think that information technology, or ‘IT’ as it is also known, can in no way be compared to medicine. For instance, you may think its fine for an untrained person to use a computer, but be shocked at the thought of an untrained person performing surgery. But I say that IT is no different to medicine.

If you want the best IT systems then you need them to be created by the best IT people. Anyone can pick up a book and look for medical symptoms and diagnose people – school-age learners probably learn about some in biology and care science lessons – but it takes years of training to understand in detail the way in which different symptoms interact with each other and the appropriate remedies, which are sometimes given on top of existing treatment.

IT is no different. While it may not usually cost lives to make a mistake in IT, it does usually cost money. A badly designed website can deter people from further contact with a business. A badly thought-out patient management system can cost a health clinic hours in wasted time and effort. And a badly secured relationship management system can cost a business its reputation and customers.

In the UK a surgeon couldn’t practice without 1) a medicine degree, and 2) fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons. It is no wonder they are able to command six figure salaries when the barriers to entry are so high.

Has anyone ever seen an advert on TV saying, ‘want to increase your income – train for a career in medicine’? No you haven’t, because this would take several years, compared to a few months for the courses to enter the IT industry that are advertised. Is this right? I don’t think so.

I’m not saying entry to medicine should be made easier, but that entry to IT should be made more difficult. If a doctor wants to practice medicine and continue to do so, they need recognised qualifications, membership of a professional body, and to constantly update their knowledge and skills. Why should IT be any different? I have spent the last 10 years training and working in IT to the academic and professional standard equivalent to a surgeon – why should someone without my qualifications and experience be allowed to have access to the same markets as me? I think it’s wrong and I think it’s unfair.

The solution therefore is for anyone who wants to practice in IT to have to be trained to the standards set by the BCS, which is the Chartered Institute for IT. I first became a member of the BCS over 10 years ago, and even after completing a number of degrees and high-profile projects I still have a few more things to achieve before I become a Chartered Fellow, the highest grade of membership, which is one step above the Chartered Professional status I have now.

There are Top IT Directors now who are not Chartered Fellows, but who could be, and who I think should have to be. You know when you go to see a consultant surgeon that they have FRCS after their name and also that they are trained to the highest standards so that they are allowed to call themselves a surgeon. I think it should also be the case that to be an IT director of a PLC then someone should have to have FBCS after their name, so the employer knows they are a Fellow of the BCS and therefore trained and committed to the highest standards in IT. Similarly, I don’t think someone should be able to offer any independent services in IT, such as web design or software development unless at the minimum they are Associates of the BCS, which is the lowest grade of professional membership.

Instead of the Web design market being saturated with have-a-go-computer-hacks it would only be occupied by those actually skilled in the art. Instead of the cowboy-computer-consultants offering to fix your PC with limited actual experience, they would have to sign up to a code of ethics, where they could lose their right to practice if they behave irresponsibly.

Could someone operate on you unless they were a fully trained surgeon? No they couldn’t. So why should we allow untrained people to operate on computers? We shouldn’t, and it’s wrong that we do.

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