Grand Challenge Learning for Life web siteI have spent the day at a workshop/think tank about a “Grand Challenge” for the Computer Science community. This particular challenge is Learning for Life and the sessions today were led by Josie Taylor. The day was structured around a set of presentations and discussion – I will put up the live blogged notes from those in a separate post (not actually posted at the time as I couldn’t get the wireless to work reliably). The intention with the Grand Challenges is to push the targets and set an overall agenda, for this particular case there is also the idea of brining the learning research and computer research communities together.We had an interesting day and it will be well worth monitoring what happens next. Josie was going on to an overall conference to discuss the Grand Challenges at GCCR’08. I expect that there will be a fuller report still to come as well.I think that we are at a point where the opportunities for developing new approaches to learning are very apparent. Some of what we were talking about related to short term needs – but with the right input from those who can envision good ways to bring systems together we can offer an improved experience. With my bias towards openness  I see this as being a route to achieve connections and get early results to help break down barriers. On the other hand for this to deserve to be called a grand challenge we should also be very forward looking and think about what neuro-science, massive advances in computing power, changes in how we act to produce things and new attitudes to what learning is all about might lead.

The end point of the meeting was reviewing whether we can sum up our goal in a few words. Josie started with suggestions about the overall goal and how would you know when you have succeeded:

  • When everyone can learn (or teach) wherever, whatever, whenever.
  • When all computers can talk through channels without obstacle.
  • When educational institutions exist purely for their social functions.
  • Keeping people smarter than computers – learn deeper adapt better. (Tom Boyle’s suggestion)

I will be interested in how Josie has managed to summarise!



Ivan Illich quote

For my talk I used a variation on the slides that I used the previous week at Pittsburgh but I tried to use them to make a slightly different point – that ideas such as those from Ivan Illich in Deschooling Society had been around for some time but now was the chance to implement them in a truly open and accessible way. If that was to happen though it would be helpful for computer science to join in the challenge.


Bridget Cooper slideBridget Cooper

Need to really think about the basis and understand the “essential learning being” to avoid white elephants such as VLEs! Time line:

1-5yrs: theoretical and practical exploration of the ultimate human learning experience.

5-10ys: methodology to assess whole person through ‘profound empathy’

Do this by building a personal semantic web – a “nestoria” for learning. Implies that we need high quality interactive technology. Bridget showed a picture of a little baby and played “Feel it in my fingers??” as an indication of how joy and delight comes through direct interaction with feelings rather than intellectual engagement – she backed this up with quotes from Marx and MacMurray (1935).

This can lead to deep understanding between human beings labelled as profound empathy – and could lead to greater connections.

Aim – to find media approach that offers high quality communication route.


Dave Cliff

Reported back on beyond current horizons workshop DCfS. He explained his background from Cogs at Sussex. He is now a professor of Computer Science at Bristol but also did future planning at HP Labs. Trends from computers:

Moore’s law continues – power will carry on better and cheaper at least for 20 years.

Once every 10 years there will be a dramatic change in computer provision: switches IBM, DEC/HP, PCs (Microsoft, Compaq), LANs, WANs Internet, what next? Data centred, cloud computing (Google): sheds with computer power.


Today’s presentations too based in today’s technology. Nick Carr – The Big Switch. How does it matter if everyone has supercomputers or HPs memory spots. Computation increases but AI will remain a hard problem.

What technology will have as much impact as a PC – look at what costs £500,000 now? 3D printing. From a 3D model build an artefact with electronics – implies can print robots.

Psycho-pharmacology may lead to societal changes: pills that make kids better at exams, how do we cope with this.

We have had 50 years of stability – how do we plan for big changes. Education too much about facts – actually want more than this for our children. Which take GC time horizon – most are in here and now. Dangers are we ignore the body and soul – too much on now and arguments that date. Educational science, computer science not enough – need political science as well too head towards policy shift. Is the answer more humans in front of more humans.

What are the impacts of technology on TEL?

How should education change to meet these trends?

Anne Adams

Described herself as a computer scientist that had always worked on the softer side.  The labels for her works are Awareness, Acceptability, and Access. She spoke in terms of milestones:

  1. Acceptability she looked at the way web2.0 tools open up risks and questions of ownership. Her example was prison learning and the pipeline project addressing how to give elearning in prisons.
  2. Inclusion/Exclusion: actually very complex and needing work to understand this as community and individual basis. One example was the mix of physical and virtual field trips.
  3. Contexts and learning for life: work on where eLearning applies – social context, employer contexts, other stakeholders.

She ended up with a who, where, how

  • Who LfL is for
  • Where situated
  • How to make learning for life acceptable

This led into a debate about how much we need to define learning (I guess the missing what in the list!) before we move forward, or not. It seemed that there was a risk of getting bogged down in work on definitions – but a broad statement of learning could bring out a unifying views.  There are good reasons for knowing what we want from learning: we might end up with a resource focus if we don’t build up a requirement for learning. Wothwhile to put in a bit of effort to put in work at epistemological level to understand meanings of knowledge. Alan Bundy – joined in to comment that we should be able to have a public face that did not worry about the details even though we might do so behind the scenes. Josie pointed out that we do need to allow mapping in to our work. The mapping might come later. Practice drives the theory. Josie – the aim is to get people involved and give mechanisms for better communication.


Clive HolthamClive Holtham

Former director of learning lab at City University – now working on eLearning to help voluntary sector in a

non-profit spin off. Referring back to 1971 start of computing and his own involvement in sagazone! He added 2 extra domains – subject matter & audience. (beyond technical, design, learning sciences, communications). He suggested that we make the challenge more specific: e.g. his own target on voluntary business.

Clive beat me to mentioning Illich and his Deschooling Society book. He had also generated 15 milestones towards this. NPLeN He split the impact into formal, semi-formal and informal. He suggested the concept of “airmiles” could perhaps transfer into “learning miles”.

Alan Bundy – commented on the opportunities of the less developed world and  how we could align with initiatives such as OLPC. Colin added into this that we should be concerned with technology rather than computing technology.

Tom Boyle

Went without slides – on developing the foundations for a design based discipline. The need for better integration of computer science with learning science. Jerome Bruner – the course of cognitive growth: technology allows us to exceed biological capabilities: e.g. cars, telescopes, etc. Bruner suggested that we have amplifiers: such as mathematics. Can technology be an amplifier for learning?

Computer science is good at formalisms. If we can find entities that we can work with: learning objects and learning design. E.g. Erik Duval – purpose of Learning Objects is to improve learning. Result of looking at this in technology terms – metadata, content packaging, SCORM. The UKLOM e.g. of educational category – claimed to be essential but actually usage and vocabulary still to be designed. Illustrates the chasm between form and substance. Metadata2.0 workshop showed advances in most areas but not the educational area.

Work on learning design could be even more fundamental – but some signs of people not talking to each other. Need to bring together different modes. Challenges:

  • Metadata2.0 – need learning sciences involved before its target date 2015!
  • Find out how to communicate it to educators
  • Relationship between Learning Design and classes
  • Different layers to Learning Design: Computer science can help organise this
  • JISC has produced a crude representation of these layers: layers of design to layers of content.

RLO-CETL work on generative learning objects.


Skip Basiel

Tried to get the technology to work – I think he planned to use Adobe Breeze to video-conference but the wireless gave up (I had not got the wireless to work either). So he switched to powerpoint to talk about Continuing Professional Development, work-based learning and APEL – Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning. The project approach he described is to draw on research – I guess a sort of action research approach. The Leitch report was taken as the basis for linking informal and formal learning – but it does not talk about the ICT infrastructure. He laid out some clear milestones:

2015: ICT in all aspects of student experience

Though he then commented that the takeup problems were not with the students but with the staff

2014: e-testing, e-marking, e-portfolio …

2020 95% of adults achieve basic skills

2010 voluntary and statutory entitlement to workplace learning

He ended with a vision that APEL became fully acknowledged.


Rachel PilkingtonSet out a range of themes saying she would highlight the design-based aspects of Technology Enhanced Learning. Approaches to learning that she suggests should be encouraged would be collaborative – and better support with the example of WebQuests. In this paradigm learners can be architects of the material. Hard to put the tools of construction into the hands of learners – the example was of WebCT that has now removed the group space features and offers a hierarchical view of its users. However there remains a need for something that is less than public: a walled garden. She described her experience with Flexwiki – successful in enabling production but with limits in idiosyncratic tools and transferable results. It is also not necessarily simple to transfer models from open to closed: e.g. was of providing a closed wikipedia which did not take off. In the end Rachel’s solution was to trust her learners – by giving them author access into the VLE to build what they want.

The first presentation was by Cath Jones. She is from Glamorgan and her talk was focused on how she is working with U3A – she started with a reminder that Logan’s Run film from the 70s had been based on life is over at 30. I think that  probably means that all those in the room would be doomed!

Technology could be dividing or it could be inclusive for this older age group. She commented that research had shown that the period 3-10 years after retirement are very interested in return to formal learning. The work she described with Virtual U3A project and work with NIACE overlap with OpenLearn. The proportion over 60 will double from 8% to 16% by 2030.

The lack of take up could be contented stagnation or unhappy stagnation (limited resources available). Active learning can offer a kind of vaccination against neuro-degeneration. Cath covered a range of technologies that included “open source resources” free software and content.

She ended with three main thoughts:

  1. clarifying needs and perceptions
  2. technology for those who lack confidence
  3. build up informed choice for older citizens


Denise Whitelock

Used pictures to tell the story of how from the telephone onward of the move has been towards communication and the need for links between systems. She showed some cartoons from Chris McKillop’s work drawn by students that show how daunting the assessment process can be. She also showed work that tries to apply the computer to assessment in a sideways manner: staged assessment with ints, the Open Mentor system – which I have always liked. Using LSA to help tutor coments. And the Open Comment system – analysis of stats, comprehension of set text, similarities and differences. In this case there will be automated marking of about 10,000 students and linked to feedback that will be based on praise for effort. Denise cited work from the US that says that is the most effective – though last week I know someone mentioned that research was showing that negative feedback led to improvement.

Tools for comparing student performance – ranking based rather than score based.


Martin Beer

Draws on the situation they find in Sheffield – with students form poorer area and with difficulties. The result is that they have users with very different needs. The example of accessibility changes enhancing the experience for all was the use of audio-description which was used by both the sighted and the blind to enhance the programme. What we need to do is:

  • Separate presentation from content
  • Adapt to different learner styles
  • Adapt for enhanced user and student outcomes

Standards e.g. W3C still need to be developed and researched to support this.

Barriers he then cited were:

  • Lack of tested techniques
  • Authors needs v user needs
  • Lack of understanding
  • Lack of adaptive content techniques

Standards that help are SCORM and IMS AccessForAll – though these will only work if there is alternative content available.

The conclusions were that we do need:

To enable content for better interfaces but with assumptions that we can adapt across cases and scenarios. Josie pointed out this included the aim to “capture … the core concepts in human knowledge”. Colin explained that this meant that the representation had to cope with the tensions in this or it would be a flawed model.

Bridget suggested that these were affective issues – based on support and feelings as much as cognitive.

Today is a workshop about the Grand Challenge of Learning for Life. Josie Taylor explained the aims of the day – firstly to verify is there a ‘grand challenge’ here? She gave the example of the ‘Man on the Moon’ challenge: it is clear what is wanted and when it is achieved. It might well be that LfL is not quite like that – so this workshop had asked for individual views that will be presented and discussed.


Josie also revealed a sub-text that what we are also trying to do with this is also engage the field of computing back into the area of computers for learning. Much of the activity in use of computers for learning is within the social science and that only takes things so far before that work may overstretch without bringing in the skills of computer scientists to build the correct architecture. While it might be that chaos is ok and there will be emergent solutions rather than integrated one, it seems worthwhile to ensure relevant experts are involved and interested.


Colin Smythe referred back to the launch and the then head of BCS (Sir John Taylor?) saying that Information  Technology will be the driver for the economy and so deserve to be well resourced, but we do not know what you computer scientists do! One of the grand challenges is to explain what we do in simple terms. If we can express this clearly then it is likely that resources will follow. LfL has the chance to be expressed in this way.


Anne Adams split between communicating with computer science the term “eLearning” and communicating with public. 

Dave – need to match computer science grand challenge with societal challenges. Also need to recognise that most advances not GC driven. We should now recognise that we need to cross over wealth creation and knowledge creation.


Bridget Cooper – prefer to go down the enhance human potential route rather than wealth.


Josie – also mentioned the aims of the ‘child at 25[?]’ project that will be described by Dave later.