Steve Walker

Some less or more well-organised thoughts

Education Uncut Leeds

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Education Uncut LeedsI had planned a short presentation for today’s Education Uncut event in Leeds, but fortunately for the other participants I lost my voice had to bail out.  In any case, the presentation was essentially a series of examples of ‘open-ness’ in learning for a socia purpose that include the use of ICT. These were organised in three areas – open resources (inputs), open methods and ‘voice’ (outputs of social purpose learning). The examples are given below, but they are only that – the intention of the presentation was to sketch out some of the terrain of what is available or possible.


By resources, I mean the kind of things than can be reused and repurposed (usually, but best to check on any restrictions) in designing social-purpose learning events.

OpenLearn – the OU’s repository of open learning resources including this collection of resources under the banner ‘Participation Now: Experiments in Public Action‘. They are resources about/links to examples such as campaigns, petitions and other participation mechanisms.

iTunesU contains a wealth of freely downloadable podcasts that can be used. As many friends know, I can bore for England about how I use some of these as intelligent company when driving. . Some examples include: University of Oxford’s  Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, as well as Social Science Bites and, personal favourite, Philosophy Bites.

IFWEA YouTube channel: a collection of short videos from the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations primarily about youth and globalisation.


There’s a plethora of methods associated in various ways with ICTs which might be of value in learning for a social purpose, including:

  • hackcamps
  • digital storytelling,
  • participatory video,
  • international study circles,
  • citizen journalism
  • Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs have been the subject of much recent debate in higher education recently (see John Daniel’s “Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility“). The approach may also have potential in other contexts.


To be continued…



Written by Steve

July 6, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Posted in education

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July 6th – Making Change Happen: open workshop on work, community and education

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VotingWith colleagues from unions, adult education organisations and universities in and around Leeds I’ve been involved in organising a workshop on the future of adult and trade union education, to be held in Leeds. The workshop outline is below. I’ve been involved in organising the education strand. If you’re within striking distance of Leeds, please come along and share your thoughts. It’s free and you can register here.

(The picture to the right is of a replica of a sculpture ‘Voting’ at the  Runo Folk High School in Sweden, which I was lucky enough to visit several times).

Making Change Happen

Inspired by the debates in the ‘uncut’ and ‘occupy’ movements around the globe, a group of us have been meeting in Leeds to talk about what’s been happening to adult and workers’ education. We’d like to ask you to join in our discussions so we can generate ideas and action that work in communities and trade unions and inspire new ideas about the content and delivery of an education that we own ourselves.

We’re holding a one day ‘education uncut’ event in Leeds on Saturday 6th July (details below). It’s an ‘open day’ and free to come, so please join us, have your say, and bring your ideas for action so that the ‘Leeds day’ becomes inspiration for other days in other communities.

Why are we doing this?

We’re doing this because we believe that there has been an often unnoticed attack on adult and worker education that means more and more people are being excluded from access to an education that meets their needs. Lifelong learning should not be just some empty policy promise that focuses on delivering what employers demand. It’s what we should all have the opportunity to engage in once we have left school and it should meet our needs in terms of what we want to learn and when and how we do it.

We are all aware of the attacks that have been taking place on education from pre-school to university. For adult, mature students the likelihood of accessing a university course with all its fees and expenses are becoming smaller and smaller. Further education colleges have suffered cutbacks and lack of investment for years and are also obliged to charge course fees taking them beyond the means of many.

In the past, universities and colleges prided themselves in offering courses aimed at adults returning to learn and they were supplemented and supported by organisations such as the Workers Educational Association branches or trade Union based colleges like those at Ruskin in Oxford or Northern College. Today, these organisations are under threat and the brilliant work they have done with trade unions and local communities is in serious danger of being lost.

We are also seeing a curriculum in our schools and higher education institutions that are increasingly defined by government and employers. Michael Gove wants to instruct children in a British history that leaves out the lives of ordinary people, forgets the radical campaigns that won women the vote or built strong trade unions and leave us with a collection of dates and data. In further and higher education, funding is focussed on the demands of employers to the abandonment of critical courses that ask us to challenge and change our world.

In sum, we came together because we want to campaign against the narrowing of access to education for adults in general and working class adults in particular and because we want to build our own curriculum for learning not have it imposed on us.

What do we want to do?

We want to support the initiatives that are already there in our communities and trade unions. For example, the TUC’s Union learn projects across the country have consistently provided support and advice for adult learners both in the workplace and in local communities. We hope they continue to attract funding but are wary of the likely challenge from the coalition. Equally, local WEA branches have kept delivering high quality programmes and we want to work with them and support them (people involved in the WEA and Union learn will be bringing their personal expertise to our ‘uncut day’).

Our approach is to provide a source for ideas and action that builds campaigns and delivers education to adults alongside and in addition to what is already being done. We don’t have a ‘programme’ but we do have ideas and different areas of knowledge and skills that we want to share as a basis for developing education events whether they be one-off sessions or begin to build towards courses. There are all sorts of ways we can do this with technologies that allow access and interactions across the country and when it’s convenient. However, we also believe that education is an interaction between people who come together face-to-face to ask questions, disagree, argue and debate.

Finally, we would argue that education is a guide to action. Of course, that action might be about one individual gaining the knowledge that changes their life but we also believe that education is a co-operative venture. We learn together and pass on what we learn back to our workplaces, where we have them, our unions and our communities. In that way, knowledge and understanding becomes a guide to action and to change; the sort of changes we want, to those imposed by uncaring coalition governments or to satisfy the needs of employers for low paid workers or no-paid interns.

How can you join in?

Up to now, we’ve been working together in Leeds as a group of people working out some ideas that we now want to put into practice. We’ve planned a day to be as open as possible but, broadly, in the morning we want to share ideas and arguments and, in the afternoon, plan how to take these ideas forward in our unions and communities.

We are proposing three broad areas of discussion and debate and members of the group will start off each of the sessions.

  • What’s happening at work? Work is changing rapidly in terms of what is done, how it’s done and where it’s done. These sessions will look at how we might understand these changes and their impact and will develop the argument with a session on global work. The future of work will look at ideas of self-management and co-operation.
  • What’s happening in Education? These sessions will look at different ideas and ‘visions’ about what education is and what it might (or should) be. They will explore how people are ‘fighting for learning’ and, particularly, adult learning. The future for learning will look at how the fight might be progressed but will also ask participants to look at how we can do things differently and take control of our own education.
  • What’s happening in communities? These sessions will explore the importance of education for communities as an agent of change. This raises questions of what sort of chages will benefit communities and how can they be actioned. How can communities encourage and support free and accessible access to education and what priorities are there for community action.

That’s our ‘agenda’! Those are the areas and ideas we want to discuss but we want to hear from you with your ideas and plans for action. We hope our ‘Leeds uncut day’ is that start of a process that rebuilds adult, community and worker education on the basis of our needs. We can only do it together so come along and join the debate and plan for the future in your community or your union.
City of Leeds School
Bedford Field
Woodhouse Cliff

Written by Steve

June 23, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Posted in education

Globalization, Restructuring and Unions: Transnational Co-ordination and Varieties of Labour Engagement

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Below is the abstract of Pulignano, V., Martinez Lucio, M. and Walker S. (2013) Globalization, Restructuring and Unions: Transnational Co-ordination and Varieties of Labour Engagement, Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations 68(2).

The article draws on the evaluation of the ETUC’s Trade Unions Anticipating Change in Europe (TRACE) project which made extensive use of networked learning technologies and methods in attempting to establish a range of transnational networks of trade unionists. I’ll put a link to the OU’s ORO repository record when it’s been created.


Globalization, Restructuring and Unions: Transnational Co-ordination and Varieties of Labour Engagement

The structure, content and space of union transnational co-ordination are much richer and complex than simply revolving around tensions and relations between bureaucrats and local activists. This is illustrated through the ETUC TRACE project, a study of a managed and steered form of international union coordination. Drawing on this study, this paper discerns a form of coordination that worked across various dimensions of action (i.e. “influencing” politics and “communicating” policy), various political relations (internal and external relations) and different organizational levels (micro and macro). By adding original material to the existing literature, the paper stresses the relevance of the project and the various dimensions for appreciating the problems unions face in establishing and sustaining effective cross-national coordination and a supportive environment of “union learning”. The TRACE project acknowledged the need to build coordination through a variety of means and serves as an invaluable insight and lesson into more managed and conscious forms of coordination.

Written by Steve

June 18, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The future of robotics: in a transhuman world, the disabled will be the ones without prosthetic limbs | Technology | The Observer

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There are some important ethical issues raised in this article, but perhaps the most pressing one – the distribution of the benefits (and risks) of ‘transhuman’ technologies in an increasingly unequal society is not mentioned at all. The passing reference to the technologies being ‘available to all’ is very unconvincing.

The future of robotics: in a transhuman world, the disabled will be the ones without prosthetic limbs | Technology | The Observer.

Written by Steve

June 16, 2013 at 4:44 pm

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Earliest online activism?

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I’ve just seen a tweet (via @miskellaneous) asking about the earliest online activism. Of course, this depends on what we mean by online, but significant early dates, I think, include:

– Interdoc Velletri agreement on the importance of global online communication for grassroots NGOs (agreed in 1984, after a 1982 initiative of the Canadian IDRC in 1982). Brian Murphy’s (2005) wrote an article in First Monday article: Interdoc: the first international non-governmental computer network, which includes a copy of the agreement.

– In 1982, the British Colombian Teachers’ Federation began using online terminals to organise distributed meeting (this was reported at the 1992 Labour Telematics Conference; I have the papers from this conference and keep meaning to post the somewhere. Among the fascinating papers is one about the S. African WorkNet bulletin board system; and one about the (then) International Chemical, Energy and General Workers’ Unions use of online databases and email in supporting their affiliates’ campaigns around the world. Contact me if you’re interested, but I will try to get these posted, along with the conference report, in the next week or two.

– Earlier, according to Lucore (2002) in the Journal of Labour Research, the Teamsters were using email to co-ordinate their locals by the late 1970s (following a pilot in the late 1960s). In 1972, Charles Levinson’s ‘International Trade Unionism’ refers to the potential of telex in global online labour education.

– But my favourite, and winner by a long way if we’re allowed to include telegraphy is the 1908 (yes, 1908) use by Indian telegraph workers of the telegraph network to co-ordinate a trans-regional strike (Choudhury, 2003 in the International Review of Social History). (Note: 18/6/13 – the New York Times tells us that Indian telegraphy system is to close in July 2013, after 163 years –

Written by Steve

October 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm

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Imagine real avatars and flying shepherds – PDC2012

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I just posted the following over on the IBZL blog and am posting a copy here because I can (well, actually I tried the WordPress reblog but it screwed up the formatting of the photo)….


Last month, I presented a paper (written with OU colleagues Simon Bell and Adrian Jackson, and Daniel Heery of Alston Cybermoor) to PDC 2012 reporting on the IBZL project, and more specifically on the ‘Real Avatars’ and ‘Flying Shepherd’ prototypes that Daniel Heery at Alston Cybermoor followed up on with support from the Technology Strategy Board. The paper particularly highlighted two things.

Firstly, we discussed how the Imagine method that we used in the workshops can be seen as a form of ‘Future Workshop’ that involved stakeholders in thinking about novel futures. The participatory design (PD) community has long been concerned with users exercising control over technological and other systems that affect their lives. In IBZL we haven’t used Imagine to engage users since we are concerned with novel ideas for whom a potential user audience has not even been  defined; indeed that is one of the things we might think about in a workshop. So, Imagine is a technique for engaging people to think about the future at an earlier stage in the process than in many PD interventions.

Secondly, and following on from the above, the paper reflects on who we involve. PD has its roots in Scandinavian trade unions in the 1970s, and in parts of the US civil rights movement of the 1960s, and historically at least is concerned with the politics of control of technology. While these concerns about emancipation seem rather less prominent in the PD community than they were (which personally I found disappointing about PDC2012),we used the paper to reflect on this aspect of PD in the context of IBZL. After all, the case study we reported was led by a social enterprise, and initial discussions around possible business models for a ‘flying shepherd’ owned by a co-operative of farmers were inherently mutualist. This is not a necessary outcome of the IBZL/Imagine method, but is a reflection of the sort of idea that would follow from the sort of participants we invited to the workshop. Of course, we can’t claim that this was in any sense representative, and as we work with local authorities and others who need to demonstrate a clearer democratic legitimacy for the work they do, this is likely to be an issue that will need further thought.

These ideas are examined in more detailed in the paper. A draft of the paper is available here, in the OU Open Research Online. The final version is available only to those with access to the ACM Digital Library. I believe a video of my presentation will be available at some point, and I’ll post the link here.

And the photo? The conference dinner was held at replica Viking village to demonstrate some of Scandinavia’s communal and participatory heritage….


Written by Steve

September 5, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The best reason for university students not to cite Wikipedia

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Yesterday, I listened to a podcast from Radio 3’s ‘Free Thinking’ festival. Jimmy Wales was talking about Wikipedia. A member of the audience asked when Wales thought that Wikipedia would be accepted as an appropriate reference for (in the question) a first year undergraduate paper. I was astonished to hear his answer, which from memory was something like: ‘Wikipedia won’t become a source. If I’d cited the Encyclopedia Britannica as an undergraduate I’d have been laughed at. Encyclopedias are good for helping you orient yourself to a new topic, not provide the last word.’ Which is, I suspect, exactly how a lot of academics use it –  as the first word on an unfamiliar subject, but certainly not the last.

Written by Steve

August 10, 2012 at 8:24 am