Archive for the ‘I-Europe’ Category

Updating the big picture 3: What is happening with European innovations in VET?

May 11th, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

I am continuing my series of postings to update the big picture of European VET research. So far I have made some analyses on the topics “European dimension” and “interdisciplinarity”. Now I want to discuss the issue “innovations” in European VET-related cooperation. This issue is closely linked to the question, what role can VET research play in promoting transfer of innovations across Europe. As the earlier ones, this blog entry discussesa change in the European cooperation climate and how the VET researchers could prepare themselves for future cooperation activities.

Different aspects of “European innovations” in European VET-related cooperation

In this context it is worthwhile to giver a rough overview on,

– what kind of “European innovations” have been promoted in European cooperation programmes and on

– the different roles that VET researchers may have played in innovation projects.

Regarding the subject matter of innovation projects it is possible to make a distinction between

a) Educational innovation projects that can be related to systemic & curricular macro-innovations or pedagogic micro-innovations and

b) Domain-specific innovation projects that can be related technological and ICT-related innovation concepts or to different user-needs and contexts of utilisation.

Regarding the roles of VET researchers in such projects it is worthwhile to note that

i) pilot projects have been shaped as primarily developmental projects without strong research components;

ii) reference material projects have been shaped to conceptualise developmental work in certain pilot area (with the support of research-based analyses);

iii) transfer projects have been shaped to support wider dissemination of innovations (without strong research-supported facilitation).

Changing expectations on “European innovations” at diverse phases of European cooperation

In a similar way as with the previous topics I find it necessary to have a closer look at different expections on promoting “European innovations” at different phases of European cooperation. In this respect the picture is somewhat more complex than with the previous topics.

The period 1995-2000 (the early Leonardo: thematic stock-taking, ad hoc pilot measures, orientation to rapid transfer)

Looking at different types of innovation projects and the role of research, it appears that the work with educational innovation concepts was characterised by thematic explorations and stock-taking. Thus, VET researchers were needed to get an overview of different starting positions and dynamics of innovation. For such projects there was a clear policy-based demand.

Parallel to this, domain-specific pilot projects were working with rather limited research involvement and with expectations on rapid transfer measures. The results of such projects were expected to be directly usable by the sectoral stakeholders and practitioners. (The CD-ROMs were expected to sell themselves once they were ready.)

The period after 2000 (The attainment of Lisbon goals, the shaping of European LLL area)

As we know, the Lisbon summit 2000 formulated new goal-settings to making Europe the most competitive innovation area by the year 2010. And as we also know, the educational response to this challenge was provided by the framework processes that try to create a European Higher Education Area and the European Area for Lifelong Leaning). Thus, the systemic & curricular macro-innovation projects were expected to be linked to the making of the European Areas. Furthermore, the European Areas were expected to provide a natural basis for transferring pedagogic micro-innovations across Europe.

However, the debate before Lisbon summit was influenced by general concern on the poor competitiveness of European ICT industries and of ICT-related skill gaps of the European workforce. Therefore, regarding the technological and ICT-related innovations, specific measures were taken by launching quickly the separate e-Europe programmes (including the e-Learning programme which latterly was merged to the integrated LLP programme). From the perspective of VET it is worthwhile to note that these rapid measures were pushing forward new strategic alliances with European ICT industries and their internal training concepts (“Career space”) and with commercial e-learing providers. (Europe was considered as backbencher in e-learning and this position was to be changed with the help of ICT industries and commercial e-learning provisions.)

Contradictions and critical issues

In the light of the above it is interesteting to note that shaping of the European Area of Lifelong Learning (including the European Qualification Framework- EQF, the European Credit Transfer for VET – ECVET and related measures) has become project area of its own. At the same time the Commission Communication on e-Skills (2007) gives a picture of growing gaps (between industrial needs and educational measures or between formal training and informal learning). It is interesting to note that the criticism is similar as before the Lisbon summit in spite of all post-Lisbon activities that were launched to overcome such gaps.

Obviously, the landscape of technological and ICT-related innovations (and of related challenges for learning) has changed immensely since 2000. In particular, the shift from heavy and costly proprietary software to Open Source and to Social Software has changed the picture dramatically. Thus, the big picture of ICT-related learning (or learning and working with web resources) has moved towards user-applications and networked services. In this context the expertise on web-supported learning is far more distributed and draws upon diverse (real and virtual) piloting contexts. Yet, there is a real concern that there are very few explicitly VET-related initiatives among the cutting edge pilots with digital media and social software.

How to develop an intergrative approach to European innovations?

It seems that the European policies (for education and training) and specific innovation agendas (for e-Skills) have led to fragmenatary developments. It strikes me that both the educational framework processes and the measures to promote e-Skills have followed the logic of ‘big package’ solutions – to be adopted throughout Europe. Yet, in particular the innovation dynamics in ICT-related learning bring forward the concept of active interactivity (and iterative processes between developer-communities and user-communities). The big question to me is, what has happened (and what can be done) regarding the interactivity between vocational learning processes and workplace-related learning opportunities.

At an earlier stage I have tried to introduce the term ‘integrative learning concepts’ as a format for bringing into discussion innovative curricular/pedagogic support structures and innovative approaches to technologies, digital meadia and self-organised leaning. Maybe there is a need to put more emphasis on the interactivity between the diverse poles.

However, before going any further with this thread and with this level of abstraction) it is appropriate to make a break. At this point it is approapriate to raise the issue of ‘contextuality ‘and ‘trans-nationality‘ of European innovations. Moreover, it is worthwhile to ask, what European VET researchers have learned of these issues during their active years in European cooperation.

Updating the big picture 2: What is happening with interdisciplinarity in VET research?

May 10th, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

I have started a series of postings to update the big picture of European VET research. My first posting outlined a set of questions (for the subsequent blog entries). In the previous posting I discussed changing views on the “European dimension”. I also raised the question of “European dimension after the Lisbon follow-up”. But, before continuing on that the other questions are pending. This posting is about interdisciplinarity in European VET research.

Different aspects on interdisciplinarity in European VET research

From the early years of European VET-related research cooperation on there has been a common understanding that there are no strong institutional infrastructures for VET-related research. Instead, in many countries VET-related research has been a sub-activity that has been promoted by interested researchers who may represent different research disciplines. In some countries VET research has been linked to special research institutes with an interdisciplinary profile and with an orientation to closely related research areas (e.g. research on VET, work and technology, transition to labour market and learning in organisational contexts. Only in few countries (notably in Germany) there are institutional frameworks that establish VET research (Berufspädagogik, Wirtschaftspädagogik, Berufs- und Wirtschaftspädagogik) as academic disciplines due to the academisation of vocational teacher education.

Therefore, it has been one of the preconditions for European research cooperation in VET to accept the diversity of academic backgrounds and methodological orientations. Thus, at the least, everyone has agreed that the field of VET has to be considered as a multi-disciplinary area of research. However, in the course of time the VET-oriented researches have found it necessary to broaden their range of expertise in VET-related research (beyond their original academic specialisation) and to commit themselves more closely to dialogue between VET policies and practitioners. This brought into picture a stronger concept of interdisciplinarity that characterises the community development in European VET research.

In addition to the above mentioned aspects it is worthwhile to note different interests of knowledge and respective methodological orientations within VET research:

a) Academic research approaches that explain specific phenomena related to VET with reference to concepts and theoretical constructs of established research disciplines (“Observatories on VET”);

b) Cultural research approaches that explore different meaning structures and specific patterns related to VET to make them transparent vis-à-vis the underlying cultural conventions (“Anthropologies on VET”);

c) Co-developmental research approaches that promote knowledge development related to expertise on teaching and training in the field of VET (“Pedagogics of VET”).

Interdisciplinarity, knowledge enrichment and European research cooperation

In the light of the above, it is essential to note how the European cooperation programmes have promoted capacity-building, knowledge enrichment and dialogue across conceptual and cultural barriers.

The period 1995-2000 (The early Leonardo, TSER and the era of complementarity)

It is worthwhile to note that during the preparation of the action programme Leonardo da Vinci there were efforts to create a research strand (latterly named as ‘surveys and analyses’). Parallel to this, the 4th Framework Programme of Research of the EU included a Targeted Socio-Economic Research Programme (TSER). Both programmes were expected to develop complemetary relations with each other. Thus, the Leonardo strand S&A could be used for pioneering project designs whereas the projects and networks for TSER aimed at more comprehensive knowledge development. At best, these funding opportunities were at place when European VET researchers were looking for funding that would provide support for community-based and thematic knowledge development.

The period after 2000: The 6th Framework programme – polarisation and mainstreaming

The change from the 4th to the 5th Framework programme was not perceived as very dramatic although the TSER programme was no longer continued. Yet, the presence of VET-related research priorities und the heading “Developing Human Potential” was clear. Thus, there was some continuity between research work started under the Leonardo or TSER funding and successor activities under the 5th Framework programme. However, the transition into the 6th Framework programme (soon after the Lisbon Summit) had clear marks of a cultural change. In this context research was to be funded via networks of excellence or via integrated projects that were to be based on sufficient critical mass. For the relatively small VET research community either the quantity of participating institutions or the coherence of project designs (with a large number of partners) turned out be critical factors. Due to the lack of successful projects the role of VET-lated research in the future research priorities became even more peripheral.

Parallel to this the role of (independent) research in the European action programme started become more marginal and the polarisation between (policy-oriented) research and (policy-supporting) consultancy started to become more manisfest. At the same time the evaluation boom in the universities started to raise questions on the status of interdisciplinary research institutes and their publication forums. This led gradually to polarisation between merged institutes (that were closer to faculties, academic teaching and mainstream disciplines) and external institutes (that were privatised and maintained informal relations with the universities.

What has happened to joint knowledge development: research in work-related learning

In this blog posting it is not possible to give an overview on the institutional repositioning of European VET researchers and related conceptual and methodological consequences. However, it possible to mention an exemplary case that illustrates these developments. In the years 1998-2002 several European and national projects had been engaged in studying work-related learning. Some of the projects had educationalist starting points and examined the educational value of workplace learning, some were focusing on learning in organisational contexts (with an emphasis on ‘work process knowledge’) and a third set of projects was focusing on reshaping occupational profiles and related learnng arrangements. In the years 2001-2002 there was some support for cross-project dialogue across these approaches. However, at the end of this interim period all parties were pursuing their separate agendas: the seemingly similar research topics and overlapping contexts of research were not enough to stimulate boundary-crossing dialogue. At the same time the researchers and their institutes were facing different challenges to stregthen their research profiles – at the expense of interdisciplinary dialogue and European knowledge enrichment.

How to make interdisciplinary research and European knowledge development attractive?

As I have indicated, the fascination of interdisciplinary research has been in the learning potentials and in the opportunities for boundary-crossing cooperation (both at the national level and in European contexts). To what extent this has promoted knowledge development, is dependent on the working contexts and on the maturity of research. In this respect the critical change in European research funding narrowed down the possibilities to harvest the results of an active explorative period. Therefore, the subsequent cooperation projects have not contributed strongly to the big picture of growth of knowledge in European VET research.

This has gradually led to retreat from European cooperation arenas and to individual research work. Therefore, parallel to the previously posed question on the future nature of “European dimension” of VET research, there is a need to ask, what is the futue role of ‘interdisciplinarity’ in VET research. And, here again, I do have some thoughts on this. However, it would not be appropriate to continue the discussion at this abstract level. As I have indicated, there are other pending issues that are related to this question. In particular, the relations between VET research and innovations in VET is of crucial importance.

Updating the big picture 1: What is happening with the “European dimension” …?

May 10th, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posting I have listed a number of questions. With these questions I want to examine, to what extent the recent years have been been characterised by a change in the European cooperation climate in the field of vocational education and training (VET).

What has “European dimension” meant at different points of time?

In particular, I want to make it transparent what has happened to the role of VET research and to the European cooperation culture. However, the main interest in this exercise is not merely to give an interpretation on, what has happened. The key point is to consider, what implications the changing perspectives have had on VET-related knowledge develipment. This leads to the question, how the VET researchers have been involved in the changes and how they can possibly influence the future developments.

From this point of view it is essential to consider the changing views on “European dimension” at different evolutionary stages of European educational cooperation and European research cooperation. To me, the period 1995-2000 and the period after 2000 are characterised by different expectations on European cooperation. Below, I try to give a picture how these different expectations have been shaped by the EU programmes, by the Member States and by researchers and educationalists participating European cooperation.

The period 1995-2000 (the early Leonardo da Vinci and the era of ‘subsidiarity’)

Looking back at this relatively early period of European educational cooperation it strikes me that the involvement of EU in the field of education and training was justified from the perspective of subsidiarity. Thus, the primary task of European cooperation programmes was to support national governments and stakeholders to improve the national education and training systems (or the decentralised VET provisions). Moreover, the representatives of Member States and of Social Partners were making a stong point on their ‘ownership’ or co-participation rights.

At this period the European VET researchers and educationalists joined in European projects as representatives of the national VET cultures (and of related research approaches). To some extent this was linked to advocacy for the relative strengths of one’s own culture – but on the other hand there was genuine openness for self-criticism. This stimulated a climate of learning from each other and of understanding each others’ positions. Of course this was coupled with conceptual difficulties, gaps of understanding and competition between different positions. Yet, the most ambitious projects tried to create European group pictures that made it possible identify cultural clusters in European VET landscape and main strategies in reform approaches. Also, it was possible to identify culturally specific patterns for involving research in VET-related innovations (and to reflect upon the lack of such patterns).

Regarding European cooperation this period was characterised by enabling measures that opened new opportunities to cross traditional boundaries. Regarding European knowledge development this period made it possible raise new questions and to start new forms of cooperation – without certainty, what is to be found at the end of the journey. Yet, there was a positively open expectation on “European added value”.

The period after 2000 (The Lisbon follow-up processes and the era of compatibility)

After Lisbon Summit 2000 the cooperation culture started to change gradually. Whilst the previous period had referred to subsidiarity, the newer period of cooperation was linked to the Lisbon goal-settings for the year 2010. In the field of education and training this was linked to the new educational framework processes (the Bologna process for higher education and the Copenhagen process for VET). In this context the national governments and Social Partners have adopted new roles as godfathers and godmothers of inter-governmental agreements and of follow-up processes.

This has also had an impact on the European educationsal cooperation programmes (which nowadays are under the umbrealla of the integrated LLP programme). In the selection processes for the new cooperation programmes the contribution to Lisbon follow-up and the compatibility with current EU policies play a more significant role than earlier.

Regarding the cooperation activities ths has brought up new priority areas:

– the experts’ work for new European instruments (European Qualification Framework, European Credit Transfer, Europass etc.)

– the piloting with the new instruments and adjusting the institutional patterns to the given frameworks (e.g. the Tuning project in the Higher Education).

Alongside these priority areas there are certain ‘niche areas’ that are clearly beyond the reach of the framework processes (e.g. the projects for specific target groups for VET and Adult Education). Also, for these areas there is a certain expectation on working towards European framework processes or for creating common European instruments.

Changing perspectives on European added vale?

So far I have only given a brief account on the changing boundary conditions for European cooperation and on the different priorities that have been promoted. In what respect can this be called as ‘change of cooperation climate’. I try to give a brief answer with the help of an old slogan.

In the mid-1990s European cooperation was advertised with the slogan: “Learning from Europe – learning for Europe”. To me the first part of the slogan referred to the complementary role of European cooperation and to readiness for mutual learning. The latter part referred to interest in creating mutual awareness and to promote transfer of ideas between different VET cultures.

From 2000 onwards the European cooperation climate can be characterised by a reverse formulation: “Learning for Europe – learning from Europe”. To me the first part refers ti the primacy of European fremework processes and instruments as the common starting point. The latter part refers to the secondary role of national and sectoral VET contexts for making use of the of the common tools and instruments.

It is also possible to make use of lingual analogies. The earlier period of European cooperation can be understood as a phase of emerging ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘multilingualism’ in European VET research and in practical VET-related cooperation. The latter period can be characterised as a phase of emerging ‘mono-culturalism’ and ‘conceptual esperantism’ in European VET research and in practical VET-related cooperation. As a consequence, the earlier heritage of mutual awareness (and learning from each other) has been replaced by positioning vis-à-vis European frameworks (and learning to use common instruments).

What is the nature of ‘European dimension’ after the Lisbon follow-up?

Obviously, the picture that I have given above is only a rough caricature. Of course, the real life is more complex and the real practice in European cooperation is not only guided by the programmatic statements on ‘European dimension’. Yet, the above presented characterisation (of the changes in the European cooperation climate) gives rise to questions like:

  • What kind of policies for European cooperation will be pursued after the Lisbon follow-up?
  • How can the VET researchers contribute to the ‘post-Lisbon’ understanding on ‘European dimension’?

I have some thoughts on this but I would not like to continue this discussion on such an abstract level. Therefore, I prefer to proceed to the other postings that update the big picture of European VET research. We need to discuss issues like ‘interdisciplinarity’, ‘innovations’, ‘contextuality’,’networks’ and ‘e-resources’ in order to clarify where we stand at the moment and which ways we want to follow in the coming times.

The big picture of European VET research – What has happened earlier and what is happening now?

May 4th, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posting I promised that I would continue my reflections on the big picture of European research on vocational education and training (VET) with questions instead of presenting lengthy monologues. This is also easier to me: I do not need to have the answers – we have to find them together. This, of course raises the question: Who is interested in finding out what is happening to the European VET research?

Some colleagues may find it strange that I keep looking back at the earlier periods of European cooperation in VET research and the cultural changes that have happened in the recent times. Some colleagues may also find the the expression “change of cooperation climate” is rather strong. Why should I/we worry about the big picture? Or – to put it more stronger: why couldn’t we just keep on going with the day-to-day practice and move on to new challenges if something doesn’t work?

Somehow I cannot leave it at that. If we are going through a change in the European cooperation climate, this is not merely a matter of policy frameworks and programme structures to which we contribute. This is also a matter of our own practice – what kind of knowledge we are producing, with wshom and for what purpose. And, thinking about the role of European research communities and networks – what is their role in VET-related knowledge development?

Let us consider for the moment some recent developments in the European VET research. I take the liberty of using some of the catchwords of the “i-Europe” agenda but in a somewhat modified way. For the moment I am not proposing a common agenda based on allegedly shared research interests. Instead, I want to invite my colleagues to consider, what has happened with the interests of knowledge and related goal-settings in European VET research.

For this examination I propose the following key themes and related critical questions:

1. European integration: Has the interest to participate in European cooperation maintained its popularity among European VET researchers? Or are there new dividing lines that lead to a segmentation between different forms of European participation and between related knowledge processes?

2. Interdisciplinarity: Has the readiness to cross disciplinary boundaries and to work with interdisciplinary concepts and methodologies maintained its popularity across different project generations? Or do we experience new tendencies that strengthen academic core disciplines and push interdisciplinary wort in VET-related research to the margins?

3. Innovations: To what extent is VET research addressing the need for new innovations and studying emerging initiatives in the field of VET? Or has the interest to study new innovations led to shift of emphasis from the field of VET to slightly different areas of innovative practice (e.g. the strudies on personal learning environments or e-portfolios)?

4. Contextuality and intercultural exchanges: Is the cooperation of European VET researchers characterised by awareness of one’s own VET culture and readiness to learn from other cultures? Or are there new dividing lines that reduce the willingness to reflect upon one’s own VET culture and to familiarise with other VET cultures? Or are there new patterns of internationalisation that blur the culturally specific concepts in the field of VET in such a way that ‘learning from each other’ appears as anachronism?

5. Communities and networking: Are the experiences of VET researchers on European cooperation leading to stronger European research communities? Has the EU-funding for networks helped the VET researchers to overcome periods of discuontinuity and to promote the renewal of knowledge production? Or are there new dividing lines that reduce the interest in European community development and in VET-related European networking?

6. Interactivity and knowledge sharing via e-resources: Have the earlier pilot activities to promote interactive use of web and development of joint web-based knowledge resources led to sustainable practice? Has the familiarisation of VET researchers with Open Educational Resources (OER) and with Open Educational Contents (OEC) led to new forms cooperation between VET researchers and practitioners in the field of VET? Or are there cultural dividing lines that have not yet been overcome and therefore slow down the progress with interactivity and new media in the field of VET?

I think that I have posed enough questions for the moment. I am aware that the themes and the questions are rather abstract. Therefore, when examining the key themes in the light of questions I have give some examples that cast some light on my initial question: What has happened earlier and what is happening now? I wonder, when I will find the time to proceed. Maybe someone else has views on these issues …

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