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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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