Archive for the ‘workinglearning’ Category

Learning Layers – What are we learning in the current phase of our fieldwork? (Part 4: Learning from cluster organisations elsewhere)

June 8th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posts in this series I have mainly focused on the efforts of the ITB team and the application partners in North Germany. However, an essential part of the picture of the fieldwork is  the involvement of external partners of the Learning Layers (LL) project who have accompanied our field activities and provided feedback from parallel developments in Europe. In particular we should pay attention to the work of Gilbert Peffer (CIMNE) and Tor-Arne Bellika (I-Perform) who have taken the responsibility to find out as much as possible of European cluster policies and of the functioning of cluster organisations in Europe.

In general, it was refreshing to learn from the functioning and of the services of well-organised cluster organisations elsewher in Europe. In this respect it was interesting to learn of the cross-sectoral cluster region in Upper Austria (Oberösterreich). In a similar way it was important to learn of the specific cluster organisation in ecological construction work in Lower Austria (Niederösterreich). The former example drew attention to new cooperation prospects across accustomed boundaries. The latter example drew attention to new possibilities for knowledge transfer in the context of same area of specialisation.

Also, the work of these ambassadors of knowledge transfer has drawn attention to the fact that it was not only the ‘results’ and organisational´models of ‘mature clusters’ that were important in promoting innovations. It has been very helpful to learn what kinds of services such cluster organisations can provide for their members (e.g. in the context of HRD, talent finding, training, ICT support and logistics). In particular it is important to see that the member organisations are often SMEs who couldn’t provide such services on their own but can benefit of joining forces with each other.

This perspective is very important for the LL project. There are many ways of presenting the results of our design activities and sharing the results as ‘offerings’. As an example, the webinar concept with which we have piloted in Verden, could be developed further as such offering.  Also. there are many ways of engaging users in our development activities. Its was inspiring to find out that the participative co-design workshops of the LL project and the efforts to promote user engagement attract the interest  of cluster organisations elsewhere in Europe.

This all is part of what we are learning in the current phase of our fieldwork.

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

Learning Layers – What are we learning in the current phase of our fieldwork? (Part 3: SMEs in craft trade)

June 8th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

My previous post informed of the fieldwork activities that we had arranged with the training centre Bau ABC. In this context the construction companies were addressed in an indirect way – via apprentices who were reflecting on their working and learning experiences in the companies (and looking for new solutions). In this post I shift the emphasis from the training context to cooperation with SMEs – directly or via their network organisation (in this case the NNB/ Agentur).

In the case of Bau ABC we had a relatively easy start with the workshops. It is no major problem for training centres to involve their learners and staff members in such workshops in the course of their normal weekly schedule. However, it requires more effort from SMEs to participate in similar events (either as their own event or as a joint event hosted by trade guild or a networking agency – such as the NNB/ Agentu). Therefore, it has been necessary to find ways to present design ideas of the Learning layers (LL) project for them in such a way that they would see the benefit for them and commit themselves to the necessary preparatory events. Here our colleagues Joanna Burchert and Werner Müller as well as Tobias Funke from NNB/ Agentur have had to work hard to find ways forward. Here some remarks from an observer’s point of view. Joanna and Werner have spent the last week on a course in Verden and deepened their insights in the topic ‘ecological construction work’ and into the community. Thus, they will soon have quite a lot of fresh  first hand information to report.

Shortly after the LL Design Conference Tobias Funke raised the issue that the NNB/Agentur should develop a specific offering – a Webinar – to inform its own staff and member companies of possible uses of web applications and services that could be immediately useful. Werner and Joanna from the ITB team started to work together with this concept and agreed to take the role of trainers (to get themselves into a development-oriented dialogue with the participants). This webinar was thought to be a preparatory step to a presence workshop in which the participants could test the applications and try to customise them for their own context. However, the Webinar turned out to be an internal training event – and as such a useful one – but with no participants from the member SMEs. The planned presence workshop had to be postponed and instead a working session was organised to see how the SMEs could be approached with more targeted and customised offerings.

Without going into details it is worthwhile to mention that in our direct contacts with SMEs we have had somewhat similar experiences. It has not been easy to find an obvious way to open the discussion and design processes on other LL design ideas (although there is much good will). It is becoming clearer to us that the befits that we might be able to demonstrate in optimising work processes may lead to non-trivial issues about redistributing decision-making powers and responsibilities of risks. Thus, well-meant interventions to work processes may have problematic side-effects on the business processes. Furthermore, these issues tend to be perceived in a different light in different companies.

What we tend to see as the way forward is to develop similar exercises as the storyboard workshop in Bau ABC for apprentices and/or skilled workers in interested companies. Here the challenge is harder – the mapping of problems, hurdles and communication gaps in the process of work is though similar but the search for possible solutions may be more demanding in a mini-workshop or individual exercise. Therefore, we see it necessary to continue the interviews with company representatives and the harvesting of existing interview material.

Here, the picture is incomplete and may change soon in the light of newer information. However, the message is the same: our efforts to bring the use of ICT- and web-based tools and apps to the everyday practice of SMEs are not just simple measures of introducing new tools for those who are interested. The processes of accessing information, sharing knowledge and managing communication are very closely linked to business processes and to (re)distributing roles, powers and responsibilities. The SMEs need to get convinced that it is worthwhile taking the path that brings changes alongside developmental steps. We need to work and learn with the SMEs to see the benefits together with them.

To be continued …

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

Learning Layers – What are we learning in the current phase of our fieldwork? (Part 2: Bau ABC)

June 8th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I indicated that our current phase of fieldwork is preparing the grounds for participative co-design processes “for the users, with the users and by the users”. So far, we have had quite a lot of activities with the training centre Bau ABC and made also a lot of experiences with different workshops. Here, the blessing for us has been that we have had a chance to have joint workshops with groups of apprentices (during their stay at the centre) and with full-time trainers (at the time slots when apprentices have been working independently with their projects). Below some remarks on our workshops and on our learning experiences about their ways of making the workshops their events in which they address their own issues, concerns and initiatives.

Firstly, on the workshop concepts with which we worked: We firstly had conversational workshops with one group of apprentices (from different trades) in the morning and with a group of full-time trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) in the initial training plus the coordinator of continuing vocational training programmes. These workshops were supported by some pre-given guiding questions (Leitfragen) but they were run as relatively free conversation to let the participants address their issues with their own accents and their own voice. As a result, the apprentices spoke very freely of what they saw a needs and possibilities for improvement regarding the training in the centre (vis-a-vis advanced practice in the companies). They also emphasised their interest to have joint projects with apprentices from  neighbouring trades. The trainers gave positive comments on the views expressed by apprentices – however, they drew attention to rather inflexible boundary conditions for accommodating the apprentices’ training periods in the centre. Thus, there is very little room for manoeuvre for meeting the wishes of apprentices re joint projects or more flexible timing of periods in companies and in the centre. In addition, the trainers started giving thoughts, how they could use digital media and web appsa more effectively in informing themselves of new developments in the trade and on advanced practice in companies. Here, it seemed that something that was discussed in initial training was already in practice in the continuing vocational training activities.

In the next phase we organised a storyboard workshop that was based on group work to make storyboards of exemplary working days of apprentices (in the morning) and trainers (in the afternoon). The two parallel groups of apprentices had different tasks: one was invited to portray a day in the training centre whilst the other was asked to portray a day in the company and in the construction site. The group that worked with a day in the centre presented a spatial journey with drawings of different locations  at the Bau ABC sites and only after completing this started to give thoughts on eventual problems and how they could be taken into account in the phase of giving instructions. The group that focused on working at construction site portrayed the work flow (and the daily journey) from the company office to the site, setting the site and carrying through the process (drilling the holes for the well to be built) and in completing the task. Here, the apprentices drew attention to eventual obstacles and needs to star again or to give up if no water is found. Thus, they highlighted key problems in the work process – in which however the availability of web tools made very little difference. At the end of this session the joint plenary discussion started top trigger ideas of new apps to extend the learning effect and to draw attention to good practice  (e.g. the Maurer-App) and comments on the (limited) usability of existing apps.

The trainers gave very positive comments on the storyboards of apprentices and gave some thoughts of the possible usability of existing apps as a basis for the proposed Maurer-App. In their own group work phase they presented two parallel storyboards of trainers work at the centre. One story focused on a relatively homogeneous group of apprentices in the initial training whilst the other illustrated the growing complexity when there are apprentices from different phases of their training and eventual visiting groups in continuing training (with visiting trainers) to be supported at the same time. Altogether, the storyboards drew much more attention to the complex social and organisational processes to be managed alongside the key training functions  (instruction, supervision, monitoring, assessing and giving feedback). In the plenary sessions a lot of thoughts were given on the possibilities to offload the trainers with digital solutions in the assessment and in giving feedback. A major issue was the access to norms, standards and regulations in which context new copyright problems had emerged. As a result, a list of several design ideas and issues was drafted to be included into the workshop report (to take into account the issues arising from initial and continuing training).

Here I have emphasised the workshop dynamics rather than particular ‘results’ to be listed as apps or solutions that would have attracted most attention. In the preparation phase our colleagues suggested different techniques to get feedback on particular ‘use cases’ or wireframes drafted on the drawing boards elsewhere. As I have illustrated it above, when the users got control of their workshops, they addressed concerns, how to improve their working and learning processes on the whole. When getting their messages into discussion we then could use  some time to illustrate some of the use cases and emerging wireframes as possible responses to their concerns. In this context the powerpoint slides and the presentation of Martin Bachl (Hochschule Karlsruhe) worked very well.

As I understand it, we are going through similar collaborative learning processes as the earlier Work and Technology projects that couldn’t successfully transplant new technologies into companies as ‘gifts that fall  from Mt Olympus that are parachuted upon users’ but had to discover the possible needs for innovations and benefits for users in iterative processes that took their own time. Yet, after these experiences we have the feeling the we are making progress.

To be continued …

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

Learning Layers – What are we learning in the current phase of our fieldwork? (Part 1)

June 8th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

I see that I have been out of writing blogs on the Learning Layers project quite some time – the previous ones are from April and March. I hope that no one gets the false impression that this would have been a sleepy period in the project. To be sure – it is exactly the other way round. Now, after the first Design Conference and after the Easter break the ITB team, the application partners in North Germany and our supporting partners have been busily engaged in organising Co-Design Workshops or supporting events and in doing their homework with design ideas, relevant web tools and apps as well as drafting use cases and wireframes.

In this context the role of the ITB team has been to work as “explorers on the ground” in the terrains of our application partners (the training centre grounds of Bau ABC, the headquarters of the network/Agentur for ecological construction work  and the offices of craft trade companies (SMEs) in the construction sector. The previous phase of fieldwork was characterised by collecting data of potential users of ICT/Web-based tools and apps – and of exemplary situations in which they could be of some help. Now, the present phase of fieldwork is characterised by a clear step to participative design work – for the users, with the users and by the users.

Here we have encountered different sets of possibilities (and also hurdles) when working together with our application partners (Bau ABC, NNB/Agentur and individual craft trade companies). We have written quite a lot of this in the internal working documents with which we update ourselves and our LL partners of the activities. We have also learned a lot of the visits of other LL partners who have accompanied us to the field activities. Some of such ‘lessons learned’ have also found their way to these working documents.

In the light of the above it is understandable that the motto of this series of blogs is not “what have we learned” (= results) but “what are we learning” (= insights to be considered carefully). This is all work in progress and – for us: learning alongside working in the project. Also, in many respects, the lessons that we are learning, are not completely new – they are similar lessons as were learned in earlier innovation projects for Work and Technology (Arbeit und Technik) programmes in the late 1980s and in the 1990s. Apparently, some of these lessons have to be learned anew every time in newer innovation contexts.

To be continued …

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

 

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