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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),

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