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Learning Layers – What kind of transition phase are we going through in our fieldwork (Part 4: Implications for accompanying research)

August 25th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the previous postings to this series of blogs I have characterised the transition phase that we (ITB, Pontydysgu and Bau ABC) are going through with our fieldwork for the Learning Layers (LL) project.  I have firstly given a general overview (part 1), then looked at the particpative workshops (part 2) and then at the ongoing design work and planning of training concepts (part 3). In this final article I put into discussion some thoughts on the role of accompanying research (Begleitforschung) in such a transition phase.

As I see it, the tasks taken up in the Rapid Turbine initiative give rise to a complex research agenda, in which pedagogic challenges and socio-technical design processes become interlinked with each other. In this context research work and development work are interacting with each other as mutually complementing contributions to a participative development co-process with the users – firstly with trainers and  apprentices. Later on the process will also involve  also skilled workers and  company representatives from construction sector as well as vocational school teachers.

Instead of seeing the R&D processes as linear and expert-driven processes in which the users are seen as informants (in the beginning) and as testers of prototypes and pre-final solutions (at the end), the Rapid Turbine is being shaped on a participative and iterative process. In such a process the design workshops and learning events serve that purpose of raising the users’ awareness on possible solutions and their own capacity to contribute. At the same time the researchers have the opportunity to analyse, how the growing awareness of emerging solutions makes it possible for the users to change their own working and learning culture. Parallel to this the designers get new insights into key issues concerning the acceptability and possible benefits of the proposed solutions.

Below some key questions are formulated for such R&D dialogue, in which researchers, developers and users are challenged to find the turning points that help to overcome obstacles and to make the proposed solutions work in practice:

  1. How can potential users’ attitudes to mobile technologies, web tools and apps/services be changed in the course of pilot activities. Is it possible to overcome general rejection or mere leisure-time oriented consumerism and stimulate creative use to support working and learning?
  2. How can the use of such technologies, tools and apps/services help to bring the real working life closer to the learning situations in training centre? How can impulses and innovations be shared in such a way that they enrich working and learning culture?
  3. How can wider access to information and learning resources be linked to better understanding on the uses and quality of information? How can use of internet and new media help the users to assess their own learning and professional growth (what they can do and what they can’)?
  4. How can improved access to information and communication resources and media from different locations be utilised to make communication and knowledge sharing across the organisation more effective (as support for working and learning)?
  5. How can improved possibilities to record and analyse learning experiences at work to support professional development of individuals and knowledge sharing in organisations?

As has been indicated above, such questions cannot be answered a priori on the basis of purely observational research. Instead, the answers have to be found in the context of the participative process – with reference to trials and errors in different phases. Therefore, the research work has to be carried out as accompanying research that takes into account the open options, intervening factors and the actors’ choices in the pilot activities.

So, the researchers have to work  in the participative process and have an insight into changing circumstances, different interests, optional choices and new technical possibilities that come into picture during the work. This is what accompanying research has to conceptualise and analyse in such processes while working together with the developers and users.

And the story goes on …

PS. This posting (as the other three of the same series) has focused mainly on the cooperation of ITB, Pontydygu and Bau ABC with focus on the Rapid Turbine initiative. At the same time other members of ITB team have been working with other technical partners and the application partner NNB/Agentur with focus on the design idea Captus for the ecological construction work. As I have not been involved in the recent events, I have not been able to cover these developments.

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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