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Crossing boundaries at the Bremen International VET conference – Part Two: Learning Layers in dialogue with Activity Theory

September 14th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I gave a report on our session in the Bremen International VET conference that focused on the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In that context we highlighted the co-design activities, the emerging Learning Toolbox (LTB) as the outcome and two training models (as initiatives for capacity-building). In this blog post I will continue my reporting on this conference. This time I will focus on the session that was designed to promote dialogue between the LL project and different approaches to (and applications of) Activity Theory (AT).

Background: The ‘Theory Camp’ activities of the LL project

The background of this session dates back to the ‘Theory Camp’ activities of the LL project that took place in the year 2014. The external reviewers of the LL project had requested the consortium to organise such an activity to clarify its underlying assumptions and theoretical/methodological commitments. Partly this request was related to the computer scientists’ contributions (e.g. the role of ‘Social Semantic Server’), partly to the research approaches linked to piloting with application partners (e.g. the role of ‘action research’).

The main response of the LL consortium was the preparation and implementation of a major ‘Theory camp’ session in the consortium-wide “Integration meeting” in Aachen in March 2014. In this session the partners provided a wide gallery of theories and research approaches with which they were working. In the next phase four working groups summarised this material in terms of cross-cutting themes (such as ‘trust’, ‘contextual knowledge’ etc.). In this context the ITB team provided short articles on ‘workplace learning’ and ‘work process knowledge’. As a follow-up the ITB team produced conference papers (for ECER 2014 conference in Porto) on different approaches to ‘accompanying research’ (Begleitforschung) and on the encounters/tensions between ‘work process knowledge’ and ‘mobile learning’.

However, after these steps we felt that there was a conceptual gap regarding the process models of  intervention research – in particular from the perspective of dissemination of innovations and exploitation of results. From this perspective we were keen to get into closer exchanges with representatives of Activity Theory and to learn more of the linked intervention research approaches.

The session “Reviewing Activity Theory, Developmental Work Research and Change Laboratory Methodology” in the Bremen Conference

In the light of the above we had organised a session with invited guest. We had presented the current phase of the LL project and invited them to present experiences, critique and lessons learned. In this we wanted to promote knowledge sharing and learning from each other. Below I give some some snapshots from the session:

 Firstly I gave a brief introduction to the session and to the background ideas. I also gave some compressed background information on the LL project and its journey to the phase of scaling up innovations and exploitation of results.

Secondly Marianne Teräs and Johanna Lasonen (both from Finland) gave a presentation on their work with the themes ‘intercultural integration’ and ‘integration of migrants via vocational learning’. In this context they reported of two Change Laboratory processes in a vocational education college that specialised on educating nurse assistants and professional nurses. Marianne also gave insights into the foundations of AT and Developmental Work Research (DWR) as pillars of the Change Laboratory methodologies.

Thirdly Michael Gessler and Larissa Freund (both from ITB, University of Bremen) presented their comparative project in which they analysed transfer of the German dual system of VET into foreign countries by German companies. They started by discuusing, in which ways such transfer has been studied by other researchers (and to what extent such studies have included field research). Then, they reported their findings during a field visit at the Mercedes-Benz site in the USA and their approach to conceptualise the issue ‘transfer’ as an evolutionary process. In this context they worked with key concepts of the AT – ‘contradictions’, ‘boundary objects’ and ‘expansive learning’ – in order to interpret their findings in a conceptual framework.

Fourthly Ines Langemeyer (from Karlsruhe Institute for Technology) complemented these reports with a theoretical critique on the mainstream of AT (as documented in the works of Yrjö Engeström and his colleagues) and with constructive proposals, how to enrich the approaches to DWR. She started with different interpretations on Vygotsky’s concept of ‘mediation’ and its functionalist use in Engeström’s triangular model of Activity System. She continued with different interpretations on Vygotsky’s concept ‘double stimulation’ and the consequences for interpreting ‘transformative agency’ by Engeström and his co-authors). Following this discussion she worked towards alternative proposals for modelling ‘cooperative competence’ and ‘transformative agency’ (with reference to Lewin, Kuhl and her own work).

In the joint discussion I was challenged by questions on the background, aims and the present phase of the LL project. Marianne had a chance to explain the role of the triangular model as a blessing (foundation of orientation) and curse (potential straight-jacket for creative process) at the same time. Michael and Larissa could develop further thoughts on different interpretations of transfer. And Ines was invited to explain her thoughts in greater detail. Altogether, we experienced a session of mutual learning.

I think this is enough on this session. In my next blog post I will make some concluding remarks on the Bremen International VET conference in general and on some further sessions in which I participated.

More blogs to come …

 

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  1. […] the Theory Camp and pursued further in a workshop of the Bremen International VET conference (see the report in my recent post). Here it is worthwhile to note that we gathered experiences on the use of Change […]

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