Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part Two: Sessions on Interactive and Participative Innovation Research
With my previous blog post I started a series of reports on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’15) in Budapest (8.9.-11.9.2015). The first post focused on the session that was initiated by our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In this second post I will focus on other sessions that brought forward projects that can be charaterised as examples of innovative, participative and genuinely interactive innovation research. Below I try to give a picture of these projects (independently of whether they were presented on their own or in a joint session with others).
The Dutch project Strengthening workplace learning in vocational/professional education
The first project that took my attention was the Dutch project for promoting workplace learning in vocational and professional education. This was presented by our colleagues Aimee Hoeve and Loek Nieuwenhuis from Hogeschool Arnhem-Nijmegen (HAN University of Applied Sciences). Already in earlier ECER conferences we have had good cooperation with Aimee and Loek so I was keen to see what new is coming into picture.
In their earlier presentations Aimee and Loek had been working with interactive innovation projects both in secondary vocational education as well as in higher vocational education. In their current project the emphasis had been shifted to the role of workplace learning in higher vocational education (hoger beroepsonderwijs) during its transformation into universities of applied sciences. As a summary of the earlier findings on factors that narrow down the impact of workplace learning they had listed the following points:
1. Focus is mainly on skills development and less on developing work process knowledge.
2. Different workplaces offer different opportunities for learning.
3. In the workplace the focus is (of course) on production, leaving little space for reflection processes.
4. In the few occasions reflection does take place there is no follow up.
5. Lack of guidance, hindered by obscurity in role taking by VET-teachers and mentors at the shop floor.
6. Lack of models to asses workplace learning.
In order to tackle these issues the HAN University of Applied Sciences started in 2014 a research project aiming at identifying successful interventions to improve workplace learning arrangements in all its domains (Education, Technology & Engineering, Healthcare and Economy & Management). In the first phase of this project, ending in March 2015, the aim is to describe current workplace practices within the HAN. In the second phase of the project, from March to September 2015, through a series of design workshops, interventions are designed to improve the current practices. In this second phase, design and evaluation are intertwined to test the effectiveness of the intervention, and also to identify the underlying design principles to improve implementation of the intervention into other contexts.
In the session Aimee and Loek presented their CIMO-logic as a powerful tool to analyse and shape
1) the problematic Context (i.e. the sub-optimal workplace arrangements in different domains),
2) the Intervention as the proposed solution for the problem, that should activate
3) the Mechanisms or processes, which are intended to produce
4) the desired Outcomes.
Also, as a lesson learned from their earlier projects, they emphasised the need to launch the processes as ‘stealthy interventions’, which should not scare the practitioners with overly ambitious goals and overly radical changes to daily work.
The Danish project The Vocational Education Lab
The second project that took my attention was the Danish project The Vocational Education Lab that was carried out by Professionshøjskolen Metropol/ National Vocational Education Center (former DEL) and The Danish Evaluation Institute. The presenters Dorrit Sörensen and Camilla Hutters represented both institutions.
Firstly they gave a background on the policies to push ‘New Public Management’ philosophies and their impact on vocational education provisions. Then they introduced the idea of The Vocational Education Lab as an effort to support bottom-up innovations and to empower the practitioners. During its 3 year duration, 127 educational pilots have been conducted in eight different VET colleges in the Copenhagen Region. The aim of this project was to enable education and training providers to initiate changes in their educational practice. In the presentation they discussed, how the initial experiments may contribute to renewal and innovation in regular educational practice.
In general, prototyping and testing of prototypes become a focal point. The primary prototypes in a design are simply drafts, which represent the fundamental principles in the concept. The prototypes are then progressively transformed into concepts and designs. Correspondingly, the design processes are viewed as iterative, continuous process. This means that there will be a process of testing and improvement in order to make the designs robust enough to fit various contexts. This is where an intervention in practice would manage to generate deeper understanding as well as improvement.
In this context they paid a lot of attention to the role of researchers as facilitators and on agreed process models as common commitments. In this way they could keep the processes moving and ensure the achievement of real results in due time. Also, this was crucial for ensuring the role of practitioners as real owners of the innovations.
The European project “Gold” on Visual narratives as means to empower young people in transition
The third project that took my attention was the European project “Gold” that had taken the initiative to use visual narratives as tools to shape vocational biographies or learning scenarios with young people. The idea is that young people with uncertainties in the transition from school to working life can become more aware of their possibilities and gain more self-consciousness to shape their own plans. This was seen as an alternative for many existing transition-promoting measures that often tend to keep young people inside a ‘transition system’ as clients of its measures (rather than opening a perspective further).
The project has only recently started, so in the symposium project partners from different countries presented their starting positions, potential contributions or situation assessments regarding the importance of the project. Daniela Reimann (KIT, Germany and the coordinator of the project) presented the general project concept and an analysis of the German ‘transition system’ and the perspective to open the transition-promoting measures into empowerment of learners. The Spanish partners Fernando Hernandez, Juana Maria Sancho and Rachel Fendler provided insights into visual narratives and into work with them in other contexts. Liliana Voicu from Romania provided insights into difficult labour market developments, drastic cuts in public vocational education and into migration of young people to avoid long-term unemployment. Graham Attwell and Jenny Hughes provided insights into the issue ‘vocational biographies’ in an era of precarious employment situations and austerity.
Altogether, these projects had somewhat different action contexts and modes of intervention to work with. Nevertheless, it became clear that the VETNET sessions can provide arenas for learning from each other during the project work – not merely sharing reports on completed work. Moreover, such sessions can also give inspiration for follow-up projects that build upon shared experience and know-how.
I think this is enough on these sessions. In my next post I will try to give a more general picture on the conference and on the VETNET program in particular.
More blogs to come …