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Trainers’ views on introducing digital tools to vocational learning – Part One: Trainers’ reflections on craftsmanship and pedagogy

May 20th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few weeks I have been doing interviews with vocational teachers, trainers and supporting researchers or consultants for the TACCLE4-CPD project. In this project we focus on continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers and trainers in order to promote their digital competences. Here, the main point of interest is to find appropriate uses of digital tools and web resources in order to enhance the quality of learning. My contribution to the project is to provide analyses from the field of vocational education and training (VET) and to develop models and materials for CPD measures in the field of VET. I am still in the middle of the interviews but I find it appropriate summarise some first impressions from my discussions with trainers in the vocational training centre Bau-ABC with which we have worked together several years. In this first post I will take up some pedagogic points on the role of digital tools in craft trades and vocational learning.

Craftsmanship vs. use of digital tools

In many interviews the trainers pointed to the traditional idea of craftsmanship – to make something with your own hands. This refers to the sense of working with manual tools, to feel the materials with your own hands and to be able to assess the quality with your own senses. From this perspective older trainers and craftsmen have often reservations regarding the use of digital technologies as support for working and learning: “That’s how we have always done these things …”. Also, the introduction of stand-alone tools and apps has not always been successful. Moreover, may allegedly user-oriented apps or instruction videos are not of sufficient quality  to support learning. Furthermore, when introducing new technologies, there is often an anxiety that this brings more work to the trainers or craftsmen – instead of offloading them.

In the light of the above it is important to approach the trainers and craftsmen with solutions that work in practice and support working and learning in their trades.

Vocational learning vs. use of digital tools

Concerning the newer generations of apprentices, it is worthwhile to note that they have been less exposed to manual work, getting in touch with the materials and working with traditional tools. Moreover, their computing skills tend to concentrate on operating their smartphones. This provides a challenge for trainers and craftsmen – how to incorporate the use of digital tools into vocational learning without transforming the learning process into a virtual world

In the light of the above it is of vital importance that the use of digital tools shall serve the planning, preparation, implementation and assessment of work process -oriented learning. And the role of digital tools is to deepen the understanding of one’s learning – not as a short cut to answers provided by someone else. This is in particular the case when using digital tools with the cross-cutting theme ‘health and safety’ at work.

Thoughts on the future of craftsmanship

At the end of the interviews we shifted the emphasis from promoting digital competences in the current craft trades to a bigger picture of digital transformation through entire production, service and marketing networks. In the public debate we see often the dominance of negative scenarios that anticipate redundancy of craftsmanship and replacement of human workforce by robots, advanced automation and ‘internet of things’. From the perspective of their own trades the trainers made the following points that outline new possibilities for advanced craftsmanship:

  • Concerning carpenters, there will always be a need for advanced craftsmanship in the renovation of traditional buildings. Parallel to this, thanks to the new construction techniques, wooden constructs are being used as the structures of high buildings. Moreover, even when human workforce can be replaced by robots, this can be used as a basis for new complementarity in which craftsmen are engaged in creative tasks and robots in heavy tasks.
  • Concerning well-builders and tunnel-builders, there are new possibilities for using geo-data and advanced sensors and new techniques for drilling.  Yet the risk analyses, when starting drilling (horizontal or vertical) require communication between craftsmen on the site and authorized experts.
  •  Concerning welding, the use of welding robots is widespread in the industries. Yet, in outdoor construction work in which the results should sustain heavy strain and climate changes, it is essential to have a good understanding of materials, circumstances and differences in the quality of work. The sensors of welding robots may not be in the position to guarantee the required safety and sustainability.

I guess this is enough of these aspects. I still have some interviews listed for this week. If needed, I will update this post with further post. However, in my next post I would like to discuss, how the trainers commented the usability of the Learning Toolbox as a digital toolset to support work process -oriented learning.

More blogs to come ...

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