Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

My journey with the VETNET network – Epilogue: The (rocky) road to ECER 16 in Dublin

August 16th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my five latest posts I have written a series of blogs on my journey with ECER conferences and the VETNET network. In these posts I have discussed the development of the network from its earliest origins in the beginning of 1990s up to present date. These blogs are my contribution to the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2016 and to the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the founding of VETNET – the European Vocational Education and Training Research Network.  Unfortunately I have to stay out of ECER because of health issues, but these posts may serve as building blocks for the collective memory. In this epilogue I shift the emphasis from the past to the preparation of the forthcoming conference with some final remarks.

From ECER 2005 (Dublin) to ECER 2016 (Dublin) – Ten/eleven years after

My first remark is related to the preparation of the VETNET Opening colloquium. Interestingly enough, the VETNET  organisers have invited once again James Wickham as a keynote speaker (he had this ro le also in ECER 2005). To me this was a very good choice. In 2005 made interesting comparisons between ‘the European dream’ and ‘the American mirage’ as leading ideas for European training and labour market policies. Now he has chosen the heading “Always the first cut – vocational education and training in the Irish crisis”. It would be interesting to see, what kind of links he might make between his earlier analyses and those on the present crisis.

Communities, networking and web tools

My second remark is related to the way in which we discussed in ECER 2005 on the role of research communities (in regional initiatives) and on the support provided by social networking and web tools. At that time we were dependent on very early stage of web technologies and related possibilities for social networking. At that stage the interaction between researchers, tool developers and practitioners was far more complicated (and the chances for participative design were far more limited). Now, our experiences with the Learning Layers project (and with the online tools of the VETNET network and the IJRVET journal) open new horizons.

Visibility of VET research

Finally I would like to make a point on the visibility of VET research – both within the EERA community and at a more general level. In both respects the VETNET network was in 2005 still in the process of making its case. The subsequent years of stabilisation, consolidation and new initiatives have clearly given more visibility to VETNET and European VET research in the context of ECER and the EERA community. And in particular the launch of the journal IJRVET and its success have brought the public visibility of European and international VET research to a new level.

– – –

I guess this is enough food for thought for those who are on the (rocky) road to ECER 2016 in Dublin. It is a pity that I cannot join them. But I will keep in touch and then catch up with the news. I am looking forward to that.

More blogs to come …



My journey with the VETNET network – Part Five: The years of new initiatives

August 16th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest posts I have been writing a series of blogs on my journey with ECER conferences and the VETNET network. These blogs serve as my contribution to the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2016 when we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of VETNET – the European Vocational Education and Training Research Network.  This year I have to stay outof ECER because of health issues.  In the previousposts I have covered the earliest years from 1992 on, the founding  phase until  2001, the stabilisation phase between 2003 and 2007 and the consolidation phase between 2007 and 2011. In this final post I will have a look at the latest phase up to present date.

ECER 2012 in Cadiz: The role of VET in overcoming the economic crisis

Whatever we might have been able to plan in advance for ECER 2012 in Cadiz, real life pushed genuine challenges to public discussion. The fact that the host country Spain was heavily hit by the economic crisis and youth unemployment gave us a clear clue, what to discuss in the conference. Therefore, in the VETNET Opening colloquium we raised the question on the role of VET in overcoming such a crisis. Fernando analysed recent developments in and current debates on Spanish VET system. He drew attention to potentials that had not been used (cooperation between VET and working life) and demands for changes that have not been thoroughly thought through (transfer of German model of dual system to Spain).  Marg Malloch presented a picture of parallel developments and political pressures on privatisation of VET in Australia. Michael Gessler analysed, how the German dual system works regarding the transition from school to working life and examined, how a complex web of additional options and measures – the system of transition schemes – has emerged and stabilised as a self-sustaining system.

In addition to this opening event we had several contributions on the role of VET in supporting transitions and in supporting workplace learning. In particular the Dutch contributions on VET schools as organisers of/ partners in practice-based learning (Aimee Hoeve, Hester Smulders, Jeroen Onstenk) addressed these issues. I gave an overview on the development of the themes ‘workplace learning’, ‘cooperation between learning venues’ and ‘work process knowledge’ in European projects since 1995 to present date. Ludger Deitmer discussed the role of apprentice training as a basis for innovations in organisations (with reference to analyses using the QEK-tool).

For the VETNET community the Cadiz experience was a strong impulse for getting more intensively engaged with the crisis and paying attention to specific support measures (e.g. bilateral programs between Germany and Spain or Greece).

ECER 2013 in Istanbul: VET between academic drift and enhancement of work-related learning

Concerning ECER 2013 in Istanbul, the advent of the conference was characterised by massive protest movements and partly these demonstrations continued during ECER. However, these protests were not related to economic problems or youth unemployment. Thus, the Opening colloquium of VETNET focused on the position of VET in Turkey – between academic drift and lowly esteemed occupational work. The VETNET organisers discussed this theme with two Turkish professors – Oguz Baburoglu (as expert on the development of Turkish Higher Education institutions) and Özlem Ünlühisarcikli (as expert on Turkish VET development). We couldn’t draw clear conclusions but we learned a lot.

In the sessions our ITB project team presented the first contributions from our ongoing Learning Layers project – at a theoretical level revisiting the studies on ‘work process knowledge’ and ‘informal learning’, at empirical level discussions on the design ideas for mobile learning in construction sector and analyses on user stories (based on interview material). In another session our Dutch colleagues (Loek Nieuwenhuis, Aimee Hoeve, Ilya Zitter) presented a set of interactive innovation projects in which research teams were supporting practice-based learning in VET and (vocational) higher education. A specific symposium of our former ITB-colleagues from three universities discussed validation of informal and non-formal learning in Germany and at European level. Finally, Martin Mulder presented newest results of his project to map the European group picture of VET research in the light of articles in refereed journals.

For VETNET network this would have been normally the year to elect the Convenor and the board. However, since the change of Convenor(s) had already taken place in the previous year and since the colleagues were available for a new term, the board members were re-elected. However, as a new challenge we took note of the fact that the global umbrella organisation WERA (World Educational Research Association) had published a call for proposals for WERA International Research Networks (IRNs). We concluded that VETNET (with its international partners outside Europe) is in a good position to set up such a global network for the field of VET. Therefore, such a proposal was prepared shortly after the Istanbul conference and it was approved by WERA in the beginning of the year 2014.

ECER 2014 in Porto: Past, present and future of VET research

The ECER 2014 in Porto celebrated the 2oth anniversary of the founding of the EERA (European Educational Research Association) with the theme “Past, present and future of educational research”. In this spirit we agreed to discuss past, present and future challenges in VET research in the VETNET Opening colloquium in Porto. Marg Malloch chaired, whilst I presented reflections on the development of European research on learning in the context of work (past), Eduardo Figuiera discussed  the current stand of Portuguese VET research (present) and Karen Evans outlined some challenges for (future) VET research.

In the sessions I was mainly engaged with the contributions of the Learning Layers project. Our main contribution was the symposium “Construction 2.0” in which we discussed the development of our accompanying research approach (in the context of participative design processes) and the matching of mobile learning with the development of vocational learning in intermediate training centres. Our second session was a joint workshop with the Dutch team from HAN University (Loek Nieuwenhuis and Aimee Hoeve) in which we compared two Dutch and two German cases as examples of interactive innovation research in the field of VET.

Concerning the VETNET network and the wider international community there were two clear highlights:

  1.  In the VETNET General Assembly we launched the new online journal “International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET)” and published its first issue. After a lengthy pre-history the final phase of preparations led to a broad mobilisation of VETNET network and international partners as support network and the practical arrangements were agreed quickly and smoothly between ECER 2013 and 2014.
  2. On the last conference day the newly founded WERA IRN “Internationalisation of VET research (IRN-VET)” has its Forum session to present its action plan and to discuss some selected themes for future cooperation (International VET research review, Developments in governance of VET, Internationalisation in VET teacher education and doctoral studies). Via this Forum a wider range of network members became engaged in cooperation at global level.

Bremen Conference 2015 “Crossing boundaries in VET”

In this context it is worthwhile to mention shortly that the next major event of VETNET and IRN-VET took place already before the ECER 2015, since the ITB-hosted conference “Crossing boungaries in VET” was organised one week before ECER. With this pre-conference the networks provided a wider opportunity for European and international participants to debate and exchange views on themes that are presented very shortly in ordinary conferences. The keynote speakers were mainly VETNET board members, whilst a major part of the IRN-VET board members were active as presenters or co-authors. Given the good dialogue-oriented atmosphere, several participants expressed the interest to continue with such conference and the University of Rostock expressed its interest to host the next one in 2017.

ECER 2015 in Budapest: Transitions in societies and VET research

When ECER 2015 was about to start in Budapest, the world news were overwhelmed with reports on waves of refugees heading north via the “Balkan route” and the Budapest railway station being one of main stops during these journeys. This gave rise for the EERA council and secretariat to appeal to the participants to show solidarity and distance themselves from xenophobic attitudes. Given that the theme of the conference was “Education and transitions” there was a close similarity to the beginning of the societal transitions in Central and East European countries in the year 1989.

In this spirit the VETNET Opening colloquium had invited as the keynote speaker professor Andras Benedek, former education minister and director general of the national institute for VET. He presented a thorough examination on the developments during the post-communist era and on the developments in VET and Higher Education, including the issue of academisation of vocational teacher education. This picture was later on complemented in the paper presentation of Magdolna Benke on the short history of the National Institute for Vocational Education (NIVE) and on later research on building partnerships to promote VET.

In the sessions I could observe an excellent symposium on VET developments in the Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland) and critical discussion, whether there is a common ‘Nordic model’ to be promoted elsewhere. In other sessions I observed several cases of interactive research (once again by the colleagues of HAN University, Loek Nieuwenhuis and Aimee Hoeve) and by a Danish research team evaluating innovations in VET schools. Our ITB team organised a symposium in which we put into discussion transition of earlier project generation to a newer one in two project threads:

  1. The Kompetenzwerkstatt projects for developing vocational curricula and supporting tools for teachers and learners  and
  2. The Learning Layers project and its transition from developing digital media, web tools and mobile technologies in initial vocational training (of apprentices) to a successor project that develops similar solutions to support continuing training (of advanced craftsmen and site managers in construction sector).

In the VETNET General Assembly we were happy to reap the harvest of the successful pre-conference in Bremen and of the VETNET program in Budapest. We could note a highly successful development of the IJRVET since ECER 2014 and we could look forward in an optimistic spirit with all our initiatives. In this context I was pleased to experience that I was nominated by the board as an Honorary Member of the VETNET Network.

– – –

I think this is enough of the most recent phase of the development of the VETNET network – charactersed by new initiatives and their successful implementation. In my next post (the Epilogue) I will have a look at the preparation of the ECER 2016.

More posts to come …


My journey with the VETNET network – Part Four: The years of consolidation

August 16th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest posts I have been writing a series of blogs on my journey with ECER conferences and the VETNET network. These blogs serve as my contribution to the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2016 when we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of VETNET – the European Vocational Education and Training Research Network.  This year I have to stay outof ECER because of health issues.  In the previousposts I have covered the earliest years from 1992 on, the founding  phase until  2001 and the stabilisation phase between 2003 and 2007. In this post I will have a look at the consolidation phase between 2007 and 2011.

ECER 2007 in Ghent: Ten years of VETNET activities in European VET research

In ECER 2007 we celebrated the tenth anniversary of VETNET activities in ECER. Firstly, the keynote of Ides Nicaise focused on the theme “Participation in lifelong learning in the EU-15”. Then, in VETNET Forum we discussed the development of VETNET. I opened the discussion with a powerpoint presentation “The VETNET Chronicle”. Then we had contributions from the convenors, communicators, networkers and newest members from Central and East Europe. After the event we celebrated the launch of the newly published book Vocational Education in international context: philosophical and historical dimensions edited by Linda Clarke and Christopher Winch.

In the sessions we had further contributions on the European Qualification Framework, on European policies concerning teachers and trainers and on quality assurance in VET. One of the special experiences was the round table on eLearning in which most of the contributors had cancelled their participation shortly before – but the interested participants made improvised presentations to fill the gap. Also, in this conference we had a joint session with the Teacher Education network.

ECER 2008 in Göteborg: Looking for innovation research approaches in VET 

The ECER 2008 in Göteborg continued on a similar track as the previous one. The VETNET Opening colloquium was based on the keynote of Per-Erik Ellström on the theme “Knowledge Cceation through interactive research: a partnership approach”. Bernd Hofmaier commented this from the perspective of research on working life. The VETNET Forum was organised as a platform for VET-related journals and their exchanges with the VETNET community.

In the sessions I could once again observe a major emphasis on teachers and trainers in VET,  the impact of European Qualification Framework, governance issues and recognition of prior (vocational or work-related learning). We also had sessions on policy transfer between EU member states and a receiving partner states as well as discussions on occupational core profiles.

ECER 2009 in Wien: Critical reflection on European Qualification Frameworks

ECER 2009 in Wien followed partly the patterns of the previos conferences but had some new features as well. The role of the  Opening colloquium and the VETNET Forum was given to the symposia that examined the role of European (and National) Qualification Frameworks in the European VET policies. The speakers  – Lorenz Lassnigg, Jordi Planas, Michael Young and David Raffe – discussed the internal policy processes, expectations on harmonisation and the practical applicability of such frameworks. In many respects the speakers came up with critical comments with striking examples (e.g. the difficulty to agree on mutually coherent frameworks between England & Wales, Scotland, North Ireland and the Republic of Ireland).

In the sessions we had also some sessions dedicated to VET policies but also new themes, such as practice-based learning as an interface between vocational and higher education. Also, some sessions brought into discussion studies based on activity theory and developmental work research.

Concerning VETNET community and the conference culture, there were some new developments. Firstly, Pontydysgu (Graham Attwell) introduced a new social networking website for VETNET (based on the Mixxt platform). Secondly, the Pontydysgu team managed the video recording of the EERA keynotes and in addition produced several video interviews with VETNET participants and key actors of EERA. Finally, the VETNET General Assembly re-elected Ludger Deitmer as the Convenor and a new board (partly re-elected, partly renewed) for the coming years.

ECER 2010 in Helsinki: Intercultural dimensions of VET and VET research

The ECER 2010 in Helsinki took place already in August and this caused problems to some participants. The invited keynote speaker for the VETNET Opening colloquium, Johanna Lasonen, was in the middle of a transfer to University of South Florida and couldn’t attend in person. As a consequence, she presented an outline of her speech as a video recording and then Marianne Teräs continued live. The theme – The role of VET in promoting integration of migrants and intercultural understanding – was also taken in a specific symposium and in one of the central EERA events.

In other sessions some of the themes of the last year  (e.g. that of practice-based learning) were continued whilst some newer themes were introduced, such as entrepreneurial education and the role of VET in promoting renewable energy.

Also in this conference the Pontydysgu team was actively involved in producing livestreams and video recordings – but now with emphasis on the central EERA events.

ECER 2011 in Berlin: VETNET in transition

The ECER 2011 in Berlin was a conference that brought into picture many transitions in the way VETNET has worked. Firstly, the traditional Opening Colloquium and VETNET Forum were replaced with an active workshop in which all participants worked in three groups (led by three facilitators) to provide a groip picture of their priority themes or key challenges for the conference. In the sessions I could see a strong presence of the new Swedish VET-related doctoral program supported by a consortium of several universities. The participants provided insights into their cooperation with their Scandinavian and Australian counterparts and they highlighted their involvement in European cooperation projects. In other sessions we had discussions on practice-based learning and on governance of continuing training. Also, the key issue of last year – the role of VET in integration  of migrants and in intercultural understanding – was present.

In this conference the Pontydysgu team was working with live radio and podcasts. Thus, several VETNET participants could announce their forthcoming sessions and/or give interviews after their sessions. Furthermore, in an experimental session Eileen Lübcke gave a presentation on the draufhaber,tv project with video demonstrations as essential part of her contribution.

In the VETNET General Assembly we experienced special moments. Firstly (in accordance with the new EERA policies) we nominated Martin Mulder (as the founder of VETNET) and Sabine Manning (long-time board member, editor of the VETNET proceedings as well as the L&W Newsletter) as the first VETNET Honorary Members. Shortly afterwards we accepted the request of Ludger Deitmer to be replaced as the Convenor of VETNET. As his successors we elected Michael Gessler (Link Convenor) and Marg Malloch (Deputy Convenor). With these changes we envisaged a period with new initiatives and new responsibilities to be managed by this tandem leadership.

– – –

I guess this is enough of this phase of consolidation. In the next post I will look at the most recent years and at the new initiatives that were brought into picture.

More blogs to come …

My journey with the VETNET network – Part One: The early years

August 14th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

Normally I have participated in August or September in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) – the annual conference of the European Educational Research Association (EERA). This year I have to stay out because of health issues. This is bitter, because in ECER 2016 we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of VETNET – the  European Vocational Education and Training Research Network. In order to contribute to the celebrations I have decided to write a series of blogs on my journey with ECER and VETNET – starting from the year 1992 and ending with the present date. Please note that this is not meant to be an ‘official history’ document of the network – these are my reflections on my individual experiences as a network member from the very beginning.

ECER 1992 in Enschede: Pilot ECER before founding of the EERA

In 1992 the University of Twente had the responsibility to organise the annual Dutch conference on educational research conference (Onderwijsresearchdag). However, the organisers decided to open the conference for wider European participation and to arrange it as an English-speaking event. This was the start of the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). The strand ‘Vocational and Professional Education’ (with keynotes by David Raffe and Frank Achtenhagen) was one of most popular ones – the VETNET community started to get together. I participated as a young researcher from peripheral Finland – not yet a member of the European Union – with a comparative analysis of vocational education and training (VET) reforms in six European countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands).

During the preparation of the pilot ECER the Dutch organisers tried to prepare the grounds for setting up a European umbrella organisation for educational researchers – based on the model of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). However, at that point the time was not ripe for the decision – some more time was needed.

IRNETD 1994 in Milano: Pilot VETNET event before founding of the network

In the next years the VET research group of the University of Twente started cooperation with the American-based Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD) to explore an alternative option for internationalisation of research in VET and HRD. This led to the initiative to create an umbrella network IRNETD (International Research Network on Education, Training and Development) and to organise the launching conference in Milano in June 1994 (hosted by Associazione Italiana Formatori – AIF).  (I participated this time only as an observer because I had just started in Cedefop, see below.)

Regarding European networking in VET research, the conference itself was clearly a step forward from Enschede 1992. But the designed follow-up by launching a major network was given up due to practical difficulties. Yet, the experience with this conference paved the way for the VETNET community to come up.

Interim developments in 1994 – 1996

In the meantime the idea of setting up a joint European organisation for educational researchers had been accepted and the European Educational Research Association (EERA) was founded in 1994 as the umbrella organisation for national associations in this field. The first ECER under the auspices of EERA was organised in 1995 by the University of Bath co-located with the national conference of the British association BERA. (I couldn’t participate because I was just moving with Cedefop from Berlin to Thessaloniki, see below.)

By the second ECER conference the EERA council had adopted a policy to set up thematic networks to manage respective sections of the ECER. At that time Martin Mulder – a key actor in the above mentioned conferences and the representative of the Dutch national association in the EERA council) took the initiative to set up an EERA network for VET researchers. He contacted member associations to get nominations for a founding board and submitted a proposal that was accepted by the EERA council.

I myself had started in June 1994 (two weeks before the ITNETD conference as a national seconded expert at Cedefop (the European centre for the development of vocational training). Therefore I was not in the position to prepare a paper – yet I could report on the emerging community development in VET research. In 1995 I got a job a project manager job in Cedefop (as temporary official of the European Union – with tasks related to European research cooperation in VET). Due to the fact that Cedefop was being relocated from Berlin to Thessaloniki, Greece, I couldn’t participate in ECER 1995. (The conference took place just when the move was implemented.)

ECER 1996 in Sevilla: The start of VETNET under the auspices of EERA

Whilst the EERA council had already adopted the policy to set up thematic networks, they were not yet established by the time that ECER 1996 took place in Sevilla. Therefore, there was no clear thematic strand for VET research. Instead, most of the contributions of VET researchers were placed in parallel sessions in the morning sessions – which left the afternoons open as ‘creative spaces’ for improvised workshops. I participated with a Cedefop-initiated symposium on accompanying research and as a discussant in a symposium of the Europrof project. Thus, already at this conference we could witness the entry of trans-national projects  and their symposia or workshops into ECER.

A clear highlight for VET researchers was the General Assembly to launch the VETNET network. Martin Mulder invited the participants to announce the official start of VETNET as the Network 2 of EERA. Most of the participants in VET-related sessions attended and welcomed the initiative that was considered as a major step forward. From now on we could see that the community was taking shape and that we had a common framework under the auspices of EERA.

– – –

I think this is enough of the early years. After the pilot initiatives there was a clear course forward to develop the common umbrella network VETNET within EERA and ECER. In the next post I will report on the shaping of VETNET during the founding years.

More blogs to come



A short note about communities

June 9th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

PodcastToday I got an email from the Yahoo podcasters group mail. It was a long time since I could remember the last. But at one point, the group was very active with usually a daily digest appearing. And at that time it felt like a real community, of people from different countries and contents with different kills and knowledge reaching out to help each other.

As podcasting has become established there is a wealth of help available online, videos and manuals as well as specialist software and hardware. Podcasting is not longer a frontier sport. And the community is no longer need, or at least it no longer plays the same function.

And I wonder if that is true of other communities of practice. Etienne Wenger has suggested that communities of practice are always emergent (a point protecting them from making a fetish of conservative and out of date practices). That is usually taken to mean through membership, with new members becoming central as others move to the edges. But it may be that communities are always emergent in the knowledge and practices which constitute their base. And when that knowledge and practices cease to be emergent – as in the case of the Yahoo podcasters group – unless the community can move on to new emergent pastures, then it simply slowly dies.

Reflections on Communities of Practice

March 17th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

Chahira Nouira sent me an email asking if I could make a short podcast around Communities of Practice. ” I am writing,” she said “because I thought you might have 15 min of your precious time to help me compile an audio playlist where you are the stars! For a year, I have been involved in a project funded by the EU and one of its products is a Community of Practice for Lifelong Learning: DISCUSS. My idea is to get insights from you on CoPs based on how your experience and stories”.

I have been involved – and still am – in a number of projects seeking to support the emergence of communities of practice – defined as groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly – with varying success. In the podcast I try to explain why I think some have worked an others less so.

In early days, in the late 1990s, we mainly saw the idea of Communities of Practice as an analytic tool to understand how informal learning develops in Communities of practice and how knowledge is exchanged. In a later stage we moved on to try to develop or foster Communities of Practice, using IST to support the emergence of dispersed communities.

All to often we thought we could form communities ourselves, not totally understanding the emergent nature and the ownership of CoPs. Too often also, we have conflated organisations with communities. Probably more importantly, whilst we have fused on communities, we have failed to properly understand the nature of the practices which bind together those communities. According to Wenger, a community of practice defines itself along three dimensions

  • What it is about – its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members.
  • How it functions ‐ mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity.
  • What capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time. (Wenger, 1998)

In seeking to support facilitation a vital prerequisite is understanding the nature of the social practices within the workplace, both through observable patterns of individual practice and through developing an overall pattern language. This includes the use of objects. Objects are necessary components of many practices – just as indispensable as bodily and mental activities. (Reckwitz, 2002). Carrying out a practice very often means using particular things in a certain way. Electronic media itself is an object which can mold social practices and enable and limit certain bodily and mental activities, certain knowledge and understanding as elements of practices (Kittler, 1985; Gumbrecht, 1988).  One approach to choosing ways to develop particular objects is to focus on what Onstenk (1997) defines as core problems: the problems and dilemmas that are central to the practice of an occupation that have significance both for individual and organisational performance.

If understanding the nature of social practices and patterns is a necessary step to developing facilitation services, it is not in itself sufficient. Further understanding is needed of how learning, particularly informal learning, takes place in the workplace and how knowledge is shared and developed. Michael Eraut (2000) points put that “much uncodified cultural knowledge is acquired informally through participation in social activities; and much is often so ‘taken for granted’ that people are unaware of its influence on their behaviour. This phenomenon is much broader in scope than the implicit learning normally associated with the concept of socialisation. In addition to the cultural practices and discourses of different professions and their specialities, one has to consider the cultural knowledge that permeates the beliefs and behaviours of their co-workers, their clients and the general public.”

Eraut attempts to codify different elements of practice:

  • Assessing clients and/or situations (sometimes briefly, sometimes involving a long process of investigation) and continuing to monitor them;
  • Deciding what, if any, action to take, both immediately and over a longer period (either individually or as a leader or member of a team);
  • Pursuing an agreed course of action, modifying, consulting and reassessing as and when necessary;
  • Metacognitive monitoring of oneself, people needing attention and the general progress of the case, problem, project or situation.

He also draws attention to the importance of what he calls mediating objects and points out that while some artifacts are used mainly during learning processes, most artifacts used for working are also used for learning. Such artefacts play an important role in structuring work and sharing information and in mediating group learning about clients or projects in progress.

In general, when seeking to support online communities, we have developed web sites and web based tools which are separate form the work process. Possibly, we should be looking instead at how we can use artifacts from work processes to support learning and knowledge exchange.

Crossing boundaries at the Bremen International VET conference – Part Three: Concluding reflections on the conference

September 14th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My two previous posts on the Bremen International VET conference have been reports on sessions that were related to our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This is due to the fact that I and some other colleagues missed the first part of the conference due to our field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC (see my earlier post). Therefore, we joined in in the middle with our sessions and started getting impressions shortly before and after our sessions. Yet, due to good planning and timely publication of proceedings, the conference organisers made it easy for us to catch up. Below some impressions on the conference program and on the dynamics in the conference, then some remarks on specific sessions.

The conference as an international event of VET researchers

I have already referred to the background of the conference in an earlier post. Also, the conference got added value as a de facto pre-conference to the ECER 2015 of the European Educational Research Association EERA (that took place on the next week in Budapest). Moreover, this conference had been accepted as the annual main event of the International VET Research Network of the World Educational Research Association (WERA IRN-VET, the global pendant of the European VETNET network). In this way it attracted participants from Europe and beyond Europe – those who were on the way to ECER and those who couldn’t make ECER.

What was striking in the conference dynamics was the fact that old and new acquaintances got very well mixed with each other. Most of the European participants new each other from ECER, but this was also true with several others coming outside Europe. Some participants outside Europe had already been connected via other networks and conferences. So, the conference was a combination of many happy returns and new encounters. Also, the new journal IJRVET (launched by VETNET with the support of EERA and WERA) was also experienced as a common cause – to be promoted by all of us.

This all was very much appreciated by the European Commission representative Joao Santos, who took the initiative to visit the conference and to attend throughout the program.

The thematic continuum of keynote addresses

Looking at the keynote addresses, they appeared to to provide a thematic continuity in spite of the different topics. Firstly Martin Mulder (from the Netherlands) started with a global view on competence-based vocational and professional education. Matthias Pilz (from Germany) discussed in-company vocational training in USA, India, China and Japan – and raised questions on transfer of VET models. (These were then discussed in further sessions.) Johanna Lasonen (from Finland and the USA) discussed from a cross-cultural perspective the vocational learning vs. career & technical education in Finland and the United States  – walking the tightrope between commonalities and differences. Margaret Malloch (from UK and Australia) discussed boundaries and intersections in the recent development of Australian VET policies in the era of privatisation and withdrawal of state. Lazaro Moreno (from Cuba and Sweden) analysed the historical developments in Swedish vocational education – from initially workplace-based VET to scholarisation (and amalgamation into comprehensive upper secondary education) and to recent initiatives to enhance workplace learning. Ramlee bin Mustapha (from Malaysia) gave us insights into 21 century VET landscape in Asia and into issues on competitiveness, sustainability and ‘regional’ cooperation.

 Remarks on other sessions

The first paper session – after the Learning Layers sessions – in which I participated in the audience was dedicated to “Work-Based Learning, Learning in Work Processes and in SME’s from a Norwegian,
Dutch and German Perspective”. Here one could have thought that the session was a jointly prepared symposium instead of a line-up of three independent papers. The Norwegian pilot study on Upskilling and technological renewal in Norwegian SMEs (presented by Odd Björn Ure) and the Dutch project on Contributions to learning at workplace – experienced by secondary vocational trainees (presented by Haske van Vlokhoven) gave mutually complementing perspectives to a common theme. Then, the final conceptual discussion paper (presented on behalf of an ITB research group by Sven Schulte) grasped the theme from both perspectives and raised the question: “Work-Based Learning and Learning within Work Processes – Two Sides of the same Coin?” And – as usual – Sven didn’t give easy answers but kept the tension throughout the presentation.

The second paper session – already on the final day – gave the floor to two contributions that discussed policy developments and/or educational initiatives in developing countries. Firstly Salim Akoojee (from South Africa) took us to a journey to explore “TVET and the South African Democratic Developmental Ideal” with a question: “Plausible Rhetoric, Creative Tinkering or Radical Revisioning”. During his presentation we learned a lot of high hopes, economic constraints, frustrations and new perspectives in the post-apartheid South Africa. Then Nematollah Azizi (from Iran) took us to another journey with a project to develop “An Integrated and Community-Oriented TVET Framework for Rural Areas in Iran”. This project and his presentation had the following motto: “People’s Skill Empowerment towards Sustainable Employment”.  After presenting an interesting historical background Nematollah took us to a journey with a new project that combines traditional methods of adult educators, community developers and regional developers with new possibilities to engage villagers’ participation, to institutionalise initiatives and to provide support for community-based crafts, trades and other local self-employment ideas. Also, we learned a lot about successful initiatives and on cultural barriers to taking up ideas from elsewhere.

Altogether, I was pleased to experience an atmosphere of sharing ideas, knowledge and experiences via research papers and workshops. Also, I was happy to notice that the participants tried to give us a comprehensive view into complex issues and to specific contexts in which they are working. Moreover, the fact that the sessions were not overly packed gave us enough room for discussions. This all was communicated to the organisers in the final wrap-up sessions. The participants were keen to continue such conference experience with a follow-up conference in due time. Clearly, this pilot case had shown that there is need and room for such an event. (We are looking forward to the response of the organisers.)

I think this is enough of the Bremen International VET conference. In my next blog posts I will report on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’15) in Budapest.

More blogs to come …


Remembering David Raffe

March 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Some time ago we received the sad news that David Raffe, professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Edinburgh had died unexpectedly. For us David was a colleague who had been very strongly present during the early years of the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) and the early phase of the VETNET network (for research in Vocational Education and Training). Also, many of us had worked together with him in European projects and conferences. For us he was not just one of the colleagues but a person from whom we learned a lot in many respects. Therefore, it is appropriate stop for a moment to remember David.

We have already prepared a joint text in the name of the VETNET network and sent it to the University of Edinburgh to be included in their condolence book and we have sent it out via the VETNET mailing list. In this process the veterans of VETNET who had known David for years (like Sabine, Johanna, Martin, Graham and Karen) shared views with those who joined VETNET later and had less chances get acquainted with him. We all were hit by the news and we felt that we want to share our memories with the community. During this process several personal memories came to my mind. Here I would like to share some of them shortly.

My first encounter with David was at the pilot-ECER in Enschede, the Netherlands, in June 1992. I was participating as a relatively young researcher, just entering the European arenas. David was there as a well-known scholar and as one of the keynote speakers of the whole conference. He put into discussion the issue :”Is modularisation becoming a common currency in European education and training?” I still remember the way he started to explore different concepts of flexibility that were attached to modularisation as well as different prospects for progression and growth of knowledge. He also drew our attention to main effects and side effects of reforms and alerted us of one-sided views (affirmation vs. rejection). Altogether, he gave us a lesson, how to avoid easy answers and how to get deeper into the complexity of reform processes.

Later on I had the chance to observe the work of a European project (“Post-16 strategies”) in which England and Scotland were participating as different countries. This project avoided the pitfall of getting different systems into competition with each other. Instead, the partners tried to identify, what kind of strategies for promoting parity of esteem (between general and vocational learning) have success chances in their countries – and how they can learn from each other. To me it was striking that the ‘big names’ assembled in this project accepted the role of contributors instead of claiming the leadership for themselves. Here, David was a good contributor. As an annexed event I had the chance to witness a session of an Anglo-Scottish comparative project in which English and Scottish researchers were in genuine dialogue on recent developments in their respective countries.

A third memory is related to my former employer Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) shortly after it had moved from Berlin to Thessaloniki. Cedefop was in the process of new start and repositioning and was re-establishing its contacts to different stakeholders. The Management Board had a special session in which Commissioner Edith Cresson was attending. David was invited as a representative of the research community to discuss the development policies in vocational education and training (VET) and the role of Cedefop. To me it seemed that David’s speech was very helpful in creating an air of listening to and learning from research (rather than assigning researchers as sub-contractors to promote given policy priorities).

Later on we realised that David was putting priority on working in Scotland – or on comparisons between England & Wales, Scotland, North Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Here again, he could surprise us with findings on unexpected diversity – brought together with common language and seemingly common vocabulary.

Now that we have shared the news of David’s death we have received several reactions from colleagues of old from different parts of Europe – Alan from England, Eduardo from Portugal, Georg from Germany, Jose Luis from Spain, Sören from Denmark … We all have come together with our thoughts to remember David and to respect his life work.

Rest in peace, David

Ed tech community has grown up!

September 15th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I have spent most of the first half of September travelling to meetings and conferences around Europe. Now I have a few days to write up some of the things I learned – or more accurately of the interesting conversations I had.

I started out at the ALT-C 2014 conference at Warwick University in the UK. I used to be a regular at ALT-C but have missed the last few years conferences. September is a busy moth for conferences and project meetings anyway but the main reason for not going is that ALT-C is horribly expensive! This year I was able to go thanks to sponsorship from the UKCES LMIforAll project which had a stand at the conference. More on that in a second posting – first some general impressions about the conference. This is necessarily a bit impressionistic as I was on the stand for much of the two and a half days. However I got to catch up with David White who like me had not attended the past few years events and we shared ideas. Indeed, as usual, the best bit of the conference was meeting up with old friends and colleagues.

It seemed to us that the atmosphere of the conference had changed a little – not necessarily for the worse. Whilst in the past we saw ourselves as pioneers changing the world, Ed Techs have come of age. This was a conference of recognised professionals going about their daily jobs – almost a trade conference. At the same time many people seemed concerned with their future employment in the light of cut backs in university and Further Education funding. In the past much of the innovation was driven by government funded agencies – especially JISC and Becta. With the demise of Becta and severe downsizing at Jisc, innovation seemed thin on the ground. And maybe I am wrong, but with the increasing competition between institutions, coupled with the relative dearth of funded collaborative projects, their seems to be a danger of isolation – with everyone struggling on their own on the same problems.

It was tricky to find out just what was going on at the conference. To stop us all going to see our friends’ presentations and to give an opportunity to new presenters, presumably, the programme was hard to follow, taking considerable time and clicks to link sessions, papers, topics and people. I sort of see where Alt-C were coming from but one of the reasons I go to these events is to see and discuss with people whose research and development I follow online. And with a conference theme of  “Riding Giants – how to innovate and educate in front of the wave”, many of the title of contributions were somewhat opaque in terms of what they were about! Still much discussion seemed to be about MOOCs and Learning Analytics as well as the more mundane world of platforms and online presence.

Still, all in all, an enjoyable conference with some great keynotes (will publish videos of those to the front page of this site). More on the data stuff tomorrow.


Dysgu Ponty

December 8th, 2013 by Jenny Hughes

The Pontydysgu website is always full of news about the big projects we are involved in, like FP7 Learning Layers or Taccle2.  This is pretty inevitable as they take up the majority of our time and budget.  However, there are lots of other, smaller Pontydysgu projects running in the background that we rarely post anything about.  This is a bit of an oversight because although we often use these projects as test beds for trying out new ideas or as vehicles for piloting specific bits of technology that we then roll together in a much bigger package, they are also successful in their own right.

All of them are running in Pontypridd, (known locally as “Ponty”) which is where the Wales half of Pontydysgu is based. Some are part funded through the LLL Partnerships programme; some are funded in-house. We thought we might write a series of posts on what these projects are all about….

First up is Dysgu Ponty, which translates to Learning Ponty.  We chose this name because apart from the play on Pontydysgu (meaning approximately Bridge to Learning), we wanted to convey the idea that the whole community of Ponty was learning and that the town called Ponty was a learning resource.

The project is based on a very simple concept – let’s cover the town with QR codes linked to a learning resource.   The codes are being printed on decals (for shop windows), enamel (for the exteriors of building) and on varnished wooden plaques for hanging around trees in the park.  Codes come in three colours – red for Welsh, green for the English translation and black for careers.

So far we have 200 and our target is at least another hundred.  The town has a population of 30,000 but this covers all of the outlying villages as well.  It also has a great sense of community, which means that the level of support has been brilliant. The whole community is involved – schools, the Town Council, shops, businesses, the local newspaper

The link from each QR code goes to a website page on which there is a question that relates to the location.  The level is approximately 8 -12 yrs olds. Following the title question is some simple information using a range of multi media.   The location of the codes will be on Google Maps and we are currently sorting them out into a ‘Maths trail’, ‘Language trail’, ‘History trail’ etc so that children can choose whether to follow a subject trail or focus on the codes in one part of the town.

The purpose of the project is really to provide a bridge between formal and informal learning and to improve home school links.

We are currently working of a way of  ‘rewarding’ children for completing a number of questions – not sure Mozilla badges quite fits.  Also thinking about how we can get kids to be able to upload pictures as well as comments. May rethink the platform.

Meanwhile here are some examples of the sorts of things we are talking about

Location:  on the bandstand in the park

  • Links to… Question:  Have you ever heard brass band music?
  • Additional ‘information’ – mp3 of Colliery Brass Band with one line of text explaining that most all the pits had their own band

Location: Outside Costa Coffee

  • Links to… Question: Do you know where coffee comes from?
  • Additional information: You Tube video of coffee being harvested and processed

Location: Outside travel agent underneath exchange rates

  • Links to… Question:  How much is it worth?
  • Additional info:  Text and image – If you had £37.50 to take on holiday, how many Euros would you get?  Which travel agent in town has the best exchange rate today?

Location:  On the river bank adjacent to the confluence

  • Links to…mQuestion:  What rivers are these and where is their source?
  • Additional info:  The place where two rivers merge is called a ‘confluence’.  Use Google Earth to trace the two rivers back as far as you can, find out their names and where the river enters the sea.

 Location:  On the war memorial

  • Links to… Question:  How many died?
  • Additional info: Look at the names on the Great War memorial and then the names on the Worls War 2 memorial.  In which war were the greatest number of people from Pontypridd killed? How many times more people?  Why do you think this was?

 Location: Market Street

  • Links to…Question:  What has changed?
  • Additional Info: Picture of the street taken 100 years ago from same spot. Text – List all the things that are different between Market Street in 1910 and the same street today.
You get the idea!
[We also have black codes for older students linked to careers information as part of the EU New Jobs project.  The codes take them to links asking “So you want to be a baker?” or “So you want to be a printer?” with videos explaining what the job involves, what qualifications or skills you need etc. Some are purpose made and some from You Tube or Vimeo.  More on this is another post.]
Next time – Learning about Art in Ponty




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    According to the Guardian, research conducted with more than 6,300 authors of journal articles, peer reviewers and journal editors revealed that over two-thirds of researchers who have never peer reviewed a paper would like to. Of that group (drawn from the full range of subject areas) more than 60% said they would like the option to attend a workshop or formal training on peer reviewing. At the same time, over two-thirds of journal editors told the researchers that it is difficult to find reviewers

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