Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

The Circular Economy for Youth

December 3rd, 2019 by Graham Attwell

These are my slides from the recent online kick off meeting for the European Erasmus Plus Circular Economy for Youth project. The project will last two years and is coordinated by Pontydysgu. Other partners are from Greece, North Macedonia, Italy, Belgium and France.

Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part Five: Debates on VET research (past, present, future)

September 9th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With this blog post I conclude a series of posts on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2019) that took place earlier last week in Hamburg, Germany. The first post focused on the Opening session of the VETNET network (including background information on VETNET and other networks). The second post focused on the sessions that discussed the ongoing TACCLE projects (in which I and my colleagues are working). The third post focused on presentations that have an immediate relevance for the TACCLE project. The fourth post gave an account on recent developments in the VETNET network. With this final post I give insights into debates on VET research at different phase of the development of the VET research community.

The earliest phase: From ‘who is who’ to ‘networking the networks’

In the earliest phase of the VETNET network (when the setting up of the organisational structures was moving slowly) we were in the process of finding ourselves. It appeared that we represented different academic backgrounds, institutional affiliations and research interests. Some of us were from discipline-based institutes carrying out individual research in national contexts. Some of us came from interdisciplinary and policy-linked institutes with complex research & development projects. Some of us were already at that time working primarily in European projects with comparative and/or collaborative research designs. This gave rise to different views on, what kind of research activities and results should be presented in the conferences. One of the issues was, whether we should accept only completed research projects presented final results or whether we should give room for ongoing research projects to present their way s to common approaches. Luckily enough we found a working consensus that provided a basis for mutual respect and learning from each other.

Concerning the European cooperation projects we (who were working in them or with them) tried to develop sessions that promote learning from each other. Firstly we had symposia that promoted dialogue between parallel projects with closely matching themes. In the next phase we had ‘meeting point’ events for networks and journals. At a later date we tried to work with ‘growth of knowledge’ symposia that re-examined completed projects and platform-oriented symposia that tried to develop knowledge sharing platforms for specific project areas. This all belonged to the phase of ‘networking the networks’. Looking back, these activities were niche initiatives within the research community, supported by digital tools that were in their infancy and in a very early evolutionary phase of European cooperation.

The transitional phase: From critique on European Qualification Framework (EQF) to search for new themes

In the subsequent phase the inner life in the VETNET network had got settled and the VETNET board was working as a collective team. The diversity of VET research was kept in mind with a set of descriptors (key themes) that were used to organise the conference sessions. However, at this phase role of European cooperation was changing. Instead of discussing their own innovation agendas they were becoming more dependent on European policies  and moving to new funding priorities. This brought into picture projects on making the European Qualification Framework (EQF), the European system of Credit Transfer in VET (ECVET), European models for e-Learning, evaluation frameworks for European projects and specific projects for ‘target groups’. Here I do not want argue that such themes couldn’t be innovative. Yet, the search for common grounds was taking place within policy-based priority areas.

However, during this period the community developed a culture of critical reflection on the policy concepts with which it was working. In several ECER conferences there were symposia in which we had critical discussions on the eclectic nature of the above frameworks. Also, we had analyses on the limited ‘unifying’ impact of qualification frameworks on VET cultures in countries that have similar frameworks. This prepared the grounds for moving to themes that look at new drivers of innovation and on the role of VET in contributing to change agendas.

The newest phase: Coming together to shape a European VET research agenda

Concerning the development towards the newest phase we need to note the achievements that I have mentioned in my previous blog post – the launch of the new journal IJRVET, the emergence of the new international conferences and the progress with book publications. Parallel to this the VETNET network initiated a global network under the umbrella of World Educational Research Association (WERA) with focus on internationalisation in VET research. This has broadened the range of participation and intensified the  international exchanges beyond Europe.  This has also contributed to a stronger conceptual orientation in European and international VET research. This can be seen in particular in a more differentiated and critical look at transfer of policies, VET arrangements and innovation concepts between different countries and global regions.

In this respect there has been an ongoing discussion on European VET research agenda in several ECER conferences. At ECER 2019 the discussion was guided by the challenge to promote integration of knowledge in VET research. On a more pragmatic level this discussion focused on a planning tool for VETNET sessions – how to bring different level (macro-, meso- and miro-level) in a common thematic area into dialogue with each other. Here we noted some progress in the sessions of this conference. Secondly, this challenge was discussed from the perspective, how to present ourselves and our messages to policy-makers and other stakeholders. Thirdly, this was discussed from the perspective of reviewing knowledge development in VET research in review articles.

Concerning the project work and conference sessions, this spirit has been present among others in sessions that focus on proactive preparation to new funding frameworks for innovation programmes. Also, this spirit has characterised sessions that discuss the role of researchers as catalysts of sustainable innovations and quality-awareness in larger R&D programmes. Finally, this spirit has become manifest in sessions on grassroot projects in which researchers study community-building processes that aim to improve pedagogic quality of VET.

I guess this is enough of the debates on VET research in the VETNET network. As I see it, we have come a long way forward from the very early phases of the community development. Thinking of the current phase, we are rather well prepared for future challenges. For me, as someone who has been involved from the beginning, this is very rewarding. Now that my time with ECER and active VETNET involvement is coming to an end, I can look forward to the future with an optimistic feeling. However, I have not finished my work yet and I have to put an effort to finish properly.

More blogs to come …

Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part Four: Developments in the VETNET network

September 8th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my recent blogs I have been wrapping up my experiences on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2019) that took place earlier this week in Hamburg, Germany. The first post focused on the Opening session of the VETNET network (including background information on VETNET and other networks). The second post focused on the sessions that discussed the ongoing TACCLE projects (in which I and my colleagues are working). The third post focused on presentations that have an immdeiate relevance for the TACCLE project. In this fourth post I try to give insights into recent developments in the VETNET network.

Organisational consolidation of the VETNET network

As I have already mentioned in my first post, the ECER conferences are organised by the European Educational Research Association (EERA). EERA was founded in 1994 as the European umbrella organisation of national associations for educational research. Whilst the representatives of the national associations are in charge of the management, the development of the conference programs is the matter of networks. EERA has currently 32 thematic networks (and the Emerging Researchers Group) that each prepare and run a network program in the annual ECER conference.

The VETNET network is one of the oldest and largest networks and it has from the very beginning had an identity of its own kind. It has brought together researchers who focus on vocational education and training (VET) and who may have somewhat different academic backgrounds. However, there has been a strong commitment to develop a European research community that is open for interested colleagues outside Europe. In this respect VETNET started to shape organisational structures and develop common procedures at an early stage. By the year 2000 it got an elected network board that was working on the basis of jointly approved regulations. Parallel to this the network consolidated the pattern of double-blind peer reviews of conference proposals. By 2004 it got its first pilot website to present the conference program and the contributions.

During the years of growth the issue of membership had been kept open. The liberal interpretation was that all who participated in the VETNET program were also invited to participate in the VETNET assembly as members. By the time that the VETNET activities beyond the ECER conference started to get more standing (see below) this was too ambiguous. Therefore a task force led by Johanna Lasonen – together with the link convenors Barbara Stalder and Christof Nägele – prepared new regulations. These were then matched with the guidelines that EERA prepared and presented at the VETNET assembly. Based on the new regulations, a new VETNET board will be elected in ECER 2020.

International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET) and the Vetnetsite

From the year 2000 on VETNET has had the intention to set up a journal for European and international VET research. At that time a working group was negotiating with a commercial publisher. After a period of latency (due to organisational rearrangements on the publishers’ side) the first initiative led to creation of a journal without VETNET involvement. Few years later the idea was brought back to discussion – now with the intention to set up Open Access journal using an appropriate platform. By ECER 2013 the concept was prepared to maturity and by ECER 2014 the first issue was published. Here it is worthwhile to note that the journal was launched as an international journal (and it reached a wider international support). During the years after, the journal has been published on regular basis, its status has been acknowledged and it is being used as the organ of VETNET. A special step forward was taken when the articles of the years 2017 and 2018 were made available as the respective IJRVET Yearbooks.

Parallel to this, the earlier pilot websites for publicising the VETNET conference program and sharing the presentations have been replaced by the current Vetnetsite.

Conferences, interim conferences and proceedings

Alongside the founding of ht IJRVET the VETNET network has made progress with interim conferences and with publishing the conference proceedings. At an earlier stage, during the preparation for ECER 1999 the VETNET program chair Johanna Lasonen managed to get the conference papers in time and published a hard copy proceedings publication by the conference. In the subsequent conferences this was not achieved. An interim solution was the collection of papers and/or powerpoint presentations to the VETNET website or to a separate proceedings page provided by Sabine Manning on her Wifogate website. During the recent years the link convenors Christof Nägele and Barbara Stalder have introduced the process of preparing and editing the annual proceedings by the conference.

Parallel to this development the VETNET network has got a settlement with two regular ‘interim conferences’. Stockholm University has had quite some time a tradition of annual cruise conference in May. Another conference tradition emerged when the University of Bremen (2015) and the University of Rostock (2017) organised international VET research conferences shortly before ECER with the theme “Crossing boundaries in VET research”. In 2017 an agreement was reached to organise these conferences every two year in May. Thus, in May 2018 we had the Stockholm conference, whilst in May 2019 we had the “Crossing boundaries” conference in Valencia. And the most important is that the proceedings of these conferences have been prepared by the conference. With the Stockholm conferences the production of book publications has taken place after the conferences.

Higher standing of VETNET network as a European expert network

Alongside these developments the VETNET has gained a higher standing as a European expert network in the field of VET. In particular this has become manifest in the cooperation of the European Commission and in the role that VETNET has got in preparing the European Skills Week. Since 2015 VETNET has been invited to organise a research-related workshop. Also, VETNET has had the task to prepare the nomination for European VET research award in the context of European Skills Week. Taken as such, these have been small steps, but they have also paved the way for proactive discussions on the future European funding programs. In this respect the VETNET board has organised in the recent years round table discussions on European VET research agenda to raise awareness and to strengthen the profile of our research community.

I think this is enough of the developments in the VETNET network. In my final post I will reflect the debates on European VET research that we have had at different phases of the community development.

More blogs to come …

Cities of Learning

June 5th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

posterPontydysgu’s Spanish organisation is part of the EU CONNECT project. Funded under the Erasmus Plus programme, the CONNECT project aims to leverage the impact of Learning Cities through building urban ecosystems of lifelong learning that harness the assets of European cities and transform them into a network of seamless pathways of learning experience for adult learners. The project application says: “In a society where existing educational pathways no longer guarantee opportunity, and with a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, connected learning for all citizens can open up new entry points and pathways to opportunity; in particular when integrating both the potential of ubiquitous learning technology and learning opportunities created by European cities.”

Pontydysgu have been working on two main things. Firstly, we have been doing a field study on Russafa, an area of Valencia, looking at different opportunities for non formal and informal learning, as well as at formal adult learning provision. One of our main conclusions is the importance of public spaces for learning to take place. To this extent history, culture and context play an important role and not least climate: in Valencia many learning opportunities take place outdoors! Urban design is another key contextual factor.

Secondly, we have been undertaking a literature review. One of the most interesting documents we have come across is ‘Cities of Learning in the UK’ – a “prospectus” published by the RSA. Cities of Learning (CofL), they say “is a new approach for activating a grassroots, city-based, mass engagement movement around learning and skills. It seeks to close gaps in opportunity and empower places to promote lifelong learning as core to their cultural and civic identity.”

“CofL can be a galvanising force for bringing people together with a city’s economic and social aspirations. It can open new sources of city leadership, learning potential and civic energy. Cities can both make visible and amplify nascent systems of learning – involving learners, institutions, employers, civil society and the voluntary and cultural sectors. Learners, especially those from underserved communities, can benefit from much greater access to the wealth of enrichment experiences and opportunities their city offers. By deepening social and civic connections, CofL can be a means to developing a sense of place, identity, mission, ambition – and learning.”

The Cities of Learning movement started in the USA but the Prospectus has been “adapted for UK.”

One thing I very much like about the CofL approach is the emphasis on place. As the RSA say “Learning systems – formal, non-formal, informal – are experienced by people in places and form a fundamental part of how they experience life within their neighbourhoods, communities, and towns and cities. They operate outside of the silos of traditional programmes, allowing organisations to work together to focus on shared outcomes rather than individual concerns.”

They go on to say that CofL “capitalise on crucial intangible factors that drive collective action, such as identity, heritage and community.” Certainly, from our research in Valencia we would concur – although I am not sure that heritage and community are intangible.

The Prospectus emphasises the widening participation and opportunity gap in society today.

It stresses the importance on non-cognitive as well as cognitive skills for future employment. Skills and calls for cities to develop learning pathways leading to Open Badges, recognizing learning or formal and informal learning experiences. Learning networks would incorporate a skills spine using both OECD core skills and competences as well as more locally developed learning needs. The report points to different Interest driven and destination driven learning pathways – destination driven meaning learning for employment. This seems to us too binary a division. Interest driven learning can often lead to skills for employment and vice versa. In reality people often cross over between different pathways.

Dense networks and relationships are seen to be central to the development of CofL with “anchor organisations” and “influential change makers” acting as “network hubs and stewards.” Three key factors are identified for developing CofL initiatives – leadership, networks and platform.

Although stressing the importance of networks and of community organisations, the examples provided seem to be driven by city governments. And the report also provides the example of a large employers overhauling their recruitment policy as driving change through their supply network, but there is no discussion of the importance of Small and Medium Enterprises who provide the majority of employment in cities like Valencia.

Cities are of course important but I do not see why the approach to learning in place based networks should not also include more dispersed population areas, including rural areas and towns in the south Wales valleys with different population structures.

One thing definitely welcome is that the technology plays an enabling function, supporting learning. Technology Enhanced Learning may have a weak link to place, but place is key to practice in learning.

Less welcome is the unnecessary emphasis on CofL as disruptive or as they call it a “quiet disruption.” Neither do I see Open Badges as a “disruption.” I can only see CofL and Open Badges as developing and extending traditional ideas of adult education.

The report also claims that CoFL challenges the fragmented rigid and centralised nature of public services. Certainly, education services have become fragmented but the major challenge is not that but is government austerity policies which have decimated adult education provision.

However, despite this, City of Learning is an exciting vision, and one I think which could spread beyond the RSA sponsored experiments and networks.

Remembering Jenny Hughes – Part One: Personal memories on our cooperation

October 31st, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last Sunday we got from Graham Attwell the sad news: Jenny Hughes has passed away. As we know it, Graham is a long-time friend of Jenny over decades. In his blog Graham has already given us a picture what all Jenny has been up to during the years they have known each other (see Graham’s recent blog post). I have also known Jenny and Graham quite some time – our cooperation dates back to the year 1996 when I started monitoring EU-funded cooperation projects as a project manager of Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training). Little did we anticipate, what all we would experience together in the years to come and what kind of initiatives we could bring forward. Below I try to cover some of the main themes with which we have worked together in the field of vocational education end training (VET). In this context I will try to give a picture, how Jenny has contributed to European networking and community-development through all these years.

Jenny training the trainers in Bau-ABC

Professionalisation of teachers, trainers and VET professionals altogether

The first time I met Jenny (and also Graham) in Bremen in January 1996 in the kick-off meeting of the European cooperation project “Europrof”. The project was initiated by Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen, but they chose to employ Graham as the coordinator. Jenny was representing the UK (Welsh) partner organisation. I was representing Cedefop – as an additional accompanying researcher. The aim of the project was to shape a new integrative framework for VET professionals – to overcome the divide between teachers (in school-based education) and trainers (in workplace-based training). The conceptual starting point inspired many European colleagues to join in at a later stage – as affiliated expert partners. However, the project had difficulties in working its way forward from a critical ‘state of the art analysis’ to a realistic change agenda that could be adjusted to different VET cultures. Yet, the work in the Europrof workshops prepared the grounds for a Europe-wide ‘invisible college’ and community-building process that was continued in other projects. In the beginning phase I remember that Jenny was critical about the ‘European English’ terminology that we (non-native English speakers) were using. It took some time for us to understand that we were not disagreeing on the underlying ideas but instead we were not aware of the connotative meanings in British English – that made our message weaker or diluted it altogether. Once we understood this, we were happy to work with Jenny on our side.

The Europrof project had tried to outline an integrative change agenda for promoting education and training for new VET professionals (covering the school-based and workplace-based VET). The successor projects tried to develop a differentiated approach – addressing teachers and trainers in VET as different target groups. The TTplus project (2006 – 2008) was initiated by Graham (now representing Pontydysgu and bringing Jenny with him). I joined this project as a freshman in ITB, based in Bremen. In this project we looked at the instances of change and interests that we could trace in different countries – in order to draw common conclusions. In this project Jenny provided insights into the training practices in Welsh organisations and outlined a framework for continuing professional development (for countries that did not have strong established frameworks at place).

A third phase of such European cooperation took shape in the European Consultation seminars 2007 -2008. The European Commission had decided to launch a consultation process based on six ‘regional’ workshops involving EU Member States and EFTA cooperation partners. The workshops had the task to bring different stakeholders to joint discussion on the role of European policies in promoting the professionalisation of teachers and trainers in VET. The project was led by ITB and supported by Pontydysgu. In the light of the difficulties that we had experienced in previous projects it was of vital importance that Jenny was able to shape a set of interactive workshops that kept the participants busy in common discussion instead of getting stuck with institutional and systemic differences.

Here some of the key points of this workshop concept:

  1. Mapping of concerns of teachers and trainers: What are the issues – what are common to both, what are different? The issue cards were written and set on the wall – illustrating the sense of commonality or relative distance between teachers and trainers.
  2. Witness sessions: Participants reported of recent reforms in their countries and of current European projects that they perceived as innovative.
  3. Problem and Solution cards: Participants wrote on one side of the card a pressing problem and on the other side a possible solution. These were then discussed in groups.
  4. Mapping policies: On a matrix the participant groups were asked to indicate, what European policies do more and what less and what national policies should do more and what less.
  5. Taking a message home: Participants were asked to formulate their own conclusions as messages to take home.
  6. Self-evaluation of the workshop: Participants indicated on flipchart, what had worked well and what was less well in the workshop process – and the process could be improved.

During the workshops the participants worked mostly in mixed groups and language support was provided on demand. Also, at different phases of the process that participants changed groups. In this way the workshop stimulated cross-cultural dialogue and knowledge sharing on key issues and emerging initiatives. The participants emphasised the value of such process and hoped that it would be continued. Unfortunately the Commission services were expecting the process to deliver a Common European framework that would make such exchanges gradually redundant.

From ‘distance learning’ and ‘e-learning’ to the TACCLE projects

Another key theme for Jenny has been the promotion of teachers’ and trainers’ competences in e-learning – remote learning, open distance learning, multimedia learning, e-learning, technology-enhanced learning – whatever it has been called at different times. The major flagship projects in this context have been the TACCLE projects (I will get back to this in my next blog) and the related TACCLE courses. In these projects and in the supporting courses Jenny had the chance to shape handbooks, web-based support materials and workshops that brought the e-learning competences ‘home’ to the work of different teachers and trainers. As a personal memory I can refer to the Multimedia Training workshops that Pontydysgu and ITB organised together for the full-time trainers of the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup in Germany. The lively approach that Jenny radiated throughout the training made the construction sector trainers do their best to get something useful for them in their own work. At a later phase of the Learning Layers project these pioneering trainers served us the champions in introducing the digital toolset Learning Toolbox to their training. And later on they have served as peer tutors in their own organisation and multipliers in a wider context.

Networks, communities and real life wisdom

One important aspect in Jenny’s career has been her role in European networks and community-building processes. She may not have pushed herself into the representative positions but yet her contribution has been vital. I still remember the start of the European “Forum” network that was launched in 1995 as a ‘learning community’ for European researcher. This network tried to avoid premature institutionalisation. Instead, it developed a culture of regular thematic workshops – and included specific workshops for emerging researchers. Gradually, it became necessary to apply for funding and to develop a formalised structure for thematic knowledge development – and in this way the project-specific goals for producing publications in each work package took over the process dynamic. During this development Jenny was trying to maintain the culture of ‘learning community’ and resist the atomisation of the network.

Throughout her career Jenny has been remembered as an advocate of ‘real life wisdom’. She took seriously the challenges of academic knowledge development but at the same time she always work together with practitioners and supported their development. We have lost Jenny but her legacy inspires us from now on.

More blogs to come …

 

CONNECTed Learning

September 26th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

With Brexit looming like a big black cloud over us, Pontydysgu have established a second organisation based in Valencia in Spain. And we are happy to have started our first project at the start of September. Pontydysgu SL are partners in an Erasmus Plus project called CONNECT, coordinated by the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. Here we give the ‘official’ summary of the project; in a follow uppost I will discuss some of the wider issues the project raises.

CONNECT is designed to facilitate access to upskilling pathways.  The overall objectives of the project are a) to build and pilot an urban ecosystem of lifelong learning, that helps to leverage the educational impact of European learning cities and b) to develop a learner-centered approach to learning, which harnesses the assets of a city and transform them into a network of seamless pathways of learning experience. At the heart of CONNECT lies a digital learning hub, which by citizens can be used to set up personal learning projects and share their learning journey with the local community. The role of CONNECT is to build and facilitate access to networks that can support a person’s learning  goals and career development over a lifetime.

CONNECT builds on the assumption, that in a society where existing educational pathways no longer guarantee opportunity, and with a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, networks can open up new entry points and pathways to opportunity in particular for those who are distant from learning or disadvantaged. Learners who have peers and mentors who share their interests, can make a better connection from learning outcomes to real world opportunities. Moreover, it has been demonstrated, that education works best when it connects with and builds on other initiatives, like community issues, and when it links learning to opportunity creation, like jobs and skills needed by the wider community. Last but not least the project aims at facilitating access to upskilling pathways by encouraging learners to develop a sense of ownership for their learning, along with a change of attitudes towards learning, so habits of lifelong learning can take route.

Moreover, CONNECT builds on the assumption that the outcomes and impact of adult education in the digital age can be significantly improved, when shifted from siloed to open learning architectures, from consumptive to participatory learning and, from institutions to learning in networks. The project supports this shift by encouraging adult educators to take on new roles, such as becoming facilitators of personal learning projects and brokers of learning within networks. CONNECT will guide adult educators on their way to the digital learning society, and equip them with the skills needed in order to guide and support the adult learners of the future. CONNECT in this sense extends and develops educators’ competences on the effective use of ICT.

CONNECT supports the open education and innovative practices in a digital era by building city-wide digital platforms, that enable adult learners to set up personal learning projects based on their passions and interests;  build connections with learning that appears across multiple contexts of the city; collect, mix and remix local learning resources and, with the help of peers and facilitators leverage their skills and competences; share learning outcomes with others, get feedback and ideas for improvement and gain recognition of their learning.

Ubiquitous technologies nowadays allow for learning anywhere and any time, which causes a shift from education to learning in open learning architectures. Moreover, learning which was previously based on consumption of information now shifts to participatory learning. Learning happens best when it is rich in social connections, especially when it is peer-based and organized around learners’ interests, enabling them to create as well as consume information. Finally, learning in institutions shifts to learning in networks. In the digital age, the fundamental operating and delivery systems are networks, not institutions, which are one node of many on a person’s network of learning opportunities. People learn across institutions, so an entire learning network must be supported.

However, while the Internet over the past decades has put the focus on distance education and on collaboration among people that are geographically distributed, CONNECT seeks to bring again into the picture local issues, recognizing the critical role of technology-enhanced learning, supporting not only interactions with others around the world, but also and, perhaps more importantly, with people and organisations nearby.

CONNECT brings together 7 partners from 5 EU member states, who contribute to the project through profound expertise on learning cities and regions, community development, neighbourhood learning, local education management, lifelong learning development and technology-enhanced learning.

Reflections on #ECER2018 – Part Five: Developments in the VETNET network

September 14th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my four previous posts I have shaped a series of blogs on the European Conference of Educational Research (ECER 2018) that took place last week in Bolzano/Bozen. In the first post I reported on the pilot with  ePosters powered by the digital toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB). In the second post I gave an overview on my own contributions – on the research background of the LTB and on ‘transfer of innovation’ issues in recent and earlier innovation projects. In the third post I reported on the Opening Session of our VETNET network (European Vocational Education and Training Research Network) and on some contributions of our Italian colleagues. In the  fourth post I give insights into some of the VETNET sessions that I had attended as a participant.With this fifth – and concluding – post I will focus on the VETNET network and its general assembly.

Successful preparation – successful participation

The convenors of the VETNET network – Christof Nägele and Barbara Stalder – had a pleasant duty to report on the preparation of the VETNET program and how it was put into practice. Once again we had clearly over 100 proposals and despite some withdrawals we remained among the biggest EERA networks. For the convenors the high number provided a challenge – not to end up with four parallel sessions in the same time slot. They managed it – although packing sometimes four presentations into one session. But this seemed to work fine. Also, when distributing the session chair duties, they took a new approach – in each session the last presenter was appointed as the chair. In this way the chairing duties were distributed more widely – not only to the board members. And in this way also the last presenters got their fair share of the time. Finally, the organisation of the VETNET dinner – with a record participation – was praised widely.

ECER VETNET Proceedings 2018

One of the remarkable achievements of the convenors was that they managed to produce proper proceedings – as an online version and as a book that is printed on demand:

Nägele, C., & Stalder, B. E. (Eds.) (2018). Trends in vocational education and training research. Proceedings of the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), Vocational Education and Training Network (VETNET).https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1319718

The VETNET pilot with ePosters

This year VETNET had a specific pilot activity with ePosters powered by the Learning Toolbox (LTB). Together with Christof Nägele I initiated firstly an EERA event for presenting this approach and then an EERA-funded Network project that enabled us to organise an interactive poster session with six authors who had prepared their ePosters (see my first post of this series). In the VETNET assembly I was pleased to report that this pilot activity had been a successful one. The sessions had good numbers of participants, the technology worked well and the mini-poster wall enabled further discussions after the sessions. And the EERA showcase and the instruction page are available for further use.

IJRVET – our journal is getting stronger

Michael Gessler, the editor-in-chief of the IJRVET (International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training) reported on the development of journal, Now that the IJRVET  has already reached its fifth volume, we can be happy that it has taken its place as a major journal in our field. during the last year we were happy that Cinterfor – the ILO unit for promoting training in Central and South America – started supporting the IJRVET.  Also, we were pleased to have the journal articles as the IJRVET Yearbook – printed on demand.

Crossing Boundaries in VET – the Spring 2019 Conference in Valencia

Last year we reached an agreement on scheduling two other conferences so that they are not clashing with each other or with the ECER. According to this agreement the “Crossing Boundaries …” conference and the Stockholm International VET Conference will be organised every two years. Thus, the next “Crossing Boundaries …” conference will be organised in May 2019 in Valencia (and the next Stockholm conference in May 2020). The call for papers for the Valencia conference was closed already at the end of May this year. On behalf of the organisers Fernando Marhuenda gave an interim report on the preparation. They were happy about the good number of proposals. Yet, as a consequence, the selection process had taken more time. However, the results will be communicated by the end of September. Here also the organisers are preparing the proceedings to be distributed before/at the event.

The European Skills Week

From the year 2016 on the VETNET network has been supporting the European Commission in organising research-related events in the context of the European Skills Week. In addition to a research work there has been a competition to award distinguished European researchers and successful European projects. This tradition will be continued and the information on the forthcoming event in Vienna will be published soon.

Celebrating the new VETNET Network Honorary Member Johanna Lasonen

Last year the VETNET general assembly had nominated Johanna Lasonen for VETNET Honorary Membership. In April this year the EERA Council confirmed her status and published this on the EERA website. Now the VETNET network was in the position to celebrate her. In his laudatio speech Michael Gessler paid attention to the long career of Johanna as an active member – starting from the founding process and including over 20 years service as a reviewer. Moreover, Michael listed all the new things that Johanna brought into the conference culture of VETNET when she was the first ‘local’ program chair in 1999 – the VETNET opening session with keynote speakers, the VETNET proceedings (published by the conference), the VETNET dinner (sponsored by Lahti Polytechnic) and the VETNET study visits to vocational schools and enterprises. Also, Michael referred to Johanna’s role in supporting the IJRVET in many ways. And finally, Michael gave insights into Johanna’s long career in the International Vocational Education and Training Association (IVETA) as the European Vice-President, as the President Elect, as the President and as the Immediate Past President. These duties required sometimes bold actions and firm leadership, as the examples tha Michael mentioned made us aware.

Awarding-JL-1Awarding-JL-3

Johanna thanked the network and the EERA Council for the honour and paid tribute to other team players as board members and convenors with whom she had worked. With this celebration we were happy to take the course to the next ECER 2019 that will be hosted by Hamburg.

I think this is enough of the VETNET meeting and of the reporting on ECER 2018 altogether. This major conference was a good experience and now it is time to continue with the daily work.

More blogs to come …

Reflections on #ECER2018 – Part Three: The VETNET network in dialogue with the host country

September 12th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous posts I started a series of blogs on the European Conference of Educational Research (ECER 2018) that took place last week in Bolzano/Bozen. In the first post I reported on the pilot with  ePosters powered by the digital toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB). In the second post I gave an overview on my own contributions – on the research background of the LTB and on ‘transfer of innovation’ issues in recent and earlier innovation projects. I also reported on my own way to prepare ePoster-versions of my presentations. In this third post I will focus on the traditional Opening Session of our VETNET network (European Vocational Education and Training Research Network). Ever since 1999 we have had a tradition to bring forward research issues and/or policy issues from the host country of the conference. Below I will give a brief report on the Opening Session in Bolzano-Bozen and on the issues that came up. Then I will make some remarks on the presentations of our Italian colleagues.

Issues on Vocational Education and Training (VET) in the host country and host region

Already in the preparation phase our Italian colleagues had advised that we should focus on the host region (South Tyrol/ Trentino Alto Adige) as a bilingual region in which two lingual communities live in the same neighbourhood. Following this advice the VETNET network was pleased to welcome representatives of Vocational Education Institutions/Authorities from German-speaking community and the Italian-speaking community. In addition we were pleased to welcome a representative of the German-speaking Trade associations and an Italian researcher as a discussant.

Without going into details of the presentations it is worthwhile to not that the representatives of vocational education from both lingual communities emphasised the efforts of vocational schools to incorporate workplace-based learning into their provisions. Partly this was pursued via local partnerships, partly with the help of regional ESF-projects. Yet, both speakers expressed their concerns of high drop-out rates (although the regional drop-out rates were lower than the average in Italy). In this context the representative of the trade association (entrepreneur himself) expressed his critical views on the bridging arrangements initiated by vocational schools. His association was strongly in favour of the German-like dual system of apprenticeship in which the enterprise is the major partner and the school has a supporting function. He then presented a lively picture of achievements reached (and hurdles met) in making the apprentice training function in the regional context. With these introductory presentations we got a richer picture of the host region in which the lingual communities follow different cultural traditions in shaping the VET provisions and are on somewhat different developmental paths. Due to many questions and comments the session chair had to reschedule the discussant’s contribution (prepared by Marco Perini) to the next session (see below).

Italian research papers in further VETNET sessions

We already go interested in the VETNET Opening session and luckily enough we had informative contributions from our Italian colleagues who could give us deeper insights. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend their sessions but luckily enough we find their papers in the ECER VETNET Proceedings 2018 (that have been published immediately after the conference. In this respect I just try to give a brief background information on the contributions that I recommend for further reading.

Marco Perini et al.: Research on Italian VET-laboratory instructional practices

Cover page of the presentation of Marco Perini and Monica Pentassuglia

Cover page of the presentation of Marco Perini and Monica Pentassuglia

In the VETNET Opening Session we had already heard several speakers referring to “VET-laboratories” as joint learning arrangements developed by vocational schools and regional enterprises. In their presentation “One Step Forward: …” Marco Perini and Monica Pentassuglia provided firstly background information on the Italian VET system and on the introduction of this new format for collaborative learning.  Based on the background information they outlined a research framework for studying the implementation of this approach and getting feedback from different parties involved. Since the paper gives insights into work in progress, we are keen on following the further steps of the study.

Paolo Nardi et al:: Case study on the Oliver Twist school as example for new approach in VET

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 16.11.26

The paper of Paolo Nardi and his co-authors can be characterised as ‘college research’ and as ‘action research’ in a vocational education and training setting. Cometa – the training institution – is carrying out a quality development campaign with which it wants to evaluate the vocational programs and certify them with Cometa branding. In this context the ‘reality-based learning’ approach is given a major attention. Whilst the teachers are engaged with developmental process, Cometa Research team is supporting the process with documentation and analyses. The paper presents both the approach, developmental measures (concerning internship/apprenticeship) and achieved results. The interesting point here is that the Cometa Research activities are being developed as a continuing support layer – both for the school development and teachers’ professional development and for cooperation with partner universities.

I think this is enough of the VETNET opening and on the dialogue that was opened with the host region and the host country representatives. I am looking forward to the next steps and next encounters. But I also need to give an account on other themes discussed in the conference.

More blogs to come … 

Demonstrating the Value of Community Development Approaches

May 2nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

This is a video of a conference I spoke at in Dublin in April organised by the Clondalkin Community Alcohol and Drugs Task Force. The conference followed the publication of a research report which said said power has been removed from affected areas and centralised at government level, where the system is “utterly disconnected” from the needs of people and communities. The research team was led by Aileen O’Gorman, a senior lecturer in Alcohol and Drug Studies at the University of West Scotland, and formerly of UCD.

The report said austerity “exacerbated” the problem by cutting funding to education, health, housing and welfare supports, local drug task- forces as well as community and voluntary groups.

A article about the report in the Irish Examiner newspaper said:

The study, commissioned by the Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol Task Force, said that drug-related ‘harms’ consistently cluster in communities marked by poverty and social inequality.

“The origins of poverty and inequality do not arise from the actions of people or communities, they derive from the politics, policies and structural violence of the state,” said the report.

It said drug policy in Ireland has become focused on addressing “individual drug using behaviour” and drug-related crime rather than the underlying issues of poverty and inequality and even less attention is paid to the outcomes of policy.

“The austerity policies introduced in the wake of the great recession have exacerbated the existing structural deficiencies in our society by cutting funding to education, health, housing, and welfare supports and to the Drug and Alcohol Task Forces and community, voluntary and statutory services that support vulnerable groups,” the study said.

It said that policies have resulted in a “drawing back of power from communities” and a recentralisation of power within government administration.

The conference focused on Reclaiming Community Development as an Effective Response to Drug Harms, Policy Harms, Poverty and Inequality and my presentation was entitled ‘Measuring Outcomes and Demonstrating
the Value of Community Development Approaches’.

“Mein Koffer in Berlin” – Part Three: The highlight – the Paganini-Marathon & Extras

April 13th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous posts I have been writing a series of blog entries  on my recent visit to Berlin – the ‘second home town’ of the mid-1990s when I was working at Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training). My motto is the same as that of other alt-Berliner who long for getting back – “Ich habe noch einen Koffer in Berlin“. In my previous blogs I have told of my sightseeing rounds – walking in Berlin – and of my encounters with friends of old – meetings in Berlin. But now it is time to come to the highlight of the visit and tell the reason for being in Berlin during those sunny days. I was there to attend a concert that was announced as “Paganini-Marathon”. I have reported in my blogs of December 2017 how I got enthusiastic of classical music at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in June and how I have followed a brilliant multi-instrumentalist Sergey Malov after the festival. But perhaps it is worthwhile to recapitulate some points of that story before going to the concert of Tuesday the 10th of April.

The “Kuhmo Magic” and its impact

Well, how did it all start and how did it develop further? For many years I have been going to Kuhmo to listen chamber music because my beloved Johanna has always been a passionate fan of classical music. We had been shuttling ourselves from the neighbouring Sotkamo (frome Johanna’s home grounds). I have enjoyed the music as well but when we have been attending just a few concerts, it has not made that great impact on me. But in summer 2017 we decided to give us a treat – to take the weekly tickets for both two weeks and to get the accommodation from the centre of Kuhmo – walking distance from the concert venues. And that gave us an entirely new perspective for experiencing the Kuhmo Magic.

Well well. how to explain what is so special in Kuhmo. Perhaps it is better that I don’t even try to do it now with my own words. Instead, I am better of recommending the short article written by the British-Italian top violinist Hugo Ticciati, who knows Kuhmo as a special place and with a special atmosphere. And in his article “See you in Kuhmo!”: A performer’s perspective he has given a complete picture – so, please have a look and enjoy his explanation:

https://bachtrack.com/feature-ticciati-kuhmo-chamber-music-festival-april-2018

And if the article itself doesn’t give a sufficient impression on the place, let us have a look at the landscapes of Kuhmo as the background for musical performances – here for Daniel Rowland and Marcelo Nisinman:

In my blogs of December I have told, how I got into conversation with Sergey Malov on his use of special effects in his Paganini concert in Kuhmo (which reminded me of a special scene in Emil Loteanu’s film “Lautarii”). And when we both had found the film on YouTube and shared our impressions, we had more themes and I was happy to follow Sergey’s other concerts and his performances in the Salakamari (“The seceret chamber”). Below we see firstly Sergey performing with Klaus Mäkelä and Antti Tikkanen. In the second photo we see Alberto Mesirca performing with Daniel Rowland. In the third photo we see Marcelo Nisinman performing with Daniel Rowland. Such experiences  made all the difference when compared to the previous years – we all were residents of the “Kuhmo planet” and it was very easy to for music-lovers to start a conversation with artists who were around. And we enjoyed the “Kuhmo cocktail” provided by the festival program.

Kuhmo Salakamari 1Kuhmo Salakamari3Kuhmo Salakamari 2

The concerts in Helsinki and Tampere

After the Kuhmo experience I made my homework by searching all possible videos of Sergey Malov and by examining his concert calendar if I could possibly attend his concerts in the autumn or winter. Most of the time the dates of the concerts clashed with my travel schedules and I couldn’t be there. But I was lucky to watch the concert of Klaus Mäkelä (conductor) and Sergey (soloist) with the Helsinki Philharmonic orchestra. This was a special event since it took place two days after the 100th Independence Day of Finland and on the 152nd birthday of Jean Sibelius. It is obvious that Sergey played Sibelius and he did it well. I was happy to watch the concert on livestream and afterwards as a video recording. Unfortunately this video is no longer available, but the interview of Sergey after the rehearsal is still available:

https://www.helsinkikanava.fi/kanava/fi/videot/video?id=3576

Then, finally, in the beginning of March I had the chance to attend the next great concert of Klaus Mäkelä and Sergey – this time in Tampere (my old home town) and in the concert hall Tampere-talo (next to my old university). This was an opportunity not to be missed. And I managed to get the young hobby-violinist Karita from our family circle to join me in the concert. So, there we were, firstly listening to the warm-up talks before the concert hearing all kinds of things about the pieces of music to be played. But we heard also of Sergey’s sport exercises on the ice of the lake Näsijärvi during the week before the concert. And we had a discussion on the role of violoncello da spalla in his forthcoming concerts in Kuhmo and Kuusamo (further North) in the following week. Unfortunately there is no video recording of these talks nor on the concert. But it was great to listen to Sergey playing Stravinsky.

During the intermission we had a chance for catch-up talks with Sergey and I told him that I would come to Berlin as well. And Karita was happy to get the record “Hommage à Ysaÿe” signed by Sergey as a belated birthday present.

Tampere-talo Fr 9.3.2018Signing the record

The Paganini-Marathon

Then it was the time for the ‘Paganini-Marathon’ in Berlin. To be sure, we knew that Sergey had produced a great record as “Hommage à Paganini” and an equally great video “Paganini live” in addition to the trailer of the video. So, many of us knew what to expect.

Also, the guitarist Alberto Mesirca had played nicely Paganini cantabile with Daniel Rowland in an interesting location.

Yet, what we got was something more vivid, something more creative and something more seamlessly played than anything what we had expected before. The chain of Paganini’s caprices was opened by Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and by music of Nicola Matteis. But when we got to Paganini, everything worked like a clock. A major clock was projected on the wall and when the music moved on from one caprice to another, the pointers of the clock were moved one hour further. So, in this way we were kept informed of what was currently going on, Yet, there were imaginative blends played in the middle of the music. At a certain point I and my Scottish colleague started to pick some Scottish influences – and then there were some parts of “Scotland the brave” inspiring Paganini to the final run. In the next phase it seemed to us that there was some Hungarian flavour integrated into the music of Maestro Paganini. To be sure, this didn’t disturb us at the least. Here a short clip of the sounds of Maestro Paganini at the concert:

https://www.facebook.com/smalov/videos/1580840885296953/

Altogether we all in the audience, in particular Maria Lazareva from Moscow, my ex-colleague Alison from Berlin and myself were overwhelmed and stunned of what we could see and hear. And the encore – Henri Vieuxtemps’ Capriccio for Viola – was completely disarming us. There was no other response to that than a standing ovation – and all the others in the audience felt in the same way. We enjoyed very much and we hope that the video that was recorded will be edited for public viewing.

The ‘debriefing’ extras after the concert

At the end of the concert we noted that there was no restaurant or cafeteria in the same building or in the neighbourhood that could have accommodated us for some kind of group talks after the event. So, most of the audience faded away while I was getting the CDs signed by Sergey. And suddenly we were only a small group of family members, musicians, support team members – and me. I was very pleased that Sergey and Anna could host our little group at their place. And we had some nice talks on music, technical support, films and videos as well as other topics. And in the middle of all that Sergey presented us yet another instrument and explained how it works. Here we only have a still image of it (on Instagram Sergey has uploaded a video with sound.) So, at the end of the day there are no limits to creativity when our top artists are concerned. Altogether, we in the audience were happy with what we had experienced during that evening.

Sergey with new instrumentPaganini-Marathon_audience

I guess this is enough of the background and of my impressions on the concert. After the event we in the audience were overwhelmed, stunned and speechless. Gradually we are getting our impressions together. But it would be a great thing to get a video recording of this magnificent concert to refresh the memories. We are looking forward to it and to the next concerts of our musicians.

More blogs to come …