Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Meine persönliche Erfahrungen mit der Wende – Part One: Memories of Germany October/November 1989

November 3rd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the whole October and the beginning of November I have been hearing German broadcasts and watching German TV documents that revisit the historical events thirty years ago. Altogether these revisit the turning points – die Wende – in the history of the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik – DDR) and in the whole German history. To my mind these documents bring very personal memories – during those weeks I was on a study visit in Germany. Yes, to be precise, I was on a study visit in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland – BRD). So, I was not directly witnessing the dramatic events in the East but receiving the fresh news in the West. Also, during my one month’s study visit (my first visit to Germany) I tried to concentrate on my meetings at the research institutes.

I was travelling through West Germany visiting institutes with focus on the field of vocational education and training (VET) and on innovations in working life. But by the time I got to my final station, the insular West-Berlin, the processes of change had gone that far that I was equally interested in what is happening in the East and what is coming out of all this. Strangely enough, I travelled back to Finland on the 6th and 7th of November, just before the Berlin wall was opened. This summer I found the hand-written diary in which I had written my notes on the meetings. There is very little about the the stunning historical events, but I do have my memories. So, with this blog post I want to share some of the memories.

Travelling in West-Germany – Signs of change are coming up

I arrived in Germany on the 4th of October and then started my Interrail 26+ tour in West-Germany, covering Bremen, Hamburg, Kassel, Göttingen, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Bonn, Karlsruhe and Frankfurt am Main in three weeks. Looking back, it was a fully packed program, but I didn’t regret. I had the chance to get acquainted with researchers of whom I knew by literature and got to know several others. Bremen was my first station and became the most important contact point in my future career, no question. I learned a lot of the role of ITB in specific field projects, in the Bremer Landesprogramm Arbeit und Technik (innovation programme for Work & Technology) and in particular of the guiding principle “Gestaltung” (social shaping of work and technology). This idea was prominently present in the scenario project “Berufsbilder 2000” and in the ITB contribution to the Bundestag Enquete-Kommission “Bildung 2000”. And during most of that time I had the chance to enjoy the golden October weather.

The dramatic events started to reach me little by little. The celebrations of the 40th anniversary of DDR didn’t leave strong memories, I was too exited about my trip. Also, I have only vague memories of the mass demonstrations in East German cities that marked a turning point. But then,  the rush of refugees to the Wets-German embassies in Prague and Warsaw and the agreement to let the refugees to travel to West-Germany – that was big news. And shortly after that the first signs of the collapse of the old regime made headlines – the party leader and president Erich Honecker was pushed to step down. At that point the ruling party tried to keep the change in its control, but the clock had struck.

The week in München (Munich) – More signs of change

The next last week I spent in München (Munich, if you insist) at Institut für Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung (ISF), of which also knew quite a lot via literature. Now I had a chance to inform myself of their different projects and of their participation in different expert commissions both concerning the innovation programmes in working life and in strengthening research in the field of VET. Also, thanks to the support from Burkart Lutz (the director of ISF and a key player in European VET research), I got appointments to visit Cedefop (the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) which at that time was located in Berlin.

During that week more news came fro East that indicated that something was changing – some representatives of the old guard were stepping down, but no radical change was (yet) to be seen. This atmosphere of uncertainties and anxieties was reflected in ISF by the fact that they had a visiting scholar from East-Berlin . With her the ISF colleagues had started a comparative project in the field of industrial sociology. Given the situation in the East, she had decided, not to return to DDR. During the week when I was there, she gave a public lecture on sociological research in DDR at the Volkshochschule (civic academy). The discussion on her lecture took a dramatic turn when she announced her decision publicly. (Later on she continued to work as a prominent sociologist in München and as a professor in Giessen as well as in many prominent expert commissions.)

The week in Berlin – just before the peak point of the change

The last week in Berlin was exiting both in terms of my study visit and being a nearby witness of changes on the other side of the border. From the perspective of VET research the most inspiring discussions I had in several departments of the  Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung (BiBB) and in Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung (in particular during my breakfast meetings with Wolfgang Lempert). From the perspective of European cooperation I was privileged to have talks in Cedefop with Deputy Director Enrique Retuerto and with Peter Grootings. (Little could I anticipate that some years later Retuerto would be my immediate boss in Cedefop and that I would be quasi the successor of Grootings when he chose to leave Cedefop.) From the perspective of innovations in working life the highlight was the meeting in Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin with professor Frieder Naschold.

During that week it became clear that a major change will take place in East Germany – the economy was collapsing, the ancien regime had lost the control and the new leaders were not in the position to regain the trust of people. The question was not, whether there will be a change, but what kind of change. The opinion leaders of the new opposition in the East expressed their hopes to bring their country to an alternative path – to develop their ideas of democracy and open society without introducing the aggressive competitive economy of western capitalism. The West-Berlin taxi-driver had another view: “After 40 years of economic mismanagement and no free elections the people in the East will vote for unification with the West.” I had just left Germany when the wave of change reached its peak point and the wall was opened. Later on I came to see numerous documentary films of those days – it seems to me as if I had also been there.

I guess this is enough of my memories of zhe year 1989. In my next post I will have a look at October 1990. At that time I was again in Germany when the process of change – die Wende – was completed by the German unification.

More blogs to come …

Visiting the “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Vocational Education and Training (VET)” project

November 2nd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the end of the week I had a chance to give a guest input at the kick-off meeting of the new Erasmus Plus project “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Vocational Education and Training (VET)”. The project is coordinated by our institute – Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen – and in person by my colleague Ludger Deitmer. The partners come from Greece, Italy, Lithuania and the United Kingdom/Wales. All partners are known to us from previous European cooperation activities, so the project team was in a good position to have a rapid start. My role as a visitor was to give an overview of some predecessor projects and their recent/ongoing work. In addition I had a surprise input to deliver on top of my presentation. (This time I didn’t  need to travel elsewhere, since the meeting took place at ITB.)

Looking at the work of earlier and parallel projects

As I mentioned above, the partners were all old acquaintances to ITB, but they had not all been working in the same projects for promoting digital competences. Therefore, Ludger asked to give a presentation of the immediate predecessor projects – the TACCLE projects and the Learning Layers project and their achievements. In particular the point of interest was, how these projects have contributed to training of teachers and trainers regarding digital competences. For this purpose I could use my presentation that I had given when visiting the recent meeting of the TACCLE VET project in Athens.)

In my presentation I gave brief historical overview on the development of TACCLE projects, starting with the shaping of a generic e-learning handbook for teachers (TACCLE1), in shaping a differentiated set of online handbooks for selected subject areas (TACCLE2) and then shaping online resources for teachers who teach coding and programming in primary education (TACCLE3). Whilst these projects were directly addressing particular teacher groups, the ongoing TACCLE4-CPD has the task to analyse and develop models for continuing professional development (CPD) for different educational sectors – including general education, adult education and vocational education and training (VET).  From the perspective of VET and workplace learning I added to the picture the work of the Learning Layers project, in particular the shaping of the Learning Toolbox (as a digital toolset to support work process -oriented learning).

Based on the overview I drew attention to several points with which I am currently working in the TACCLE4-CPD project:

  • Policy analyses that draw attention to measures and initiatives to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers  in VET (at schools, training centres and work organisations);
  • The role of the European DigCompEdu framework and the adapted TACCLE Routemap as support for CPD;
  • The need to pay attention to digitization in education/training contexts and to digital transformation in working life;
  • The impulses that are given by particular exemplary projects for specific ‘innovation paths’;
  • Revisiting the “Theme Room training” that was piloted in the Learning Layers project with the training centre Bau-ABC (in North Germany).

We had a lively discussion and then I left the project team to continue its planning of the work to be carried out during the working period that had just started. (Below some photos of the previous session that I observed.)

 

AI and VET 1 AI and VET 2 AI and VET 3

My special input: the citizens’ course in Artificial Intelligence in Finland

As I mentioned above, we had a lively discussion after my presentation. Yet, it was not so much about the predecessor project or on the points with which I am currently working. The partners who have been working in the said projects (and attended the recent Athens meeting ), had already become familiar with these contents. To others, these were new impulses. However, I had also a special input that was immediately interesting and relevant for all participants.

On the same morning I had listened to the German radio channel Deutschlandfunk and its program “Europa heute”. At the end they had a special report from Finland – presenting a course on Artificial Intelligence that had been designed for a wide audience. (See the transcript of the report “Digital-Vorreiter Finnland: Künstliche Intelligenz fürs Volk.)

I then visited the website of the course “The Elements of AI“, designed by the University of Helsinki and the special agency Reaktor. And in the meeting we then had a closer look, what kind of civic knowledge the course delivers for wide audiences. These impressions triggered a lot of thoughts and comments. (Below some screenshots on different chapters of the course.)

Screen Shot 2019-11-02 at 14.36.05 Screen Shot 2019-11-02 at 14.36.39

I guess this is enough of my visit and of my guest input. I was happy to share some information on past/parallel projects and to provide an interesting example of a an ongoing online course that is reaching wide audiences in my home country. We will follow, how this course is being developed in the coming times.

More blogs to come …

 

Celebrating Klassiker-Blogger Wilfred Rubens – Reflections on knowledge sharing, networking and smart commentaries

October 24th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday I got the message from my Dutch blogger-colleague Wilfred Rubens that he has a special working anniversary: He wrote his first blog exactly sixteen years ago (here the link to Wilfred’s blog post announcing the anniversary). I immediately congratulated him on his Facebook account, where he had shared his blog post. But this incident also triggered quite a lot of thoughts about the sense of ‘history’ in blogging, on learning by logging, learning from others’ blogs and on networking via blogs and social media. Moreover, it triggered thoughts about my path to become a blogger and what role Wilfred (whom I have never met in person) has been an important reference person. This is related to my rocky road to learning more about technology-enhanced learning. And finally, it is the magic, how to become an internationally well-known blogger when using Dutch as the main communication language (quite fascinating for a native Finn, who has learned also Dutch). So, here we go with all these thoughts that can be brought together with the headings ‘searching’, ‘lurking’ and ‘working the way through’.

Searching: How it all started long ago (and before we had the blogs)

Here I need to go back to end of 1990s when I was working with a temporary contract as a project manager at Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) in Thessaloniki. At that time I was working closely with a number of European research cooperation projects in the field of vocational education and training (VET). I and my colleagues among the project promoters tried to develop patterns of ‘networking the networks’. This included joint seminars for parallel projects with common interests, joint symposia in European conferences and joint initiatives to promote knowledge sharing with the help of ICT resources. Here Graham Attwell and his friends in Wales played a pioneering role. There was a great enthusiasm of knowledge sharing, active interactivity and expectation to get powerful platforms to be used for community development and learning from each other. Indeed, something was reached, but it was ahead of its time and technically fragile. So, the enthusiasm started to fade away. Yet, already at that time I was trying to learn from ‘neighbouring’ intiiatives. So, I was also a subscriber of the weekly updates of the Dutch BVE-net (where Wilfred was working at that time) and of the German innovation programme “kolibri” (with a similar approach as the BVE-net).

However, very soon the winds of European policies changed. The European intergovernmental frameworks emerged as the main thrust of cooperation. Based on the model of the Bologna process (and the European mobility in Higher Education) a similar solution was sought for the field of VET with the Copenhagen process (and the European Qualification Framework). Also, there were expectations to find alternative educational initiatives with commercial eLearning providers and with the company-led “Career space” initiatives of ICT industries. And finally, the idea of ‘networking the networks’ was brought down to hosting ‘virtual communities’ that were supposed to be self-movers.

All this led to the phase in which my time in Cedefop was over and I had to look for a new start back in Finland. Now, after all these years, It is difficult to find traces of many of those initiatives and activities that I have mentioned. Some of them had their time. Some of them never really took off.

Lurking: Becoming aware of new ideas, networks and community-building processes

In the next phase I was back in Finland and had a temporary contract as a visiting researcher attached to the Vocational Teacher Education College of the Jyväskylä Polytechnic (latterly Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences). During that period I was trying to get my feet back on the ground in my home country and also trying to find new ways to contribute to European cooperation in VET research. It wasn’t a very easy period. The European cooperation was overshadowed by the new framework processes (EQF, ECVET, setting up new units for monitoring quality assurance …). Experienced researchers were allocated to evaluation projects rather than invited to promote new initiatives.

In the light of the above it was important that the theme ‘technology-enhanced learning’ provided a creative niche that soon generated creative spaces and provided the basis for genuine community-building processes. Here it is worthwhile to note that this creative movement was opposing the one-sided commercial eLearning approaches and the ICT industries’ efforts to monopolize technology-enhanced learning for their products. In this context the early applications of social media became important. Powerful bloggers and community blogs emerged and achieved high popularity. Critical studies on the use of ICT for learning in SMEs showed that the ready-made solutions are not taken up. New solutions were sought with Open Source software and OSS communities. To some extent this radiated to the field of VET with emphasis on new portfolio concepts in order to empower learners. Yet, the community processes were more looking to conferences like OEB, Alt-C and the events of JISC and SURF.

During this period I was clearly a lurker, trying to get a picture, what is going on and trying find my way to participate. My key informer was Graham Attwell, who was already fully engaged in these processes and debates. And thanks to Graham’s recommendation I started following Wilfred’s blogs on technology-enhanced learning as best I could. To Wilfred’s style in blogging was (and has always been) something special – he is carrying out mini-studies, presenting explorations, providing overviews on debates and making reflective commentaries. They are contributions to knowledge sharing and knowledge development – not primarily engagement in debates between opposite opinions. This was very valuable for me at that time and has been since then.

Working the way forward: The rocky road to become a blogger (who is working & learning via blogging)

The crucial turn for me was the new start as a project-based researcher at ITB, University of Bremen – the institute that I had known for many years (and with which I had mostly cooperated during my years in Cedefop). I was a team member in a major institute that was highly respected and a strong player in the European cooperation. Yet, it is worthwhile to note that many of the projects were overshadowed by pressure to provide a basis for standards or regulative frameworks, whilst the projects were more interested in promoting ‘learning from each other’. This was clearly the case with projects on teachers and trainers in VET, but also with projects on workplace learning partnerships and practice-based learning in higher education. We also had some ‘niche projects’ that were not so centrally involved in VET issues but provided opportunities to pilot with new platforms and with blogging.

Concerning my own development as a blogger, this phase was characterised by a strange contradiction. In some projects I managed to work with a project blog and contribute regularly. BUT this was all about working issues, progress and achievements of the said progress – without really reaching out to wider discussion. At the same time my efforts to start a personal blog never got further than sketching some general ideas for the European VET research community  – without providing a real perspective, how to work with those ideas. As a consequence, I had lengthy gaps in my personal blogging history. And my contributions to blogs on project websites tended to get lost in cyberspace once the domain names got outdated and were not renewed.

Gradually, the themes ‘digitization in education and training’  and ‘digital transformation’ in working life and through the society became central issues for all innovation programmes. For us in ITB the decisive step forward was the beginning of the Learning Layers project and our entry to the project consortium as late newcomers (with the construction sector partners). Our role was somewhat unspecific and we had to work ourselves into the project idea while working with the practitioners alongside us. For me this provided the critical challenge for using the blog as a creative space for working and learning (and for reflecting what has been achieved). Also, the Europe-wide project consortium was a clear audience to be addressed and the process dynamic brought into picture new issues to be shared. Once I had got the habit of blogging regularly, I understood that the blogs laid foundation for the reporting in the project and for my further conceptual work. And alongside this, I found it appropriate to blog on historical events or on other interesting themes (such as music) but yet keeping the main focus on innovations in vocational and workplace learning. And with the Learning Layers project we were there – with the challenge to work with shaping appropriate digital toolsets to support learning in the context of work. And with the Learning Toolbox we are now promoting an innovation that has been shaped for the practitioners, with the practitioners and by the practitioners.

I guess I have said enough of my rock yroad to become a blogger. During this latest intensive phase I couldn’t follow that closely the work of Wilfred Rubens. Yet, being a subscriber to his blog I have been bombarded with news feeds that inform, what he is up to. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed of his productivity and sad that I cannot follow all what I am getting from him. But even if my following is at a superficial level, I have some glimpses of that richness of knowledge that he is sharing. And therefore, with my background development that I have described above, I feel that I am in a position to congratulate Wilfred as a “Klassiker-Blogger” and celebrate his anniversary: Years and more, blogs an more – we are with you!

More blogs to come … (also on my side)

 

Productive project meeting in Athens – Part Two: Common themes and working perspectives between two TACCLE projects

September 30th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I reported on my participation as a guest in the project meeting of the TACCLE VET project. As I mentioned, this project focuses on  promoting digital competences in the field of vocational education and training (VET). The  parallel project TACCLE 4 CPD (in which I am working) is developing models of continuing professional development (CPD) for different educational sectors. My task is to analyse and develop CPD models that are appropriate for the field of VET. As I have reported in my previous post, we found a lot of common points of interest and working perspectives. In this post I will have a closer look at the common themes and working interfaces.

Critical interpretation of the European DigCompEdu framework

The proposal for the TACCLE VET project had given a major role for the DigCompEdu framework and stated that the project seeks to extend it to the field of VET. The policy analyses of the TACCLE 4 CPD provided a somewhat more critical interpretation of the DigCompEdu framework. During the discussion the following points were made:

  • In general we all appreciated the framework and its integrative approach to bring together teachers’/trainers’ professional competences, digital competences and pedagogic competences – in order to empower learners.
  • We also appreciated the approach to develop a progression model for promoting digital competences and to formulate proficiency statements for different competence areas and levels.
  • However, the framework tends to focus on educational subjects or academic disciplines and take the digital competences as add-on aspects for enriching pedagogy and subject-based learning. Moreover, the progression ladder tends to atomize the promotion of competences.
  • Concerning VET it is important to take into account developments in working life and in education/training to create an appropriate picture on the needs for promoting digital competences.
  • Concerning VET providers it is essential to focus on holistic solutions for promoting digital competences in specific occupational fields and at the level of the whole organisation.

Consequently, the idea of ‘extension’ of the framework required also critical interpretation and adaptation in the light of specific requirements and working perspectives for the field of VET. Yet, as mentioned in the previous post, the competence areas andthe  proficiency statements provide an essential basis for developing evaluation tools. Below I try to recapitulate my points that outline, how to proceed with such adaptation.

Digital transformation and digitization as challenges for VET

A major point to be considered in the field of VET is to observe the two parallel processes:

  • The ‘digital transformation’ has an impact across work organisations, production processes, supply networks and service networks. These macro-level developments provide challenges for the role of skilled workers and for the redistribution of working and learning opportunities.
  • The ‘digitization’ at the level of working and learning tasks has an impact on the prospects of vocational learners to respond and to contribute to the macro-processes that have been mentioned above. However, this varies in different occupational fields and in different education/training contexts.

Innovation paths for promoting digital competences in VET

The set innovation paths that I had outlined in my research paper for ECER 2019 – and then as an adapted version in my presentation for the Athens meeting – try to take the above-mentioned  processes and different VET domains into consideraration. Below I will summarise the paths and their key characteristics briefly:

  • The “CARO path” refers to use of digital learning spaces to support interactive learning in nursing education and across the whole curriculum. This path stands for ‘whole curriculum’ solutions and for sensitive learning contexts.
  • The “Learning Toolbox path” refers to use of an integrative digital toolset to support project-based training and learning in VET. This path stands for the introduction of flexible toolsets that promote transparency and awareness of structures learning processes.
  • The “innowas path” refers to introduction of specific digital tools or software solutions to enhance the learners’ awareness of their experiential learning and/or to make transparent the hitherto non-transparent work processes.
  • The “smart OER users’ path” refers to initiatives in the field of VET that combine the use of OER, related digital tools and open access materials in the shaping of creative learning environments.

As I have mentioned in my previous post, the innovation paths were taken into account when the TACCLE VET partners extended their list of possible learning scenarios and related OER solutions.

The Routemap document as a strategic tool

Finally, it is worthwhile to note that the Routemap tool (that is being developed in the TACCLE 4 CPD project) has shifted the emphasis from the digital competences of individual learners to the ICT capability across the organisation. Also, it has aggregated the set of competence level to fewer levels – initial, e-enabled, e-confident, e-mature. Furthermore, the tool has formulated organisational proficiency statements for the organisational planning – how to enhance the ICT capability – and for the related training measures – what level do we want to reach.

I think this is enough of the Athens meeting and on the ideas and further thoughts that we shared. Now it is time to work further to make the best out of both projects working together.

More blogs to come …

Productive project meeting in Athens – Part One: Impressions on the work of the TACCLE VET

September 29th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last week I had the chance to participate as a special guest in the project meeting of the TACCLE VET project. This neighbouring project focuses on the prospects for promoting digital competences in different domains of vocational education and training (VET). I am working in the parallel project TACCLE 4 CPD with the task to develop models of continuing professional development (CPD) for the field of VET. At this phase of work we found it important to share knowledge with each other and find ways to work together (instead of duplicating each others’ work). So, I attended the two-day meeting in Athens to learn more of the work of the colleagues and to report of my interim results. We had a very productive meeting that merits to be covered with several blog posts. In this first post I give an overall impression on the work in the TACCLE VET meeting. Below, I give – from a guest perspective – a nutshell description of some of the themes that were discussed in the productive and creative meeting. (See below the picture that was taken at the end of the meeting.)

Project team in Athens

Interviews with practitioners in different VET domains

The project partners had already completed their interviews with VET practitioners in different domains. Jorge Lizandra presented the general picture in the light of the interview results. In this context it was important that the project focused on enhancing the digital competences in different aspects of teachers’ work – contexts, resources, pedagogy and assessment. Here, the partners paid attention to their common approach to visualising the results in such a way that different domains and country-specific VET cultures can be compared. Also, the partners paid attention to the fact that the use of digital tools in assessment was underdeveloped. In this context there was some discussion, how the proficiency statements of the DigCompEdu framework can be used as a basis for assessment tools. (This issue will be discussed also in the next post.)

My report on interim results in the TACCLE 4 CPD project

In my report on the neighbouring project TACCLE 4 CPD I informed of the policy analyses, on the research paper for the ECER 2019 project, on the emerging ‘Theme Room training” handbook and on the Routemap for planning the training of teachers and trainers. Concerning the policy analyses, we had some discussion on the DigCompEdu framework and its limits vis-à-vis the field of VET. Here, the concepts ‘digital transformation’ (in working life) and ‘digitization’ (in working and learning tasks) played a role. My report on the ECER 2019 conference contributions brought into picture a set of parallel innovation paths in promoting digital competences in VET. Concerning training of trainers, I reported on the piloting with the ‘Theme Room’ training model in the Learning Layers project (in the year 2015) and how this approach is being updated. Concerning the Routemap, I took up the sections for institutional planning of updating/upgrading digital competences and for shaping the corresponding training measures. These aspects were taken up several times when discussing the subsequent points of the agenda. (I will get back to some of these discussions in my next post.)

Plans to shape Learning scenarios, Open Educational Resources and Exemplars of Best Practice

When discussing the subsequent themes,the partners noticed that they can be linked to each other more closely that they had thought originally. The learning scenarios had firstly been thought as more generic and transversal themes. In the light of my presentation the partners concluded that the innovation paths should also provide a basis for scenarios.

In the next phase, the partners concluded that the scenarios can be used as anchor points for presenting a collection of Open Educational Resources (OER) and as Exemplars of good practice. From this point of view the partners drafted a list of potential scenarios – taking into account the interviews in different domains, the propsed transversal themes and the innovation paths that I had presented. (I will get back to some of these discussions in my next post.)

Training of teachers and trainers

Concerning the theme ‘training of teachers and trainers’ we concluded that the TACCLE VET partners have access to different patterns of teacher education, training of trainers and continuing professional development – including online training. From this perspective the partners can provide evaluative feedback. Concerning the TACCLE 4 CPD project, it will provide a ‘handbook’ for training with Theme Rooms and take into account the patterns studied by the TACCLE VET partners.

I guess this is enough on the key points and on my impressions on the meeting. The partners have produced more detailed minutes for their internal use. In my next post I will have a closer look at some of the themes and on the collaboration between the two projects in the next phase.

More blogs to come …

 

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 …

Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part Three: Glimpses to presentations of which I want to learn more

September 8th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

This blog post is the third one of a series with which I wrap up my experiences at the ECER 2019 conference that took place earlier this week in Hamburg, Germany. In the first post I focused on the Opening session of the VETNET network that is the European umbrella network for research in vocational education andt training (VET).  I also gave some background information on the role of VETNET and other networks in the ECER conferences. In my second post I focused on the two sessions that discussed the parallel TACCLE project – TACCLE 4 CPD (in which I am working) and TACCLE VET (in which my colleagues are working). With this post I want to discuss briefly three presentations that were of immediate relevance for our work in the two TACCLE projects. Here I limit myself to some first impressions – I want to learn more of the work that has been done and/or is still going on.

The Paderborn-based project: Adopting apprentice training to digital transformation – the perspective of in-company training

The presentation of Bernd Gössling and Tina Emmler was in many respects one of the highlights of this conference. I had already become aware of the work of the research group of the University of Paderborn via the report “Berufsbildung 4.0” (Sloane et alia 2018). For me it had served as a rich resource in terms of conceptual work, empirical studies and conclusions for future-oriented innovation agendas. In particular the distinction between ‘digital transformation’ (technological and organisational changes towards networked production, marketing and service processes) and ‘digitization’ (introduction of digital tools into working, training and learning processes) was very helpful. Now the presentation of Gössling and Emmler provided a closer look into the empirical studies and findings. I do not want to summarise their results here – we need to discuss them more closely. Also, the reflections on the new roles of trainers that Emmler outlined (in terms of “vita activa”) were very inspiring and reminded me of our experiences with trainers working with the Learning Toolbox at the end of the Learning Layers project.

The Bremen-based project CARO: Digital cross-action spaces in interactive nursing education

Another highlight for me was the project CARO presented by Claudia Schepers from the University of Bremen. This interdisciplinary research & development project had shaped digital learning spaces to support interactive learning arenas in nursing education. Here we need to understand the delicate nature of learning in the context of real work and the necessity to support such work with simulations, videos and reflective learning. For me this case was particularly important since I had been looking at different innovation paths for introducing digital tools into vocational learning. To me, this project appeared as a paradigmatic case for introducing digital tools and digital spaces with a ‘whole curriculum’ approach. Furthermore, all my examples that I had used were referring to technical occupations. From this perspective a case from healthcare sector was most welcome.

The Aachen-based project: Acceptance of a tutorial-creating authoring system for workplace learning in manual assembly

A third highlight for me was the Aachen-based project presented by Marvin Goppold and Fabian Handl. Their project focused on the role of low-skilled or semi-skilled workers in manual assembly and their occupational perspectives in the context of digital transformation. The key point in the project was to capture the (informal) competences and (invisible) workplace-based learning and to make it visible via an authoring tool that generates individual tutorials. In this way the workers were better prepared to encounter changes that bring robotics into picture and to point out the limits of robotics. Here I do not want to go into details, I need to learn more.

As I am concerned, the Aachen-based project served to me as a paradigmatic case for an innovation path that uses digital tools to make visible the hitherto invisible and non-formal learning of semi-skilled workers. So far I had referred to a case of process industry, but the case of assembly work and the use of authoring tools is of particular interest.

I guess that this is enough of these sessions. As I have said above, I need to learn more of these projects to make appropriate use of their approaches, results and conclusions. There is more work to be done on this front. However, with my reporting on ECER 2019 I have more points to cover – in particular concerning developments in the VETNET network.

More blogs to come …

Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part Two: Glimpses to sessions on the current TACCLE projects

September 7th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous blog I started a series of blog posts with which I try to wrap up my experiences with the ECER 2019 conference that took place earlier this week in Hamburg, Germany. In my first post I focused on the Opening session of the VETNET program at the conference. I also gave some background information on the VETNET network and its role in the umbrella organisation EERA and its contribution to the ECER conferences. This post focuses on the sessions that discussed the current TACCLE projects – the one in which I am working (TACCLE4 CPD) and the neighbouring project (TACCLE VET).

Presenting the TACCLE 4 CPD project at ECER

I have already blogged about my preparation for the ECER 2019 conference in an earlier post. Now it was the time to present the message that I had prepared and to link it to the discussions in the conference. As I had mentioned in the earlier blog, the title of the paper was “Strategies and Training Models for promoting Digital Competences in the field of Vocational Education and Training”. The paper and the presentation focused on our work in the ongoing EU-funded project TACCLE 4 CPD. This project was mainly based on earlier projects that worked with teachers and promoted their competences to use digital tools and web resources in teaching (the TACCLE1, TACCLE2 and TACCLE3 projects). Concerning the field of vocational education training, the Learning Layers project could be seen as a similar predecessor project. BUT now the challenge for the TACCLE4 CPD project was to develop models for continuing professional development (CPD) – to enable schools and training providers to shape their own training.

For me the main challenge was to link this approach to current developments in the field of VET – to digital transformation (in work processes and occupations) and to digitization (at the level of working and learning tasks). From this perspective I introduced four  parallel innovation paths regarding the focus on ‘whole curriculum’ solutions vs. introduction of particular approaches and new learning arrangements. As further illustration of my analyses and the resources I had used, I prepared an ePoster powered by the Learning Toolbox (see below).

PK_ECER-2019 ECER 2019 LTB-stack PK

During the conference I noted that some presenters introduced cases that also served as examples of the innovation paths that I had presented (see my next blog). Also, some presenters had done similar fieldwork on the role of trainers and had come to similar conclusions (see also my next blog). This was very rewarding and we were happy to share ideas. Here the fact that I had prepared the ePoster and that it could be accessed via mini-poster with QR-code (embedded into my presentation) and via direct link was very helpful.

Discussions on the neighbouring project TACCLE VET

In a further session my colleagues Graham Attwell (Pontydysgu), Fernando Marhuenda (University of Valencia) and Ludger Deitmer (ITB, University of Bremen) presented the work of the neighbouring project TACCLE VET.

Graham outlined a bigger picture of digital and ecological transformation in working life and possible implications for work, technology and occupations. He then continued to the work of UNESCO and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission to outline perspectives for promoting digital competences of educators. In particular he referred to the DigCompEdu framework of the JRC. Whilst these frameworks are in many respects helpful, they are very generic. From this point of view the project was doing fieldwork to get closer to the reality of vocational teachers and trainers.

Fernando continued by introducing the approach to fieldwork – the focus of different partners on their selected sectors and the mapping of interview partners’ digital competences. Based on the interviews the project is developing a framework that focuses on teachers’ competence areas – curriculum, pedagogy, resources and assessment. In this respect the project tries to develop a holistic and well-grounded view on promoting teachers’ digital competences.

Ludger gave specific insights into the challenges for promoting digital competences in the dual system of VET – with multiple learning venues (enterprise, school and intermediate training centre) and different actors. He illustrated this picture with results from a recent apprenticeship survey carried out by the trade union IG Metall in Bremen. This survey brought into picture gaps and shortcomings in teaching and training and a backlog in digitisation. As a contrast he then presented interim results from his interviews with vocational teachers and trainers who served as promoters of innovation in their organisations.

Here, in the discussion we could notice a complementary relation between the two TACCLE projects and their emphasis on innovation paths and addressing the competence areas of teachers and trainers. Also, when discussing the role of Open Educational Resources (OER) we noticed that a major need for training is related to copyright issues and to licensing. Whilst the tightened copyright rules are making teachers scary about using external resources, there is lack of knowledge on OER, different licenses and Open Access materials. From this perspective both TACCLE projects should address these issues.

I think this is enough of these sessions. In my next post I will discuss the sessions that gave me direct impulses for my work in the TACCLE4 CPD project.

More blogs to come …

Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part One: The opening session of the VETNET network

September 7th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Once again, the annual European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) – organised by the European Educational Research Association (EERA) – has taken place. This time the venue was the University of Hamburg. The advantage for us working at the University of Bremen was that we didn’t have to travel far away. The counter side of the coin was that we were expected to commute between Bremen and Hamburg on daily basis. That cut us off from most of the social events and informal encounters in the evenings. Nevertheless, there was quite a lot to experience and to share with colleagues from all over Europe and beyond Europe. With this series of blog posts I try to cover different sessions in the program of the VETNET network – the research network for the field of vocational education and training (VET) and give some insights into developments in the network. In this first post start with the opening session of the VETNET program. Firstly I need to give some insights into the role of the networks of EERA in organising the conference and of the specific traditions of VETNET.

EERA and ECER as the common umbrella – VETNET as a community with its own identity

When the EERA was founded and started organising the ECER conferences on regular basis, the common umbrella was created in two ways. The EERA was shaped as the umbrella organisation of national associations for educational research. For the shaping of the conferences EERA invited the member associations to propose thematic networks that would then be in charge of organising their section in the conference programs. The network for research in vocational education and training (VET) – from the beginning on known as VETNET – was accepted as the Network 2 of EERA. The number of networks grew rapidly and they developed their own patterns to run peer reviews, to organise social events and to disseminate the research in their area of specialisation.

As a contrast to this general picture, the VETNET network has been from the very beginning more than just one of the EERA networks and a small club for organising part of the ECER program. Already in the founding phase there was a sense of building a community of VET researchers under the EERA umbrella. Yet, we were aware that we had somewhat different discipline-based backgrounds and in some countries the institutional commitment to VET was a basis of special disciplinary structures. Therefore, we have also paid attention to openness and mutual learning across the network.

In this spirit the VETNET network has developed a tradition of common Opening sessions – starting from ECER 1999 in Lahti, Finland (initiated by the VETNET program chair Johanna Lasonen). These opening sessions have mostly been keynote speeches by prominent researchers from the host country – with comments by invited discussants. Sometimes they have been panel discussions on critical research issues or on future research agendas. In ECER 2007 the Opening session celebrated the 10 years’ milestone of VETNET as an active network (as organiser of its own program). In ECER 2018 in Bolzano/Bozen the opening session got insights into VET development in the host region from different stakeholder perspectives (and from representatives of different lingual communities).

The VETNET Opening session at ECER 2019 – insights into apprentice training at Airbus sites in Germany

At the VETNET Opening session 2019 the invited speaker was Matthias Havekost, head of vocational training of Airbus commercial in Germany. He had been an active practitioner counterpart of several VET research projects of our institute (ITB, University of Bremen) and familiar with our research approach. From this perspective it was appropriate to invite him to discuss directly with the participants on the role of apprentice training and other training activities at Airbus sites in Germany.

We got a lot of information on the development of apprentice training in the course of years – regarding the demographic factors (aging workforce), technological changes (balancing between manual work and robotics) and educational changes (developing vocational pathways to higher qualifications). In between we had glimpses to the actual contexts of working and learning on site – provided by videos that were prepared by apprentices and students in so-called dual studies (that are based on a combination of apprentice training and higher education).

An interesting part of the presentation of Havekost was the example of a particular workplace learning arrangement at an early phase of apprentice training. Instead of explaining the task and launching the group work with the task that trainer took considerable time for a ‘teaming up’ phase. At this phase all apprentices were invited to discuss their views on their occupation, their understanding on their tasks and on the requirements. These views were shared in the group and contrastive views were discussed to the point that mutual understanding was reached. In the beginning some of the participants were annoyed by such delay instead of going straight to the task. Yet, it appeared that the group had developed a culture of collaboration and it finished the tasks in shorter time and with better quality than earlier groups. Also, teachers of vocational schools and representatives of production units noticed the change in the performance.

Another interesting aspect alongside the above-mentioned cultural change was the career development of trainers. For Havekost it was important that the in-company trainers are experienced in the production and keep up to date. Therefore, the trainers should be trainers only a certain number of years and not for too long time. This kind of rotation has been successfully implemented and those trainers who went back to other business in the company entered real interesting and adequate jobs (e.g. production, quality, manufacturing engineering).

In the light of the above we had a rich and lively discussion that gave food for thought for different sessions in the VETNET program. Also, we had some discussion on the training culture on other Airbus sites and on the role of VET systems in the respective countries. These issues were also taken up later.

I guess this is enough of the VETNET Opening session. In the following posts I will first report on the sessions that were closely related to my ongoing project, then cover some other themes and finally get back to developments in the VETNET network.

More blogs to come …

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