Archive for the ‘I-Europe’ Category

Goodbye to “I-Europe”, Let’s start “Working & Learning”

November 15th, 2009 by Pekka Kamarainen

Again some time has passed since my last posting. Again the everyday life with project work has interrupted my reflection on European innovations in the field of vocational education and training (VET).

Looking back at my previous posts I start to understand my basic difficulty: I have tried to be a historian and an active contributor to the history at the same time. Moreover, I have given primacy to a once-upon-a-time agenda (the four “I’s” of my “I-Europe” document of 2003) instead of looking where the discussion is going on.

I still believe that it is worthwhile to stop every now and then to look at the big picture. However, the big picture should be seen in the light of small steps and efforts that can make the trend.

For me this is a challenge – to change the perspective from a distant viewer to that of a co-shaping and co-participating actor in the field. For this purpose I want to change the name of the blog.

The new heading that I would like to use is “Working & Learning”. I have several reasons for preferring this heading:

  • Firstly, it refers to the action context of vocational education and training (VET) – workplace learning and learning for working life.
  • Secondly, it refers to challenge for pedagogies in VET – they have to promote work-related learning.
  • Thirdly, it refers to the challenge for European VET researchers – we have to work and learn together to overcome the current phase of relative marginalisation vis-à-vis European policy development and European research agendas.

I will stop here and have a look how I can continue in this spirit with the issues that emerge from my current projects. As I see it, I am working and learning with them all the time.

Back on the Blog – Why?

February 11th, 2009 by Pekka Kamarainen

Here I am again, after a long period of silence. Last spring I posted a series of blog entries.  I tried to analyse the change of the cooperation climate in European educational programmes and the implications for researchers. As we know, research in vocational education and training (or VET reserch)as we call it) has profited of the creative phases of European cooperation in the late 1990s. However in the recent years there has been a loss of interest in European or trans-national cooperation.

I started to look at the big picture with observer’s questions, such as:

“What has happened to the ‘European dimension’?”

“What has happened to interdiscplinarity?”

“What hs happened to European innovations?”

Without noticing it myself I had lifted myself off the ground and put myself into helicopter or space ship. I may still agree with what I wrote on these topics. Yet, I couldn’t continue with the topics I had planned to be the next ones. Why?

The trivial reason is that I was caught by urgencies in my day-to-day work. This happens from time to time.

The socio-cultural reason is that I felt myself caught in a historian’s work that has no relevance for present-date VET research. There was a threat that I would be presenting memories for celebrating the glorious pioneering years. Yet, my intention was to produce memories for the future – for facing the challenge of open futures.

The conceptual/methodological reason is that was trying to produce comprehensive analyses on the’ change of climate’ in VET research (in few blog entries). Then, I was trying to outline alternative approaches or  change gendas. This, however, started to look like wrapping up a big bag in which I myself and my peer communities would have to fit in.

What I have learned during my period of silence is that I have to step down from the helicopter or space ship in which I had positioned myself. I don’t need to give up the intention of working with a big picture (that is needed from time to time). However, I have to nurture my thinking on the developments in European VET reseach with news, reports and impressions from field activities.

Luckily enough I have recently participated in such European projects and reviewing activities that promote a new discussion climate (such as the TTplus project and the consultation workshops on VET teachers and trainers). I am not saying that these would directly open new highways to brave new R&D agendas. Yet, they give anchor points for further consideration. In particular the current European activities on the professonal future of  VET teachers and trainers raise several issues.

Therefore, I am pleased to let my historian’s views on trans-nationality, networking and web-supported knowledge sharing mature for some  time. In the meantime I should try to catch, what is hot and what is moving in the present-date European cooperation.

Updating the big picture 3: What is happening with European innovations in VET?

May 11th, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

I am continuing my series of postings to update the big picture of European VET research. So far I have made some analyses on the topics “European dimension” and “interdisciplinarity”. Now I want to discuss the issue “innovations” in European VET-related cooperation. This issue is closely linked to the question, what role can VET research play in promoting transfer of innovations across Europe. As the earlier ones, this blog entry discussesa change in the European cooperation climate and how the VET researchers could prepare themselves for future cooperation activities.

Different aspects of “European innovations” in European VET-related cooperation

In this context it is worthwhile to giver a rough overview on,

– what kind of “European innovations” have been promoted in European cooperation programmes and on

– the different roles that VET researchers may have played in innovation projects.

Regarding the subject matter of innovation projects it is possible to make a distinction between

a) Educational innovation projects that can be related to systemic & curricular macro-innovations or pedagogic micro-innovations and

b) Domain-specific innovation projects that can be related technological and ICT-related innovation concepts or to different user-needs and contexts of utilisation.

Regarding the roles of VET researchers in such projects it is worthwhile to note that

i) pilot projects have been shaped as primarily developmental projects without strong research components;

ii) reference material projects have been shaped to conceptualise developmental work in certain pilot area (with the support of research-based analyses);

iii) transfer projects have been shaped to support wider dissemination of innovations (without strong research-supported facilitation).

Changing expectations on “European innovations” at diverse phases of European cooperation

In a similar way as with the previous topics I find it necessary to have a closer look at different expections on promoting “European innovations” at different phases of European cooperation. In this respect the picture is somewhat more complex than with the previous topics.

The period 1995-2000 (the early Leonardo: thematic stock-taking, ad hoc pilot measures, orientation to rapid transfer)

Looking at different types of innovation projects and the role of research, it appears that the work with educational innovation concepts was characterised by thematic explorations and stock-taking. Thus, VET researchers were needed to get an overview of different starting positions and dynamics of innovation. For such projects there was a clear policy-based demand.

Parallel to this, domain-specific pilot projects were working with rather limited research involvement and with expectations on rapid transfer measures. The results of such projects were expected to be directly usable by the sectoral stakeholders and practitioners. (The CD-ROMs were expected to sell themselves once they were ready.)

The period after 2000 (The attainment of Lisbon goals, the shaping of European LLL area)

As we know, the Lisbon summit 2000 formulated new goal-settings to making Europe the most competitive innovation area by the year 2010. And as we also know, the educational response to this challenge was provided by the framework processes that try to create a European Higher Education Area and the European Area for Lifelong Leaning). Thus, the systemic & curricular macro-innovation projects were expected to be linked to the making of the European Areas. Furthermore, the European Areas were expected to provide a natural basis for transferring pedagogic micro-innovations across Europe.

However, the debate before Lisbon summit was influenced by general concern on the poor competitiveness of European ICT industries and of ICT-related skill gaps of the European workforce. Therefore, regarding the technological and ICT-related innovations, specific measures were taken by launching quickly the separate e-Europe programmes (including the e-Learning programme which latterly was merged to the integrated LLP programme). From the perspective of VET it is worthwhile to note that these rapid measures were pushing forward new strategic alliances with European ICT industries and their internal training concepts (“Career space”) and with commercial e-learing providers. (Europe was considered as backbencher in e-learning and this position was to be changed with the help of ICT industries and commercial e-learning provisions.)

Contradictions and critical issues

In the light of the above it is interesteting to note that shaping of the European Area of Lifelong Learning (including the European Qualification Framework- EQF, the European Credit Transfer for VET – ECVET and related measures) has become project area of its own. At the same time the Commission Communication on e-Skills (2007) gives a picture of growing gaps (between industrial needs and educational measures or between formal training and informal learning). It is interesting to note that the criticism is similar as before the Lisbon summit in spite of all post-Lisbon activities that were launched to overcome such gaps.

Obviously, the landscape of technological and ICT-related innovations (and of related challenges for learning) has changed immensely since 2000. In particular, the shift from heavy and costly proprietary software to Open Source and to Social Software has changed the picture dramatically. Thus, the big picture of ICT-related learning (or learning and working with web resources) has moved towards user-applications and networked services. In this context the expertise on web-supported learning is far more distributed and draws upon diverse (real and virtual) piloting contexts. Yet, there is a real concern that there are very few explicitly VET-related initiatives among the cutting edge pilots with digital media and social software.

How to develop an intergrative approach to European innovations?

It seems that the European policies (for education and training) and specific innovation agendas (for e-Skills) have led to fragmenatary developments. It strikes me that both the educational framework processes and the measures to promote e-Skills have followed the logic of ‘big package’ solutions – to be adopted throughout Europe. Yet, in particular the innovation dynamics in ICT-related learning bring forward the concept of active interactivity (and iterative processes between developer-communities and user-communities). The big question to me is, what has happened (and what can be done) regarding the interactivity between vocational learning processes and workplace-related learning opportunities.

At an earlier stage I have tried to introduce the term ‘integrative learning concepts’ as a format for bringing into discussion innovative curricular/pedagogic support structures and innovative approaches to technologies, digital meadia and self-organised leaning. Maybe there is a need to put more emphasis on the interactivity between the diverse poles.

However, before going any further with this thread and with this level of abstraction) it is appropriate to make a break. At this point it is approapriate to raise the issue of ‘contextuality ‘and ‘trans-nationality‘ of European innovations. Moreover, it is worthwhile to ask, what European VET researchers have learned of these issues during their active years in European cooperation.

Updating the big picture 2: What is happening with interdisciplinarity in VET research?

May 10th, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

I have started a series of postings to update the big picture of European VET research. My first posting outlined a set of questions (for the subsequent blog entries). In the previous posting I discussed changing views on the “European dimension”. I also raised the question of “European dimension after the Lisbon follow-up”. But, before continuing on that the other questions are pending. This posting is about interdisciplinarity in European VET research.

Different aspects on interdisciplinarity in European VET research

From the early years of European VET-related research cooperation on there has been a common understanding that there are no strong institutional infrastructures for VET-related research. Instead, in many countries VET-related research has been a sub-activity that has been promoted by interested researchers who may represent different research disciplines. In some countries VET research has been linked to special research institutes with an interdisciplinary profile and with an orientation to closely related research areas (e.g. research on VET, work and technology, transition to labour market and learning in organisational contexts. Only in few countries (notably in Germany) there are institutional frameworks that establish VET research (Berufspädagogik, Wirtschaftspädagogik, Berufs- und Wirtschaftspädagogik) as academic disciplines due to the academisation of vocational teacher education.

Therefore, it has been one of the preconditions for European research cooperation in VET to accept the diversity of academic backgrounds and methodological orientations. Thus, at the least, everyone has agreed that the field of VET has to be considered as a multi-disciplinary area of research. However, in the course of time the VET-oriented researches have found it necessary to broaden their range of expertise in VET-related research (beyond their original academic specialisation) and to commit themselves more closely to dialogue between VET policies and practitioners. This brought into picture a stronger concept of interdisciplinarity that characterises the community development in European VET research.

In addition to the above mentioned aspects it is worthwhile to note different interests of knowledge and respective methodological orientations within VET research:

a) Academic research approaches that explain specific phenomena related to VET with reference to concepts and theoretical constructs of established research disciplines (“Observatories on VET”);

b) Cultural research approaches that explore different meaning structures and specific patterns related to VET to make them transparent vis-à-vis the underlying cultural conventions (“Anthropologies on VET”);

c) Co-developmental research approaches that promote knowledge development related to expertise on teaching and training in the field of VET (“Pedagogics of VET”).

Interdisciplinarity, knowledge enrichment and European research cooperation

In the light of the above, it is essential to note how the European cooperation programmes have promoted capacity-building, knowledge enrichment and dialogue across conceptual and cultural barriers.

The period 1995-2000 (The early Leonardo, TSER and the era of complementarity)

It is worthwhile to note that during the preparation of the action programme Leonardo da Vinci there were efforts to create a research strand (latterly named as ‘surveys and analyses’). Parallel to this, the 4th Framework Programme of Research of the EU included a Targeted Socio-Economic Research Programme (TSER). Both programmes were expected to develop complemetary relations with each other. Thus, the Leonardo strand S&A could be used for pioneering project designs whereas the projects and networks for TSER aimed at more comprehensive knowledge development. At best, these funding opportunities were at place when European VET researchers were looking for funding that would provide support for community-based and thematic knowledge development.

The period after 2000: The 6th Framework programme – polarisation and mainstreaming

The change from the 4th to the 5th Framework programme was not perceived as very dramatic although the TSER programme was no longer continued. Yet, the presence of VET-related research priorities und the heading “Developing Human Potential” was clear. Thus, there was some continuity between research work started under the Leonardo or TSER funding and successor activities under the 5th Framework programme. However, the transition into the 6th Framework programme (soon after the Lisbon Summit) had clear marks of a cultural change. In this context research was to be funded via networks of excellence or via integrated projects that were to be based on sufficient critical mass. For the relatively small VET research community either the quantity of participating institutions or the coherence of project designs (with a large number of partners) turned out be critical factors. Due to the lack of successful projects the role of VET-lated research in the future research priorities became even more peripheral.

Parallel to this the role of (independent) research in the European action programme started become more marginal and the polarisation between (policy-oriented) research and (policy-supporting) consultancy started to become more manisfest. At the same time the evaluation boom in the universities started to raise questions on the status of interdisciplinary research institutes and their publication forums. This led gradually to polarisation between merged institutes (that were closer to faculties, academic teaching and mainstream disciplines) and external institutes (that were privatised and maintained informal relations with the universities.

What has happened to joint knowledge development: research in work-related learning

In this blog posting it is not possible to give an overview on the institutional repositioning of European VET researchers and related conceptual and methodological consequences. However, it possible to mention an exemplary case that illustrates these developments. In the years 1998-2002 several European and national projects had been engaged in studying work-related learning. Some of the projects had educationalist starting points and examined the educational value of workplace learning, some were focusing on learning in organisational contexts (with an emphasis on ‘work process knowledge’) and a third set of projects was focusing on reshaping occupational profiles and related learnng arrangements. In the years 2001-2002 there was some support for cross-project dialogue across these approaches. However, at the end of this interim period all parties were pursuing their separate agendas: the seemingly similar research topics and overlapping contexts of research were not enough to stimulate boundary-crossing dialogue. At the same time the researchers and their institutes were facing different challenges to stregthen their research profiles – at the expense of interdisciplinary dialogue and European knowledge enrichment.

How to make interdisciplinary research and European knowledge development attractive?

As I have indicated, the fascination of interdisciplinary research has been in the learning potentials and in the opportunities for boundary-crossing cooperation (both at the national level and in European contexts). To what extent this has promoted knowledge development, is dependent on the working contexts and on the maturity of research. In this respect the critical change in European research funding narrowed down the possibilities to harvest the results of an active explorative period. Therefore, the subsequent cooperation projects have not contributed strongly to the big picture of growth of knowledge in European VET research.

This has gradually led to retreat from European cooperation arenas and to individual research work. Therefore, parallel to the previously posed question on the future nature of “European dimension” of VET research, there is a need to ask, what is the futue role of ‘interdisciplinarity’ in VET research. And, here again, I do have some thoughts on this. However, it would not be appropriate to continue the discussion at this abstract level. As I have indicated, there are other pending issues that are related to this question. In particular, the relations between VET research and innovations in VET is of crucial importance.

Updating the big picture 1: What is happening with the “European dimension” …?

May 10th, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posting I have listed a number of questions. With these questions I want to examine, to what extent the recent years have been been characterised by a change in the European cooperation climate in the field of vocational education and training (VET).

What has “European dimension” meant at different points of time?

In particular, I want to make it transparent what has happened to the role of VET research and to the European cooperation culture. However, the main interest in this exercise is not merely to give an interpretation on, what has happened. The key point is to consider, what implications the changing perspectives have had on VET-related knowledge develipment. This leads to the question, how the VET researchers have been involved in the changes and how they can possibly influence the future developments.

From this point of view it is essential to consider the changing views on “European dimension” at different evolutionary stages of European educational cooperation and European research cooperation. To me, the period 1995-2000 and the period after 2000 are characterised by different expectations on European cooperation. Below, I try to give a picture how these different expectations have been shaped by the EU programmes, by the Member States and by researchers and educationalists participating European cooperation.

The period 1995-2000 (the early Leonardo da Vinci and the era of ‘subsidiarity’)

Looking back at this relatively early period of European educational cooperation it strikes me that the involvement of EU in the field of education and training was justified from the perspective of subsidiarity. Thus, the primary task of European cooperation programmes was to support national governments and stakeholders to improve the national education and training systems (or the decentralised VET provisions). Moreover, the representatives of Member States and of Social Partners were making a stong point on their ‘ownership’ or co-participation rights.

At this period the European VET researchers and educationalists joined in European projects as representatives of the national VET cultures (and of related research approaches). To some extent this was linked to advocacy for the relative strengths of one’s own culture – but on the other hand there was genuine openness for self-criticism. This stimulated a climate of learning from each other and of understanding each others’ positions. Of course this was coupled with conceptual difficulties, gaps of understanding and competition between different positions. Yet, the most ambitious projects tried to create European group pictures that made it possible identify cultural clusters in European VET landscape and main strategies in reform approaches. Also, it was possible to identify culturally specific patterns for involving research in VET-related innovations (and to reflect upon the lack of such patterns).

Regarding European cooperation this period was characterised by enabling measures that opened new opportunities to cross traditional boundaries. Regarding European knowledge development this period made it possible raise new questions and to start new forms of cooperation – without certainty, what is to be found at the end of the journey. Yet, there was a positively open expectation on “European added value”.

The period after 2000 (The Lisbon follow-up processes and the era of compatibility)

After Lisbon Summit 2000 the cooperation culture started to change gradually. Whilst the previous period had referred to subsidiarity, the newer period of cooperation was linked to the Lisbon goal-settings for the year 2010. In the field of education and training this was linked to the new educational framework processes (the Bologna process for higher education and the Copenhagen process for VET). In this context the national governments and Social Partners have adopted new roles as godfathers and godmothers of inter-governmental agreements and of follow-up processes.

This has also had an impact on the European educationsal cooperation programmes (which nowadays are under the umbrealla of the integrated LLP programme). In the selection processes for the new cooperation programmes the contribution to Lisbon follow-up and the compatibility with current EU policies play a more significant role than earlier.

Regarding the cooperation activities ths has brought up new priority areas:

– the experts’ work for new European instruments (European Qualification Framework, European Credit Transfer, Europass etc.)

– the piloting with the new instruments and adjusting the institutional patterns to the given frameworks (e.g. the Tuning project in the Higher Education).

Alongside these priority areas there are certain ‘niche areas’ that are clearly beyond the reach of the framework processes (e.g. the projects for specific target groups for VET and Adult Education). Also, for these areas there is a certain expectation on working towards European framework processes or for creating common European instruments.

Changing perspectives on European added vale?

So far I have only given a brief account on the changing boundary conditions for European cooperation and on the different priorities that have been promoted. In what respect can this be called as ‘change of cooperation climate’. I try to give a brief answer with the help of an old slogan.

In the mid-1990s European cooperation was advertised with the slogan: “Learning from Europe – learning for Europe”. To me the first part of the slogan referred to the complementary role of European cooperation and to readiness for mutual learning. The latter part referred to interest in creating mutual awareness and to promote transfer of ideas between different VET cultures.

From 2000 onwards the European cooperation climate can be characterised by a reverse formulation: “Learning for Europe – learning from Europe”. To me the first part refers ti the primacy of European fremework processes and instruments as the common starting point. The latter part refers to the secondary role of national and sectoral VET contexts for making use of the of the common tools and instruments.

It is also possible to make use of lingual analogies. The earlier period of European cooperation can be understood as a phase of emerging ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘multilingualism’ in European VET research and in practical VET-related cooperation. The latter period can be characterised as a phase of emerging ‘mono-culturalism’ and ‘conceptual esperantism’ in European VET research and in practical VET-related cooperation. As a consequence, the earlier heritage of mutual awareness (and learning from each other) has been replaced by positioning vis-à-vis European frameworks (and learning to use common instruments).

What is the nature of ‘European dimension’ after the Lisbon follow-up?

Obviously, the picture that I have given above is only a rough caricature. Of course, the real life is more complex and the real practice in European cooperation is not only guided by the programmatic statements on ‘European dimension’. Yet, the above presented characterisation (of the changes in the European cooperation climate) gives rise to questions like:

  • What kind of policies for European cooperation will be pursued after the Lisbon follow-up?
  • How can the VET researchers contribute to the ‘post-Lisbon’ understanding on ‘European dimension’?

I have some thoughts on this but I would not like to continue this discussion on such an abstract level. Therefore, I prefer to proceed to the other postings that update the big picture of European VET research. We need to discuss issues like ‘interdisciplinarity’, ‘innovations’, ‘contextuality’,’networks’ and ‘e-resources’ in order to clarify where we stand at the moment and which ways we want to follow in the coming times.

The big picture of European VET research – What has happened earlier and what is happening now?

May 4th, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posting I promised that I would continue my reflections on the big picture of European research on vocational education and training (VET) with questions instead of presenting lengthy monologues. This is also easier to me: I do not need to have the answers – we have to find them together. This, of course raises the question: Who is interested in finding out what is happening to the European VET research?

Some colleagues may find it strange that I keep looking back at the earlier periods of European cooperation in VET research and the cultural changes that have happened in the recent times. Some colleagues may also find the the expression “change of cooperation climate” is rather strong. Why should I/we worry about the big picture? Or – to put it more stronger: why couldn’t we just keep on going with the day-to-day practice and move on to new challenges if something doesn’t work?

Somehow I cannot leave it at that. If we are going through a change in the European cooperation climate, this is not merely a matter of policy frameworks and programme structures to which we contribute. This is also a matter of our own practice – what kind of knowledge we are producing, with wshom and for what purpose. And, thinking about the role of European research communities and networks – what is their role in VET-related knowledge development?

Let us consider for the moment some recent developments in the European VET research. I take the liberty of using some of the catchwords of the “i-Europe” agenda but in a somewhat modified way. For the moment I am not proposing a common agenda based on allegedly shared research interests. Instead, I want to invite my colleagues to consider, what has happened with the interests of knowledge and related goal-settings in European VET research.

For this examination I propose the following key themes and related critical questions:

1. European integration: Has the interest to participate in European cooperation maintained its popularity among European VET researchers? Or are there new dividing lines that lead to a segmentation between different forms of European participation and between related knowledge processes?

2. Interdisciplinarity: Has the readiness to cross disciplinary boundaries and to work with interdisciplinary concepts and methodologies maintained its popularity across different project generations? Or do we experience new tendencies that strengthen academic core disciplines and push interdisciplinary wort in VET-related research to the margins?

3. Innovations: To what extent is VET research addressing the need for new innovations and studying emerging initiatives in the field of VET? Or has the interest to study new innovations led to shift of emphasis from the field of VET to slightly different areas of innovative practice (e.g. the strudies on personal learning environments or e-portfolios)?

4. Contextuality and intercultural exchanges: Is the cooperation of European VET researchers characterised by awareness of one’s own VET culture and readiness to learn from other cultures? Or are there new dividing lines that reduce the willingness to reflect upon one’s own VET culture and to familiarise with other VET cultures? Or are there new patterns of internationalisation that blur the culturally specific concepts in the field of VET in such a way that ‘learning from each other’ appears as anachronism?

5. Communities and networking: Are the experiences of VET researchers on European cooperation leading to stronger European research communities? Has the EU-funding for networks helped the VET researchers to overcome periods of discuontinuity and to promote the renewal of knowledge production? Or are there new dividing lines that reduce the interest in European community development and in VET-related European networking?

6. Interactivity and knowledge sharing via e-resources: Have the earlier pilot activities to promote interactive use of web and development of joint web-based knowledge resources led to sustainable practice? Has the familiarisation of VET researchers with Open Educational Resources (OER) and with Open Educational Contents (OEC) led to new forms cooperation between VET researchers and practitioners in the field of VET? Or are there cultural dividing lines that have not yet been overcome and therefore slow down the progress with interactivity and new media in the field of VET?

I think that I have posed enough questions for the moment. I am aware that the themes and the questions are rather abstract. Therefore, when examining the key themes in the light of questions I have give some examples that cast some light on my initial question: What has happened earlier and what is happening now? I wonder, when I will find the time to proceed. Maybe someone else has views on these issues …

Back on the blog – Why and how?

April 29th, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

Here I am: back again with my blog. The long winter months are over. So, it is time to continue after a period of hibernation. Well, to be honest, the weather has not been the reason for the annoying silence on this blog.

Obviously, when I started this blog I took a more difficult task than I thought. I wanted to write on innovations in the field of vocational education and training (VET) and on related European research. This turned out to be a hard ride. I must confess that I envy the ease with which my fellow blogger Graham Attwell continues his touring round the Wales-Wide-Web. I also welcome our new neighbour Cristina and hope that her learning journeys are easier than mine. Anyway, as there is life in the blog-pool of Pontydysgu, I want give a fresh start on my thoughts on I-Europe and on the future of European VET research.

When I started the blog I looked back at a special moment: the debate on a draft research agenda “I-Europe” in an open meeting of European VET researchers in September 2003. I described how we felt a “momentum” for shaping a joint research agenda – and then lost the momentum by the time the first draft was there. I put this episode into a bigger picture and analysed the change in the European cooperation climate – the loss of the perspective of ‘open future’. Then, I tried to make some points how to get back the perspective towards open futures (and what role the themes of the “I-Europe” agenda could play in this effort). And then: the rest was silence, at least for some time.

So, what was I doing? And – given my aims – what went wrong? Apparently I was trying to open a discussion on future VET reseearch and on related European cooperation initiatives. Yet, I managed to hang the starting points high up in the spheres of no-man’s-land. Also, I seem to have given myself a position like the Oracle of Delphoi or as Cassandra of Troy) – the one who can see the future but can only give a cryptic message what might be expected.

So, what is the cure? Apparently, I have to give up the style of oracle (making visionary statements) and try to adopt the style of Socrates (making questions and comments that could tease out ideas and initiatives).

I think this has been enough for the moment. Let us see what I can produce for my next blog entry – and when I will find time for it.

Revisiting I-Europe – Part 3: Back to future (and to open futures)

January 3rd, 2008 by Pekka Kamarainen

Little did I know – when starting my personal blog – that I would get caught in a slow motion picture. I thought it would be a relatively simple thing to cast a quick look back at the issues of 2003 and then zoom back to the present date. As it often happens, these things need more reflection – and time … and energy.

Anyway, here I am, back with the re-examination of some critical issues for the European research in vocational education and training (here referred to as “European VET research”). And, since some time has passed sinsce my previous postings, I need to explain why I am still struggling with the “I-Europe” approach that I was drafting for the common discussions of European VET researchers some time ago.

European VET researchers and open futures

To me the main point of interest in the European cooperation of VET researchers in the years 1995-2000 was the readiness to face new challenges and open futures. In this respect the European projects of that period were looking beyond the boundaries that wasknown on the basis od simple country-specific information. Some projects were looking for new ways to link general qualifications and vocational learning arrangements – without knowing who would prove to be champions and who would need to learn more from others. In a similar way some projects were looking into new ways of developing education and training for VET professionals (in the interface areas of school-based learning and workplace learning). All this required readiness for new solutions and readiness to admit that all the building blocks were not there at the beginning of the projects. Moreover, the common awareness that the starting points were incomplete, gave a push for joint European knowledge development. The participants understood that they were contributing to knowledge enrichment and creative search processes at the level of trans-cultural dialogue. Furtthermore, the participants were eager to leartn from each other within the projects and on common European arenas that brought several projects in dialogue with each other. This, latterly, gave rise to European umbrella-networks (like the “Forum” network) or knowledge sharing infrastructures (like the “REM” and “CEDRA” infrastructures) to support joint knowledge development across European VET research.

From this point of view the current picture of European cooperation has become far more monotonous. Somehow, during the recent years there has been less expectation to find something strikingly new and (as a consequence) less interest to learn from each other.

European framework processes and the loss of open futures

At the same time the perspective towards “the European dimension” or towards “the European added value” has been narrowed down to the policy priorities of the European framework processes. Therefore, there doesn’t seem to be any room for discussion on different cultural perceptions on vocational qualifications – the perspective of “European Qualification Frameworks (EQF)” is already there. In a similar way there is less grounded discussion on pedagogic innovations in VET – the related policy priorities have been shifted to ‘e-learning’ or ‘accreditation of prior and experiential learning’ some time ago. Yet, there is – as there has always been – some interest in research on social inclusion and/or on socio-cultular integration of young people with migrant backgrounds. However, these issues tend to become pocketed to their own special interest areas.

Regarding these developments the “I-Europe” document tried to raise critical awareness of European VET researchers on the fact that

a) the European cooperation in VET could be richer than implementation of intergovernmental agreements on European Qualification Frameworks,

b) that pedagogic cooperation at the European level could be wider than the pedagogic annexes of intergovernmental priority lists,

c) that research and development on the issues ‘intercultural understanding’ and ‘social inclusion’ could go beyond language learning and special schemes for ‘target groups’.

VET research and rediscovering open futures

To me, the present phase of the European integration should require a new conceptual for open futures regarding the development of education, training and the labour markets:

a) The developments in the European labour markets are much more closely linked to global developments and to developments between Europe and border regions. Therefore, there are different movements of capital and labour force that are note easily catered for by European macro-policies on qualification frameworks.

b) The developments in the newer learning environments provide new opportunities for linked and networked learning arrangements. These can influence technical, vocational and work-related learning environments across institutional and organisational boundaries and create new hubs for ‘learning regions’. On the other hand, if previously innovative learning environments become self-satisfied, they may lose their attractivity and become repitive with their alleged ‘innovativeness’.

c) The newer European mobility has brought into picture different contextual images and different challenges for socio-cultural integration. Often the education and training policies tend to tackle these issues with a remedial treatment that is addressed to isolated ‘target groups’ or ‘target organisations’ or ‘target regions’. However, as we look at the newer developments, the consequences of the new European mobility have much wider community-related consequences and a deeper impact on the community-related identities. Therefore, issues like ‘qualifications’, ‘education’ or ‘training’ cannot be brought into picture as stand-alone measures without looking at the social reality in which they are expected to function. And if we are talking of the new movement migrant labour force to the old EU countries or of the new movement of job opportunities to new EU countries (or to the border regions), there are plenty of old and new issues related to the socio-cultural development of old and new migrant communities.

d) Finally, the idea of European cooperation between VET researchers has so far been based on the assumption that they would serve as analysts and interpreters of their own (national) VET systems or VET cultures. At the same time there has been a corollary assumption that European researchers would have a common interest in making a European group picture and in identifying their respective cultures as parts of the ‘whole European house’. However, as things stand now, it appears that the the education and training cultures are becoming more influenced by internationalisation and by trans-national cooperation. Therefore, the role of VET researchers at the national and European level has become somewhat blurred. Thus, the prospects for joint knowledge development are overshadowed by new questions.

European VET research and rethinking “I-Europe”

In the light of the abovethe “I-Europe” document tried to raise some points for an alternative European VET research agenda that would be characterised by a strong “grassroot relevance”. However, as has been indicated, it has been difficult to launch a lively discussion on such a research agenda. In the beginning it seemed to be easy to draft a tentative list of the critical issues (‘integrative’, ‘innovative’, ‘intercultural’ and ‘inclusive’ developments in European VET). However, when going beyond the headings, it appeared that it was no longer that easy to bring common research interests, related research methodologies and potential funding opportunities under a common umbrella. Even if this would have been feasible for some researchers and some countries, there was no real possibility for a wider cooperation arrangement.

Thus, it appeared that the European VET researchers were challenged to find new ways to cooperate with each other while looking for their individual or institute-specific survival strategies. In this respect the draft manifesto of joint research interests was of little help. Yet, in the light of newer (and emerging) European VET-related issues it is worthwile to have a second look how the critical issues of the “I-Europe” approach could be addressed in the present phase of European integration and trans-national cooperation.

I think this is enough for the moment. In the next posting I will discuss the conceptual starting points of European VET research (and the implications for European VET research).

Pekka Kämäräinen

Revisiting I-Europe – Part 2: Back to present date

November 28th, 2007 by Pekka Kamarainen

I started my blog by looking back to the year 2003 and to my discussion paper “I-Europe”. I wanted to have a fresh look at my earlier effort to stimulate discussion on integrative, innovative, intercultural and inclusive developments in voctional education and training (VET). Also, I wanted draw attention to a critical turining point in the development of the European cooperation programmes and in European VET research communities. And I promised to continue the story to present date and ‘back to future’.

Unfortunately I did not find the time to continue the story immediately. Yet, I think it is worth to have a look at the changing preconditions for European cooperation and the related dynamics in European research networks.

European cooperation climates and European added value

In this blog entry I will concentrate on how the views on European cooperation have changed in the transition from the earlier European programmes (mid -90s to 2000) to the current European framework processes and newer programmes.

From my perspective it is important to remind that the earlier European programmes emphasised strongly the principle of ‘subsidiarity’. The European cooperation activities in education and training were launched to support the development of national VET systems and related initiatives. The expectations on ‘European added value’ were linked to the perspective that European comparisons, network activities and pilot projects would promote a climate of mutual learning.

In this context there was a willingness to promote knowledge enrichment between parallel projects and complementary programmes. This was especially the case between the Leonardo projects and the special support programme for “targeted socio-economic research’. Moreover, there was a positive climate regarding ‘networking the networks’ with the help of European seminars and joint researcher-initiated portals.

Yet, shortly after the Lisbon summit 2000 the cooperation climate started to change. Gradually the Lisbon goals (“Making Europe the leading innovative reagion by 2010)” were transformed into follow-up agendas (such as “Education and training 2010”) and linked to intergovernmental framework processes (e.g. the Bologna process and the Copenhagen process). Thus, the idea of ‘Europan dimension’ was increasingly derived from the European policy frameworks and policy processes – no longer from the perspective of mutual learning or rom joint knowledge enrichment.

Alongside this development the European cooperation programmes in education and training were brought closer to the European framework processes and related policy priorities. At the same time the European research funding was promoted with an emphasis on ‘high sience’ and ‘critical mass’. In this respect there was less talk of complementary relations between different programmes. Furthermore, there was less interest in research-based knowledge development with the help of seminars, open spaces and thematic portals. Instead, the emphasis was shifted towards technical working groups and follow-up studies that were closely linked to the framework processes.

European VET research communities and the search for new cooperation models

Therefore, the Open Meeting of the VETNET network during the ECER 2003 (see my previous blog) took place in the middle of a change in the European cooperation climate. Looking back, it is easy to see that the two initiatives that were presented there (Alan Brown’s initiative to promote networking across national research programmes and my initiative to launch researcher-led knowledge development on the basis of a joint strategy paper) did not pave the way for sustainable cooperation.

On the one hand these initiatives were raising hopes that the national programmes could provide sufficiently strong backing for trans-national cooperation measures (and for related knowledge development). On the other hand these initiatives were based on the expectation that the existing research networks and thematic research communities would be strong enough to create new research agendas and working concepts. In both respects the development after 2003 has been characterised by a low tide in European VET-related research cooperation:

a) The enlargement of European Union had broadened the basis for European cooperation and the previous concepts for comparing countries and country clusters were insufficient.

b) The reforms and policy changes at the national level were becoming less transparent and there was less interest to learn from constant updates.

c) The earlier thematic networks or ‘container networks’ had reached the point of saturation and the individual members were shifting towards new research themes.

d) The efforts to develop web-based infrastructures for European research communities were either suffering from infant diseases (like the REM communication forum or the CEDRA portal) or streamlined into externally controlled services (like the Cedefop ‘virtual communities’).

Indeed, after 2003 it seems that the European framework prcesses and the European cooperation programmes have started to create a mechanism of questioning and answering that feeds itself (see the diverse technical working groups, specific policy-relaed tenders and follow-up studies). Alongside these developments there is less interest on, what European lessons VET researchers have learned from the cooperation experiences that have a longer history than the current European policies.

Of course, the VETNET network of European VET researchers has tried several times to launch a new debate on researchers’ own initiatives (see http://www.vet-research.net):

  • at ECER 2004 the VETNET Opening Colloquium debate on “VET PISA” (as an alternative for the current PISA studies in general education),
  • at ECER 2005 the workshop on “Communities, networking and web-based support”,
  • at ECER 2006 the VETNET Forum on “European Qualification Framework” and
  • at ECER 2007 the VETNET Forum on the 10-year history of VETNET activities at the ECER conferences.

However, as the experience has shown, it has been relatively easy to start a common discussion at a conference platform. Yet, it has been very difficult to organise pratical follow-up process that gets proper funding when the ideas are fresh. Therefore, one may ask the question, what is it worth to look back at the old “I-Europe” document and the Sisyphos work that was done to promote European research dialogue at that time. Doesn’t the development in the recent years show that there is no room for such self-initiated debates.

As far as I am concerned, I think this would be a very nearsighted conclusion and a very bad misreading of the history of European VET research. To me, the key issue is not what the present European cooperation climate appears to be (in the light of the policy frameworks). To me there is a reason to go deeper into such developments (in VET and in work-related learning) that are not addressed by intergovernmental agreements, framework processes and programme priorities. Therefore, there may be a reason to have a new look at the “I-Europe” framework from the perspective of ‘going back to future’.

I think this is enough for the moment. In the next posting I will discuss the issue of alternative futures for VET and for VET-related research.

Pekka Kämäräinen

Revisiting I-Europe – Part 1: Back to ECER 2003, Hamburg

November 13th, 2007 by Pekka Kamarainen

I have chosen “I-Europe” as the title of my personal blog. Obviously, there is a story behind this title. In this case the story is related to discussions at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2003 in Hamburg. Looking back, these discussions were a turning point in the development of European vocational education training (VET) research communities. Moreover, for me personally the discussions in Hamburg (and the follow-up phase) were a learning experience in my own re-positioning as a European VET researcher. So, I need to revisit the Hamburg experience in order to explain what this blog of mine stands for in the current discussion on European VET research and in the mapping of European innovations in VET.

Back to ECER 2003 in Hamburg

Alongside the ECER 2003 in Hamburg the VETNET network of European VET researchers (see www.vet-research.net) organised an Open Meeting to discuss alternative prospects for European research cooperation. The reasons for organising this special meeting were the following factors:

  1. The preparation of proposals for the 6th European framework programme had become a Marathon run for creating huge consortia to cover ‘critical mass’ of European VET research by strong partners. Yet, at the end of this Marathon there semmed to be very few survivors and there was much doubt whether such consortia were workable.
  2. As an alternative option for trans-national cooperation in European educational research the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) of the UK had started to create a network with other national research programmes in education and training. The related “Learning in Knowledge Society” (LinKS) platform appeared to offer a new avenue for European cooperation (independently of Brussels).
  3. In addition to the two above mentioned developments there was a need to discuss the state of the art in VET research after the completion of earlier generations of European projects and networked research activities. Also, there was an open question, how the umbrella networkVETNET could support new initiatives.

The “I-Europe” approach as an alternative agenda

My contribution to the Open Meeting was related to the third point. I prepared a Power Point presentation (which I still have to dig out from the archives of lost treasures) and subsequently a strategy paper (see the attached document) – both with the heading “I-Europe”. My idea was to stimulate VET researchers’ own debate on a future European research agenda. The “I-Europe” approach drew attention to following developments in VET and to related research tasks:

a) Integrative developments: The need to analyse the role of European framework processes and the prospects for promoting mutual learning across different VET systems or VET cultures;

b) Innovative developments: The need to analyse the role of pedagogic innovations in VET or work-related learning and their relevance for wider innovation agendas in working life and reagional contexts.

c) Intercultural developments: The need to analyse internationalisation of labour markets, redistribution of job opportunities and new mobility across Europe as a challenge for hitherto national-oriented VET policies and practices.

d) Inclusive developments: The need to analyse the possibilities for promoting social inclusion and alternative career prospects with the help of vocational learning and the use of portfolios in the empowerment of learners.

As I remember it, the “I-Europe” presentation was received well in the meeting and there was a great sense of having something common to be shared with the colleagues. I was encouraged to write it down as a strategy paper and to circulate it across Europe. Some colleagues felt that we should sign it as a “Manifesto”. But the everday life brought very soon the grey realities into picture.

The short history  of the follow-up

When I actually managed to write my thoughts into a strategy paper and to present thed paper for the VETNET board meeting some months later, there was very little do be done with it. The colleagues gave praise for bringing together several strategic points and suggesting corresponding activities (reviewing, accompanying and evaluating activities). Yet, without special funding to carry out such measures, there was no prospect to continue the discussion on the basis of the “I-Europe” strategy paper. Everyone was busily looking for new funding opportunities and there was very little available for such self-developed initiatives to promote European research & development dialogue in the field of VET.

As I remember the discussion at the VETNET board meeting, one of the collegues – possibly Alan Brown – mentioned that the paper was years ahead its time. At the moment this seamed to me as a ‘fair enough’ interim assessment and to move on to other issues. Now, after some years have passed, it is possible to look back and consider, what all has changed and what would now be appropriate ways to stimulate new research intiatives, networking and knowledge sharing in European VET research. Furthermore, now it is possible to take a look what are the new developments in the European landscape of VET-related innovations.

So, this is the background story for my personal blog. In my next posting I will revisit the “I-Europe” approach from the perspective of present date and bring the debate ‘back to future’.

Pekka Kämäräinen

PS. For those who have an interest to go deeper into the discussions at ECER 2003 in Hamburg I have also attached my related mission reports of the year 2003 and my presentation at our ECER symposium.

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