Archive for the ‘Informal learning’ Category

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Four: Comparative analyses on European VET reforms

May 28th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the first post of this series I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy alongside a the ongoing coalition talks of three parties. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. With my second post I gave a picture on the educational policy background for the current debate. With my third post I  discussed the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the bigger picture of educational reforms. With this post I try to set the Finnish developments into a wider European contexts.

1. Comparative analyses – what for and how?

Firstly, I need to ask myself, why I want to discuss the Finnish developments in a wider European context. Very often comparative analyses are expected to give insights into ‘best practice’ or ‘bad practice’. The foreign solutions for vocational education and training (VET) are expected to be highlighted either as positive models (to be copied) or as negative models (to be avoided). To me it is important that such simplistic approaches have been overcome long ago in the European cooperation of VET researchers. Instead of such simplistic rankings the interest of knowledge has been more dialogue-oriented: understanding each other, learning from each other.

In this context I do not try to carry out in-depth comparisons. Instead, I will firstly take a quick look to the discussion on reforms in post-16 education in a European cooperation project that analysed theses reform strategies in the years 1996-1998. Here my interest of knowledge is to see, how the Finnish reforms were perceived in a European group picture. Secondly, I will have a quick look at some parallel models for linking school-based vocational education to apprentice training. In this case I refer to separate contributions of my Scandinavian colleagues in different European conferences. Here my interest of knowledge is to find out what kind of consequences rapid systemic changes have had.

2. Strategies for post-16 education: alternative starting positions, options and possible consequences

In the initial phase of the new European cooperation programme Leonardo da Vinci (1995-2000) the policy-makers, researchers and practitioners were interested in projects that could draw a European group picture of parallel reforms and different goal-settings. From this perspective the Leonardo project “Finding new strategies for post-16 strategies” (coordinated by Dr Johanna Lasonen from the University of Jyväskylä) was of key interest. The project put an emphasis on specifying strategies to increase the attractiveness of vocational learning and to promote parity of esteem between general/academic education and vocational  education & training. From the perspective of the current debates the project is important since it could develop a joint framework for mapping different strategies – in which the partners could find themselves as part of a picture.

The project gathered background information on the educational systems, reform issues and possible ways forward. After the preliminary analyses the project identified four main types of strategies:

  • ‘Unified frameworks’ for general/academic education (either institutional unification or unified modular system),
  • ‘Mutual enrichment’ via boundary-crossing curricular cooperation (between general/academic and vocational learning),
  • ‘Linkages’ between different educational tracks via mutually adjusted baccalaureate frameworks,
  • ‘Enhancement of vocational learning’ via curricular initiatives in VET that open new progression routes.

Looking back, it is easy to see that these strategies had different cultural roots – some emerging from educational cultures that were open for structural reforms whilst others were characterised by underlying cultural distinctions. Some reforms tended to emphasise the integration of all upper secondary education – at the expense of the cultural identity of vocational and professional education. Others were deeply rooted in educational cultures that had clear barriers between general/academic and vocational/professional  learning pathways. Therefore, the models were hardly transferable and even the prospects for mutual learning between them remained limited. Yet, in this constellation the Finnish structural reforms were perceived as a constellation of measures  that could contribute to a more balanced demand of educational options between academic, professional and vocational learning opportunities. In particular the flexible curricular cooperation between general/academic and vocational programs in upper secondary education were perceived as interesting effort to keep the future learning pathways open to alternative directions.

3. Transitions between school-based vocational education and apprentice training: options and issues?

Whilst the above mentioned project and the comparative analyses were looking at educational system architectures and curricular frameworks, the role of vocational education and training (VET) in the integration of young people to working life was less central. From this perspective it is interesting to take a closer look at some Scandinavian VET reforms in which both aspects – coherent educational structures and integration to working life – were central. My key interest here is to discuss, how rapid redistribution of responsibilities between vocational schools and enterprises has contributed

a) The Danish VET reform (Erhvervsuudannelsesreformen) of the early 1990s. Befors that reform the ininal vocational training was provided within two frameworks. Traditional apprentice training was not very popular and seemed to be fading away. The alternative model – launched as a school-based foundation scheme (Erhvervsfaglige grunnduddannelse – EFG) was becoming more popular and was extended with workplace learning placements. The reform tried to merge the two models into unified curricular framework and into integrated delivery model. Thus, there were two different access routes and two different learner categories for the unified programs. Those who had apprentice contracts started with orientation block in their company. Those who came in as vocational school students had the orientation block at school. After that block the curriculum was continues as a sandwich model – school periods and workplace learning periods

The main thrust of the reform was to give a new push for apprentice training and to encourage companies to extend their activities. In this respect the companies were entitled to choose their school partners freely , without any geographic restrictions. The schools had to compete with each other on their attractiveness as providers of VET. Parallel to this, the vocational schools were made responsible to arrange workplace learning opportunities for the vocational school students who had no apprentice contract.

Contrary to the expectations, companies were not keenly interested in increasing the amount of apprentice contracts. And – furthermore – they were not interested in increasing the amount of workplace learning opportunities for vocational school learners to the extent that was needed. Therefore, vocational schools needed to create more opportunities for simulated learning – firstly as a compensatory measure but then as regular arrangement. These mismatches led to several modifications of the reform afterwards.

b) The Norwegian VET reform (Reform 94) in the middle of the 1990s. The background of this reform was the  earlier compromises between two earlier reforms – the creation of a unified framework for upper secondary education and enabling flexible transitions from school-based vocational education to apprentice training. On the paper both reform concepts worked very well. Within the unified upper secondary education the learners could make annual choices, whether to pursue a general/academic program  or a vocational program. The programs had a similar structure – foundation course, continuation course1 and continuation course. In order to complete a vocational program at least one year in apprentice training was required on top of the courses of the vocational programs. Within school-based programs flexible choices were allowed between different programs. Also, if the local vocational schools could not provide continuation courses, there was an opportunity to change to other school or to apprentice training.

The national review of the policy in the early 1990s (by committee led by Kari Blegen) revealed that the system leaked in many ways. Only the students in academic programs could be sure that they have a full menu of continuation courses. In vocational programs it became common that the students started moving sideways taking further foundation courses or first level continuation courses. There were many reasons for this. Also, the flexible transition to apprenticeship didn’t work as expected and most of the vocational school-leavers who could not take the advanced continuation courses dropped their programs.

The reform of the year 1994 gave the regional educational authorities new responsibilities to cater for the supply of school-based vocational education and on the flexible transition to apprentice training. The regions (Fylken) got the responsibility to arrange the opportunities to complete the two first years of initial VET in school-based education in their region. They also got the responsibility to arrange transition opportunities that enable completion of vocational qualifications. Thus, Norway introduced the 2+2 model. Vocational schools were responsible for the first two years. Companies and the joint bodies of trades and industries took over the responsibilities of the two second years.

Looking back, this reform model seemed to be successful in providing more training opportunities and in ensuring the completion of vocational qualifications. Yet, it seems that it led to a cultural divide between the two phases of the initial VET and between the key actors involved. This has led to subsequent modifications of the reform afterwards.

I think these remarks are enough to point out how complex the European group picture of VET reforms can be. Also, they show how easily reforms that count on rapid redistribution of responsibilities and on collaboration between different parties may miss their targets. In this respect it is worthwhile to learn more of the unintended consequences of such reforms. These blogs were just opening remarks for such analyses when they are needed. At the moment I need to return to the current issues of the Learning Layers project.

More blogs to come …

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Three: New emphasis on workplace learning and apprentice training in Finland

May 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the first post of this series I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy alongside a the ongoing coalition talks of three parties. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. With my previous post I gave a picture on the educational policy background for the current debate (looking back to the reforms of the 1990s). With this post I try to complete this picture by discussing the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the Finnish vocational education and training (VET) system.

1. New emphasis on workplace learning in initial VET programs

I my previous post I described how the shaping of initial vocational education (mainly school-based) became part of a larger reform agenda. The duration of the vocational programs played a role in the attempts to create a balance between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ options in the upper secondary education. However, it appeared that this balancing approach put the main emphasis on the desired equality of these options as educational choices. By the end of the 1990s the discussion on initial VET gave more emphasis on workplace learning.

Already in the early 1990s several minor initiatives were taken to increase the amount of work experience placements in the school-based vocational education. By the end of 1990s the educational authorities and the Social Partners had agreed to strengthen the emphasis and to enhance the relative importance of workplace learning. In the new curricular frameworks the amount of workplace-based learning was increased to the equivalent of 1 year in full-time education. The educational authorities spoke of the 2+1 model. For this extension new cooperation frameworks were developed for vocational schools and participating enterprises. In this way both parties took responsibilities on the arrangement and monitoring – although the overarching responsibility was kept at the vocational schools.

Altogether, this was a cultural and organisational reorientation and it was introduced via pilot projects that were accompanied by an educational research project led by the University of Jyväskylä (and by Dr Johanna Lasonen as the key researcher). Looking back, the projects gave a positive picture of the enhancement of workplace learning. At the same time they pointed out that the development of appropriate workplace learning opportunities required efforts from all parties involved.

2. New interest in apprentice training

Parallel to the reforms in initial VET the policy makers who were concerned about appropriate solutions for adult learners had been promoting more flexible arrangements for obtaining vocational qualifications. In this strategy the nation-wide network for vocational adult education centres and the combined schemes of preparatory courses and competence-based assessment had played a central role. Without going into details with this policy development it is worthwhile to note that this approach seemed to be more appropriate for advanced vocational learners who were looking for frameworks for continuing professional development.

In the light of my previous blogs and the above mentioned remarks it is more apparent that the new interest in apprentice training has been linked more to adult learning than initial vocational eduction for youth. Given the scenario that the Finnish society is rapidly aging and that the youth cohorts are getting smaller, there has been an increased concern of providing appropriate learning opportunities for adults who are already in working life but lacking formal qualifications. for this clientele a modern apprentice training with tailored vocational subject teaching appeared to be a timely solution.

The modernisation of apprentice training had already been started in the early 1990s and the support organisation was reformed parallel to organisational reforms in VET. Currently apprentice training is managed from intermediate apprenticeship offices that are located in vocational school consortia and function as the brokers between the interested enterprises and the supporting vocational schools.

As has been mentioned above, apprentice training has been taken up more strongly as an option for adult learners but more recently it has been brought into discussion also as an option for young people. In particular in the construction sector there is a strong interest to promote a flexible transition from the earlier 2+1 model to a variant in which the third year would be implemented as apprentice training. However, as we know from different sources, this requires mutual agreement between different parties involved.

I think this is enough to set the issues of workplace learning and apprentice training to the bigger educational policy context. Having said that I think that it is worthwhile to consider, how this Finnish educational policy context fits to broader European group picture – both concerning structural reforms and the role of workplace learning.

More blogs to come …

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Two: Looking back at the Finnish reforms in 1990s

May 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy that has emerged as a by-product of the ongoing coalition talks after the parliament election in April. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. Yet, as the first reactions to the news from the coalition talks indicate, there seems to be much more at stake than a seemingly simple decision. With this blog post I try to give a picture on the educational reforms of the 1990s that gave the Finnish educational policy its core principles and the VET system its current frameworks.

1. What were the issues for the educational reforms in the 1990s?

The reform debates of the early 1990s were introduced by critical assessment of the earlier reforms of the 1970s. These earlier reforms had tried to provide a balance between the general (academic) track and the vocational (professional) track in the upper secondary education. In particular the status differences between different vocational/professional education options were to be reduced and the vocational/professional routes were supposed to become more attractive. After a lengthy implementation period  the reality showed a different picture.

The critical reviews by the educational authorities and independent research groups were summarised in 1990 in the following way:

1) The educational demand was characterised by academic drift: In spite of the efforts to create a new balance between the tracks, the educational demand of young people drifted towards the general/academic track and towards university studies. Given the fact that the Finnish universities have taken their students on the basis of domain-specific entrance examinations, this led to increased queueing of candidates for university studies.

2) The transition to vocational/professional options remained status-oriented: In spite of the efforts to reduce the status differences and to promote vocational progression, the educational demand led towards segmentation. The higher vocational (professional) options were overwhelmed by graduates from the general/academic track whilst graduates from vocational schools remained minority.

3) The use of lower vocational education options as transit stations: Parallel to the above mentioned tendencies there was an increase in the enrollment of graduates from the general/academic track to lower vocational education programs. Here, the interest was not necessarily to obtain an additional qualification but, instead, to obtain a domain-speficic transit station (to prepare for entrance examinations of universities or higher vocational education). Due to this increased demand the vocational schools started to develop special options for graduates from the general/academic track. In this way the vocational schools tried to encourage such learners to complete their programs instead of using them as transit stations (and drop the programs if they got an access to ‘higher’ option).

2. What were the structural changes and the guiding principles outlined by the reforms?

The reforms that were outlined via high level conferences, public consultations and a pilot period took the following course:

a) Creation of a non-university sector of higher education: The higher vocational (professional) education had already become post-secondary and recruited mainly graduates of academic track. Several domain-specific institutes had already pushed for decisions to upgrade them as colleges of higher education. Now, the reform opted for upgrading such institutes into HE but at the same time creating merged polytechnics that would cater for the constant development of their departments. Via these mergers and a national accreditation process the newly created polytechnics became eligible for the Bologna process. (Later on, the polytechnics started to use the name ‘universities of applied sciences’.)

b) Separation of the secondary vocational education from the higher vocational education: The above mentioned reform led to an institutional separation between the secondary vocational education (that remained in vocational schools) and the higher level (that was upgraded and integrated into the polytechnics). As a compensatory measure, the reform maintained the vocational progression route from secondary vocational education to polytechnics.

c) Flexible curricular cooperation between ‘academic’ and vocational programs in upper secondary education: Another major feature of the reforms of the 1990s was to enable flexible curricular cooperation between upper secondary schools (‘academic track’) and vocational schools. Instead of integrating them into a common institutional and curricular framework, new cooperation options were opened. Firstly, learners of both type of schools got the opportunity to choose courses from the other type of schools. E.g. ‘academic learners’ with interest in economics could choose commercial subjects from vocational schools. And vice versa, ‘vocational learners’ with interest in continuing to higher education could choose general subjects from the upper secondary schools. One step further was the option of obtaining dual qualifications – the Finnish baccalaureate (Abitur) and the vocational qualification – via a mutually adjusted schedule.

Altogether this reform agenda tried to to solve the problems of the earlier periods in the following way:

  • by redirecting the academically oriented educational demand to both universities and to the newly created polytechnics,
  • by maintaining the vocational progression routes (from vocational schools to polytechnics)
  • by encouraging boundary-crossing curricular cooperation and educational choices between the ‘academic’ and ‘vocational programs in upper secondary education.

In this respect the emphasis was mainly on providing new opportunities for Higher Education, but at the same time trying to enhance the attractiveness of vocational education as well. From this point of view it was important that the vocational programs had the same duration as the general/academic programs.

I think this is enough of the educational reforms and of structural changes of the 1990s. With this quick recollection I tried to reconstruct the political and cultural background of the current debates. However, there is a need to have a closer look at the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the Finnish VET system as well.

More blogs to come …

 

 

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part One: What is at stake in current Finnish debates?

May 23rd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Given the fact that I am blogging as a Finnish expatriate living outside my home country, it has not been my habit to comment politics in Finland. In some of my recent blogs I have reported on the Finnish pilots linked to our ongoing Learning  Layers (LL) project. An article of the pilots with the video annotation tool AchSo! brought into picture bigger issues of educational policies and of sustainable work. This gave rise to brief comments on the educational background of the pilot (collaboration between school-based vocational education, workplace learning and flexible transition to apprentice training). At the same time the  Sustainability Commitment process initiated by the Ministry of Environment seemed to provide an appropriate working perspective for dissemination of good practice. Now, after the general elections in Finland the negotiations on a three-party government coalition have raised new questions on the future course for developing the Finnish vocational education and training (VET) system. This gives me a reason to write a series of blogs on the past Finnish VET reforms and how they can be mapped to a European group picture. But firstly I need to give a quick view on the current VET policy issue in the coalition talks.

 1. What is being discussed in the coalition talks concerning VET?

Last week the Finnish media reported that one of the hot issues in the coalition talks is the duration of the initial VET programs. Here we have several issues. Firstly, the Finnish – predominantly school-based VET – has been organised as part of the upper secondary education. The duration of three years has been based on two main arguments:

  • Firstly, to open a vocational pathway to higher education (with sufficient general educational content).
  • Secondly, to accommodate an appropriate amount of workplace learning (base on cooperation arrangements between vocational schools and partners enterprises).

Now the news reports tell that there is a pressure to cut the costs of full-time education by cutting the duration of full-time vocational education. Also, there is a wish to promote a quicker transition of young people to working life. In this context the role of apprentice training and work experience placements are being mentioned as necessary measures.

2. How have these news been received in the public?

So far the news have not been based on public documents or statements by politicians. Therefore,  both the news coverage and the public debates have been based on sophisticated guesses. In their first reactions the Trade Union of Education in Finland (representing all teachers in Finland) and the Union of vocational learners in Finland have criticised these plans heavily. They are concerned about the functioning of vocational pathways to higher education as well as of the quality of workplace learning. Altogether, they are concerned of possible short-term rationalisation measures that may have severe negative consequences – whether from the perspective of providing educational opportunities or from the perspective of integrating young people into working life. Alongside these strong reactions there have been some individual remarks that Finland should look at other models and alternative solutions.

It is not my purpose to enter this Finnish debate on my blog (that I am writing in English as an expatriate working abroad). Yet, as a VET researcher who has started his career by comparing European VET reforms and then continued by monitoring European cooperation, I feel the need to look back. Firstly, I want to have a second look at the Finnish reforms that have shaped the current educational frameworks. Secondly, I want to explore, what role apprentice training and integration of school-based and workplace-based learning have played in these reforms. Thirdly, I want to make some comparisons to parallel developments in other European countries. We need to have a picture, how we have come to the current situation – what has been achieved and what may appear as weaknesses. Also, we need to reflect, what may appear as ‘good practice’ in a European comparison and why.

I think this is enough for the moment. I hope that I get my thoughts on paper in due time.

More blogs to come …

Training Day in Bau-ABC – Part Two: How to work with the Learning Toolbox?

May 15th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

This post continues the reports on the recent highlight event of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and its construction sector pilot in North Germany – the Training Days of the training centre Bau-ABC (that took place on Monday and Tuesday this week). On Monday the LL teams of ITB and Pontydysgu organised three workshop sessions to present the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and to plan further pilot activities with LTB in Bau-ABC. In my previous post I gave an overview on the event as such and on our contributions. In this post I will focus on the issues that were raised and on the results of different sessions and working groups.

1. General issues to be taken into account

Already after the general presentations we were confronted by several issues that we need to consider when preparing the actual pilot activities with LTB to be used with mobile devices:

  • Officially the use of mobile phones is prohibited in the training centres – mainly because the use of them is perceived as distraction. When using their smartphones, the apprentices seem to have their attention elsewhere than in their working and learning tasks. Even if the trainers can see that these devices can be used to support work and learning, there is a need to get others convinced.
  • Use of mobile devices is often a safety risk in traffic and in working life – therefore, many companies have prohibited the use of mobile devices at construction sites (or allowed only the site manager/ supervisor to use one). These issues need to be reflected in the code of conduct for users.
  • Video recordings from working and training contexts need to pay attention to specific sensitivity issues – are these recordings documenting good or bad practice, is the behaviour of the people appropriate, are the videos showing something that is confidential … These issues need to be reflected in the code of conduct for users.
  • From the pedagogic point of view use of multimedia and web can support different types of learning behaviour: a) It can lead to ‘light learning’ that uses quick searches and quick documenting solutions that seem to give appropriate answers (without paving the way to adequate understanding of the problems and the solutions). b) Or it can lead to ‘smart learning’ in which digital media and web resources are used as illustrations that give insights into problems, solutions and understanding of appropriate practice.

These introductory discussions brought us (once again) to the picture that the use of mobile devices, digital media and web resources has to be introduced in a work- and context-adjusted way.

2. The first workshop on initial training: picking exemplary themes for particular occupations

In the first workshop session we had groups that represented the following occupations/occupational fields: concrete builders (one group), carpenters and indoor builders (one group), road builders and pipeline builders (one group). Each of these groups had as their starting point a specific project for apprentices in the respective occupation. The trainers were looking for ways to introduce Learning Toolbox into the project work. In this session the groups had somewhat different concerns and interests:

a) The group of concrete builders (Betonbauer) was concerned of the lack of written instructions for older techniques to build frames for concrete constructs. Currently, most of the frames for concrete builders are standardised and often pre-fabricated. Thus, the transfer of craftsmen’s know-how on building special-shaped frames is not supported by up-to-date learning materials. This could be compensated by video recordings that are edited into digital learning materials.

b) The group of carpenters (Zimmerer) listed several points in which the use of digital media and access to web were found useful, starting form general health and safety instructions, access to drawings, QR codes referring to appropriate tools, Barcode scanner that refers to materials, tools for documentation of learning achievements.

c) The group of road builders and pipeline builders (Strassenbauer, Rohrleitungsbauer) discussed the possibilities to link drawings, photos and DIN norms to each other, creative ways to introduce technical terminology, creative ways to control learning gains and smart ways to use videos for presenting essential ‘tricks of the trade’.

As a common point of interest the groups of the first workshop session drew attention to differentiated communication channels (messages to all vs. bilateral communication between apprentice and trainer), collecting examples of good practice to be presented to all and on differentiated ways to document learning progress at different stages of apprentice training.

3. The second workshop on initial training: developing core themes for groups of occupations

In the second workshop session the parallel groups consisted of mutually linked occupations or occupational fields and the participants had selected integrative ‘core projects’ in which they explored the use of digital media and web resources:

d) The group of well-builders and tunnel-builders (Brunnenbauer, Spezialtiefbauer) had chosen a project task on disassembling, maintenance & testing and assembling of pumps used in their trades. Here the discussion focused on the uses of digital media to visualize the processes, to draw attention to key concepts and to safety precautions. Here, a critical issue was, how to guide the work with video recording so that the documents are appropriate for the project and for the apprentices’ learning processes.

e) The group representing occupations in metal and machine techniques (Metall- und Maschinentechnik, Baugerätetechnik) had also selected a project that drew attention to the core knowledge of all these occupations – producing a threaded plate according to technical drawing (Herstellen einer Gewindeplatte gemäß Zeichnung). The group discussed different phases of the project and then drew attention to points of intervention with digital media and web tools (e.g. digital access to references, producing user-generated learning contents with apprentices, using QR-codes to demonstrate health and safety risks and using digital tools and apps to simulate use of real tools plus to discuss quality criteria and tolerances).

f) The group of road-builders, bricklayers and plasterers (Strassenbauer, Maurer, Fliesenleger) had also selected an integrative project – building a parking place for vehicles transporting disabled people (Behindertenparkplatz). Here the discussion focused on the special challenges of such task (e.g. search for information on the requirements, making the scattered information accessible for the groups of construction workers, using special techniques for constructing adequate slopes and surfaces, documentation of the work and simulation of the final inspection and acceptance of the work by public authorities).

Here, the groups focused on integrating the use of digital media and web resources into the logic of the selected projects.

4. The workshop on continuing training: identifying uses for LTB and other tools/apps promoted by LL project

The final workshop focused on the usability of the Learning Toolbox and other LL tools in the continuing training schemes. Here, the basic problem was that we could not rely on similar projects as in the initial training. Secondly, we were still demonstrating tools that were not yet finalised. And thirdly, most of the participants were only getting familiarised with the LL project on the whole. Finally, we were discussing issues that can partly be implemented as spin-offs and by-effects of the LL project work in the initial training, but partly require major spin-out activities.  Yet, given these limitations the participants could make several points for further discussion alongside the pilot activities in apprentice training.

5. Next steps to be taken

I think this is as much as I can say about the workshops and on the way the prepared us for working with the Learning Toolbox. We saw (once again) that the trainers are willing to start working with it. We also noticed, that we (the accompanying LL teams of ITB and Pontydysgu) need to join them when the domain-specific piloting with LTB applications will start. There are several technical, practical and pedagogic issues coming up in that phase. So, we are looking forward to a new collaborative phase in the fieldwork with Bau-ABC trainers.

More blogs to come …

Training Day in Bau-ABC – Part One: Presenting the Learning Toolbox

May 12th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday, (11th  of May) we experienced an important milestone in the fieldwork of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and in particular in the construction sector pilot in North Germany. A group of LL team members from ITB and Pontydysgu visited the annual Training Days of the training centre Bau-ABC. During the first Training Day we had three workshop sessions to present the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and to organise further pilot activities with LTB in Bau-ABC.

1. Background and preparation

Looking back to the year 2014, a demonstration of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) might not sound as a great step forward – we had had such sessions on various occasions. Yet, there was a great difference between the earlier ones and one implemented yesterday. Since September 2014 the LL project had tried to mobilise forces across the consortium to develop software solutions for LTB. And – what is more important – the developers were working towards scalable solutions. Thus, applications and system solutions for Bau-ABC would not remain insular innovations but provide a basis for wider roll-out of innovations. In this spirit the developers at different locations were working with the architecture of the LTB, the linkage to the installation package “Layers Box”, the linkage to Social Semantic Server (to get services for users and hosts) and the linkage to the community platform Baubildung.net. These all were seen as parts of a comprehensive solution that provides the basis for scaling up.

This all was promising – but for the programmers this was complicating. Therefore, several design sprints and an Alpha Beta Camp were needed to coordinate the efforts. Yet, in the light of the difficulties of the programmers, it was necessary to to run the Training Day with a simulated online demo. Our colleagues in CIMNE – Fabio and Andy – managed to produce an online demo that gives insights into the tile structures and into building stacks (sets of tiles) to develop and share contents with LTB. We were lucky to have this piece of work completed just in time for the event.

2. The event and our sessions

Altogether the Training Days (as I have translated the name in English) are an internal training event for the staff of Bau-ABC Rostrup, for the parallel training centre ABZ Mellendorf and for Bauakademie Nord (the joint umbrella organisation for Continuing Vocational Training). During these days both training centres and the office of Bauakademie are closed, whilst the staff is participating in training sessions. As we saw it, there were several parallel strands of training – for the trainers in initial training (Lehrwerkmeister) for the organisers of continuing training and for the providers of supporting services. The Learning Layers project was invited to organise three workshop sessions during the first day. Two of these sessions for trageted for different groups of trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) and the third one for the coordinators of continuing training (including also the system administrator and the ICT support staff).

In all these sessions we had the same opening contributions. Werner Müller gave a brief overview on the LL project as a whole, on the Learning Toolbox as the central ‘tool’ for our pilots in the construction sector. He also gave insights into the supporting software solutions and into the technology package “Layers Box” that makes it possible for the local users to work with their own tools and to keep control over their data. After this overview I gave a brief explanation how these elements had become parts of the ‘big package’ solution that our developers need to get working and why we cannot reduce our pilot to a purely local solution. Then, Dirk Stieglitz from Pontydysgu navigated us through the online-demonstration and showed how the functionality of the Learning Toolbox will work in the matured version.

3. The power of the online-demonstration

Werner had already given the first impression, how a tile structure of Learning Toolbox could look on the surface of a mobile device (smartphone or tablet PC). However, when Dirk started his presentation, the whole design was brought alive from a standstill. We were logged in and we got an overview of the tiles with different functionality – static contents, embedded videos, RSS feeds, App links, navigation and QR-reader. Then we started our journey through the existing demo stack that had been composed for the LTB pilot – with special attention to possible contents and multimedia products relevant for Bau-ABC.

We had examples of uploaded learning materials (selected from trainer Markus Pape’s Zimmererblog, we viewed the emerging collection of documents on health and safety (Arbeits- und Gesundheitsschutz) and we scrolled through the collection of the earlier videos on uses of LTB that were recorded in Bau-ABC last year. Then, we got insights, how new tiles and new stacks can be created (and what kind of programming tool will be used for these operations). Finally, we also saw, how the toolbox can be used for sending/receiving messages either individually or within a group. At the end of the presentation we were happy to find out that the software that was used for the demo is the real one to be used with the mobile devices.

4. The way forward

In the light of the above we were happy to kick off the workshops for which the trainers had selected thematic projects that they use in apprentice training. Now, that we had got a common picture of the current phase of development, we agreed that it is high time for the trainers in Bau-ABC and for us (as the R&D partners) to work together to enable a good start of the pilots. We shared the feeling that quite a lot of preparatory work can be done with contents and videos to be used via the Learning Toolbox. And we used the workshop sessions as an opportunity to get our ideas clear – with the help of creative group work.

I think this is enough of the event as such and on our contributions. In the next post I will discuss some issues that were raised and the results of the working groups.

More blogs to come …

PS. Some photos and a video recording of Werner’s presentation can be found in the Facebook group “Learning Layers Photos”, https://www.facebook.com/groups/700976103294824.

 

 

Opening of “Learning Exhibition” in Verden – Part 2: The use of digital media and web tools

April 29th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I reported on the opening event of the ‘Learning Exhibition’ “nachhaltig. bauen. erleben” and its importance for the EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL). This event – the inauguration of the new ecological building and the opening of the inaugural exhibition is clearly a highlight for our application partners Agentur, NNB and NZNB in Verden.  In the previous post I summarised some first impressions of the Learning Layers team that contributed to the exhibition. Now that some of our photos are available as photo albums in our Facebook group Learning Layers Photos, it is possible to make further comments on the way that the exhibition has implemented the design ideas of the Learning Layers project (in particular of the Captus design team).

1. What was the design team Captus looking for?

As I already mentioned in my previous post, one of the early design ideas of the Learning Layers project was called “Captus” – Capturing of knowledge and experiences with the help of digital media and web tools. This design idea and the design team that worked with it took the the ‘Learning Exhibition’ as their focal point.

The contributors from the project worked with the question: How can the use of digital media, web resources and mobile devices best be incorporated into the exhibition?

For the organisers the key question was rather: How can the exhibition be shaped as an experienceable learning opportunity (Gelegenheit for erfahrbares Lernen)?

For the LL project the key question was: How can we get these two perspectives joined together?

This gave rise to different learning exercises with web tools, webinars, video production and annotation sessions. Also different explorations were made on the use of QR-tags and alternative solutions. Finally, these efforts culminated to the questions:

1) How can we support the participants in getting more knowledge and insights into the exhibits/exhibition areas than is possible by posters, info sheets ans flyers?

2) How can we provide opportunities for such knowledge acquisition that makes it possible for the participants to take their new knowledge with them for further reflection?

These questions brought into picture the efforts to introduce augmented reality as an integral part of the exhibition concept.

2. What did we witness as ‘ideas put into practice’ in the exhibition?

At best we can demonstrate the impact of the Captus ideas with a ‘guided tour round the exhibition’ via the photos that we have uploaded in the album “The ‘Learning exhibition’ “Nachhaltig. bauen. erleben” of our application partners Agentur, NNB, NZNB (ecological construction work)“.

We see firstly the welcome message (here a screenshot) of the web page that is available on the tablets used in the exhibition. The users can indicate their interests as ordinary visitors, construction sector specialists, construction companies or their clients.  Each of them can make their own ‘guided’ tour with the help of the AR application used on the tablet.

Secondly we see the exhibition area for heating and cooling (basement ambiente) and for furnishing and wood materials (wider area). Both areas have hot spots for using AR.

Thirdly we see the use of the tablet at those hot spots and the additional text-based or picture-based information that appears on the screen.

Finally we see the instructions, how to take this information home and how to access it from home offices.

As we see it, this may appear as rather simplistic way of implementing the ideas that were discussed. But, what makes it important, in this way the ideas of using digital media, web tools and mobile technologies have become integral parts of the exhibition concept. Moreover, the key organisers have taken this as their starting point to work further with this approach. And finally, we saw that the exhibition is still in many ways under construction. From this perspective the tools, system solutions and software solutions that are being piloted in Bau-ABC could also be demonstrated as parts of the exhibition (when the time is ripe for this step). At least we saw this as an entry point to a new phase rather than as a final station of completed journey.

More blogs to come …

PS. With this blog I have worked with Joanna Burchert who has been most intensively working with the Captus idea from the ITB team. I have listened to her views and taken on board as much as possible but the words are mine. PK

Designing Applications To Support Mobile Work Based Learning In The Construction Industry

April 28th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

Along with Joanna Burchert, Gilbert Peffer and Raymond Elferink, I am presenting a paper at the EDEN conference on Expanding Learning Scenarios in Barcelona in June. the paper is based on work undertaken as part of the Learning Layers project. Below is the abstract. And if you would like to read the full paper you can download it from the link at the bottom of this page.

This paper focuses on the use of technology for (mainly informal) learning in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the construction sector. It is based on work being undertaken by the EU funded Learning Layers project. The project is aiming to develop large scale take up of technology for informal learning in two sectors, health and construction.

The project includes both research and development strands, aiming to facilitate and support the development, testing and deployment of systems and tools for learning. The wider goals of the project are to develop sustainable models and tools for supporting learning in other countries and sectors. The paper describes the outcomes of empirical research undertaken in the construction sector as well as the co-design process contributing to the development of the Learning Toolbox, a mobile application for apprentices. The empirical research has been undertaken with a wide range of stakeholders in the construction industry, including surveys of apprentices whilst the co-design process has focused on trainers and apprentices.

Any use of mobile technology in and for work depends on the very specific situation and general conditions within a business sector. Hence research and development for mobile digital media includes both peoples’ needs and practices as workers and learners as well as specific business challenges, directions of development and needs concerning knowledge, skills and competencies. Testing and guiding the introduction of such solutions in enterprises and organisations could be understood as one kind of action research. Thus in researching and developing mobile learning applications and digital media for use in SMEs it is important to examine the possible impacts on employees and work processes as well as just the impact or potential for learning. The research in enterprises differentiated four lines of argumentation around the use of digital media: a) anxious-avoiding, b) critical, c) optimistic and d) pragmatically oriented,

Our interviews confirmed that technology is fast changing the world of construction, with increased work pressure and the demand to document work. It was noted that mobile devices are increasingly being used to produce a photographic record of construction work, as part of quality assurance processes. However, there was pronounced scepticism towards what was termed as “VET researcher fantasies” for instance in developing knowledge exchange networks. Companies were not prepared to share knowledge which was seen as giving them a competitive advantage over others.

The initial interviews were followed up with a survey of over 700 first, second and third year apprentices. The survey confirmed the desire for more use of mobile learning and a frustration with the limitations of existing commercial applications. Whilst only a limited number of companies permitted the use of mobile devices in the workplace, 53% of apprentices said they used them for learning or for obtaining work related information, explaining this was in their own time in breaks or after work.

The project is developing a ‘Learning Toolbox’, designed as a comprehensive architecture and framework for apprentice training and continuing training as well as for other services for the building and construction sector. Rather than training the main interest craft trade companies in web tools and mobile technologies is related to real-time, knowledge sharing, communication and problem-solving. Experience with earlier web tools has shown that they do not necessarily contribute to optimisation of work and business processes. However, flexible framework solutions like Learning Toolbox can be customised to their needs. Supplier companies (e.g. vendors of machinery, equipment and materials) want to customise user guidelines, maintenance manuals and instructional media for different users. They also need to develop real-time feedback mechanisms to improve error control mechanisms.

The implementation of Technology Enhanced Learning in SMEs will require capacity building in organisations, networks and sectors. This includes the capacity of trainers to support pedagogically the implementation of technology for learning, the development of technical infrastructure and the capacity of organisations and managements to support the use of technologies.

Finally is the importance of context in work based learning. Mobile learning applications need to be able to adapt to different contexts. These include, but are not limited to, the context of what kind of work is being undertaken, different forms of work organisation and different locations and forms of learning. The Learning Toolbox application is particularly designed to bridge formal and informal learning and to take account of the different contexts of learning in the vocational schools, learning in the industry training centre and learning on the construction site.

Download full paper (Word format) – mobileLearningEDENFIN

Opening of “Learning Exhibition” in Verden – Part 1: First impressions

April 26th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday we witnessed a great day for the EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL) and its work in the North German construction pilots. Our application partner Agentur für nachhaltiges Bauen (Agency for ecological construction work) and the support organisations Netzwerk Nachhaltiges Bauen (NNB) and  Norddeutsches Zentrum für Nachhaltiges Bauen (NZNB) had reached an important milestone of their project activities. Their new  Exhibition building was inaugurated and the Learning Exhibition “nachhaltig. bauen. erleben” was opened. The preparation of this exhibition has been the central theme of the colleagues from Agentur, NNB and NZNB throughout their participation in the LL project.

1. The journey from an early design idea to making the exhibition

As we remember it, the idea to prepare a special exhibition – with emphasis on learning from experience – was highlighted by the colleagues from Agentur, NNB and NZNB during the first working meetings (December 2012) and the Application Partner Day (APD) visit (January 2013). At that time the construction work for the new building was at an early stage and there was quite some time to develop plans for the exhibition. In the Y1 Design Conference in Helsinki one of the working groups brought these early thoughts into concept with the design idea “Captus” – Capturing of knowledge and experiences with the help of digital media and web tools. At that stage it was clear that it is not an easy road forward to put those ideas into practice.

Already the first encounters and the working groups during the APD visit brought into picture that there was a lot of scepticism and reservation vis-à-vis introduction of digital media, web tools and mobile technologies among the people who were interested in ecological construction work. And the key persons working for Agentur, NNB and NZNB were not quite sure, how the use of new media, web tools and mobile devices could best support their ecological message and ideas on the exhibition. During the next phases of project work several exercises were made to bring the new media, use of web tools and trials with mobile devices closer to the everyday practice. This phase was characterised by various learning experiences but uncertainty, whether the learning gains can be put into practice. It was a question mark, to what extent a trans-national R&D project can support the making of the exhibition in the local environment and for the local/regional and national audiences.

2. Impressions on the exhibition as a materialised reality

Jumping to the impressions of yesterday I have to confess that it was a kind of positive cultural shock – the new building with sveral storeys for offices and with the wide exhibition spaces on ground floor and basement made a huge difference to the past. Also, the exhibits representing different aspects of ecological, sustainable and energy-saving solutions were presented nicely and with smart anc compressed green information sheets. Also, a lot of materials and artefacts were made easily accessible in small spaces – including the isolation materials (compressed straw to be covered with clay).

What about the role of digital media, web tools and mobile or embedded devices? They were also there and implemented in a harmonious way. Several info sheets had camera symbols or QR tags that provided access to background information or light-weight applications of augmented reality. And at different areas we saw embedded computer screens on the wall or on the table surface – all this implemented as a part of the exhibition experience, not something added on. Some of these impressions have been made accessible via the updated website http://www.nznb.de whilst more information is yet to be updated after the event.

Looking at other visitors, it was obvious that everything was new to them and it was difficult to digest the new experience. A lot of visitors were moving around in bigger groups, guided by the organisers, whilst some others were making impressions as individual observers. It was clear to us that the time for more focused stakeholder talks will come later when the exhibition will be visited by groups from organisations like Bau-ABC or from networks that are affiliated with the NZNB.

3. Voices of the key organisers

For us from the LL team participating in a visitor (and co-exhibitor) role – Joanna Burchert and me (ITB) and Martina Lübbing (Pontydysgu) it was most rewarding to make interviews with the key organisers – Dorothee Mix and Ute Gieseking (NZNB), Enno Precht and Michael Burchert (Agentur). All of them were highly positive about their participation in the LL project and valued the ideas and learning experiences made with the project. At the same time the others praised Michael for his role as a change agent, mediator and interpreter. Altogether, they one by one characterised their own learning history with digital media, web and mobile technologies as a transition from scepticism to a new awareness, how link this support to their own practice. Given this background, Michael was sure that this was not the end station of such transition process. Instead, now that the exhibition is there, the LL project has a good opportunity to bring in new solutions, frameworks, tools and apps once they have reached the maturity. In particular the cooperation with Bau-ABC can be strengthened in this respect.

I think this is enough of the first impressions. I have agreed to work with Joanna Burchert to give a more detailed picture, what all had been achieved regarding the introduction of digital media, web tools and software solutions. So, the story goes on.

More blogs to come …

 

Once more the Finnish sustainability commitments – What makes them real?

April 16th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my three previous posts I have discussed the Finnish Sustainability Commitments and their relevance for our EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL). In the first blog I described the model, in the second one I shifted the emphasis to the sustainability of apprentice training and in the third one I discussed the transferability of the commitment model to the Learning Layers project.

In the meantime I have had some talks with my colleagues on this model and its applicability. Some of the comments have been inspired: There seems to be something attractive in the approach. Some of the comments have been characterised  by scepticism: Isn’t this yet another one of those campaigns that end up as lip service without major impact? Below I try to give some further insights into the model itself and into mechanisms that can make it work as a real thing.

1. What is so special about these Sustainability Commitments?

The inspiring aspect of these Sustainability Commitments is that they are part of a nation-wide strategy for Sustainable Development – targeted to the year 2050 – but they are operative commitments agreed in particular organisations. They refer to a four-page reference document that outlines seven sustainability goals. And then it is up to each organisation to agree which of these goals it will select for its own operative commitments. Once this discussion is through the organisation has to agree on the time frame of the commitment and on the indicators for assessing the success. When these decisions have been made the organisation can register its commitment on the special website http://sitoumus2050.fi (Commitment 2050). And when the commitment has been registered and published, the organisation has the responsibility to report on the progress.

Altogether, this model is that of a Societal Commitment Process - it transforms the implementation of the national strategy into a movement that consists of into sets of goal-oriented local and domain-specific commitment processes. When an insider-expert tells how this model came into being, it is easy to sense the inspiration and creative energy. Yet, it is worthwhile to ask, what mechanisms and  measures can prevent it from falling into ritualism and lip service.

2. What makes these commitments become real measures with impact?

It is worthwhile to consider, what kinds of background factors, mechanisms, efforts, initiatives etc. have been provided to make these commitment processes work towards the desired change. I will try to list some of these below:

a) High level policy support: The national commission for sustainable development has been chaired by the prime minister and the commitment processes have been taken up by ministries, central government bodies, employers’ confederations, trade unions, political parties, big enterprises etc. Key players in national politics want to be involved in such processes.

b) Facilitation and assistance by expert organisations: In the field of vocational education and training (VET) – as well as in general and adult education – a  special expert organisation (the OKKA foundation) has developed Sustainability certificates for educational establishments. In a similar way universities (among others the Aalto University) have made commitments to support their partner organisations in joining the commitment processes and in reaching their objectives.

c) Expanding the range of commitments after first pilots: Several regional consortia for VET (the inter-municipal ‘holding’ organisations of VET institutes) have started their commitment processes with one institute and educational domain candidating for a Sustainability certificate of the OKKA foundation. After a successful pilot they have continued with further commitments involving other institutes and educational domains.

d) Cooperative chains and business networks as promoters of commitments: The leading cooperative chain – the S-group with its shops, department stores, supermarkets and hotels – has committed itself nation-wide to link sustainable development into its processes of inducting new employees. In a similar way a nation-wide network of social responsibility managers has made its own commitments for its member enterprises.

e) NGOs as promoters of commitments: In the dissemination activities the Ministry of Environment and the participating organisations are supported by creative NGOs. In particular the NGO “Yllätetään yhteiskunta” (Let’s surprise the society) has specialised in organising dissemination events – such as sustainability jams – that give visibility to particular initiatives.

f) The role of social media: So far the Commitment process has been supported by a static website. Yet, the according to the newest plans (that were reported in the Finnish radio podcast, http://areena.yle.fi/radio/2630343) the website is being transformed into a social networking website and the commitment processes are being transformed into community processes. The launch of the new platform is scheduled for the 3rd of June 2015.

I think these points were already enough to give an impression, what all is making the commitment process work. And I will try to find out more in due time.

More blogs to come …

 

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    Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE from the Online EDUCA Berlin 2014

    We will broadcast from Berlin on the 4th and the 5th of December. Both times it will start at 11.15 CET and will go on for about 30 minutes.

    Go here to listen to the radio stream: SoB Online EDUCA 2014 LIVE Radio.

    News Bites

    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


    Consultation

    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at http://goo.gl/LwR65t.


    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100’s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”


    Code Academy expands

    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

    Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.


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