Archive for the ‘Informal learning’ Category

Getting into hands-on testing with the Learning Toolbox (LTB)

July 15th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my recent posts I reported on the Tallinn meeting of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. My general impression was that we made good progress in many respects. Shortly after the meeting this was confirmed when our software developers invited us to hands-on testing with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). As usual, the software that is released for first testing is not quite mature and there are all kinds of minor details to be settled before it can be rolled out to wider use. Yet, the crucial step has been taken and we are now working as users of the software.

To me it was important to get access to the tile store and to the process of creating new test stacks that arise from our fieldwork. Together with my ITB-colleague Werner Müller I had a joint session in which we scanned through our earlier working documents to see, how we can use that material. We wrote several feature requests (as cards on Trello board) to push some ideas into the next development sprint. Parallel to this we selected a topic for a test stack could serve as an ‘appetizer’ for other testers. After a brief tutorial session guided by our colleague Edwin Veenendaal (from our LL partner RayCom) we made the step forward.

The new test stack “Klarkommen im Bau-ABC” has three screens, each of them containing several tiles. The opening screen has three document screens – “Basic information”, “Daily Menu” and “The Map of Bau-ABC” (the two latter ones giving web links to the respective information on Bau-ABC website). In addition, there is an RSS tile (that picks the news from the BauBildung.net platform) and a navigator tile (that guides the user further). The second screen presents videos from Bau-ABC – the general overview and two LL videos that present the use of LTB in apprentices’ projects and in work situations. In addition, there is a tile for picking separate apps and the navigator tile to move on. The third screen focuses  on the theme Health & Safety (Arbeits- und Gesundheitsschutz). The content tile holds the place for basic information. The LL video addresses the issue in the training of Bau-ABC. The tile “First aid” holds the place for important information to be accessed in emergency situations. And the navigator guides us back to start.

Altogether, the making of a test stack was not a very demanding exercise. And with this limited number of screens and tiles or linked documents, embeds and linked apps we did not conquer new contents. Yet, it is impressive to view the newly created stack from the mobile application (either using mobile phone or tablet). It is very rewarding to see that it works and that other users can also enter with their test stacks. Just before the summer break this gives a feeling that we can make good progress with LTB after the holidays.

I think this is enough for the moment. I have already started my holiday period, but I wanted to share this experience before switching off. I hope that some of you can join us as testers of the LTB.  I assume that my LL-colleagues Gilbert Peffer (CIMNE) and Raymond Elferink (RayCom) are ready to give more information.

More blogs to come (after the holidays) …

 

Results & Conclusions of our Tallinn meeting – Part Three: The 2nd session on construction pilot

June 26th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two latest posts I started a series to report on the Tallinn meeting of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In that first post I gave a picture of the preparation day. In the second posts I gave an overview on the inputs for the 1st session on construction sector pilot. These inputs were contributing to a picture on ‘integrated learning arrangements’. In this post I will continue with a report on our discussions on ‘technical integration’.

Since we had already had the initially scheduled  online demonstration on the functioning of Learning Toolbox (LTB) we dedicated this session on the relations between LTB and ‘complementary’ LL tools that had been presented in the preparatory meeting or during the healthcare sessions. Below I try to give a nutshell of our discussions and conclusions on different tools or apps brought into discussion.

1. ‘AchSo!’ video annotation tool

We started by emphasising the importance of video material and video annotations in the context of the training projects of Bau-ABC. We reminded of the twofold approach – videos to support training (reference videos, produced in advance under the supervision of trainers) and videos documenting learning (produced by apprentices during theproject to document phases of work and learning results). We had a lot of discussion on producing AchSo! for different operating systems (Android, iOS) and on the the functioning of AchSo! on different devices. The colleagues in Aalto agreed to produce a stable version of AchSo! (Android) by the 1st of October and to develop an iOS-version based on it by the Y3 review meeting. The colleagues from Bau-ABC volunteered to purchase Android tablets for trainers who would start using AchSo! with their videos before the iOS version is available.

2. ‘Bits and Pieces’ and ‘KnowBrain’ as collectors of experiences

Concerning ‘Bits and Pieces’ we emphasised the need to develop tools that help workplace learners to collect their learning experiences alongside/based on workplace learning. Here, we noted the contradiction that ‘Bits and Pieces’ has been developed primarily for medical/nursing staff working at GP practices. Therefore, the software (for stationary PCs) needs a lot of space and the migration to mobile devices is not easy. Given this hurdle, the general conclusion was that LTB could take some components of Bits and Pieces and create respective tiles. Parallel to this, some functions of the KnowBrain application could be developed for Learning Logs. (Here we need more discussions before making commitments to particular milestones.)

3. ‘Confer’ tool for help seeking

With the ‘Confer’ tool (earlier called ‘Help seeking’) we took the point (that was already raised in the healthcare session) that it could help us to make transparent our complex development and piloting processes, like the recent initiatives with the LTB. (Here the point is to use our own tools to support our development processes – ‘to take our own medicine ourselves’.) RayCom agreed to take the development of this tool into the next sprint. We agreed on the same milestone as with AchSo! (the 1st of October) for a stable version.

4. ‘Locations’ app in making

Here we continued our discussion on the basis of the input of Adolfo and the TLU study group. RayCom confirmed that the LTB has already been equipped with several functions that can work with the sensors and use the app to be developed. Yet, there is a need to clarify the responsibilities and the resources needed. Graham Attwell emphasised that the issue of ‘locations’ raises higher level questions on interpreting ‘contexts’ – for this purpose we need to revisit the work of Sebastian Dennerlein for mapping different contexts in the construction pilot (for software development purposes).

5. Social Augmented Reality apps in making

For this part of the meeting Jana Pejoska (Aalto) arranged a short demonstration with Social Augmented Reality (SAR) using the vision sharing function with a colleague in Helsinki and making interactive use of marks on the screen. (Based on this demonstration, Melanie Campbell and trainer Marc Schütte provided later on a use case of the driver of excavator (or other construction vehicle) using augmented reality to get a better impression of the dimensions of the vehicle when driving it.) Here we noted that the current version is available on the web. There is a need of further development work for a mobile device. Yet, already at this stage it is essential to make arrangements for a working visit from Aalto to Bau-ABC to start testing with SAR during the September month.

Altogether, we could agree in a plenary session on several working perspectives and milestones regarding the enrichment of the Learning Toolbox.

At this point I had to leave the meeting due to private commitments. I am trying to catch up with the colleagues regarding the key points and conclusions of the remaining sessions. In particular I am interested to learn more on the work with the exploitation journeys and on the conclusions for joint exploitation plans. Let us see, if I can get my impressions on a further blog post – or if someone else does it for me on another blog.

More blogs to come …

 

Results & Conclusions of our Tallinn meeting – Part Two: The 1st session on construction pilot

June 26th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest post I started a series to report on the Tallinn meeting of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In that first post I gave a picture of our productive preparation day (Tuesday 16th of June). In the two further posts I will focus on  our consortium meeting with an emphasis on the construction sector pilot. For the sake of completion I need to mention that we had firstly some general sessions that tuned us into the key issues. Yet, the highlights of the meeting to me were the consecutive sessions on ‘integrated learning arrangements’ (healthcare, construction) and ‘technical integration’ (healthcare, construction). In this blog post I have chosen to cover the first session on the construction sector pilot.

Presentations on the construction sector pilot and on the Learning Toolbox

Our original plan was to give the main emphasis on the use of Learning Toolbox in the Bau-ABC training projects and to highlight different ways in which both trainers and apprentices can be involved. We assumed that the basic ideas of Learning Toolbox had become familiar to the partners during the previous meetings. We also assumed that it would be better to have an up-to-date demonstration on the functioning of the Learning Toolbox later in the second session that focuses on ‘technical integration’. As it often happens, we had to modify these plans during the sessions.

In the beginning we had firstly a guest input by Adolfo Ruiz and the student group of TLU who presented shortly the application on “Locations” that we had discussed during the preparation day (see my previous blog). The quick input and brief discussion showed us that we can easily work with applications that can be adjusted to the training workshops (or outdoor training areas) of Bau-ABC and raise questions that are relevant for working and learning projects.

This was followed by a quick update message by Edwin Veendendaal (RayCom) on the technical development of the Learning Toolbox. In his message he linked to the presentation of Petru Nicolaescu (RWTH) on the technical development of the Layers Box (installation package for users). Both these reports gave us an impression that the LL project is making good progress in overcoming the technical hurdles that had bothered us for some time.

Our (ITB and Bau-ABC) main contributions in this session were the power points with which we illustrated implementation of training projects in the apprentice training of Bau-ABC and how the use of LTB and digital media can be integrated into such projects. Our examplary cases brought different issues into discussion. The first case was the road-builders’ project on constructing a barrier-free (hindrance-free) parking place for vehicles transporting users of wheelchairs. With this example we drew attention to different phases of self-organised project work of the apprentices (and possible points of intervention). The second example – building old-timer staircases with unique (not standardised) scaffolding – demonstrated the possibility to use LTB and digital media as means to conserved older construction techniques that are no longer present in up-to-date handbooks and learning materials. In addition to these examples Melanie Campbell (Bau-ABC) presented her visualisation on the work process and on the use of LTB during a four-day project (with the peak points in the beginning and and completion phase and in the reflection phase after the project).

Once we had presented these inputs we noticed that some colleagues had many questions that required a better insight into the idea of Learning Toolbox and into its current phase. Therefore, Edwin Veendendaal and Raymond Elferink (RayCom) agreed to give their online presentation on the functioning  of Learning Toolbox already in this session. They guided us through the opening menu, to the structure of stacks and tiles and to the process of making new stacks (for bundling different kind of contents) and new tiles (for certain type of contents). In this way we completed the picture on the uses of LTB and how the current design tries to respond to users’ needs.

Altogether, we got an overview on the Learning Toolbox in the kind of shape in which we want to start the first field pilots. And at the same time we invited other partners to think what they could propose for us as complementary tools and applications. This discussion was scheduled for the ‘technical integration’ session that is covered in the next post.

More blogs to come …

 

Results & Conclusions of our Tallinn meeting – Part One: The preparation day

June 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In one of my previous posts (June 13th, 2015) I wrote about our preparation for the forthcoming Tallinn meeting of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Now, with this series of blog posts, it is time to wrap up results and conclusions of our busy days in Tallinn. In this first post I will focus on our work during the preparation day (Tuesday 16th of June). In the next post I will focus on the sessions that focused on the construction sector pilot.

Due to favourable flight schedules the LL partners from North Germany (ITB and Bau-ABC) had decided to take flights to Tallinn already on Monday (15th of June) and to dedicate the whole Tuesday for a preparatory meeting. In the first partof the meeting we were working mainly with our ‘local issues’ with the ongoing construction sector pilot and on the exploitation issues (using German as common working language). Partly we were working together with our partners from Aalto University and Tallinn University. In these parts of the meeting  we explored the possibilities to enrich our pilot activities with complementary tools and apps (in particular AchSo! and Social Augmented Reality). Below, I try to give an overview on the two parts (and different ingredients) of our meeting and on the interim conclusions we reached at that stage.

 1. Discussions on our North German construction pilots

The most important input to this part of the meeting was Melanie Campbell’s report on their follow-up of the Training Day in Bau-ABC (see my earlier posts May 12th, 2015 and May 15th, 2015). After discussing our reports on the workshop sessions during the Training Day the Bau-ABC trainers firstly confirmed the results and conclusions. Thus, the picture we had got from the domain-specific training projects and on the use of digital media and Learning Toolbox seemed to them appropriate (see below the exemplary cases we prepared for the consortium meeting).

However, this discussion brought the Bau-ABC trainers to give some deeper thoughts on the needs for Multimedia Training that is needed, when the use of Learning Toolbox (with mobile technologies, digital media and web resources) will become everyday life practice in Bau-ABC. The trainers came to conclusion that they need to take more intensive measures to support Multimedia Training (and further capacity building) jointly. Here some of the main conclusions:

  • After the holiday break participation in Multimedia Training will be made mandatory for all Bau-ABC trainers and the trainers consider it as an essential part of their duties.
  • To enable flexible participation, the Multimedia Training will take place in (physical and virtual) ‘theme rooms/spaces’ (Themenräume). These rooms/spaces will be available for users for the time they require for individual familiarisation and mutual support. Once the users have ‘checked out’ from the rooms/spaces, they will populated by other themes (and the previous ones will be archived). In this way the Multimedia Training program is based on rotating between parallel/consecutive theme rooms/spaces.
  • The initial set of themes proposed by the Bau-ABC trainers are the following ones: Theme 1 – use of social media (facebook + word press/ buddy press platforms), Theme 2 – making use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) (stack-building, app-integration), Theme 3 – Creating learning material (video, pictures, drawings, quiz, comics …), Theme 4 – Data management (Data protection/ security, Open Educational Resources (OER) and Creative Commons. (This thematic block might require a constant room/ space throughout the Multimedia Training program.)

In addition to this initiative we discussed several practical issues on the implementation of such program with the support of internal facilitators and external support persons. We also discussed the requirements on infrastructure, software and supporting materials. (Here we took note of the existing material of TACCLE and TACCLE2 projects.)

In the light of this report we discussed, how to present some domain-specific training projects that can illustrate the use of  LTB by trainers and/or apprentices. Here we agreed on two exemplary cases: Building a parking place without barriers (for disabled people using wheelchairs) and Building a staircase (Brettschalung/Treppenbau). Here we noted, how the trainers differentiate between the preparation of multimedia contents for the training projects (in advance and as a specific task) and producing multimedia content as documentation of learning processes (during the implementation of the training projects). We also drew an illustrative picture of the estimated use of LTB by apprentices during an average training project (timeline with peak points in the beginning, by the end and after the completion of the project).

With these discussion we equipped ourselves for our contributions on the use of LTB in integrated learning arrangements (scheduled for Wednesday, 17th of June).

2. Discussions on enriching the Learning Toolbox (LTB) with complementary tools and apps

In the second part(s) of the meeting we discussed the contributions of different complementary tools and apps (hitherto developed separately) as enrichment of the LTB (in particular in the construction sector):

  • Adolfo Ruiz Tallinn University (TLU) presented firstly a design of ‘Locations’ by a group of Bachelor students of TLU. Their design was based on the placement of sensors (iBeacons) in different parts of a larger room. When people with smartphones moved around the room, the sensors recognised their devices and posed sets of questions to be answered. In this design the participants were expected to complete all sets of questions by moving around the room. In this way they participated in a competition. For the construction sector this relatively simple idea was attractive because it seemed to provide the techniques, how to support the preparation of working and learning assignments (or projects) in training workshops. Moreover, the fact that the sensors were communicating with a WordPress platform was even more interesting since Bau-ABC has started working with their domain-specific blogs using the platform BauBildung.net (powered by WordPress).
  • The colleagues from Aalto University (Jukka Purma, Marjo Virnes and Samuli Vainio) gave us inputs on the video annotation tool AchSo! and on the current pilots. We had already had several initial demonstrations of AchSo! working in simulated contexts and in review meetings, so we were keen to hear more on pilot testing in construction work, engineering studies and in healthcare studies. The colleagues informed us about clear achievements in documenting the learning processes and making the workplace learning process transparent for reflection after the event. Also, the possibility to annotate pictures and moving pictures with limited amount of text (or symbols) was welcomed. For the construction sector we raised the importance of using longer videos as raw material. Here, Mati Möttus (TLU) reported of his parallel tests of AchSo in the context of traffic surveillance (and with few ‘disturbing’ or ‘alerting’ incidents to be annotated and searched via tags or symbols. Also in this context we started a discussion on the prospects for developing AchSo both for Android and iOS operating systems.
  • The colleagues from Aalto University (mainly Jana Pejoska and Jukka Purma) gave inputs on the current phase of work with Social Augmented Reality (SAR). Since we had to skip the technical demonstration, we had very few impressions but we got a rough idea of the extended illustrations beyond the reach of traditional tools. (Later on Melanie Campbell and trainer Marc Schütte provided us a perfect case of the driver of excavator (or other construction vehicle) using augmented reality to get a better impression of the dimensions of the vehicle when transporting it.) With this discussion we agreed to explore the possibilities to pilot with SAR in Bau-ABC alongside LTB (and preferably with AchSo).

With these additional inputs we drew a picture of the current situation in developing LTB and our interpretation, how the complementary tools could be integrated (and who should be involved in the integration).

Altogether, we were happy that we had this opportunity for preparatory discussions with LL partners presenting complementary tools and finding common interests for further cooperation. With these interim results we were ready for discussing the bigger picture of integrated learning arrangements (in the construction pilots) and technical integration (of tools to be used in construction sector) in the actual consortium meeting. This will be discussed in the next post.

More blogs to come …

 

Some thoughts on the EDEN conference

June 17th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

Last week I attended the EDEN Conference In Barcelona. It was the first time I had gone to the conference for three years – indeed I think I am developing an allergy to large formal conferences.

However, it was great to catch up with old friends and as usual the informal social activities were excellent!

I’m not sure quite what to make of the conference sessions (I will write a separate blog about the keynotes). There did not seem to be anything particularly new but that may not be a bad thing. Instead many of the presentations appeared to focus on implementing technologies in practice. That may well reflect a trend towards increasing use of technology for learning. And although of course MOOCs get the hype, it would appear much of the practice is based on either traditional distance learning programmes or blended learning.

A quick word though about the conference programme. For many years I have been trying to mess with the structures of presentations at conferences, arguing that more time should be given to discourse and discussion, rather than the formal (bullet point) presentation of papers which are available on the internet anyway. And slowly we are seeing more variety in conference formats and even some experimentation with unconferencing.

So it is good to see EDEN rethinking their format. Except changing one monolithic framework for another imposed single format does not really get the idea. So this year all papers sessions were run according to a so called “speed dating” format, with presenters given 6 minutes to pitch their wares with four (template) slides and then sessions split into groups to discuss the themes raised in the papers. Its not a bad format – although I don’t really get the four slide restriction – I could easily get through 12 slides in 6 minutes. But when every session is run according to the same format it gets tedious.

One hundred blog posts on Learning Layers project published @ Working & Learning

June 13th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

This morning I published a blog post on our preparation for the Tallinn consortium meeting of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project.  As usual, I copied it to the the current logbook of my blogs on the LL project. When checking that I had properly updating the logbook, I noticed that the number of blog posts in these logbooks had reached the milestone of one hundred (100).

Talking about blogging, one hundred is not a great number – one thousand could already count as an achievement. Or – thinking of the fact that I have been blogging regularly since November 2012 – the time frame that I have covered is not that much either. Thinking of the champion bloggers that I know – like Graham Attwell (Wales-Wide Web) or Wilfred Rubens (Technology Enhanced Learning) – they have been blogging over ten years. So, that gives us a perspective.

Yet, for the Learning Layers project this number of blog articles written at different phases of the project starts to count as a particular source of information. Indeed – my blogs have given my personal views on what is going on in the project at that  time. And they should be interpreted as such statements of a witness and actor deeply involved in the process (but with the tasks of an accompanying researcher and participative contributor).

As I have mentioned above, I have compiled annual logbooks of my blog posts on the LL projects (the 1st logbook on the years 2012-2013, the 2nd logbook on the year 2014 and the 3rd logbook on the year 2015). These logbooks can be found in the shared Google Drive folder for the Construction sector logbooks https://goo.gl/35aZeQ. In addition to these the folder contains logbooks on our co-design workshops in Bau-ABC and logbooks of our local design meetings in Bremen.

Having said all this I need to remind myself that I have to keep on blogging throughout the project so that these blogs and the logbooks can be used as a proper source. I hope that this points out to be a task worth doing.

More blogs to come …

 

Getting ready for the Learning Layers project meeting in Tallinn

June 13th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Next week our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project will have a project consortium meeting – once again in Tallinn. Last September we were already there and made plans for the autumn and spring months. Now we are coming back with the awareness that we have made slower progress than we had hoped. Yet, having had a period of technical difficulties (and delayed field pilots) in between, we are looking forward to the next steps. In this respect we (the North-German team working with Bau-ABC) are happy that we have started to prepare the forthcoming pilot activities. So, let us have a look, how we have made ourselves ready for the Tallinn talks.

 1. Working with training projects to produce video material and to use Learning Toolbox

During the Training Day (11th of May) workshops in Bau-ABC we collected examples of Bau-ABC training projects that could be used as pilot cases for testing the Learning Toolbox (LTB). We shared the reports on these workshops with Bau-ABC trainers and prepared power point presentations (in English) for further discussions. Now we want to get deeper to the ideas of using video material to promote training and learning processes. And furthermore, we want to find out, what difference the Learning Toolbox can make in this context.

 2. Preparing visualisations of our “Exploitation journeys” with recent funding bids

From the beginning of the year 2015 ITB and Bau-ABC have participated jointly in several funding bids to acquire funding for exploitation of the results of LL project. Most of these have been pre-proposals that have been submitted to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany (BMBF). And as we perceived it, the calls were published one after another and didn’t always give so much time for preparing the pre-proposals. Parallel to this we (ITB and Bau-ABC) have participated in a wider consortium that has prepared a pre-proposal for the German Ministry of Economy (BMWi). This funding would enable the successful consortia to submit multiple project proposals that support each other.  So far these opportunities have been seized in the national context (and most of the calls have mainly focused on German applicants), so there has been less chance to share knowledge and ideas. Now, in the Tallinn meeting we will have an Exploitation session for which we have prepared posters (and support documents) that make our Exploitation journeys transparent to other partners. We are looking forward to learning from each others’ efforts and to supporting each other with the next steps.

3. Learning from the development of other Learning Layers tools

One point of interest in our preparation for the consortium meeting is that we (ITB and Bau-ABC participants) have a joint meeting with our Finnish partners  from Aalto University (and eventually other participants joining us). In the first part of this meeting the ITB and Bau-ABC will work further with our LTB pilot plans and the Exploitation journeys. In the second part we will have the chance to share our plans with others and to learn from the Finnish partners’ work with the AchSo! tool and Social Augmented Reality (SAR). And our colleagues in Tallinn have volunteered to present some further ideas on tools that are being developed.

For all the above mentioned themes we have created a shared Google Drive folder that contains some advance materials: https://goo.gl/gJ4qT4. (I am happy to see that our Healthcare colleagues have also shared their poster via this folder.)

I think this is enough of our preparation. We are looking forward to doing some work with our LL colleagues in Tallinn.

More blogs to come …

 

Learning Layers meets Finnish promoters of apprenticeship and workplace learning

June 8th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last week (Thursday 4.6.2015) we had a small working meeting to present the current phase of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) pilots to our Finnish counterparts who are promoting apprenticeship and workplace learning. The event took place in Espoo, in the Design Factory building of the Aalto University and it was hosted by Marjo Virnes from Aalto and me from ITB. The Finnish counterparts represented the Finnish agencies for apprentice training (oppisopimustoimistot), the Finnish association of “Promoters of Apprenticeships” (Oppisopimuskummit ry) and the Finnish vocational teacher education in the fields of commerce and hospitality. Some of the invited participants were writing their doctoral theses on apprentice training – unfortunately not all could attend the meeting. Here some insights into our discussion.

1. Presenting the Learning Layers project and the LL tools

We started with an overview of the LL project – looking at prior European projects that had tried to promote e-learning, knowledge management and mobile technologies in working life. The shortcomings of the ‘technology push’ or ‘system push’ approaches had provided the basis for our project and its emphasis on learning at workplaces, participative design and iterative development processes.

In this spirit I (= Pekka Kämäräinen) presented the progress that we (ITB and the Bremen team) had made with our application partners (mainly Bau-ABC) in the construction sector. I explained the journey from the initial idea to digitise learning materials (design idea “Sharing Turbine”) and heading to the development of a mobile solution for managing learning resources and communication (Learning Toolbox).

Marjo Virnes explained firstly the key idea of the AchSo! tool for video annotation and then presented exemplary cases in the construction sector (apprentices and trainees using tablet PCs to document their learning at construction sites) and in healthcare (the nurses documenting each others’ efforts to revitalise patients in a simulated exercise). In these cases we could note the advantages of the video annotation tool to draw attention to critical details and episodes without the need to write extensive explanatory notes. At the same time we noted that the functionality for sharing and further commenting is under development.

I then presented the Learning Toolbox (LTB) with the help of the most recent power points and screenshots from the online demonstration that we had used recently. This presentation drew attention to the possibility to develop flexible frameworks for managing sets of tools and apps and for customising the menus and the sets for different contexts (training centres, companies, construction sites). In this context I also drew attention to the parallel development of the ‘technology package’ Layers Box that enables the user organisations to control the data and the internet connections of the LTB.

2. Discussion on the current phase of apprentice training (and of the role of research) in Finland

After these presentations Kari Viinisalo (retired director of the Helsinki agency for apprentice training) gave a brief overview of the status of apprentice training in Finland (as a complementary model parallel to school-based vocational education) and on the efforts to give more visibility to this path. In this context he drew attention to the work of the joint association of the agencies for apprentice training (OpSo ry) and of the newly established voluntary association of Promoters of Apprenticeships. His main concern was that research on apprentice training is very limited, falls between the established disciplines and has had very little visibility. From this perspective he welcomed the contribution of the LL project.

Annukka Norontaus (Jyväskylä agency for apprentice training) informed of her doctoral study that focuses on the expectations on/ impact of apprentice training on the companies involved. She had interviewed company representatives (that employ young learners in apprentice contracts) in five branches and also some company representatives that have not been involved in apprentice training. She also informed of some other parallel doctoral studies. Virve Vainio (Haaga-Helia University of applied sciences) informed of their forthcoming pilot event (forum for promoting workplace learning) and of the contribution of vocational teacher education in supporting workplace learning.

3. Conclusions for further cooperation

In the concluding discussion our Finnish counterparts felt inspired by the ongoing LL pilots and pointed to the potential of the tools in different organisational contexts. Also they emphasised the value of the R&D activities that put workplace learning and apprentice training into the centre of such pilots. They agreed to propose similar workshops (as our session) to be integrated into the regular bi-annual meetings of the national association of the agencies for apprentice training (OpSo). They also agreed to propose the launch of a ‘research forum’ section of the electronic journal “Osaaja”. We (as participants of the meeting) agreed to maintain communication with each other as a Working Group (with the nickname “Betoniryhmä” based on the street Betonimiehentie where the Design Factory is located). There is so much to be shared on the work of the LL project and on the context of apprentice training.

I think this all gives a sufficient picture of small steps to start with. As we noted it during the meeting, there are severe political pressures to cut costs of (vocational) education and training in Finland. Yet, there is also a growing interest to speed up the entry of young people into working life. Therefore, the role of apprentice training may be of major political interest in the near future.

More blogs to come …

 

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 …

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