Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

Looking back at three years of Learning Layers – Part Two: Role of research in construction pilot

October 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I drew attention to the fact that the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing  for the review of the Year 3.  This has given rise to consider the development of the project and our activities as an evolution of the context and development of the actors and activities working in the context. In the first post I discussed the challenges of the early phase and the responses of the project. In the second post I will discuss the role of accompanying research in the construction pilot. I will also make some remarks on the role of research dialogue within the project and across the boundaries of the current LL project.

1. Interaction between theoretical work and co-design activities in construction pilot (Year 2 and Year 3)

In the beginning of the Year 2 the Learning Layers project agreed to organise a “Theory Camp” activity with lengthy preparatory phase, and intensive symposium during the Y2 Integration Meeting in Aachen and a follow-up phase. This activity brought into picture the specific interactive relations between theoretical work and co-design activities in the construction pilot.

A considerable part of the contributions to the Theory Camp articles represented different aspects of learning, knowledge development etc. or different accents on design processes. These were to be applied to the fields of application via design processes that focus on specific problems and respective tools. As a contrast, the research partners in construction sector build upon the experience of participative innovation programs that have emphasised the social shaping of work, technology and work organisations from the perspective of whole work processes and holistic occupational qualifications, see Landesprogramm Arbeit und Technik, Bremen (Deitmer 2004); BLK-Programm Neue Lernkonzepte in der Dualen Berufsausbildung (Deitmer et. al. 2004). In this respect the research partners in construction pilot drew attention to themes ‘acquisition of work process knowledge’ (see also Fischer et al. 2004) and ‘vocational learning’ in their contributions.

In the follow-up phase the research partners worked with the themes ‘reviewing accompanying research’ (ECER 2014) and ‘reviewing activity theory’ (Bremen conference 2015). With this theoretical and methodological work the research partners reviewed the theoretical insights and discussed experiences with developmental research approaches, such as the ‘change laboratory processes’ and ‘expansive learning cycles’ (based on the work of Yrjö Engeström and affiliated project teams).

As a consequence, the research partners were in the position to work in the complex and manifold process of designing and developing Learning Toolbox with sufficient openness. This was needed to give time for capacity building and growing readiness for co-development (on all sides of the process). This was also crucial for making the toolsets appropriate to support (holistic) vocational learning and enhancing (holistic) work process knowledge. This has required manifold feedback loops and intensive reporting from field workshops. In this way the research partners in construction pilot have supported process dynamics that have enabled the application partners to become themselves the drivers of the piloting with Learning Toolbox in their own trades (Bau-ABC trainers) or in their specific contexts and activities to promote ecological construction work (Agentur and the affiliated network NNB).

2. The role of research dialogue – internal and external

In the light of the above it is worthwhile to emphasise that the construction pilot has not been developed in isolation. Instead, research dialogue activities – both internal (with  LL partners) and external (with other counterparts) have played an important role in the development of the project. The internal research dialogue activities have been shaped by working groups that focused on transversal themes – such as ‘contextual knowledge’, ‘trust’ – that were equally relevant to both pilot sectors. This work has been covered by other colleagues with their contributions to the reports. In this context I wish to draw attention to two threads of external research dialogue:

a) Exhanges on Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

As I have mentioned above, this thread was taken up by the ITB team as a follow-up of the Theory Camp and pursued further in a workshop of the Bremen International VET conference (see the report in my recent post). Here it is worthwhile to note that we gathered experiences on the use of Change Laboratory methodology in intervention projects and of theory of Expansive Learning as an interpretative framework in comparative projects. Also, we engaged ourselves in critical re-examination of some concepts used in Activity Theory (such as Vygotsky’s concept of ‘mediation’ and concepts like ‘contradiction’ and ‘transformative practice’). These discussions will be continued as the LL project proceeds deeper to the exploitation of results.

b) Exchanges of parallel approaches to intervention research

Already in ECER 2014 (in Porto) the ITB team had started a cooperation with researchers from HAN University of Applied Sciences with focus on intervention research (see the report in my earlier blog). This was followed up in the Bremen conference and in ECER 2015 (in Budapest). In the Budapest session the colleagues from HAN presented a new project that focuses on practice-based learning in HE programs with strong vocational elements. In this context they worked further with process models and with ‘stealthy intervention’ strategies. In a similar way a Danish project from the National Centre for Vocational Education presented a ‘Vocational Education Lab’ approach for promoting innovations and networking across vocational schools. (See the report in my recent post.) Also these exchanges will be continued when the LL project proceeds with the exploitation activities.

– – –

I think this is enough for the moment. We are now looking forward to next steps with our fieldwork and our exploitation activities.

More blogs to come …

Interim reports on LL fieldwork in Bau-ABC – Part Three: Indications of achievements of the LL project

October 2nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous blogs I have reported on the results of a  field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup in the context of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Our colleagues from the University of Innsbruck (UIBK) and our ITB-colleague Lars Heinemann interviewed Bau-ABC trainers to get feedback on the pilot testing of LL tools. In my first blog I  gave a brief news report, whilst in the second blog I discussed in closer detail the remarks of the trainers Markus Pape and Lothar Schoka.

With this third blog I try to relate these fresh interviews to our earlier encounters and on the changing circumstances and changing practices. Here, I want to draw attention to the new activities that have come into picture during the LL project and due to initiatives of the LL project. I try to link my comments to the points that I raised on the interviews in my previous blog:

Initial awareness of digital media, web tools and mobile devices

In the beginning phase of the project (January 2013) the ITB team made some early interviews with Bau-ABC trainers and apprentices. At that time both our awareness as well as the awareness of the trainers and apprentices was not advanced. None of us had a holistic view on the usability of digital media, web tools and mobile devices. In different trades the trainers could refer to some apps and tools. Yet, the trainers had mixed feelings about domain-specific apps for construction sector (some being apps for professionals, others for lay users and altogether with varying quality). Also, the use of web resources and Facebook groups was at an early stage. Furthermore, the use of mobile phones was banned during the training because it was perceived as mere distraction.

Workshops and User Survey: Awareness of web tools, readiness to use mobile devices

In the next phase (Spring 2013) the LL project started co-design workshops with apprentices and trainers (in different groups) to identify points of intervention and to specify the emerging design idea(s). In Autumn 2013 the ITB team organised a User Survey that covered most of the apprentices that attended their initial training periods in Bau-ABC.

The discussions in the workshops and the results of the questionnaire revealed that the apprentices were not at all informed of the existing construction sector apps and had made very little use of them. However, the apprentices indicated that they had made use of their smartphones to support their work and workplace learning (e.g. via web searches or by documenting their work  and learning results).

Co-design of LTB, Multimedia Training and follow-up activities

In Spring 2014 the co-design process brought into picture the framework of Learning Toolbox and parallel to it the LL project arranged Multimedia Training workshops to Bau-ABC trainers. Due to these processes the emphasis in the co-design processes shifted from expectations (on the design work of others) to initiatives (how to develop one’s own training practice with the help of new tools). In this phase the trainers started to work with their own trade-specific blogs and provide digital access to their training contents. Also, the trainers developed their own ideas, how the emerging LTB could be used in Bau-ABC (as was demonstrated by the videos for the Tallinn consortium meeting in the Autumn 2014).

Taking steps to customise and use LTB as integrative set of tools, apps and services

In the light of the above presented background, the interviews of the Bau-ABC trainers (see my previous blog) demonstrate remarkable progress in the LL project. The Bau-ABC trainers are becoming owners of LL-initiated innovations and in customising the LTB for their trades (to be used in training and working contexts). Also, the demonstrate clearly, how their overall competences in using digital media, web resources and mobile devices have grown during the project and due to the support from the project. And thirdly, due to peer tutoring and peer learning they have developed into multipliers who can bring their colleagues and apprentices to an active piloting phase.

I think this is enough for the moment. We will get back to Bau-ABC and our other application partners in a short while.

More blogs to come ...

Interim reports on LL fieldwork in Bau-ABC – Part Two: Feedback from the trainers

October 2nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous blog I reported on the field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup in the context of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Our colleagues from the University of Innsbruck (UIBK) together with our ITB-colleague Lars Heinemann interviewed Bau-ABC trainers to get feedback on the pilot testing of LL tools. In particular they wanted to get feedback on the use of the Learning Toolbox (LTB), which we are developing together with our partners in the construction sector. In my first blog I could only give a brief news report and to raise some issues/requests to be considered by the developers of the LTB.

Now that I have listened the recordings, I find that the colleagues have had a very interesting discussion and that we can learn a lot of the points made by the Bau-ABC trainers Markus Pape (carpenter) and Lothar Schoka (well-builder/borehole builder). With this second post I try to pick some of their interesting points and reconstruct a red thread across their conversations:

Motivation to use digital media, web tools and mobile devices

Both trainers emphasised that their apprentices are very inspired when they get a chance to use mobile devices to access digital contents and web resources during their training and in the context of work. Compared to mere written instructions or paper-based documentation, the apprentices feel more motivated (since they are all eager to use their devices at any rate).

Usability of mobile devices, LTB  and digital contents

Both trainers made several points on the usability issues that emphasise the relevance of LTB:

  • Access to documents, web resources and real-time communication is often a problem at construction sites (no space for looking at papers or folders, no chance to have stationary PCs or even laptops). With mobile devices, communication apps and the toolset of LTB many problems can be clarified in real time. Furthermore, LTB can essentially facilitate communication between different trades and working groups on same construction sites or quality control between the teams and their supervisors.
  • The structure of LTB – tiles, pages and stacks – makes it easy to use without making it overly complex. This is essential for users in craft trades who expect tools that work properly in real work.
  • Both trainers emphasised the benefits of LTB in supporting well-structured web searches (with appropriate terminology) and steering it to good quality sources. Moreover, Schoka emphasised the possibility to use QR tags to direct searches to appropriate sections of user manuals and instructions for maintenance.

Use of trainers’ and apprentices’ own web resources and digital contents

  • Both trainers have created their own domain-specific blogs (Zimmererblog, Brunnenbauer und Spezialtiefbauer) for uploading their instruction sheets for apprentices’ projects and for presenting other contents. By making their own LTB stacks they can provide access to the right documents when it is appropriate for the training schedules.
  • Schoka made a special point on the short videos that have been produced and uploaded by apprentices on the well-builders’ Facebook group. These short videos may serve several purposes. Now, thanks to LTB, they can be used in a more targeted way.

 Changes in training and learning practice

  • Both trainers are in the process of linking the pilot testing of LTB to specific training projects and content areas via their own stacks and with specific sets of tools, apps, instructions and tasks. In this way they are creating their own multimedia environments in which they are involving their apprentices as digital learners.
  • The two trainers have brought into picture different strengths in using digital media and web resources. Pape has been the pioneer in creating domain specific blogs. Schoka has been active in developing the well-builders’ Facebook group as a community resource. Partly these have activities have been started in the Multimedia Training of the LL project and partly they have been inspired by such support. Moreover, there has been a great deal of peer learning between the trainers, so that they early movers have shared their experiences with others.

I think this is enough of the points that I have picked from the interviews. I do not try to give an exhaustive report. The colleagues from UIBK will work further with the interview materials and put them into a wider context by linking the results from construction sector and healthcare sector to each other. My point was to pick these comments from Bau-ABC for an interim assessment.

With my third post I try to relate these points to earlier interviews and talks with Bau-ABC trainers (and apprentices)In that context I try to demonstrate, how their approach to using digital media, web tools and mobile technologies has changed during the project and due to their involvement in participative design process.

 More blogs to come …

Interim reports on LL fieldwork in Bau-ABC – Part One: Evaluation talks and plans for field testing

September 22nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the beginning of September we made an important field visit in the context of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project to our application partner organisation – the training centre Bau-ABC (see my blog post of 13.9.2015). On Friday some LL colleagues had a chance to make a follow-up visit to Bau-ABC, while the others were having a meeting in ITB with the visiting delegation from Singapore Workforce Development Agency. Since I was involved in the meeting in ITB, I can only report on meeting on the basis of the information from my colleague Lars Heinemann.

Update 2.10.2015: I published this post some time ago as a single blog entry. Now that I got the chance to listen to the recordings of the interviews in Bau-ABC, I came to the conclusion that it is worthwhile to discuss some points of the Bau-ABC trainers in greater detail. Here again, I am also relying on the first-hand information from Lars Heinemann.

The aim of the visit

The visit was planned quite some time ago as a field visit to get feedback data on the ongoing pilot testing with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). Since the LL teams of ITB and Bau-ABC could send only one participant to the LL consortium meeting in Toledo, our LL colleagues from the University of Innsbruck (UIBK), Stefan Thalmann and Markus Manhart, came to Bremen have planning meetings with us and to make field visits. However, given the very recent field visit (with the newly published Beta version of LTB), we felt that the evaluation talks were somewhat rushed. After all, the trainers had only made their first experiences  in making their own stacks, pages and tiles in the LTB (to be used by other users).

Talks in Bau-ABC

The visitors (Lars, Stefan and Markus) were pleased to see that their talks with the Bau-ABC trainers Markus Pape (Zimmerer = carpenter) and Lothar Schoka (Brunnenbauer = borehole builder) were well-timed and informative. Both trainers had made further efforts to familiarise themselves with the LTB Beta version. They had also made concrete plans for engaging their apprentices later in the autumn as users of LTB in their training projects. According to their information, the amount of apprentices to be involved in such pilots would be ca. 100 in both trades. As advance measure they had collected a list of volunteered users to start testing with LTB before that actual pilot.

In this respect they both could give informative reports on what is going on and what is to be expected in the near future. (We expect the UIBK colleagues to share recordings of theses talks with ITB soon.)

In addition to their own experiences and plans for piloting they had some urgent requests for the LTB developers. Some of these points have already been discussed with the developers, but now we got the points of the trainers from the pilot site:

1) For the trainers it is important that they can send messages to groups and individuals.

2) For trainers and apprentices it is important to have a notification function that alerts the apprentices when new learning materials have been made accessible and informs the trainers when apprentices have accessed the information. Moreover, both parties should be notified of replies or questions on further information.

3) For trainers and apprentices it is important to have a commentary function that makes it possible to add questions or comments to texts that are used for instruction and/or documentation of learning processes.

4) At the moment the LTB has been designed for Android phones and tablets – which are mostly used by the apprentices. Yet, about one third is using iOS-phones, so it is essential to proceed to iOS-versions or find alternative solutions to involve them in the pilot testing.

Update 2.10.2015: I have let my initial blog post stand as it was written before listening the recordings – with one amendment. Now that I have got access to the recordings, it is interesting to have a a glimpse at some of the points made by the trainers and to relate them to our earlier interviews and discussions with them. As I see it, via such examination we learn a lot, how the fieldwork of the LL project has made progress during the years of co-design and pilot activities.

More blogs to come …

Learning Layers meets Singapore Workforce Development Agency

September 19th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

On Friday the Bremen team of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had an interesting encounter with international visitors. A delegation of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency with altogether 14 participants (from the agency, from the Ministry of Manpower and from partner organisations) visited Bremen. This delegation was making a wider European tour, coming from Finland and heading to the Netherlands. In this context it is interesting that they chose Bremen and the Learning Layers project as their main target during their stay in Germany.

Ludger Deitmer had arranged the delegation firstly a visit to the Bremen Chamber of Commerce (Handelskammer) to have an introductory discussion on the German Vocational and Education and Training (VET) system and on the role of Public Authorities, Chambers and Social Partners in maintaining and developing it. Secondly, we had hoped to take them to a visit in Bau-ABC Rostrup to show, how the training in an intermediate training centre works in practice (and how our cooperation with application partners works in practice). This, unfortunately was not possible, so we arranged sessions for information and exchanges in the ITB building at the University of Bremen.

Presentation of the Learning Layers project and the Learning Toolbox

In the information session I firstly showed a Power Point presentation that was based on our recent conference presentations. I also showed some videos on Bau-ABC and some produced by Bau-ABC trainers for the project. Thus, the visitors got an impression of a complex European project in which use of digital media, web tools and mobile technologies is being promoted to support occupational work and workplace-based learning. Also, they understood that the target sectors (construction and healthcare) were seen as ones, in which SMEs have difficulties in introducing the new technologies for these purposes. Therefore, the project was not a mere ‘technology push’ project but an interactive intervention research to empower the users in a participative co-design process that responds to their needs.

I then showed slides that illustrated to co-design process and the emergence of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and the ideas, what kind of functionality was needed. In this context we showed a video on possible uses of LTB in construction work. Then, I presented slides on the multimedia training (provided by the project) and the further plans of Bau-ABC trainers to develop a flexible training model for all staff members (the ‘theme room’ approach). In this way the visitors got the picture, how our application partners are working to become owners of the innovation.

After the power point presentation Dirk Stieglitz started an internet demonstration that showed, how the Learning Toolbox can be co-developed by the users by designing tiles, pages and stacks (for managing contents, web resources and communications). In this phase we could present as examples the recent results of our field visit to Bau-ABC and the new stacks created with and by Bau-ABC trainers – to support training and learning processes.

Exchanges between Germany and Singapore: apprenticeship, continuing training and partnerships

After this tightly scheduled information session (in a room with facilities) we had a break and continued with an exchange session (without time pressure and with mutual interest to learn from each other).

Our visitors informed us of the VET system in Singapore, on the role of public authorities, of their agency and of public-private partnerships as well as private-private partnerships. We learned that in Singapore the key instrument for developing VET and continuing training is not seen in regulations but in the financing of training (e.g. via vouchers and other arrangements). From this point of view the visitors were keen to learn more on the the German dual system, on the partnership arrangements and on the commitment of enterprises to training.

As a response to these interests we presented insights into the underlying philosophy of vocations (Berufe) , vocational professionalism (Beruflichkeit), vocational education (Berufsbildung) and vocational education and training (Berufsausbildung) as these concepts have been internalised in the German culture – and pointed out to the difficulties to translate these into English. We were happy to see that our well-informed visitors could follow this reasoning and indicated that they now understood better the written information they have had before.

In addition to this conceptual exchange we presented more examples on education and training partnerships between educational establishments and enterprises. In particular they were interested in the examples of ‘dual studies’ – combinations of higher education and VET with synchronised educational periods and workplace periods for both qualifications. In our discussions we presented examples of such models from ICT sector and from construction sector (with Bau-ABC as a partner).

Altogether, we had a vivid discussion both concerning the development of VET (and on the role of policies) and concerning the potential of LL technologies and LTB. In particular we got good questions concerning wider dissemination of products and exploitation of results in new contexts. The visitors explained their plans for new plans for launching a new innovation program in the new future and to intensify their external cooperation. In this respect they expressed their interest to follow keenly our next steps with the LL tools and with our exploitation activities. We promised to keep them informed.

More blogs to come …

Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part Two: Sessions on Interactive and Participative Innovation Research

September 16th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous blog post I started a series of reports on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’15) in Budapest (8.9.-11.9.2015).  The first post focused on the session that was initiated by our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In this second post I will focus on other sessions that brought forward projects that can be charaterised as examples of innovative, participative and genuinely interactive innovation research. Below I try to give a picture of these projects (independently of whether they were presented on their own or in a joint session with others).

The Dutch project Strengthening workplace learning in vocational/professional education

The first project that took my attention was the Dutch project for promoting workplace learning in vocational and professional education. This was presented by our colleagues Aimee Hoeve and Loek Nieuwenhuis from Hogeschool Arnhem-Nijmegen (HAN University of Applied Sciences). Already in earlier ECER conferences we have had good cooperation with Aimee and Loek so I was keen to see what new is coming into picture.

In their earlier presentations Aimee and Loek had been working with interactive innovation projects both in secondary vocational education as well as in higher vocational education. In their current project the emphasis had been shifted to the role of workplace learning in higher vocational education (hoger beroepsonderwijs) during its transformation into universities of applied sciences. As a summary of the earlier findings on factors that narrow down the impact of workplace learning they had listed the following points:

1. Focus is mainly on skills development and less on developing work process knowledge.

2. Different workplaces offer different opportunities for learning.

3. In the workplace the focus is (of course) on production, leaving little space for reflection processes.

4. In the few occasions reflection does take place there is no follow up.

5. Lack of guidance, hindered by obscurity in role taking by VET-teachers and mentors at the shop floor.

6. Lack of models to asses workplace learning.

In order to tackle these issues the HAN University of Applied Sciences started in 2014 a research project aiming at identifying successful interventions to improve workplace learning arrangements in all its domains (Education, Technology & Engineering, Healthcare and Economy & Management). In the first phase of this project, ending in March 2015, the aim is to describe current workplace practices within the HAN. In the second phase of the project, from March to September 2015, through a series of design workshops, interventions are designed to improve the current practices. In this second phase, design and evaluation are intertwined to test the effectiveness of the intervention, and also to identify the underlying design principles to improve implementation of the intervention into other contexts.

In the session Aimee and Loek presented their CIMO-logic as a powerful tool to analyse and shape

1) the problematic Context (i.e. the sub-optimal workplace arrangements in different domains),

2) the Intervention as the proposed solution for the problem, that should activate

3) the Mechanisms or processes, which are intended to produce

4) the desired Outcomes.

Also, as a lesson learned from their earlier projects, they emphasised the need to launch the processes as ‘stealthy interventions’, which should not scare the practitioners with overly ambitious goals and overly radical changes to daily work.

The Danish project The Vocational Education Lab

The second project that took my attention was the Danish project The Vocational Education Lab that was carried out by Professionshøjskolen Metropol/ National Vocational Education Center (former DEL) and The Danish Evaluation Institute. The presenters Dorrit Sörensen and Camilla Hutters represented both institutions.

Firstly they gave a background on the policies to push ‘New Public Management’ philosophies and their impact on vocational education provisions. Then they introduced the idea of The Vocational Education Lab as an effort to support bottom-up innovations and to empower the practitioners. During its 3 year duration, 127 educational pilots have been conducted in eight different VET colleges in the Copenhagen Region. The aim of this project was to enable education and training providers to initiate changes in their educational practice. In the presentation they discussed, how the initial experiments may contribute to renewal and innovation in regular educational practice.

In general, prototyping and testing of prototypes become a focal point. The primary prototypes in a design are simply drafts, which represent the fundamental principles in the concept. The prototypes are then progressively transformed into concepts and designs. Correspondingly, the design processes are viewed as iterative, continuous process. This means that there will be a process of testing and improvement in order to make the designs robust enough to fit various contexts. This is where an intervention in practice would manage to generate deeper understanding as well as improvement.

In this context they paid a lot of attention to the role of researchers as facilitators and on agreed process models as common commitments. In this way they could keep the processes moving and ensure the achievement of real results in due time. Also, this was crucial for ensuring the role of practitioners as real owners of the innovations.

 The European project “Gold”  on Visual narratives as means to empower young people in transition

The third project that took my attention was the European project “Gold” that had taken the initiative to use visual narratives as tools to shape vocational biographies or learning scenarios with young people. The idea is that young people with uncertainties in the transition from school to working life can become  more aware of their possibilities and gain more self-consciousness to shape their own plans. This was seen as an alternative for many existing transition-promoting measures that often tend to keep young people inside a ‘transition system’ as clients of its measures (rather than opening a perspective further).

The project has only recently started, so in the symposium project partners from different countries presented their starting positions, potential contributions or situation assessments regarding the importance of the project. Daniela Reimann (KIT, Germany and the coordinator of the project) presented the general project concept and an analysis of the German ‘transition system’ and the perspective to open the transition-promoting measures into empowerment of learners. The Spanish partners Fernando Hernandez, Juana Maria Sancho and Rachel Fendler provided insights into visual narratives and into work with them in other contexts. Liliana Voicu from Romania provided insights into difficult labour market developments, drastic cuts in public vocational education and into migration of young people to avoid long-term unemployment. Graham Attwell and Jenny Hughes provided insights into the issue ‘vocational biographies’ in an era of precarious employment situations and austerity.

Altogether, these projects had somewhat different action contexts and modes of intervention to work with. Nevertheless, it became clear that the VETNET sessions can provide arenas for learning from each other during the project work – not merely sharing reports on completed work. Moreover, such sessions can also give inspiration for follow-up projects that build upon shared experience and know-how.

I think this is enough on these sessions. In my next post I will try to give a more general picture on the conference and on the VETNET program in particular.

More blogs to come …


Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part One: The symposium of LL, Kompetenzwerkst@tt and Employ-ID

September 15th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent posts have been reports on the Bremen International VET conference (2.9.-4.9.2015). The very next week many of the participants met again in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’15) in Budapest (8.9.-11.9.2015). Here again, I will start my reporting on the session that was initiated by our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Then, I will give reports on some other sessions that were based on similar intervention research projects. Finally, I will make some comments on the conference (or on the program of the VETNET network) as a whole and on the general assembly of the VETNET network.

Learning Layers works together with Kompetenzwerkst@tt and Employ-ID

This year our plan was to have a joint symposium between the LL project and two neighbouring projects – the German project “Kompetenzwerkst@tt” and the European project “Employ-ID” with which we already had a joint session in the Bremen conference (see my previous posts). We also took into attention the conference theme “Education and transition – contributions from educational research” and developed our own ideas, how this could be applied to the three projects that we brought into joint session. For us – in this session – transition was related to evolution of project ideas and conquering new terrains for research & development work.

Originally we had submitted another proposal for a research workshop to discuss evaluation issues in complex European projects that promote users’ competences in digital media, web tools and mobile technologies. Due to clashes with other duties we had to withdraw this session (with the hope that we can get back to this topic some other time).

Kompetenzwerkst@tt proceeds to e-learning software and e-portfolios

We started with the Kompetenzwerkst@tt project that has the longest history to build upon. The literal translation “Competence workshop” hardly reveals the project idea and the connotative meanings of ‘competence’ in German language. Initially, the project started as a curriculum development project to base vocational learning on holistic approaches to occupational fields of activity (Handlungsfelder) and characteristic Working and Learning Tasks (Lern- und Arbeitsaufgaben (LAAs)). The process of analysing the fields of activity and specifying characteristic WLTs had been practiced in different occupational contexts and in transitional training contexts. This had led to the phase of preparing a series of handbooks covering the conceptual foundations, the methodologies, different spin-off innovations and the occupational fields that have been piloted so far.

In the presentation of Falk Howe and Werner Müller (both from ITB) the main thrust was given on the development of e-portfolios in the context of the Kompetenzwerks@att approach. They gave a brief overview of the previous stages of the project and then illustrated, how the previous work (on the fields of activity and working and learning tasks) was reflected in the structure of software and in the pedagogic support for learners. In this way we got an idea, how the e-portfolio can be used in retrospective sense (for documenting already acquired experiences and learning gains) and in prospective sense (for shaping and illustrating learning scenarios).

Learning Layers proceeds from apprentice training to continuing vocational training

In the case of our LL project we had a shorter project history as our starting point. In our case  we had started with our pilot activities in the construction sector with the training centre Bau-ABC with special attention on apprentice training. Therefore, the co-design processes that we initiated were firstly focusing on digitisation of training/learning materials. Then, in a further iteration we shifted the emphasis to Learning Toolbox – a framework for managing contents, apps, web resources and communications via mobile devices. Now, in the current phase of project (when we still have to do a lot of field testing and exploitation of results) we need to look for spin-off projects.

In our joint presentation I covered firstly the work within the LL project and gave a picture of its evolutionary phases. Then I gave some insights into the Learning Toolbox and its functionality and into the search for appropriate spin-off projects with emphasis on continuing vocational training (CVT). In the second part of our presentation Ludger Deitmer gave an overview on the CVT framework in the German construction sector with three different levels: Foreman (Vorarbeiter), Specialised site manager (Werkpolier) and general site manager (Geprüfte Polier). In our current project initiative we focus on the new training regulation of the general site managers. In addition to their traditional introductory courses they are required to complete situational tasks and a comprehensive project report. With these last mentioned tasks they are expected to demonstrate their occupational and managerial competences. In the third part of our presentation Werner Müller discussed some restrictions, barriers and challenges to our project work in construction sector (in general) and in the learning contexts of apprentices and more advanced craftsmen. He concluded the presentation with an innovation map (to guide us) and with some open questions.

Employ-ID piloting with  MOOCs for Public Employment Services – lessons for others?

The third project in the symposium – Employ-ID – focuses on the changes in the public employment services (PES) in Europe (with major pilots initiated in the UK). The background of the project is in the changing role of PES organisations due to changes in working life and occupations. Whilst the previous model was to select and guide the right people to appropriate jobs, the current changes have shifted the focus completely. Now these services are required to produce and process data of changing labour markets and employment prospects for different target groups and stimulate initiatives for employment and self-employment. Moreover, they are required to prove their efficiency and to cope with policies towards privatisation or semi-privatisation. Yet, they are to comply with the strict guidelines of data security and data protection.

In the light of the above Graham Attwell had to give us a lot of background information to bring us to the central theme of his presentation – to pilot with adapted MOOCs (Massively open online courses) in the British public employment services (as the first pilot). This mode of staff training was selected since the time pressures and financial constraints are making it difficult to implement traditional forms of staff training. Moreover, it appears to be difficult to make use of (individual) learning gains in an organisational context. From this point of view the project team participated in external MOOCs and then designed a pilot MOOC with a more interactive and discursive nature. In the implementation the number of participants and the openness of pilot were reduced. Yet, the technology of the major British MOOC provider Futurelearn was used. Altogether the pilot seemed to have been well received by the participants due to its actively interactive character. Yet, the participant’s report by Jenny Hughes (who had been involved both as a trainer and as a learner) indicated that the current technology still is far from mature stage.

Altogether, it appeared that we had gathered into a joint symposium three projects that have a lot to learn from each other. This is even more striking since the persons are working side by side or (as some of us are) crossing the boundaries of the two projects. We noticed that the e-portfolio application of Kompetenzwerkst@tt very well complements the Learning Toolbox. We also noticed that the functionality of Learning Toolbox may essentially enhance the Kompetenzwerkst@tt. And the lessons from the pilot MOOCs are important insights for the forthcoming pilots in vocational education and workplace training.

I think this is enough of our symposium. In the next blog post I will focus on similar sessions with interactive research and ‘stealthy’ interventions.

More blogs to come …

Crossing boundaries at the Bremen International VET conference – Part Two: Learning Layers in dialogue with Activity Theory

September 14th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I gave a report on our session in the Bremen International VET conference that focused on the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In that context we highlighted the co-design activities, the emerging Learning Toolbox (LTB) as the outcome and two training models (as initiatives for capacity-building). In this blog post I will continue my reporting on this conference. This time I will focus on the session that was designed to promote dialogue between the LL project and different approaches to (and applications of) Activity Theory (AT).

Background: The ‘Theory Camp’ activities of the LL project

The background of this session dates back to the ‘Theory Camp’ activities of the LL project that took place in the year 2014. The external reviewers of the LL project had requested the consortium to organise such an activity to clarify its underlying assumptions and theoretical/methodological commitments. Partly this request was related to the computer scientists’ contributions (e.g. the role of ‘Social Semantic Server’), partly to the research approaches linked to piloting with application partners (e.g. the role of ‘action research’).

The main response of the LL consortium was the preparation and implementation of a major ‘Theory camp’ session in the consortium-wide “Integration meeting” in Aachen in March 2014. In this session the partners provided a wide gallery of theories and research approaches with which they were working. In the next phase four working groups summarised this material in terms of cross-cutting themes (such as ‘trust’, ‘contextual knowledge’ etc.). In this context the ITB team provided short articles on ‘workplace learning’ and ‘work process knowledge’. As a follow-up the ITB team produced conference papers (for ECER 2014 conference in Porto) on different approaches to ‘accompanying research’ (Begleitforschung) and on the encounters/tensions between ‘work process knowledge’ and ‘mobile learning’.

However, after these steps we felt that there was a conceptual gap regarding the process models of  intervention research – in particular from the perspective of dissemination of innovations and exploitation of results. From this perspective we were keen to get into closer exchanges with representatives of Activity Theory and to learn more of the linked intervention research approaches.

The session “Reviewing Activity Theory, Developmental Work Research and Change Laboratory Methodology” in the Bremen Conference

In the light of the above we had organised a session with invited guest. We had presented the current phase of the LL project and invited them to present experiences, critique and lessons learned. In this we wanted to promote knowledge sharing and learning from each other. Below I give some some snapshots from the session:

 Firstly I gave a brief introduction to the session and to the background ideas. I also gave some compressed background information on the LL project and its journey to the phase of scaling up innovations and exploitation of results.

Secondly Marianne Teräs and Johanna Lasonen (both from Finland) gave a presentation on their work with the themes ‘intercultural integration’ and ‘integration of migrants via vocational learning’. In this context they reported of two Change Laboratory processes in a vocational education college that specialised on educating nurse assistants and professional nurses. Marianne also gave insights into the foundations of AT and Developmental Work Research (DWR) as pillars of the Change Laboratory methodologies.

Thirdly Michael Gessler and Larissa Freund (both from ITB, University of Bremen) presented their comparative project in which they analysed transfer of the German dual system of VET into foreign countries by German companies. They started by discuusing, in which ways such transfer has been studied by other researchers (and to what extent such studies have included field research). Then, they reported their findings during a field visit at the Mercedes-Benz site in the USA and their approach to conceptualise the issue ‘transfer’ as an evolutionary process. In this context they worked with key concepts of the AT – ‘contradictions’, ‘boundary objects’ and ‘expansive learning’ – in order to interpret their findings in a conceptual framework.

Fourthly Ines Langemeyer (from Karlsruhe Institute for Technology) complemented these reports with a theoretical critique on the mainstream of AT (as documented in the works of Yrjö Engeström and his colleagues) and with constructive proposals, how to enrich the approaches to DWR. She started with different interpretations on Vygotsky’s concept of ‘mediation’ and its functionalist use in Engeström’s triangular model of Activity System. She continued with different interpretations on Vygotsky’s concept ‘double stimulation’ and the consequences for interpreting ‘transformative agency’ by Engeström and his co-authors). Following this discussion she worked towards alternative proposals for modelling ‘cooperative competence’ and ‘transformative agency’ (with reference to Lewin, Kuhl and her own work).

In the joint discussion I was challenged by questions on the background, aims and the present phase of the LL project. Marianne had a chance to explain the role of the triangular model as a blessing (foundation of orientation) and curse (potential straight-jacket for creative process) at the same time. Michael and Larissa could develop further thoughts on different interpretations of transfer. And Ines was invited to explain her thoughts in greater detail. Altogether, we experienced a session of mutual learning.

I think this is enough on this session. In my next blog post I will make some concluding remarks on the Bremen International VET conference in general and on some further sessions in which I participated.

More blogs to come …


Crossing boundaries at the Bremen International VET conference – Part One: Learning Layers and Employ-ID work together

September 13th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent blog was about a field visit to training centre Bau-ABC (2.9.2015) in the context of the fieldwork of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. The very next day the ITB and Pontydysgu teams, together with Raymond Elferink (RayCom) presented Learning Toolbox at the Bremen International Conference on Vocational Education and Training (VET). This post will focus on this session, the next one on other sessions of the conference.

Insights into the Bremen Conference

Firstly, it is worthwhile to say some words of the Bremen International VET Conference. This conference has been initiated as part of an international project of ITB that has been launched by the University of Bremen (in the context of its Excellence University framework). The project studies transfer of the dual VET model by German companies working abroad (in China and in the USA). As a part of its work program the project has committed itself to organise international conferences. This one was the first of its kind and focused on crossing the boundaries and learning from each other. The conference was designed to keep it rather small (about 100 participants at the maximum) and to enable more discussion and more participative sessions (see below). I will give more information on the contents in my second blog post on this conference.

Presenting Learning Toolbox in the Bremen Conference

For the Bremen Conference we had prepared a Research Workshop session to avoid the typical impression of ‘talking heads’ in the front and passive listeners in the audience. Therefore, we kept the presentations rather short and then divided the audience into two working groups to discuss the presentations and to have some hands-on exercises. Here some snapshots on the contributions and activities:

Firstly, I gave a quick introduction to the Learning Layers project and to the script of the session. In this context I emphasised the continuity of themes between the participative design of Learning Toolbox (LTB), the functionality that is coming up in the LTB, the capacity building measures initiated in the training centre Bau-ABC and the lessons to be learned from the parallel European project Employ-ID (and its piloting with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Secondly, Werner Müller (ITB) gave a presentation on the co-design process that led to the development of the LTB. He referred to the starting points in the sectoral pilot contexts (construction work not having the reputation of high-tech occupations). Then he gave a picture of the co-design activities, different phases of work and a general characterisation of LTB as a framework for tools and apps linked to each other in mobile devices.

Thirdly, Raymond Elferink (RayCom) gave a live demonstration on the LTB Beta version that we had just presented and tested on our field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC the day before (see my previous blog post). Alongside the general presentation (of the tile structure of the framework and of the process of creating focused stacks) he drew attention to the newly created stacks of the Bau-ABC trainers for their respective trades.

Fourthly, I (as a replacement of Melanie Campbell from Bau-ABC) gave a presentation of their training programs for their staff. This presentation drew attention firstly to the project-initiated training that equipped the Bau-ABC trainers with general know-how on multimedia and web tools and enabled them to produce and edit video material for their training. In the second part the presentation outlined the new training model initiated by the Bau-ABC trainers themaselves. In this new model they tried to ensure a flexible training arrangement that enables all trainers to work their way through parallel “theme rooms” that make them fit to use the LTB in their own training activities.

 Fifthly, Graham Attwell informed of the parallel European project Employ-ID and its work to support professional development and mastery of changes in Public Employment Services (PES). In this context the research & development worked with development of labour market data for guidance and counselling purposes. At the same time the project developed new training models for staff members in PES with limited possibilities to participate in traditional training measures. For this purpose the project developed an adapted version of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with limited participation and limited openness but with similar technologies for online learning. Crucial for this pilot was the emphasis on interactivity and changing roles between trainers and learners. Here, the key point in this report on this recent pilot is to demonstrate the usability of these technologies for well-thought pedagogical pilots that emphasise the use of MOOC platforms as Social Learning Platforms.

After the presentations we split the audience into two working groups. In one group the participants had the opportunity for hands-on tests with the LTB (with Raymond Elferink and Dirk Stieglitz as tutors). In the other group we discussed possible success factors and criteria for acceptance in the above presented training models (of Bau-ABC and Employ-ID). Since we had half an hour for these sub-sessions, the participants could engage themselves in the testing and/or give freely their views on the training models. This was very much appreciated by all parties involved.

I guess this is enough of the main session of the Learning Layers project in this conference. In the next blog post I will give insights into other sessions in the Bremen International VET Conference.

More blogs to come …




Updates from LL fieldwork – bringing Learning Toolbox to users

September 13th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent posts on the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project were ‘catching up’ reports just after I finished my holiday period. Now the rapid start has hit us and overwhelmed us with fieldwork events and  successive conferences. With this post I will concentrate on the field visit in Bau-ABC on the 2nd of September and our field tests with the Learning Toolbox (LTB).

Already before the holiday break the LTB developers had promised to provide a Beta version of the LTB by the beginning of September. We were pleased to observe that this promise was kept and that Raymond Elferink was available for presentations and field tests in Bau-ABC on the 2nd of September. With Ray a group of LL partners from ITB and Pontydysgu visited the training sites of several trades to trigger users’ own field tests and to get feedback. After these visits we gave a short presentation to the organisation development group of Bau-ABC.

Our first station was the training site of carpenters (Zimmerer). After a general presentation we discussed the development of tiles and stacks (sets of tiles and pages) for the training activities of Bau-trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) Friedrich Bruns and Markus Pape. Together we developed a test stack that made use of the comprehensive set of instruction materials (pdf-files) that Pape had made available via his Zimmererblog. With the help of LTB we created a test stack that makes thematic pages accessible in due time. The instruction materials are now accessed via Slideshare. In this way the materials can be used in smaller portions and filed in a more transparent way by the apprentices. Also, we discussed the options for managing the reporting of tasks and results of apprentices via LTB. Already at this point we saw some solutions, how to develop the desired interactivity in the first field tests.

Our second station was the training site of well-builders (Brunnenbauer). Here again, after a short general presentation we started to explore, how to make best use of the functionality of LTB without duplicating the work of trainers. The Bau-ABC trainers Lothar Schoka and Thorsten Busch indicated as indicated as a major problem the multitude of bulky instructions and manuals that are not easily accessible. Here, we prepared jointly test stack “Bedienungsanleitungen” in which we provided access to instructions via Slideshare and showed, how they could be grouped in a transparent way. In the same way showed, how the existing instruction videos (mainly uploaded in YouTube and accessible via Facebook updates) can be accessed via LTB tiles and grouped via LTB pages. In this way it became clear that the LTB is not causing duplication of work but opens new user-friendly channels to existing resources.

Our third station was the training site of road-builders and pipeline builders (Strassenbauer, Rohrleitungsbauer). Here we discussed with the Bau-ABC trainer Stefan Wiedenstried the general usability of LTB and in particular the role of instructional videos. Parallel to this some of us continued to make a short presentation for the organisation development group of Bau-ABC at the end of their meeting. Here we were welcomed by the trainer Lothar Schoka who could report of his fresh impressions after our visit. Then, after the meeting we also had good talk with the system administrator Ludwig Heyenga with whom we shared experiences with the technical development of the software solutions of the LL project.

Altogether we were pleased to see that the progress with LTB development was well received and the Bau-ABC trainers saw the value of the emerging product as support for their work. At the same time we saw that there is a lot of work to bring the LTB to a stage of maturity. Therefore, we need to return soon to Bau-ABC to pave the way for the next steps of testing in real life situations.

I think this is enough for the moment. We are looking forward to further updates of LTB and to our next field visits.

More blogs to come …

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    Skills in Europe

    Cedefop is launching a new SKILLS PANORAMA website, online on 1 December at 11.00 (CET).

    Skills Panorama, they say,  turns labour market data and information into useful, accurate and timely intelligence that helps policy-makers decide on skills and jobs in Europe.

    The new website will provide with a more comprehensive and user-friendly central access point for information and intelligence on skill needs in occupations and sectors across Europe. You can register for the launch at Register now at

    Talking about ‘European’ MOOCs

    The European EMMA project is launching a  webinar series. The first is on Tuesday 17 November 2015 from 14:00 – 15:00 CET.

    They say: “In this first webinar we will explore new trends in European MOOCs. Rosanna de Rosa, from UNINA, will present the philosophy and challenges behind the EMMA EU project and MOOC platform developed with the idea of accommodating diversity through multilingualism. Darco Jansen, from EADTU (European Association of Distance Teaching Universities), will talk about Europe’s response to MOOC opportunities. His presentation will highlight the main difference with the U.S. and discuss the consequences for didactical and pedagogical approaches regarding the different contexts.

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    Open Education Europa has compiled and is releasing today as open data the analytical list of European Repositories of Open Educational Resources (OER).

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    OER – update 1

    From the Universidad a Distancia de Madrid (UDIMA) – Madrid Open University – we are pleased to present the European Research Network of Open Educational Resources (ERNOER), a collaborative space in which more than fifty internationally educational institutions and prestigious universities are involved which can be accessed through the following link:

    The entire educational community can benefit in this web repository of more than three hundred image banks, two hundred fifty audio file repositories, two hundred and fifty video resources and more than three hundred programs and applications that can be used in education.

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