Archive for the ‘Layers PD’ Category

Waking up with the results of the Brexit-Referendum

June 24th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the recent years I have been blogging mostly on our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This time I leave it at the background. And normally I am not making comments on politics – not of my country of origin (Finland) or of my host country (Germany) nor of any other country. BUT today I cannot help picking up the topic “Brexit” due to various reasons. Let me give three reasons for this:

  1. The “Learning Layers” connection: It so happened that the referendum took place just one day after the LL project consortium meeting in Bristol. The two last days before the referendum we spent in a productive and collaborative project meeting – working towards common results and discussing prospects for follow-up activities. In our meeting we worked in the spirit of accustomed normality – partners from Member States among each other as peers among peers. There was no feeling that this could abruptly change (although the British colleagues were worried and acknowledged the risks). Now, after the results, we understand that things will not change overnight and that the future cooperation arrangements will not exclude the British universities from European research cooperation. Yet, the change of climate is taking place and we don’t quite know what to expect.
  2. The Pontydysgu connection: I am writing my blogs on Pontydysgu website as a result of long years of cooperation. I came to know the senior members of Pontydysgu staff (Graham and Jenny) in 1996 at the beginning phase of the EU funding programme Leonardo da Vinci. That was quite some time ago – and some years before the start of Pontydysgu. During the following twenty years we have had a shared history of working in and with European cooperation projects – mostly with focus on vocational education and training (VET). In the course of the time I have learned to appreciate the effort of my Pont colleagues to work as interpreters between the Welsh, British and continental views – and to get the best out of different projects. In this way they have become popular and successful as British partners in EU projects – with educational, labour market -oriented, regional or ICT-related themes. Now, in the new situation I understand that my Pont colleagues have more concerns about their European cooperation than the universities.
  3. The family connection: Finally, I have a personal reason: I have very close family members living as expatriates in London. To be sure, the adults of the family have double nationality and so have the children. They should not need to feel ‘outsiders’, they have got their proper places in the British society. Yet, they (the adults) have grown up on the continent and brought with them a common family language (Finnish) when they moved to Britain long ago. Now, after this heated referendum campaign there are more questions in the air, how expatriates are being perceived in their neighbourhoods (or how the neighborhoods with expatriates are being perceived). Up to now I have had no reason to raise this question, now I am not sure. As we recently learned it in the context of the tragic killing of the Labour MP Jo Cox, “rhetoric has consequences”. But, in the same context we should try build on her life work and her attempt to overcome the power of hatred and division with something grater – human values and solidarity.

I think this is enough to clarify, why I cannot leave the topic ‘Brexit’ aside like an old newspaper with news of yesterday and days before. This new period of uncertainty – on both sides of the Channel – is not a matter of some rapid negotiations and then back to ‘normal business’. Now it is time to rethink and reshape the mutual relations on a new basis – and that need time. Let us hope that this time will be used well. I leave my remarks here and try to get back to my usual themes.

More blogs to come …

Back to blogging – and catching up with the newest in Learning Layers

April 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

Sadly I have had to notice that to month of March 2016 has gone past without any blog entries to ‘Working and Learning’ on our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. No one should get the false impression that nothing worth blogging has been going on. On the contrary – this was a busy month. Firstly we were preparing the Kick-off event of the field pilots with the Learning Toolbox (LTB) in Bau-ABC (that took place on the 14th of March). Then, unfortunately I (and some other participants of that event) fell ill. Then, before and after the Easter break I (and we) were occupied by other duties and concerns in the LL project.

But, now it is time to get back to producing blog articles on the progress with the LL project and in the piloting with the Learning Toolbox in the construction pilot – and in particular in the training centre Bau-ABC. So, here we go.

More blogs to come …

Mobile Learning – the Dream goes on

February 29th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

“What killed the mobile learning dream?” asks John Traxler in an article for Jisc’s Digifest. John goes on to say:

Mobile learning was e-learning’s dream come true. It offered the potential for completely personalised learning to be truly any time, anywhere.

ltbInstead, we’ve ended up with mobile access to virtual learning environments that are being used as repositories. So, in practice, students reading their notes on the bus.

He’s right but I am not sure his reasons are sufficient. The main problem John sees is that when early projects were developed into mobile learning, they were based on supplying participants with digital devices. This was expensive and limited the scale and sustainability of such projects. Now new initiatives are emerging based on BYOD (bring your own Device). This is more sustainable but raises its own questions.

Bring your own device, enabling students to use their own equipment, introduces more questions: is there a specific range of technologies they can bring, what’s the nature of the support offered, and have we got a network infrastructure that won’t fall over when 20,000 students turn up with gadgets? What kind of staff development is needed to handle the fact that not only will the students turn up with many different devices but tomorrow they’ll have changed to even more different devices?

All this is true. And as we prepare to roll out the trial of our Learning Layers project funded Learning Toolbox (LTB) application we are only to aware that as well as looking at the technical and pedagogic application of Learning toolbox, we will have to evaluate the infrastructure support. The use of Learning toolbox has been predicated on BYOD and has been developed with Android, iOS and Microsoft versions. The training centre where the pilot will take place with some 70 apprentices, BauABC, covers a large site and is in a rural area. Telecoms network coverage is flaky, broadband not fast and the wireless network installed to support the pilots is a new venture. So many issues for us to look at there. However in terms of staff development I am more confident, with an ongoing programme for the trainers, but perhaps more importantly I think a more open attitude from construction industry trainers to the use of different technologies than say from university lecturers.

The bigger issue though for me is pedagogy. John hints at this when he talks about mobiles being used to access virtual learning environments that are being used as repositories. The real limitation here is not in the technology or infrastructure but a lack of vision of the potential of mobiles for learning in different contexts. Indeed I suspect that the primary school sector is more advanced in their thing here than the universities. Mobile devices have the potential to take learning into the world outside the classroom and to link practical with more theoretical learning. And rather than merely pushing learning (to be read on the bus although I have never quite understood why mobile learning vendors think everyone travels home by bus), the potential is to create a new ecosystem, whereby learners themselves can contribute to the learning of others, by direct interaction and by the sharing of learning and of objects. Dare I say it – Learning Toolbox is a mobile Personal Learning Environment (at least I hope so). We certainly are not looking to replace existing curricula, neither existing learning technologies. Rather we see Learning Toolbox as enhancing learning experiences and allowing users to reflect on learning in practice. In this respect we are aware of the limitations of a limited screen size and also of the lack of attraction of writing long scripts for many vocational learners. This can be an advantage. Mobile devices support all kinds of gesturing (think Tinder) and are naturally used for multimedia including video and photographs.

So what killed the mobile learning dream. Lack of understanding of its true potential, lack of vision and a concentration of funding and pilot activities with the wrong user groups. That is not to say that mobile learning cannot be used in higher education. But it needs a rethinking of curriculum and of the interface between curriculum, pedagogy and the uses of technology. So the dream is not dead. It just needs more working on!

If you would like to know more about Learning Toolbox or are interesting in demonstration or a pilot please contact me graham10 [at] mac [dot] com

Bremen talks on young refugees’ access to training and labour market – Part Two: The Bavarian model project and the discussion in the event

February 14th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

As already mentioned in my previous  blog, these two posts are not focusing on our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Instead I have taken up a major issue that we are discussing in the Bremen region: Measures to support the reception and integration of refugees.  In my previous post I started reporting on a public event “Perspektive Beruf: Junge Geflüchtete erfolgreich zum Berufsabschluss führen“. This event brought into picture fresh information and assembled several stakeholders from different organisations to joint discussion. In the first post I gave some background information on the event and present insights into a study on young refugees’ perspectives in Bremen. In this second post I will give insights into a model project in Bavaria (that was presented in the event) and highlight some key points of the stakeholders’ discussion.

1. Insights into the model project in Bavaria

The first part of the event was based on a Bremen-focused study that provided information on young refugees and their chances to get access to training and labour market in the Bremen region. The study had raised some issues that need further attention from policy makers and stakeholders who are engaged with support measures. The second part of the event was based on a guest input from the Federal state of Bavaria (Bayern).

This input was given by Manfred Bäuml who represented a foundation that supports educational projects in Bavaria (Stiftung Bildungspakt Bayern). He firstly gave insights into the innovation concept ‘vocational integration classes’ (Berufsintegrationsklassen) and how they have been embedded into the regulative frameworks. This concept is based on a 2-year long full-time school-based vocational education scheme that includes intensive language learning, vocational orientation, vocational subject-learning (including language support), internships in companies and opportunity to obtain/ refresh general school certificates). A key feature of this model is the collaboration between language teacher, subject teacher and social pedagogic advisor. (The key point in this model is that it is meant to provide entry to the regular vocational education and training provisions, not to replace them with a short variant.)

In his presentation Bäuml also made transparent the rapidly growing numbers of young refugees and the quick response in setting up such vocational integration classes all over the Federal state of Bavaria. This gave rise for setting up a state-wide model project to support the quality development in such classes and to enhance their acceptance. For this purpose the Federal state of Bavaria and the Foundation have set up the state-wide model project that involves 21 model schools (public vocational schools in all sub-regions) and several support organisations. The project works with organisational development, staff development and curriculum redesign. As special challenges Bäuml mentioned the following ones:

  • Functioning language learning – linking everyday life language learning and domain-specific vocabulary to each other;
  • Integration – bringing learners of integration classes and ordinary vocational classes into cooperation with each other;
  • Transition from school to occupational work – intensifying career guidance and counselling to facilitate personal commitment to the occupation in concern.

As Bäuml told, the project had only started at the end of 2015 and it was only in the process of building up its network and support activities. Yet, the work was making progress all over Bavaria.

2. Key issues taken up in the stakeholders’ discussion 

The event was not planned just to present the study and the model project but to stimulate discussion on necessary policy measures and ways to support different support initiatives. Therefore, the organisers had set up two rounds of discussions – after each presentation. Here, for the sake of simplicity, I try to pick up some key messages from both rounds without going deeply into details:

  • The representatives of vocational schools and and continuing training provisions – Herbert Grönegreß and Sandra von Atens – emphasised the necessity, not to challenge the refugees overly, to adjust the education/training provisions to what they can achieve and to provide well-timed support and constant support networks. Also, they emphasised the need to adjust the ‘offerings’ to refugees to their possibilities and to be prepared for providing second chances.
  • The company representative Michael Heyer told of the initiative of their company to select a group of refugees to be taken on internship and to prepare them for the opportunity to start a regular apprentice training. This initiative was launched in close collaboration and with support from public authorities. Concerning language support, the company arranged for them extra courses. Concerning integration, the company was surprised to see, how supportive and cooperative their ordinary apprentices were vis-à-vis the newcomers.
  • The Educational senator (minister) of the City state Claudia Bodegan put as into the picture of the scales of the problems. Concerning the reception of unaccompanied young people, the German cities had agreed on balanced quotas of reception (der Königstein Schlüssel). However, in 2015, Bremen had received five times as much young unaccompanied refugees – and, given the flow of refugees, it would have been inappropriate to push them elsewhere. Also, since Bremen is struggling with budgetary deficits, it doesn’t have such resources in the regular budgets as the richer Federal states. Furthermore, Bremen has had to make a difficult choice, whether to prioritise perfect diagnostic (at the expense of longer waiting times) or effective integration (at the expense of providing less favourable education and training opportunities). Here, the choice has been on avoiding  long waiting times in idlewild.
  • The representative  of the Chamber of Commerce, Karlheinz Heidemeyer, drew attention to the prompt responses of the member companies to their call for initiatives. in this way, and due to good cooperation with the local/regional authorities, the company-specific initiatives could be brought into action without unnecessary delays. In the same way he praised the good cooperation between different stakeholders in overcoming the formal hurdles and addressing the needs for Federal level policy adjustment.
  • The representative of the voluntary organisation Fluchtraum, professor Marc Thielen (also from ITB), shifted the perspective from the quantitative situation assessment, training opportunities and language courses to the individual situations of refugees. The organisation Fluchtraum that he represents, provides legal advice, guardians and mentors for unaccompanied young refugees. With insights into their life histories, learning histories and refugee histories, he emphasised the needs to get solid and trustworthy support persons and support structures for the refugees. He also addressed the need to avoid giving the refugees challenges that they cannot meet (e.g. in terms of starting regular vocational training before being properly prepared).
  • The representative of the host organisation Arbeitnehmerkammer, Regine Geraedts, drew attention to the readiness of different stakeholders in Bremen to tackle the problems as promptly as they could. Also, they had shown readiness to create new forms of cooperation for unbureacratic treatment of the problems of young refugees. Furthermore, they had shown readiness to take own initiatives at the same time as they had addressed needs to revise federal regulations. And, given the seemingly uncoordinated actions of voluntary organisations, they had been able develop flexible forms of coordination and to develop common discussion on policy development.

I guess this is enough of this event. I know that there were lots of details that I couldn’t grasp with this report. Nevertheless, I got a picture of a dynamic regional langscape of developing policies, services and support activities for young refugees. In addition, I could see a role for possible European cooperation measures (of which I discussed with some participants) in the coming times.

More blogs to come …

Bremen talks on young refugees’ access to training and labour market – Part One: The event and the Bremen study

February 13th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the recent times my blogs on this site have focused almost exclusively on our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This time I will shift the emphasis to a major issue that we are discussing in the Bremen region: Measures to support the reception and integration of refugees. In particular Bremen is struggling with a large number of unaccompanied young people (under 18 years). On Thursday I attended with several other ITB colleagues a public event that brought into discussion a new study from Bremen, an ongoing model project in Bavaria and several views of stakeholders (from different organisations). In the first post I will give some background information and present insights int the Bremen study. In the second post I will give insights into the model project in Bavaria and highlight some key points of the discussion.

1. The background of the event

One of the specific institutions of the Hanseatic City of Bremen is the Chamber of salaried employees (Arbeitnehmerkammer). This is a public body and all salaried employees in Bremen are also members of the chamber. This is a similar arrangement as is the case with Chambers of Commerce or with Chambers of Craft and Trade (which comprise all the enterprises in their respective domains). Given this co-existence of public representative bodies, they have developed several forms of practical cooperation with different societal issues. Also, they have a tradition to contribute to each others’ events.

From the year 2015  on (when the amount of refugees coming to Bremen grew rapidly) the Arbeitnehmerkammer has taken several initiatives to get information on refugees’ situation, to facilitate cooperation between different support organisations and to promote public discusssion on necessary policy measures. In this context the Arbeitnehmerkammer had initiated with the research institute of the University of Bremen for Work and Economy (Institut für Arbeit und Wirtschaft) a special study on the prospects of young refugees to enter training and labour market in Bremen. This event was called to

  • make public the main results of the study,
  • make comparisons to an ongoing model project in Bavaria and to
  • promote public discussion between  different stakeholders who engage themselves with problems of young refugees.

2. Insights into the study on young refugees in Bremen

In the first part of the event the author of the Bremen study, René Böhme gave a comprehensive overview on the context, design and results of the study. Here I will not try to reflect its richness. Instead, I try to draw attention to some points that were of vital importance for the discussion:

 a) Concerning the amount of refugees arrived in Bremen: Whilst in 2014 the number of refugees was slightly over 2000, in 2015 it was over 10.000. In addition, the number of unaccompanied young refugees was in 2014 ca. 500, whilst in 2015 it was over 2500.

b) Concerning attitudes of employees: In general, employees are ready to receive refugees (given the shortage of skilled workforce) and to make extra efforts to support their training and integration into working life. Yet, they are aware of problems and risks (e.g. of high drop-out rates).

c) Concerning efforts to overcome formal hurdles: Preconditions for flexible and supported entry to training (e.g. via pre-vocational measures) have already been created. Yet, they alone do not guarantee successful completion of training.

d) Concerning parallel support measures and initiatives: At the moment the services and initiatives have been brought into picture in rapid tempo and separately by different actors. Therefore, they appear as uncoordinated patchwork of activities. However, as such they are not merely limited to educational and career guidance but cover also everyday life problems.

In the light of the above the study drew attention to the following needs:

  • to make the formal frameworks more flexible at Federal level,
  • to improve the pre-vocational learning opportunities in vocational school (with linked career guidance and counselling)
  • to improve the cooperation of public authorities, companies and service providers to create a coherent support system for refugee-trainees and -apprentices,
  • to strengthen complementary support  and mentoring networks to support overall integration into society and everyday life.

I think this is enough of the background of the event and of the Bremen study that was presented as a basis for joint situation assessment. In the next post it is appropriate to present the Bavarian model project and some insights into the discussion.

More blogs to come …

 

Confer – Three steps to consensus

February 9th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

I have written a number of post about the Learning Toolbox mobile app being developed through the Learning Layers project and of course Pekka Kamareinen has documented the development of the project in some detail on this site.

But Learning Toolbox is just one of a number of applications developed by the project and being rolled out for evaluation this spring. One which in my view holds some promise is Confer. Confer is a collaborative workflow tool, being launched under the banner of  “Confer – Three steps to consensus”. Confer provides online collaboration spaces for working groups that can be used both synchronously as well as asynchronously and supports groups in working collaboratively on a task or project; helping to keep the work focused and flowing, recording the discussions and reasoning along the way and producing a final summary output that can become the first draft of a report or recommendations.

Confer is based on research work in computer supported work and learning – for instance by Hämäläinen & Häkkinen, who say “the production of descriptive and surface-level knowledge, the difficulty in creating explanation-seeking questions, the reaching of mutual understanding among participants, and uneven participation are some of the main challenges that exist in computer-supported collaborative learning settings.”

Confer supports and scaffolds groups in working through a collaborative meaning making and decision process.

It first asks “What do we need?” by clearly describing the problem at hand including what, where, when and for whom? The second stage is to explore “What do we know?” through a brainstorming process identifying issues and collecting together relevant knowledge, resources, ideas and experience.

The third stage is decision making – “What should we do?” –  developing and describing options/solutions that will address the problem and identified issues. The end point is to agree on a recommendation.Whilst it may all sound simple in real life these processes are challenging especially with distributed groups who may only meet together face to face at limited intervals. Our research suggests that in reality one person is left alone to write up the results, thus both diminishing group expertise and often failing to develop shared meanings.

The pilot implementations of Confer start next week. But if you would be interested in trialling Confer please email me. You can find out more by visiting the Confer Zone.

Digital Disruption or Digital Transformations

October 20th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I have spent a good deal of time in the last few weeks thinking and reviewing the progress we have made in the European Research Programme funded Learning Layers project

. The project aims to research, develop, implement and promote technologies for learning in Small and Medium Enterprisse (SMEs). As with all projects funded under the Research Programme, we are subject to an annual review and have to submit reports on the work undertaken for the review.  This in itself is an interesting exercise, involving at least four or five authors from different countries and often different disciplines working together.

I have written the introduction to the report, focusing on the impact of what I describe as digital transformations on SMEs and on learning. Although our work focuses on the construction and health sectors, I think the development processes and the research findings are relevant to far wider sectors. Over the next week I will blog sections of the report. I see this as opening up our internal review procedure to a wider audience and welcome any feedback, critical or otherwise. The first section is on digital transformations, as opposed to digital disruptions.

There has been a great deal of focus, especially in the popular press, on the impact of Information and Communication Technologies on society through the term ‘digital disruption’. Digital disruption posits the inability of existing organisations and companies to respond to emerging new technologies and thus leaving them open to disruptive entrants who are more innovative and flexible in organisational approaches and technology adoption.

We see little evidence of such digital disruption in either the healthcare or construction sectors. However there is no doubt of the fast growing impact of digital technologies in both sectors, for example 3D printing and Building Information Modelling in construction and self diagnosis applications, big data, health apps and telemedicine / telehealth in healthcare (see the following sections below for more details of these changes). But rather than seeing these as disrupting existing organisations, there is more evidence that these organisations themselves are being transformed in order to adapt to and exploit new technologies. This we would see as digital transformations.

Digital transformation refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society (Stolterman and Croon Fors, 2004). It is seen as involving the application of digital competence and digital literacies to enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods (Lankshear, 2008), In November 2011, a three-year study conducted by the MIT Center for Digital Business and Capgemini Consulting concluded that only one-third of companies globally have an effective digital transformation program in place (Capgemini Consulting. 2011).

The study defined an “effective digital transformation program” as one that addressed

  • “The What”: the intensity of digital initiatives within a corporation
  • “The How”: the ability of a company to master transformational change to deliver business results. (ibid)

Our research in health and construction paints a rather more complicated picture, although we would generally concur with the MIT study outcomes. In this it is notable that we are working primarily with SMEs rather than with corporations and that SMEs rarely have the resources to develop complex programmes of transformation. Our research suggest a very uneven pattern, with enterprises and especially training organisations increasingly aware of the challenges digital technologies play, but with differentiated drivers for change in different trades in construction and different organisational impulses in health care, along with continuing barriers to transformations that also impact on the adoption of new forms of learning. It should also be noted that our own project research and development processes have led to a greater awareness of the impact of digital technologies and the capacity building activities that the project has undertaken are designed precisely to develop the ability of SMEs to master transformational change.

Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part Four: The VETNET network preparing for ECER’16

September 17th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posts I have reported on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’15) that took place in Budapest last week (8.9.-11.9.2015). I started with a report on the symposium of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. I continued with reports on sessions based on intervention research and by summarising my general impressions on the conference (and on the VETNET program). Now it is time conclude this series with a report on the general assembly of our European Vocational Education and Training Network (VETNET), the Network 2 of the European Educational Research Association (EERA).

Background

As the frequent participants of ECER know, the ECER conferences are organised by the umbrella association EERA that has been founded by national associations for educational research (that are organisational members of EERA). In practice the conference program is based on the contributions of thematic networks (currently 32) that are based on (informal) individual membership. Our network VETNET is one of the oldest and largest and has a wider interdisciplinary profile – with special commitment to the field of Vocational Education and Training, Workplace Learning and Continuing Professional Development. Therefore, VETNET has constituted itself as a community under a wider umbrella and as a conference within a conference – a successful working neighbourhood.

Recent developments

In the general assembly of this year we were happy to have several reports on special activities (in addition to the usual report on preparing and implementing the program for ECER’15). Here I recapitulate some points of these reports:

International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET)

In earlier VETNET general assemblies we had made the decision to launch this journal as the journal of VETNET and to obtain the support from EERA and the global umbrella organisation WERA. In his report on behalf of the editorial board Michael Gessler could inform of the publication two issues in the year 2014 (Vol. 1) and two issues in 2015 (Vol. 2). Also, the geographic spread of the authors of articles and the members of editorial board has proven that the journal has established itself as genuinely international (with roots in Europe but with openness to wider world). Looking forward, there are lots of manuscripts in review process for several forthcoming issues. And the results of the Bremen conference and the ECER ’15 provide a basis for continuity.

WERA International Research Network on VET (IRN-VET)

I gave a report on this initiative to set up a global network under the auspices of the global umbrella organisation World Educational Research Association (WERA). In 2013 some VETNET board members (mainly Michael Gessler, Ludger Deitmer and myself) invited cooperation partners from different global regions to join in as founding members of the IRN-VET. According to the policy of WERA this initiative was approved for a three-year period (to be reconsidered at that time). In ECER’14 in Porto we had organised a special ’round table’ with multiple contributions on forthcoming activities and issues for thematic cooperation at global or inter-continental level. For ECER’15 we did not plan a similar session. Instead the Bremen International VET conference (see my previous blogs) was organised as a pre-conference to ECER and as an event of WERA IRN-VET. We were please to see that many of the founding members from non-European regions were present or had sent their representatives to the conference. Also, most of the founding members were already involved in the editorial boar or advisory editorial board of the journal IJRVET. In this respect we had already achieved a lot but we still need to have discussions, how to take the initiative further.

 Work with Emerging researchers & with other EERA networks

Lazaro Moreno gave a report on his participation as a VETNET representative in the Emerging Researchers pre-conference and in the tutoring process. He emphasised the need for VETNET to continue this participation and to encourage young researchers to make use of this forum. Lorenz Lassnigg informed of initiatives to organise cross-network sessions with neighbouring networks (mainly with Policy Network) and on plans for future conferences. He also emphasised the importance to stimulate such cooperation with new initiatives.

Preparations for ECER’16 – VETNET 20 years anniversary

In this context we had several issues to discuss. Firstly, there were organisational issues – the need to revise the regulations of VETNET (to take into account the growth of the network and the wider range of activities) and to prepare for the elections of a new board. We already took the first steps by inviting Christoph Nägele and Barbara Stalder to work as program chairs for the next conference.

Regarding the contents I took up the issue that VETNET will celebrate in 2016 its 20th anniversary. To me this gives rise for special session(s) to review the development of European VET research (both periodically and along certain key themes). To my surprise this proposal prompted an immediate reaction. The link convenors of the network (Michael Gessler and Marg Malloch) and the founder of the network Martin Mulder publicised the decision of the board to declare me as Honorary Member of VETNET from that date on (10.9.2015). I was pleased to receive this recognition but at the same time took it as an obligation to put my above mentioned proposal into practice by ECER’16.

I guess this is enough on the VETNET general assembly and on the ECER’15. The work will be continued.

More blogs to come …

Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part Three: General impressions on the conference

September 17th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With me two previous blogs I have reported on special sessions in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER ’15) in Budapest (8.9.-11.9.2015). In the first post I reported on the symposium that was initiated by our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project team in Bremen. In the second post I discussed sessions in which similar intervention projects were presented. With this third post I will summarise some general impressions on the conference and give snapshots on some further sessions.

ECER in Budapest – Education and Transition(s)

The conference took place in Hungary – one of the countries in Central and East Europe (CEE) that went through a fundamental societal transition after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. During this year of ruptures Hungary had played a major role in cutting the barbed wires that separated different blocks in Europe and by opening its borders to those who wanted to seek refuge in the west.

During the years of transition the political and educational culture of the country went through different phases of transition – including the phases of Candidacy to EU Membership and the entry to Membership in 2004. Already during the phase of candidacy, Hungarian researchers has been involved in European cooperation and taken their place in the joint activities. Yet, it took some time before the Hungarian association of educational researchers joined the EERA family. Now that this had happened, we were pleased to see the conference taking place in Budapest.

Yet, by the time the conference dates got closer we felt concerned about the humanitarian crisis that was characterised by masses of refugees coming to Hungary (with the hope to continue to Austria, Germany and eventually to Scandinavia). The measures of the Hungarian government (building fences and trying to block the streams of refugees) did not appear compatible with European values – neither could they resolve anything. Therefore, before and during our conference we saw reports on refugees camping at the borders or railway stations, marching on the highways or seeking for transport to safer countries. As I said it – we saw this from the news, not in the vicinity of the conference venue. Knowing all this, we were pleased to observe that the EERA secretariat and the EERA council appealed the participants to support petitions and fund-raising to ease the burdens of refugees.

VETNET in Budapest – Education and Training in (Post-)Transition society

The European network for research in Vocational Education and Training (VETNET) has had a tradition to organise an opening colloquium in which the host country is recognised. From this perspective we were pleased to have as the keynote speaker of this session professor Andras Benedek from the Budapest University of Technology, former Director General in Vocational Education and former Minister of Education. He informed us both on the developments in the educational policies in post-transition Hungary, on recent reforms in vocational education and training (strengthening of workplace learning and the role of chambers) and on the current model for vocational teacher education. In addition to his scholarly presentation he invited us to get a picture of the human side of Hungarian civil society, the openness for Europe in many NGOs and the willingness of individual citizens to help the refugees that entered their country.

We would have hoped to get more information in this colloquium on the post-transition developments in Hungary and in other CEE countries. For several reasons this was not the case. In a later paper session the local support person of VETNET, Magdolna Benke gave a presentation in which she informed of the short history of the National Institute for Vocational Education and her empirical studies to trace new developments in building partnerships to support the development of VET. My impression is that we still have some homework to do for further ECER conferences to learn more of transitions in VET during the post-transition period in CEE countries.

Nordic Countries in Budapest – Learning from Nordic Countries?

Participants from Nordic Countries (in particular Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) were strongly present in several paper sessions. Yet, the clear highlight was the symposium “Consideration of the Future of VET: Learning from Nordic Countries”. In this symposium Christian Helms Jörgensen (Denmark) and his team presented a joint Nordic project that analysed policy developments and prospects of VET development at national and trans-national level. Listening to the comparisons between Sweden and Denmark – presented by Daniel Persson Thunqvist (Sweden) – I got even more convinced that the developments in these countries need be analysed in a group picture. The same impression was supported by the historical analyses on Norway – presented by Håkon Höst and Svein Michelsen (Norway) – when they made the Danish and Swedish influences transparent. Yet, the presentation on Finland – by Maarit Virolainen (Finland) – made clear some specific national developments. (I do not want to go into further details since I am too much insider in this discussion and the work of the project has reached only an interim phase.)

Altogether, I was mostly happy with the sessions that I attended at ECER’15 and I got new inspiration to work further with the themes that are close to me. This is even more important now that were are preparing the next ECER conference as the one in which the VETNET network will celebrate its 20th anniversary. In this respect I will discuss the VETNET general assembly and the future plans of the network in my final post on ECER’15.

More blogs to come …

Crossing boundaries at the Bremen International VET conference – Part Three: Concluding reflections on the conference

September 14th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My two previous posts on the Bremen International VET conference have been reports on sessions that were related to our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This is due to the fact that I and some other colleagues missed the first part of the conference due to our field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC (see my earlier post). Therefore, we joined in in the middle with our sessions and started getting impressions shortly before and after our sessions. Yet, due to good planning and timely publication of proceedings, the conference organisers made it easy for us to catch up. Below some impressions on the conference program and on the dynamics in the conference, then some remarks on specific sessions.

The conference as an international event of VET researchers

I have already referred to the background of the conference in an earlier post. Also, the conference got added value as a de facto pre-conference to the ECER 2015 of the European Educational Research Association EERA (that took place on the next week in Budapest). Moreover, this conference had been accepted as the annual main event of the International VET Research Network of the World Educational Research Association (WERA IRN-VET, the global pendant of the European VETNET network). In this way it attracted participants from Europe and beyond Europe – those who were on the way to ECER and those who couldn’t make ECER.

What was striking in the conference dynamics was the fact that old and new acquaintances got very well mixed with each other. Most of the European participants new each other from ECER, but this was also true with several others coming outside Europe. Some participants outside Europe had already been connected via other networks and conferences. So, the conference was a combination of many happy returns and new encounters. Also, the new journal IJRVET (launched by VETNET with the support of EERA and WERA) was also experienced as a common cause – to be promoted by all of us.

This all was very much appreciated by the European Commission representative Joao Santos, who took the initiative to visit the conference and to attend throughout the program.

The thematic continuum of keynote addresses

Looking at the keynote addresses, they appeared to to provide a thematic continuity in spite of the different topics. Firstly Martin Mulder (from the Netherlands) started with a global view on competence-based vocational and professional education. Matthias Pilz (from Germany) discussed in-company vocational training in USA, India, China and Japan – and raised questions on transfer of VET models. (These were then discussed in further sessions.) Johanna Lasonen (from Finland and the USA) discussed from a cross-cultural perspective the vocational learning vs. career & technical education in Finland and the United States  – walking the tightrope between commonalities and differences. Margaret Malloch (from UK and Australia) discussed boundaries and intersections in the recent development of Australian VET policies in the era of privatisation and withdrawal of state. Lazaro Moreno (from Cuba and Sweden) analysed the historical developments in Swedish vocational education – from initially workplace-based VET to scholarisation (and amalgamation into comprehensive upper secondary education) and to recent initiatives to enhance workplace learning. Ramlee bin Mustapha (from Malaysia) gave us insights into 21 century VET landscape in Asia and into issues on competitiveness, sustainability and ‘regional’ cooperation.

 Remarks on other sessions

The first paper session – after the Learning Layers sessions – in which I participated in the audience was dedicated to “Work-Based Learning, Learning in Work Processes and in SME’s from a Norwegian,
Dutch and German Perspective”. Here one could have thought that the session was a jointly prepared symposium instead of a line-up of three independent papers. The Norwegian pilot study on Upskilling and technological renewal in Norwegian SMEs (presented by Odd Björn Ure) and the Dutch project on Contributions to learning at workplace – experienced by secondary vocational trainees (presented by Haske van Vlokhoven) gave mutually complementing perspectives to a common theme. Then, the final conceptual discussion paper (presented on behalf of an ITB research group by Sven Schulte) grasped the theme from both perspectives and raised the question: “Work-Based Learning and Learning within Work Processes – Two Sides of the same Coin?” And – as usual – Sven didn’t give easy answers but kept the tension throughout the presentation.

The second paper session – already on the final day – gave the floor to two contributions that discussed policy developments and/or educational initiatives in developing countries. Firstly Salim Akoojee (from South Africa) took us to a journey to explore “TVET and the South African Democratic Developmental Ideal” with a question: “Plausible Rhetoric, Creative Tinkering or Radical Revisioning”. During his presentation we learned a lot of high hopes, economic constraints, frustrations and new perspectives in the post-apartheid South Africa. Then Nematollah Azizi (from Iran) took us to another journey with a project to develop “An Integrated and Community-Oriented TVET Framework for Rural Areas in Iran”. This project and his presentation had the following motto: “People’s Skill Empowerment towards Sustainable Employment”.  After presenting an interesting historical background Nematollah took us to a journey with a new project that combines traditional methods of adult educators, community developers and regional developers with new possibilities to engage villagers’ participation, to institutionalise initiatives and to provide support for community-based crafts, trades and other local self-employment ideas. Also, we learned a lot about successful initiatives and on cultural barriers to taking up ideas from elsewhere.

Altogether, I was pleased to experience an atmosphere of sharing ideas, knowledge and experiences via research papers and workshops. Also, I was happy to notice that the participants tried to give us a comprehensive view into complex issues and to specific contexts in which they are working. Moreover, the fact that the sessions were not overly packed gave us enough room for discussions. This all was communicated to the organisers in the final wrap-up sessions. The participants were keen to continue such conference experience with a follow-up conference in due time. Clearly, this pilot case had shown that there is need and room for such an event. (We are looking forward to the response of the organisers.)

I think this is enough of the Bremen International VET conference. In my next blog posts I will report on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’15) in Budapest.

More blogs to come …

 

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