Archive for the ‘learningtechnologies’ Category

Foresight and the use of ICT for Learning

January 3rd, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Time to return to the Wales Wide Web after something of a hiatus in November and December. And I am looking forward to writing regular posts here again.

New year is a traditional time for reviewing the past year and predicting the future. I have never really indulged in this game but have spent the last two days undertaking a “landscape study” as part of an evaluation contract I am working on. And one section of it is around emerging technologies and foresight. So here is that section. I lay no claim to scientific methodology or indeed to comprehensiveness – this is just my take on what is going on – or not – and what might go on. In truth, I think the main conclusion is that very little is changing in the use of ICT for learning (perhaps  more on that tomorrow).

There are at any time a plethora of innovations and emerging developments in technology with the potential to impact on education, both in terms of curriculum and skills demands but also in their potential for teaching and learning. At the same time, educational technology has a tendency towards a ‘hype’ cycle, with prominence for particular technologies and approaches rising and fading. Some technologies, such as virtual worlds fade and disappear; others retreat from prominence only to re-emerge in the future. For that reason, foresight must be considered not just in terms of emerging technologies but in likely future uses of technologies, some which have been around some time, in education.

Emerging innovations on the horizon at present include the use of Big Data for Learning Analytics in education and the use of AI for Personalised Learning (see below); and MOOCS continue to proliferate.

VLEs and PLEs

There is renewed interest in a move from VLEs to Personal Learning Environments (PLE), although this seems to be reflected more in functionality for personalising VLEs than the emergence of new PLE applications. In part, this may be because of the need for more skills and competence from learners for self-directed learning than for the managed learning environment provided by VLEs. Personal Learning Networks have tended to be reliant on social networking application such as Facebook and Twitter. These have been adversely affected by concerns over privacy and fake news as well as realisation of the echo effect such applications engender. At the same time, there appears to be a rapid increase in the use of WhatsApp to build personal networks for exchanging information and knowledge. Indeed, one area of interest in foresight studies is the appropriation of commercial and consumer technologies for educational purposes.

Multi Media

Although hardly an emerging technology, the use of multimedia in education is likely to continue to increase, especially with the ease of making video. Podcasting is also growing rapidly and is like to have increasing impact in the education sector. Yet another relatively mature technology is the provision of digital e-books which, despite declining commercial sales, offer potential savings to educational authorities and can provide enhanced access to those with disabilities.

The use of data for policy and planning

The growing power of ICT based data applications and especially big data and AI are of increasing importance in education.

One use is in education policy and planning, providing near real-time intelligence in a wide number of areas including future numbers of school age children, school attendance, attainment, financial and resource provision and for TVET and Higher Education demand and provision in different subjects as well as providing insights into outcomes through for instance post-school trajectories and employment. More controversial issues is the use of educational data for comparing school performance, and by parents in choosing schools for their children.

Learning Analytics

A further rapid growth area is Learning Analytics (LA). LA has been defined as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.” [Reference] It is seen as assisting in informing decisions in education systems, promoting personalized learning and enabling adaptive pedagogies and practices. At least in the initial stages of development and use, Universities and schools have tended to harvest existing data drawn from Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and to analyse that data to both predict individual performance and undertake interventions which can for instance reduce drop-out rates. Other potential benefits include that LA can, for instance, allow teachers and trainers to assess the usefulness of learning materials, to increase their understanding of the learning environment in order to improve it, and to intervene to advise and assist learners. Perhaps more importantly, it can assist learners in monitoring and understanding their own activities and interactions and participation in individual and collaborative learning processes and help them to reflect on their learning.

Pardo and Siemens (YEAR?) point out that “LA is a moral practice and needs to focus on understanding instead of measuring.” In this understanding:

“learners are central agents and collaborators, learner identity and performance are dynamic variables, learning success and performance is complex and multidimensional, data collection and processing needs to be done with total transparency.”

Although initially LA has tended to be based on large data sets already available in universities, school based LA applications are being developed using teacher inputted data. This can allow teachers and understanding of the progress of individual pupils and possible reasons for barriers to learning.

Gamification

Educational games have been around for some time. The gamification of educational materials and programmes is still in its infancy and likely to continue to advance.  Another educational technology due for a revival is the development and use of e-Portfolios, as lifelong learning becomes more of a reality and employers seek evidence of job seekers current skills and competence.

Bite sized Learning

A further response to the changing demands in the workplace and the need for new skills and competence is “bite–sized” learning through very short learning modules. A linked development is micro-credentialing be it through Digital Badges or other forms of accreditation.

Learning Spaces

As ICT is increasingly adopted within education there will be a growing trend for redesigning learning spaces to reflect the different ways in which education is organised and new pedagogic approaches to learning with ICT. This includes the development of “makerspaces”. A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing. Makerspaces typically provide access to a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, computer numerical control (CNC) machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

Despite the hype around Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), the present impact on education appears limited although immersive environments are being used for training in TVET and augmented reality applications are being used in some occupational training. In the medium-term mixed reality may become more widely used in education.

Wearables

Similarly, there is some experimentation in the use of wearable devices for instance in drama and the arts but widespread use may be some time away.

Block Chain

The block chain has been developed for storing crypto currencies and is attracting interest form educational technologists. Block chain is basically a secure ledger allowing the secure recording of a chain of data transactions. It has been suggested as a solution to the verification and storage of qualifications and credentials in education and even for recording the development and adoption of Open Educational Resources. Despite this, usage in education is presently very limited and there are quite serious technical barriers to its development and wider use.

The growing power of ICT based data applications and especially big data and AI (see section 10, below) are of increasing importance in education.

The use of data for policy and planning

One use is in education policy and planning, providing near real-time intelligence in a wide number of areas including future numbers of school age children, school attendance, attainment, financial and resource provision and for TVET and Higher Education demand and provision in different subjects as well as providing insights into outcomes through for instance post-school trajectories and employment. More controversial issues is the use of educational data for comparing school performance, and by parents in choosing schools for their children.

Learning Analytics

A rapid growth area is Learning Analytics (LA). LA has been defined as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.” [Reference] It is seen as assisting in informing decisions in education systems, promoting personalized learning and enabling adaptive pedagogies and practices. At least in the initial stages of development and use, Universities and schools have tended to harvest existing data drawn from Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and to analyse that data to both predict individual performance and undertake interventions which can for instance reduce drop-out rates. Other potential benefits include that LA can, for instance, allow teachers and trainers to assess the usefulness of learning materials, to increase their understanding of the learning environment in order to improve it, and to intervene to advise and assist learners. Perhaps more importantly, it can assist learners in monitoring and understanding their own activities and interactions and participation in individual and collaborative learning processes and help them to reflect on their learning.

Pardo and Siemens point out that “LA is a moral practice and needs to focus on understanding instead of measuring.” In this understanding:

“learners are central agents and collaborators, learner identity and performance are dynamic variables, learning success and performance is complex and multidimensional, data collection and processing needs to be done with total transparency.”

Although initially LA has tended to be based on large data sets already available in universities, school based LA applications are being developed using teacher in putted data. This can allow teachers and understanding of the progress of individual pupils and possible reasons for barriers to learning.

Artificial Intelligence

In research undertaken for this report, a number of interviewees raised the importance of Artificial Intelligence in education (although a number also believed it to be over hyped).

A recent report from the EU Joint Research Council (2018) says that:

“in the next years AI will change learning, teaching, and education. The speed of technological change will be very fast, and it will create high pressure to transform educational practices, institutions, and policies.”

It goes on to say AI will have:

“profound impacts on future labour markets, competence requirements, as well as in learning and teaching practices. As educational systems tend to adapt to the requirements of the industrial age, AI could make some functions of education obsolete and emphasize others. It may also enable new ways of teaching and learning.”

However, the report also considers that “How this potential is realized depends on how we understand learning, teaching and education in the emerging knowledge society and how we implement this understanding in practice.” Most importantly, the report says, “the level of meaningful activity—which in socio-cultural theories of learning underpins advanced forms of human intelligence and learning—remains beyond the current state of the AI art.”

Although AI systems are well suited to collecting informal evidence of skills, experience, and competence from open data sources, including social media, learner portfolios, and open badges, this creates both ethical and regulatory challenges. Furthermore, there is a danger that AI could actually replicate bad pedagogic approaches to learning.

The greatest potential of many of these technologies may be for informal and non-formal learning, raising the challenge of how to bring together informal and formal learning and to recognise the learning which occurs outside the classroom.

And the award goes to … Kubify – LTB for ePosters (@LTBePosters)

November 29th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Some time ago we were pleased to announce the our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had received the European VET Research Excellence 2018 Award in the context of the European Vocational Skills Week 2018 in Vienna. Now we have another reason to celebrate. Our former partners from the LL project who have continued the development of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) with their start-up companies have been successful. The start-up company Kubify that develops LTB for ePosters has won the Tech Watch Award 2018 at the international event of conference organisers.

For us, the LL partners, who have been intensively involved in the co-design, co-development and introduction of LTB in the North-German construction sector, this is great news. Also, we are happy that we have piloted successfully with the ePosters at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) and in its VETNET section in Bolzano last September. However. looking at the photos from the #IBTMWorld event organisers’ event – see below –  we can observe that our LTB-developers have taken many steps forward. This award is richly deserved!

From the introduction for new users to the creation of users’ own ePosters

Introduction to ePostersePosters for different conferences

Working with ePosters: From the Mini-Poster Wall to user engagement at the ePoster Arena

Mini-Poster WallePoster Arena

The Award Winners and The Award

Kubify Team receiving the AwardThe IBTMworld Award

Congratulations to the award winners and keep on doing the good work! We are very interested in continuing the good cooperation with you – with the LTB and with the ePosters.

More blogs to come …

 

Robots to help learning

August 6th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

The TES reports on a project that uses robots to help children in hospital take part in lessons and return to school has received funding from the UK Department for Education.

TES says “The robot-based project will be led by medical AP provider Hospital and Outreach Education, backed by £544,143 of government money.

Under the scheme, 90 “tele-visual” robots will be placed in schools and AP providers around the country to allow virtual lessons.

The robot, called AV1, acts as an avatar for children with long-term illnesses so they can take part in class and communicate with friends.

Controlling the robot remotely via an iPad, the child can see and hear their teacher and classmates, rotating the robot’s head to get a 360-degree view of the class.

It is hoped the scheme will help children in hospital to feel less isolated and return to school more smoothly.”

TACCLE 4 CPD – Developing continuing professional development for teacher trainers

December 9th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the end of November we had the kick-off meeting of the new Erasmus Plus project “TACCLE 4 – CPD” hosted by ITB at the University of Bremen. This project is a new kind of follow-up of a series of projects with the brand name ‘TACCLE’. So, let us firstly have a look at the development of these projects.

The TACCLE projects as support for teachers who are developing online learning

TACCLE 1 took the pioneering task to prepare a handbook as “Teachers’ aids for creating content for e-learning”. The result was a generic handbook that informed of basic web tools and online learning resources and equipped teachers to use them.

TACCLE 2 shifted the emphasis to work with online handbooks that were targeted for teachers in different subject areas as well as to primary school teachers.

These projects were also supported by specific TACCLE courses funded by the Comenius and Grundtvig programmes.

TACCLE 3 shifted the emphasis to teaching programming and coding for school children and worked mainly with the project website.

More information on the two first generations of TACCLE projects is availble on the video interviews with Jenny Hughes (recorded for the Coop-PBL in VET project in 2012):

Jenny Hughes on TACCLE 1 project: Getting teachers to produce their own web content (Part1)

Jenny Hughes on TACCLE 2 project: Reaching out to new teacher groups and subject areas (Part2)

TACCLE 4 project as support for teacher trainers with focus on technology-enhanced learning and online resources

Looking back, the earlier TACCLE projects have been successful and even more the TACCLE courses. This had created a demand for courses, workshops etc. based on the projects and their materials. This gave rise to a new project that focuses on practitioners who are developing  Continuing Professional Development (CPD) initiatives for teachers and trainers in different educational sectors. From this point of view the TACCLE 4 – CPD project was shaped to draw upon the prior experiences and to expand the work from school-based education to other educational sectors – Adult Education (AE) and Vocational Education and Training. From this perspective the project was based on a limited number of partner organisations, some of which had been involved in the previous ones and some bringing new countries and/or educational sectors into the picture.

For our institute – ITB – this project is an opportunity to draw upon the experiences of multimedia training and co-design of digital tools (mainly for construction sector) in the Learning Layers project (2012 – 2016). In the kick-off meeting we presented the work with the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and the follow-up activities in different contexts:

  1. In the initial VET the HAKS project with craft trade companies and by the informal working groups of Bau-ABC trainers;
  2. In the continuing vocational training by the DigiProB project that is developing a new software ecology that links together the course management and (via moodle) the trainers’ curriculum design platform (WordPress) and the learners’ interface (LTB):
  3. In the designed project ProBauKo and in a prior feasibility study the ITB team and the LTB developers have explored the possibility to link the use of LTB to company-specific knowledge processes and learning opportunities.

In the TACCLE 4 – CPD project we have to see, how to link these working perspectives (and the role of vocational schools) to the way in which the TACCLE projects have supported training of teachers and trainers. I am looking forward to an interesting period of work.

More blogs to come …

Working further with the Learning Toolbox (LTB) – Part One: Notes on meetings with application partners

October 11th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

This week I have had a chance to participate in some working meetings that have discussed further work with the “Learning Toolbox – LTB”. As readers of this blog have learned during the last few years, the LTB was the main result of the Construction pilot of our EU-funded project “Learning Layers LL” (2012 – 2016). In the project researchers, technical partners and application partners in North Germany were involved in the co-design of the LTB and in the pilot testing of this integrative toolset in apprentice training and in the coordination of construction work. LTB was built as an integrative toolset that linked together mobile apps, resource tiles and communication tiles. As such it has facilitated project-based learning of construction sector apprentices in the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. In a similar way it has facilitated the cooperation and coordination work of construction site manager in a special project of ecological construction work in Verden. (These achievements of the LL project and the transition to follow-up activities have been discussed in my blogs in 2016 and in the first half of 2017).

In Spring 2017 I witnessed several working meetings in which my colleagues from Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) and developers of LTB were discussing follow-up activities of the LL Construction pilot – with emphasis on new contexts for using the LTB.  Now – after a lengthy break – I had the chance to observe some further steps and progress to new milestones in these follow-up activities. In May I wrote more detailed blogs on these earlier meetings and on the initiatives that were taking shape. This time it is enough to make brief notes on the progress and on new milestones to be reached in the near future.

Verden: Looking at integrative hardware and software solutions to support process optimisation an construction site

In our previous meeting with the LL application partner Thomas Isselhard we had discussed several initiatives to promote the use of LTB via his networks for ecological construction work. This time my ITB-colleague Werner Müller and our LL-partner Gilbert Peffer (CIMNE) took further steps in their talks in Verden towards shaping one central initiative. The aim is to bring together hardware development (“BIM-Koffer”), software development (BIM, construction sector applications and network connectivity) and uses of LTB at construction sites. With this initiative the colleagues want to tackle several key issues that prevent effective uses of mobile technologies at construction sites. I am looking forward to hearing more of the further steps.

Firma H: Shaping integrative software ecologies to optimise company-specific knowledge processes and workplace learning

The next meeting (which I could also attend) was an interim assessment of the feasibility study and the workshop process that my colleagues had carried out with the company H (see my blog of last May). Now my colleagues had finalised their  feasibilty study and provided a draft report on the workshop with the company staff (of last June). Now the discussion focused on starting a short-term pilot with the solutions that were proposed in the reports: to start a transition to a more integrative software ecology – including new online communication arrangements between the offices and the worksite troops (with the help of LTB). The meeting made progress in setting the schedules, defining the pilot sites and the modes of participation (project team, supporting training arrangements). I am looking forward to hear more when the project activities in the field will start early next year.

Bau-ABC Rostrup: Continuing the work with Learning Toolbox and linking it to new software ecology

Our final meeting was at Bau-ABC Rostrup, our central application partner in the co-design and pilot testing of the LTB. With Bau-ABC we have had several follow-up activities/initiatives on which we now had a catch-up meeting.

In spring I had worked with a group of full-time trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) to develop coherent patterns for training in the cross-cutting area ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz) until the holiday break. (I have blogged on this activity in April and May 2017.) Unfortunately I had to extend my stay in Finland for personal reasons and then I got other duties. Now I was pleased to learn that a similar pattern of parallel thematic groups had been established and that there was an internal support team. Moreover, it was inspiring that these groups were also working with the LTB and its use in initial vocational training.

Parallel to this my colleagues have been working in the German-funded DigiProB project that introduces digital media to Continuing Vocational Training of construction sector professionals. In the project meetings and workshops that I followed in Spring I could see that this project shaped a new software ecology to match with each other a traditional course management database, an innovative platform for integrative project development and a workable mobile toolset for course participants. I will not go into the technicalities. The important thing in our catch up-meeting was that we could address the latest issues on the role of LTB as the participants interface for accessing course information and for planning their participation.

– – –

I think that this is enough for a quick update on these follow-up activities of the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot. My main point here is to demonstrate that our work with LTB is being continued with several application partners and on several fronts. Although the work with LTB may not have scaled up that quickly as expected, we are making progress in getting the work grounded. In my next post I will give another kind of progress report on work with the Learning Toolbox.

More blogs to come …

Wrapping up the Learning Layers experience – Part Two: Celebrating research & development dialogue with practitioners

October 29th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my latest blog I started a series of posts to wrap up the experiences of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. As I mentioned,we are in the phase of  concluding our project. For us this is not just a matter of presenting our results with individual reports or demonstrating the achievements with individual tools. An essential part of this phase is to reflect on our experiences on the whole – what have we learned and achieved together. I started my reflections with the theme ‘digital transformation’ and how we have experienced it as lived practice and as research challenge. In this second post I try to describe, how this has characterised our work as researcher partners in research & development dialogue with our application partners in the Construction pilot of the LL project.

The process dynamics: Research & Development dialogue with multiple activities and many iterations

Shortly before the start of the project I recorded  with our colleague Graham Attwell a video interview in which he presented some key ideas for the forthcoming project. Graham made a realistic point that

in the beginning the users don’t know, what the technical developers can offer them and the developers don’t know why and how the users would use their products’.

Graham saw the great chance of the LL project in turning such ‘don’t know – don’t know’ constellation into a ‘getting to know – getting to know’ type of dialogue. This was his anticipation in Spring 2012.

The real life in the construction pilot turned to be far more colourful. In Graham’s reflection the technical partners and research partners were treated as one group. And finding a common design idea and ways to put it into practice didn’t appear as complicated as it turned out to be.

Altogether, the process dynamic that led to the development of Learning Toolbox (LTB) was characterised by  a long  search for an appropriate design idea that makes sense for the trainers and apprentices in construction sector training centre Bau-ABC. This process did not lead to a quick listing of requirements for external software developers to do their job. Instead, the lack of developer resources was compensated by co-design workshops and further iterations involving research partners, intermediate technicians and application partners – who were preparing the grounds for software developers to enter a process of research & development (R&D) dialogue. Thus, the key characteristics and expected functions of  LTB were  in a ‘getting to know – getting to know’ type of dialogue – but the developers and their know-how had to be integrated into this process.

The multiple roles of accompanying research during the process

Concerning the role of our ITB team (Institut Technik & Bildung) in this process, the best term is ‘accompanying research‘. This concept arises from German innovation programs in working life and in vocational education and training (VET). Originally two German concepts have been used, which may have somewhat different connotations – Wissenschaftliche Begleitung (scientific accompaniment) and Begleitforschung (accompanying research). The former might be seen as a more open approach, whilst the latter may emphasise a more focused research design. In the innovation programs in working life such research was used to monitor, whether the innovations improved the quality of working life. In VET-related pilot projects (Modellversuche) the role of research was to monitor and evaluate the implementation of pedagogic innovations. In both cases the accompanying researchers tended to have co-participative and co-shaping roles. However, the responsibility on the success of pilots was on the application partner organisations.

Concerning the LL project and the co-design process of Learning Toolbox (LTB), the role of the accompanying research team of ITB was even more co-participative and co-shaping than that of the predecessors. Moreover, the research challenges was also more open – the researchers had to grasp the challenges in the course of the interactive and dialogue-oriented process. When the process moved on to the active deployment of the LTB, the researchers were needed as facilitators of the dialogue and as co-tutors in the training activities. In the final phase the accompanying researchers were needed as counterparts of evaluation researchers – to interpret together the findings. All this can at best be characterised with the term ‘agile accompanying research‘.

The role of training interventions as capacity-building in the field

In the light of the above it is essential to emphasise that the co-design activities and the research interventions were not enough to give the process its strength. A crucial part was played by the training interventions at different phases of the process. In the earlier phase of co-design process the ITB and Pontydysgu teams arranged a series of Multimedia training workshops for voluntary trainers of Bau-ABC Rostrup. At a later phase the ITB and Pontydysgu teams together with advanced Bau-ABC colleagues organised the Theme Room training campaign (see my blogs of November and December 2015). These training interventions were not merely general orientation or user-training for certain tools. On the whole these training interventions were capacity-building for Bau-ABC as a whole organisation and for the trades involved.

Here it is essential to emphasise that the training interventions were essential dialogical elements in the process. All parties were engaged as learners – trying to find out, in what ways digital media and web tools can be introduced into construction work and into workplace-based training. And all this supported the development and deployment of the LTB as an integrative toolset to work with.

– – –

I think this is enough of our experiences with research & development dialogue in the LL project and in the Construction pilot – in particular with the application partner Bau-ABC. In the next posts I will look more closely to the challenges to show impact and to draw scenarios on the basis of such experience.

More blogs to come …

 

Thoughts on “Digital divide 4.0” – Part Four: How to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning?

September 18th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my three latest posts I have presented reflections on “Digital Divide 4.0” (regarding the concept, see the first post). These reflections have been inspired by recent experiences with fieldwork for our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and in particular with its key product the Learning Toolbox (LTB). In my second post I discussed, how this concept reflects the initial difficulties of our project work in the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC.

In this post I shift the emphasis to another part of the German vocational education and training (VET) system – to vocational schools. This is partly triggered by a recent working meeting with a vocational school teacher, who wondered, why their school was not included into our project.  Indeed, for us in ITB and in the training centre Bau-ABC it is a key issue, how to bridge gaps between formal and informal learning when developing workplace-based learning. In my short answer I referred to the funding priorities that emphasised strongly the promotion of informal learning (and SMEs as target groups). In order to understand this it is useful to look back at the development of earlier policies to promote e-Learning or Technology-Enhanced Learning (on the one hand) and initiatives to promote professional development of teachers and trainers in VET (on the other hand). Yet, we need to ask, why the conceptual gap between parallel earlier policies and initiatives has remained. Moreover, we should reflect, how our work in the LL project could help to bridge the gaps.

Background: Earlier e-Learning as ‘alternative’ for institutionalised education and training

Looking back at the educational initiatives in 1980s and 1990s there was a gradual movement in efforts to create new opportunities for open learning. This was reflected in the terminology – ‘remote learning’, ‘distance learning’, ‘open distance learning (ODL)’, ‘blended learning’ – all these referred to different steps and measures to open access to education and learning. Suddenly, at the end of 1990s and at the brink of the ‘New Millennium’ there was a great hype on ‘eLearning‘. In the newer initiatives there was a clear tendency to push the institutionalised education (and the adult education movement) aside. Some protagonists tried to bring forward private providers and new ‘career spaces’ via commercial eLearning programs as the innovation leaders. This was reflected in the separate European funding opportunities for e-Learning of that time. However, concerning the projects on the uses of e-Learning by work organisations, I remember that they concluded that the take on eLearning provisions was low. Instead, wider European surveys – like the the ones of the project “ICT and SMEs” – provided valuable information on the ways that SMEs actually used to support (organisational) learning.

Shift of emphasis: Teachers and trainers in VET as ‘key actors for lifelong learning’

Whilst the above mentioned developments emerged from fringe areas in education and training policies, the next wave – the follow-up of the EU Lisbon Summit 2000 – was part of an overarching development of EU policies. In the field of education and training this took shape firstly in the European Commission strategy document Education and Training 2010 and the aim was to promote a digital learning culture to support global competitiveness of European economy. In the first phase this follow-up was promoted by European working groups and supported by commissioned follow-up studies. In particular the follow-up study for the Maastricht meeting in 2004 drew attention that the engagement of teachers and trainers (notably in vocational education and training (VET) was lagging behind regarding the promotion of digital learning culture.

This gave rise for the European Commission to introduce new initiatives to stimulate trans-national cooperation and European exchanges with different formats: the Eurotrainer surveys, the TTplus framework project, the network ‘Trainers in Europe’, the policy-makers’ Peer Learning seminars and the Europe-wide series of ‘regional’ consultation seminars for different stakeholder groups. Altogether these measures increased the European knowledge basis on VET teacher education and training of trainers across Europe. However, these activities did not provide a basis for common qualification frameworks – instead they recommended the continuation of such participative dialogue forums with emphasis on learning lessons from recent innovations.

Another shift of emphasis: Focus on digital media and mobile technologies to support informal learning

In the meantime the development of web technologies and the spread of mobile devices had given new impulses for technology-enhanced learning. This became manifest in the wider use of online learning platforms, e-portfolios and open educational resources (OER). Now, there was less talk of sidelining the educational establishments but promoting specific initiatives (the networks of open universities) or by joint services (for consortia of member universities). Parallel to this there was a need to explore, how new forms of online learning could be promoted in working life, in particular in such occupations that were characterised by SMEs (and not catered for by university-industry alliances). Partly, the newer policy priorities were looking for genuinely work- and organisation-based modes of (informal) learning, partly for ways to reduce training costs by promoting flexible learning alongside work.

The experience with Learning Layers: The role of trainers and facilitators as change agents

In my two previous posts I have discussed the issue ‘digital divide’ in its current forms (“Digital divide 4.0”) in general and in the light of our fieldwork in the Learning Layers project. Also, I have given insights, how we have made progress with our application partners in the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC and in the network for ecological construction work (NNB). In both cases we have not relied on stand-alone tools or self-learning of practitioners (with the help of online tutorials). With the Learning Toolbox we have managed to develop – in a co-design process with the users – an integrative toolset that meets several basic needs and is easy to expand by the users themselves. Also, we have trained the pioneering users in joint learning sessions to work as peer tutors and mentors in their own communites and networks. However, the wider use has always been dependent on the interest of new users (and anticipation of practical benefits for them). Here, the success factor is to introduce Learning Toolbox as one instrument to promote knowledge sharing, coordination of tasks and real-time communication – and in this way work-related and organisational learning.

Follow-up: What role for teachers and trainers in promoting digital agenda in vocational education?

In the light of the above we (the partners working with the construction pilot of the LL project) have good reasons to consider, what role could teachers in vocational schools play in the follow-up phase. In the German dual system there is a constant challenge to improve cooperation between the fundamental learning venues: enterprise (workplace and the intermediate training centre) and school. In this respect the Learning Toolbox will offer new prospects. Also, the new importance of European mobility schemes (training of apprentices from Spain, Greece etc. in Germany) and the integration schemes for refugees provide new challenges for teachers and trainers in VET. Here, we believe that the introduction of Learning Toolbox could help different parties work together. I will get back to these issues soon.

More blogs to come …

Thoughts on “Digital divide 4.0” – Part Two: Observations on the uses of Learning Toolbox in Bau-ABC

September 16th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my latest post I started a series of reflections on the concept “Digital Divide 4.0” (see my previous post ). These reflections have been inspired by recent experiences with fieldwork for our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and in particular with its key product the Learning Toolbox (LTB).  In particular these thoughts have been triggered by our LTB workshops (covered in my earlier posts) and our working visit to the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC. With this blog I try to give insights into our observations on ‘digital divide 4.0’ in the beginning phase of the LL project and into the role of our project work in overcoming such divides. Here I would like to emphasist the role of participative design processes, capacity-building measures and the user-driven deployment of LTB in the training activities of Bau-ABC.

Findings on the use of digital tools and mobile apps in the early phase of the LL project

In the beginning phase of the LL project the ITB team carried out several interviews among Bau-ABC trainers and representatives of craft trade companies regarding their use of digital tools, web platforms and mobile apps. Likewise, we carried out (in collaboration with Bau-ABC) a user survey among the Bau-ABC apprentices.

Without going into details, both the interviews and the survey gave a picture of a scattered landscape of stand-alone tools, apps and platforms. The trainers and company representatives had looked at different sites but were not convinced of the quality – it was difficult to distinguish, what tools/apps were meant for professional use and what for hobbyists. The apprentices new very few of them and had hardly any experience with them.

In general, this picture corresponds with my characterisation of ‘digital divide 4.0’ (see my previous post). Both our interview partners and the apprentices responding to the survey were users of smartphones, had acquired a considerable web capability and were exploring, how to use the new tools and technologies. Yet, the trainers and company representatives experienced a kind of Tantalos-situation (see my previous post) – having a multitude of possibilities but not getting a hold of them. Likewise, the apprentices were frustrated because web tools, apps and mobile devices played no role in the training.

What was the role of co-design processes and multimedia training?

In the co-design workshops with Bau-ABC trainers we were looking for ways to support their pedagogic approaches (action-oriented learning, self-organised learning) in context-specific training projects. Likewise, in the workshops with apprentices we were looking at characteristic working tasks and specific situations in which digital tools would be useful. This all was fed to the development of the Learning Toolbox.

In the Multimedia Training we (the facilitators from Pontydysgu and ITB) helped the Bau-ABC trainers to find their own approach to using digital tools and web resources – and to editing their own contents. The most important achievements of this phase were the trainers’ own WordPress  blogs with which they have made their training materials publicly available. (See Zimmererblog, Maurerblog, Tiefbaublog, Brunnenbauerblog.)

Interim assessments by Bau-ABC trainers during the project

In between the Bau-ABC trainers have contributed with their interim assessments that have given important impulses for the development of the Learning Toolbox and for reshaping of the multimedia training arrangements:

  • In August/September 2014 the Bau-ABC colleagues couldn’t participate in the LL consortium meeting in Tallin. Instead they prepared a video message that was later on edited into short videos. These outlined different contexts for using the Learning Toolbox in the training of Bau-ABC and in different work situations. In one of the videos four trainers discuss their pedagogic principles (action-oriented learning; self-organised learning) and how they see the possibilities to promote such learning via Learning Toolbox (see below).

  • In May 2015 the Bau-ABC trainers made an interim assessment on the earlier Multimedia training (2013 -2014) and on their internal follow-up (2014 -2015). They came to the conclusion that Bau-ABC needs to organise a training scheme for the whole trainer staff to bring the media competences to a common level and to work out joint approaches for using the respective tools, apps and platforms. This provided the basis for the Theme Room training campaign that was implemented in November 2015 by tutors from Bau-ABC, ITB and Pontydysgu (with on-site support by Jaanika Hirv from TLU). This campaign was a major step forward to prepare the Bau-ABC trainers to take the role of active users of the Learning Toolbox.

Reflections on the deployment of Learning Toolbox and on the feedback from the users

In February and March 2016 we started the active phase of deployment of the Learning Toolbox with some Bau-ABC trainers in their training projects. Already at that stage we could see that the trainers quickly developed their own ways to use stacks, pages and tiles to shape their training projects:

  • In the trade of well-builders (Brunnenbauer) the emphasis was given on a specific project folder that is supported by content tiles (Reference materials) and collection tiles (photos and videos). When the pilot group of well-builder apprentices moved on to training periods in other trades (metalworking, borehole building), the trainers in these trades provided similar project folders.
  • The joint project of carpenters (Zimmerer) and bricklayers (Maurer) was based on a common mother-stack that was linked to daughter stacks that presented the respective subprojects to be carried out during training periods in the respective trades. In addition, the mother stack provided links to other daughter stacks that provided collections of tools and of further learning materials.

When collecting feedback on the use of Learning Tools the LL researchers involved (mainly Markus Manhart from UIBK) could conclude that the trainers were becoming owners of the innovation and that the apprentices had adopted the use of Learning Toolbox as ‘their way’ of managing the projects. In particular the following observations were of interest:

  • From the pedagogic point of view the trainers had set somewhat different accents. Some of them put an emphasis on equipping the apprentices with comprehensive sets of reference materials and challenging them to do selective and searches for their purposes. Here one could use the metaphor of ‘well’ for the stacks as stable learning resources. Other trainers put an emphasis on curiosity- and interest-based learning and with respective opening of new pages or tiles for apprentices. Here one could use the metaphor of ‘watering cans’ for the stacks as learning resources that are adjusted to the learners’ progress. Consequently, their apprentices have developed either explorative or level-by-level progressing learning approaches.
  • From the infrastructural and organisational points of view the trainers concluded that the deployment of Learning Toolbox had been carried out as a limited pilot. Now the time had come ripe to make commitments for the whole organisation (including the infrastructure and the availability of mobile devices for all training areas). The apprentices had experienced difficulties due to limited internet access – both in the training centre and even more when they were on construction sites. Yet, they emphasised the advantages of using Learning Toolbox vis-à-vis the time when they had not had such a toolset. Also, they put a major emphasis in having the necessary tools in an integrated and contextually adjusted set. However, very few had been able to convince their employers or supervisors of the benefits of the Toolbox. Here, it apparent that the company representatives have to find their own ways to use such a toolset and to become aware of the benefits from their perspective.

Concluding remarks

I believe this is enough of our learning journey in the context of the Learning Layers project and with focus on the project activities in the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC. To me this story serves as an example, how participative design process, capacity building and user-driven tool deployment can work well in the long run. As I see it, we started in a situation that could be characterised as ‘digital divide 4.0’ and worked through processes that helped us to overcome such divides (including us as researchers and our counterparts in the training centre). However, the story shows that we need extra efforts to help the construction companies to find their ways forward. I will get back to this in my next blog.

More blogs to come …

Thoughts on “Digital divide 4.0” – Part One: How to overcome such divides?

September 13th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With this post I will start a series of reflections on the concept “Digital Divide 4.0” (to be explained below). These reflections have been inspired by recent experiences with fieldwork for our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and in particular with its key product the Learning Toolbox (LTB).  In particular these thoughts have been triggered by our workshops last week (see my previous posts) and our working visit to the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC (to be covered in my next posts). All of a sudden I started thinking, what kind of ‘digital divide(s)’ we are encountering.  And in addition to this, I got struck by the question: In what ways can the Learning Toolbox help us to overcome such divides?

The different meanings of  ‘digital divide’

As I see it, debates on the topic ‘digital divide’ have come and gone in several waves. In the more recent debates the authored have characterised their point of view with expressions like ‘Digital divide 2.0’ or (in some cases) ‘Digital divide 3.0’. This, of course has been shadowing the authors view on the evolution of web technologies, uses of web and the perception of the gaps that cause the respective divide.

I am not an expert on this topic but my rough picture of this history is the following:

  • The initial discussion on the topic ‘digital divide’ (which we could now label as the phase of ‘Digital divide 1.0’) drew attention to lacking access to computer technology and computer literacy as main problem. Thus, strategies to overcome digital divide were directed to provide access (private and public) to devices and to promote computer literacy by different campaigns involving formal and informal learning opportunities.
  • The second phase of these debates – named by some authors as ‘Digital divide 2.0’ – has shifted the emphasis on computers and computer literacy to Internet, World-Wide Web and to social networks. The key problem is seen in the lacking or poor Internet connections and web-literacy. Thus, the strategies to overcome digital divide have emphasised the necessity to promote access to internet and to engage the users as participants (clients) of social networks and networked services.
  • The third phase – arising from the previous one and only rarely distinguished as ‘Digital divide 3.0’ shifts the emphasis to mobile devices, in particular to smartphones. In this perception the lack of Internet access via mobile devices (and/or the lacking capability to use them for real-time Internet searches and communication) is the main problem addressed by the concept. And, consequently, the main emphasis is given on informal coaching, tutoring, mentoring, scaffolding etc. to get the potential users over the hurdle and turn them into active users.

What are we missing from this picture and how – in this respect – could these divides be overcome?

Whilst the above presented picture seems valid, to us it is one-sided: the technologies (as such) appear as the driving force and the users only need to get access to the devices and to the respective ‘literacy’ to use them. In this way the ‘ordinary’ users need to be educated to be able to use the technologies in the way the designers have planned.

However, from starting from very the beginning of the LL project and up to present date we have experienced another type of problem constellation that we could characterise as ‘Digital divide 4.0’. Here we have a situation in which the potential users have access to appropriate devices and to average digital literacy but are confronted with a multitude of stand-alone apps, tools, platforms and services – the relevance of which remains a riddle to them. Thus, the users lack orientation and guidance that would help them to make informed choices for options that match their needs. This can be characterised as a Tantalos-situation – by analogy to the antique tale. (Tantalos was stuck into position next to fruit treas that were quasi at his reach but kept their branches out of his reach. Likewise, he was standing next to a river, but when he bowed down to drink, the water escaped his lips.) Therefore, this new divide is not characterised by lack of access to (and command of) particular technologies but lack of overview and strategic mastery of them in terms of user-competences.

What is so specific in the Learning Toolbox regarding ‘Digital divide 4.0’?

In the light of the above we are happy to announce that on several occasions we have been able to witness that the introduction of the Learning Toolbox has clearly contribute to processes that help to overcome such Tantalos-situations. At the moment our experiences are episodic and limited in numbers. Yet, we can start looking at the turning points and at the criteria for overcoming the kind of ‘Digital divide 4.0’ that has been typical of the situation before our pilot activities.

– – –

I guess this is enough as an introduction to the topic. In my next post I will have a look at our fieldwork and on our observations concerning the use of the Learning Toolbox to overcome the kind of digital divide I discussed above.

More blogs to come … 

 

Learning Toolbox (LTB) Online Guide published!

June 16th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

Today is a great day for our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. As most of the readers of this blog will know, the key product of our project’s pilot activities in the construction sector is the  integrative toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB). In my recent blogs I have mostly reported on our pilot activities with LTB in the North-German construction sector training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup.

This afternoon the LTB developer team sent out the message that the new LTB Online Guide has been published here: http://ltb.io. I take the opportunity to provide some screenshots on this masterpiece.

Startpage

This is where you start with the LTB Online Guide:

Screenshot 2016-06-16 17.59.58

Stacks, Screens and Tiles

This picture gives you an overview of screens that belong to the same stack (and contain tiles).

Screenshot 2016-06-16 18.00.45

Stack editing

This picture shows a stack in the edit mode.

Screenshot 2016-06-16 18.01.43

I think this is enough for a ‘sneak preview’. I recommend all interested readers to have a good look at the newly published LTB Online Guide and then follow the instructions. The pilot users have found the tool worth developing and using.

More blogs to come …

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