Archive for the ‘networking’ Category

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

April 16th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

1. What is so special about these Sustainability Commitments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

 

Learning from Finnish campaigns for sustainable development – Part 1: The sustainability commitments

March 31st, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few years my blogs on “Working and Learning” have been almost exclusively on the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This time I will have a look at something else – and this ‘something else’ is happening in my home country Finland. Yet, when I have got to the end of my story, I think it has quite a lot of relevance for the LL project.

1. Looking at facebook, listening to the radio podcast

This all started when I looked at the facebook page of a friend of old, Mr Sauli Rouhinen from the Finnish Ministry of  the Environment. I had known Sauli from the time when he was a junior researcher at the University of Tampere and I was a student at the same university. Sauli was specialising in social ecology and was well positioned to start in the newly established Ministry of the Environment when it was taking its initial steps. What is more important, is the fact that he became the civil servant in charge of the government commissions for and civic participation in the national strategies for Sustainable Development.

During the weekend I discovered that Sauli had been interviewed by the Finnish public radio (YLE) for a special program on economic affairs “Mikä maksaa?” (Twist of words between the questions: ‘What does it cost?’ and ‘ What does it take to achieve …?’). And this time it was all about Sustainable development. So, I took my time and listened to the program and it was worthwhile. For those who understand Finnish (we are over 5 million people who speak this language), here is the link:

http://areena.yle.fi/radio/2630343

2. The Finnish approach to engage people, organisations and public bodies via commitments

In the program Sauli told firstly about the early stage of the work with the theme ‘Sustainable development’. This phase produced green papers, white papers and recommendations which were well-written but did not have a strong impact on decision-making and everyday life. In the next phase the overarching strategy papers were chopped down to smaller ones – but this led to a multitude of strategies on which nobody could have an overview.  Therefore, narrowing down the focus didn’t improve the chances to implement the strategies and to monitor the impact.

The fundamental change in the approach was taken when the campaigning for sustainable development was turned into participative process based on Sustainability commitments. As a first step, eight central goals for sustainability were formulated as concise documents that provided a basis for making one’s own commitments. Then, different kinds of organisations as well as publicly known opinion leaders were invited to make their specific commitments. In this way the leaders of the campaign (the civil servants and their supporters) could reach public bodies, civic organisations (like employers’ federations or trade unions but also other voluntary organisations) and individual companies or chains of companies. And the ones who had made such commitments were enabled to invite others to join in this process.

3. How are such commitments made and how are they put into practice?

Firstly, it is worthwhile to note that the sustainability goals require specific measures to change the status quo in order to ensure the attainment of these goals. Secondly, the organisations or individuals have to specify their actions and set clear objectives in a time frame that they have defined for themselves. Thirdly, they have to define indicators or clarify in an alternative way, how their progress can be monitored. When all these criteria have been met, the Ministry of the Environment will register the commitments. After the registration, the organisations are obliged to report on annual basis on their progress in reaching their objectives.

Initially this process with Sustainability commitments was launched by a small ‘task force’ in the ministry. However, when the process started to take off, it became hard for the civil servants to check the draft commitments and to give feedback on them. Therefore, in the current phase the process is being taken to a database. After this transition, it is possible to use web tools to check whether the commitments meet the criteria. Also, the database works as a social network platform for a community of practice. So, the community is expected to give feedback on the proposals and on the progress. Here , it is necessary to emphasise the role of some NGOs like the one - “Yllätetään yhteiskunta” (‘Let’s surprise the society’) – that play an active role in mobilising such civic participation and public interest.

4. What kinds of commitments have been made and and what kind of actions have emerged?

Currently all registered commitments can be viewed on the platform Sitoumus2050.fi - Kestävän kehityksen toimenpidesitoumukset (Commitment2050.fi – Commitments to measures for sustainable development). The opening page gives a general introduction and them lists the most recent registered commitments. At the bottom of the page there are link buttons to different domains of sustainability commitments such as “Työtä kestävästi” (‘To work in a sustainable way’) or “Hiilineutraali yhteiskunta” (Carbon-neutral society) or “Luontoa kunnioittava päätöksenteko” (Decision-making that respects nature).

Looking more closely at the domain “Työtä kestävästi” (‘To work in a sustainable way’) we see different actors making different kinds of commitments:

  • The Ministry of Education and Culture has committed itself to organise campaigns that raise awareness on sustainable developments in different educational sectors.
  • The OKKA foundation has committed itself to produce training materials on sustainable development for different educational establishments.
  • Some regional consortia of vocational schools and colleges have committed themselves to obtain sustainability certificates in their initial vocational education programs.
  • Some consortia that have already obtained such certificates for initial vocational education and training (iVET) have committed themselves to obtain such certificates for the continuing vocational education and training (cVET) provisions.
  • The national grouping of co-operative shops, markets and catering services (S-ryhmä) commits itself to introduce principles of sustainable development at work to its trainees and apprentices….

I think this is enough to give an idea of the Finnish approach to work with a participative process of Sustainability commitments. In my next post I will discuss, how this kind of approach could be taken up in the field of vocational education and training (VET) and in the Learning Layers (LL) project.

PS. After publishing this blog I was informed by Sauli that he has presented the Finnish approach at the events of the  European Sustainable Development Network  and that they have published his presentations as well as the Finnish Commitment template. I am happy to share this news.

More blogs to come …

Layers and cluster visitors: What did we learn in Bau-ABC today (Part 1)

December 5th, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few weeks quite a lot of effort in the Learning Layers (LL) project have been put to reporting and drawing conclusions from the Y2 activities. Also, a lot of effort has been put to the technical development of the tools. This might give a false impression that our fieldwork in the construction sector pilots has gone to standstill. We wouldn’t accept this interpretation. Yet, since we have not been able to organise major events, it is difficult to give a picture, what is going on  in the field. (For several practical reasons we had to postpone a new round of field workshops to the beginning of the year 2015.) From this point of view we were happy to receive visitors from the Norwegian Tretorget cluster organisation and to make a joint field visit to Bau-ABC with them. Below, in the first post I presents some observations from the cluster exchange session of our visit.

Layers meets the Norwegian cluster Tretorget

In September some partners of the Learning Layers had participated in the European Clusters’ Matchmaking Conference in Berlin. There they had organised a seminar on the project and participated in bilateral matchmaking talks with interested cluster organisations. The contact with the Norwegian cluster organisation Tretorget was made in this event. Tretorget is a regional cluster in the area of Lillehammer and it promotes innovations in wood industry and in using wood in building and construction work. As a follow-up to the Berlin conference they were making visits to other cluster regions, including the North German pilot region of Learning Layers. The major event during their stay was our working visit to Bau-ABC, during which we had talks with Melanie Campbell and visited some of the training workshops, in particular the carpenters’ workshop and the well-builders training area.

Cluster talks – insights and lessons

Much of our talks was exchange of information on each others’ organisational frameworks, regional environments and of the main activities. Although we had to spend much time to explain our different action contexts (and boundary conditions), we found quite a lot of points for mutual learning. Furthermore, we noticed that this discussion drew both parties’ attention to some issues that we or they had not considered very thoroughly before.

For us – the LL partners – it was helpful to discuss the evolution of the Tretorget cluster organisation as an iterative process with several setbacks and reorientations. Now, we could see that it has reached a stable phase – both as a cluster organisation based on wide membership and as a sustained consultancy service. For us it became clear that there is no ‘one perfect way’ to become a mature cluster or to scale up innovations. Instead, their success was very much dependent on circumstantial factors like timing, setting the right priorities for networking and pursuing the goals despite obstacles. For the visitors it was interesting to see, how consequently Bau-ABC emphasises the training of skilled workers – both in the initial training for labour market and in the continuing training for advanced professional positions. Here, the visitors made the point that their members and clients had mainly focused on higher education and continuing professional development of HE graduates.

We agreed to continue exchanges and look for opportunities to develop cooperation. At the moment it would be premature to anticipate possible next steps. Yet – the talks were inspiring and emphasised the relevance of linking clusters from third regions to exchanges with the LL pilot regions.

More blogs to come …

New steps in the Layers fieldwork – Part 2: Pilot workshops with craft trade companies go ahead

September 12th, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started to report on the recent steps in the fieldwork of the Learning Layers (LL) project in the construction sector. I firstly reported on the participation of LL partners in the large German construction sector fair NordBau and on the stakeholder talks we had their with several companies. A major topic was to engage them into pilot activities on the LL tools in particular with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). This post will give insights into the recent Pilot workshop with craft trade companies on LL tools. This workshop was organised and documented by our ITB colleague Werner Müller. He has written a more detailed report for internal use. I will highlight here some points that give a general picture, how our pilot activities are moving on.

The workshop was planned as a follow-up to the stakeholder engagement activities that we carried out during the Well-builders’ fair in May 2014 (65. Brunnenbauertage) in Bau-ABC Rostrup. However, before launching a wide range of workshops, we agreed to have first a smaller pilot workshop. We invited two companies that we had interviewed during the initial phase of the project and with which the LL partners had good contacts.

The company K is a carpentry company with currently 36 employees. It is involved in the network for ecological construction work (Netzwerk Nachhaltiges Bauen – LL partner organisation) and in several domain-specific networks. The company has been pioneering with company-specific apps and is in the process of introducing tablet PCs for team leaders. At the same time the company is paying attention to the fact that introduction of new ICT tools will not cause a digital divide in access to information and communication. The company has regular meetings to discuss quality issues (QT-Runde).

The company W is a larger medium-sized company with ca. 430 employers and specialised on pipeline-building. It has most of its staff working on missions in teams of two or three skilled workers. This company has a long-term cooperation with Bau-ABC. The company W has been pioneering with digital pens, mobile offices (laptops with internet access) allocated to teams and with centralised databases. Yet, the company has had mixed experiences with the effectivity of such tools regarding time used for searches vs. finding adequate solutions. The company itself has centralised databases and is concerned of knowledge management and confidentiality issues. Concerning knowledge sharing and learning across teams, there are very limited possibilities to provide face-to-face meetings.

In the workshop we presented a general picture on the Learning Layers project and invited the companies to present their own situation assessment on their use of ICT, Web tools and digital media (including use of mobile technologies). Then, we presented a demonstration on the emerging Learning Toolbox (LTB) as a framework for managing web resources and apps with a mobile device. in the next rounds of discussions we were mapping different situations for piloting with the LTB and needs to which it could respond.

At this point it is not appropriate to go into details of the subsequent discussion. For the LL project it was important that both companies found their specific entry points to pilot activities. For the company K these were more in the intra-company communication and knowledge sharing and in the network-wide knowledge sharing. For the company W they were in the filtering of different quality guidelines and requirements (provided by different electricity providers or public authorities). Altogether, both companies agreed to continue the cooperation with the project and to organise further talks and pilot workshops in their companies.

After this pilot event and after the stakeholder talks during the NordBau fair (see my previous post) we are looking forward to the next pilot workshops.

More blogs to come …

 

The VETNET network goes global: Reflections on the IRN-VET Forum at ECER’14

September 10th, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few years all my blogs have been about the Learning Layers (LL) project – and for good reasons. Our ongoing project has kept us busy to that extent and we have learned a lot. This one, however, will report on our efforts to promote internationalisation of research in Vocational Education and Training (VET) world-wide. For this purpose we had a special event – the IRN-VET Forum – in the context of the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’14) in the beginning of September in Porto, Portugal.

Already during ECER 2009 ‘regional’ educational research associations like EERA (Europe), AERA (America) and their counterparts had created the World Educational Research Association (WERA) to promote internationalisation and mutual exchanges in educational research. In 2013 the WERA council organised a call for proposals to set up international research networks (IRN) under the auspices of WERA. This gave rise for our initiative “Internationalisation in VET research”.

As we had witnessed for a long while, the European research community in VET research had been able to consolidate itself well under the auspices of the VETNET network of EERA. The annual ECER conferences had become the key platform and the VETNET website was used for sharing papers and presentations. In 2013 major steps were taken forward to set up a journal for the VET research community. In this context some key actors of VETNET came to the conclusion that this journal should not be limited to Europe and that it would be important to set up a global network under WERA.

The proposal for WERA IRN-VET with the overarching theme “Internationalisation in VET research” was submitted and we were happy to have founding members from Europe, Asia, America, Australia and Africa. Very soon we received the notification that the proposal had been accepted and we were free to start with the founding activities. Although it had been relatively easy to get agreements from colleagues from different global regions, it was somewhat difficult to create patterns of cooperation and launch joint activities. Therefore, before having a constituting meeting, we agreed to organise a pilot session within the VETNET program at ECER’14 – the “IRN-VET Forum”.

In the VETNET programme the IRN-VET Forum was placed on the last conference day and as the first morning session (which is normally not the most popular slot). Also, some of the key initiators who had worked with me to prepare the proposal and the session could not attend due to clashes in their calendars. Yet, we were positively surprised to note that the session had over twenty participants who showed genuine interest in the talks on internationalisation.

Here some key points on the session:

  • I gave firstly a presentation on the founding steps of the WERA IRN-VET and on the key activities that we had outlined – International VET research review, Thematic sessions in ‘regional’ conferences, creating cooperation between VET teacher education programmes and PhD programmes and support for the new journal IJRVET.
  • Martin Mulder gave insights into the two pilot rounds of International VET research review that had organised 2012 and 2013 with his fellow colleagues in Wageningen University. He drew attention to the fact that it was difficult to keep the review process alive as a single-university initiative but that it would be highly interesting to keep it going on as a joint activity of a global network.
  • Marg Malloch and Len Cairns from Australia gave insights into the process called ‘destatalisation’ in their country. This concept refers to withdrawal of state in terms of privatisation and/or subventioning of alternative VET provisions at the expense of traditional VET providers (the TAFE colleges). Here the issue is, whether the weakening of state and the state-supported infrastructures is reflected in the quality and attractiveness of VET and what are the consequences in the labour market. The discussion drew attention to parallel developments as ‘deregulation’ in VET (e.g. regarding VET teacher education).
  • Lazaro Moreno gave insights into the national PhD programme in VET research that had been launched as a joint initiative of several Swedish initiatives. Here, the issue of internationalisation came into picture via different channels (access to literature, mobility and exchanges as well as internationalisation in one’s own home country).
  • Johanna Lasonen  (University of South Florida) was the discussant of the session. She encouraged further activities along these lines and drew attention to the need to pay attention to multilingualism, intercultural communication and intercultural integration

In the final part of the session I drew attention to some milestone events and we made some working agreements:

  • In the VETNET assembly within the ECER’14 the launch of the new journal IJRVET was announced publicly. The first issue is available online and the next ones are under preparation. This journal serves also the WERA IRN-VET.
  • In November the WERA has a focal meeting of the IRNs. By that time we have to finalise the founding regulations and the patterns of work for the IRN-VET. Also, in this context we shall discuss how to go on with the International VET research review.
  • In October there will be a regular meeting of the UNESCO UNEVOC-Centres. ITB has received an invitation due to its role in VETNET. This invitation will be taken as an opportunity to inform UNEVOC of the WERA IRN-VET.
  • When EERA launches the call for proposals for the ECER’15 in Budapest, we will launch a call for expressions of interest for a WERA IRN-VET Forum and/or for thematic Round Tables.

In this way the pilot event gave us further directions and impulses, how to strengthen our global cooperation.

To be continued …

 

 

 

Learning Layers goes to Bau-ABC Rostrup – Part 3: What have we done for a successful outreach?

June 14th, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous posts I have discussed firstly the forthcoming consortium meeting of the Learning Layers (LL) project in Bau-ABC Rostrup and secondly the cooperation with Bau-ABC staff to bring the project forward. In this context I have mentioned that the capacity building measures have not been taken just for strengthening Bau-ABC as a single training centre. From this point of view it is appropriate to recapitulate, in what ways Bau-ABC has contributed to the outreach activities of the LL project.

Already in the initial phase Bau-ABC was actively involved in the the joint LL team activities at Online Educa Berlin 2012 and made contacts to construction sector stakeholders with interest in e-learning and Web 2.0.

Parallel to the co-design workshops we had several working meetings during which we listed spin-off ideas to be taken up by spin-out projects or by parallel activities with affiliate partners. Some of these ideas were communicated to the regional branch of the umbrella association of the German construction industry (Bauindustrieverband Bremen-Niedersachesen) in a joint meeting in August 2013.

During the development of the Multimedia Training Workshops Bau-ABC has emphasised that such training should be open for wider participation. Yet, it has been our common conclusion (for practical reasons) to carry out the pilot together with Bau-ABC and the linked training centre ABZ Mellendorf. However, in order to develop the concept further, Bau-ABC volunteered to lead a joint proposal with ITB and Pontydysgu to create a Strategic Partnership project under the Erasmus+ programme.

Consequently, when Bau-ABC had the responsibility of organising the annual conference and triannual exhibition for well-builders and borehole builders – Brunnenbauertage - they provided several opportunities for the LL project to make it present: the info stall, the foyer presentation for the whole exhibition audience, a special workshop session and an opportunity for targeted stakeholder talks during the exhibition. As a result we managed to make preliminary agreements with interested companies on follow-up talks. In addition, we made preliminary agreements with universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen) who are interested in working together to develop workplace learning with the LL tools.

Finally, Bau-ABC has actively supported the efforts of the WP7 team to create wider stakeholder talks on organised clusters in the Bremen and Oldenburg regions and in positioning construction sector, new ICT-competences and exchange with ICT-clusters in this context. In a similar way the Bau-ABC representatives have been active in promoting nation-wide development of ICT-capabilities in new qualification models and in new curricula.

Altogether, as we see it, Bau-ABC has all the time worked very consequently as a multiplier-organisation that has invested in capacity building in its own organisation to support wider engagement of other organisations via domain-specific networks and organised clusters.

Again, this recapitulation of common efforts towards a successful outreach have not been written down just for the sake of writing a diary. Instead, the aim is to give a picture, on what grounds the measures to scale up innovation have to be built. In this respect we hope to bring the whole consortium to common discussion, how these efforts can be made more effective. This is a further aspect  of the question, what we are looking for. And it merits a separate blog article.

More blogs to come …

Learning Layers – What are we learning in the current phase of our fieldwork? (Part 3: SMEs in craft trade)

June 8th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

My previous post informed of the fieldwork activities that we had arranged with the training centre Bau ABC. In this context the construction companies were addressed in an indirect way – via apprentices who were reflecting on their working and learning experiences in the companies (and looking for new solutions). In this post I shift the emphasis from the training context to cooperation with SMEs – directly or via their network organisation (in this case the NNB/ Agentur).

In the case of Bau ABC we had a relatively easy start with the workshops. It is no major problem for training centres to involve their learners and staff members in such workshops in the course of their normal weekly schedule. However, it requires more effort from SMEs to participate in similar events (either as their own event or as a joint event hosted by trade guild or a networking agency – such as the NNB/ Agentu). Therefore, it has been necessary to find ways to present design ideas of the Learning layers (LL) project for them in such a way that they would see the benefit for them and commit themselves to the necessary preparatory events. Here our colleagues Joanna Burchert and Werner Müller as well as Tobias Funke from NNB/ Agentur have had to work hard to find ways forward. Here some remarks from an observer’s point of view. Joanna and Werner have spent the last week on a course in Verden and deepened their insights in the topic ‘ecological construction work’ and into the community. Thus, they will soon have quite a lot of fresh  first hand information to report.

Shortly after the LL Design Conference Tobias Funke raised the issue that the NNB/Agentur should develop a specific offering – a Webinar – to inform its own staff and member companies of possible uses of web applications and services that could be immediately useful. Werner and Joanna from the ITB team started to work together with this concept and agreed to take the role of trainers (to get themselves into a development-oriented dialogue with the participants). This webinar was thought to be a preparatory step to a presence workshop in which the participants could test the applications and try to customise them for their own context. However, the Webinar turned out to be an internal training event – and as such a useful one – but with no participants from the member SMEs. The planned presence workshop had to be postponed and instead a working session was organised to see how the SMEs could be approached with more targeted and customised offerings.

Without going into details it is worthwhile to mention that in our direct contacts with SMEs we have had somewhat similar experiences. It has not been easy to find an obvious way to open the discussion and design processes on other LL design ideas (although there is much good will). It is becoming clearer to us that the befits that we might be able to demonstrate in optimising work processes may lead to non-trivial issues about redistributing decision-making powers and responsibilities of risks. Thus, well-meant interventions to work processes may have problematic side-effects on the business processes. Furthermore, these issues tend to be perceived in a different light in different companies.

What we tend to see as the way forward is to develop similar exercises as the storyboard workshop in Bau ABC for apprentices and/or skilled workers in interested companies. Here the challenge is harder – the mapping of problems, hurdles and communication gaps in the process of work is though similar but the search for possible solutions may be more demanding in a mini-workshop or individual exercise. Therefore, we see it necessary to continue the interviews with company representatives and the harvesting of existing interview material.

Here, the picture is incomplete and may change soon in the light of newer information. However, the message is the same: our efforts to bring the use of ICT- and web-based tools and apps to the everyday practice of SMEs are not just simple measures of introducing new tools for those who are interested. The processes of accessing information, sharing knowledge and managing communication are very closely linked to business processes and to (re)distributing roles, powers and responsibilities. The SMEs need to get convinced that it is worthwhile taking the path that brings changes alongside developmental steps. We need to work and learn with the SMEs to see the benefits together with them.

To be continued …

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

Sharing Turbine

April 4th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Project websites are usually pretty dire. A short piece about the project taken from the project application, a list of partners, news updates of meetings and links to downloadable products.

And that was how we started our website with the Learning Layers project. However, we soon realised that this would not suffice. Our aim is to dramatically scale up the use of technology to support informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises. To do that we need a forward facing web site -something we can show off to SME managers and be proud of. But that in turn requires content which they will understand and engage with. That is a much trickier part. We need more of a newspaper or journal type website than a traditional project site. This has led to a lot of discussions and we haven’t got all the issues resolved yet. But one thing we have done is moved to an editorial model where instead of having a web site moderator we have an editor. His role is to commission content from the different partners in the project.

And I have been messing around with how to write about project development in a way that it is understandable to those without an advanced knowledge of the technologies, processes and ideas that we are developing.

Here is my first attempt – about one of the design ideas we are pursuing codenamed ‘Sharing Turbine’.

“The Learning Layers project aims to develop a number of new applications to support informal learning in the workplace.  In the first stages of the project we are working with Small and Medium Enterprises in the Construction sector in north Germany and in the healthcare sector in north England.

We are aware that for any applications to gain widespread take up, we have to work closely with managers and workers from the industries. Therefore, we have adopted a user centred design process for iterative development.

What does this mean? We started out with a series of interviews with a wide variety of people from the sector. In construction e gave now made over 50 interviews, looking at work organisation, learning and peoples present use and attitudes towards technology. This was followed up with what we called Application Partner Days in both the UK and Germany, where we visited the workplaces and held a series of workshop activities with different practitioners.

The third stage in the development process was a two-day design workshop held in Helsinki. Building on the ideas from the interviews and visits we started to sketch out a series of design ideas for new mobile applications. The working groups for the four design ideas that emerged at the workshop brought together researchers, developers and industry practitioners.

Since then, the working groups have continued to meet online and are using a wiki to develop the design ideas.

Each of the design ideas has been given a working name. The idea for the Sharing Turbine design idea came from the construction industry but we hope it may also be of use in the health sector.

Apprentices in the construction industry in Germany learn their trade in three different locations: vocational schools, on the job in companies and in a training centre. At the north German training centre – Bau ABC – they undertake a series of practical projects. These last from o0ne to three days and may involve working individually or as a team. They are given project briefing sheets and save the report of their work on paper which is collected in a white ring bound folder. This has a number of practical disadvantages. Obviously paper folders do not last well on a building site. And although they can use photographs in the report on their work, the folders are predominantly text based. The use of multi media could allow much more detailed and rich reporting. It could also allow a richer representation of the different physical objects and tools used in construction. In fact one of the reason that elearning has been slow to take off in the workplace may be just this issue of how to combine learning through digital media with the physical nature of much work activity.

So the first idea behind Sharing turbine is to transform the present folders produced at the training centre into an electronic portfolio. This would also have the advantage of making it much easier to update the task sheets. Trainees could use a variety of different media directly from heir phones including audio, photos and video.

However the idea behind Sharing turbine goes much further. One of the aims of the Learning Layers project is to capture informal learning. Obviously when apprentices are working in their companies much of this informal learning takes place on the building site. And if they were able to use mobile devices and multi-media learning on the site could be linked to the skills and knowledge gained at the training centre. The portfolio could also become a resource both for dealing with practical problems occurring when undergoing training, but also after they have qualified. At the same time they can be linked to personal social networks, both as a means of sharing learning and knowledge, but also as a human resource for getting help and advice.

The German so called Dual System is rightly admired in Europe for providing high quality apprentice training> one of its bedrocks is combining practical training on the job with theory gained from block period in vocational schools. However, in practice it often proves difficult to link the different phases of training. Sharing turbine could be a critical tool in allowing these different phases of training to be brought together.

The use of Learning Analytics, a process of recording and analyzing learning as it happens – could also allow apprentices and trainers to understand what learning has happened and what new learning is needed – and to develop and refine curricula and training and learning opportunities and processes.

At the moment the Sharing Turbine working group is at the phase of developing wireframes. Wireframes are graphic mock ups of applications. They can be developed rapidly and used in design workshops to test and refine ideas, prior to programming prototypes.

In the next month workshops are planned with companies to get feedback from apprentices and skilled workers. These are not confined to project partners. If you are interested in our work and would like to contribute please get in touch.”

How trade unionists are using the Internet

April 2nd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

The results of the annual Labour Start survey of trade union use of the internet are interesting. The summary of results from the 3000 trade unionists who answered the survey found:

  • More and more of you use tablets and smartphones – though your unions haven’t tended to keep up, with very few of them creating applications specifically designed for small screens.
  • Very large numbers of you are using social networks other than Facebook – most notably Google+ and LinkedIn.  But your unions, which have been pretty good about using Facebook and Twitter, have largely ignored those other networks.
  • While most of you seem pretty happy with how your unions now use the net, large numbers of you don’t actually know if your unions are creating videos or smartphone apps.
  • We asked people what they most wanted to see on union websites and here are the top three: tips on workers’ rights, training for activists, and describing working conditions in companies

To read a much more detailed account of the results, click here to download the PDF file.

Learning Layers – What can we learn during on-site visits? (Part 1)

December 20th, 2012 by Pekka Kamarainen

My latest blog postings on Learning Layers focused on lessons to be learned from predecessor projects. We still need to follow that track. There is surely something to be discussed when we get statements from colleagues who have been involved (and taken the opportunity to think aloud about their learning gains).

However, now the current phase of the Learning Layers is pushing forward the on-site visits and the work with interview materials. At the moment we are just making the very first interviews and the editing of recordings and the detailed analyses are on the agenda in January 2013. Yet, already at this point it is worthwhile to consider, what we (as researchers) can learn during the on-site visits when talking to people who know their trade (and the issues  to be studied)  via their own practical experience.

Three members of the  ITB team visited earlier this week our Application Partner organisation “Agentur für Nachhaltiges Bauen” in Verden near Bremen. We didn’t have much time to look around at their exhibition areas or at their test sites. Yet, we got interesting insights into the wide area of  ‘ecological construction work’.  Here some points as starters while waiting for the analyses and the Application Partner Days (that provide an opportunity for more partners to make such on-site visits):

 1) Who are our counterparts and what do they represent: We were told that we would be having interviews with a student (doing his Praktikum at the Agentur) and with two architects. During the discussion we learned that they all seemed to have a background as skilled workers (and eventually as master craftsmen - Meister) in the construction sector before starting their studies. Thus, their learning histories and occupational careers combined practical work experience and academic studies.

2) What is “ecological construction work” about: Another issue to be considered was the diversity of approaches to ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecological construction work’. Some approaches emphasise sustainability without thinking that much on ecological impact of preparatory processes, logistic chains etc. Some approaches are very thoroughly committed to ecological materials and to construction tehniques with minor ecological consequences. These different positions may also have implications on the use and acceptance of mobile devices and ICT in general.

3) What is the relation between ‘competitiveness’ and ‘knowledge sharing': Our counterparts gave us a colourful picture of constraints to share knowledge (and make the construction site work together) and to keeping one’s professional secrets to themselves. Both pressures are there – at the individual level and at the level of organisations. It was interesting to discuss, what kind of experiences and observations our counterparts had made about readiness to share knowledge (and with whom, in particular).

4) What works in knowledge transfer and what doesn’t: Each of our counterparts had made experiences of the use of different media to support knowledge transfer.  They drew our attention to personal trust and to social relations (how to get good communication work) above any ranking of possible (old or new media). Yet, they had interesting views on, what kind of media are OK for certain target groups and what might not be considered OK.

5) Cultural changes – readiness or resistance: The pioneers of ecological construction work had made a lot of experiences with changes in construction techniques – both regarding the resistance and regarding the readiness to accept new ideas once you had tried. This was also important for the discussion on usability of web tools and services.

I could go on with this list but prefer to stop here. As I said before, these were just first impressions and rather vague answers to the question, what we as researchers can learn during on-site visits.

The story will be continued …

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

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    Online Educa Berlin

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


    Consultation

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

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


    Social Tech Guide

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

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

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

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


    Code Academy expands

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

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

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

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

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


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