Archive for the ‘networking’ Category

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

October 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The role of research dialogue – internal and external

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

a) Exhanges on Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

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

b) Exchanges of parallel approaches to intervention research

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

– – –

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

More blogs to come …

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

September 17th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

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


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

Recent developments

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

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

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

WERA International Research Network on VET (IRN-VET)

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

 Work with Emerging researchers & with other EERA networks

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

Preparations for ECER’16 – VETNET 20 years anniversary

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

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

September 16th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

The Dutch project Strengthening workplace learning in vocational/professional education

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

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

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

2. Different workplaces offer different opportunities for learning.

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

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

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

6. Lack of models to asses workplace learning.

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

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

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

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

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

4) the desired Outcomes.

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

The Danish project The Vocational Education Lab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …


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

September 15th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning Layers proceeds from apprentice training to continuing vocational training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

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

September 14th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

The conference as an international event of VET researchers

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

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

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

The thematic continuum of keynote addresses

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

 Remarks on other sessions

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …


Entering the post Facebook age

August 26th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I have written before about how I expect the future of social networking to eveolve towards less public and more niche social networking applications and channels. In that respect I like a recent article “How to Escape the Public Internet” in New Republic.

In the article draws attention to the increasing take up of Slack, an app we have been using for communication in some of our projects.

Ostensibly a powerful work chat app where teams can communicate with each other in channels of various topics (in the manner of its public predecessor IRC), Slack has also developed both a rabid userbase and a culture of its own as people turn its groups into communities. Its users aren’t just corporate teams, either. They’re freelancers, groups of friends, and even gaming clans. Though they use it differently, all have turned to the app for the same reason: to take their conversations from public to private.

Slack and other private modes of communication, says Alang, “offers a space hidden from the public internet. What it thus represents is a retreat into the private—or rather, a return to it.” I don’t think this is the only reason for the rise in popularity of private channels (and the return of curated newsletters). Although there have been several attempts to develop alternatives to Facebook they have all tended to look like Facebook clones. Slack is pretty, works on all platforms and is free of the distracting advertising and looks and feels nothing like Facebook.  More importantly Slack allows communication with a more limited community of ‘real’ colleagues and ‘friends’. And perhaps most important of all, as in the example Alang provides of a channel for writers and academics, Slack channels seem to be more focused on what you want to discuss, with people with the same interests. Slack for education – there’s a thought!

Golden Oldie

August 19th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

Thanks to a Tweet by @francesbell I picked up this olden but still golden video (around discussions in the first ever MOOC). As the Youtube blurb says “WARNING : This is not a real conversation. It is intended as a good-humoured parody of conversations about Groups and Networks that took place on CCK08 and elsewhere. This video is a mashup of the words of Bob Bell, Lisa Lane, Ariel Lion, Frances Bell, Stephen Downes, Ailsa Haxell, Roy Williams and possibly others, with a few extra words thrown to glue the conversation. You will have been quoted out of context, and otherwise had your words twisted but I hope you take this in good spirit.”

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 (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, 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:

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 - Kestävän kehityksen toimenpidesitoumukset ( – 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 …

  • Search

    News Bites

    Skills in Europe

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

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

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

    Talking about ‘European’ MOOCs

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

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

    OER – update 2

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

    It includes:

    • European OER Portals and Repositories
    • Educational material repositories/directories
    • Larger Repositories rather than very specific ones
    • Focus on those who include Creative Commons license and on National/public OER repositories
    • Focus on material for teachers  (for the classroom/schools) rather than on higher education
    • Collaborative OER production initiatives (LeMill, RVP.CZ Portal,, KlasCement”)

    OER – update 1

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

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

    Other Pontydysgu Spaces

  • Twitter

  • RT @ScrivenerApp Job Alert! We're looking for some more people to provide basic online support to Scrivener users:…

    About 2 days ago from Cristina Costa's Twitter via TweetDeck

  • Sounds of the Bazaar AudioBoo

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Meta

  • Upcoming Events

      There are no events.
  • Categories