Archive for the ‘networking’ Category

Learning Layers in dialogue with DigiProB project – Part Two: Interviews with guest trainers/lecturers in continuing vocational training

May 12th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I started a series on the new phase of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Currently, in the Construction pilot we have been able to start closer cooperation  with a spin-off project. The German-funded DigiProB has started its work and the training centre Bau-ABC and the research institute ITB have a central role to play. The DigiProB project focuses on the training of  certified construction site managers (Geprüfte Polier) – see more on this training and on the background of the project in my previous post. In this post I will have a look at the initial interviews and what we may learn from the dialogue with gust trainers/lecturers who are engaged in this training programme.

The reform of the training concept and tensions in the implementation

As I indicated in the previous post, the new training of the certified construction site managers had introduced a new examination model that put an emphasis on integrative tasks and on a concluding project report. In the conceptual preparation for the project proposal we had emphasised the following tensions:

  1. The new training regulation was introduced with short introduction events that familiarised the trainers on the new guidelines. However, these events did not provide an in-depth training for guest trainers/lecturers  to adjust themselves to new requirements.
  2. The guest trainers/lecturers are engaged as subject specialists and are responsible for specific blocks in the presence training. They do not have an overarching responsibility on the supervision of integrated learning tasks and project work.
  3. There has been no clear model for developing online support, arranging peer tutoring and promoting peer learning among the participants.

Now that the DigiProB project was started, the initial interviews provided an opportunity to test, whether the above outlined picture was correct and what new features could be learned from the guest trainers/lecturers involved in the programme.

Messages picked from the initial interviews

Currently I am not actively involved in the initial activities of the DigiProB project. At best I have been nearby when my ITB colleagues have carried out interviews. Therefore, I leave it to my colleagues to report on the activities and on the findings in greater detail and in time. Yet, already at this stage it is possible to pick as ‘first impressions’ some messages that come through and have been reflected by my colleagues. Although these are only preliminary signals, not thoroughly analysed findings, it is worthwhile to pay attention to them:

  • Rapid implementation of the new model: It seems to me that both the training providers (such as Bau-ABC) and guest trainers/lecturers that they use for the training have had very little time to adjust their pedagogic approaches. The training providers arrange short introductory events but then the individual trainers/lecturers have draw the conclusions on their own.
  • Willingness of trainers/lecturers to work with an integrative pedagogic approach: Although the guest trainers/lecturers have been engaged as subject specialists, they seem to have an interest in getting their special know-how put into practice. Therefore, they are individually looking for ways to link ‘theoretical’ elements into practical tasks and exercises. Moreover, there seems to be interest in sharing experiences and examples of good pedagogic solutions.
  • Interest of trainers/lecturers in using digital media and web tools: It appears that (at least some) guest trainers/lecturers show interest in using digital media and web tools to support their teaching and training. In this respect the Learning Toolbox (whenever demonstrated) has been greeted as a promising framework and the interviewees are willing to learn more of it.
  • Interest of learners to share knowledge and experiences: According to the guest trainers/lecturers interviewed so far, the participants (learners) are interested in sharing knowledge and experiences during the course periods and during the periods for self-organised learning. In particular from this perspective they considered the Learning Toolbox as a promising toolset to support individual and collaborative learning processes.

– – –

I leave these first impressions and ‘messages picked from discussions’ here and let my colleagues work with further interviews and the group pictures that we get as a result. Altogether, I believe that the DigiProB project is well-timed and that the trainers/lecturers as well as the learners will be interested to work with the project. However, the project will also pose new challenges for the tool developers and to the project partners who introduce the tools.

More blogs to come …

 

 

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

February 14th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

1. Insights into the model project in Bavaria

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

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

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

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

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

2. Key issues taken up in the stakeholders’ discussion 

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

Start of year 2016 with Learning Layers – Part 4: Working with the LL exploitation model

January 22nd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my three previous blogs I wrote a series of reports on the ‘start of the year 2016′ meetings in with our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In the first post I reported on the meetings of the ‘local’ LL teams of ITB, Pont, and Bau-ABC (in Bremen and Rostrup). In the third post summarised a video conference that discussed a set of themes for our next consortium meeting in Innsbruck (2.2.-5.2.2016). In this fourth post I report on the video conference of the ITB team with our LL colleagues Gilbert Peffer and Raymond Elferink on the Exploitation model for the LL project.

In my previous blog I had already given the following characterisation of the work of Gilbert and Raymond with this model:

“… Gilbert Peffer and Raymond Elferink have organised bilateral or trilateral conversations with LL partners to create a comprehensive model of exploitation activities.  The aim is to compress the pictures given by different exploitation stories and to create more transparency between different initiatives. In this way different partners can find their roles and possibilities in a joint group picture. And with the help of this model the partners can trace the changes from current project partnership to future partnerships (in follow-up projects) or future business relations (in commercial exploitation activities).”

Below I have copied the current draft of the Exploitation model:

Exploitation Model.v2.2

In our discussion in the video conference and after it we started a process of sensemaking, how to fit our exploitation initiatives into this landscape and how to grasp the zones of possible activities that we had not yet thought of. Here I try to interpret different areas of the exploitation model from this perspective:

a) The (peripheral) support area

Two fields in the model can be characterised as a (peripheral) support area for emerging follow-up activities with different intensity of support measures:

a1) “The Learning Layers Association” can be seen as a light-weight form to continue the cooperation across project consortium as an interest group that promotes the tools and ideas of the LL project in new contexts. For this purpose the interest group cam organise joint search conferences or workshops with new potential application partners. (Here the contacts of the LL partners at OEB with the UNHCR might serve as a clue for looking partners for such search conferences.)

a2) “The Learning Layers Cooperative” can be seen as a more committed service alliance – grouping of LL partners that are ready to support new initiatives with technical advice and facilitation in project creation. (Such cooperation has already been practiced between different partners to give shape for spin-off projects.)

b) The Research & Development area

The importance of this area is obvious, since we need to continue with R&D projects to develop the products and services of the LL project to more mature stage. Here we need to have a more differentiated look at the R&D agendas to pursue. Without going into details of specific initiatives it is worth taking into consideration the following type of R&D activities:

b1) Comprehensive follow-up projects (Horizon 2020 etc) that focus on further development of integrative toolsets for/with specific application partners – engaging different kinds of expertise from the LL project but linking it to new contexts.

b2) Specific R&D projects (e.g. within cluster initiatives) that link the further development of LL tools and similar toolsets to technical innovation programs.

Here the model emphasises that the R&D area needs to involve the application partners and the commercial partners as well (in order to take the products and services further).

c) The commercial exploitation area

We have already become aware of the fact that software development in research context may have different working patterns/perspectives than software development as customer service. This is reflected in the ‘commercial exploitation area’ by differentiating between three kinds of organisational entities:

c1) New enterprises (social/commercial) that dedicate themselves on further development of LL tools, software and services as their core business.

c2) Existing partners (private/public organisations) that continue working on the basis of their business models or institutional frameworks.

Here the model suggests that if new entreprises emerge, preferential ‘giving back’ partnership relations  should be agreed in the founding processes. (Also, new enterprises need advisory boards.)

c3) Third party organisations (SMEs, training providers, service providers, cluster organisations) need to be involved with appropriate partnership agreements.

Altogether, the model was shaped with an idea of an “Entrepreneurial symbiosis’. I am looking forward to our next phase of working with this model in our project consortium meeting in Innsbruck.

More blogs to come …

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).

Background

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

Recent developments

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

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

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

WERA International Research Network on VET (IRN-VET)

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

 Work with Emerging researchers & with other EERA networks

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

Preparations for ECER’16 – VETNET 20 years anniversary

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part 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.”

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