Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

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

October 29th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The multiple roles of accompanying research during the process

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

 

Wrapping up the Learning Layers experience – Part One: Digital transformation as lived practice

October 29th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last four years I and my colleagues have been working in our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Now we are in the phase of drawing final conclusions and editing the final deliverables. Whilst such a phase easily requires more focused work on particular products – in our cases tool descriptions, impact cards, scenarios, methodology descriptions etc. – it is essential to keep the big picture in our minds. Our project was about introducing new technologies – tools for mobile devices to support access to web resources and to online communication – but not only of that. Most of all it was about changing practices in workplace learning or learning in the context of work. And it is in this context that the project has gone through a long journey and made important experiences. With this post and the next ones I try to revisit our learning journey in the LL pilot in construction sector draw some conclusions and key messages arising from it. In this post I will focus on the overarching themedigital transformation’.

Digital transformation as lived practice

I am aware of the fact that there is plenty of literature on the theme ‘digital transformation’ and that I should do my homework with if I want to use this concept properly. However, given the intensity of our project work, I have come across this theme from the perspective of our fieldwork and in our own processes of work. In this context we have experienced many transitions from earlier modes of work to new ways of using online resources and web-based communication and interaction. A great deal of our research and development work is carried out on web platforms and by using shared resources. And if we use traditional e-mails, then mainly when sending out group mails for wider target groups. Furthermore, when developing new online tools, such as the much discussed Learning Toolbox (LTB), we are more and more inclined to find ways to use for such tools in our own work – not only in the pilot fields. Altogether, my perspective on the topic ‘digital transformation’ is primarily that of manifold step-by-step changes in everyday life as lived practice.

Digital transformation as precondition for/aim of a R&D project

Shifting the emphasis from our everyday life as project partners into our field of piloting – the construction sector – we need to take a broader perspective. Indeed, there have been many speculations on automation and new technologies making skilled workers redundant – or cautious statements on the limits to digitisation in construction work. To be sure, the true picture is probably characterised by an ongoing change between the extreme poles. But how to grasp the real picture of changes in construction sector?

Looking back at the earliest interviews in the project, we learned a lot of the infant diseases of several ‘new technologies’ that didn’t work properly or didn’t reduce the workload of construction professionals. Likewise, we heard of several stand-alone apps that were advertised for construction sector, but were not good enough for professional use (or didn’t promote learning at work). So, in the further work we needed to keep an eye on real innovations that made a difference to our application partners and improved the quality of working life. Here we found ourselves in a similar position as the researchers studying the early automation processes in the 1970s and 1980s. As the German researcher Rolf Nemitz formulated it: ‘So far, the studies on automation have focused on, how automation can replace or reduce human contribution. However, the real innovation lies in combining automation and human potential.’ Or, as the founders of our institute – Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) – took this further: the contribution of research is to equip practitioners with capability for social shaping (Gestaltung) of work, organisations and technology. However, the researchers of that time were talking about production technologies, not about present-date technologies and new media to promote learning at work. Now we have been facing new challenges.

Digital transformation as a research theme and as transformative practice

In the light of the above, for us the topic ‘digital transformation’ has not been merely a research them to be dealt with via academic contemplation, empirical observations and testing designs for learning technologies. For us, the understanding of digital transformation can only arise from processes of working with the application partners and for changes that enhance them as pioneers for innovations in construction work. In this context I hear the echo of the words of young Karl Marx in his Theses on Feuerbach: “The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.” (Marx/Engels Selected Works, Volume One, Progress Publishers Moscow, 1969). Or in original version:  “Das Zusammenfallen des Ändern[s] der Umstände und der menschlichen Tätigkeit oder Selbstveränderung kann nur als revolutionäre Praxis gefaßt und rationell verstanden werden.” Marx-Engels Werke, Band 3, Seite 5ff. Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1969).

Here, in our context, we could interpret this classical phrase as referring to digital transformation as a coincidence of changing circumstances and changing self-understanding of actors as an interactive and transformative process. Thus, it is not enough to document the changes as observable facts or to record the self-understanding of practitioners as their testimony. Instead, a real understanding of such processes arises from experiencing the changes as efforts of change agents and sensing changes in their views on, what to pursue and how to make it work. In this way in-depth research has to be involved in the transformative practice, but has to maintain its ability to reflect on the practice.

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I guess this is enough for introductory thoughts. In my next posts I will take a closer look at the role of research and training activities in the project. Then, later on, I will discuss issues on ‘showing impact’ and ‘drawing scenarios’.

More blogs to come … 

 

 

 

 

 

The Challenges for Construction Sector Training in the UK

October 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

emgineerAccording to the Daily Telegraph, a new UK Government report into the skills crisis in the construction sector has recommended a new levy on house builders in a last ditch attempt to reform the industry.

The Telegraph reports Mark Farmer, who wrote the review, as warning that “within 10 years the industry would lose 20-25pc of its workforce. He said that Government apprenticeship policies had not done enough, and that it needed to “modernise or die.”

Research undertaken through the EU Learning layers project has identified the challenges to the sector from both the introduction of digital technologies and ecological issues. Digital technology is impacting on the construction industry in different ways. It is enabling the development of new materials, or new ways of producing materials, for instance through 3D printing. Secondly, it is enabling new construction techniques and processes. Building Information Modelling, being phased in as a compulsory requirement for publicly funded project throughout the European Union, represents a major change in the way construction projects are planned and carried out.

The sector also faces pressures with digital technologies from their wider deployment within society and from their potentials to solve or ameliorate societal challenges, for instance climate change.

The European Commission sees the main challenges facing construction as being:

  • Stimulating demand: Efficiency improvements in existing buildings and renovations have the highest potential to stimulate demand.
  • Training: Improving specialised training and making the sector more attractive, in particular for blue-collar workers, technical colleges and universities.
  • Innovation: More active uptake of new technologies.
  • Energy efficiency and climate change: Buildings account for the largest share of total EU final energy consumption (40%) and produce about 35% of all greenhouse emissions.

It is interesting that they highlight the need for more active uptake of new technologies. This may be a particular problem given the structure of the industry and the predominance of SMEs with a need for wider access to information and knowledge about new technologies and the skills and competences to use technologies in practice. Discussions with the Bau ABC training centre and construction companies in north west Germany, have raised the issue of training centres playing a more central role in technology innovation, especially with apprentices trained in the centres in using new technologies.

The issue of the attractiveness of the sector to new entrants has also commonly been raised. In Germany it is proving difficult to recruit sufficient apprentices and one project is even running a programme for apprentices from Spain. The use of new mobile technologies for learning is seen as a measure which could promote a more modern image for construction industry.

Technologies are also being deployed to support energy efficiency and ameliorate climate change. These include the installation of digital monitoring and control systems for buildings, geothermal bores as an energy source for new buildings and retrofitting of older buildings for energy efficiency. Although the present ‘hype’ around the Internet of Things (IoT) probably outweighs the reality, it may have a major impact on the construction industry in the near future.

Demands of digital technologies for cabling has led to the introduction of new computer based horizontal boring machines to avoid having to dig up roads to install new cables.

Drones are increasingly being used for surveying and monitoring progress in large construction projects. Although at an early stage in deployment there is widespread interest in the potential of augmented reality applications in construction, for instance to allow the visualisation of hidden infrastructures such as cabling in construction sites.

Building Information Modelling has been the subject of much discussion during the Learning Layers project. European legislation has permitted the adoption of different timetables for implementation in different European Member States. In some countries such as UK and Norway, implementation is at an advanced stage. In others such as Spain and Germany it is less far forward. There is some discussion about what organisations will be responsible for managing and implementing BIM processes as well as the technical approaches to BIM. Will BIM be the responsibility of larger civil engineering enterprises or will employees of small (Craft) companies be required to have a greater or lesser knowledge of BIM? This obviously has major implications for training and skills.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the UK’s commercial sector faces a bill of over £9bn to upgrade properties to meet the minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES), and residential buildings will cost a total of £20bn to meet the necessary level.

Yet with looming skills shortages and the upgrade in skills and knowledge required to cope with new technologies and energy efficient buildings, it seems hard to see how the UK construction industry can adapt to the new demands. Present government proposals are for a short term levy and a reliance on the market system to overcome skills shortages. But as Norman Crowther, national official for post-16 education at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers writing in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), points out  a market is not a system per se. “Introducing market mechanisms to get the output you want is not a VET system. All the “market” systems have the same sort of problems around VET (think the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada). Of course, that’s not a problem as long as you don’t want coherent skill formation and skill utilisation. But in a time of economic uncertainty and poor productivity, a system is exactly what we need.

The German coordinated market economy goes so far as to legislate on vocational education and training, and apprenticeships have labour-market worth. In France, the state coordinates agreement via ministerial committees. The Nordic model has positioned VET as a part of the school curriculum and produced publicly intelligible VET qualifications that resonate with the public.”

The failings of vocational education and training in the UK are hardly new, neither are skills shortages. Yet without developing a proper system based on high quality training both in vocational schools and in the workplace it is only likely these problems will worsen

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

September 16th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interim assessments by Bau-ABC trainers during the project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding remarks

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

More blogs to come …

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

September 13th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

The different meanings of  ‘digital divide’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come … 

 

150 blogs on Learning Layers project – 200 altogether on Pontydysgu site

August 4th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

I have come back from my summer break – but not back to work and normal business. During my holidays I had to run through a series of medical tests/investigations and now I am on sick leave for some time. I do not want to go into details – some investigations are yet to come – but I know enough that I have to take a break from my normal work. This gives me a reason to spell out some thoughts on my blogging on this site. It so happens that I have reached the milestone of 150 blogs on our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and altogether the milestone of 200 blogs on Pontydysgu site.

In general, such numbers are not great achievements – veteran bloggers count their posts in thousands, not hundreds. And indeed, during my first years as a blogger I was not so successful in finding my approach and ways to work forward. With my first blog “I-Europe” I tried to stimulate a debate on European initiatives to promote vocational education and training (VET). Unfortunately, these entries were not so well grounded and attracted little attention. With my second attempt – with  my new blog “Working & Learning” – I tried get closer to the work of European projects and educational debates. Yet – for some time this remained at the level of irregular scraping. Some of the projects of that time were perhaps not that inspiring or they required blogging (or similar writings) on other platforms. Therefore, I had made some experiences but had not really found my own way of blogging.

This all changed with the start of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project in 2012. The project has required us (ITB – research institute with focus on VET and learning in the context of work) to face new challenges. It has not been merely a matter of introducing new learning technologies and new learning concepts to the field (and study the impact). The project has been far more innovative in terms of exploring different options, involving users in co-design & co-development and in engaging us as VET researchers in different roles as co-developers, co-tutors and co-testers of new tools. From this perspective I have had the challenges and the opportunities to produce a more or less regular flow of blogs on new project activities, observations on parallel developments, links to inspiring research or to policies that have an impact on our work. And, moreover, the flow of blogs has not merely been recording of events, debates and happenings – they provide insights into our learning processes as research partners, developers and application partners. In particular they provide insights into our transformation from explorers to change agents and interpreters of the changes.

Having said all this I feel sad that I cannot continue with the intensive observation and documentation of field activities in the same way as I have done so far. From now on I have to take the role of listener and thinker. Perhaps that is also a positive turn in its way – after all, the rich project experience needs to be digested and interpreted in conceptual terms. And surely, our experiences as accompanying researchers differ from the traditional patterns of doing such research. But, as I said in the beginning, I have to take some time out of regular project work to get myself fit. Nevertheless, I will be around.

More blogs to come …

New book: Empowering Change in European Public Employment Services

July 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

employid bookReaders familiar with European Research projects will know how they work. The projects negotiate with the European Commission a DOW – Description of Work – which details the work to be undertaken in each year of the project. It is divided into discrete work packages. Every year the work package provides a (usually over lengthy) report on research and development undertaken which is then presented to a team of expert reviewers who can ‘pass’, recommend changes or ‘fail’ the report. Although obviously large scale multi national research projects need structures and plans. But all too often the work package structure separates research and development activities which should not be separated and the DOW become a restrictive ‘bible’, rather than a guide for action. And despite the large amount of work which goes into preparing the work package reports, they are seldom widely read (if indeed read at all), except by the reviewers.

In the EmployID project which is working with identity transformation in European Public Employment Services (PES), we are doing things differently. The work is structured though cross work package teams, who follow an adapted SCRUM structure. The teams are reviewed at face to face meetings and recomposed if necessary. And this year, instead of producing a series of Work package reports, the project partners have jointly contributed to a book – Empowering Change in Public Employment Services: The EmployID Approach which has just been published and can be downloaded for free.

The introduction to the 244 page PDF book explains the background to the work:

European Public Employment Services (PES) and their employees are facing fundamental challenges to the delivery of efficient and effective services and the need to change their strategies to combat high unemployment, demographic change in increasingly uncertain and dynamic labour markets. This does not only require developing new professional skills related to new tasks, but poses for more profound developmental challenges for staff members.

Three of these changes relate to understanding the changing world of work; a ‘turn’ towards coaching; and the increased importance of relations with employers. The staff need to learn new ways of working, with a major challenge being to enhance the power of collaborative (peer) learning in order to support staff in accomplishing their goals.

All these changes are linked to transforming professional identity, which requires learning on a deeper level that is often neglected by continuing professional development strategies. EmployID makes its contribution here; that PES practitioners’ learning related to professional identity transformation needs to be facilitated through social learning approaches and the nurturing of social learning networks, which include the following:

  • Reflection as a way of turning one’s own and others’ experiences into general insights on multiple levels, both from an individual and a collective perspective

  • Peer coaching as a way of helping learners in changing their behavior through a structured process

  • Social learning programmes as a way of engaging learners with new topics, other perspectives, and conversations around it.

Returning from Learning Layers Bristol meeting – Taking homework back to Bremen

June 23rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blogs I reported on the preparations for the consortium meeting of  our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project that took place in Bristol during the last few days. Now I am on my way back and have some spare minutes to reflect on the baggage of homework that I am taking from the meeting back to office. In general we had a very productive meeting – so many ideas sparking up that it was good to have colleagues taking notes (on the spot and at the other end of online connection). Therefore I just make some short remarks, how our talks helped us to bring our work further: In particular I was happy to see that we are finding a way to present our results as a part of a common group picture – rather than as stand-alone results of different partners or work packages teams working on their own. Below some main points on this:

  1. Evaluation and documenting the impact: So far more attention has been given on the use of specific evaluation instruments (focus groups, complementary interviews, impact score cards, logdata on use of LL tools) and analysing data gathered with these instruments. Now we opened up this discussion to consider, how to use complementary evidence that is being gathered alongside the fieldwork in the sectoral pilots and in the co-design work. Here we worked with a set of transversal themes (such as digital transformation, adoption of innovation and changes in (informal) learning practices).  This has implications for the work of narrower ‘evaluation data’, complementary data and the impact scorecards.
  2. Presenting our R&D methodologies: We have already earlier agreed to report our results with a single deliverable – a website – and that one section should be dedicated to R&D methodologies. For this section some partners had prepared draft documents that shed light on different ‘local’, sectoral or technical aspects of our R&D work. In the light of these drafts we made clear progress in trying to open up certain contributions (such as co-design work) to be presented from the perspective of both pilot sectors – construction and healthcare. And we developed a better understanding how different activities carried out in the project can be presented as part of a coherent whole.
  3. Outlining ‘learning scenarios’: At different points of time our project had been working with different sets of ‘use cases’, ‘user stories’, ‘learning scenarios’ or ‘learning stories’. All these had been characterised by a preparatory and explorative phase of the project – presenting possibilities to work with the tools and learning arrangements that we were developing. Now it appeared that we are building learning scenarios that rely on ‘lead theories’ and on the way way have built upon them when developing tools and learning arrangements. Here we are drawing upon the transversal themes (mentioned in point 1. and on the more specific impact cards). This was reflected in a very specific set of ‘learning scenarios’ and tasks to draft them.
  4. Working further with the exploitation agendas: Here our colleagues Gilbert Peffer and Raymond Elferink presented a ‘generalised’ and at the same time well grounded model, how to adjust the prior partnership relations to new and renewed ones (with an exemplary start-up company for services in the centre). Alongside this example we also revisited the conclusions of the Aachen Integration Meeting on the co-management of the Open Source Software that has been developed in the context of the project. The most important point was that we found both models fully compatible with each other.

I guess this is enough for these spare minutes that I have had today. I am continuing my journey to Bremen (where I still have some meetings before I start my summer break).

More blogs to come …

Preparing for Learning Layers Bristol meeting – Part Two: Taking homework with me to Bristol

June 17th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I mentioned that  our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project will have its consortium meeting in Bristol next week. As preparation I have had a final run with reporting on activities that have taken place in the Construction pilot of the LL project – in particular with the deployment of the Learning Toolbox (LTB). In the previous post I tried to give a picture, what we are achieving altogether with our user engagement and tool deployment – enabling the users to become owners of innovation. Yet, at the same time I drew attention at the hurdles we still have to overcome to get the best out of the ongoing processes. Now, in this post I shift the emphasis to the agenda and to the topics the we are working with – to prepare the final deliverable of the project. However, I will not discuss in detail the plans we have – instead I try to put together my thoughts on what we (as the Construction pilot team) can contribute to some main points.

Below I try to outline my thoughts and a todo-list, how to proceed with them:

  1. Impact scorecards: We have earlier this year to use impact scorecards to present, what difference the introduction of LL tools has made in different pilot contexts. So far we in the construction pilot have not been rushing to draft them. However, due to our recent field activities we can give a far more differentiated picture with emphasis on different user groups of Learning Toolbox and on the role of complementary tools. However, we are looking forward to enrich the gallery later on with the results of our forthcoming workshops with construction companies (scheduled for September).
  2. Text for the section ‘research & development methodologies’: Here we need to give insights into the way in which the participative co-design activities and the contributions of accompanying research have nurtured each other. In particular we need to draw attention to some lead ideas and theoretical concepts that have characterised our work, such as  a) enhancing vocational learning as  action-oriented and self-organised learning, b) supporting the acquisition and exploitation of ‘work process knowledge’ and c) promoting co-design as social shaping of work, technology and work environment. Here, I have drafted the structure for our contribution and collected the key materials from our Theory Camp contributions, conference papers, LL website articles and contributions to Y2 and Y3 deliverables.
  3. Contributions to ‘Learning scenarios’: With the scenarios we want to highlight a) how our ‘lead theories’ have supported our development work and 2) how they help us to specify the potential and actual changes in the (informal) learning at working contexts. Here we are having a differentiated look at trainers in Bau-ABC (and their peer learning as change agents) and apprentices as users of new tools (and their insights into their role in vocational learning).
  4. Contributions to ‘Exploitation activities’: Here we can revisit the exploitation landscape (consisting of several spin-off or follow-up projects) that we presented last June in the Tallinn consortium meeting. As things stand now, most of these projects are going on and are looking for opportunities to introduce Learning Toolbox (and eventually other LL tools) in their contexts. This requires further talks on the partnership relations to be created with the tool developer teams and the new projects.

I guess this is enough for the moment. I have put down some of my thoughts and I need to work with them before the meeting and in the respective sessions. That is what will be there for – to achieve common results for the final phase of activities. I am looking forward to busy days in Bristol.

More blogs to come …

Zimmererblog is going on strong – Learning Layers’ multimedia training bears fruit

June 12th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest blogs I have given progress reports on the construction pilot of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project, mostly focusing on the integrative toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB). In addition I have provided a review on the progress we have achieved since the project consortium meeting in Tallinn one year ago. In this blog I will have a look at the main results of the earlier Multimedia Training Workshops (that the LL project organised for the full-time trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) of the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC in 2013-2014) – the trainers’ blogs. Here I will firstly focus on the most outstanding example, the Zimmererblog (Carpenters’ blog) of Bau-ABC trainer Markus Pape.

Zimmererblog – origins, development and impact

In the first Multimedia Training Workshops of the LL project in the years 2013-2014 the LL partners from Pontydysgu and ITB providedtraining for a group of voluntary Bau-ABC trainers. At that time we started by getting an overview of the general web tools and by making use of them. In this context the participating trainers created their own WordPress blogs. In the course of the training they developed their own pattern of working with blogs. Instead of keeping a diary or writing columns on different topics the trainers have transformed their blogs into their own ‘open educational resources’. In this process the trainer Markus Pape has been the pioneer and his Zimmererblog has become the most comprehensive one.

Looking at the structure – after the startpage – the main areas of the blog are the collections of project descriptions (worksheets) for each year of apprentice training. Then, the blog provides links to literature and other websites as well as an additional area for special techniques. Yet, the special trademark of this blog is that the pictures in the worksheets, in the special area and in the slideshow have been edited to make the site more attractive.

Looking at the impact, it is worthwhile to note that the Zimmererblog has from the very beginning on gained a wide popularity beyond the primary users – trainers and apprentices in Bau-ABC. The statistics reveal that it has been viewed from all over the world – although it is only available in German. Recently it has reached the milestone of 45.000 hits (the exact number being currently 45.103) and the interest is not dropping at all. In this respect the expression ‘open educational resource’ is justified.

Trainers’ blogs in the neighboring trades have also taken their place

Parallel to the Zimmererblog the trainers in some other trades (who had also attended the Multimedia Training Workshops) started to create similar blogs for their trades (or groups of trades). As a result there are three other blogs with similar structure in Bau-ABC:

  • The ‘Maurerblog’ (“Mauerwerksbau im Bau-ABC Rostrup. Backsteine und Mehr”) provides a similar set of learning resources for bricklayer apprentices and additional resources for skilled workers. Currently this site has reached 6.604 hits.
  • The ‘Tiefbaublog’ (“Tiefbau Bau-ABC Rostrup. Mach Dich schlau im Tiefbau”) provides a similar set of resources for three neighbouring trades – road-builders (Strassenbauer), pipeline-builders (Rohrleitungsbauer) and sewage-builders (Kanalbauer). In a similar way it provides additional info sheets and links to external resorces. Currently this site has reached 2.893 hits.
  • The ‘Brunnenbaublog’ (Brunnenbauer und Spezialtiefbauer) provides similar sets of resources for the neighbouring trades of well-builders (Brunnebauer) and for the tunnel-builders (Spezialtiefbauer). In addition, the blog provides further links to progression routes to higher education/qualifications (Duales Studium, Weiterbildung). In addition, the blog provides further sections for special themes, tables and instructions for health and safety. For this site we have not got the current statistics.

Here it is worthwhile to note that these blogs have been developed mainly for internal use in Bau-ABC. From that perspective they have been used rather well although their external impact has remained rather limited compared with the Zimmererblog and its impressive outreach.

– – –

Altogether the trainers’ blogs have already taken their place before the Learning Toolbox has been introduced. Now it is interesting to see, how these tools and instruments can best complement each other. Already in the ‘Theme Room” training workshops the trainers started developing thoughts in this respect. I am looking forward to the next steps.

More blogs to come …

 

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