Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

Open Source and Open Educational Resources in Europe – a look back to ten years ago

September 30th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

As promised the first in a mini series about Open Education. Pontydysgu originally got into educational technology through using closed and proprietary software. The first ‘educational technology’ I can remember using was FirstClass running on an Open University / BBC server (accessed through I think, the Mosaic browser). Ironically it was a print book which stimulated our move into Open Source technologies – Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, first published as a book in 1999.

In 2003 we submitted the SIGOSSEE project to the European Commission. SIGOSSEE stood for Special Interest Group on Open Source software in Education. Essentially we were exploring the potential uses of open source software and holding a series of workshops all over Europe, whilst building a Special Interest Group. Whilst the Special Interest Group failed to survive beyond the period of funding, it did kick off a flurry of activities, including a later spin out project on Open Education Resources. At the time the European Union has an ambivalent attitude towards OSS and OERs. Whilst there was strong support from a number of enlightened officials and programme administrators, the EU was being heavily lobbied by publishers and by the software industry not to endorse open source.

As part of their cautious move towards Open Source Software and Open Educational Resources, in 2004 the EU Directorate responsible for education, held a seminar entitled Creating, Sharing and Reusing e-Learning Content : Access Rights for e-learning Content. They invited a wide range of participants including from teh publishing industry and asked for the pre-submission of position papers. Below I publish the SIGOSSEE position paper, written by myself and Raymond Elferink. In the next post I will look at some of our recommendations and consider to what extent (if at all) we got it right.


This short position paper is addressed to both consultation workshops as we feel the issue of access rights to e-learning content and the more technical issues around reusable content are intrinsically interlinked. Whilst the position paper is presented by Graham Attwell and Raymond Elferink, it represents the position of the steering committee of the Special Interest Group for Open Source Software for Education in Europe.

The lack of easy access to attractive and compelling educational content is one of the major barriers to the development and implementation of e-learning in Europe. Most educational content is pedagogically poor, consisting overwhelmingly of sequenced text based materials and exercises. Furthermore, the subject and topic range is limited. This is particularly so for vocational and occupational subjects and in lesser-used languages.

Time and cost of production are major barriers to the production of quality learning content leading to the present interest in standards based, reusable content and to the sharing of content between institutions. In many areas content developers require not only technical and pedagogic skills but also deep subject knowledge.

Publishers have an important role to play in the development of content. However, as with traditional learning materials, much content in the future will of necessity be produced by teachers. There are also intriguing possibilities for learner developed content and there is great potential from public content repositories especially from cultural heritage and media organisations. It could be argued that there is already a wealth of rich learning materials available through the web. The problem lies in how these materials can be described and accessed and pedagogically deployed.

Key issues

Pedagogy and content

Pedagogy remains the key issue in terms of delivering content. As with any new technology, there has been a tendency on implementing ICT for learning to imitate previous paradigms – the ‘electronic classroom’ for example. There is some evidence to suggest we are now beginning to move beyond such paradigms and develop new scenarios for learning. However, the monolithic nature of much educational software and the need to implement ‘whole systems’ are barriers to developers seeking to pilot innovative pedagogic applications. The development of standards based content repositories and of Service Oriented Approaches (SOA) or modular approaches to learning architectures (see below) promises to allow far more advanced pedagogic innovation

Reuse of content

The potential reuse of content is a critical issue. Central to this is the development and adoption of standards. There remain problems in this area. Standards are being developed and adopted and the new Learning Design standard promises a major step forward in terms of recognising pedagogy, but the software engines and support are still in a development phase. There remain issues over defining metadata schemas and over who will (and should) enter metadata classifications. In the longer term the use of distributed metadata may provide some answers to these issues. Nevertheless the standards should be supported in order to allow reuse.

In pedagogic and technical terms there is still much work to do in developing tools and engines for content sequencing and assembly. Equally, more work is needed on how to base content on activity.

Licensing, property rights and open content

We believe a key issue is to involve the wider educational community in the development and sharing of learning content. One issue raised here is the question of licences. Traditional copyright licences are far too restrictive to develop an ecology of e-learning content. The Creative Commons Licence provides an effective answer to this issue providing an easy way of indicating possibilities for reuse. The OKI development by MIT and the Connexions project by the University of Rice in Texas – based on different open content models – have shown the potential of open content repositories.

There remain many issues to be resolved – not the least is the question of quality assurance. The difficulty in using content production tools is still a barrier for many to producing their own content.

Software and architectures and content

Monolithic architectures for learning and learning management have held back content production and deployment. Migration and reuse of content is often difficult due to lack of interoperability. Services Oriented Approaches and modular software designs can allow the development of standards based component architectures. Content would be either contained in a repository or accessed through distributed systems. Developers – open source and proprietary – could focus on particular components based on need and on their skills and interests. Content could then be easily reused between systems. The implementation of DRM systems should allow easy access to both proprietary and open content in centralised and distributed resource repositories (see for example the Canadian edu-source initiative).

Culture change and content

Implementing of this vision will require culture change at both institutional and individual level. Whilst much of the discussion has focused on teachers and trainers producing content, more important may be the ability and willingness to search for content and to develop coherent learning and activity plans from content produced elsewhere.

Recommendations to the e-learning community and to the European Commission

These recommendations are addressed to the e-learning community as a whole. However, the European Commission could play an important role in supporting pilot developments and implementations.

  1. Further develop standards and the implementation of standards. At the very least, funded projects should be required to consider and report on standards implications of any content development. Further work is needed in disseminating information of standards and their use. In this respect it may be worth considering European links to the UK based CETIS service on educational standards. Further research and development on standards and standard implementation related to educational content should be supported by the European Commission.

  2. Support the Creative Commons License. There seems little reason why education content produced with public funding – national or European – should not be required to be released under a Creative Commons Licence.

  3. Initiate and develop pilot implementations based on open content in institutions and networks. These pilots will be invaluable in exposing and testing many of the issues raised in this position paper.

  4. Explore the potential of a framework for e-learning based on a Service Oriented Approach. Work in this is already being developed by the UK based JISC in conjunction with Industry Canada and DEST in Australia. At a European level, an initiative to encourage developers to focus on services oriented or modular approaches and to share in the development of software, rather than continuing to reinvent the VLE wheel, is needed.

  5. Support the development of tools for content production, distribution, sequencing and deployment. Access to easy to use tools is more important at present than is directly subsidising the production of content itself.

  6. Support experiments in different pedagogical implementations of content including content from cultural and media organisations.

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 …


Crossing boundaries at the Bremen International VET conference – Part One: Learning Layers and Employ-ID work together

September 13th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent blog was about a field visit to training centre Bau-ABC (2.9.2015) in the context of the fieldwork of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. The very next day the ITB and Pontydysgu teams, together with Raymond Elferink (RayCom) presented Learning Toolbox at the Bremen International Conference on Vocational Education and Training (VET). This post will focus on this session, the next one on other sessions of the conference.

Insights into the Bremen Conference

Firstly, it is worthwhile to say some words of the Bremen International VET Conference. This conference has been initiated as part of an international project of ITB that has been launched by the University of Bremen (in the context of its Excellence University framework). The project studies transfer of the dual VET model by German companies working abroad (in China and in the USA). As a part of its work program the project has committed itself to organise international conferences. This one was the first of its kind and focused on crossing the boundaries and learning from each other. The conference was designed to keep it rather small (about 100 participants at the maximum) and to enable more discussion and more participative sessions (see below). I will give more information on the contents in my second blog post on this conference.

Presenting Learning Toolbox in the Bremen Conference

For the Bremen Conference we had prepared a Research Workshop session to avoid the typical impression of ‘talking heads’ in the front and passive listeners in the audience. Therefore, we kept the presentations rather short and then divided the audience into two working groups to discuss the presentations and to have some hands-on exercises. Here some snapshots on the contributions and activities:

Firstly, I gave a quick introduction to the Learning Layers project and to the script of the session. In this context I emphasised the continuity of themes between the participative design of Learning Toolbox (LTB), the functionality that is coming up in the LTB, the capacity building measures initiated in the training centre Bau-ABC and the lessons to be learned from the parallel European project Employ-ID (and its piloting with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Secondly, Werner Müller (ITB) gave a presentation on the co-design process that led to the development of the LTB. He referred to the starting points in the sectoral pilot contexts (construction work not having the reputation of high-tech occupations). Then he gave a picture of the co-design activities, different phases of work and a general characterisation of LTB as a framework for tools and apps linked to each other in mobile devices.

Thirdly, Raymond Elferink (RayCom) gave a live demonstration on the LTB Beta version that we had just presented and tested on our field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC the day before (see my previous blog post). Alongside the general presentation (of the tile structure of the framework and of the process of creating focused stacks) he drew attention to the newly created stacks of the Bau-ABC trainers for their respective trades.

Fourthly, I (as a replacement of Melanie Campbell from Bau-ABC) gave a presentation of their training programs for their staff. This presentation drew attention firstly to the project-initiated training that equipped the Bau-ABC trainers with general know-how on multimedia and web tools and enabled them to produce and edit video material for their training. In the second part the presentation outlined the new training model initiated by the Bau-ABC trainers themaselves. In this new model they tried to ensure a flexible training arrangement that enables all trainers to work their way through parallel “theme rooms” that make them fit to use the LTB in their own training activities.

 Fifthly, Graham Attwell informed of the parallel European project Employ-ID and its work to support professional development and mastery of changes in Public Employment Services (PES). In this context the research & development worked with development of labour market data for guidance and counselling purposes. At the same time the project developed new training models for staff members in PES with limited possibilities to participate in traditional training measures. For this purpose the project developed an adapted version of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with limited participation and limited openness but with similar technologies for online learning. Crucial for this pilot was the emphasis on interactivity and changing roles between trainers and learners. Here, the key point in this report on this recent pilot is to demonstrate the usability of these technologies for well-thought pedagogical pilots that emphasise the use of MOOC platforms as Social Learning Platforms.

After the presentations we split the audience into two working groups. In one group the participants had the opportunity for hands-on tests with the LTB (with Raymond Elferink and Dirk Stieglitz as tutors). In the other group we discussed possible success factors and criteria for acceptance in the above presented training models (of Bau-ABC and Employ-ID). Since we had half an hour for these sub-sessions, the participants could engage themselves in the testing and/or give freely their views on the training models. This was very much appreciated by all parties involved.

I guess this is enough of the main session of the Learning Layers project in this conference. In the next blog post I will give insights into other sessions in the Bremen International VET Conference.

More blogs to come …




Updates from LL fieldwork – bringing Learning Toolbox to users

September 13th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent posts on the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project were ‘catching up’ reports just after I finished my holiday period. Now the rapid start has hit us and overwhelmed us with fieldwork events and  successive conferences. With this post I will concentrate on the field visit in Bau-ABC on the 2nd of September and our field tests with the Learning Toolbox (LTB).

Already before the holiday break the LTB developers had promised to provide a Beta version of the LTB by the beginning of September. We were pleased to observe that this promise was kept and that Raymond Elferink was available for presentations and field tests in Bau-ABC on the 2nd of September. With Ray a group of LL partners from ITB and Pontydysgu visited the training sites of several trades to trigger users’ own field tests and to get feedback. After these visits we gave a short presentation to the organisation development group of Bau-ABC.

Our first station was the training site of carpenters (Zimmerer). After a general presentation we discussed the development of tiles and stacks (sets of tiles and pages) for the training activities of Bau-trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) Friedrich Bruns and Markus Pape. Together we developed a test stack that made use of the comprehensive set of instruction materials (pdf-files) that Pape had made available via his Zimmererblog. With the help of LTB we created a test stack that makes thematic pages accessible in due time. The instruction materials are now accessed via Slideshare. In this way the materials can be used in smaller portions and filed in a more transparent way by the apprentices. Also, we discussed the options for managing the reporting of tasks and results of apprentices via LTB. Already at this point we saw some solutions, how to develop the desired interactivity in the first field tests.

Our second station was the training site of well-builders (Brunnenbauer). Here again, after a short general presentation we started to explore, how to make best use of the functionality of LTB without duplicating the work of trainers. The Bau-ABC trainers Lothar Schoka and Thorsten Busch indicated as indicated as a major problem the multitude of bulky instructions and manuals that are not easily accessible. Here, we prepared jointly test stack “Bedienungsanleitungen” in which we provided access to instructions via Slideshare and showed, how they could be grouped in a transparent way. In the same way showed, how the existing instruction videos (mainly uploaded in YouTube and accessible via Facebook updates) can be accessed via LTB tiles and grouped via LTB pages. In this way it became clear that the LTB is not causing duplication of work but opens new user-friendly channels to existing resources.

Our third station was the training site of road-builders and pipeline builders (Strassenbauer, Rohrleitungsbauer). Here we discussed with the Bau-ABC trainer Stefan Wiedenstried the general usability of LTB and in particular the role of instructional videos. Parallel to this some of us continued to make a short presentation for the organisation development group of Bau-ABC at the end of their meeting. Here we were welcomed by the trainer Lothar Schoka who could report of his fresh impressions after our visit. Then, after the meeting we also had good talk with the system administrator Ludwig Heyenga with whom we shared experiences with the technical development of the software solutions of the LL project.

Altogether we were pleased to see that the progress with LTB development was well received and the Bau-ABC trainers saw the value of the emerging product as support for their work. At the same time we saw that there is a lot of work to bring the LTB to a stage of maturity. Therefore, we need to return soon to Bau-ABC to pave the way for the next steps of testing in real life situations.

I think this is enough for the moment. We are looking forward to further updates of LTB and to our next field visits.

More blogs to come …

Results & Conclusions of our Tallinn meeting – Part Three: The 2nd session on construction pilot

June 26th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two latest posts I started a series to report on the Tallinn meeting of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In that first post I gave a picture of the preparation day. In the second posts I gave an overview on the inputs for the 1st session on construction sector pilot. These inputs were contributing to a picture on ‘integrated learning arrangements’. In this post I will continue with a report on our discussions on ‘technical integration’.

Since we had already had the initially scheduled  online demonstration on the functioning of Learning Toolbox (LTB) we dedicated this session on the relations between LTB and ‘complementary’ LL tools that had been presented in the preparatory meeting or during the healthcare sessions. Below I try to give a nutshell of our discussions and conclusions on different tools or apps brought into discussion.

1. ‘AchSo!’ video annotation tool

We started by emphasising the importance of video material and video annotations in the context of the training projects of Bau-ABC. We reminded of the twofold approach – videos to support training (reference videos, produced in advance under the supervision of trainers) and videos documenting learning (produced by apprentices during theproject to document phases of work and learning results). We had a lot of discussion on producing AchSo! for different operating systems (Android, iOS) and on the the functioning of AchSo! on different devices. The colleagues in Aalto agreed to produce a stable version of AchSo! (Android) by the 1st of October and to develop an iOS-version based on it by the Y3 review meeting. The colleagues from Bau-ABC volunteered to purchase Android tablets for trainers who would start using AchSo! with their videos before the iOS version is available.

2. ‘Bits and Pieces’ and ‘KnowBrain’ as collectors of experiences

Concerning ‘Bits and Pieces’ we emphasised the need to develop tools that help workplace learners to collect their learning experiences alongside/based on workplace learning. Here, we noted the contradiction that ‘Bits and Pieces’ has been developed primarily for medical/nursing staff working at GP practices. Therefore, the software (for stationary PCs) needs a lot of space and the migration to mobile devices is not easy. Given this hurdle, the general conclusion was that LTB could take some components of Bits and Pieces and create respective tiles. Parallel to this, some functions of the KnowBrain application could be developed for Learning Logs. (Here we need more discussions before making commitments to particular milestones.)

3. ‘Confer’ tool for help seeking

With the ‘Confer’ tool (earlier called ‘Help seeking’) we took the point (that was already raised in the healthcare session) that it could help us to make transparent our complex development and piloting processes, like the recent initiatives with the LTB. (Here the point is to use our own tools to support our development processes – ‘to take our own medicine ourselves’.) RayCom agreed to take the development of this tool into the next sprint. We agreed on the same milestone as with AchSo! (the 1st of October) for a stable version.

4. ‘Locations’ app in making

Here we continued our discussion on the basis of the input of Adolfo and the TLU study group. RayCom confirmed that the LTB has already been equipped with several functions that can work with the sensors and use the app to be developed. Yet, there is a need to clarify the responsibilities and the resources needed. Graham Attwell emphasised that the issue of ‘locations’ raises higher level questions on interpreting ‘contexts’ – for this purpose we need to revisit the work of Sebastian Dennerlein for mapping different contexts in the construction pilot (for software development purposes).

5. Social Augmented Reality apps in making

For this part of the meeting Jana Pejoska (Aalto) arranged a short demonstration with Social Augmented Reality (SAR) using the vision sharing function with a colleague in Helsinki and making interactive use of marks on the screen. (Based on this demonstration, Melanie Campbell and trainer Marc Schütte provided later on a use case of the driver of excavator (or other construction vehicle) using augmented reality to get a better impression of the dimensions of the vehicle when driving it.) Here we noted that the current version is available on the web. There is a need of further development work for a mobile device. Yet, already at this stage it is essential to make arrangements for a working visit from Aalto to Bau-ABC to start testing with SAR during the September month.

Altogether, we could agree in a plenary session on several working perspectives and milestones regarding the enrichment of the Learning Toolbox.

At this point I had to leave the meeting due to private commitments. I am trying to catch up with the colleagues regarding the key points and conclusions of the remaining sessions. In particular I am interested to learn more on the work with the exploitation journeys and on the conclusions for joint exploitation plans. Let us see, if I can get my impressions on a further blog post – or if someone else does it for me on another blog.

More blogs to come …


Workplace Learning Analytics

June 16th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

EmployID is an EU-funded, four-year project which aims to support Public Employment Services staff to develop competences that address the need for integration and activation of job seekers in fast changing labour markets. According to the official flyer: “It builds upon career adaptability and resilience in practice, including quality and evidence- based frameworks for enhanced individual and organisational learning. It also supports the learning process of PES practitioners and managers in their professional identity development by supporting the efficient use of technologies to provide advanced coaching, reflection, networking and learning support services as well as MOOCs.”

One of the aims for research and development is to introduce the use of Learning Analytics within Public Employment Services. Although there is great interest in Learning Analytics by L and D staff, there are few examples of how Learning Analytics might be implanted in the workplace. Indeed looking at research reported by the Society for Learning Analytics Research reveals a paucity of attention to the workplace as a learning venue.

In this video, Graham Attwell proposes an approach to Workplace Learning Analytics based on the Social Learning Platform model (see diagram) adopted by the Employ ID project. He argues that rather merely fathering together possible data and then trying to work out what to do with it, data needs to be sought which can answer well designed research questions aiming to improve the quality of learning and the learning environment. socialllearningplatform


In the case of EmployID these questions could be linked to the six different foci of the Social Learning Platform, namely:

  • Support for facilitation roles
  • Structuring identity transformation activities
  • Supporting networking in personal networks
  • Supporting organisational networks
  • Supporting cross organisational dialogue
  • Providing social networking facilitation
  • Supporting networking in teams

For some of these activities we already have collected some “docital traces” for instance data on facilitation roles through within a pilot MOOC. In other cases we will have to think how best to develop tools and approaches to data gathering, both qualitative and quantitative.

The video has been produced to coincide with the launch of The Learning Analytics Summer Institute, a strategic event, co-organized by SoLAR and host institutions and by a global network of LASI-Locals who are running their own institutes.

Designing Applications To Support Mobile Work Based Learning In The Construction Industry

April 28th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

Along with Joanna Burchert, Gilbert Peffer and Raymond Elferink, I am presenting a paper at the EDEN conference on Expanding Learning Scenarios in Barcelona in June. the paper is based on work undertaken as part of the Learning Layers project. Below is the abstract. And if you would like to read the full paper you can download it from the link at the bottom of this page.

This paper focuses on the use of technology for (mainly informal) learning in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the construction sector. It is based on work being undertaken by the EU funded Learning Layers project. The project is aiming to develop large scale take up of technology for informal learning in two sectors, health and construction.

The project includes both research and development strands, aiming to facilitate and support the development, testing and deployment of systems and tools for learning. The wider goals of the project are to develop sustainable models and tools for supporting learning in other countries and sectors. The paper describes the outcomes of empirical research undertaken in the construction sector as well as the co-design process contributing to the development of the Learning Toolbox, a mobile application for apprentices. The empirical research has been undertaken with a wide range of stakeholders in the construction industry, including surveys of apprentices whilst the co-design process has focused on trainers and apprentices.

Any use of mobile technology in and for work depends on the very specific situation and general conditions within a business sector. Hence research and development for mobile digital media includes both peoples’ needs and practices as workers and learners as well as specific business challenges, directions of development and needs concerning knowledge, skills and competencies. Testing and guiding the introduction of such solutions in enterprises and organisations could be understood as one kind of action research. Thus in researching and developing mobile learning applications and digital media for use in SMEs it is important to examine the possible impacts on employees and work processes as well as just the impact or potential for learning. The research in enterprises differentiated four lines of argumentation around the use of digital media: a) anxious-avoiding, b) critical, c) optimistic and d) pragmatically oriented,

Our interviews confirmed that technology is fast changing the world of construction, with increased work pressure and the demand to document work. It was noted that mobile devices are increasingly being used to produce a photographic record of construction work, as part of quality assurance processes. However, there was pronounced scepticism towards what was termed as “VET researcher fantasies” for instance in developing knowledge exchange networks. Companies were not prepared to share knowledge which was seen as giving them a competitive advantage over others.

The initial interviews were followed up with a survey of over 700 first, second and third year apprentices. The survey confirmed the desire for more use of mobile learning and a frustration with the limitations of existing commercial applications. Whilst only a limited number of companies permitted the use of mobile devices in the workplace, 53% of apprentices said they used them for learning or for obtaining work related information, explaining this was in their own time in breaks or after work.

The project is developing a ‘Learning Toolbox’, designed as a comprehensive architecture and framework for apprentice training and continuing training as well as for other services for the building and construction sector. Rather than training the main interest craft trade companies in web tools and mobile technologies is related to real-time, knowledge sharing, communication and problem-solving. Experience with earlier web tools has shown that they do not necessarily contribute to optimisation of work and business processes. However, flexible framework solutions like Learning Toolbox can be customised to their needs. Supplier companies (e.g. vendors of machinery, equipment and materials) want to customise user guidelines, maintenance manuals and instructional media for different users. They also need to develop real-time feedback mechanisms to improve error control mechanisms.

The implementation of Technology Enhanced Learning in SMEs will require capacity building in organisations, networks and sectors. This includes the capacity of trainers to support pedagogically the implementation of technology for learning, the development of technical infrastructure and the capacity of organisations and managements to support the use of technologies.

Finally is the importance of context in work based learning. Mobile learning applications need to be able to adapt to different contexts. These include, but are not limited to, the context of what kind of work is being undertaken, different forms of work organisation and different locations and forms of learning. The Learning Toolbox application is particularly designed to bridge formal and informal learning and to take account of the different contexts of learning in the vocational schools, learning in the industry training centre and learning on the construction site.

Download full paper (Word format) – mobileLearningEDENFIN

Learning from Finnish campaigns for sustainable development – Part 3: Sustainability commitments for apprentice training?

April 8th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous posts I started with a topic that might seem remote to our EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL). The first post focused on the Finnish sustainability commitments. In the second post I discussed the sustainability issue from the perspective of apprentice training making comparisons between Germany and in Finland (and setting the LL pilots in Germany and Finland into their contexts). In this third post I try to bring these two threads together by posing the question: What about making sustainability commitments for apprentice training?

Here again, I will make comparisons between the Finnish and German contexts – firstly at a more general level and then secondly from the perspective of scaling up the LL initiatives in the construction sector.

1. Sustainability commitments as a perspective for promoting apprentice training?

Firstly, it is appropriate to consider, whether the sustainability commitments – or to be precise: operative commitments to sustainability goals – can provide an appropriate framework for promoting future-oriented apprentice training.

In the case of Finland this perspective is clearly available. One of the central sustainability goals taken up by the operative commitments is “Sustainable work”. Concerning the role of apprentice training and construction work, this can be argued in a twofold sense:

1)  Apprentice training as it is currently promoted in the construction trades, serves the purpose of sustaining the sectoral craftsmanship and the traditional know-how of elder craftsmen in the context of demographic change.

2) Apprentice training can serve as a medium of promoting other sustainability goals (such as “A carbon-neutral society” or “An economy that is resource-wise”) in the context of construction work.

Moreover, the framework of these operative commitments provides clear instructions for setting the timeline, adjusting to the general criteria and on self-monitoring and reporting on progress.

In the case of Germany it is not easy to see, how a similar framework could emerge on a general policy level. In my previous blog I referred to the national agreements for promoting apprentice training (Ausbildungspakt), which do not provide a similar mechanism for operative commitments. However, the sectoral campaigns of the national association of construction industry (Bauindustrieverband) could possibly be developed into such direction (see the previous campaigns “Leitbild Bau” or “Deutschland baut”).

2. Sustainability commitments as means to promote LL initiatives?

In addition to the above presented thoughts it is necessary to consider, how such commitments could be linked to the promotion and scaling up of LL-related initiatives in the construction sector.

In the case of Finland the current pilots focus on the use of AchSo! as an instrument to document achievements in workplace learning – mainly for the vocational school that is in charge of assessing the apprentices and trainees. In this respect the use of LL tools is rather limited and does not (yet) cover the broader scope of using digital media and web resources to support working and learning process as well as real-time communication. From this point of view the introduction of the Learning Toolbox would open new possibilities to link LL tools to such operative commitments as have been referred to above.

In the case of Germany the current pilot phase focuses on multiple uses of Learning Toolbox in the working and learning environments of apprentices (firstly in the intermediate training centre and then subsequently in the companies). In this respect the situation is different from the Finnish pilots. Here, in the pilot context of the training centre Bau-ABC it is possible to develop sets of small-scale commitments and to introduce corresponding patterns of (self-)monitoring and (self-)evaluation. These initial steps can then provide a basis for wider roll-out phase.

I think this is as far as I can get with my thoughts, what we (the LL project) can learn from the Finnish approach to promote sustainable development via operative commitments. If my quickly written blogs have left gaps of information or if I should add more specific examples, I am happy to continue the discussion. Otherwise, we are heading to further tasks in our current pilots.

More blogs to come …



After the LL Design Conference – Part 3: Sharing experiences between LL pilots

March 21st, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous posts I have reported on the Year 3 Design Conference of the Learning Layers (LL) project that took place in Espoo and of the talks I had afterwards in Helsinki. Now it is time to shift emphasis to knowledge sharing – and in particular sharing experiences – between parallel pilot activities in the LL project. In this respect we got new impulses both regarding the construction sector pilots – sharing experiences on tools and workshops – as well as documentation of fieldwork with LL tools – in particular those to be used as collectors of experiences (“Erfahrungssammler“).

1, Sharing knowledge and experience with the Finnish pilots in construction sector

We were pleased to hear fresh reports of the pilots of the Finnish team from Aalto University with vocational schools and construction companies in using the AchSo! tool to document workplace learning. Here we were interested of the recent development of the tool since we want to integrate it into the piloting with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). Shortly after the Design Conference the Finnish team could deliver us a very positive report on their pilot in the trade union journal of the construction workers – with voices of apprentices/trainees, skilled workers and vocational teachers. It ios encouraging that the relatively limited piloting with a video annotation tool has proven to be successful in many respects. The tool seems to be working in practice, the construction workers and apprentices are getting used to shooting videos to document their work and the representatives of vocational schools are happy to work with such documentation. Moreover, this pilot appears to demonstrate good cooperation between school-based and apprenticeship-based vocational education and training (VET). As we have been informed, the Finnish pilot context provides the opportunity for flexible transition from school-based education to apprenticeship in the third year. For the LL project it is interesting to find out that the well-functioning documentation of workplace learning is considered as an important success factor in the pilot.

For us, working with the construction sector pilots in Germany (in which apprentice training is essentially present) this is in many respects inspiring. Firstly, we interested in integrating the use of AchSo! in our pilots. Secondly, we are interested in exploring the prospect for piloting with the Learning Toolbox in Finland (provided that the Finnish counterparts are interested). And thirdly, we are interested in sharing knowledge of pedagogy of VET.

 2. Using LL tools to share our project experiences

The more we have learned about the Finnish pilot, the more we ( = the ITB team) have understood the value our own fieldwork for parallel pilots and spin-off initiatives. This has inspired us to consider, how we could make our prior activities, learning experiences and interim conclusions transparent. In particular we have understood the value of our early workshops. In these events we brought the co-design processes closer to the working and training/learning contexts of apprentices and trainers and got them tuned in into participative design of LL tools. Now, looking back, the existing documentation in the form of flipcharts, workshop reports and blogs is not that easily accessible to others.

The positive experience with the videos produced by our Bau-ABC colleagues suggests that we could have a second look at the workshop results to harvest conclusions for our forthcoming field workshops – and to document them with videos  (eventually using AchSo!). However, it is not merely the experiences with individual workshops that we want to bring forward. In the exchanges with the parallel pilots we came to think of the potentials of the Bits & Pieces tool (with the timeliner) as an instrument for such project-internal exchanges. Here, indeed, we can put our own design teams into the position of application partners and to reflect, how to use LL tools to facilitate sharing of knowledge and experiences across complex pilot activities. This, surely will help us to find further pilot contexts for the respective tools.

I think this is enough about second thoughts after Espoo. In the meantime Gilbert Peffer has published a series of blogs on the Exploitation Launchpad Workshop in the Design Conference, worth having a closer look.

More blogs to come …


After the LL Design Conference – Part 2: Talks on Activity Theory and Change Laboratory processes

March 19th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I have reported on the Year 3 Design Conference of the Learning Layers (LL) project that took place in Espoo, Finland last week. Immediately after the Design conference I had a chance to discuss with researcher Marianne Teräs (University of Helsinki) on her work with Change Laboratory processes. For me this discussion is part of the follow-up of the Theory Camp of the LL project – Reviewing Activity Theory and the related methodologies of intervention research (of which the Change Laboratory has become most famous). I had approached Marianne because her work had focused on healthcare sector and vocational education of nurses (which are both relevant to the LL project as a field of piloting and as context for potential spin-off initiatives. Below I try to summarise the main issues of our discussion and my impressions and conclusions.

1. Change from practitioner to intervention researcher

Firstly we discussed the development of Marianne’s career from trained nurse (with occupational background) and the transitions to vocational teacher and teacher educator (working in a vocational college for healthcare). From this background she was one of the teachers/teacher educators who were involved in a pilot project to develop a pre-vocational education scheme for migrant youngsters who wanted to be trained for healthcare occupations. Since the project team in the college had encountered several problems they were looking for a structured process to work through the challenges and issues. From this point of view they volunteered as a  counterpart for the research group of Yrjö Engeström to work with a Change Laboratory process (at that time called Culture Laboratory). During this project (that started in 2001) Marianne was contracted as an intervention researcher whilst a colleague of hers worked as project manager on behalf of the college. When the project was over, she returned to her job as a vocational teacher educator. However, after some time another project was started to develop models of integrative vocational education of learners with migrant background within ordinary vocational education programs. In this phase Marianne took over the role of project manager on behalf of the intervention researchers (supported by other members of the research team and participating teachers). After this latter project she has continued her career as researcher in other projects.

2. Whose initiatives, whose innovations

As already indicated above, the initiative for the first Change Laboratory was taken by the vocational teachers/ teacher educators struggling with a new pilot scheme. At that time preparation of migrant youngsters (with very heterogeneous ethnic and educational backgrounds) was a new experience to most of them. Also, the pre-vocational education scheme was a new construct to be piloted with new target groups. From this point of view the first project was characterised by voluntary participation of teachers/ teacher educators committed to the pilot. The work of the Change Laboratory gave rise to several parallel working groups (with respective educational change agendas). Some of them faded away soon but some of them sustained and their work was continued years after (when the second project was started).

Whilst the first Change Laboratory project focused on a specific preparatory scheme dedicated for migrants, the second project focused on integration of migrants into ordinary vocational education programs. The background was given in the national educational policy and at the local level the director of the college wanted their college to become an innovation leader within this initiative. In this respect the director gave this project a high priority and the participation of teachers was made mandatory. Partly the implementation of the project could benefit of the prior project but to a great extent it had work with a stronger integration between occupational subjects, language learning and intercultural education.

3. Collecting background materials, documenting the laboratory sessions and drawing conclusions

In our discussion Marianne made me aware of the intensive participation of practitioners within the research work. Although the intervention research mainly focused on the process of the Change Laboratory sessions, it was essentially supported by the collection of background materials (or ‘mirror materials’). In this process both teachers and vocational learners played an important role by producing their own notes or audio or video clips to document facts, episodes or impressions with relevance to language learning, vocational learning and intercultural encounters. It is worthwhile to note that the learners were immediately involved in the first Change Laboratory project but not in ia a the second one which became more a teachers’ project. Yet, via a broad involvement of learners (alongside teachers) in the production of the background material the project could ensure the presence of their voices in the Change Laboratory.

These materials were used mainly as support materials to prepare the scripts for the Change Laboratory sessions in which the work with the curricular initiatives was promoted. These sessions were documented by videos, individual notes of the intervention researchers and by written analyses of the videos. By such thorough documentation the researchers could ensure that they covered the richness of the discussions, paying attention to main themes (laid down by the script) and corollary themes (that may have given rise to spin-off processes).

4. Encounters between theory and practice

Research articles often give a picture of the Change Laboratory projects as heavily theory-driven projects. Marianne admitted that the articles give priority on presenting the theoretical background (Activity Theory, Activity Systems) and its adaptation and utilisation in the Change Laboratory processes (identification of generative themes/contradictions, expansive learning cycles and boundary crossing practices). However, when looking at the everyday life practice of the projects, she drew attention to the need to find a balance between the conceptual tools of researchers and the practice-related tools and instruments of teachers. In this balancing process the intervention researchers had to negotiate, to what extent the conceptual tools could be used as common tools and to what extent they should be left to secondary analyses. The strategies to manage these encounters have often remained as ‘tacit knowing’ although some researchers have paid attention to the epistemological aspects of such dialogical research processes.

5. Lessons for the Learning Layers project and its spin-out initiatives?

I had initiated our talks as an initial step in preparing a forthcoming workshop on methodological lessons from Activity Theory, Change Laboratory processes and on their relevance for intervention research projects like the LL project. Here it is not possible to enter this discussion in detail. Yet, it is worthwhile to note the far more complex character of the interventions in the LL project vis-à-vis the ones we had discussed. Having said that we took note of several analogies between the participative processes, user-engagement and expectations on expansive learning. Given the fact that the LL project is expected to roll out and scale up innovations in using mobile technologies, digital media and web tools in workplace learning, we noted several points of common interest for further cooperation.

More blogs to come …

PS. Acknowledgements and References:

I got acquainted with Dr Marianne Teräs via Professor Johanna Lasonen who has worked a long time with Marianne in projects that deal with intercultural education and the role of vocational education in the integration of migrants. Also, it was thanks to Johanna that I started to have a closer look at Activity Theory, Developmental Work Research and the Change Laboratory methodology.

Here some references to the development of Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research (in general) and to work with sectoral projects in Healthcare and/or with Change Laboratory (in particular):

Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1) 133-156.

Engeström, Y., Engeström, R. & Vähäaho, T. (1999). When the center does not hold: The importance of knotworking. In S. Chaiklin & U. J. Jensen, Activity Theory and Social Practice, (pp. 345-374). Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press.

Engeström, Y. & Sannino A. (2010). Studies of expansive learning: Foundations, findings and future challenges. Educational Research Review 5(1), 1-24.

Teräs, M. & Lasonen, J. (2013) The development of teachers’ intercultural competence using a Change Laboratory method. Vocations and Learning, 6(1)

Engeström, R. (2014). The Interplay of Developmental and Dialogical Epistemologies. In Outlines. Critical Social Studies, 15 (2), 119-138.


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