Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

Time to tap the breaks?

January 15th, 2017 by Graham Attwell


Graham Brown Martin talks about Personalised Learning. Does #EdTech personalise, individualise or standardise, he asks? “In the age of big data and learning analytics, are we seeing Taylor’s ideas – masquerading as progressive “personalized learning” – forced upon unwitting education systems where all that matters is the what rather than the why?” And he says that despite the fact he is not anti technology it may be time to “tap the breaks”.

My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) – Part Five: From Work & Learning Partners to Euronet-PBL (2005 – 2010)

December 10th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous posts I started to write a serious of blogs with the heading “My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB)”. These blogs are intended to support the work (or follow-up) of the ITB “Klausurtagung” that will take place on Friday 9. December 2016.  The inspiration to write personal blogs that deal with the history of ITB comes from the Klausurtagung 2015. With this series I try to compensate my absence due to health issues and to pass a message, wah has happened at different times and with different themes. In the first post I tried to cover my first encounters –  my study visit in 1989 and participation in the Hochschultage Berufliche Bildung 1990 conference. In the second post I gave insights into the Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe and to related European cooperation projects 1995 – 1999. In the third post I discussed the Europrof project, the Unesco International TVET meeting in Hangzhou 2004 and its follow-up. In the fourth post I discussed the  TTplus project and the European Consultation seminars in the years 2007 – 2010. In this fifth blog I will discuss the development of our work from Work & Learning Partners (2005-2006) to Euronet-PBL on practice-based learning  (2009-2010).

The three previous blogs have discussed reform and innovations concepts with systemic relevance (Doppelqualifikation, New VET professionals) and/or European policy frameworks (Teachers and trainers in VET). As a contrast, the projects to be discussed in this post can be characterised as intermediate innovations (partnerships for workplace learning in VET and for practice-based learning in higher education).

The project Work & Learning Partners (2005-2006)

The Leonardo da Vinci project “Work & Learning Partners (WLP)” was based on the experiences of a successful regional pilot project (Modellversch GoLo) with workplace learning partnerships in the Wilhelmshaven region. This predecessor project demonstrated that a crisis region can cut the declining tendency in apprentice training by grouping SMEs into partnerships that provide training opportunities jointly. Here it is worthwhile to note that in the case of Wilhelmshaven these cooperation arrangements were supported by a local mobilisation of the companies (by the local industrial association) and by training interventions of the pilot team.

The European project (initiated by Philipp Grollmann) tried to promote transfer of innovation by relatively light-weight accompaniment arrangements (with case studies using a GoLo-based “Learning Potential Analysis” (LPA) method. This was originally used to clarify whether the partner enterprises were in the position to cover all content areas in the domain-specific apprentice training – and to identify areas of learning to be covered with partnership cooperation. However, the case studies that were carried out parallel to these analyses gave a picture that the companies involved in the other partner countries were not looking for partnership-based cooperation with other companies by letting apprentices rotate. Instead, in the second phase of the project the partners refocused their fieldwork into examining the kind of cooperation arrangements that could be introduced in their contexts and/or measures to improve their workplace learning with the use of multimedia support. Also, as a support for the initial ideas, the French partner provided an additional case study of the trans-national company Endress + Hauser that has pioneered with rotating ita apprentices between its plants in Switzerland, Germany and France (and completing apprenticeship with certificates recognised in all countries).

Looking back, the the partners had apparently expected more of the willingness of the companies to work in partnerships and of the contribution of the LPA-analyses to the development of workplace learning arrangements. As I came to the project as a replacement of the coordinator (due to an accident and a longer leave of absence), my task was to coach the local partners to find alternative initiatives to be reported. This process history was symptomatic for attempted transfer of innovation with very context-specific innovation concepts to wider European use.

Euronet-PBL – the approach to studying and developing practice-based learning

Some years later the Erasmus project Euronet-PBL was initiated by ITB (by Ludger Deitmer as primus motor). It was shaped as an allrounder-project to study and develop practice-based learning arrangements in three domains: engineering studies, business administration and vocational teacher education. The university partners were working together with partner enterprises to analyse the experieences with hitherto implemented practice-based learning arrangements (case studies), to evaluate the experiences (evaluation workshops) and to collect tools, instruments and support arrangements into a curricular toolbox. Altogether the work was supported by comparative analyses that provided the basis for eventual recommendations that were discussed in valorisation workshops.

Euronet-PBL – student’s projects, evaluation workshops and valorisation workshops

The project worked intensively with its case studies which included context descriptions on the study programs and on the role of practice-based learning arrangements (Praktikum, Company-Action-Projects, Coop-placements). Then, selected students’ projects or placement cases were analysed for more detailed information). based on this interim information the university partners organised with the partner companies and ths students self-evaluation workshops (using an evaluation tool developed in earlier ITB projects). Here, it is worthwhile to note that the use of the evaluatzion tool is linked to the workshop concept and the quantifiying and visualising features of the tool serve the purpose of stimulating discussion and clarification of arguments. On the basis of ‘local’ evaluation workshops the university partners organised valorisation workshops that had the task to validate the findings and to put them into wider (national) group picture.

Euronet-PBL – the role of comparative analyses

Initially the project was expected to produce a common framework or guidelines for supporting the development of practice-based learning arrangements in higher education (in general) and in the participating academic domains. However, the comparative analyses (using the empirical material gathered in the project) came to the conclusion that this is not realistic. Instead, the comparative analyses provided a framework for

  • distinguishing different learning arrangements from each other: intensive intervention projects (CAP-projects), series of  students’ short-term projects (Praktikum projects), work experience placements (without study project);
  • distinguishing between ‘reference case’ and ‘parallel’ case in the academic domains analysed (project vs. placement);
  • making the information on different models and patterns of implementation transparent as a group picture;
  • analysing the role of the Bologna process as a background and context for developing different models;
  • analysing developments and ambitions in shaping different models (taking into account the European context.

Thus, instead of preparing a ‘framework’ or ‘guideline’ document, the project prepared a secondary analysis of exemplary students’ projects to highlight the potentials of such projects for university-enterprise cooperation.

The role of  the Toolbox of the Euronet-PBL (at that time and looking back)

In the light of the above it is easy to understand, what kind of changes the idea of shping a common toolbox went through during the project and how differently such a task would be approached with present-date understanding. Originally the idea of a common toolbox was linked to the common curricular framework or curricular guidelines (to develop practice-based learning). The toolbox was to collect national or local guidelines, instructions, contract templates, reporting documents, presentation templates, assessment guidelines and forms etc. These materials were to be structured in the light of agreed recommendations or guiding principles.

Once the comparative analyses had suggested the conclusion to support mutual learning and exchanges as the main thrust for developing practice-based learning, the role of the common toolbox changed. Now, it was developed as a resource base for learning from other partners’ models, instruments and tools. From this perspective the “Toolbox” was shaped as a moodle ‘course’ that was based on a process model for implementing practice-based learning. The ‘learning units’ of the course highlighted a phase in the planning, preparation, implementation and assessment of practice-based learning. And exemplary instructions, instruments, tools and reports used by partners were made available to illustrate this phase.

Looking back, it is symptomatic that the project of the years 2009-2010 worked with an idea of a curricular toolbox instead of a learners’ toolbox. Now, with present-date Internet-connections and mobile apps it is easier to think of common toolboxes to support learners’ activities and share information on students’ Praktikum or CAP projects in real time.

– – –

I think this is enough of these intermediate innovation projects (between systemic reforms and ‘local’ development measures). As I have indicated above, many of these projects could be revisited as early anticipations of innovation concepts that now can be shaped in a more user-friendly, dynamic and interactive way.

More blogs to come …

 

My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) – Part Four: From the TTplus project to Consultation seminars (2007 – 2010)

December 10th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous posts I started to write a serious of blogs with the heading “My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB)”. These blogs are intended to support the work (or follow-up) of the ITB “Klausurtagung” that will take place on Friday 9. December 2016.  The inspiration to write personal blogs that deal with the history of ITB comes from the Klausurtagung 2015. With this series I try to compensate my absence due to health issues and to pass a message, wah has happened at different times and with different themes. In the first post I tried to cover my first encounters –  my study visit in 1989 and participation in the Hochschultage Berufliche Bildung 1990 conference. In the second post I gave insights into the Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe and to related European cooperation projects 1995 – 1999. In the third post I discussed the Europrof project, the Unesco International TVET meeting in Hangzhou 2004 and its follow-up. In the fourth post I will discuss the development of our work from the TTplus project to the European Consultation seminars on VET teachers and trainers in the years 2007 – 2010.

Remarks on the earlier history of the theme “Teachers and trainers in VET” at European level

My first encounter with the theme “Teachers and trainers in VET” at European level took place, when I was working in Cedefop (European Centre for the Drevelopment of Vocational Training) as a national seconded expert sent by the Finnish government. Cedefop was being relocated from Berlin to Thessaloniki, Greece and I had just got a new contract with which I would start as a temporary official of the EU in Thessaloniki. At that time the Cedefop project manager who was in charge of the newly started project “Teachers and trainers in VET” asked me to take over this project since she was leaving Cedefop and moving to Eurostat. For her this was a project to be completed when the national reports for all countries are completed.

When I had joined the project, I realised that there was a strong community-building process going on and that it should not be dropped. Yet, I had already got my activities in VET research cooperation started (accompaniment of European projects, joint synergy seminars with top projects, participation in European policy dialogue events with the projects) and I couldn’t concentrate sufficiently on the practitioner network. After a lengthy transition period another Cedefop project manager took over this project and managed the official launch of the TTnet network in 1998 (based on the preparatory work in the years 1995-1997).

From that point on the TTnet seemed to be the natural address to collect European studies and expertise on the theme ‘teachers and trainers’ However, there were two major limitations in the way that the network had been constituted. Firstly, following the Cedefop tradition, the network was built upon national contact points that coordinated the activities and eventually invited further actors. This was a somewhat exclusive mode of participation. Secondly, it was left to each country, whether the contact point is hosted by institutions for vocational teacher education or major training organisations (with ‘training the trainers’ activities) or national VET authorities. As a consequence, the national contact points covered the field from the perspective of their own priorities.

When the European Commission in the years 2005-2006 was looking for ways to analyse more closely the role of VET teachers and trainers as a target group for European policies, these measures were not crried out via TTnet but via new priorities in the Leonardo da Vinci programme and via specific tenders (which also were open for the TTnet members as well). From the thematic pointof view, special emphasis was given on measures that focused on in-company trainers or on trainers in specialised training organisations (beyond the initial VET). This was the background for the many parallel activities on the theme ‘teachers and trainers’ that were carried out by ITB in the years 2006 -2010: The Eurotrainer I survey, the TTplus project, the Consultation seminars and the Eurotrainer II network. Below I will focus on the TTplus project and the Consultation seminars in which I had a major role.

The TTplus project – approaches and initiatives

The TTplus project was set up with the ambitious heading ‘Framework for continuing professional development of trainers’ and building upon the experiences of the Euroframe project (see my previous post). The project took into account from the beginning the fact that the patterns for employing trainers (for workplace-based learning) and the respective arrangements for ‘training of trainers’ vary to a great extent. Therefore, The empirical work was based on three case studies to be carried ou in the particpating countries – then to be followed by policy analyses, reflections on the role of European Qualification Framework (EQF) and recommendations.

Concerning the policies and/or societal boundary conditions for engaging trainers and organising ‘training for trainers’ the case studies and policy analyses provided the following kind of group picture:

  • In Germany the exisiting framework for training of trainers (AEVO) had been teamporarily suspended (in order to encourage the companies to take more apprentices. The companies that were studied were interested in supporting training of trainers – and used AEVO as a basis. Yet, they saw AEVO as minimum and were looking for more.
  • In Portugal the partners studied private training providers who organised employment schemes commissioned by the employment services. The trainers’ aptitude certificate (CAP) required as minimum standard tended to reduce the pedadgogic room for manoeuvre to traditional frontal teaching.
  • In Greece the companies studied were not subject to follow any government policies regarding in-company training – this was up to company-specific decisions. Likewise, it was up to the companies to engage trainers and to consider the competences of trainers from their perspectives. From the analyst’s point of view there was a case for a government intervention to to introduce minimum level training obligations and minimum standards for trainers.
  • In Wales the companies contacted had outsourced most of their training activities and these were catered for by freelance-trainers who had developed their career as allrounders (from the content point) and as training technique specialists. Whilst they were in the position to outline frameworks for professional development (but were sceptical whether such frameworks should be applied to freelance trainers).

As these examples already indicate, the European landscape of training at workplace and ‘training of trainers’ was getting more colourful and it was not self-evident, how to promote European policies in an effective way. The approach of the project made it possible to get insights into the training contexts (companies, training providers, training arrangements) and to collect working issues. This all served as good preparation for the forhcoming European activities.

Analyses on the role of the European Qualification Framework(s) (EQF)

in the light of the above it was apparent that the ‘European dimension’ of the project TTplus was not to set common European standards for trainers – neither was there a case to declare a common recommendation for continuing professional development. Instead, the project provided an overview of the challenges and eventual steps forward in different countries (taking into account the organisational, institutional and policy contexts).

In this respect the analysis on the role of  the problems in applying European Qualification Frameworks (EQFs) to the field ‘teachers and trainers in VET’. Whilst in several countries, VET teachers were educated in universities or higher education institutions, this was not  the universal rule across Europe. In this respect the EQF for Higher Education (the Bologna process) provided the general framework. Yet, considering the career models of VET teachers, there was a tension between study programs for full-time students vs. professionals in the middle of career shift.

For the same reasons the European Qualification Framework for VET (or lifelong learning) did not provide an orientative framework for career progression – neither within the context of workplace training nor regarding career shift from training activities fro teacher duties. In this respect the German country report made transparent the initial discussion on such career models (and how to support them with different national frameworks). However, the discussion was at early stage and ITB got at that time linked with the developmental initiatives (after the TTplus project).

The consultation seminars – overall approach and insights into the workshops

In the light of the above it is interesting to note the opportunities provided by the Europe-wide Consultation seminars “VET teachers and trainers” in 2oo8 – 2009. This was a European Commission initiative to pull together knowledge and different stakeholders’ views via series of ‘regional’ workshops that cover all Members States, EEA partners and candidate countries. ITB won the tender with a consortium based on the Eurotrainer projects. The task was originally to organise six regional workshops to cover different European regions and to draw conclusions from hitherto implemented policies and intiatives for common European initiatives. The expectations were rather high regarding conclusions that could support incorporation of VET teachers and trainers into EQFs or under specific EU-level ‘communications’ (from the Commission to the European Parliament).

The workshops were designed as higly participative, interactive and collaborative events with quick shifts between differen kinds of sessions as the following:

  • Statements on the wall: Collection of statements on the roles, tasks and development prospects of trainers –  collected and grouped on the wall under respective headings – reflections on different positions and groupings.
  • Witness sessions: Quick presentations on recent innovations/initiatives/pilots that the participants bring from their home countries – what were the strengths/weeknesses, what made them sustainable/fragile.
  • Mapping European policies/initiatives: Participants were asked to fill in ‘problem’ cards, ‘method/measure’ cards and ‘policy’ cards to outline proposals. The groups collected and grouped the results.
  • Priority ranking: Participants were asked to indicate European ‘priorities’ that had been high and should be kept high vs. had been high but should be lowered vs. had been low and should be topped up vs. had been low and should be kept low.

These were some examples of the activities that were managed in the workshops. Altogether they gave the participants a good feeling that their views were respected, their contributions were taken on boards and the the groups worked together. Indeed, as ‘regional’ and trans-national workshops for knowledge sharing and dialogue the events served very well. However, the problem was in brining the European policy level into discussion and developing the feedback processes in such a way that European policy-makers could draw conclusions for their work.

– – –

I think this is enough of the projects and activities of this period. They were rich learning experiences but showed major difficulties in working towards a European synthesis – and at the same time shaping recommendations for development activities in particular VET contexts. This challenge will be explored in the forthcoming blogs.

More blogs to come … 

 

 

 

My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) – Part Three: From the Europrof project to the Hangzhou conference and follow-up (1996 – 2006)

December 9th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous posts I started to write a serious of blogs with the heading “My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB)”. These blogs are intended to support the work (or follow-up) of the ITB “Klausurtagung” that will take place on Friday 9. December 2016.  The inspiration to write personal blogs that deal with the history of ITB comes from the Klausurtagung 2015. With this series I try to compensate my absence due to health issues and to pass a message, wah has happened at different times and with different themes. In the first post I tried to cover my first encounters –  my study visit in 1989 and participation in the Hochschultage Berufliche Bildung 1990 conference. In the second post I gave insights into the Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe and to related European cooperation projects 1995 – 1999. In this post I will discuss the Europrof and the further work with its core ideas towards the Unesco International TVET meeting in Hangzhou 2004 and its follow-up.

The Europrof project 1996-1998: Training of new VET professionals

In my first post of this series I referred to my talks on the regional pilot project of ITB on the theme “Qualifizierung der Berufspädagogen für alle Lerorten”.  Whilst that one was a small-scale pilot, it expressed the idea to overcome the divisions between vocational education and training (VET) professionals – vocational subject teachers, in-company trainers and training managers – with an integrative concept. This idea was taken further by the ITB initiative to launch a European cooperation project that seeks to cross the accustomed boundaries and outline a new European framework.

In this spirit the Europrof project launched a new debate on the education of VET professionals. The main aim was to to overcome the cultural barriers between expertise in VET (teaching-learning processes) and in HRD (workplace-based learning and continuing professional development). At the same time the project tried to support debates on the renewal of vocational teacher education and on the strengthening of European research culture in the field of VET.

Regarding the contribution of the Europrof project to Europe-wide knowledge development it is worthwhile to note that the project brought together participants that had different views and orientations on the theme “education of new VET professionals”. In this respect the project managed to organise a Europe-wide “invisible college” in terms of a cross-cultural learning community. However, after the development of the “cornerstones” (and after the incorporation of the research themes of the affiliated experts) the project started to experience difficulties in working towards a common core structure for curriculum development that would take the debate further from the ‘cornerstones’ and from the attached research themes. Therefore, the Europrof project completed its work with a gallery of country studies and of supporting research themes.

The project history of Europrof was characterised by an attempt to avoid the transition of the partners into advocates of their national educational models (and of related VET cultures). Therefore, the Europrof project tried to reduce the amount of comparative analyses and to push the partners towards collaborative research & development work. However, after certain interim workshops the project was no longer able to promote a common change agenda, since the national partners could not show indications of changes in their national contexts. Instead, the project was concluded with reports on supporting research themes.

The Euroframe project 1999-2000: Partition of the follow-up agenda

The multiplier-effect project Euroframe tried to avoid pursuing an over-ambitious agenda by dividing its work into two parallel strands of work (taking into account different priorities in the participating countries).  The two strands referred to different educational concepts and target groups (and corresponding models of European cooperation):

  • The more ‘academic’ strand developed as proposal for a European inter-university institute with a mission to promote VET-related research and research-based expertise in educationa and training of VET professional.
  • a set of case studies on research & development activities that could link the work of such an institute to pilot projects and regional initiatives with a broader social context.

However, the two strands became independent of each other and the underlying conceptual approaches started to grow apart from each other instead of working towards a cohesive framework.

As a consequence of the differentiation of the project dynamics, the case studies were not in the position to give a clear illustration how the common framework (and the related inter-university institute) could support the developmental activities (that were linking the issue ‘continuing professional development’ to broader social and regional contexts). Thus, the project histories revealed the need for bridging concepts and methodologies that could link such strands to each other on the basis of ‘coherent diversity’ and ‘mutual enrichment.

The new start with the UNESCO-UNEVOC centre – the Hamburg workshop (September 2004)

Whilst the follow-up at the European level fell for some time to latency, ITB had in the meantime created contacts with the newly established UNESCO-UNEVOC centre (now based in Bonn). This cooperation had already led to joint publication projects – a new book series on international reference publications on TVET development and TVET research (in the UNESCO terminology the overarching concept is ‘technical and vocational education and training’ – TVET). In this context the issue of developing an international agenda for supporting TVET teacher education and for promoting TVET research. Also, at that time ITB was also involved in a major European consortium that provided an interim assessment on European VET policies after the EU-summit in Lisbon 2000  – prepared to the meeting of Education miniters in Maastricht 2004 (Leney, T. et al. 2004: Achieving the Lisbon goal: The contribution of VET. Final report to the European Commission. Brussels.). In this report the contribution of ITB (Philipp Grollmann) was the analysis of European developments in vocational teacher education and training of VET professionals.

The main international initiative – promoted by Felix Rauner from ITB and director Rupert MacLean from UNESCO-UNEVOC centre – was taken further with Chinese counterparts and supported with a preparatory conference in China (Spring 2004). In Europe a similar preparatory event was organised in collaboration with the European research network VETNET as an international workshop of the GTW-Herbstkonferenz in Hamburg 2004. This workshop discussed firstly policy-analyses with reference to Lisbon summit and to the above mentioned Maastricht-study. Then it explored the situation of TVET teacher education and current initiatives in the participating countries (including Germany, Norway, Finland, Hungary and Greece). In this way the Hamburg workshop prepared the grounds for the forthcoming international event and for European follow-up activities.

The UNESCO International TVET meeting in Hangzhou (November 2004)

This UNESCO International TVET meeting in Hangzhou had the theme “Innovation and excellence in TVET teacher education”. It was organised jointly by the Chinese UNESCO-commission, the UNESCO-UNEVOC centre and the Asian UNESCO-offices. The participants represented all major global regions. In particular it is worthwhile to note that Asian and European countries were widely represented.

The main thrust of the conference was to analyse current needs for TVET-related expertise, to prepare a common curricular framework for Master-level programmes, to reflect upon the progression strategies related to short-cycle models and to outline a common approach for promoting professionalisation and quality awareness. In the light of these tasks, the shaping of the common curricular framework became the crucial task. In this respect the working document on the curricular framework was presented for general acceptance and put forward as the “Hangzhou framework”.

Concerning the initial starting points of the discussion it is worthwhile to note the following points:

  • The document took professional areas of specialisation (”vocational disciplines”) as core structures for pedagogic and professional knowledge development in the field of TVET. Thus, the document distanced itself from approaches that would consider general educational sciences or subject-disciplines as the leading disciplines within the development of TVET.
  • The document had used a very limited number of exemplary vocational fields of specialisation (’vocational disciplines’) to make the general picture transparent. In this respect the document did not contain a comprehensive catalogue of possible fields of specialisation.
  • The document did not discuss in detail the role of transversal and connective pedagogic aspects as a support for the kind of learning and knowledge development that is based on professional areas of specialisation (‘vocational disciplines’). However, in this context it is worthwhile to note that such integrative know-how is of vital importance for bringing the field-specific vocational disciplines under a common framework.

The working group took the approach based on professional areas of specialisation (’vocational disciplines’) as its common starting point. Thus, the discussion tried to find the best composition of such professional areas to make the framework comprehensive and transparent. In this respect the group tried to identify professional areas (or clusters of areas) that can be considered as mutually supporting in the education of TVET professionals and as a basis for the scientific development of ’vocational disciplines’. In this context it became apparent that it is not possible to include several professional areas into an international framework because some areas appear in different clusters in different global regions.

Concluding remarks

The event in Hangzhou was the peak point but at the same time the turning point. It was easy to agree on a common declaration but far more difficult to organise a follow-up and to proceed to implementation. There were two ‘regional’ follow-up conferences in Asia (Tiensin 2005 and Colombo 2006) and one in Europe (Oslo/Lilleström 2006) but no major steps could be taken forward as joint actions. At best a follow-up agenda could be outlined in the ITB-led Asia-Link project TT-TVET project 2006 – 2009, but also in the project the agendas for promoting TVET teacher education moved from common core principles to pragmatic steps forward in each participating country.

In this context it is worthwhile to note that my role changed considerably at different phases of this process history. During the work of Europrof and Euroframe projects I was employed as a project manager of Cedefop (European Centre for Development of Vocational Training) and accompanied the work of these projects. During the Hamburg workshop and the international Hangzhou meeting I was employed by Jyväskylä Polytechnic, but I was already acknowldged as Visiting Fellow (Gastwissenschaftler) of ITB. In the follow-up phase (from Summer 2005 on) I had started working as a project-based researcher in ITB.

– – –

I think this is enough of the development of this theme from the Europrof project to the Hangzhou framework. Whilst the follow-up in the European context died out rather soon, it provided a basis for other  activities regarding professional development of VET teachers and trainers in Europe.

More blogs to come …

 

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.

– – –

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.

– – –

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.

– – –

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 …

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