Archive for the ‘SMEs’ Category

My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) – Part Six: The expedition with the Learning Layers (2012-2016)

December 11th, 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 the fifth blog I discussed the  Work & Learning Partners (2005-2006) and the Euronet-PBL (2009-2010). In this sixth and final post I will discuss the expedition with the Learning Layers project (2012 – 2016).

Here, it is worthwhile to emphasise that this ‘journey’ has taken me and my ITB colleagues through different periods of European cooperation. Not all of our efforts have been that successful. Yet, we have achieved respectable results and we have learned a lot. It is also important to emphasise that there is a strong continuity with underlying theoretical concepts and guiding principles for R&D activities (participation, dialogue and social shaping – all in one word: Gestaltung). With this interim conclusion I try to give a nutshell picture of the latest leg of the journey – our expedition with the EU-funded Learning Layers project (on which I have been blogging the last four years).

The starting points of the Learning Layers project

Thae Learning Layers (LL) project was funded by the 7th Framework Programme of Research, Technology and Development of the European Uninon (EU FP7). The aim was to support informal learning in the context of work and organisations by using digital tools, web resources and mobile devices. Special emphasis was given on addressing SMEs (and their networks) as users and to scale up innovations during the project. As a contrast to the previous projects discussed in this series of blogs, our (= ITB) starting position was completely different:

  • Firstly, the previous projects had mainly been initiated and/or led by ITB and carried out with a partnership that we new of the vocational education and training (VET) research community.  In the Learning Layers project we joined in a consortium that was led by research institutions from the fields of educational technology, software solutions, knowledge management and infrastructure architectures. Pontydysgu had made the contact between us and the emerging project consortium.
  • Secondly, the project plan had initially envisaged only one field for piloting (the healthcare sector in England, represented by General Practice stations affiliated with the National Health Service, supported in the project by Leeds University). In the final phase of the preparations the construction sector from Germany (supported by ITB) was included into the project plan as the second field for piloting.
  • Thirdly. the project concept was relying on a good synchronisation of different contributions from the technical partners in a co-design process, so that the users could easily take up the tools (with the support of an integrated scaffolding model). In this concept there was no clear pre-defined role for us (other than coodination fo the sectoral activities with the application partners in the German construction sector.

The above mentioned plan and project concept were reflected in the set of work packages in which we found our role primarily in the WP7 (deployment and promotion of LL tools in the pilot sectors). However, during the project the ‘cards were mixed and redistributed’ in the processes of co-design, tool development and bringing them to users.

The starting points of the construction pilot

Looking back, the starting point for the construction pilot was somewhat similar as the earlier educational pilot projects (Modellversuche) and the innovation programme on Work and Technology (Arbeit und Technik). Obviously, we could consider that our role was similar to the accompanying research (Begleitforschung). Yet, we had to start with a relatively open research agenda visà-vis the predecessor projects. And, compared to our colleagues in the healthcare sector (Leeds University) we both had an intermediate position between the technical partners and the application partners. Ye, in the course of the project, the pilot activities and our roles developed into somewhat different directions. I will try to summarise the points below:

  • As a contrast to the Modellversuche or the AuT programme, the accompanying research team of ITB could not take a pedagogic pilot concept and related working hypotheses (Versuchshypothesen) or explicit programme goals (AuT-Gestaltungsziele) as points of reference.
  • Concerning the project concept, the accompanying research team had to take an intermediate and interpretative role regarding the achievement of project goals in the context of apprentice training and within organisational learning in construction sector.
  • Concerning the co-design processes, the healthcare pilot worked with three parallel design ideas (and emerging tools) towards a integrative approaches. This process was supported by separate tool development teams of technical partners. In the construction pilot the overarching design idea went through two iterations before the co-design work took the course towards an integrative toolset – the Learning Toolbox. This development process was prepared jointly by the application partners, research partners and intermediate partners, whilst the technical partners joined in later.

In this respect the accompanying research team in the construction pilot had to reconsider its tasks and contributions and to take new roles in the course of the project work.

The R&D dialogue in Bau-ABC – the iterative process

In the co-design process in Bau-ABC (intermediate training centre of of North-German construction industry) was to digitise the Bau-ABC White Folder (collection of training materials, worksheets and reporting documents) and the related training and learning processes. In the initial phase the ITB team engaged heavily Bau-ABC trainers and apprentices by work process analyses and storyboard workshops to identify potential points of intervention (for using digital tools). In the subsequent co-design workshops a lot of attention was paid on haping the tools in such a way that they support vocational learning – and reflective learning. However, in two iteration cycles the joint conclusions was reached to give up the over-ambitious digitisation agenda. Instead, the course was taken to develop a flexible and integrative toolset – the Learning Toolbox – to provide access to web resources, to create own resources and to share knowledge and communicate in real time.

Immediately after this shift into new phase the ITB team together with the LTB developers and colleagues from Bau-ABC started outreach activities that engaged more construction sector professionals and apprentices in discussions on the emerging toolset – on the elementary functions and what could be added upon. These talks were carried out in the Brunnenbauertage trade fair (in Bau-ABC), in the Demo Camp workshop event (also in Bau-ABC) and in the NordBau trade fair (in Neumünster). Also, a closer cooperation with the first interested construction companies was started at this phase.

The training schemes as capacity building and contribution to tool development

Already before the abve mentioned shift in the co-design process the partners in the construction pilot had agreed to start a multimedia training scheme for the trainers in Bau-ABC. The first scheme was developed step by step to equip the participants with basic multimedia competences and capability to assess possibilities for using existing apps or tools and for co-creating and co-developing new ones. In this context the Bau-ABC trainers started working with their domain-specific blogs (Zimmererblog, Maurerblog, Tiefbaublog, Brunnenbauerblog) and to develop them into repositories of their own training materials and supporting content. After the first multimedia training the Bau-ABC trainers (who had participated) produced series of videos pointing to specific contexts for using the toolset to optimise work processes and to support workplace-based learning.

In the next phase a more overarching training programme, based on the “Theme Room” concept (initiated by Bau-ABC trainers) was implemented as a ‘whole organisation’ campaign involving all  training staff of Bau-ABC. The training scheme consisted of four Friday afternoon workshops in November 2015 with focus on two main themes – ‘Use of Social Media’ and ‘Production/Use of Digital Learning Materials’ – with two workshops for each theme. The training staff in Bau-ABC (Rostrup) was divided into four parallel groups (and a fifth group in the branch centre Mellendorf). Each group was tutored by one Bau-ABC trainer and a researcher from ITB team. Altogether this campaign gave a strong push for using digital tools, and web resources in the apprentice training. Moreover, it paved the way for improvements in the infrastructure to enable the piloting with the Learning Toolbox – within the apprentice training of Bau-ABC.

The breakthrough with Learning Toolbox and the completion of the project work

In February-March the Learning Layers project project started the active use of Learning Toolbox in the apprentice training for selected pioneering trades. After the Kick-off event in March the trainers started to spread the piloting via peer tutoring and via joint projects involving several trades. This process was supported by accompanying researchers from ITB, the Learning Toolbox developers and visiting researches from Innsbruck, Espoo and Tallinn. With the jointly implemented evaluation studies in May, August and September we could conclude that the trainers in different trades had found somewhat different ways to use Learning Toolbox – and that the apprentices in their respective trades responded positively to their approaches.

Parallel to the these final activities the Learning Layers partners have prepared their contributions to the final deliverable – a comperehensive reporting website, currently called as ‘the Layers Web’. The main contributions of the construction pilot include the following:

  • Impact Cards: C-01 on specific pilot with AchSo video annotation tool in Bau-ABC; C-05 on pilot activities in Verden; C-11 on the use of Learning Toolbox in Bau-ABC, C-12 on Training schemes in Bau-ABC.
  • Learning Scenarios: S-02 on use of Learning Toolbox at a construction site (Verden); S-09 on Learning Toolbox as support for Handlungsorientiertes Lernen in Bau-ABC; S-10 on changing and sustaining practices in the pilot sectors.
  • Methodology documents: M-10 on accompanying research and participative design; M-11 on Training interventions as capacity-building.

These final documents and many other working documents have been made available as draft versions on the following ResearchGate project spaces:

The follow-up prospects

The signals from pilots in Bau-ABC have been positive and they have been picked up. Following the example, the application partner organisations in Verden have made their steps in using Learning Toolbox in construction work and in promoting the tool to other actors in construction sector. Based on these pioneering cases, the ITB team has recently organised bilateral talks with interested companies. Some spin-off projects have already been started with other construction sector partners before the Learning Toolbox was fully available (to be integrated to their working concepts). At the moment the ITB team is involved in talks to prepare proposals with new knowledge on the usability of Learning Toolbox in the projects.

I think this is enough of the Learning Layers project – of our experiences, achievements and follow-up prospects. To me it is important to not that this has been an exceptional project with richly documented activities and sustainable results to take further by follow-up activities. And for this reason it is important to continue the ‘harvesting’ of results while preparing further follow-up initiatives. It has been and it it is worthwhile.

More blogs to come …

Once more Learning Layers – Part Four: Drawing conclusions across the pilots in construction and healthcare

December 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With this series of posts I am completing one of the final tasks in our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – analysing the work in the two sectoral pilots – construction and healthcare – from a comparative perspective. At the end of the work we need to consider, what we have learned from parallel pilots and what conclusions we can draw on the basis of comparative analyses. In this respect I am have presented extracts from a joint draft document on which I am working with my colleagues Tamsin Treasure-Jones and Graham Attwell. With these posts I try to ‘blog into maturity’ the preliminary thoughts we have put into discussion. In the previous posts I presented some starting points and insights into the processes as well as reflections on the parallel pilots. In the final post I outline conclusions across the pilots. (Here, as in all posts, the input on healthcare pilot is provided by Tamsin Treasure-Jones.)

Whilst it has been relatively easy for us to present the stories of the two pilots (even in a comparative setting), it is difficult to draw conclusions across the pilots – and to keep the complex picture of the contexts in one’s mind. Therefore, we are very cautious about presenting cross-cutting conclusions. Below, after several iterations I present our joint conclusions:

Concluding reflections – across the sectoral pilots

Altogether, it is difficult to formulate conclusions that could link together either success factors of the two different sectoral pilots. The circumstances were very different and the processes as well. However, some of the challenging experiences can be formulated as ‘paradoxes of co-design work’:

  1. Co-design processes that start with a focus on very specific needs of particular user groups are not always able to pursue their work consequently to an end. Iterations and eventual revisions are natural elements of such processes. Radical shifts of emphasis during the process may lead to more flexible or better solutions but equally they can also cause a loss of momentum.
  2. Processes that have created a ‘milieu’ of participative events and exchanges between the developers and users may be influential as facilitators of multimedia learning and upgrading of user-skills. Yet, positive experiences in the preparatory work do not necessarily guarantee successful deployment of tools in actual practice. Here it is necessary to look at the context in which the introduction of the tools takes place. There are limits to what a project can achieve when working in a complex and changing environment.

Concerning the changing of practices, takeup of the tools and transferring ownership of innovation, the experiences of both sectoral pilots emphasise the importance of critical transitions, such as:

  • Radical changes in the initial design idea should be supported in responsive co-design work. Yet such changes need to be made with care, since they can introduce problems (loss of motivation, dropping good ideas too early, losing the link to the original well-understood context) as well as leading to improvements.
  • Moving from the work with the initial group (involved in the co-design) to work with a similar group that had not been engaged in the co-design work. In such situations the new users may be less motivated to work with tools that are under preparation; they have not developed the same personal investment and feelings of ownership as the co-design group
  • Transferring the innovation from the initial pilot context to new ones with different user groups. If the tools can be easily customised for new contexts, engagement of users may be easier with new groups of users who first encounter the tools when mature.

In this respect, sustainable deployment of tools like the ones of the Learning Layers project require the readiness of both individuals, organisations and networks to complete the transition to use them. The introduction of the tools that were piloted has not been merely a replacement of older tools with newer ones. The pilots with collaborative tools have required changes in routines, knowledge processes and patterns of sharing information. If only some of the users are ready to complete the transition to new tools, then there is a risk that the tools are not used at all. If the tools can be used individually, for limited user groups and for collaborative processes (as the Learning Toolbox), then the transition can proceed from smaller pilot groups to wider use more easily.

I guess we managed to complete our  work in a good way. I think we got the mainlessons pulled together.

More blogs to come …


Once more Learning Layers – Part Three: Reflections on parallel pilots in construction and healthcare

December 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In this series of posts I am working with one of the final tasks in our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – analysing the work in the two sectoral pilots – construction and healthcare – from a comparative perspective. At the end of the work it is necessary to consider, what we have learned from parallel pilots and what conclusions we can draw on the basis of comparative analyses. In this respect I am presenting extracts from a joint draft document on which I am working with my colleagues Tamsin Treasure-Jones and Graham Attwell. With these posts I try to ‘blog into maturity’ the preliminary thoughts we have put into discussion. In the previous posts I presented some starting points and insights into the processes. In this post I present our reflections on the parallel pilots – to be continued in the final post with conclusions across the pilots. (Here, as in all posts, the input on healthcare pilot is provided by Tamsin Treasure-Jones.)

Reflections on different factors influencing project work in the pilot sectors

In the light of the above presented process characteristics and findings it is appropriate to reflect the lessons from the two pilot sectors with their respectively different processes of project work. Below we summarise the lessons of the two sectoral pilots concerning

  • factors that facilitated successful project work and take-up of innovation,
  • factors that caused hindrances and required efforts to overcome them,
  • factors that enabled transfer from initial pilot contexts and supported wider engagement of users.

Lessons from the construction pilot

  1. In the primary pilot context – training centre Bau-ABC – it was possible create a multi-channelled research & development dialogue, in which different activities supported each other. Work process analyses, analyses of critical bottlenecks in training, pedagogic reflections on the use of tools – all this contributed to the shaping of the Learning Toolbox. Furthermore, in the trades that have been involved in the pilots, the apprentices have taken the Learning Toolbox as an adequate support for their own learning processes.
  1. During the pilot activities the following hindrances and restrictive factors were experienced and partly overcome: a) The initial design idea (comprehensive digitisation of training materials) was too specific to the primary pilot organisation and too complex in technical terms. This was overcome with the concept of Learning Toolbox and with its open and flexible framework. b) At a later phase the gaps of multimedia competences in the pilot organisation were seen as a risk for successful tool deployment across the organisation. This was partly resolved by introducing the Theme Room training scheme as a ‘whole organisation’ engagement.
  1. The transfer of innovation from the initial pilot context (training centre) to further pilot contexts – to construction companies and to other organisations in construction sector has been enhanced by the following factors: a) A specific impact case was presented by a construction site manager who demonstrated the usability of Learning Toolbox as means to share information in real time (and for reporting from the construction site). cb In promotion events both the training-related examples and the case of construction site management have enabled the company representatives to express their own interests on using Learning Toolbox.

Lessons from the healthcare pilot

  1. Factors that appear to have supported adoption of the tools and transformation of practice include working with organisations whose key remit/focus is training/education. This occurred with our work with both PCTC and AMEE. Both organisations had the interest and knowledge to see how they could use the tools within their practice and to use their own resources to support this. Another approach that has led to change in healthcare has been the involvement of a commercial/development company (PinBell) who already have a related product (Intradoc247) in the market.
  2. Factors that appear to have hindered adoption of the tools and transformation of practice include the workload pressures within the healthcare SMEs. Learning Layers was working within the UK healthcare sector at a time of constant change and national reorganisation. Staff feeling under pressure have little time to devote to R&D projects which do not have a clear service delivery output. The co-design activity did lead to some healthcare professionals feeling ownership of the tools.  However, this engagement and adoption did not appear to transfer fully when the tools were taken beyond the co-design teams and into their networks for the pilots.
  3. Factors that have facilitated transfer beyond the initial contexts in healthcare include the use of the tools by healthcare professionals in real work settings and their own presentation and championing of the tools to others. Based on their understanding of the tools (developed through their engagement in the co-design work), healthcare professionals were able to present the tools to their healthcare networks and engage those networks in the pilots. However, this approach only succeeded in getting the wider networks involved in the pilots, it did not yet lead to the wider networks adopting the tools or making long-term changes in practice.  

I think this is enough of our reflections on the two parallel pilots. We already start to see different constellations of facilitating and challenging factors coming up. In the next post I conclude this series with our reflections across the pilots.

More blogs to come …

Once more Learning Layers – Part Two: Comparative insights into both pilot sectors

December 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In this series of posts I am working with one of the final tasks in our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – analysing the work in the two sectoral pilots – construction and healthcare – from a comparative perspective. At the end of the work it is necessary to consider, what we have learned from parallel pilots and what conclusions we can draw on the basis of comparative analyses. In this respect I have been working with my colleagues Tamsin Treasure-Jones and Graham Attwell with a joint draft document. In this series I present extracts from our document as ‘loud thinking’ to ‘blog them into maturity’. In my first post I presented our approach and the starting points of the sectoral pilots. In this post I present some insights into project work in the two pilots. In the final posts I will present our reflections and some emerging conclusions. (Here, as in all posts, the input on healthcare pilot is provided by Tamsin Treasure-Jones.)

Insights into project work in the two parallel pilots

“In both sectors the general approach was to adopt co-design and capacity for implementing and rolling out the technology in the application partner organisations. In addition to work in the primary pilot contexts, the pilot teams engaged additional, ‘secondary’, contexts.”

“In construction the process started as digitisation of existing training and learning resources and through  a process of research and development dialogue. In this context the co-design shifted from digitisation of learning content to shaping a flexible digital toolset – the Learning Toolbox (LTB). The Bau-ABC trainers adopted the Learning Toolbox as part of their normal practice and starting to develop digital learning resources themselves. This activity enhanced their efforts to change the role of the trainers from a more didactic role to a facilitative one.

In the outreach activities to present the LTB to other users in construction sector the ‘champion case’ has been the example in which a architect Thomas Isselhard (from the network for ecological construction work) demonstrates how to use the toolset in managing a construction site and the cooperation between different craftsmen. In the light of this example the construction companies have developed their own ideas, how to use the LTB for their purposes.

In healthcare the initial empirical and co-design work had identified three potential opportunities for technology to support informal learning at the healthcare workplace. Co-design teams w followed a Design Based Research approach to the subsequent development and field-testing of the tools – Bits & Pieces, Confer and Living Documents. By the end of the third year the tools had been used by small groups within each General Practices within a short field-study to support their collaborative work. There was some evidence that the groups involved in the pilots started to work in a more collaborative way. Yet, there is little sign that the pilot tools themselves will continue to be used beyond the project.

However, Learning Layers had involved a key commercial partner (PinBell) in the co-design work to help with longer-term sustainability. PinBell’s Intradoc247 software is a leading intranet solution designed specifically for General Practices. Therefore the changes in practice observed within the pilot activities may be continued through the use of collaborative working functionality now embedded within Intradoc247 and supported by PinBell.

The wider stakeholder engagement work in healthcare has involved work with a regional training company (Primary Care Training Company – PCTC) and an international medical education organisation (Association of Medical Education in Europe – AMEE). In year 4 with the maturing of Learning Toolbox, PCTC identified the possibility for it to support their annual conference for Healthcare Assistants and they are now also exploring whether it can support their training courses.  Learning Toolbox was successfully used as part of the technology-enhanced informal learning package at AMEE’s 2016 conference.”

I think this is enough on the implementation of the two pilots and of the outcomes at the end of the day. In my next post I will present reflections on the processes (relative strengths and weaknesses) in the parallel pilots.

More blogs to come …


Four years blogging on, with and for the Learning Layers project – looking back and looking forward

November 17th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the four last years I have been blogging intensively on our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Now the time has come to close that chapter. I have three reasons to make that statement:

  1. The project itself is at its final stage and our field activities are being closed.
  2. My contract with the project has already come to an end. At the moment I have not been yet been engaged in the follow-up activities that are still in the process of getting shaped.
  3. Due to health issues I am no longer available for field activities in the same way as before.

So, with all the good time passed with the LL project and with all due optimism vis-à-vis the open questions, I am well advised to to take a look back at my blogs and see, what all comes up there.

1.  Blogs of the years 2012 and 2013 – Working ourselves in into the project

Now, looking back, the blogs of the first year reflect a period when we all (research partners, technical partners and application partners) were working ourselves in into the project and finding our ways to work together. I have reported intensively of the initial field visits, of the Application Partner Days and of the work around the Helsinki Design Conference 2013. Also, I have reported of several rounds of co-design workshops and of the first Multimedia Training workshops. At that point we still tried to work with a massive digitisation agenda with the Bau-ABC “White Folder” and sought to narrow it down for rapid prototyping. As our main achievements I highlighted the good collaborative spirit in the co-design workshops and the readiness for shared learning in the Multimedia training workshops. Later on I started to use the concept ‘research & development (R&D) dialogue’ to emphasise this as something very valuable that we had established together.

The logbook of my blogs of these years is available on ResearchGate, see:

PK-Logbook of Working & Learning blogs on Learning Layers 2013

2. Blogs of the year 2014 – Taking the course to develop the Learning Toolbox

The second year was started with a planning exercise – to sketch ‘development projects’ as mode of operation that gives us more flexibility across the work packages and initial design teams. For the construction pilot this was an important signal because it helped us to highlight the development of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) as our new working perspective. In addition to this important shift of emphasis I have reported intensively of the preparation and implementation of the Theory Camp (March 2014) and our follow-up with our contributions to the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2014, September 2014). However, the main thrust in that year was clearly in our user engagement with our colleagues in Bau-ABC. We had a major promotion campaign on the idea of LTB during the annual Brunnenbauertage conference. We had an intensive “Demo Camp” promotion session with Bau-ABC trainers and apprentices alongside our consortium meeting in Bau-ABC. We had other outreach activities (the NordBau trade fair and a workshop with companies). Finally, the highlight of the year was the package of videos that we edited with Bau-ABC trainers to support the development of the LTB.

The logbook of my blogs of this year is available on ResearchGate, see:

PK-Logbook of ” Working & Learning ” blogs on Learning Layers 2014

3. Blogs of the year 2015 – The rocky road to Theme Room training and piloting with LTB

The first half of the year 2015 was characterised by hard work with software development and with preparing funding bids for follow-up projects. Neither of these topics was heavily present on the blogs. Therefore, there was quite a lot of reporting on interim events, on the Espoo Design conference and on several hot issues from Finland (the AchSo pilot in Finnish construction sector, the Sustainability Commitments, knowledge sharing on Activity Theory, joint event with Finnish promoters of apprentice training). In April we experienced the opening of the Learning Exhibition “nachhaltig.bauen.erleben” of our application partners in Verden. In May we visited the annual Training Day of Bau-ABC trainers, still with a simulation version of LTB. The turning point was the consortium meeting in Tallinn where we had our first discussion on the Theme Room training concept and a release of LTB with which we could proceed to preliminary testing. So, after the summer break we were already engaging Bau-ABC trainers in testing and in the autumn months we implemented the Theme Room training campaign – both topics well covered with blogs.

The logbook of my blogs of this year is available on ResearchGate, see:

PK-Logbook of “Working & Learning” blogs on Learning Layers 2015

4. Blogs of the year 2016 – With seven-league boots in the final run

The clear highlight of the final project year has been the introduction of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) into apprentice training in Bau-ABC – and later in the year to construction site management in Verden. The progress in Bau-ABC has been covered with blogs on preparatory meetings in February, on the Kick-off event in March and on later working visits in April and May. The exemplary openings in the pioneering trades (well-builders; carpenters and bricklayers) and the transfer to neighbouring trades have been observed carefully. Also tests in other fields of application (Training in Health and Safety; Support for trans-national mobility) were introduced. And in-between we had fairly successful testing visit with AchSo and SOAR introduced by colleagues from Aalto. And after the summer break we were happy to find out during the evaluative field visits (together with Markus Manhart from UIBK and Jaanika Hirv from TLU) that the Bau-ABC trainers and apprentices had taken LTB as their own tools to use it with their accents as support for training and learning. This then paved the way for the high season of preparing the final deliverables (that I have discussed in my latest blogs).

The logbook of my blogs of this year is available on ResearchGate, see:

PK-Logbook of “Working & Learning” blogs on Learning Layers 2016

– – –

I think this is enough of my journey with the LL project as it has been portrayed on my blogs. Of course, the blogs are episodic snapshots and do not necessarily grasp the bigger picture (although I have tried to cover this level of analysis as well). Some of the blogs have been combined and reworked into articles on the LL project website and latterly into the “Learning Toolbox Chronicle”. As the running number of the blog entries is right now 176 (if I have not counted wrong), it is perhaps easier to get an overview from those chronicles than by walking through the heavier logbooks. But both types of collections are there. With this statement I close this chapter and take the next step  to move on.

More blogs to come …


Wrapping up the Learning Layers experience – Part Four: Interpreting the impact and drawing scenarios

November 1st, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my three previous blogs I have started a series of posts to wrap up the experiences of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. As I have indicated, we are preparing contributions for the concluding deliverable of our project. In my previous post I discussed, how we are showing impact of our project with Impact Cards. Then I discussed, how this can lead to a particularisation of the picture. As a contrast, I tried to bring together the messages of different cards to show, how our interventions in the Construction pilot have had impact in terms of promoting digital transformation. However, my examples remained at the level of presenting local and context-specific success stories and progress reports. This gives rise to the question, what is the value of these achievements in terms of promoting the presented innovations. And this then leads to the question, on what grounds we can interpret this potential.

Below I will discuss these issues in the light of the two Learning Scenarios that we have prepared on the basis of the Construction pilot. In both examples we introduce firstly an exemplary case on the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB). On the basis of such a case we then draw scenarios for further work with LTB and for dissemination of the innovation. And with both examples we can demonstrate the role of research and of our theoretical work in interpreting the impact.

LTB on construction site – the scenario on the work with multiplier networks

In the first “Learning Scenario” on cross-organisational learning with used as a starting point Thomas Isselhard’s presentation on the use of LTB as support for coordination of the work at a construction site and for real-time communication on plans, orders and reports. In the two videos recorded on his presentation Thomas gives a picture, how the use of LTB can help to avoid communication gaps between different parties involved (video 1) and how to get new users accustomed to work with LTB (video 2). The background text in the ‘Learning Scenario’ draws attention to the way in which the the functionality of LTB help to overcome the gaps. In a similar way the text draws attention to the benefits of LTB as an integrative toolset – customised for the users and by the users with their own sets of context-specific stacks and content tiles. Furthermore, the videos and the text give insights into the ways in which new users are introduced to using LTB while getting their instructions for the construction work.

This exemplary case shows the potential of making interactive use of LTB as a common integrative toolset for sharing knowledge and information between different parties at a construction site. In the ‘Scenario’ part of the document we step out from the site and shift the emphasis to different organisations and networks involved in construction sector. Thomas Isselhard is a member in several networks on ecological construction work and these networks have a wide range of specialised cooperation partners. In this respect the ‘Scenario’ outlines a spectrum of activities via which these networks can promote the use of LTB in sharing knowledge and promoting cooperation in ecological construction work and in different campaigns for awareness-raising.

LTB as support for apprentice training – the scenario on supporting learning in special learning areas

In another “Learning Scenario” document we draw attention to the way in which full-time trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) in the intermediate training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup have used LTB to support their training. In the background sections the document gives insights into the transition from working with paper-based materials to creating web-based resources that are available via trade-specific stacks and content tiles.

In further sections we present results from field visits in which researchers have had interview sessions with the trainers and focus groups with apprentices. Here we found an interesting difference between otherwise similar approaches:

  • Trainers who follow a problem-oriented training strategy tend to equip  learners with comprehensive resources. The apprentices need to search as self-organised learners  to find the problem-relevant information. In a nutshell, the LTB can be characterised as a ‘well’.
  • Trainers who follow an interest-oriented training strategy tend to provide in the beginning fewer resources and only gradually open access to new resources. The learners are nurtured step-by-step with new impulses and challenges once they have started to find their own solutions and ways of working. In this case, the LTB can be characterised as a ‘watering can’.

In the ‘Scenario’ part we stepped out of the trade-specific contexts of apprentice training and shifted the emphasis to specific challenges in the training of Bau-ABC. One issue that the Bau-ABC trainers had raised already at an early stage of the project was, how to make training in Health and Safety (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz) more inspiring. Another issue was, how to provide easy and filtered access to DIN norms that are relevant for skilled workers. For both cases it is possible to provide interim solutions by providing an overview on the sets of resources via Moodle (or similar platform). Then linking LTB to the respective Moodle application (or similar application) the users could find the resources easier (‘LTB as a well’). However, in the training with these resources it would be possible to introduce some kind of ‘gamification’ to guide the learners from tasks that require general knowledge to more demanding cases that require special expertise (‘LTB as a watering can’).


We have also used these documents to highlight the role of our theoretical work in interpreting the impact demonstrated in these exemplary cases (as a basis for the scenarios):

  • We have interpreted the first case – the use of LTB at the construction site in Verden – as a micro-case that demonstrates organisational and cross-organisational learning in a local context. Here we underline that ‘organisational learning’ is not merely a result of good management skills or good consultancy. Instead, the key point is in finding the way to promote interactivity and responsiveness between site manager, craftsmen and stakeholders involved. This point has also been highlighted in the concept ‘work process knowledge’ that we have discussed in the project on several occasions.
  • We have interpreted the second case – the Bau-ABC trainers’ transition to use LTB – as an example of gradual digital transformation and as enhancement of their pedagogy. Here, it is worthwhile to emphasise that the trainers have challenged apprentices to become self-organised learners and to take ownership on their learning. With the use of LTB they have seen more possibilities – and the learners have felt themselves more empowered. In this way the use of LTB has strengthened the training and learning culture based on action-oriented learning in Bau-ABC.
  • We worked out these interpretations in the latter case by combining the empirical findings of a visiting evaluation researcher, the process-related knowledge of a ‘local’ accompanying researcher and the insights into instructional designs provided by an educational technology researcher. In this way way came to interpret the changes in Bau-ABC as indications of a digital transformation based on step-by-step transitions – not as an abrupt digital revolution with great leaps to unknown. Moreover, we could conclude these changes as contributions to the Bau-ABC approach that celebrates action-oriented learning – not as a radical paradigm shift in pedagogy.

– – –

I think this is enough of our work with the ‘Learning Scenarios’ and altogether on the theme ‘digital transformation’. In the coming days our deliverables will take shape and will be made available in due time. There is some more work to be done, but most of the Learning Layers experience is getting wrapped up. Then we have to prepare ourselves for the follow-up.

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

Supporting start up businesses

July 5th, 2016 by Graham Attwell





One of the best things about Twitter is the ability to follow links to all kinds of things you probably would never have been to without it. And so I find in my notes somewhere the link to an article in Quartz – an online magazine (?) about which I know nothing. The link is to a loosely researched article about entrepreneurism – making the point that there is not much thing as an entrepreneurial gene but rather propensity to take risk and to set up new businesses is more like to be related to access to money – in other words to class.

The article, attributed to REUTERS/Allison Joyce, quotes University of California, Berkeley economists Ross Levine and Rona Rubinstein who “analyzed the shared traits of entrepreneurs in a 2013 paper, and found that most were white, male, and highly educated. “If one does not have money in the form of a family with money, the chances of becoming an entrepreneur drop quite a bit,” Levine tells Quartz.”

Entrepreneurship is all the trend in Europe at the moment, especially in the recession and austerity hit southern countries, where setting up a business is seen as one of the few ways of getting a job. However the rhetoric seems to overplay the potential of technology (everyone can be the next Steve Jobs!), whilst ignoring sectors of the economy such as tourism which probably represent better opportunities within the existing labour market.

At the same time programmes such as the EU Youth Guarantee fund are being used to set up support agencies for young people wishing to set ups their own business and we are seeing the increasing emergence of co-working spaces for new enterprises. But anecdotal evidence – and some reports although I cannot find them at the moment – suggest that many of these businesses are struggling to survive beyond the first one or two years. In austerity Europe bank capital remains hard to come by and most young people do not have access to their own funds to consolidate and explained their business. Although initiatives like the EU SME programme are very welcome, access to such funding is not simple and anyway the amount of grants on offer are simply insufficient. As European politicians slowly wake up to the disaster austerity policies have wrought, then establishing better support for new businesses should be a priority, tied to easy access to small business start up capital.

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    News Bites

    Number students outside EU falls in UK

    Times Higher Education reports the number of first-year students from outside the European Union enrolling at UK universities fell by 1 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

    Data from the past five years show which countries are sending fewer students to study in the UK.

    Despite a large increase in the number of students enrolling from China, a cohort that has grown by 12,500 since 2011-12, enrolments by students from India fell by 13,150 over the same period.

    Other notable changes include an increase in students from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and a fall in students from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

    Peer Review

    According to the Guardian, research conducted with more than 6,300 authors of journal articles, peer reviewers and journal editors revealed that over two-thirds of researchers who have never peer reviewed a paper would like to. Of that group (drawn from the full range of subject areas) more than 60% said they would like the option to attend a workshop or formal training on peer reviewing. At the same time, over two-thirds of journal editors told the researchers that it is difficult to find reviewers

    Teachers and overtime

    According to the TES teachers in the UK “are more likely to work unpaid overtime than staff in any other industry, with some working almost 13 extra hours per week, according to research.

    A study of official figures from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that 61.4 per cent of primary school teachers worked unpaid overtime in 2014, equating to 12.9 additional hours a week.

    Among secondary teachers, 57.5 per cent worked unpaid overtime, with an average of 12.5 extra hours.

    Across all education staff, including teachers, teaching assistants, playground staff, cleaners and caretakers, 37.6 per cent worked unpaid overtime – a figure higher than that for any other sector.”

    The future of English Further Education

    The UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee has warned  the declining financial health of many FE colleges has “potentially serious consequences for learners and local economies”.

    It finds funding and oversight bodies have been slow to address emerging financial and educational risks, with current oversight arrangements leading to confusion over who should intervene and when.

    The Report says the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Skills Funding Agency “are not doing enough to help colleges address risks at an early stage”.

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    In #Verden today for preparation for #learningLayers review meeting. Bit cold here!

    About 8 hours ago from Graham Attwell's Twitter via Twitter for Mac

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