Archive for the ‘SMEs’ Category

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

April 28th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download full paper (Word format) – mobileLearningEDENFIN

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

April 8th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Sustainability commitments as means to promote LL initiatives?

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

 

 

Learning from Finnish campaigns for sustainable development – Part 2: Sustainability of apprentice training in discussion

April 8th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I discussed with some length a topic that is seemingly remote to our EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL): The Finnish campaigns to promote sustainable development via sustainability commitments. I promised to get back to the relevance of such commitments to the LL project in a later blog. In this post I will discuss the sustainability issue from the perspective of apprentice training – using the different situations in Germany and in Finland as a starting point and then proceeding to campaigns to promote the sustainability of apprentice training Then I will discuss the importance of LL pilots in construction sector – both in Germany and in Finland – in this context.

1.  Sustainability issues in apprentice training – the cases of Germany and Finland

Apprentice training in Germany (the dual system of apprentice training) has traditionally been the flagship model of vocational education and training (VET). This tradition has been deeply rooted in economy, educational policy, labour market relations and working culture. In particular in the construction sector Germany has opted for high-skilled workforce, to be obtained via apprentice training. This, however has been challenged via academic drift (young people opting for studies rather than career as skilled worker) and by competition from semi-skilled or low-skilled workforce (external companies, migrant workforce etc.). Therefore, already for several years the educational policy debates have been concerned about the sustainability of apprentice training (and the reliance on skilled workforce). This has given rise to different initiatives and support measures to promote the sustainability of apprentice training (see below).

Apprentice training in Finland has had a relatively marginal position vis-à-vis the dual system of apprenticeship in Germany. Mainly this is due to the late and rapid industrialisation in Finland in the post-war reconstruction era (after the World War II). During that period a wide network of school-based vocational education institutes was built in different parts of Finland to attract expanding industries and services to all parts of the country. In this context industries tended not to engage themselves with initial vocational education but to cater for (formal or informal) continuing training. In the 1990s there was a shift in emphasis to enhance the role of workplace learning in initial VET and revitalise apprentice training (mainly as an option for working adults without formal qualifications to obtain them via on-the-job-training). Quite recently these hitherto separate policies have been combined in pilot projects that enable flexible transition from school-based VET to apprentice training (within the same curricular framework – see below). Also in this case there is an issue, whether the Finnish VET system can compete with the academic drift and ensure such quality of young workforce that can compete against low-cost companies  that tend to rely on lowly skilled workforce.

2. Campaigns for promoting the sustainability of apprentice training

Centralised campaigns for providing sufficient apprentice training opportunities in Germany: Since apprentice training is the main model of VET in Germany, there is a constant concern, whether there are sufficiently apprentice training opportunities and whether these opportunities have been utilised by young people. During the last decade the federal policy makers have introduced new kinds of campaigns in the form of central agreements on apprentice training opportunities (Ausbildungspakt) between government bodies and the Social Partners (= employers’ confederations and trade unions). These agreements (usually for a three-year period) cover a range of nation-wide measures to be taken by public authorities and by the Social Partners to provide better frameworks and possibilities to meet current bottlenecks in the training markets. Yet, there is quite a distance between these measures and the actual implementation in local, regional and sectoral contexts.

Targeted campaigns for raising awareness of apprenticeship as an option: Since the role of apprentice training in the national VET system is not so prominent as in Germany, the central government and the Social Partners have not engaged themselves in such measures. Instead, the campaigning has been a matter for the local/regional agencies for apprentice training (that function as brokers between young people, industries and vocational schools). Their campaigns have been efforts to raise awareness of apprenticeship as option for particular target groups and for interested employers (and to engage the vocational schools). Altogether, this has been more a matter of finding the niche areas and interested partners than contributing to the sustainability of the whole system of VET.

3. The contribution of the LL pilots to the sustainability issues in construction sector

In the light of the above it is interesting to compare, how the pilots of the LL project in construction sector fit to this picture of sustainability issues of apprentice training.

The contribution of the German pilot with Learning Toolbox (LTB) to the sustainability issue in the German construction sector is related to the following questions:

  • Can the LTB help the apprentices and skilled construction workers to master their tasks, mobilise their knowledge resources and communicate effectively in problem-situations?
  • Can the use of LTB help them to become better aware of their know-how, learning progress and challenges yet to meet?
  • Can a wider use of such tools help to overcome some negative images of construction work and to highlight the aspects of knowledge work in the construction trades?

Altogether these questions are related to a general effort to enhance the learning, know-how and co-participation of skilled workers as a part of the sustainability of highly skilled  workforce in construction sector.

The contribution of the Finnish pilot with the video annotation tool AchSo! is a narrower pilot regarding the entire set of issues indicated above. Yet, it focuses on the documentation of learners’ progress in workplace learning – which has so far been the Achilles’ heel in all collaboration between school-based VET and workplace learning. And in the current situation the effective use of LL tools can increase the trust of all parties on the flexible transition from school-centred to apprenticeship-based vocational learning.

I think this is enough at the moment. In my next post I will discuss the relevance of the Sustainability Commitments for the development of apprentice training and for the scaling up of LL pilots.

More blogs to come …

 

After the LL Design Conference – Part 1: Sessions and Lessons

March 16th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posts I have reported on the preparation for the Design Conference of the Learning Layers (LL) project. Last week this conference took place in Espoo (at the Otaniemi campus of the Aalto University in the special building “Design Factory”). Now it is time to summarise the results and draw conclusions for the forthcoming work. Below I try to give a picture of the main sessions and the key results:

1. Building upon the Critical Path Analysis

This was the first joint event of the consortium after we had finalised the Critical Path Analysis (CPA) that was required by our reviewers. We could now see that it was an exercise worth doing. Instead of building upon separate tools and dispersed design teams we were now focusing on more integrative “tool arrangements”. We could now see better the tool arrangements responding to the ‘learning stories’ that addressed different developmental challenges (working with documents, physical artefacts, learning episodes, complex working & learning challenges).

2. Co-Design of the Learning Toolbox is taking further steps

Concerning the co-design sessions, I was mainly participating sessions that focused on the development of the Learning Toolbox (LTB). To me, these sessions were characterised by a new reunion of developers, co-designers and users in a live situation. Last year we had had an interruption of live workshops and face-to-face meetings due to administrative reasons. Then, when these were getting removed, new developers entered the stage and ‘interim managers’ had to hand over the tasks and bring them into cooperation with other developers. At the same time the application partners and other co-designers were tied up with other duties. Therefore, we only now got a chance to update each other on the results of the Alpha Beta Camp as well as on the plans for the forthcoming Field Workshops in Bau-ABC. In this respect it was important to make agreements on joint working meetings, to draw a timeline for the spring activities and to tune ourselves into the DevOps-culture of co-development during operative activities. Also, it was important that Raymond Elferink could give us a clear insight into the current phases of technical development and how the workshops can be linked to it.

3. Bringing different evaluation approaches into mutually complementing ‘package’

During the preparatory phase we had had some conversations in which consortium-wide efforts to shape an overarching evaluation approach had not met local efforts to evaluate the implementation and impact of tools. Although I did not attend many of the sessions on the evaluation issues, I got an impression that important progress was made. Crucial for the consensus was the point made by Jenny Hughes (Pontydysgu): “The results of local evaluation measures (on the implementation/impact of tools) are input for the consortium-wide evaluation of our achievements.” This gave us the clue, how to work together regarding the collection of data and reagarding the timing of evaluation measures.

4. Working with multiple roles and tasks in the exploitation activities

Third major element in the Design Conference were the group sessions on exploitation activities. Gilbert Peffer and Raymond Elferink had prepared a game-like exercise for drafting exploitation activities. Some of the groups were based on tool arrangements (Learning Toolbox, Healthcare tool arrangements, AchSo!), some on joint services (Social semantic server) and some on collaborative groupings (LL Centre of expertise). Thus, some of these groups were very strongly grounded on the co-design work whilst others had to look forward with a bit more phantasy.

I do not wish to go into details of this exercise – partly because I was in a group that mainly focused on the healthcare sector (which gave me the role of an interested observer), partly because we had too little time to wrap up the results. However, it is worthwhile to emphasise that this exercise pushed us stronger to think about the transformation from project work (fulfilling our duties as project partners) to sustaining the results and achievements beyond the life-time of our current project (with new resources and groupings of interested parties). During this exercise I noticed that we had here and there some controversies of the roles that we are playing (owners of tools/innovations, partners, proto-customers, mediators, customers …). Some of the differences were settled in a short while, some needed more time. To me, the striking point was that this exercise helped us to think of our changing roles more thoroughly than the similar exercises in previous consortium meetings. Moreover, after drawing conclusions from this exercise we are in a better position to work further with the Business Model Canvases (with which we started working in Tallinn). Also, this exercise gave us a better perspective to work with consortium-wide and project-based follow-up initiatives (for which we have to get ourselves prepared alongside the project tasks).

 5. “Datenschutz” – Policies for Data privacy/ Data protection/ Confidentiality …

Whilst the above mentioned issues were the cross-cutting themes that shaped the whole event, this is clearly a corollary issue – not to be forgotten. We agreed that during the pilot phase we need a minimum amount of documents to clarify these issues for ourselves and our counterparts (organisations and indidividual users). Partly these issues have been covered in the Ethical clearance processes that our healthcare partners have gone through (under the auspices of the University of Leeds and the NHS). Partly these issues can be covered by adapting the respective light-weight documents of other similar organisations (like the FutureLearn consortium for organising MOOCs). However, the main thing is that we can address these issues alread in the pilot phase. Furthermore, we need to prepare ourselves for the transformation to follow-up phase, when we need legally well-grounded policy documents for the successor-organisations and/or follow-up projects that take our tools and services further.

Altogether, we got a lot of food for thought for preparing our forthcoming field activities. Also, we got some new coordinates for sectoral coordination and planning meetings. And finally, we got some inspirations to learn more from the neighbouring tool arrangements. Let us see what all is emerging out of this!

More blogs to come …

New steps in the Layers fieldwork – Part 2: Pilot workshops with craft trade companies go ahead

September 12th, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started to report on the recent steps in the fieldwork of the Learning Layers (LL) project in the construction sector. I firstly reported on the participation of LL partners in the large German construction sector fair NordBau and on the stakeholder talks we had their with several companies. A major topic was to engage them into pilot activities on the LL tools in particular with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). This post will give insights into the recent Pilot workshop with craft trade companies on LL tools. This workshop was organised and documented by our ITB colleague Werner Müller. He has written a more detailed report for internal use. I will highlight here some points that give a general picture, how our pilot activities are moving on.

The workshop was planned as a follow-up to the stakeholder engagement activities that we carried out during the Well-builders’ fair in May 2014 (65. Brunnenbauertage) in Bau-ABC Rostrup. However, before launching a wide range of workshops, we agreed to have first a smaller pilot workshop. We invited two companies that we had interviewed during the initial phase of the project and with which the LL partners had good contacts.

The company K is a carpentry company with currently 36 employees. It is involved in the network for ecological construction work (Netzwerk Nachhaltiges Bauen – LL partner organisation) and in several domain-specific networks. The company has been pioneering with company-specific apps and is in the process of introducing tablet PCs for team leaders. At the same time the company is paying attention to the fact that introduction of new ICT tools will not cause a digital divide in access to information and communication. The company has regular meetings to discuss quality issues (QT-Runde).

The company W is a larger medium-sized company with ca. 430 employers and specialised on pipeline-building. It has most of its staff working on missions in teams of two or three skilled workers. This company has a long-term cooperation with Bau-ABC. The company W has been pioneering with digital pens, mobile offices (laptops with internet access) allocated to teams and with centralised databases. Yet, the company has had mixed experiences with the effectivity of such tools regarding time used for searches vs. finding adequate solutions. The company itself has centralised databases and is concerned of knowledge management and confidentiality issues. Concerning knowledge sharing and learning across teams, there are very limited possibilities to provide face-to-face meetings.

In the workshop we presented a general picture on the Learning Layers project and invited the companies to present their own situation assessment on their use of ICT, Web tools and digital media (including use of mobile technologies). Then, we presented a demonstration on the emerging Learning Toolbox (LTB) as a framework for managing web resources and apps with a mobile device. in the next rounds of discussions we were mapping different situations for piloting with the LTB and needs to which it could respond.

At this point it is not appropriate to go into details of the subsequent discussion. For the LL project it was important that both companies found their specific entry points to pilot activities. For the company K these were more in the intra-company communication and knowledge sharing and in the network-wide knowledge sharing. For the company W they were in the filtering of different quality guidelines and requirements (provided by different electricity providers or public authorities). Altogether, both companies agreed to continue the cooperation with the project and to organise further talks and pilot workshops in their companies.

After this pilot event and after the stakeholder talks during the NordBau fair (see my previous post) we are looking forward to the next pilot workshops.

More blogs to come …

 

Developing a Work Based, Mobile Personal Learning Environment

July 6th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

As regular readers will know, for a long time I have been fascinated by the potential of mobile technologies for developing work based learning and work based Personal Learning environments. Mobile technologies can allow learning to take place directly in the workplace. Learning can be recorded and for that matter reflection on learning take place as a direct part of the work process. In such a way the workplace becomes part of the Personal Learning Environment and conversely the PLE becomes part of the work process. At the same time, such an approach can bring together both formal and informal learning. Through sharing learning processes and outcomes, learners themselves can contribute to a growing ‘store; of learning materials.

It hasn’t happened yet and it is worth thinking about why. One reason maybe that only recently has seen the spread of sufficiently powerful mobile devices and applications. Another is the suspicion of employers about the uses of such devices in the workplace. Most importantly may be the failure to develop pedagogic approaches for mobile learning. Most developments to date have essentially been about consumption of learning materials, albeit sometimes in innovative ways. And much of the publicity or mobile learning has emphasised consumption of short episodes of learning away from the workplace – or for that matter the classroom (for some reason we will all be learning on the bus or the train on our way home from work in the future or so the vendors say).

That is not to say there have not been attempts to develop more radical thinking. Members of the London Mobile Learning Group have, like others developed new ideas for work based mobile learning pedagogy. Yet still, as far as I can see, there have been few attempts to implement such ideas at any scale.

It is for these reasons that I am so interested in the development of the Learning Toolbox, initially targeted at apprentices in the construction industry, as part of the EU funded Learning layers project. Perhaps the biggest thing I have leaned from this work (apart from how difficult it is) is the need for co-development processes with end users and stakeholders in the industry. The new paper we have written for the PLE2014 conference documents the research we have undertaken and the co-development process, as well as our understanding of the issues around context and how to address such issues.

You can download the paper here. As always any and all feedback is very welcome.

Changes in Learning and Development

May 21st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

This is an interesting video. Donald H Taylor explains how Learning and Development Departments need to change their attitude to risk in order to keep pace with the rest of the business in today’s modern world. He describes 4 quadrants in which L&D departments fit: Learning Leadership, Unacknowledged Prophet, Comfortable Extinction and The Training Ghetto and explains how and why all L&D departments should join the quadrant of Learning Leadership. However I am not convinced that the major problem is that Learning and Development departments are failing to keep up with changing organisations. In my experience all too often it is the organisations themselves who are holding back change. And don’t forget that most Small and Medium Enterprises, who it could be argued are the prime drivers of change do not have a Learning and Development Department (interesting in that regard that Donald cites Pinterest with 12 employees as an example of a fast changing organisation).

Learning Layers – What are we achieving with our fieldwork of Year 1 (Part 4: Concluding remarks)

December 8th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my first post to this series of blogs I raised he question: What are we achieving with the fieldwork activities of Year 1 in the Learning Layers (LL) project?  In the two subsequent posts I gave an account on the developments in the co-design activities and in the training activities.

In this post I want to make three concluding remarks to complete the picture that may otherwise look a bit inward-looking and self-sufficient:

1) It is necessary to pay more attention to external support activities that can enrich the co-design and training activities – in particular the so-called Layers PBL projects;

2) It is necessary to have a closer look at the studies on regional innovation policies and the role of organised clusters (that are being carried out by the WP7 team).

3) It is necessary to pay attention to the potentials of and challenges for accompanying research.

1. Concerning the external support activities it is essential to note the valuable contribution that is provided by student groups working in the “Layers PBL” projects that work with particular tasks/apps proposed by LL partners. At the moment we have such projects working in several universities (HSKA, RWTH, Metropolia UAS). In the co-design activities and training activities of the year 2 we can count on the possibility to integrate their results into project work and to initiate new ones.

2. Concerning the studies on regional innovation policies and organised clusters, we have hosted several working visits of the WP7 team and attended to several sessions of stakeholder talks. We have also got several reports on other working visits of the WP7 team. This all has brought us closer to the understanding of regional and sectoral potentials and how to use ‘scaling up’ opportunies that are supported by other funding programmes. This is particularly important when we see the chance to involve other innovation regions with similar initiatives.

3. Concerning the role of accompanying research it is worthwhile to pay attention to the twofold relation of such research and the design/development activities. Firstly, the researchers have to be sufficiently closely involved in the design and development processes to sense the changes (progress or obstacles) in the process dynamics. Secondly, the researchers have to keep a relative distance to be able to document and analyse the developments (without being overly guided by their first impressions). In this respect the LL activities pose additional challenges to carry out the twofold duties of accompanying research in a balanced way.

I think this is enough on these issues at this moment. After the review of the Year 1 activities we need to get back to these issues when launching the Year 2 activities.

The discussion will be continued …

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

Learning Layers – What are we achieving with our fieldwork of Year 1 (Part 1: Overview)

December 7th, 2013 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I looked back at my blogging on the Learning Layers (LL) project during its first year of activities. I explained how the most recent weeks have been characterised by reporting and preparation for the Year 1 review. I also made the claim that our fieldwork has progressed from a transition phase (August/September) and made clear steps forward. Now it is time to have a closer look at what has happened and why I give it such an importance.

However, before we go into details, it is worthwhile to clarify on what basis I am making these comments and what status I assume them to have.

Firstly, I do not try to give an overall picture of the LL project as a whole – and not even on the work in the construction sector. During the recent months I have been mainly involved in the cooperation with Bau ABC (with focus on LL Design team Sharing Turbine and its prototype Rapid Turbine). Thus, I have not been able to follow parallel developments as thoroughly.

Secondly, my role has varied in different activities – sometimes I have been in charge of the interpretation but most often I have been the one to make notes and reports. Thus, I have had to keep an eye on the whole process and the details as well.

Thirdly, I am not trying to write these comments only from the perspective of ITB but looking at the fieldwork as our joint effort – the research & development partners, technical support partners and application partners working together.

I formulated deliberately my question as follows: What are we achieving with our fieldwork of Year 1?I didn’t ask: What have we achieved …? What is the great difference ? Does it really matter, how the question is posed. To me and to us it does. The latter question draws attention to the results but leaves aside the process, how they have been achieved. The question that I have raised draws attention to the process and results as preconditions for each other. In this respect, what we see as results now, may not be the whole truth of the achievements, if the process has more potential and is only becoming mature.

Finally, I do not wish to give a list of separate achievements or indicators of improvement. Instead, I try to give a picture of (initially) separate initiatives and activities that are growing together as mutually supporting processes. Moreover, I want to give a picture of growing user engagement. Here we can give examples of the empowerment of trainers as contributors to participative processes – as dialogue partners in design sessions and as peer learners and peer tutors in training activities. And finally, what we have been seeing in the recent phases, is the growing interest to involve others once the activities are getting consolidated.

In the next blog articles of this series I will focus on the following activities and demonstrate, how they exemplify the process dynamics that I have outlined above:

 a) The developments in the work of the LL design team Sharing Turbine and in the work with the Y1 prototype Rapid Turbine (see the next blog post – Part 2);

b) The developments in the training activities – progress from singular initiatives towards a coherent and scalable training concept (see the following post – Part 3.

I stop my introductory remarks here and try to get to the two above promised blog articles without further delay.

To be continued …

Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.

Scaling up the use of technology for learning through SME clusters

October 21st, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Much of the work we do in Pontydysgu is project based. And a lot of that work is funded by the European Union, inv0olving multi national consortia of partners working together over a period of two to four years. The two year projects are a bit tight for time, especially if this includes technology development. But the big problem is what happens after the project funding ends. In the best cases, the ideas and products get taken up, further developed and embedded in practice. For instance  work we undertook through the MOSEP project has led to the introduction of e-portfolios in German schools. And work piloted in the Mature IP project has led to the development of an open portal and database for labour market information to improve career choices and decision making in the UK.

But all too sadly, many projects just fade away at the end of the funding. Of course sometimes this is because the work turned out to be less impressive than we had initially hoped. But there are also two big problems more relater to the structuring and fincaci9ng of European projects. The major one is the scaling up of projects and innovations. If products and processes are to be used after a project ceases funding, whatever the outcome, substantial numbers of users are needed. This is true for software, for processes or for more traditional products such as handbooks. Of course it is difficult to scale up to substantial numbers of users with two years. But regardless of the length of a project it requires a strategy. And most projects do not have such a goal, let alone a strategic approach.

The EU funded Learning layers project has as a major objective, scaling the use of technology to substantial numbers of small and medium enterprises in the construction and health sectors. To do this we are looking at developing engagement with clusters of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Between 2002 and 2010, nearly 85% of new jobs in Europe were created by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are currently employing 67% of the total workforce (De Krok et al., 2011). Notably, it is the smallest and youngest SMEs that drive this trend, while more established and larger firms are shedding jobs on a net basis. Many of the new jobs created by these SMEs are knowledge intensive and demand specialised skills. According to a European Commission study, the number of low skilled jobs is expected to fall from 21% of total jobs in 2012 to 18% by 2020, while jobs that require higher skills levels are expected to rise by 20%. (European Commission, 2012).

Highly specialised and high-skill growth SMEs increasingly organise in regional clusters as competitive pressures and the difficulties in some sectors of finding skilled workers make collaboration even among competitors an attractive value proposition. At the same time, clusters have a unique negotiation advantage in the region compared to smaller actors, and have the power to influence educational institutions and policy makers. In theory, by joining clusters together with other firms and regional players, SMEs have  a means to influence educational and business development policy in their region and the bargaining power to lean on local colleges and universities to produce the skills and talents needed for economic advancement. Cluster organisations can drive innovation in learning at the workplace by helping SMEs and other cluster members in developing joint technology-enabled training and skills services, which in turn provide an additional funding source for the cluster organisation.

A recent study conducted by the Cluster Excellence Initiative (Meier zu Köcker et al., 2012) of over 300 European cluster organisations shows that the depth and breadth of services offered to their members is the most important contributor to generating impact on the business of SMEs. In terms of the type of service offered by the cluster organisation, our research indicates that currently, services focusing on training and skills development have the greatest potential in terms of generating revenues. This supports the Learning Layers project strategy of targeting cluster organisations as scaling partners and the focus on training and skills development services for SMEs in and across regional clusters. Inter-cluster collaborations in developing learning services makes economic sense since clusters in a given region share common actors, including regional policy makers in education and business development, universities, VET and general upper secondary schools, research institutions, and financial institutions and investors. (more to follow).

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    News Bites

    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


    Consultation

    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at http://goo.gl/LwR65t.


    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100’s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”


    Code Academy expands

    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

    Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.


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