Archive for the ‘SMEs’ Category

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.

Special challenges for using Learning Toolbox (LTB) in a craft trade company

June 30th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my recent blogs on the fieldwork of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project I have mostly reported on our pilot activities with the toolset “Learning Toolbox (LTB)” in the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC. Earlier this week the ITB project team visited a craft trade company in electrical engineering to discuss the use of LTB in the context of ‘real’ working life – not only from the perspective of apprentice training. Our counterpart was the founder of the company and an associate partner in the project – Meister Dieter as we know him of the user stories of the first year. We had maintained the contacts at different phases of the project but now we felt that there is a need to discuss the potential use of LTB as a toolset that is reaching a mature stage.

Of our earlier talks with Meister Dieter we knew that he is engaged in both ‘traditional’ and in extraordinary projects in electrical engineering. Therefore we could expect him to present different kinds of special challenges for companies like his own and to make some thoughts, how tools like LTB could be helpful. Below I summarise some points of our lively discussion after we had demonstrated the LTB and how it functions. I will mainly focus on the challenges he presented – not that much on the specific contribution of LTB:

  1. Changes in the plans during the construction work: Craft trade companies are used to the fact that when architects visit construction sites, they often make changes to their plans. These tend to have consequences to the workload and the costs for the craft trade company (that have to be renegotiated). From this perspective a tool like the LTB can facilitate real-time documentation and negotiation on such issues.
  2. Different versions electric installations to be considered during the work: Partly due to the above mentioned reasons and partly due the specific nature of constructions sites (renovation, modernisation), craftsmen in electrical engineering have to work with different versions of installations (and respective drawing). There might be a co-existence between older, intermediate and newer versions to deal with. Here again, a tool like the LTB might help to bring clarity to the situation.
  3. Management of flows of photos from construction sites: Currently a lot photos are being taken, forwarded and stored to keep up to date the information flow from construction site to the company. This is a challenge for the filing systems that may not be sufficiently specific about the context and the actuality of the photos. Here, we assume, the Stack File System of the LTB might help to maintain transparency regarding the contexts and the actuality of photos.
  4. Management of working interfaces between different trades: Sometimes in bigger or complex construction projects the management of working interfaces between different trades becomes very challenging (and requires special experts to take responsibility). Here, a tool like LTB might help craftsmen from different trades to adjust their work to the work of parallel trade to avoid complications and delays.
  5. Project work in very specific circumstances: In addition to the above mentioned issues Meister Dieter gave some examples of project work, such as testing of specific instruments in unusual geographic locations or in offshore contexts. Here the challenges are related both to the equipment (to be tested and eventually modified) as well as to the use of manpower (when is the term of electricians and how can they adjust their contributions to the others’).  We took note of these examples to see, what solutions could be found in the further development process.

I guess this is enough for the moment. We had arranged these talks as a preparatory session for a forthcoming workshop with craft trade companies and LTB (to be organised in September). We will keep our preparations and our talks with partner enterprises going on in the meantime.

More blogs to come …

Thinking about Entrepreneurship

May 25th, 2016 by Graham Attwell
For some time I have been interested in Entrepreneurship. For one thing I resented the way the Thatcher and Blair acolytes had stolen the word. Working class people have also been entrepreneurial, setting up small businesses or providing services. Yet to listen to the new reasoning, entrepreneurs were the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world, millionaires and directors of multi million pound listed software companies. Just as Puritanism equated being wealthy with being one of the saved, so neo-liberalism equated being rich with being an entrepreneur. It was something the poor should aspire to and they should study in awe rich people as role models.
Since the onset of the recession, or the crisis as it is universally called in southern Europe, some of the gloss has faded at least from the bankers.
Yet with unemployment and especially youth unemployment remaining at very high levels and with employment increasingly precarious, there seems, at least in Spain where i am living, to be ever more emphasis on entrepreneurship as the hope for the future of employment. Over the last week we have attended two conferences and workshops on innovation and entrepreneurship. On the one hand the increasing support for people trying to set up their own businesses is to be welcomed, even if coordination between the many different agencies involved seems somewhat lacking.
Yet the line of argument seems somewhat under developed. The answer for the ailing labour market is innovation Innovation is connected to entrepreneurship. The great future for innovation is technology in disrupting markets. Universities need to develop closer links to industry. We need more training in technology. Web 2.0 and social media are critical to marketing innovations. Look to Apple, look to Uber, look to AirB. Don’t forget the example of The Great Steve Jobs as a role model. And so on.
As Jim Groom and Brian Lamb said in 2014 “Today, innovation is increasingly conflated with hype, disruption for disruption’s sake, and outsourcing laced with a dose of austerity-driven downsizing.” And I fear the increasing popularity and support for entrepreneurship is also becoming conflated with hype.
I am curious about the overwhelming emphasis on technology, software and hardware. Is there any city on Spain – or for that matter anywhere else – which is not trying to develop the next Silicon Valley? Yet looking at the figures, the construction and care industries remain two of the largest industries in Europe by numbers employed. Yet they are rarely, if ever, linked to entrepreneurship. Services are continuing to grow in employment, although this covers a wide range of occupations. The number of people who make real money out of releasing Apps to the various app markets is extremely limited.
I think we need more nuanced thinking around a  number of issues. Clearly labour markets are closely tied to employment. Whatever skills we teach young people they will not gain employment if there are no jobs. Self employment and starting up a business are increasingly attractive routes for young people (especially as there is little alternative). However businesses vary greatly in size and type. Motivations and ambition can be very different. Some people are just looking for a weekend or hobby business, others may be wanting to build on skills. Disruption is probably a minor source of employment or indeed driver of entrepreneurship.
Whilst there is progress in providing support or young people in setting up their own business, advice and help is seldom geared towards them. Being told to go away and produce a profit and loss projection in a spreadsheet is only a small part of the story. And probably the major lack at the moment is help to develop businesses towards sustainability. Growth is not the only measure of sustainability. Bank capital is still in scarce supply and whilst welcome crowd funding has its downsides. And the schooling system in Spain, based on remembering facts, hardly helps young people in striking out on their own.
Above all policy and practice need to link up. Having said that there is a big contradiction between policies of austerity and policies of supporting entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship requires public support as well as private funding. Enough for today…more to come.

Mobile Learning – the Dream goes on

February 29th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

“What killed the mobile learning dream?” asks John Traxler in an article for Jisc’s Digifest. John goes on to say:

Mobile learning was e-learning’s dream come true. It offered the potential for completely personalised learning to be truly any time, anywhere.

ltbInstead, we’ve ended up with mobile access to virtual learning environments that are being used as repositories. So, in practice, students reading their notes on the bus.

He’s right but I am not sure his reasons are sufficient. The main problem John sees is that when early projects were developed into mobile learning, they were based on supplying participants with digital devices. This was expensive and limited the scale and sustainability of such projects. Now new initiatives are emerging based on BYOD (bring your own Device). This is more sustainable but raises its own questions.

Bring your own device, enabling students to use their own equipment, introduces more questions: is there a specific range of technologies they can bring, what’s the nature of the support offered, and have we got a network infrastructure that won’t fall over when 20,000 students turn up with gadgets? What kind of staff development is needed to handle the fact that not only will the students turn up with many different devices but tomorrow they’ll have changed to even more different devices?

All this is true. And as we prepare to roll out the trial of our Learning Layers project funded Learning Toolbox (LTB) application we are only to aware that as well as looking at the technical and pedagogic application of Learning toolbox, we will have to evaluate the infrastructure support. The use of Learning toolbox has been predicated on BYOD and has been developed with Android, iOS and Microsoft versions. The training centre where the pilot will take place with some 70 apprentices, BauABC, covers a large site and is in a rural area. Telecoms network coverage is flaky, broadband not fast and the wireless network installed to support the pilots is a new venture. So many issues for us to look at there. However in terms of staff development I am more confident, with an ongoing programme for the trainers, but perhaps more importantly I think a more open attitude from construction industry trainers to the use of different technologies than say from university lecturers.

The bigger issue though for me is pedagogy. John hints at this when he talks about mobiles being used to access virtual learning environments that are being used as repositories. The real limitation here is not in the technology or infrastructure but a lack of vision of the potential of mobiles for learning in different contexts. Indeed I suspect that the primary school sector is more advanced in their thing here than the universities. Mobile devices have the potential to take learning into the world outside the classroom and to link practical with more theoretical learning. And rather than merely pushing learning (to be read on the bus although I have never quite understood why mobile learning vendors think everyone travels home by bus), the potential is to create a new ecosystem, whereby learners themselves can contribute to the learning of others, by direct interaction and by the sharing of learning and of objects. Dare I say it – Learning Toolbox is a mobile Personal Learning Environment (at least I hope so). We certainly are not looking to replace existing curricula, neither existing learning technologies. Rather we see Learning Toolbox as enhancing learning experiences and allowing users to reflect on learning in practice. In this respect we are aware of the limitations of a limited screen size and also of the lack of attraction of writing long scripts for many vocational learners. This can be an advantage. Mobile devices support all kinds of gesturing (think Tinder) and are naturally used for multimedia including video and photographs.

So what killed the mobile learning dream. Lack of understanding of its true potential, lack of vision and a concentration of funding and pilot activities with the wrong user groups. That is not to say that mobile learning cannot be used in higher education. But it needs a rethinking of curriculum and of the interface between curriculum, pedagogy and the uses of technology. So the dream is not dead. It just needs more working on!

If you would like to know more about Learning Toolbox or are interesting in demonstration or a pilot please contact me graham10 [at] mac [dot] com

LL Consortium meeting in Innsbruck – Part Three: Presenting exploitation initiatives

February 8th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last week our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had its consortium meeting in Innsbruck.  In the previous posts I discussed firstly the ‘warm-up’ event with  Austrian clusters/ networks and secondly our project meeting and its general results. In this post I will discuss the results of the exploitation sessions (presentations and bilateral talks).

1. The setup of the exploitation sessions

As I had indicated in the previous post, we had firstly a general introduction to the exploitation model that served as a reference model. We also agreed to work towards a jointly agreed ‘exploitation manifesto’ that helps us to settle the IPR issues. With this preparation the partners were invited to present their exploitation plans and/or intentions. A major part of the session was dedicated to the presentations of partners (or groups of partners), altogether 15. Then, on the next day we had a special session for bilateral or trilateral ‘matchmaking talks’ (on the basis of expressions of interests indicated during the first session).

2. Contributions of the Construction sector partners

2a) The presentation of ITB/Pont (Bremen) & Bau-ABC teams highlighted firstly some key questions for the LL project and then a further challenge for follow-up activities. It also gave an overview on tools and services developed so far. Based on this background the presentation drew then attention to two kinds of emerging R&D projects:

  • The DigiProB project as a spin-off from LL in the context of Continuing Vocational Training (CVT). The technical challenge is to reuse/repurpose an integrative toolset to support Personal Learning Environments of CVT participants. The social challenge is to support individual learners (who are learning alongside work) with the aim to demonstrate with work-related projects that they have acquired higher (managerial) qualifications in construction sector.
  • The “Bauen 4.0” has been selected as a recognised cluster initiative and is invited to submit specific project proposals. One of the initiatives discussed in the cluster meetings is a project for incorporating know-how on Building Information Modelling (BIM) to the CVT schemes for advanced construction craftsmen in carpentry and woodwork (Holzbau). Here we see a chance to make use of LL tools.

Alongside these examples we presented two cases in which the integrative toolset Learning Toolbox can be brought into collaboration and exchanges with third party software/services (who were affiliated with construction sector stakeholders).

  • Pontydysgu had been contacted by Construction Excellence Wales, Construction Industry Training Board and a consortium of four FE colleges with interests in the Learning Toolbox. In particular there was an interest to link the LTB with the e-learning environment that had been developed by the FE colleges for construction sector apprentices.
  • Bau-ABC had been contacted by a new company that continues the prior work of a company that had been producing handbooks for well-builders. The new company focuses on developing mobile apps and digital contents. This company will launch its products during February 2016 and is already making contacts with key players in domain-specific education and training.

 2b) The presentation of Bau-ABC: The Bau-ABC team had prepared a separate presentation in which they brought forward their interests in further development and promotion of LTB. In this respect the presentation summarised the immediate benefits for individual users (urgencies for developers), the benefits for Bau-ABC as training provider and multiplier and the prospects for cooperation between Bau-ABC and the developers of LTB and related LL tools and services. In this way Bau-ABC outlined the working perspectives with which it positions itself on the “Exploitation map” to be drawn later.

3. The bilateral talks

After the presentation session our requests for bilateral talks with other presenters (with eventual topics to be discussed) were collected. Then a similar ‘world café’ session was organised as in the warm-up event. We had four tables for rotation but this time no fixed ‘table hosts’. Instead, we were rotating with uneven opportunities for the talks. In some sessions we participated as wider groups, in some sessions as individuals. At some point we were interrupted by fire alarm and the whole building was evacuated to an outdoor meeting point. (The fire was put out promptly, the fire brigade just needed to check the situation and that the smoke was properly ventilated. Yet, this all took that much time that we couldn’t properly complete the session.)

At this point it is not necessary to report on all bilateral talks in which I/we were involved. Some of them focused on very specific questions and very particular interests. Some were talks on emerging ideas for future projects that need further conversations. In addition – due to the interruption – we didn’t have a chance for some talks that we had on our list. Therefore, it have prepared a list of topics for further talks to be continued at a later date:

  • ‘Cross-sectoral’ talks on the uses of LTB (and other LL tools) taking into account prior work with nurse education and nurse education networks in Germany and England.
  • ‘Cross-institutional’ talks on the use of LTB and other LL tools/services to support problem-, project- and practice-based learning in vocational education and training (VET) and/or Vocational Higher Education (notably in Germany, Estonia and Austria).
  • ‘Cross-curricular’ talks on the use of LTB and other LL tools in the activities of vocational teacher education/ training the trainers (notably in Germany and in Austria, e.g. the partners of the pre-event).
  • ‘Sustainability’ talks with LTB developers on their new organisational initiative and the role of R&D initiatives.
  • ‘Scalability’ talks on the experience with the ‘Theme Room’ training in Bau-ABC to adapt the approach for multiplier activities. (These talks will be based  on the involvement of the initial contributors and other interested parties).

I think this is enough of these sessions. Due to our tight schedules we couldn’t be present in the final sessions of the meeting. But we are sure that there results will be discussed in several follow-up meetings. Given, that we are entering an intensive period of fieldwork, we need to keep the exploitation issues on our agendas.

More blogs to come …

 

Interim reports on LL fieldwork in Bau-ABC – Part Three: Indications of achievements of the LL project

October 2nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous blogs I have reported on the results of a  field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup in the context of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Our colleagues from the University of Innsbruck (UIBK) and our ITB-colleague Lars Heinemann interviewed Bau-ABC trainers to get feedback on the pilot testing of LL tools. In my first blog I  gave a brief news report, whilst in the second blog I discussed in closer detail the remarks of the trainers Markus Pape and Lothar Schoka.

With this third blog I try to relate these fresh interviews to our earlier encounters and on the changing circumstances and changing practices. Here, I want to draw attention to the new activities that have come into picture during the LL project and due to initiatives of the LL project. I try to link my comments to the points that I raised on the interviews in my previous blog:

Initial awareness of digital media, web tools and mobile devices

In the beginning phase of the project (January 2013) the ITB team made some early interviews with Bau-ABC trainers and apprentices. At that time both our awareness as well as the awareness of the trainers and apprentices was not advanced. None of us had a holistic view on the usability of digital media, web tools and mobile devices. In different trades the trainers could refer to some apps and tools. Yet, the trainers had mixed feelings about domain-specific apps for construction sector (some being apps for professionals, others for lay users and altogether with varying quality). Also, the use of web resources and Facebook groups was at an early stage. Furthermore, the use of mobile phones was banned during the training because it was perceived as mere distraction.

Workshops and User Survey: Awareness of web tools, readiness to use mobile devices

In the next phase (Spring 2013) the LL project started co-design workshops with apprentices and trainers (in different groups) to identify points of intervention and to specify the emerging design idea(s). In Autumn 2013 the ITB team organised a User Survey that covered most of the apprentices that attended their initial training periods in Bau-ABC.

The discussions in the workshops and the results of the questionnaire revealed that the apprentices were not at all informed of the existing construction sector apps and had made very little use of them. However, the apprentices indicated that they had made use of their smartphones to support their work and workplace learning (e.g. via web searches or by documenting their work  and learning results).

Co-design of LTB, Multimedia Training and follow-up activities

In Spring 2014 the co-design process brought into picture the framework of Learning Toolbox and parallel to it the LL project arranged Multimedia Training workshops to Bau-ABC trainers. Due to these processes the emphasis in the co-design processes shifted from expectations (on the design work of others) to initiatives (how to develop one’s own training practice with the help of new tools). In this phase the trainers started to work with their own trade-specific blogs and provide digital access to their training contents. Also, the trainers developed their own ideas, how the emerging LTB could be used in Bau-ABC (as was demonstrated by the videos for the Tallinn consortium meeting in the Autumn 2014).

Taking steps to customise and use LTB as integrative set of tools, apps and services

In the light of the above presented background, the interviews of the Bau-ABC trainers (see my previous blog) demonstrate remarkable progress in the LL project. The Bau-ABC trainers are becoming owners of LL-initiated innovations and in customising the LTB for their trades (to be used in training and working contexts). Also, the demonstrate clearly, how their overall competences in using digital media, web resources and mobile devices have grown during the project and due to the support from the project. And thirdly, due to peer tutoring and peer learning they have developed into multipliers who can bring their colleagues and apprentices to an active piloting phase.

I think this is enough for the moment. We will get back to Bau-ABC and our other application partners in a short while.

More blogs to come ...

Interim reports on LL fieldwork in Bau-ABC – Part Two: Feedback from the trainers

October 2nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous blog I reported on the field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup in the context of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Our colleagues from the University of Innsbruck (UIBK) together with our ITB-colleague Lars Heinemann interviewed Bau-ABC trainers to get feedback on the pilot testing of LL tools. In particular they wanted to get feedback on the use of the Learning Toolbox (LTB), which we are developing together with our partners in the construction sector. In my first blog I could only give a brief news report and to raise some issues/requests to be considered by the developers of the LTB.

Now that I have listened the recordings, I find that the colleagues have had a very interesting discussion and that we can learn a lot of the points made by the Bau-ABC trainers Markus Pape (carpenter) and Lothar Schoka (well-builder/borehole builder). With this second post I try to pick some of their interesting points and reconstruct a red thread across their conversations:

Motivation to use digital media, web tools and mobile devices

Both trainers emphasised that their apprentices are very inspired when they get a chance to use mobile devices to access digital contents and web resources during their training and in the context of work. Compared to mere written instructions or paper-based documentation, the apprentices feel more motivated (since they are all eager to use their devices at any rate).

Usability of mobile devices, LTB  and digital contents

Both trainers made several points on the usability issues that emphasise the relevance of LTB:

  • Access to documents, web resources and real-time communication is often a problem at construction sites (no space for looking at papers or folders, no chance to have stationary PCs or even laptops). With mobile devices, communication apps and the toolset of LTB many problems can be clarified in real time. Furthermore, LTB can essentially facilitate communication between different trades and working groups on same construction sites or quality control between the teams and their supervisors.
  • The structure of LTB – tiles, pages and stacks – makes it easy to use without making it overly complex. This is essential for users in craft trades who expect tools that work properly in real work.
  • Both trainers emphasised the benefits of LTB in supporting well-structured web searches (with appropriate terminology) and steering it to good quality sources. Moreover, Schoka emphasised the possibility to use QR tags to direct searches to appropriate sections of user manuals and instructions for maintenance.

Use of trainers’ and apprentices’ own web resources and digital contents

  • Both trainers have created their own domain-specific blogs (Zimmererblog, Brunnenbauer und Spezialtiefbauer) for uploading their instruction sheets for apprentices’ projects and for presenting other contents. By making their own LTB stacks they can provide access to the right documents when it is appropriate for the training schedules.
  • Schoka made a special point on the short videos that have been produced and uploaded by apprentices on the well-builders’ Facebook group. These short videos may serve several purposes. Now, thanks to LTB, they can be used in a more targeted way.

 Changes in training and learning practice

  • Both trainers are in the process of linking the pilot testing of LTB to specific training projects and content areas via their own stacks and with specific sets of tools, apps, instructions and tasks. In this way they are creating their own multimedia environments in which they are involving their apprentices as digital learners.
  • The two trainers have brought into picture different strengths in using digital media and web resources. Pape has been the pioneer in creating domain specific blogs. Schoka has been active in developing the well-builders’ Facebook group as a community resource. Partly these have activities have been started in the Multimedia Training of the LL project and partly they have been inspired by such support. Moreover, there has been a great deal of peer learning between the trainers, so that they early movers have shared their experiences with others.

I think this is enough of the points that I have picked from the interviews. I do not try to give an exhaustive report. The colleagues from UIBK will work further with the interview materials and put them into a wider context by linking the results from construction sector and healthcare sector to each other. My point was to pick these comments from Bau-ABC for an interim assessment.

With my third post I try to relate these points to earlier interviews and talks with Bau-ABC trainers (and apprentices)In that context I try to demonstrate, how their approach to using digital media, web tools and mobile technologies has changed during the project and due to their involvement in participative design process.

 More blogs to come …

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 …

 

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