Archive for the ‘teaching and learning’ Category

Issues and challenges in the use of ICT for education

August 8th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

For a tender I wrote earlier thiss summer I was asked to comment on a series of challenges and issues related to the use of ICT in education. I think the challenges and issues were well framed. This is a draft of what I wrote.

Fast changing and developing Information and Communication Technologies offer great opportunities for education but also considerable challenges. How can educational policies and practices be developed to utilise the potentials of ICT and modernize education whilst safeguarding students, promoting inclusion and lifelong learning and ensuring equal opportunities? What are the implications for the design of educational institutions, teacher education and curriculum development? What are the ethical implications of the use of ICTs in education?

ICT in Education policy review and development

The development and implementation of policies for using ICT in education needs to be an ongoing and continuous process, incorporating monitoring and review. It also has to link policy to practice. A technology centred approach is not enough alone. More important perhaps, is a focus on developing and implementing new pedagogies for the use of ICTs. Policy processes have to incorporate not only technology companies but educational experts and practitioners.

The issue of the digital divide and the subsequent risk of digital exclusion remains a barrier to ensuring equity and equality in access to technologies. Policies have to ensure infrastructures are fit for purpose if the potential of technology to open up and extend learning is to be achieved. There are major issues as to how to scale up project driven and pilot programmes to widespread adoption and in how to negotiate access to commercial hardware and software and infrastructure for schools from vendors.

Policy has to be developed to safeguard students but at the same time encourage their creative use of ICTs. Education policies also have to address the issues of privacy, bullying and digital literacy, particularly understanding the veracity and reliability of data sources. Further issues include privacy and data ownership. Policy development needs to consider ethical concerns in using not only educational technologies but big data and social networks

Teacher competences and professional development in ICT

While early initial programmes focused on training teachers in how to use ICT, there is an increasing focus on their confidence and competence in the use of ICT for teaching and learning in the classroom. Rather than ICT being seen as a subject in itself, this new focus is on the use of technology for learning across the curriculum. Programmes of initial teacher training need to be updated to reflect these priorities. In addition, there is a need for extensive programmes of continuing professional development to ensure all teacher are confident and competent in using ICT for teaching and learning. New models of professional development are required to overcome the resource limitations of traditional course based programmes.

The ICT Competence Framework for Teachers provides a basis for developing initial and continuing teacher training programmes but requires ongoing updating to reflect changes in the way technologies are being used for learning and changing understandings of digital competence. The development and sharing of learning materials based on the Framework can help in this process.

Mobile learning and frontier technology

There are at any time a plethora of innovations and emerging developments in technology which have the potential for impacting on education, both in terms of curriculum and skills demands but also in their potential for teaching and learning. At the same time, education itself has a tendency towards a hype cycle, with prominence for particular technologies and approaches rising and fading.

Emerging innovations on the horizon at present include the use of Big Data for Learning Analytics in education and the use of Artificial Intelligence for Personalised Learning. The development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) continue to proliferate. There is a renewed interest in the move from Virtual Learning Environments to Personal Learning Environments and Personal Learning Networks.

Mobile learning seeks to build on personal access to powerful and increasingly cheap Smart Phones to allow access to educational resources and support – in the form of both AI and people – in different educational contents in the school, in the workplace and in the community. However, the adoption of mobile learning has been held back by concerns over equal access to mobiles, their potential disruption in the classroom, privacy, online safety and bullying and the lack of new pedagogic approaches to mobile learning.

The greatest potential of many of these technologies may be for informal and non formal learning, raising the challenge of how to bring together informal and formal learning and to recognise the learning which occurs outside the classroom.

The development and sharing of foresight studies can help in developing awareness and understanding of the possible potential of new technologies as well as their implications for digital literacies and curriculum development. Better sharing of findings and practices in pilot projects would ease their development and adoption.

Once more there is a challenge in how to recognise best practice and move from pilot projects to widespread adoption and how to ensure the sustainability of such pilot initiatives.

Finally, there needs to be a continuous focus on ethical issues and in particular how to ensure that the adoption of emerging technologies support and enhances, rather than hinders, movements towards gender equality.

Open Educational Resources (OER);

There has been considerable progress in the development and adoption of Open Education Resources in many countries and cultures. This has been to a large extent based on awareness raising around potentials and important practices at local, national and international level, initiatives which need to continue and be deepened. Never the less, there remain barriers to be overcome. These include how to measure and recognise the quality of OERs, the development of interoperable repositories, how to ensure the discoverability of OERs, and the localization of different OERs including in minority languages.

While progress has been made, policy developments remain variable in different countries. There remains an issue in ensuring teachers understandings of the discovery, potential and use of OERS and importantly how to themselves develop and share OERs. This requires the incorporation of OER use and development in both initial and continuing professional development for teachers.

Finally, there is a growing movement from OERs towards Open Educational Practices, a movement which will be important in developing inclusion, equity and equal opportunities in education.

ICT in education for Persons with Disabilities

 Adaptive technologies have the potential to provide inclusive, accessible and affordable access to information and knowledge and to support the participation of Persons with Disabilities in lifelong learning opportunities.

Assistive, or adaptive, technology has undergone a revolution in recent years. There is a wide range of established commercial and free and open source software products available (such as screen readers, on-screen keyboards and spelling aids), as well as in-built accessibility features in computers and programs.

More people use mobile and portable devices with assistive apps. One significant benefit of ICTs is the provision of a voice for those who are unable to speak themselves. Apps for tablet devices for example that use scanning and a touch screen interface can now provide this at a fraction of the cost of some of the more complex and advanced hardware technologies.

Most countries have moved towards including young people with Special Educational Needs within mainstream educational provision. The use of technology for learning can allow differentiated provision of learning materials, with students able to work at a different pace and using different resources within the classroom.

Regardless of these potentials there is a need to ensure that institutional policies include the needs of students with disabilities and that staff have time to properly engage with these and to provide staff awareness and training activities. Alternative formats for learning materials may be required and the adoption of OERs can help in this process.

Developing digital skills

The importance of digital skills is increasingly recognised as important for future employability. This includes both the skills to use digital technologies but also their use in vocational and occupational contexts. Discussions over the future of work, based largely on the growing applications of AI and robots, suggest future jobs will require higher level skills including in digital technologies. This will require changes in a wide range of curricula. Mapping of changing needs for digital skills provide a reference point for such development. Some countries are already including coding and computational thinking in primary schools: a trend which is likely to spread but once more requiring professional development for teachers. The rapid development of technology is also leading to changes in understandings of digital skills. Reference Frameworks are important in providing a base line for curriculum development and teacher training but require updating to reflect such new understandings.

It is important that digital skill development is not reduced to an employability agenda. Instead it needs to include the use of such skills for providing a decent life within society and community and to equip young people with the skills and understanding of the appropriate use of technology within their social relations and their life course.  Yet again, such skills and understanding require continuing considerations of ethical issues and of how digital skills can advance gender equality.

Four domains of learning

August 6th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

four development domaninspng

I came upon this text today when I was seeking to extend on an article I was writing that included the idea of learning in four domains. It was produced, I think, for the EmployID MOOC on the Changing World of Work and was probably written by Alan Brown and Jenny Bimrose.Sadly, I was so tied up with producing my own materials for the MOOC and didn’t get to read all of the other peoples. But at a time when there is a growing need to question to division between humanities and technical subjects, I think this offers a good way forward.

Relational development – learning with and from interacting with other people

A major route for relational development is learning through interactions at work, learning with and from others (in multiple contexts) and learning as participation in communities of practice (and communities of interest) while working with others. Socialisation at work, peer learning and identity work all contribute to individuals’ relational development. Many processes of relational development occur alongside other activities but more complex relationships requiring the use of influencing skills, engaging people for particular purposes, supporting the learning of others and exercising supervision, management or (team) leadership responsibilities may benefit from support through explicit education, training or development activities.

Jack from the UK had switched career and now who worked as a carer. From the outset Jack learned much about his work from engaging with residents in the care home as well as learning from other staff. He had received letters from residents expressing their gratitude, which had boosted his confidence. His manager encouraged him to become a trainer in the care home, and although nervous and unsure he delivered the training and his self-efficacy increased.

Cognitive development – acquiring knowledge and thinking skills

A major work-related route for cognitive development involves learning through mastery of an appropriate knowledge base and any subsequent technical updating. This form of development makes use of learning by acquisition and highlights the importance of subject or disciplinary knowledge and/or craft and technical knowledge, and it will be concerned with developing particular cognitive abilities, such as critical thinking; evaluating; synthesising etc.

Bernard, a Czech automotive worker, participated in a short internal company technical training programme which positively surprised him in terms of practical outcomes and motivated him to actively work on his vocational development. ‘You had to know your stuff, the trainer was extremely competent, he knew his field very well, but sometimes I had difficulties to follow him. Anyway, it was really done by professionals who knew their stuff, and I appreciated it very much. I was very satisfied. I learned lots of things that were later very useful for my work […] It was very interesting to meet people from a completely different and a rather specialised area. I learned a lot of things and I was proud of it. I think this was the moment that made me change my attitude towards learning. I became much more curious.’

Practical development – learning by doing, by experience, by taking on challenges

For practical development the major developmental route is often learning on the job, particularly learning through challenging work. Learning a practice is also about relationships, identity and cognitive development but there is value in drawing attention to this idea, even if conceptually it is a different order to the other forms of development highlighted in this representation of learning as a process of identity development. Practical development can encompass the importance of critical inquiry, innovation, new ideas, changing ways of working and (critical) reflection on practice. It may be facilitated by learning through experience, project work and/or by use of particular approaches to practice, such as planning and preparation, implementation (including problem-solving) and evaluation. The ultimate goal may be vocational mastery, with progressive inculcation into particular ways of thinking and practising, including acceptance of appropriate standards, ethics and values, and the development of particular skill sets and capabilities associated with developing expertise.

Davide, an Italian carpenter, saw learning as a practice-based process driven by curiosity, a spirit of observation, and trial and error. A major role was played by his passion for the transformation of matter, which he perceived as an almost sacred event: ‘It really struck me to see that from a piece of wood one can create a piece of furniture’.

Emotional development – making sense of your own feelings and how others feel 

For emotional development, the major developmental routes are learning through engagement,  reflexiveness that leads to greater self-understanding, and the development of particular personal qualities. Much emotional development may occur outside work, but the search for meaning in work, developing particular mind-sets, and mindfulness may be components of an individual’s emotional development. Particular avenues of development could include understanding the perspectives of others, respect for the views of others, empathy, anticipating the impact of your own words and actions, and a general reflexiveness, which includes exploring feelings. Identity development at work may also be influenced by changing ideas individuals have about their own well-being and changing definitions of career success (Brown & Bimrose 2014).

Henrik from Denmark switched career, moving into caring and developed a new relationship with his work, which he found much more emotionally engaging. While studying for his skilled worker qualification, Henrik immersed himself in individual assignments of his own choice. In one assignment, he developed a ‘product’ to help improve a pupil’s ability to communicate, an ability which was being lost due to a rare disease. When Henrik talked about the assignment he was very engaged and showed insight into the syndrome. Because the assignment was closely related to his experience and practice, he saw meaning in undertaking it: ‘It was as though there was a circle I could complete on my own.’ He received a top grade for the assignment, and it is evident that positive learning experiences and the perception of entering into learning processes that are meaningful to his life and work situation are strong motivating factors in his engagement in further learning.

Data and the future of universities

August 2nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking about how we use data in education. In the last few years two things have combined – the computing ability to collect and analyse large datasets, allied to the movement by many governments and administrative bodies towards open data.

Yet despite all the excitement and hype about the potential of using such data in education, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. I have written before about issues with Learning Analytics – in particular that is tends to be used for student management rather than for improving learning.

With others I have been working on how to use data in careers advice, guidance and counselling. I don’t envy young people today in trying to choose and  university or college course and career. Things got pretty tricky with the great recession of 2009. I think just before the banks collapsed we had been putting out data showing how banking was one of the fastest growing jobs in the UK. Add to the unstable economies and labour markets, the increasing impact of new technologies such as AI and robotics on future employment and it is very difficult for anyone to predict the jobs of the future. And the main impact may well be nots o much in new emerging occupations,or occupations disappearing but in the changing skills and knowledge required n different jobs.

One reaction to this from many governments including the UK has been to push the idea of employability. To make their point, they have tried to measure the outcomes of university education. But once more, just as student attainment is used as a proxy for learning in many learning analytics applications, pay is being used as a proxy for employability. Thus the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) survey, an experimental survey in the UK, users administrative data to measure the pay of graduates after 3, 5 and 0 years, per broad subject grouping per university. The trouble is that the survey does not record the places where graduates are working. And once thing we know for a certainty is that pay in most occupations in the UK is very different in different regions. The LEO survey present a wealth of data. But it is pretty hard to make any sense of it. A few things stand out. First is that UK labour markets look pretty chaotic. Secondly there are consistent gender disparities for graduates of the same subject group form individual universities. The third point is that prior attainment before entering university seems a pretty good predictor of future pay, post graduation. And we already know that prior attainment is closely related to social class.

A lot of this data is excellent for research purposes and it is great that it is being made available. But the collection and release of different data sets may also be ideologically determined in what we want potential students to be able to find out. In the same way by collecting particular data, this is designed to give a strong steer to the directions universities take in planning for the future. It may well be that a broader curriculum and more emphasis on process and learning would most benefits students. Yet the steer towards employability could be seen to encourage a narrower focus on the particular skills and knowledge employers say they want in the short term and inhibit the wider debates we should be having around learning and social inclusion.

 

The TACCLE4-CPD project takes further steps in its work – Part One: Reflections on our project meeting

June 10th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

As I had told in my earlier blog of December 2017, our institute ITB is involved in a new European project TACCLE4-CPD. This project is the fourth one in the TACCLE project family that supports teachers and trainers in integrating the use of digital tools and web resources into teaching and learning processes. Our project is developing tools and concepts for continuing professional development of teachers and trainers in different educational sectors. (For further information on the background and on the earlier TACCLE project see my blog of the 9th of December 2017.)

Now we had our second project meeting and we were able to see, how we can bring our activities with different educational sectors and with different “Intellectual Outputs” together. As I had mentioned in my previous blog, the earlier TACCLE projects had been working with general education – with primary and (lower) secondary schools. In our project some partners continue the work with focus on these educational sectors whilst others bring into project insights from adult education (AE) and vocational education and training (VET). In our kick-off meeting we had a first look at the work program and on the starting points of different partners. Now we were  having reports on activities of different partners – both concerning the fieldwork and the conceptual work. In this way we were able to take further steps in adjusting our activities to each other and in including different contributions to the Intellectual Outputs. Below I will firstly discuss the progress with our work program and then some specific issues from perspective of the German team and of the VET sector.

Progress with ‘streamlining’ the work program and the partners’ activitities

In our meeting the dynamics was as follows: We had firstly activity reports of one or two partners, then we noticed that they served as a lead-in to some of the Intellectual Outputs. We had a brief debate with some challenging issues – and then ended up with a common conclusion that ‘streamlined’ the work for all of us. Below I will take up some topics that illustrate this:

  • Analyses of current policies to promote digitisation and digital competences: With the activity reports we were caught with the contrast between countries that have centralised educational policies (driven by the National Curriculum) and others with more fragmented power structures and policy processes. This led us to a brief debate on what is merely ‘local/regional’ and what counts as ‘policies’. With a little help of mindmaps and diagrams from other project we found a good formulation for streamlining our mapping and analyses: “Policies looking for appropriate practices – innovative practices and R&D initiatives looking for policy support”. In this way we could provide a European group picture without giving too much emphasis on explaining different policy contexts and instead draw attention to the ‘implementation realities’.
  • Developing a tool for quality assurance: In this context the responsible partner informed of their ongoing qualitative study with schools participating in the eTwinning programme. This triggered a discussion, whether other partners should replicate a similar study or not. However, in the course of discussion we noted that the study is shaping a matrix for analysing quality issues and in this way contributing to the project.
  • Developing a Route Map for promoting digital competences and Planning tools for institutional managers: In this context the responsible partner presented earlier versions of such Route Maps. They had been successfully implemented in earlier TACCLE projects and in national follow-up activities. Another partner presented a somewhat simplified and more condensed version (developed in another predecessor project) that could be taken as a basis of the planning tool. We agreed to merge the tasks and work with both variants of the tools.

I guess this is enough as reporting on our meeting. We had several other points to discuss in the meeting. I will get back to them in due time. In my next post I will discuss the mapping and analysing of policies from the German perspective and with emphasis on the VET sector.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

Issues in developing apprenticeship programmes: UK and Spain

May 22nd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

soundtechAfter years of running down apprenticeship schemes through a policy focus on mass university education, the UK, in common with other European countries, has in the past few years turned back to apprenticeship both as a strategy for providing the skills needed in the changing economy and as a way of overcoming youth unemployment especially or those with low school attainment.

The turn to apprenticeship has gone through a number of phases. In its earliest incarnation there was a tendency to just label any vocational work based programme as an apprenticeship. This did nothing for the reputation of apprenticeships either with young people or with employers and there was widespread criticism of the quality of many of the courses on offer.

Two years ago, the government undertook yet another shakeup of the apprenticeship programme, introducing a training levy for large companies and placing a focus on higher level apprenticeships including degree programmes.

Yet this reform has also run into problems. Despite setting a target of three million new apprenticeships by 2020, there was a near 27% fall in the number taking up trainee posts in the last quarter of 2017.

The number starting apprenticeships dropped to 114,000 between August and October, down from 155,700 in the same period in 2016. That followed a 59% drop in the previous three months after the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April last year.

The biggest drop came in “intermediate” apprenticeships, the basic level, which dropped 38% to 52,000. The highest level of apprenticeships – known as degree apprenticeships – rose nearly 27% to 11,600. Schemes for adult apprentices were worse affected than for those young people, falling by just over 30% compared with 20%.

Last week, the UK House of Commons Education Select Committee heard evidence from the Further Education minister Anne Milton, the quality inspectorate Ofsted, the Institute for Apprenticeships and the Education and Skills Funding Agency on the quality of apprenticeships and skills training.

What seems remarkable from the TES report on the issues emerging from the meeting is how much they parallel problems in other European countries attempting to develop new apprenticeship systems, such as Italy and Spain. Indeed, nearly all of the issues also emerged in our study on apprenticeship in Valencia, Spain, all be it in different forms. This first article provides a quick summary of some of the issues raised at the House of Commons, together with a look at their resonance in Spain. In later posts I will look at some of the issues separately, particularly in reference to developments in the Dual System in Germany.

Higher level apprenticeships

According to the TES, high up the agenda were degree apprenticeships. While degree apprenticeships may raise the prestige of apprenticeship funding, this does little for the lower skilled young people looking for what in the UK are called intermediate level qualifications. Similarly, in Spain the new FP Dual apprenticeship programme has gained biggest traction at a higher apprenticeship level, demanding good school examination results for entry.

Despite the fact that Spain has a decentralised regional system for approving new apprenticeship programmes and the UK operates a national system, in both countries there seems to be significant issues around the level of bureaucracy in getting approval for new programmes and for the management of programmes.

Judging quality

In both countries too, the quality of apprenticeship programmes appears to be variable. Paul Joyce, deputy director for FE and skills at Ofsted, said there was a “very mixed picture” in terms of the quality of apprenticeships, adding: “It is certainly not a universally positive picture in terms of quality.” He said that of those providers inspected so far this year, “round about half are ‘requiring improvement’ or are ‘inadequate’, so it’s a very mixed bag”.

In Spain with no inspection system and few attempts at any systematic evaluation it is difficult to judge quality. Anecdotal evidence suggest also a “very mixed picture” in part due to the lack of training for trainers.

The role of Small and Medium Enterprises

The House of Commons Select Committee heard from Keith Smith, director of apprenticeships at the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), who said there was an aspiration to give employers more control in the system.

He added: “For small businesses, we need to be really careful we provide them with the right support and infrastructure to do that. They’re not the same as big levy-paying employers, they don’t have the same back-office support.

“We’re trying to design this very much with micro-businesses in mind. So, if it works for micro-businesses, it will work for all small businesses.”

Despite that, there would appear to be little take up from small businesses at present, possibly due to lack of knowledge about the new system, or because of the bureaucracy involved.

Similarly in Spain, there is limited take up by small businesses, Whilst in reality vocational schools are in charge of the system, the curriculum for apprenticeship programmes is developed in partnership between the schools and the companies.

More support needed for disadvantaged

Apprenticeships and skills minister Ms Milton said she will do what she can to break down barriers for disadvanataged people, including lobbying other ministers on issues such as travel discounts, an apprentice premium and the benefits system. After education secretary Damian Hinds yesterday refused to commit to the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge of transport subsidies for apprentices, Ms Milton was also coy on the issue.

In Spain there is continuing confusion over support for apprentices. With the adoption of the FP Dual system largely in the control of the regional governments, different regions have different policies, some stipulating pay for apprentices, some of training allowance and others not. Similarly, in some regions transport is paid and in others not. Sometimes it depends on agreements between individual employers and vocational schools.

 

Crossing Boundaries

April 5th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

I think I have written several times before about the problems with conferences. Too many boring sessions with short presentations featuring long lists of bullet points in PowerPoint. At best time for a couple of questions before the next speaker. Inadequate review processes as all conferences want to get as many delegates as they can. Too expensive, thus excluding emerging researchers, but still with enough funding for gala dinners for those senior enough to get a travel grant.

And of course, we all say how the informal discussion outside the conference room is the best part but we never think about why that might be.

But things are slowly changing. Just as smaller, better organised niche music festivals have slowly emerged alongside the mega events, so too are new conferences being established which try at least to promote discourse and to break the traditional mould.

One of the best I have attended recently is the Crossing Boundaries conferences – held three years ago in Bremen in Germany and last year in Rostock.

The “Crossing Boundaries in Vocational Education and Training” Conference, the organisers say is guided by the following ten principles:

  • being active: all participants are presenters, therefore you cannot participate without presenting
  • interdisciplinarity: all contributions around work and learning are welcome
  • keynote speakers: each day will be opened with at least one keynote
  • open: no conference fee
  • selection: you submit to the conference organizer a short research paper (500-1000 words) which will undergo a review process
  • familarity: one evening is reserved to catch up with old friends and meet new ones in a relaxed atmosphere
  • small size: the conference is limited to 80 participants
  • time: the presentation time is 20 minutes (maximum) with additional 10 minutes time for discussion (minimum); sessions are chaired
  • proceedings: after acceptance all participants contribute with their research paper (up to 2000 words) to the conference proceedings which will be available on the first day of the conference in printed version and later in digital (with download option e.g. on ResearchGate)
  • special edition: some participants will be invited to contribute with an extended research paper (up to 5000 words) to a special edition which will be published in IJRVET International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training

The 2019 Conference is being held in Valencia, Spain. Abstracts are due in by 31 May this year. See you there?

The slow cancellation of the future

March 12th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

leeds-ucu-strike-christianhogsbjergWriting in the Guardian, Becky Gardiner, a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths University in London, explains why she is on strike. Although the strike in the UK universities is now into its fourth week and is ostensibly abut cuts to pensions it raises wider issues’

‭Becky says:

My favourite banner on the picket line reads “Against the slow cancellation of the future”, a phrase popularised by the late cultural theorist, Mark Fisher. In the grip of neoliberalism, we begin to believe that there is no alternative, Fisher told us.

In universities, this slow draining of hope began with the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, and gathered pace when they were tripled in 2010. Successive governments, enthusiastically aided by overpaid senior management drawn from outside the university sector, have turned higher education into a utilitarian and consumer-driven activity that students buy in exchange for skills for the job market.

The latest idea coming from the UK Department for Education (DfE) is to introduce a ratings system would which would allow students to make “consumer-style comparisons of degree courses.” Subjects will be given a gold, silver or bronze award, and details will be made available about post-degree employment prospects, potential earnings and dropout rates, according to the DfE.

The problem for DfE is that for all their efforts educations is not a consumer good. And statistics suggest that the best indicator of potential earnings comes not from which university or indeed which subject is studies but is dependent on the social class that the student comes from. So those courses with more upper class students will have the best post employment prospects, presumably attracting more upper class students and reinforcing their positioning in the consumer style ratings. The slow cancellation of the future seems to be speeding up.

Taking further steps with the TACCLE4-CPD project – Part One: Setting the scene for project activities in the field of VET

February 21st, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

In December 2017 I wrote a blog on the kick-off meeting of the EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project that took place in our institute ITB at the University of Bremen. In that blog I described the background of TACCLE projects and presented the achievements of the pioneering TACCLE1 and TACCLE2 projects. I also drew attention to the legacy of the recently completed EU-funded Learning Layers project (2012-2016) upon which our institute can draw in the present project. As we see it, the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot was in many respects a predecessor of the present project in the field of vocational education and training (VET). Now it is time to have a closer look at our context of work and make more specific plans for the forthcoming activities. I will start this with an updated description of the TACCLE4-CPD project that I prepared fro the ITB website and then move on with the stock-taking (with focus on the Learning Layers’ successor activities and with the project neighbourhood that I have found from our own institute).

TACCLE4-CPD in a nutshell: What is it about?

The ErasmusPlus project TACCLE4-CPD promotes strategies for integrating digital technologies into teaching/learning processes. From this perspective the project supports teacher trainers and organisations that develop teachers’ and trainers’ digital competences. The project builds upon the digital tools, web resources and training concepts that have been created in prior TACCLE projects or other predecessor activities. From the ITB point of view, this project provides an opportunity to work further with the Learning Toolbox (LTB), a key result from the Learning Layers project.

TACCLE4-CPD in a closer look: What is it trying to achieve?

The TACCLE4-CPD project is funded by the ErasmusPlus programme as a ‘strategic partnership’.  It promotes educational strategies for integrating digital technologies into teaching/learning processes in different educational sectors. From this perspective the project puts the emphasis on supporting teacher trainers and/or organisations that develop teachers’ and trainers’ digital competences. When doing so, the project builds upon the digital tools,  web resources and training concepts that have been created in earlier TACCLE projects and other predecessor projects.

Regarding the earlier TACCLE projects the current project can make use of the TACCLE Handbook (that will be updated), the TACCLE2 websites and the separate TACCLE courses. Regarding the Learning Layers project the current project can build upon the work with the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and on the Multimedia training schemes (that were organised with construction sector partners).

Whilst the previous TACCLE projects have been working directly with pioneering teachers, the TACCLE4-CPD project addresses now the training of trainers.  In the same way the emphasis is shifted from particular teaching/learning innovations to shaping models for continuing professional development. In this respect the partners promote community-development among professionals and organisations that support the delivery of digital competences and their integration into learning culture. Regarding ITB, it has a specific possibility to develop cooperation and synergy between ongoing European and German projects – in particular between TACCLE4-CPD and the parallel projects STRIDE and DMI.

I think this is enough of the starting points of the TACCLE4-CPD and how I interpret our task in the project. In my next blogs I will continue by looking more closely what we can bring into the project from the Learning Layers’ follow-up and from the neighbouring projects.

More blogs to come …

Are we lost in online space?

February 14th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Last November I was invited to give a presentation at a conference “Are we lost in online space?” organised by in Belgrade.

As the report on the conference web site says, the conference brought together 48 participants, most from east Europe, and 6 experts in the field of online learning. Participants had the opportunity to learn, experience and discuss about digital pedagogy, personal learning environment, online counseling for youth at risk, the possibility to educate youth workers in the online context, the ability of young people to use online tools when they are used for educational purposes, using games with young people, the potentials of using the virtual reality packages in youth work.

The web site also has video of all the presentations. I particularly liked the presentation on How to approach young people at risk to use the opportunities of online counseling by Anni Marquard, from the Centre for Digital Youth Care, Denmark and on Using games & gaming culture for educational purposes by Uroš Antić from Serbia)

It was a lively conference with a wide range of different experiences and views and some great participatory workshops and activities. It was apparent that at least from the countries represented in the conference, technology is a relatively new field in youth work, but also that many youth workers are ready to engage with young people through technology. However, tools and platforms such as Moodle seemed really not to support the pedagogy of youth work, nor to engage with young people. Youth work is more about informal learning – and ed-tech has tended to focus on formal learning.

There was a quick straw poll at the end of the conference on whether or not we were (still’ lost in online space. Participants were divided – some lost, some not and some not sure!

The problems of assessing competence

February 12th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

It was interesting to read Simon Reddy’s article in FE News,  The Problem with Further Education and Apprenticeship Qualifications, lamenting the low standard of training in plumbing the UK and the problems with the assessment of National Vocational Qualifications.

Simon reported from his research saying:

There were structural pressures on tutors to meet externally-imposed targets and, judging from the majority of tutors’ responses, the credibility of the assessment process was highly questionable.

Indeed, teachers across the three college sites in my study were equally sceptical about the quality of practical plumbing assessments.

Tutors in the study were unanimous in their judgements about college-based training and assessments failing to adequately represent the reality, problems and experiences of plumbers operating in the workplace.

In order to assess the deviation away from the original NVQ rules, he said, “it is important to understand the work of Gilbert Jessup, who was the Architect of UK competence-based qualifications.

Jessup (1991: 27) emphasised ‘the need for work experience to be a valid component of most training which leads to occupational competence’. Moreover, he asserted that occupational competence ‘leads to increased demands for demonstrations of competence in the workplace in order to collect valid evidence for assessment’.

As a representative of the Wesh Joint Education Committee, I worked closely with Gilbert Jessop in the early days of NVQs. Much (probably too much) of our time was taken with debates on the nature of competence and how assessment could be organised. I even wrote several papers about it – sadly in the pre digital age.

But I dug out some of that debate in a paper I wrote with Jenny Hughes for the European ICOVET project which as looking at the accreditation of informal learning. In the paper – with the snappy title ‘The role and importance of informal competences in the process of acquisition and transfer of work skills. Validation of competencies – a review of reference models in the light of youth research: United Kingdom.’

In the introduction we explained the background:

Firstly, in contrast to most countries in continental Europe, the UK has long had a competence based education and training system. The competence based National Vocational Qualifications were introduced in the late 1980s in an attempt to reform and rationalise the myriad of different vocational qualifications on offer. NVQs were seen as separate from delivery systems – from courses and routes to attain competence. Accreditation regulations focused on sufficiency and validity of evidence. From the very early days of the NVQ system, accreditation of prior learning and achievement has been recognised as a legitimate route towards recognition of competence, although implementation of APL programmes has been more problematic. Thus, there are few formal barriers to access to assessment and accreditation of competences. That is not to say the process is unproblematic and this paper will explore some of the issues which have arisen through the implementation of competence based qualifications.

We went on to look at the issue of assessment:

The NVQ framework was based on the notion of occupational competence. The concept of competence has been a prominent, organising principle of the reformed system, but has been much criticised (see, for example, Raggatt & Williams 1999). The competence-based approach replaced the traditional vocational training that was based on the time served on skill formation to the required standard (such as apprenticeships). However, devising a satisfactory method of assessing occupational competence proved to be a contentious and challenging task.

Adults in employment who are seeking to gain an NVQ will need a trained and appointed NVQ assessor. Assessors are appointed by an approved Assessment Centre, and can be in-house employees or external. The assessor will usually help the candidate to identify their current competences, agree on the NVQ level they are aiming for, analyse what they need to learn, and choose activities which will allow them to learn what they need. The activities may include taking a course, or changing their work in some way in order to gain the required evidence of competence. The opportunity to participate in open or distance learning while continuing to work is also an option.

Assessment is normally through on-the-job observation and questioning. Candidates must have evidence of competence in the workplace to meet the NVQ standards, which can include the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL). Assessors will test the candidates’ underpinning knowledge, understanding and work-based performance. The system is now intended to be flexible, enabling new ways of learning to be used immediately without having to take courses.

The system is characterised by modular-based components and criterion-referenced assessment. Bjornavald also argues that the NVQ framework is output-oriented and performance-based.

We outlined criticisms of the NVQ assessment process

The NCVQ methods of assessing competence within the workplace were criticised for being too narrow and job-specific (Raggatt & Williams 1999). The initial NVQs were also derided for applying ‘task analysis’ methods of assessment that relied on observation of specific, job-related task performance. Critics of NVQs argued that assessment should not just focus on the specific skills that employers need, but should also encompass knowledge and understanding, and be more broadly based and flexible. As Bjornavald argues, ‘the UK experiences identify some of these difficulties balancing between too general and too specific descriptions and definitions of competence’. The NVQs were also widely perceived to be inferior qualifications within the ‘triple-track’ system, particularly in relation to academic qualifications (Wolf 1995; Raffe et al 2001; Raggatt 1999).

The initial problems with the NVQ framework were exacerbated by the lack of regulatory powers the NCVQ held (Evans, 2001). The system was criticized early on for inadequate accountability and supervision in implementation (Williams 1999), as well as appearing complex and poorly structured (Raffe et al 2001).

We later looked at systems for the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL).

Currently the system relies heavily on the following basic assumptions: legitimacy is to be assured through the assumed match between the national vocational standards and competences gained at work. The involvement of industry in defining and setting up standards has been a crucial part of this struggle for acceptance, Validity is supposed to be assured through the linking and location of both training and assessment, to the workplace. The intention is to strengthen the authenticity of both processes, avoiding simulated training and assessment situations where validity is threatened. Reliability is assured through detailed specifications of each single qualification (and module). Together with extensive training of the assessors, this is supposed to secure the consistency of assessments and eventually lead to an acceptable level of reliability.

A number of observers have argued that these assumptions are difficult to defend. When it comes to legitimacy, it is true that employers are represented in the above-mentioned leading bodies and standards councils, but several weaknesses of both a practical and fundamental character have appeared. Firstly, there are limits to what a relatively small group of employer representatives can contribute, often on the basis of scarce resources and limited time. Secondly, the more powerful and more technically knowledgeable organisations usually represent large companies with good training records and wield the greatest influence. Smaller, less influential organisations obtain less relevant results. Thirdly, disagreements in committees, irrespective of who is represented, are more easily resolved by inclusion than exclusion, inflating the scope of the qualifications. Generally speaking, there is a conflict of interest built into the national standards between the commitment to describe competences valid on a universal level and the commitment to create as specific and precise standards as possible. As to the questions of validity and reliability, our discussion touches upon drawing up the boundaries of the domain to be assessed and tested. High quality assessments depend on the existence of clear competence domains; validity and reliability depend on clear-cut definitions, domain-boundaries, domain-content and ways whereby this content can be expressed.

It’s a long time since I have looked at the evolution of National Vocational Qualifications and the issues of assessment. My guess is that the original focus on the validity of assessment was too difficult to implementing practice, especially given the number of competences. And the distinction between assessing competence and assessing underpinning knowledge was also problematic. Easier to move to multiple choice computerized testing, administered through colleges. If there was a need to assess practical competences, then once more it would be much simpler to assess this in a ‘simulated’ workshop environment than the original idea that competence would be assessed in the real workplace.  At the same time the system was too complicated. Instead of trusting workplace trainers to know whether an apprentice was competent, assessors were themselves required to follow a (competence based) assessors course. That was never going to work in the real world and neither was visiting external assessors going to deliver the validity Gilbert Jessop dreamed of.

If anyone would like a copy the paper this comes from just email me (or add a request in the comments below). Meanwhile I am going to try to find another paper I wrote with Jenny Hughes, looking at some of the more theoretical issues around assessment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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