Archive for the ‘teaching and learning’ Category

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting the Learning Layers experience “2.0” – Reworking the research papers of 2017

February 9th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last April (2017) I prepared for myself a ToDo list to prepare three conference papers with which I would revisit the experience of our EU-funded Learning Layers project (2012 – 2016) with emphasis on the achievements of the Construction pilot. I had the plan to participate in three conferences and I expected that I could prepare respectively three research papers that would examine from a conceptual point three important aspects of our project work

  • the methodological issues on accompanying research (comparing our work with that of predecessors);
  • the pedagogic foundations of our work (relating our starting points to current developments at policy level and in parallel pilots);
  • the relevance of our work vis-à-vis industrial and organisational innovations (comparing our innovation agenda with its prior and emerging innovation concepts).

In October 2017 I wrote a blog in which I mentioned that intervening factors had slowed down my work. However, I was pleased to inform that I had managed to complete my ToDo list and produce three working papers to cover the themes that I had planned. Yet, after a short while I had to admit it to myself that I had celebrated my achievements too early. Indeed, I had covered the themes but the quality of the papers was uneven. In all papers I could see gaps that I had to cover. I had brought into picture essential elements of each ‘story’ but not all of the stories were woven together with a coherent argumentation. So, I understood that I have to rework all the papers from this perspective.  Now I have revisited the Learning Layers experience once again and completed the necessary reworking of these papers.

What do the (reworked) papers tell about our research in Learning Layers and on the growth of knowledge via our project?

Below I try to present the main contents of the newly reworked papers and highlight to red thread of the ‘story’ that is to followed through different sections. Here I want to draw attention on the conceptual and methodological foundations of our work in the Learning Layers as well as to the reflection on the predecessor concepts in the light of our work. Moreover, I will discuss some newer developments in innovation policies and innovation research as challenges for our approach.

Paper 1: Accompanying research between knowledge development and support for innovations in the field – Revisiting earlier innovation programmes as predecessors of the Learning Layers project

The first paper starts with the explanation, why the research team from our institute ITB declared itself as an  accompanying research (Begleitforschung) team in the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot. As a conceptual and methodological background for this approach the paper reconstructs the development of accompanying research in two parallel threads of innovation programmes in Germany:

  • Innovation programmes for social shaping of work, technology and organisations (Humanisierung der Arbeit, Arbeit und Technik);
  • Pilot projects and innovation programmes in the field of vocational education and training (Modellversuche, BLK-Programm “Neue Lernkonzepte in der dualen Berufsausbildung”).

Throughout these explorations the paper draws attention to different positions, whether the researchers should take a co-shaping role in innovation processes – and on shifts of emphasis in the course of time. Finally, the paper draws attention to specific positions that argue for more intensive and shaping-oriented involvement in terms of ‘action research’, smart innovation analyses and/or dialogical knowledge development. In the concluding reflections the paper compares the position of ITB researchers with the latter approaches.

Paper 2: Research as mediator between vocational learning, work process knowledge and conceptual innovation – on the role of research in the modernisation of vocational education and training (VET)

The second paper starts with recapitulating how the ITB researchers entered a participative co-design process with an open agenda and then supported the design idea – digitisation of training and learning processes in VET – with conceptual inputs. In the following sections the paper presents different conceptual reflections and insights into policy debates – to be followed by exemplary pilot projects that respond to the challenges raised in the debates. The relations between these sections can be characterised as follows:

  • The contribution of Rauner (shaping-oriented VET) provides an interim synthesis of different concepts and themes that are essential for VET development. The empirical studies of Böhle (experiential knowledge) and Koch (mastery of complete work process) highlight the importance of their key concepts for advanced automation and future-oriented staff development.
  • The contribution of Baethge et al. presents a negative scenario on renewability of VET and vocational learning culture during the transition to ‘knowledge society’. The contribution of Pfeiffer presents a critique of Baethge’s interpretation on ‘experiential knowledge’ and gives insights in complementary relations between academic and experiential knowledge in innovative organisations. The contribution of Spöttl deepens the analysis with his examination on to parallel educational genotypes (Bildungstypen) and on the relevance of hybrid types for the emerging innovation agenda ‘Industry 4.0’.
  • In the light of the above-mentioned conceptual inputs and the debates on the sustainability of VET the selected pilot projects (and the example of Learning Layers) demonstrate, how shaping-oriented VET can be based on participative processes of practitioners. The exemplary cases demonstrated, how pilot projects have mobilised the participants in creating their own innovation agendas and implementation plans – and shaping the digital tools and web resources they need for themselves. Even, if these may have been modest starts, they have provided a basis for peer learning and peer tutoring – as social dynamics for innovation transfer.
Paper 3: Accompanying research as bridge-builder between digitisation and social shaping in workplace learning – Linking ‘work process knowledge’ and ‘smart innovations’ to ‘Industry 4.0’

The third paper examines the innovation agenda of the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot vis-à-vis industrial and organisational innovation research that takes into account the role of VET. In this context the following milestones and transitions are discussed:

  • The starting point is the re-examination of the legacy of the European Work Process Knowledge network of the late 1990s. The paper gives a brief overview on the studies, the debates and the conclusions on the importance of VET.
  • The next milestone is the re-examination of the German project “Smarte Innovation” that was completed in 2012. This project developed a more intensively participative approach to analyses of product life cycles and innovation potentials at different stations. The project also presented critical analyses of communication gaps, lack of understanding on innovation potentials in ‘remote’ stations and on the dysfunctional role of externally imposed process standards. Concerning the role of VET, the project drew attention to an emerging model for continuing vocational training (CVT) that outlined a new career progression model.
  • The following milestone is the analysis of successive innovation programmes and the shift of emphasis from ‘remedial interventions’ (that compensate the negative consequences of mainstream innovations) to ‘enabling innovations’ (that seek to facilitate the development of ‘learning organisations’ into innovation leaders). As a contrast to the above-mentioned ones, the emerging innovation agenda ‘Industry 4.0’ shifts the emphasis to advanced automation, complex networking and new digitised production and service chains.
  • The final milestone is the examination of the current discussion of social and educational scientists on the role of human actors in the context of ‘Industry 4.0’. Here, a number of researchers have brought together different conceptual and empirical studies that emphasise the potential of skilled workers and on the possibility to shape learning opportunities when developing new production or service concepts. Parallel to this, some researchers explore the possibilities to develop off-the-job learning opportunities as means to enhance workplace learning alongside the new production concepts.

– – –

I think this is enough of the contents papers and of the ‘stories’ that weave them together. As I see it, the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot may not have been at the forefront of industrial and organisational innovations or in the introduction of digital agendas to the field of VET. Yet, it has been clearly part of the big picture on all accounts and it has done its part to stimulate essential innovations in the field of VET. However, this leads us to another question: What can we say about transfer of innovations in the light of the Learning Layers project and its follow-up activities? To me, this is a subject to further studies to be reported later.

More blogs to come …

 

 

One year from the Learning Layers’ final review – Part Three: New information on the follow-up activities in Bau-ABC

January 22nd, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous blogs I have been developing a series of  posts that reflects on the Final Review of our EU-funded Learning Layers project (one year ago) and on the achievements of the follow-up activities. My first post focused on the review event and on the blogs with which I have documented the event and the follow during the year 2017. In my second post I summarised the current phase of the follow-up projects – in particular on further uses of the Learning Toolbox (the main result of Learning Layers’ Construction pilot). This reporting was based on a series of working meetings and conversations that we had last week with different partners. In the second post I discussed follow-up projects and initiatives with several partners involved. In addition, I brought forward the use of Learning Toolbox as support for conference presentations and posters (see the showcases) also in our field. In this third and concluding poster I will focus on the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) in the training activities and related initiatives of the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. (As I have reported in my blogs in the years 2012-2017, Bau-ABC was the major application partner in the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot and the central venue for developing and testing the Learning Toolbox.) My report below is based on the information that Bau-ABC trainers shared with us in the working meeting last week.

Use of Learning Toolbox in the regular apprentice training activities

In the context of the Learning Layers project the LTB was developed to be used in the context of apprentices’ projects (normally of one week’s duration) during their stay in the training centre Bau-ABC. At that time the LTB was introduced and tested in a few training occupations (and the results were discussed in evaluation workshops and in interviews with the trainers). Now we were interested to find out, how the Learning Toolbox is being used after the project period.

Lothar Schoka, trainer for the occupations in well-building and borehole building (Brunnenbau, Spezialtiefbau) informed us on the use LTB in his area. It appeared that the use of LTB had become everyday practice in their projects. The information is available in the trade-specific stack, the apprentices get quickly used to working with the toolset and they can combine the work with their mobile devices and work in the computer class. Thus, the use of LTB is a sustainable outcome of the Learning Layers project.

Use of Learning Toolbox for the transversal theme ‘health and safety’

Another arena for working with the LTB has been the transversal theme ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). In Spring 2017 a working group of Bau-ABC trainers started to discuss the possibility to use digital tools to support training and learning in this field. At that time I had a chance to accompany and support the start of the working group. After the summer holidays the working group continued with regular meetings and concentrated on using the LTB. Now, trainer Thomas Weerts (the shop steward for health and safety in Bau-ABC) reported on the current phase of the work. The trainers involved in the work had agreed on common content structures for ‘health and safety’ to be covered in their trade-specific stacks for LTB. Thomas himself is developing the ‘mother stack’ for the theme ‘health and safety’ that guides the users to groups of trades and to specific trades. (This ‘mother stack’ will also provide a template for the trades that are still developing their own stacks.)

Use of Learning Toolbox in the project “Workcamp GreenHouse”

A further arena for using the LTB was presented by the trainer Markus Pape (responsible for training carpenters). He is currently working in a nation-wide project “workcamp GreenHouse” that has been launched by several training centres in the construction sector. The project is building exhibition areas and items to demonstrate ecological/sustainable solutions in building houses (with emphasis on energy-efficiency, ecological isolation materials etc.). Altogether, the project is shaping a wide range of modules to introduce these principles in the training for construction sector. In the meeting he presented an overview on the modules and explained, what modules would be suitable for piloting with the LTB. For this purpose he invited the LTB developers to prepare a proposal to be introduced to the project consortium.

Use of Learning Toolbox to support language learning alongside apprentice training

A further arena for working with the LTB is the support for language learning for non-native speakers alongside apprentice training. During the Learning Layers project this area was already explored in a workshop with several Spanish apprentices who were having their training in Bau-ABC. In the meantime a separate working group in Bau-ABC had been developing this idea further. Melanie Campbell (as a coordinator of the related Mobipro-EU project) presented a plan for shaping the LTB stacks that support general orientation (blue tiles), trade-specific vocabulary (green tiles) and communication skills (red tiles). We discussed this plan together with her, the trainers and a supporting language teacher. The developers of Learning Toolbox came up with proposals, how to introduce elements of gamification and motivational support for learners.

– – –

I guess this is enough for an overview. To me this was an important update since I am trying to link cooperation with these initiatives to my participation in our new EU-funded project (TACCLE4 – CPD). In this project we are supporting the training of teachers and trainers in using digital tools and in shaping digital contents for learners. As I see it, the LTB can play a major role in promoting these activities in the field of vocational education and training (VET). But, to be sure, I need to explore this prospect deeper and have more meetings with Bau-ABC trainers.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

Revisiting the Learning Layers experience – “ToDo List” for conferences finally completed

October 19th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the end of April this year I had left behind all the work after the final review of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. We had completed the work for the review and the additional tasks that were required to clarify the picture. At that time I was looking forward to revisit the project experience and wrote myself a “ToDo List” – outlining a set of working papers that I wanted to complete as soon as possible. This is what I wrote as my opening statement:

“Now, we have a chance to revisit the project experience and draw conceptual and methodological conclusions of our work in the Construction pilot. And I have booked myself in to three conferences to have a closer look at our achievements and how review them from a conceptual point of view.”

Little did I know at that time, what kind of intervening factors may cause delays to such plans. Instead of working three papers ready by the middle of August I had to take a break and give thoughts on something bigger than my work. Yet, having taken the time I needed, I am happy to announce that I have completed the ToDo List of late April. Today I have uploaded the last one of the designed three Working Papers on my account on ResearchGate. And in order to put the three Working Papers into a group picture, I published the following update:

“During the year 2017 I have written three parallel working papers that are the pillars for my re-examination of our work in the Learning Layers project and its Construction pilot. Together they provide insights into our methodological orientation and to two central theoretical themes in the context of a participative research & development project:

 

1) Accompanying research (“Begleitforschung”) between knowledge development and support for innovations in the field-Revisiting earlier developments and the experience in Learning Layers:
2) Begleitforschung in the context of digital transformation in vocational education and training (VET): Linking work process knowledge to ‘Industry 4.0’:
3) Begleitforschung as mediator between action-oriented learning and digital change: on the role of accompanying research in earlier pilot projects and the Learning Layers Construction pilot:
Altogether these papers give a picture of our approach and of our learning journey with co-design, collaborative learning and support for piloting with digital tools in the construction sector. These working papers will be developed further and linked to discussion on sustainability and transferability of the innovations with which we worked.”
– – –
I think this is enough of this effort at the moment. As I have indicated above. I need to do some work with the three papers to make the mutual relations more transparent and to fill some gaps. And I need to tackle the issue of sustainability and transferability of innovations – just as it emerged in the follow-up phase after the end of the project. But let us take one step at a time amd next steps afterwards.
More blogs to come …

Conversational learning and evidence based education

September 12th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I have missed out on this autumn’s conference circuit. I just DJg4lLdXUAAiqw8don’t have the money to pay for fees and travel (let alone beer) in attending these events. I am not sure that I actually miss the conferences themselves, but I do miss meeting friends and catching up with what is going on.

And of course, it is increasingly possible to at least dip in to conferences online these days. What with mobile phones and twitter you can almost watch the slides progressing in real time. This morning I noticed one presentation seemed to be getting a lot of my twitter feed. It was Mike Sharples speaking at the ALTALC tagged conference – it took me some time to suss out the ALC stood for the Active Learning Conference taking place at Anglia Ruskin University.

A couple of slides interested me.The slide above is based on the Open University FutureLearn platform. This sums up perfectly how we have used the platform in the EmployID project for running (sadly not open) courses on the Future of Work for employees from the UK Department for Works and Pensions (the UK Public Employment Service. The evaluation showed the courses to be a great success (more on this tomorrow). But I am not so convinced to what degree the FutureLearn platform helped our pedagogic approach – at best I would say it hindered us less than other MOOC platforms we have used.DJg2tuIXcAA5A_X

The second slide also rings true – at least to my experience in using technology for professional development. It is not always easy to link online professional development to practice. But I am ever more sure this is critical to effective learning. Learning spaced over time is an interesting idea in an age of quick bite learning. Of course it depends learning over how much time. Ideally the learning should evolve in line with the practice – but that is not easy to achieve.

Wrapping up the ECER 2017 experience – Part Four: Discussions on vocational teacher education

August 29th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my three previous blogs I have started a series of posts reporting on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2017) that took place last week in Copenhagen. The first post outlined a working agenda with themes to be covered. The second post provided insights into my own presentation. The third post discussed the themes ‘qualification frameworks’ and ‘credit transfer’. With this fourth post I try to give an overview on presentations that discussed reforms in vocational teacher education or issues related to practicum studies of teacher candidates. Here I am facing a multitude of presentations and sessions and I cannot even try to give comprehensive characterisations of them. Instead, I try to list the presentations below as thematic blocks and make some remarks on each block – with the hope that I get access to published 2017 Copenhagen presentations on the Vetnetsite and/or to full papers. At the end I will give links to our (ITB) projects of earlier years that can be read as background materials for the newer contributions.

Vocational teacher education in the light of recent reforms – Danish and Irish experiences

In this block I would like to discuss the two studies presented in the same session:

Vocational Teacher Education and Vocational Didactics – authored and presented by Henriette Duch from Denmark and

The Students’ Experience Of FE Teacher Education Qualification (TEQ) Programmes: A Study of FE Teachers Professional Development And Evolving Identity In Ireland: North and South – authored by Anne Graham Cagney, Carol Yelverton- Halpin, Ned Cohen and presented by Anne.

Both presentations gave a picture of reforms that were allegedly aiming to support pedagogic autonomy of vocational schools or to upgrade the level of vocational teacher education. In both cases the presenters brought into picture boundary conditions and side-effects that overshadowed the implementation.

Finding the ‘e’ in VET and the ‘researchers’ and ‘pedagogists’ in VET teachers

In this block I would discuss one single presentation with multiple messages:

What’s In A Name – VET Teachers Acting Upon The Meaning Of The ‘E’ In VET authored and presented by Lewis Hughes.

In this presentation Lewis gave us insights into a conversation approach to motivate and support VET practitioners to include research as part of their professional practice With the help of a framework (adapted from the Activity Theory group around Yrjö Engeström) Lewis is integrating researching related matters with these teachers perceiving themselves as educators and, accordingly, finding an interest in reflection that takes the shape of research. Moreover, when making this experience as a collective, the teachers are able to position themselves as doing ‘research’ as a means of continuing professional development and adding to vocational currency. Associated with this, Lewis referred to the Australian recent initiative of establishing the VET Practitioner Research Network (VPRN) – his Founding Partner involvement in this is adding to informing his research as his research is also informing his contribution to configuring and activity of the VPRN.

I assume that I have picked a key message from Lewis’ presentation (among other important points). To me it was important that I manage to bring into contact with Lewis a group of Italian VET teachers who represented the institute Cometa Formazione and had established their Cometa Research program based on similar ideas.

The development of VET teacher pedagogy through practice

In the third block I would like to discuss the  presentations of the final session of the VETNET program at ECER 2017:

Development of practicum pedagogy to enhance VET teacher learning – authored by Ingela Andersson, Ingrid Berglund, Ingrid Henning Loeb, Viveca Lindberg and presented by Ingrid from Göteborg.

The practice of feedback in practicum periods in VET – case of Swedish-speaking Finland – authored and presented by Birgit Schaffar-Kronqvist from Turku/Åbo.

Developing novice VET teachers’ pedagogy: A work-based learning curriculum framework – authored and presented by Susanne Francisco from Australia.

Here the two first presentations by Ingrid and Birgit discussed the shaping of vocational teacher education programs by universities in Sweden and in (Swedish-speaking) Finland. These programs are delivered by universities (or by universities of applied sciences) independently of the Bachelor-Master structures. The volume of the program is in Finland 60 ECTS points and in Sweden 90 ECTS points. Both programs can be studied as full-time students or as part-time students. The learning arrangements are appropriate for teacher candidates who are already working as teachers without formal qualification, and for people with vocational backgrounds without teaching experience. The schedules (with on-the-job learning and presence sessions) are attractive for adult learners who want to shift to teacher occupation. However, in both cases the presenters reported on tensions regarding the role of practicum (practice-based learning period) and challenges, how to implement these periods in a such a way that the VET teacher candidates have new learning experiences.

In this context Susanne Francisco brought into discussion theoretical insights (with reference to Stephen Kemmis from Australia, who also attended the session) and selected examples from the practice. She also presented some exemplary ‘learning journeys’ that demonstrated, how teacher candidates’ learning processes in practicum can be kept at ‘ordinary’ level or enhanced or driven into dead ends. Altogether, we had an interesting discussion

Revisiting ‘Vocational teachers and trainers’ and ‘Practice-based learning’ as prior European project themes

I am aware that I have only scratched the topics above and not really entered them. That is why I have presented them as thematic blocks that I want to revisit in due time. In this context I also want to revisit the materials of some earlier European projects in which I was involved in one way or another, such as:

  • The Europrof project and its follow-up activities (Training of new VET professionals; 1996 – 2001)
  • The UNIP network for developing an international framework for TVET teacher education (2004 – 2006)
  • The TTplus project in Europe (focus on trainers) and TT-TVET project in Europe and Asia (2006 – 2009)
  • VET teachers and trainers – Consultation seminars in six European regions (2008 – 2009)
  • The Euronet-PBL project (Practice-based learning in engineering, business management and VET teacher education (2008-2010)

I have collected the materials on ResearchGate to the following two Project spaces:

Workplace Learning/ Practice-Based Learning – Legacy of European projects 2005 – 2012

Teachers & Trainers in Vocational Education &Training – Legacy of European projects 1995 -2010

and regarding ECER conferences

My VETNET Journey – Archives of my contributions to ECER conferences and VETNET network (1992 – 2016)

– – –

I think I have made enough notes and taken plenty of homework for the time to come. In my next post I will report on a very interesting workshop at ECER 2017.

More blogs to come …

Boot camps closing

August 10th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

Interesting press release from Reuters regarding the American Coding Boot Camps – a model some policy makers in Europe have been looking at as a model for adoption.

Reuters report that “closures are up in a field now jammed with programs promising to teach students in just weeks the skills needed to get hired as professional coders. So far this year, at least eight schools have shut down or announced plans to close in 2017, according to the review website Course Report.

Two pioneers in the sector, San Francisco’s Dev Bootcamp and The Iron Yard of Greenville, South Carolina, announced in July that they are being shut down by their corporate parents.

Others, including market leaders like General Assembly, a New York firm that has raised $120 million in venture capital, are shifting their focus to corporate training.”

Some of the Boot Camps offer  online programmes, others have face to face training. What they share in common is that they are fee paying. According to Reuters average tuition is just over $11,000 for a 14-week course. The spread of the boot camps has been largely funded by Venture Capitalist who have pumped in more that 250 US dollars.

Following on the failure to monetise MOOCs venture capital  seized on boot camps as another route to “disrupt” education by creating a new privatised market.

Interestingly though, Code Academy who have always offered free online training in coding have come up with a new business model. According to Bloomberg they have launched a three-tiered paid service which will allow personal learning, provide mentored help in building websites from scratch and build front-end applications. The fee ranges from $19.9 to $499 per month.

Shaping digital tools for continuing vocational training in construction sector – the DigiProB workshop in May

May 23rd, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last Friday (19th of May) I visited a workshop hosted by my ITB colleagues for yet another follow-up activity of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This time the German-funded DigiProB project had a workshop on preparing digital tools for continuing vocational training (CVT) in the construction sector. The participants (in addition to my ITB colleagues) were training managers from the training centre Bau-ABC, guest lecturers of their CVT schemes and the software developer supporting the project. I have had several encounters with the DigiProB project but this time I could witness that the participants were making progress in shaping digital tools to support their training activities. But let us first recapitulate what the project is about and what it tries to achieve.

The DigiProB project – Pedagogic challenges for CVT trainers and participants

The aim of the DigiProB project is to support the successive CVT schemes in construction sector (Vorarbeiter, Werkpolier, Geprüfte Polier) with digital tools. In this context the project has to cope with several pedagogic challenges:

a) Limited presence training time: The above mentioned CVT schemes are supported by very short course periods with face-to-face training. Most of the learning has to take place as self-organised learning alongside the work of the participants in construction sector. (These schemes are targeted as upgrading schemes for skilled workers in construction sector and prepare them for management responsibilities at different level.)

b) Subject-based curriculum framework vs. action-oriented learning goals: The main pedagogic challenge for developing the above mentioned CVT schemes was the tension between the subject-based curriculum contents and the action-oriented learning goals. Thus, the presence training is based on subject areas covered by guest lecturers that have been invited as subject specialists (e.g. for construction processes, construction techniques and personal management). Yet, a central role in the curriculum has been given for complex learning tasks and an integrative project report.

c) Providing support for self-organised learning by dispersed part-time lecturers: A further challenge was the fact that the lecturers were recruited individually to cover their subject areas during the course period. Thus, they did not have a collective responsibility on promoting the participants’ learning beyond the course period. Yet, the lecturers were interested in providing further support inasmuch as they possibly could. Therefore, they were interested in working with digital tools for themselves and for their participants.

The DigiProB workshops – finding ways to provide support for integrative projects

During the last few months the DigiProB project has managed to establish a working group of active lecturers who serve as a pioneer group for developing integrative learning projects (and for introducing digital tools to support action-oriented learning in the CVT schemes). This working group has come together on monthly basis and now had its fifth meeting. I had visited their meeting only once – quite some time earlier – so I could now see the progress that the group had made. Below I try to sum up key achievements and working issues of this working group:

1. Working on two tracks to develop digital tools: Already at an early phase the working group took the course to two-track development of digital tools: a developmental platform for lecturers and a user-interface for participants. In this way the group avoided the risk of rushing to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ or ‘one-design-fits-all’ in introducing digital tools. For the moment the group is working primarily with the developmental platform to shape an integrative project that serves as a model for shaping further projects (and complex learning tasks). The shaping of user-interfaces can draw upon the progress with the work with this platform.

2. Shaping a model project to cover a wide range of content areas in an integrative vocational learning environment: Instead of using the developmental platform as a mere collector of training materials for different content areas the group has worked towards more integrative solutions. As a model project the group has chosen the construction of  a motorway service area (Autobahn Raststätte) with different sub-projects (including construction of  a kiosk-building with toilets, construction of special parking bay for trucks and lorries etc.). With such an overarching  theme the lecturers were challenged to incorporate their training contents as contributions to sub-projects of the whole project. Moreover, the real challenges in coordinating such project became transparent in the mutual adjustment of the sub-projects. This led to cross-cutting questions like the following ones: “Can the construction of the kiosk-building be started before the groundwork for the parking bays has been completed?” “Can the building materials for the kiosk-building be stored properly at the construction site when the groundwork is still going on?”

3. Working towards project-related and integrative learning goals: In general the digital learning platforms tend to shape such learning environments with reference to (atomistic) content areas and (atomistic) learning goals. The working group took a course towards project-oriented and integrative learning goals. In this respect the lecturers maintained the curriculum document and its main learning areas (construction techniques, construction processes and personal management) as reference points. Yet, instead of proceeding to a patchwork-like layout of learning units, the group insisted on keeping the projects and sub-projects transparent on the platform. Furthermore, the group insisted on formulating such learning goals that link the above mentioned learning areas to each other.

Interim observations and reflections

I guess this is enough of the main themes of the workshop. In addition, some lecturers presented their own ideas on specific apps (to be found on the learning platform H5P) as support for individual learning. Others introduced ideas for serious games that could be used in the context of these training schemes. Altogether, these ideas envisaged to support the self-organised informal learning of CVT participants (before or after the limited course periods).

Furthermore, the process in the working group reminded me of the Multimedia training schemes that were implemented during the Learning Layers project in Bau-ABC. This working group was going through a similar learning process as the voluntary Bau-ABC trainers in the earlier phase of Multimedia training. However, the Bau-ABC trainers could focus on the project-based learning periods and vocational learning tasks in their trades – and use their blogs as repositories for training materials. They were not challenged to develop integrated projects. For the working group in the DigiProB project it was essential to bring different content areas together in an integrative project – in order to make progress with shaping digital tools for the CVT schemes. Just as it was in the Learning Layers project, it is important that this pioneering group makes progress with the model project – then to be able to share experiences and know-how with other colleagues.

Finally, the process reminds me also of the introduction of the Learning Toolbox in the apprentice training in Bau-ABC (as a user-interface for vocational learners to support work process-oriented learning). Just as in the Learning Layers project,  the shaping of user-interfaces for the CVT participants needs to draw upon the pedagogic idea that are being developed by the DigiProB working group – then to be put into practice in the CVT schemes. From this perspective the earlier work in the shaping of the Learning Toolbox (for the apprentice training) serves as an advanced preparatory phase for the user-interfaces to be developed for the CVT participants.

– – –

I think this is enough of this DigiProB workshop. To me the participation as a visitor was a rich learning experience. And here I mean both regarding the development process of the DigiProB working group (as such) and the general picture of the learning Layers follow-up activities in construction sector (altogether). We (ITB and our partners) are building on the legacy of the Learning Layers project and its construction pilot. And we see new tasks and opportunities coming into picture.

More blogs to come …

The future of learning is social?

May 16th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

In the stream of tweets passing by on the top of my screen I noticed a link to a article called ‘The end of Formal Learning Content’ by Juliette Denny on the elearningindustry.com web site.

“Since formal learning content takes up so much time, and is often hit-and-miss, what would happen if we got rid of it completely? Is it possible to have a content-free learning program?”, asks Juliette.

She goes on to say the first casualities of such a change would be training managers. But “a new post of ‘training facilitator’ has just opened up. Although it has similarities to the dusty old ‘training manager’ role, the purpose is quite different. Instead of trying to make people learn, it’s the training facilitator’s job to let people learn. Rather than prescribe a rigid structure, it’ll be up to them to create the right environment and focus on keeping the learners engaged.”

Juliette points to small learning bites for what would still be formal learning but user generated content, discussion and interchange on a social learning platform as the answer for the future.

Nothing wrong with any of this. However, I think it underestimates the degree of culture change and the amount of work in organising social learning. In the EmployID project we have been experimenting with social learning and in particular with the role of participants as learning facilitators themselves. The evaluation results are pretty impressive, especially as people who say they never liked ‘traditional elearning’ but love our courses. But promoting the discourse required for social learning takes some considerable effort. We have been using different MOOC platforms (albeit with limited numbers – the largest had around 400 signed up. The MOOC platforms do not really support social learning and we are casting around for an alternative. And if we were to get truly massive numbers participating, I thing we would need some numbers of moderators to properly support learners.

So I am heartened that the elearning industry is recognising the potential of social learning – if only in a blog article. But I think there is more work to be done in understanding how such learning can be facilitated.

 

Stress and academic identities

May 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I was planning to write an article on academics and ‘well being’ today so it is somewhat serendipitous that Twitter gave me a link to an article in Times Higher Education on academic stress.

The article reports on a study by Roland Persson, professor of educational psychology at Sweden’s Jönköping University who has developed a ranking of academic stress in 91 countries. Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland and Malaysia are judged to be relatively stress-free sectors with Chian most successful and UK coming somewhere in the middle.

Professor Persson, ascribes Germany’s success in generating high staff morale and strong job satisfaction among academics to the country’s relative lack of a performance management culture, according to Times Higher.
My article was going to be nothing like so scientific. But I have many friends working in universities sin the UK and am struck how demoralised most of them seem to be.

And Professor Persson’s findings tally with what my friends tell me. He identifies excessive workload as a key driver of stress, alongside a lack of support, understanding and respect from managers. But I think it goes further than that. Universities in the UK are being run as businesses and badly run at that. Tayloristic management was developed for running production lines in car factories. Many modern industries, especially those involved in creative or intellectual work have moved different management paradigms. Yet UK universities now seem to be both excessively hierarchical and at the same time have ado-ted management by target, with targets ever increasing.

Most researchers and teachers I know in universities are dedicated to their students and to their research area. There is a stark culture clash between doing the job in the right way as they see it and a management culture based on cutting costs and generating profit. At heart of this conflict is the identity of teachers and researchers. All that is keeping many of them in their jobs is the lack of alternative.

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